Skip to content

Veganism and propaganda: who’s the real sucker?

January 20, 2017

It suits meat-eaters to say that pro-veganism is propaganda. It’s one of those nasty words, where if you fire it in someone’s direction, maybe they’ll become offended and flounce off, saving you from the need to speak to them.

Like all such words, the true nature of propaganda is not properly understood. Type the word into Google, and the first definition is: “Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.”

By that simple definition, any information which expresses a particular point of view, with an aim to change minds, is propaganda. That would include all political expression and anything said by activists. It basically divides the whole world into just cold hard fact and propaganda.

A relevant point is that “propaganda” has a strong negative connotation. We only use the term to describe information that leans away from our own ideals. Propaganda then, is anything that has strong implications for its ability to negatively change society.

We will never agree on what a “negative” change is. A negative change for one is a positive change for another. But ideas, good or bad, are nothing without power. I’d argue that this is he point at which an idea becomes propaganda; when it has the power to change minds, without the people it affects necessarily being able to locate the source of the information.

How we measure power of an idea is complicated, but one measure is how far-reaching its affect is. If the ideas affect only a small number of people, its power is minimal. If it affects nearly everyone in a society, it is strong.

Moreover, if the idea does reach a lot of people, the source of the information gets blurred. Objective sources are buried by subjective ones. So for example, academic articles are swamped by blogs.

This obscuring makes it all the harder to see through the claim and criticise the original information. Instead, it becomes general “knowledge” and is reinforced over a matter of years.

Veganism is a growing movement which is gaining power, but it would be inaccurate to say that it already has power, in the grand scheme of things. The animal agriculture industry has much more power. More people eat animal products than don’t, giving them an automatic advantage.

The become are massive industries which can then afford to advertise across multiple platforms worldwide – so much so, it is impossible to walk down the street without being faced with an advert for animal products. With this wealth, they can put a lot of manpower into careful market research, following all the latest trends.

They can afford to try riskier campaigns such as virtue signalling (free range blah, happy turkeys… you get the idea). Shortly put, animal agriculture gets everywhere. I would say that its wide spread and blind acceptance is much more indicative of a successful propaganda effort.

One issue is that people think propaganda has to come from some central power, as opposed to from a network of related parties with indirect contact. Consider this; all concepts of culture are part propaganda. We all adopt notions of normality from our peers and parents, instructors and the media. This strongly skews our ideas about what we should accept in society.

None of these groups consciously know they are involved in disseminating propaganda. There is a double-blind effect; the originators of the ideas and those giving them precedence in the mainstream are not the same people.

Say a scientist claims that an excess of turnips is bad for you. The media seize upon this and blow it up into a headline: Turnips are deadly, scientists claim. Already you can see it has been spun out of proportion in more ways than one.

The scientist didn’t ask for that – the media did it off their own back, for their own advantage. That advantage had nothing to do with an new baron’s hatred of turnips, and everything to do with using sensationalism to boost readership.

Meanwhile, the scientist may change their mind about their findings in the future, or another scientist may debunk them. But the damage has been done – everyone now believes that the turnip is deadly. Without having any interest in root vegetables, the newspaper besmirched the reputation of the noble turnip.

This is the real power of propaganda; it can get around without anyone knowing where it has come from, or how involved they were in spreading it further.

Imagine if someone did actually want to plant the idea that turnips are bad for you – or that lettuce has feelings, and fish don’t. If someone actually wanted to create misinformation, it would be all too easy. Find a suspicious or weak experiment, and present it in a way that makes it sound strong.

All it takes is willing ears, and there are no ears more willing than ears in denial of an alternative. The media is made up of regular people with the same biases as everyone else. They don’t like veganism any more than the public. In a joint effort, readers and writers construct a neat package of heavy scorn for the idea that fish have feelings, and head-over-heels love for the idea that lettuce does.

The overall test of how much propaganda you’re absorbing is a simple question of how much information is “fed” to you, and how much you seek. What is printed in newspapers is fed to you, as is anything on social media.

You accidentally-on-purpose set up social media to be biased towards your own preconceptions by blocking people who say things you find irritating, and adding people who say things you already agree with. This tightens the propaganda net around you. Even though you’re absorbing a lot of information, it’s all coming from the same place, the same sources, the same biases.

It’s unfortunately rare for someone to go outside their own preconceptions and sphere of influence, to consider that “common sense” and “general knowledge” are never adequate answers to complicated questions. These are just assumptions with fancy names.

In order to be protected from propaganda, we have to train ourselves to question the very building blocks of our lives, including the way we eat. How often does a person with no eating restrictions really think about nutrition, or the environmental and ethical impact of food? Rarely – and when so, often as a direct result of reading something written by a journalist or columnist within their circle of influence. That’s how certain groups of people come round to certain points of view before others.

Vegans, on the other hand, have every reason to research food. It is more challenging than eating whatever is put in front of you, and vegans are often randomly and sometimes aggressively called upon to defend their choice, in a way that meat-eaters never are.

They should be, but that’s the nature of propaganda; it informs what we think of as normal and appropriate, beyond all reason. That there are good ecological, ethical and health reasons to stop eating animal products becomes irrelevant – these reasons pale in comparison to the incredibly strong pull of keeping up appearances.

In a way, the pressures of veganism on one’s social life are evidence for the fact that it is not a view that one simply falls into, the way one does when everyday life is infiltrated by propaganda. It’s a conclusion that is arrived at via reason.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: