Hal Herzog’s “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat”
Hal Herzog’s “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat” (Harper 2011), though fascinating, is ultimately depressing for vegans and animal rights activists. Over at Animal Rights and AntiOppression, we’ve been discussing tactics and sharing our thoughts and experiences about what works and doesn’t work when it comes to advocacy. In a manner that’s Malcolm Gladwell meets Freakonomics, which is the fascinating part, Herzog investigates our beliefs and actions regarding nonhuman animals (anthrozoology). He pairs conventional wisdom with actual research on such wisdom and speaks to experts who’ve been pondering the issues from the perspectives of their various disciplines. The research, much of the time, doesn’t support the conventional wisdom (which is not to say the case is closed on any issue). For instance, dolphins don’t actually have the curative powers some claim they have (22); there’s no evidence that pet owners have different personalities than non pet owners (28); having to kill and cut up an animal does not stop one from eating meat (189); the majority of people who abused animals as children do not grow up to be violent (30); and 80% of serial killers do not have a known history of cruelty to animals (31). Herzog states, “The awkward fact is that most wanton animal cruelty is not perpetrated by inherently bad kids but by normal children who will eventually grow up to be good citizens” (34).
Most interesting for me was the mental lock most people have that we vegans are always looking to break or find the key to: Why do good people who understand what happens to animals for unnecessary products such as “steak” or eggs, continue to consume such things? The answer, throughout the entire 300 pages, essentially is: Because they do. People believe one thing and do another. All day long. If slaughterhouses had glass walls? Well, as it turns out neither a trip to a slaughterhouse nor killing an animal yourself is powerful enough to make people go vegan. “The bottom line is that there are many reasons why human-animal interactions are so often inconsistent and paradoxical. Thousands of studies have demonstrated that human thinking about nearly everything is surprisingly irrational” (65).
Much of the book deals with topics vegans have likely pondered, likely frequently. We understand the importance of being cute for other animals, we’ve realized that the decision who to eat or wear or value is largely based on culture. Many of us have difficulty with the idea of keeping “pets.” On that topic and a few others, Herzog doesn’t include what for lack of a better term is “vegan thinking.” When it comes to pets, the only reasons he considers for keeping pets have to do with the enrichment of the lives of people. He doesn’t seem to have met anyone who considers keeping pets to not be ideal, yet necessary out of a feeling of responsibility or obligation due to our part in their plight. And by the way, he debunks the idea of dogs and unconditional love, as well as the idea that pet owners are less lonely than people who don’t own pets. At least his research on pit bull-types of dogs demonstrates the injustice they face.
Herzog, unsurprisingly, uses “it” to refer to animals, eats and wears them, and “[does] not feel particularly guilty about it” (P.S., page 6). He is an unabashed speciesist, putting humans on “a different moral plane from that of other animals” (11) due to various reasons, such as our “vastly greater capacity for symbolic language, culture, and ethical judgment” (11). He watched cockfighting and killed and skinned animals, but won’t eat veal. And this is partly what’s so disappointing about the message of this book: Herzog amasses the research, and sees and does things that involve tremendous suffering and injustice. And yet he’s perfectly content to lump himself in with the vast majority of people who claim to care about animals but act like they don’t. My frustration is evident in the comments I’ve carved across the pages that make it impossible for me to now donate the book to my local library.
On page 172, when Herzog writes, “I am conflicted over many moral issues involving animals,” I respond, “No kidding!” When he spends what seems like an eternity discussing cockfighting and the people who participate, mostly to set up the comparison to how the chickens we eat are treated and the lack of outrage over that, I respond, “What is wrong with you? You’re right, it is horrible! So why the hell do you continue to participate in the killing of chickens for food, yet cockfighting is no longer on your list?” But I’m merely making his point. People are irrational and conflicted and make a show of taking a stand but manage to still do whatever they want in the end. When Staci, an ex-vegetarian who now eats raw meat, writes to Herzog that she thinks it takes bravery to kill animals (she says “butcher) and talks about “reverence” and “completing the cycle” and that “taking responsibility is somehow the balm that soothes the horror,” I wonder why Herzog isn’t disgusted by that and doesn’t want to call her out for her ridiculous verbiage that means nothing to the animals she kills. What about their horror? In response, I can only underline these phrases with seven-page deep gashes.
Most informative for a discussion about vegan advocacy is the section about the animal rights movement (and unfortunately he alternately calls it “animal protection” and also refers to welfare, perhaps because of the Humane Research Council’s study that people prefer the word “protection”). “The campaign to moralize meat has largely been a failure. . . . Ironically, the efforts by animal protectionists to improve the well-being of farm animals have made the consumption of flesh more, rather than less, morally palatable” (191).
Finally, regarding actual animal rights, Herzog is aware of Singer and Regan and appears to have respect for them despite the fact that he says they “[take] moral consistency too seriously” (259). (Yes, you read that right.) Joan Dunayer is a different story, however, as Herzog thinks she “lives in a moral universe that should cause even hardcore animal activists to shudder” (255). He evidently has no idea that abolitionists exist and thinks Dunayer is an outlier. Of course I was appalled, but out there in the mainstream world, she is an outlier. He merely reminds me of how little I have in common with the average person who claims to care about animals. Meanwhile, throughout the book he does describe people who would likely call themselves abolitionists. They are vegans, and he has the utmost respect for them. They are superheroes for being able to think about all of these issues so thoroughly and have the will power to do something about them. They are extraordinary. But him? He prefers to take the stance that because moral consistency is impossible (i.e., no one is 100% vegan), you “do what you can do.” If that means volunteering at a dog rescue or giving money to PETA, all while eating and using animals, at least you’re doing something. Of course that can be debated. But also, it’s such a low, low bar—such a disappointing expectation. We should demand more.