Nicky Garratt's Blog

The Naturalistic Fallacy

By Nicky Garratt
March 8th, 2012

The second level of opposition to the inconvenient truth about the horrors of the meat industry is often the naturalistic notion; we evolved as hunter-gatherers. This common augment seeks to demonstrate that it is natural for us to kill other mammals because that is who we are.

I had the opportunity to briefly talk to Richard Dawkins about this subject a couple of years ago. He was generous to me in relinquishing the moral high ground to the vegetarian position. While not a vegetarian, he confessed a great deal of admiration for the position. Dawkins is very clear about the distinction between what is true, for example that we evolved by survival of the best adapted, and what kind of society he would wish going forward. The absurd tainting of his work by association with eugenics or social Darwinism shows a gross misrepresentation of his position. In this he brings to light an important distinction, which I would like to explore a little. The evidence shows that hunting other animals sustained for an extensive period of human evolution. I would not contest that point. Nevertheless that grants no license to continue. This argument from antiquity could also then permit rape, cannibalism, murder, infanticide, and any number of dubious practices now held immoral. This appeal to tradition in itself is not sufficient. It confuses how we got here with, as Dawkins points out, where we’re going.

The idea that the late Pleistocene or early Holocene diet must be optimum is a naturalistic fallacy. It may well be that, by definition, these dietary choices helped to shape our metabolism and nutritional requirements, but we are quick to forget that vitamin deficiencies, parasites, starvation, toxins and other food-borne diseases were rife. Life expectancy was pitiful and without modern food preparation our ancestors literally eat dirt and often died of rotten teeth. We are products of our environment for better or worse but that does not prohibit us putting our best foot forward into the future. Do not take this to mean that I believe somehow eating meat is detrimental to your health, I make no such case, rather I’m proposing that an appeal to nature is of limited utility in this regard. While rape might be an excellent tactic for spreading one’s genes or robbing another animal of its life key when nutritional resources are extremely scarce, I believe both are immoral today and should remain firmly in our past. (I will address squatting a mosquito in a later piece about the comparative continuum). I should affirm here that if sound scientific research into the late Pleistocene diet showed a weakness in the vegetarian diet, it is something that can be addressed. The idea that perhaps a minor deficiency is catastrophic to concept of a meat free diet is laughable. Look around you and ask yourself is the vegetarian or vegan diet really the most pressing health concern? It’s not even on the radar. In a country where tens of millions of people are taking diabetic medication, about the same number have heart disease, and about 12 million are diagnosed with cancer, I think the notion that a vegetarian may have a mineral or vitamin deficiency, while important, is in the big scheme of things quite manageable. Again to be clear, I’m not suggesting that a vegetarian diet is by definition healthier or indeed immune from the above-mentioned maladies, I’m implying that this focus on marginal health issues is a defensive nitpicking ideology driven strategy. If those on the other side of the issue are so concerned about the heath of others perhaps they should hand out gym membership forms to people coming out of Burger King.  

Back to Nicky Garratt’s Author Page