You’ve heard it all before;
“Vegans are smug. Vegans are annoying. Vegans are hippies. Vegans are militant. Vegans are xyz.”
While these assertions may or may not be true, depending on the individual, do they hold up as an argument?
In most cases, no.
It may seem obvious that name-calling is one way to avoid the argument presented, but as such, many continue to do it. These assertions are known as Ad Hominem attacks, a form of logical fallacy. An Ad Hominem attack is defined as: Trying to refute an argument by attacking the character of the person making it, rather than the logic or premise of the argument itself. You have probably heard these everywhere.
Ad Hominem attacks are only valid if the character of the person making the argument is directly related to that argument. So if someone says, "I learned in medical school that xyz is healthy," pointing out that said person did not actually go to medical school is a valid Ad Hominem.
In the vegans' case, most Ad Hominem attacks do not follow an invalid argument. We often hear:
"Vegans are pushy, just respect others' choices."
Well what does that have to do with the argument of ethical veganism? Being pushy doesn't undermine the point that animal exploitation and cruelty is unnecessary, immensely harmful, not excessively difficult/inconvenient to avoid, and is therefore unethical to actively partake in.
Ad Hominem attacks come in a few different forms;
Ad Hominem (Abusive) - The format provided in the definition above
Ad Hominem (Circumstantial) - The premise that the person who is making the argument is biased or predisposed to take a stance, and therefore, their stance/argument is invariably incorrect.
For example, someone may say to me:
"Of course you would say animal exploitation is unethical, you own a vegan business. It's in your monetary interest to say so."
Just because I have a vested interest in Veganism does not mean that my support of the vegan argument is necessarily incorrect. It's irrelevant to the actual argument presented.
Ad Hominem (Guilt By Association) - When one person is viewed negatively because of their association with another person/group that is viewed negatively.
For example: someone may draw the conclusion that because Hitler was a vegetarian, and also a very bad person, that all other vegetarians are also very bad people. This would be a fallacious conclusion and fall under Guilt By Association. (The conclusion doesn't need debunking, but as a side note, there is plenty of evidence to support the position that Hitler's strict Vegetariansm is a myth.)
Ad Hominem (Tu quoque) - Claiming that a person's argument is flawed because their actions are not consistent with said argument.
For example: Someone who claims that animal agriculture is tremendously harmful to the environment, but still consumes animals, is not wrong because of their inconsistency. In this case, their actions are irrelevant to whether or not animal agriculture is actually harming the environment.
And that about does it for Ad Hominems. In conclusion:
Next time someone tells you to get off your high horse and stop being so mean, just politely remind them that they are avoiding the argument, acting fallaciously, and that your character doesn't determine the validity of Veganism as a moral philosophy.
A common line often heard by vegans is “what difference does one person going vegan make?” And yes, from a vegan perspective, it can sometimes seem like the overwhelming numbers of meat-eaters make it that one person going vegan is merely a drop in the ocean.