I think there's a vibe out there in many cultures (including American) that being vegetarian/vegan or certain kinds of sympathy towards animals is unmanly and just kind of lame. This is probably more true in the right-wing demographic. I'm guessing this has been discussed in the animal welfare movement somewhere, so I won't attempt to delve into the issue further in this post.* Instead, I merely want to favorably acknowledge some commentary by comedian Bill Burr about boiling lobsters alive. 

Bill Burr is a super-famous comedian and one of the most prominent cultural icons of masculinity in the U.S (perhaps in some respects the most prominent). Although I would say he is a party-neutral comedian, his comedic themes have included anti-wokeness and challenges to certain aspects of feminism, and probably has a huge following among working-class right-wing men. 

Here is his commentary on boiling lobsters alive (6 min), excerpted from his podcast. 


*Edit: Actually I will go into it for a minute. If anyone wants to see a great example of how to deal with this sort of thing in a different context, take a look at how Ford dealt with the issue of environmentalism/green-politics being considered soft, lefty, snowflake stuff when they wanted to advertise the fuel economy on their F150 pickup truck: "you won't be put in a chokehold everytime you fill up". 

Other versions of the commercial here and here




Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

Relatedly, it seems good to take efforts to present animal welfare in a less polarizing light, perhaps by avoiding lumping it with other cultural stances of the parts of the political spectrum that it's most associated with.[1]

I've noted previously how polarization also happens on the international level. My basic model of the current situation is that (1) advocacy/actions perceived to be extreme happens in the Anglo-American world -> (2) a lot of people in, say, China find out about it and find such advocacy/actions distressing and associate it with being "Western" , and then start resisting practices from the West (on the other hand, other people might find such advocacy/actions appealing - but this, in some cases, also seems to come with polarization, which gives more reason for opponents to resist it).

I think many positions considered progressive from  perspectives outside of the Anglo-American world are important to advance, but there also seems to be an increased difficulty of doing so because of a perception (which may or may not be accurate) of how it changes a society in ways non-Anglo-American people fear. One solution might be that activists, from the Anglo-American world and elsewhere, should focus on issues closer to the center that are also particularly effective to work on.

  1. ^

    Disclaimer: I find myself leaning conservative with social issues, while leaning progressive with economic issues - using American politics as a baseline - although I also feel as if I should change my stances accordingly as EA-relevant macrostrategic insights are uncovered.

Yeah, in fact I think most of the domestic opposition also comes from this backlash (in poli sci it's called "negative partisanship"). The right starts to oppose animal welfare policy not on its merits but simply because the left supports it - another reason to strive not to polarize the issue.

This fits in to Bryan Caplan's simple theory of politics, on which the defining feature of the right wing is simply opposing the left.

(cw: animal suffering)

Very different tone, but also in the genre of interesting-people-thinking-about-lobster-ethics: "Consider the Lobster", by David Foster Wallace.

"In 1993, he obtained a bachelor's degree in radio from Emerson College in Boston,[4] where one of his professors was the writer David Foster Wallace"


Small point here but unless you think that even after adjusting for partisanship working-class or rural Americans are more likely to oppose animal welfare action, I would take out the part about working class and rural and just leave right-wing. Otherwise, it just detracts from epistemic value as people create stereotypes about what political parties' voting bases  look like.

I'd guess that does still hold after adjusting, but I did take it out.

One thing is that I'd guess working class, rural people are more likely to work in some area at least adjacent  to the meat/fish/food industry, and so the vegetarian movement would go against their livelihood, which might make them more likely to oppose it. To be clear, I'm not blaming those people. I think the city-dwelling meat eater who deliberately shields themselves from the unpleasant sight of the process that makes their food is much more troublesome. 

Also, working class areas just don't have vegan food available as much. 

I'm sure many farmers do care about their animals. 

I have opposite  intuition actually - I'd guess that people closer to animals have more empathy for their suffering. Either way I think this is mostly orthogonal to the cultural values of masculinity you are talking about.

As someone who spent quite a bit of time in cattle country in Canada, I can say that your intuition is right. People living by these animals do truly tend to care are about them. On the other hand, killing them is central to their entire way of life and the core of their economy. Without the animals, there would be no rural for much of Canada. Additionally, the difficulty of even modern rural life seems to create a certain hardness that is okay with animal death/suffering and that hardness exists alongside their love for their animals. 

I have opposite  intuition actually - I'd guess that people closer to animals have more empathy for their suffering.   

I also have that intuition.

I'm guessing this has been discussed in the animal welfare movement somewhere

Yep, The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol J. Adams is the classic I'm aware of.

Thanks for the ref!

Thanks for sharing. I have a friend who's in the Marines and loves his animal meat, but he found this funny and persuasive of the claim that lobsters can feel pain. 

Has anyone done research into right-wing-coded animal welfare advocacy?

  1. As others have pointed out, right wingers are an under-addressed demographic in animal welfare advocacy.
  2. Increasing the political balance of animal welfare supporters would help to de-politicize the issue.

Some miscellaneous ideas, with low epistemic confidence:

  • Messaging about going back to our "natural" agricultural roots. Fattening up billions of genetically modified animals who live in shit and disease before killing them isn't very "natural". For thousands of years, meat consumption was far lower than it is now.
  • Connecting opposition to abortion to animal welfare. If people oppose killing a fetus or embryo, how can they support killing a fully grown pig? (This was actually the train of thought which originally convinced me to go vegan.)
  • Messaging like "BE A MAN AND EAT STEAK! RED MEAT! MAN!", which should reduce animal suffering on balance (by replacing suffering chickens with much fewer suffering cows).

Anyone else have any ideas?

I liked the linked audio and I also liked your edit. Great post!

[comment deleted]1
Curated and popular this week
Relevant opportunities