Decoding Carnism

In the intricate tapestry of human ideologies, some beliefs remain so deeply woven into the fabric of society that they become nearly invisible, their influence pervasive yet unacknowledged. Jordi Casamitjana, the author of “Ethical Vegan,” embarks on a profound exploration of one such ideology in his article “Unpacking Carnism.” This ideology, known as “carnism,” underpins the widespread acceptance and normalization of consuming and exploiting animals. Casamitjana’s work aims to bring this hidden belief system into the light, deconstructing its components and challenging its dominance.

Carnism, as Casamitjana elucidates, is not a formalized philosophy but a deeply embedded societal norm that conditions people to view certain animals as food while others are seen as companions. This ideology is so ingrained that it often goes unnoticed, camouflaged within cultural practices and everyday behaviors. Drawing parallels with natural camouflage in the animal kingdom, Casamitjana illustrates how carnism blends seamlessly into the cultural environment, making it difficult to recognize and question.

The article delves into the mechanisms through which carnism perpetuates itself, likening it to other dominant ideologies that have historically gone unchallenged until explicitly named and scrutinized. Casamitjana argues that just as capitalism was once an unnamed force driving economic and political systems, carnism operates as an unspoken rule dictating human-animal relationships. By naming and deconstructing carnism, he believes we can begin to dismantle its influence and pave the way for a more ethical and compassionate society.

Casamitjana’s analysis is not merely academic; it is a call to action for vegans and ethical thinkers to understand the roots and ramifications of carnism. By dissecting its axioms and principles, he provides a framework for recognizing and challenging the ideology in various aspects of life. This deconstruction is crucial for those who seek to promote veganism as a counter-ideology, aiming to replace the exploitation of animals with a philosophy of non-violence and respect for all sentient beings.

“Unpacking Carnism” is a compelling examination of a pervasive yet often invisible belief system. Through meticulous analysis and personal insight, Jordi Casamitjana offers readers the tools to recognize and challenge the carnist ideology, advocating for a shift towards a more ethical and sustainable way of living.
### Introduction⁣ to “Unpacking Carnism”

In the intricate ⁢tapestry of human ideologies, some beliefs remain so deeply woven⁤ into the fabric of society that they become⁣ nearly invisible, their influence pervasive yet unacknowledged. Jordi ⁣Casamitjana, the author of “Ethical Vegan,” embarks on ‍a profound exploration ⁢of one such ideology in his⁣ article “Unpacking Carnism.” This ideology, known as ⁢”carnism,” underpins the widespread⁤ acceptance and normalization of consuming and exploiting animals. Casamitjana’s ‌work aims to bring this hidden belief system into the light, deconstructing its components and challenging its dominance.

Carnism, as Casamitjana elucidates, is not a formalized philosophy but a deeply embedded societal norm that conditions ⁤people to view certain animals as food while others​ are seen as companions. This ideology is so ingrained that it often goes unnoticed,⁢ camouflaged within cultural practices and everyday behaviors. Drawing parallels with natural camouflage in the‌ animal kingdom, Casamitjana illustrates⁢ how carnism blends seamlessly into the cultural environment, making it difficult to recognize​ and question.

The article delves into the mechanisms through which carnism perpetuates itself, likening it to other dominant ideologies that have ⁤historically gone unchallenged ⁤until explicitly named and‌ scrutinized. Casamitjana argues that just as capitalism was once an unnamed force driving economic and political systems, carnism operates as an​ unspoken rule dictating ​human-animal relationships.⁣ By⁣ naming and deconstructing ‍carnism, ⁣he believes we can begin to dismantle its influence and pave the way‌ for a more ethical and⁢ compassionate society.

Casamitjana’s analysis is not merely academic; it is a call to action for vegans and ethical thinkers to understand the roots and ramifications of⁢ carnism. By dissecting its axioms and principles, he provides a framework for recognizing and challenging⁢ the ideology in various aspects of life. This deconstruction is crucial for those who seek to promote veganism as a counter-ideology, aiming to replace the exploitation of animals with a philosophy of non-violence and respect for all sentient beings.

“Unpacking Carnism” is a compelling ‍examination of a pervasive yet often invisible belief system. Through meticulous analysis and personal insight, Jordi Casamitjana offers readers the tools to recognize ‌and challenge the carnist ideology, ⁣advocating ‍for a shift towards a more ethical and sustainable way⁤ of​ living.

Jordi Casamitjana, the author of the book “Ethical Vegan”, deconstructs the prevailing ideology known as “carnism”, which vegans aim to abolish

There are two main ways to hide something.

You can either use stealth by camouflage so that what you are trying to hide blends with its environment and can no longer be detected, or you can cover it with part of the environment, so it is out of sight, sound, and smell. Both predators and prey can become exceptionally good at either. The predator octopuses and the prey stick insects are experts in stealth by camouflage, while the predator antlions and the prey wrens are very good at keeping out of sight behind something (sand and vegetation respectively). However, stealth by camouflage may become the most versatile way if you have the chameleonic ability to use it in every situation (as you may run out of places to hide).

These properties not only work with physical objects but also with concepts and ideas. You can hide concepts behind other concepts (for instance, the concept of feminine gender is hidden behind the concept of stewardess — and this is why it is no longer used and the “flight attendant” concept has replaced it) and you can hide ideas behind other ideas (for instance, the idea of slavery behind the idea of imperialism). Equally, you can camouflage concepts such as sex in the fashion industry or camouflage ideas such as gender discrimination in the film industry, so neither can be detected at first — even if they are in plain sight — until digging deeper. If an idea can be hidden, so can all the ideas and beliefs coherently associated with it in such a way the entire combination becomes an ideology.

You do not need a designer to make a moth successfully camouflaged or a mouse hide well — as it all evolves spontaneously through natural selection — so ideologies may end up hidden organically without anyone purposely hiding them. I have in mind one of these ideologies. One that has become the prevailing ideology in all human cultures, past and present, organically hidden by camouflage, not by purposely made “secret”. One ideology that has blended so well with its environment, that not until the last few years has been explicitly spotted and given a name (which is not yet included in most of the main dictionaries). Such ideology is called “carnism”, and most people never heard of it — despite manifesting it every day with almost every single thing they do.

Carnism is a dominant ideology that is so widespread that people do not even notice it, thinking that it is simply part of the normal cultural environment. It is not secret, out of sight, kept away from people in a conspiracy theory way. It’s camouflaged so it’s in front of all of us everywhere, and we can easily find it if we know where to look. However, it’s so well hidden by stealth that even when you point at it and expose it, many may still not acknowledge its existence as a separate “ideology”, and they think you are just pointing at the fabric of reality.

Carnism is an ideology, not a formalised philosophy. Because it is dominant and embedded deep into society, it does not need to be taught at schools or studied. It has become merged with the background, and it is now self-sustained and spread automatically. In many respects, is like capitalism, which was the dominant political and economic ideology for many centuries before it was identified and named. After being exposed, it was then challenged by competing ideologies, such as communism, socialism, anarchism, etc. These challenges made capitalism to be studied, academically formalised, and even intellectually defended by some. Perhaps the same will happen with carnism now since it has been challenged for several decades. By whom, you may ask? Well, by vegans and their veganism philosophy. We could say veganism started as a reaction to carnism, challenging its predominance as the ideology that dictates how we should treat others (in the same way we can say that Buddhism started as a reaction to Hinduism and Jainism, or Islam as a reaction to Judaism and Christianity).

So, before the carnists themselves formalise their ideology, perhaps glamorising it and making it look like something “better” than it is, I think we should do it. We should analyse it and formalise it from an outside perspective, and as an ex-carnist, I can do that.

Why Deconstruct Carnism

Decoding Carnism July 2024
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For people like me, ethical vegans, carnism is our nemesis, because this ideology is, in many respects — at least as many of us interpret it — the opposite of veganism. Carnism is the prevailing ideology that legitimises the exploitation of animals, and it is responsible for the hell we are imposing on all sentient beings on planet Earth. All current cultures promote and support this ideology making it prevalent but without naming it or acknowledging that is what they do, so most human societies are systematically carnist. Only vegans are the ones actively trying to distance themselves from carnism, and as such, in perhaps a too simplistic way as we will see later — but useful for the narrative of this introduction — humanity could be simply divided into carnists and vegans.

In this dualistic struggle, vegans aim to eliminate carnism (not eliminate carnist people, but the ideology they have been indoctrinated into, by helping carnists to abandon it and become vegans), and this is why we need to understand it well. One of the best ways to do that is to deconstruct it and analyse what it is made of. There are several reasons why we want to deconstruct carnism: to be able to identify its components so we can dismantle it one piece at a time; to check whether a policy, action, or institution is carnist;  to check ourselves (vegans) to see if we still have some carnist components on our ideas or habits; to be able to argue better against carnism from a philosophical point of view; to know our opponent better so we can develop better strategies to combat it; to understand why carnists behave as they do, so we don’t get sidetracked by wrong explanations; to help carnist to realise they have been indoctrinated into an ideology; and to smoke out hidden carnism from our societies by being better at spotting it.

Some may say that it would be best not to “wake the dragon” by probing it too much, and formalising carnism may backfire because it could make it easier to defend and be taught. However, it’s too late for that. The “dragon” has been awake and active for millennia, and carnism is already so dominant that does not need to be taught) as I said, is already self-sustained as an ideology). We are already in the worst possible scenario regarding the dominance of carnism, so letting it be and do its thing under its stealth mode will no longer do. I think we need to take it out of its camouflage and face it in the open. That’s when we may see its true face and perhaps that will become its weakness, as exposure could be its “kryptonite”. There is only one way to find out.

What Does the Word “Carnism” Mean?

Decoding Carnism July 2024
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Before deconstructing carnism we better have an understanding about how this word came about. The American psychologist Dr Melanie Joy coined the term “carnism” in 2001 but popularised it in her 2009 book “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism.” She defined it as “the invisible belief system, or ideology, that conditions people to eat certain animals.”  Therefore, she saw it as the dominant system that tells you that is OK to eat pigs in Spain but not in Morocco; or is not OK to eat dogs in the UK but is fine in China. In other words, the prevailing ideology in society which, sometimes overtly, sometimes more subtly, legitimizes animal consumption, specifying which animals can be consumed and how.

Some vegans do not like this term, though. They claim that it does not mean the opposite of veganism, but the opposite of vegetarianism, because they take Dr Joy’s original definition literally and say that it only refers to eating animal flesh, not the exploitation of animals. Others don’t like it because they say this belief system is not as invisible as she claimed it to be but is very obvious and can be found everywhere. I take a different view (especially because I don’t feel I have to associate the concept with Dr Joy herself and other of her ideas I disagree with, such as her support of reducetarianism).

I think the concept has evolved from the time Dr Joy first used it and has ended up becoming the opposite of veganism (an evolution that Dr Joy does not object to, as even the webpage of her organisation Beyond Carnism states, “Carnism is essentially the opposite of veganism). So, I think it’s perfectly legitimate to use this term with this wider meaning, as is increasingly done. For instance, Martin Gibert wrote in 2014 in his Encyclopaedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics, “Carnism refers to the ideology conditioning people to consume certain animal products. It is essentially the opposite of veganism.” Wiktionary defines a carnist as, a “Proponent of carnism; one who supports the practice of eating meat and using other animal products.”

True, the root of the word, carn, means flesh in Latin, not animal product, but the root of the word vegan is vegetus, which means vegetation in Latin, not anti-animal exploitation, so both concepts have evolved beyond their etymology.

The way I see it, meat eating in carnism is symbolic and archetypical in the sense that represents the essence of the carnist behaviour, but it is not what defines a carnist. Not all carnists eat meat, but all those who eat meat are carnists, so focusing on meat-eaters — and meat-eating — helps to frame the narrative of anti-carnism. If we look at meat not as animal flesh, but as a symbol of what it represents, vegetarians eat liquid meat, pescatarians eat aquatic meat, reducetarians insist on not giving up meat, and flexitarians are different to vegans because they still eat meat occasionally. All of these (who I lump into the group “omnivorous” — not omnivore, by the way) are also carnists as the full-on meat-eaters are. This means that the concept of meat in carnism can be interpreted as a proxy of all animal products, making typical vegetarians (as opposed to pre-vegan vegetarians) closer to carnists than to vegans.

This is partly an issue of emphasis. The official definition of veganism is, “Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practicable — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.” This means that despite covering all forms of animal exploitation, particular attention is given to highlighting the diet component in the definition as this has become emblematic of the concept. Equally, when discussing carnism, particular attention is given to meat eating as this also has become emblematic of the concept.

As far as the invisibility thing, I agree it is not invisible as such, but it is hidden from people’s minds who see its effects but do not notice the ideology causing them (it is obvious to us vegans but not so to all carnists. If you ask them to point out which ideology makes them eat pigs but share their homes with dogs, most will tell you that no ideology makes them do any of this), so this is why I prefer to use the term camouflaged rather than invisible.

It is so hidden in plain sight that the term carnist — or any equivalent— is not used by carnists themselves. They don’t teach it as a separate concrete ideology, there are no University degrees in carnism, no lessons in carnism at schools. They don’t build institutions exclusively aimed to defend the ideology, there are no churches of carnism or carnist political parties…and yet, most universities, schools, churches, and political parties are systematically carnist.  Carnism is everywhere, but in an implicit form, not always explicit.

In any event, I think that not naming this ideology helps it to stay camouflaged and unchallenged, and I have not found any better term (both in form and substance) than carnism for the opposite ideology to veganism (veganism is a millenarian philosophy that for centuries has generated a lifestyle and an ideology, and since the 1940s also a transformative sociopolitical movement — all of these sharing the term “vegan”). Carnism is a useful term easy to remember and use, and carnist is a much better term than a meat-dairy-eggs-shellack-carmine-honey-eater-leather-wool-silk-wearer (or animal-product-consumer).

Perhaps it would help if we redefined carnism based on how the term is mostly used today and how it has matured. I suggest the following: “The prevailing ideology which, based on the notion of supremacy and dominion, conditions people to exploit other sentient beings for any purpose, and to participate in any cruel treatment of non-human animals. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of consuming products derived wholly or partly from culturally selected non-human animals.”

In a way, carnism is a sub-ideology of speciesism (a term coined In 1971 by Richard D. Ryder, the prominent British psychologist and member of the Oxford Group), the belief supporting discrimination against individuals because of the “type” they belong to — since it considers some “types” to be superior to others. In the same way that racism or sexism also are sub-ideologies of speciesism. Carnism is the speciesist ideology that dictates which animals can be exploited and how. Speciesism tells you who can be discriminated against, but carnism deals specifically with the exploitation of non-human animals, a type of discrimination.

Sandra Mahlke argues that carnism is the “central crux of speciesism” because the eating of meat motivates ideological justification for other forms of animal exploitation. Dr Joy’s Beyond Carnism webpage states, “Carnism is, essentially, an oppressive system. It shares the same basic structure and relies on the same mentality as other oppressive systems, such as patriarchy and racism… Carnism will remain intact as long as it remains stronger than the “countersystem” that challenges it: veganism.”

Looking for the Axioms of Carnism

Decoding Carnism July 2024
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Any ideology contains several axioms that give it coherence. An axiom (also called self-evident truth, postulate, maxim, or presupposition) is a statement that is accepted as true without the need for proof. Axioms are not necessarily true in an absolute sense, but rather relative to a specific context or framework (they may be true for the people of particular groups, or within the rules of particular systems, but not necessarily outside them). Axioms are not normally proven within the system but rather accepted as given. However, they can be tested or verified by comparing them with empirical observations or logical deductions, and therefore axioms can be challenged and debunked from the outside of the system that uses them.

To identify the main axioms of carnism we should find those “statements of truth” all carnists believe, but if we do that, we will encounter an obstacle. For its camouflaged nature, carnism is not formally taught and people are indoctrinated about it indirectly by teaching carnist practices, so most carnists may not be able to articulate clearly which are the statements of truth they believe in. I may need to guest them by observing their behaviour — and remembering what I believed in before I became a vegan. This is not as easy as it looks because carnists are a very diverse group who may have different views on the exploitation of animals (we could even classify carnists into many different types, such as full carnists, partial carnists, pragmatical carnists, ideological carnists, passive carnists, mimetic carnists, pre-vegan carnists, post-vegan carnists, etc.).

There is a way around this obstacle, though. I could try to define the “typical carnist” based on a narrower interpretation of what a carnist is, with less ideological variability. Luckily, I already did this when I wrote my book “Ethical Vegan”. In the chapter titled “The Anthropology of the Vegan Kind”, in addition to describing the different types of vegans I think there are, I also had a go at classifying the different types of non-vegans. I first split humanity into three groups as far as their general attitude toward the exploitation of other animals is concerned: carnists, omnivorous, and vegetarians. In this context, I defined carnists as those who not only don’t care about such exploitation but think it is important that humans exploit animals in any way they see fit, vegetarians as those who do not like such exploitation and think at the very least we should avoid eating animals killed for food (and one sub-group of these will be the vegans who avoid all forms of animal exploitation), and then omnivorous (not biological omnivores, by the way) as those in between, so people who do care a bit about such exploitation, but not enough to avoid eating animals killed for food. I then went along subdividing these categories, and I subdivided omnivorous into Reducetarians, Pescatarians, and Flexitarians.

However, when we look at the definition of carnism in detail, as in the context of this article, we should include in the “carnist” category all of these groups except the vegans, and this is what makes them more diverse and difficult to guess what they all believe in. As an exercise to identify the main axioms of carnism, it would be better if I use the narrower classification I used in my book and define “typical carnist” as the non-vegans who also are non-pescatarians, non-reducetarians, non-flexitarians and non-vegetarians.  A typical meat eater would be the archetypical typical carnist, which would not clash with any of the possible interpretations of the concept of “carnist”. I was one of these (I jumped from typical meat-eater to vegan without transitioning into any of the other types), so I will be able to use my memory for this task.

As carnism is the opposite of veganism, identifying the main axioms of veganism, and then trying to see if their opposite are good candidates for axioms of carnism all typical carnists would believe in, would be a good way to go about it. I can easily do that because, luckily, I wrote an article titled “The Five Axioms of Veganism” in which I identified the following:

  1. VEGANISM’S FIRST AXIOM: THE AXIOM OF AHIMSA: “Trying not to harm anyone is the moral baseline”
  2. VEGANISM’S SECOND AXIOM: THE AXIOM OF ANIMAL SENTIENCE: “All members of the Animal Kingdom should be considered sentient beings”
  3. VEGANISM’S THIRD AXIOM: THE AXIOM OF ANTI-EXPLOITATION: “All exploitation of sentient beings harms them”
  4. VEGANISM’S FOURTH AXIOM: THE AXIOM OF ANTI-SPECIESISM: “Not discriminating against anyone is the right ethical way”
  5. VEGANISM’S FIFTH AXIOM: THE AXIOM OF VICARIOUSNESS: “Indirect harm to a sentient being caused by another person is still harm we must try to avoid”

I can see that the reverse of these would be believed by all typical carnists, so I think they do fit well with what I think the main axioms of carnism are. In the next chapter, I will discuss them in detail.

The Main Axioms of Carnism

Decoding Carnism July 2024
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Following is my interpretation of what the main axioms of the carnism ideology are, based on my own experience of being an ex-carnist living in a carnist world where most of the people I interacted with for almost 60 years were carnists:

Violence

As the most important axiom of veganism is the ahimsa principle of “do no harm” (also translated as “non-violence”) that is also a tenet of many religions (such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and especially Jainism), the main axiom of carnism is bound to be the opposite of this. I call it the axiom of violence, and this is how I define it:

CARNISM’S FIRST AXIOM: THE AXIOM OF VIOLENCE: “Violence against other sentient beings is inevitable to survive”

For typical carnists, performing an act of violence (hunting, fishing, cutting an animal’s throat, forcibly removing calves from their mothers so they can take the milk that was for them, stealing honey from bees who are collecting it for their winter stores, hitting a horse to make him run faster, or capturing wild animals and putting them in a cage for life) or paying others to do it for them, it’s routine normal behaviour. This makes them violent people who, on special occasions (legal or otherwise), may direct their violence toward other human beings — not surprisingly.

Typical carnist often respond to vegans with remarks such as “Is the circle of life” (which I wrote an entire article about it titled “The Ultimate Vegan Answer to the Remark ‘It’s the Circle of Life’”) as a way to tell us they believe that, in nature, everyone harms others to survive, predating on each other and perpetuating a circle of violence they believe is inevitable. During vegan outreach I used to do in London, I often heard this remark from non-vegans after watching footage of an animal being killed (normally in a slaughterhouse, which suggests that they consider that the violence they witnessed was ultimately “acceptable”.

This remark is also used to criticise the vegan lifestyle by suggesting that we behave unnaturally, while they, by exploiting animals and eating some, behave naturally because they believe doing so “it’s the circle of life”. They imply that we, vegans, are wrongly playing the fake ecological role of the peaceful herbivores in nature pretending to be plant-eaters, while our natural role in the circle of life is to be the aggressive apex predators.

Supremacism

The second most important axiom of carnism would also be the opposite of the second axiom of veganism which says that all members of the Animal Kingdom should be considered sentient beings (and therefore respected for that). I call this carnist axiom the axiom of supremacism, and this is how I define it:

CARNISM’S SECOND AXIOM: THE AXIOM OF SUPREMACISM: “We are the superior beings, and all other beings are in a hierarchy under us”

This is perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of a typical carnist. Invariably all of them think that humans are superior creatures (some, like racists, additionally think that their race is superior, and others, like misogynists, that their gender is). Even the most moderate ones (like some vegetarian environmentalists, for instance) who question some forms of exploitation of non-human animals and denounce the destruction of the environment may still see humans as superior beings with the “responsibility” of acting as stewards of the other “inferior” beings in Nature.

One way carnists manifest their supremacist views is by denying the quality of sentience to other beings, claiming that only humans are sentient, and if science finds sentience in other creatures, only human sentience matters. This axiom is what gives carnists their self-given right to exploit others, as they feel they “deserve” more than others. Religious carnists may believe their supreme gods have given them their divine right to dominate “inferior” beings, as they apply their concept of hierarchy to the metaphysical realm too.

As most cultures are oppressive patriarchal supremacist cultures, this axiom runs deep in many societies, but progressive groups have been challenging such racial, ethnic, class, gender, or religious supremacy for decades now, which, when overlapping with veganism, have given birth to social justice vegans who fight against the oppressors of both humans and non-human animals.

This axiom was also identified — and given the same name— by the vegan founder of Climate Healers Dr Sailesh Rao when he described the three pillars of the current system that need to be replaced if we want to build the Vegan World. He said to me in an interview, “There are three pillars of the current system… the second is the false axiom of supremacism, which is that life is a competitive game in which those who have gained an advantage may possess, enslave, and exploit animals, nature, and the disadvantaged, for their pursuit of happiness. This is what I call ‘the might is right’ rule.”

Dominion

The third axiom of carnism is the logical consequence of the second. If carnists consider themselves superior to others, they feel they can exploit them, and if they look at the world from a hierarchical perspective, they are constantly aspiring to go higher in the pecking order and “prosper” at the expense of others, who would be oppressed as they do not want to be dominated. I call this axiom the axiom of dominion, and this is how I define it:

CARNISM’S THIRD AXIOM: THE AXIOM OF DOMINION: “The exploitation of other sentient beings and our dominion over them is necessary to prosper”

This axiom legitimises profiting from animals in any possible way, not just exploiting them for subsistence but also for power and wealth. When a vegan criticises zoos for saying they are not conservation institutions as they claim to be but profit-making institutions, a typical carnist would reply with, “So what? Everyone has the right to make a living.”

This is also the axiom that creates some vegetarians, as despite recognising they should not eat cows or chickens, they feel compelled to continue exploiting them by consuming their milk or eggs.

It is also the axiom that has led to the creation of several post-vegan people who abandoned veganism and started to incorporate again some animal exploitation into their lives in the cases they think they can justify (as is the case of the so-called beegans who consume honey, the veggans who consume eggs, the ostrovegans who consume bivalves, the entovegans who consume insects, or those “vegans” who ride horses, visit zoos for pleasure, or breed “exotic pets”). One can also say that capitalism is a political system that may have arisen from this axiom (and this is why some vegans believe that the vegan world will never come if we maintain the current capitalist systems).

One of the pillars of the current system Dr Rao identified matches this axiom, although he calls it differently. He told me, “The system is based on consumerism, which is what I call ‘greed is good’ rule. It’s a false axiom of consumerism, which says that the pursuit of happiness is best accomplished by stoking and satisfying a never-ending series of desires. It’s an axiom in our civilisation because you routinely see 3000 ads every day, and you think it’s normal.”

Speciesism

If the fourth axiom of veganism is the axion of anti-speciesism that aims to not discriminate against anyone for belonging to a particular class, species, race, population, or group, the fourth axiom of carnism is going to be the axiom of speciesism, which I define as follows:

CARNISM’S FOURTH AXIOM: THE AXIOM OF SPECIESISM: “We must treat others differently depending on which types of beings they are and how we want to use them”

The original contexts in which the word “carnism” was first popularised, Dr Joy’s book “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows” clearly illustrates the crux of this axiom. Carnists, like most humans,  are taxophiles (they like to classify everything into categories), and once they have labelled anyone as belonging to a particular group they have created (not necessarily an objectively distinctive group) then they assign it a value, a function, and a purpose, that has very little to do with the beings themselves, and a lot to do with how carnists like to use them. As these values and purposes are not intrinsic, they change from culture to culture (and this is why Westerners don’t eat dogs but some people from the East do).

Typical carnists are constantly discriminating against others, even those who consider themselves progressive egalitarians because they are selective on when they apply their egalitarianism, and because they use all sorts of excuses and exemptions not to apply it beyond humans, “pets”, or their favourite animals.

Libertarianism

The fifth axiom of carnism may surprise some (as the fifth axiom of veganism also might have done to those vegans who did not realise that built in the philosophy there is an imperative to create the vegan world by preventing others from harming sentient beings) because some people who call themselves vegans may be following this axiom too. I call it the axiom of libertarianism, and this is how I define it:

CARNISM’S FIFTH AXIOM: THE AXIOM OF LIBERTARIANISM: “Everyone should be free to do what they want, and we should not intervene trying to control their behaviour”

Some people politically define themselves as libertarians, meaning advocates or supporters of a political philosophy that advocates only minimal state intervention in the free market and the private lives of citizens. The belief of how minimum that intervention should be may vary from person to person, but behind this attitude is the belief that people should be free to do what they want, and nothing should be banned. This is in direct conflict with veganism because if it was politically and legally possible, most vegans would be in favour of banning people from causing harm to sentient beings (as current laws ban people from harming other humans).

Vegans are building a Vegan World where no humans will harm other animals because society (with its institutions, laws, policies, and rules) would not allow this harm to happen, but for a libertarian, this may be too much institutional interference with the rights of individuals.

This axiom is the one that makes carnists use the concept of “choice” to justify their consumption of animal products, and that makes them accuse vegans of imposing their beliefs on others (as, deep down, they do not believe in rules that would limit the freedom of people to consume what they want and exploit who they want).

These five axioms have been implicitly taught to us with the lessons of history, geography, and even biology we have received from childhood, and reinforced with the movies, plays, TV shows and books we absorbed since, but all this exposure was not sufficiently explicit or formalised for us to realise that were have been indoctrinated into a particular ideology that makes us believe in these axioms — even if they are false.

Also, remember that axioms of an ideology don’t need proof for those who follow that ideology, so it should not be a surprise to us, vegans, that the carnists we converse with do not seem to react to evidence that disproves these axioms as we do. For us, such evidence overwhelmingly convinces us not to believe such axioms, but for them, they can dismiss it as irrelevant as they do not need evidence to believe them. Only those open-minded enough who wonder whether they might have been indoctrinated from childhood may look at the evidence and finally free themselves from carnism— and the point of vegan outreach is to help these people make the step, not just argue with a close-minded typical carnist.

Therefore, a typical carnist would be a violent, supremacist, dominating, and discriminating human who, directly or indirectly, exploits, oppresses, and dominates other sentient beings, thinking any other human should be free to do the same.

The Secondary Principles of Carnism

Decoding Carnism July 2024
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In addition to the five main axioms of carnism mentioned above, which by definition all typical carnists should believe, I think there are other secondary principles that most carnists also follow—even if some types of carnists are more likely to follow some more than others. Some of these secondary principles derive from the main axioms, becoming more specific sub-sets of them. For instance:

  1. RIGHT SENTIENCE: Only humans have the type of sentience that matters in terms of moral rights, such as sentience with conscience, speech, or morality.
  1. SELECTIVE CONSUMPTION:  Some non-human animals can be consumed for food, but others should not because tradition has rightly chosen which ones should be eaten and how.
  1. CULTURAL LEGITIMACY: Culture dictates the moral way to exploit others, so there is no ethically objectional exploitation
  1. PRIMATE SUPREMACY: Primates are the superior mammals, mammals are the superior vertebrates, and vertebrates are the superior animals.
  1. HUMAN RIGHT TO EXPLOIT: The exploitation of any non-human animal for food and medicine is a human right that should be defended.
  1. EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS: We should not give legal rights to non-human animals despite some limited moral rights that can be given to some animals in some cultures.
  1. SUBSIDISING EXPLOITATION: Animal agriculture and vivisection must be politically supported and economically subsidised.
  1. OMNIVORE HUMANS: Humans are omnivores who need to eat animal products to survive.
  1. HEALTHY “MEAT”: Meat, eggs, and dairy are healthy food for humans.
  1. NATURAL MEAT: Meat eating is natural for humans and our ancestors were carnivores.
  1. “ALT-MEAT” IS WRONG: The alternatives to animal products are unnatural and unhealthy, and they damage the environment.
  1. IMPRINT DENIAL: Claims that animal exploitation has the greatest negative impact on the environment are exaggerations spread by propaganda.

Carnists, typical or not, may believe in several of these principles (and the more they believe in, the more carnists they are), and manifest such beliefs in their lifestyle and behaviour.

We could easily devise a carnism test by asking people to mark how much they agree with the 5 axioms and the 12 secondary principles and create a threshold for the score to pass to qualify as a carnist. These can also be used to assess how much carnism remains in some vegans and vegan institutions (I have written an article about this titled Carnism within Veganism).

Carnism Indoctrination

Decoding Carnism July 2024
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Carnists have been indoctrinated into carnism from childhood, and most do not even know it. They think they have free will and we, vegans, are the “weird ones” who seem to be under the spell of some sort of cult. Once you are indoctrinated, what used to be a choice is no longer a choice, as now it is dictated by your indoctrination, no longer by logic, common sense, or evidence. However, carnists do not realise they have been forced to become carnists because carnism is so well camouflaged. They are in denial of their indoctrination, so they feel shocked — and even offended — when vegans try to help them get free from it.

The axioms and principles of veganism will very much direct carnists to interact with vegans in very specific ways, often quite dismissing or even hostile, as they kind of know vegans advocate against something deep that governs their choices (even if they cannot point the finger of what it is and never heard the word carnism before). Understanding these principles as axioms explains why these views are so common and why carnists are so stubborn in sticking up to them despite all the evidence we may present them which proves that they are false principles that clash with reality.

It also explains why many extreme modern carnists have become anti-vegans who would typically try to do the opposite than vegans do (which incidentally explains why lab meat is failing to replace conventional meat in carnists’ dishes because they perceived it to be a vegan product — even though it is definitively not — in violation of principle 11). This has created three tertiary principles some modern carnists also follow:

  1. HYPOCRISY AVOIDANCE: Vegans are hypocrites because their choices involve harming more sentient beings due to crop deaths.
  1. VEGANISM DENIAL: Veganism is an extremist fashion that will eventually pass but that should not be encouraged as it is too disruptive.
  1. VEGANPHOBIA: Vegans should be persecuted, and veganism is a corrupted harmful ideology that urgently needs to be eradicated.

These three tertiary principles (or their equivalent) might have also been operational in carnists of the past before the term “vegan” was coined in 1944, referring to whatever competing ideology challenged carnism at the time. For instance, carnist Brahmins in the Kingdom of Magadha several millennia ago may have followed these principles against the teachings of Sramanic monks such as Mahavira (Jain teacher),  Makkhali Gośāla (Ajīvikanism founder) or Siddhartha Gautama (founder of Buddhism), for their interpretation of the concept of ahimsa that made them move away from meat consumption and animal sacrifices. Also, in early Christianity, the followers of Saint Paul may have harvested these principles against the followers of Saint James the Just (the brother of Jesus), the Ebionites, and the Nazarenes, who also moved away from meat-eating (check out the documentary Christspiracy if you want to learn more about this).

Perhaps a reason we still have so much racism, homophobia, and misogyny in the world is that we ignored their carnist roots when we tried to eradicate them, so they keep resurfacing. Perhaps we ignored these roots because we could not see them due to how carnism became camouflaged in the social environment. Now that we can see them, we should be able to tackle these social evils more effectively.

Exposing carnism for what it is and showing what is made of should help us to get rid of it. It will show that is not an essential part of reality, but an unnecessary corruption — like the rust that covers an entire old ship, but which can be removed with proper treatment without damaging the ship’s integrity. Carnism is a damaging ideology created by humans, not part of nature, which we do not need and we should eradicate.

Deconstructing carnism may be the beginning of its end.

Notice: This content was initially published on VeganFTA.com and may not necessarily reflect the views of the Humane Foundation.

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