Normal is invisible – about carnism and other belief systems

With her presentations and her book „Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows“ Melanie Joy didn’t just show me how carnism in detail works but taught me the important lesson, that „normal“ belief systems are invisible. This made me aware of how easily it is to be trapped in a filter bubble for years without noticing. And how it feels after you escape the belief system and see the world more clearly.


quotes from the book:

„We all know what a vegetarian is—a person who doesn’t eat meat. Though some people may choose to become vegetarian to improve their health, many vegetarians stop eating meat because they don’t believe it’s ethical to eat animals. Most of us realize that vegetarianism is an expression of one’s ethical orientation, so when we think of a vegetarian, we don’t simply think of a person who’s just like everyone else except that he or she doesn’t eat meat. We think of a person who has a certain philosophical outlook, whose choice not to eat meat is a reflection of a deeper belief system in which killing animals for human ends is considered unethical. We understand that vegetarianism reflects not merely a dietary orientation, but a way of life. This is why, for instance, when there’s a vegetarian character in a movie, he or she is depicted not simply as a person who avoids meat, but as someone who has a certain set of qualities that we associate with vegetarians, such as being a nature lover or having unconventional values.
If a vegetarian is someone who believes that it’s unethical to eat meat, what, then, do we call a person who believes that it’s ethical to eat meat? If a vegetarian is a person who chooses not to eat meat, what is a person who chooses to eat meat?
Currently, we use the term “meat eater” to describe anyone who is not vegetarian. But how accurate is this? As we established, a vegetarian is not simply a “plant eater.” Eating plants is a behavior that stems from a belief system. “Vegetarian” accurately reflects that a core belief system is at work: the suffix “arian” denotes a person who advocates, supports, or practices a doctrine or set of principles.
In contrast, the term “meat eater” isolates the practice of consuming meat, as though it were divorced from a person’s beliefs and values. It implies that the person who eats meat is acting outside of a belief system. But is eating meat truly a behavior that exists independent of a belief system? Do we eat pigs and not dogs because we don’t have a belief system when it comes to eating animals?
In much of the industrialized world, we eat meat not because we have to; we eat meat because we choose to. We don’t need meat to survive or even to be healthy; millions of healthy and long-lived vegetarians have proven this point. We eat animals simply because it’s what we’ve always done, and because we like the way they taste. Most of us eat animals because it’s just the way things are.
We don’t see meat eating as we do vegetarianism—as a choice, based on a set of assumptions about animals, our world, and ourselves. Rather, we see it as a given, the “natural” thing to do, the way things have always been and the way things will always be. We eat animals without thinking about what we are doing and why because the belief system that underlies this behavior is invisible. This invisible belief system is what I call carnism.“

„Not only do our perceptions of meat vary based on the species of animal it came from, but different humans may also perceive the same meat differently. For example, a Hindu might have the same response to beef as an American Christian would to dog meat. These variations in our perceptions are due to our schema. A schema is a psychological framework that shapes—and is shaped by—our beliefs, ideas, perceptions, and experiences, and it automatically organizes and interprets incoming information. For example, when you hear the word “nurse,” you probably envision a woman who wears a medical uniform and works in a hospital. Even though a number of nurses are male, dress nontraditionally, or work outside of a hospital, unless you are frequently exposed to nurses in a variety of settings, your schema will maintain this generalized image. Generalizations are the result of schemas doing what they’re supposed to: sorting through and interpreting the vast amount of stimuli we’re constantly exposed to and then putting it into general categories. Schemas act as mental classification systems.“

„How we feel about an animal and how we treat it, it turns out, has much less to do with what kind of animal it is than about what our perception of it is. We believe it’s appropriate to eat cows but not dogs, so we perceive cows as edible and dogs as inedible and act accordingly. And this process is cyclical; not only do our beliefs ultimately lead to our actions, but our actions also reinforce our beliefs. The more we don’t eat dogs and do eat cows, the more we reinforce the belief that dogs are inedible and cows are edible.“


The more I leave old beliefs behind me and change my mind, the more often I ask myself which ones are still there and wrong – but hidden, since I perceive them as „the way things are“.

I noticed some more, that seem to be „normal“ for many people:

  • monogamism – which for example includes to think that the right response to a situation in which your romantic partner spends enjoyable intimate time with someone else is anger and feeling hurt.
  • anaturalism – the belief that in addition to natural laws and forces there are other things like for example supreme beings
  • deathism – a strong belief that death is almost impossible to avoid, clashing with undesirability of the outcome, leads people to rationalize either the illusory nature of death (afterlife memes), or desirability of death (deathism proper)

Are there other examples that come to your mind?

(More about how to change your mind in: Rationality – From AI to Zombies)

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