A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Why We Can’t Think Straight About Animals

(Session #3 at the “I Am NOT an Animal!” symposium, Feb 24th, 2017, in Atlanta. With author and psychologist Hal Herzog.)

So, you’re in the proverbial lifeboat with 30 puppies and a fellow human, and the boat is taking on water and you have to toss the human or all the puppies (they weigh about the same as your fellow human). What do you do?

Or how about you see a bus headed toward your dog and your sister, and you can only save one or the other? How about if it’s your dog and a foreign tourist? And how about if it’s a foreign tourist and a stray dog?

You’ve probably come across these kinds of questions before. They all point to the fact that while we humans are quite big into morality, we’re really quite hopeless when it comes to moral consistency in our own minds.

Philosophers and psychologists have written papers up the wazoo about this, but if anything, the problems only gets more problematic every day in our ever more complex world.

She told him she was a vegetarian while she was eating a tuna fish sandwich.And when it comes to how we relate to our fellow animals, we’re off-the-charts irrational.

Author and psychologist Hal Herzog dives into all this in his talk at the “I Am NOT an Animal!” symposium, exploring the confusing relationships we have with different kinds of animals.

For example, how do you square the following?

      • In a Gallup poll, 65 percent of people said that animals should have “exactly the same rights as people.” Yet in 2015 in the United States, we spent $60 billion on animal research, $100 billion on hunting and fishing, $225 billion on meat and sea food, and just $4 billion on animal protection.


      • The number of homeless dogs and cats being killed in shelters every year has dropped from about 17 million a year in the early 1990s to less than 4 million today. But we kill three times as many animals for meat today as we did 40 years ago.
        Indeed, the average American eats 70 more pounds of meat than he/she did back then. And with all the talk of vegetarianism, the percentage of people who call themselves vegetarian in the United States at any given time hovers around 5 percent.


    • And speaking of vegetarians, Hal notes a study in which 65 percent of those who called themselves vegetarians acknowledged that they’d eaten meat in the last 24 hours. (Yes, hours!) And he drops in an anecdote about having lunch with a graduate student who tells him she’s a vegetarian while eating a tuna fish sandwich.

In this breezy but head-spinning talk, Hal shows us that however much we may value logic and consistency in our moral relationships with each other and with other animals, “real world morality is a mishmash of conflicting influences.”

Ultimately, it’s impossible to live with moral consistency. That’s just not the way the world works. And all of us in the animal protection world who grapple with our own inconsistencies and feel bad about them should give ourselves a break. “You have to learn to live with moral inconsistency,” Hal concludes, “or your life is going to suck!”

Hal Herzog is the author of “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight about Animals.”