Anticipated Reproach, And Why Vegetarians Are Such Jerks

I've never in my life met a vegetarian who was a jerk.

But whenever the subject of vegetarianism comes up--even highly flexible and inclusive versions like CK's Part-Time Vegetarianism--there's usually at least one or two vehement responses from meat-eating readers who presume that some jerk vegetarian wants to take their meat away.

Why is that? I mean, anyone spending five minutes at Casual Kitchen would quickly figure out that we're not vegetarians. We're not a threat to the meat-eating world at all. We're just trying to eat a little healthier and save some dough.

Here's the thing. When a meat-lover responds in an aggressive way to a post on vegetarianism, they expect to be pilloried for their food choices. They think a "reproach" is coming from a pack of tie-dyed vegetarian kooks, so they act accordingly.

That, in a nutshell, is Anticipated Reproach. Essentially, people are expecting missiles to be fired at them, so they fire their biggest missiles first--in a pre-emptive strike to protect themselves.

Anticipated Reproach explains how arguments spontaneously appear out of thin air. All you need is to have one person fire a defensive verbal missile, another person to react, and it's on.

I don't mean to pick on meat-eaters (although admittedly, I'm using them as a rhetorical device in this post). And obviously, the veggie/vegan/meat debate is just one of a million places where you can see anticipated reproach in action. It shows up in all kinds of discussions: in political debates, in debates on taxes and entitlements, in debates on corporate power, about the level of government involvement in our daily lives, and in every other hot-button issue we face as a society today.

It helps explain why otherwise well-behaved people start up insane arguments on Facebook, and why people will waste hours attempting to correct the views of people they don't even know.

And if you think it's only other people who do this, think again. All of us are guilty of anticipated reproach from time to time.

But here's the thing: when you anticipate a reproach that hasn't yet been made... well, you're actually imagining something that doesn't exist. You are making it up. And of course it goes without saying, you haven't furthered the discussion by one millimeter, you've taken it backwards into name-calling and defensiveness.

There's a couple of takeaways here. First, for fellow bloggers: try not to take reader comments personally, particularly the nasty ones. Those comments are almost always about the commenter, not about you. Most likely they are thinking of other times when they've been reproached for their views, and they're simply anticipating still more reproach from you.

Second, don't fall unwittingly into the various anticipated reproach traps. Don't pre-emptively escalate your language. Try to use humor, but avoid sarcastic humor (this is a particularly tough challenge for me). Don't make declarative and pontificatory statements. Instead, ask questions, and try, sincerely, to learn the thought process of the people who don't agree with you. Hey, you never know, you might even learn you were wrong!

Nahhh, probably not. :)

In any event, here at CK, you won't find yourself reproached. Ever. This is my solemn promise to you, dear readers.

I created this blog so that we could all have a "no-reproach zone" to talk about cooking, our diets and the food industry. Yes, you will find your assumptions questioned here, and yes, you'll be challenged here to think differently--sometimes very differently--about things.

But don't anticipate a reproach... because that reproach ain't coming.

Readers! What are your thoughts?

Related Posts:In Defense of Big Farms
Food Militancy, and Food Moderation
The Top Lame-Ass Excuses Between You and Better Health


Stuart said...

Needs an XKCD link:


Daniel said...

Perfect Stuart, that is absolutely perfect. And, related: here's a post I wrote at my Quick Writing Tips blog that applies too:

Pissing Your Life Away On People Who Are Wrong


Melissa said...

I have that xkcd in my Funnies photo folder on Facebook. :D I love the mouseover text: "What do you want me to do? LEAVE? Then they'll keep being wrong!" HA.

This is a great post, Dan, not just for our online and blogging lives, as you said, but for life in general. Don't ever forget that anticipated reproach means you are making something up in your head. Always dangerous. Never ends well. I spent a long, long, long time doing that with everyone and everything. Yuck.

Happy to see you posting. :)

chacha1 said...

It is a universal human tendency to try to correct those around us who we feel, or believe, to be in error. It is quite a challenge to resist that tendency.

I know a lot about a few subjects, a little about several more, and nothing at all about far too many. I try to confine my advice-giving and other interference to the areas in which I am, by virtue of education and experience, at least somewhat qualified.

Of course, online this is a VERY risky judgement call because you just never know who you're talking to, and two people with the same level of education and experience can nonetheless take the same set of facts and draw completely different conclusions due to the influences of their cultural and belief patterns. Or - very commonly - due to convenience.

Like the "vegetarian" I just read about who actually ate no vegetables (until the blood sugar numbers scared her straight). Her diet was, essentially, grains plus dairy and some fruit.

As a devoted carnivore, I am nonetheless fairly confident that I eat more, and more different kinds of, produce than the majority of Americans. And that's based on what I see them buy in the grocery store or order at a restaurant (and that's here in nominally health-conscious Los Angeles).

I am also healthier and less overweight than the average American. But I guarantee you that at least one Paleo Diet follower and at least one vegan would jump on my head if I tried to "justify" the way I eat in some of the online fora.

Overtly encouraged flattery: that's why I love you, Dan, because you're not just trying to prove a point - you're trying to have a conversation. :-)

Joanne said...

Haha I'm a vegetarian and I can definitely be a jerk...but not about being a vegetarian. :P

Actually, my parents do this to meal all the time. Any time I go home, they bring up the fact that I'm vegetarian in a demeaning way over and over and over if I were in some way attacking their meat-eating habits just by being there. It's craziness.

Lauren said...

I always assume that this kind of thing (anticipated reproach, I mean, not conversations about animal protein) reveals an uncertainty in the speaker - it's a "tell", if you will, of their doubts about their own position.

I had someone go ape when I mentioned we'd need a vegetarian option at a picnic; she really generalised that dietary choice to intelligence and intention... it was wild. Never seen anything like it. And yeah, I judged her: came to the conclusion that she was telling me she lived small and I should leave her to it. So I did.

The veg*n/paleo thing is interesting; both groups tend to talk out both sides of their mouths, in that group members should tweak their diet to suit their body, but outsiders must conform to protocol. I'd say the big gap is over grains, yet the hyperbole centres around meat.

Anonymous said...

1. from my experience it isn't the vegeterians that are jerks, its the vegans. :o)
2. I keep kosher & take a lot of flak (anticipated reproach) on that. & the scary bit is that I will eat the vegeterian option even though it technically is not Kosher, because for me it is a bigger "evil/sin/what have ya" to embarrass someone or to be a poor guest.

Daniel Milstein said...

That is so true. As an author and business man, I can relate to how you said "It helps explain why otherwise well-behaved people start up insane arguments on Facebook, and why people will waste hours attempting to correct the views of people they don't even know". I hope more people discover your blog because you really know what you're talking about. Can't wait to read more from you!

Anonymous said...

Hi CK,

I have a theory: when people are acting like Complete Jerks, they are operating from fear.

Threat, real or perceived, is followed automatically by adrenalin rushing, brain shrinking, palms sweating, heart racing: fear.

Fight or flight.

Fight is aggressive, violence, punching, name-calling, etc., right? Flight is sarcasm, joking, deflecting, leaving, running, like that.

Perceived threat can come from Ugly Stories we tell ourselves, or, like you say, 'anticipated reproach.'

Great post!

websie said...

I had someone go ape when I mentioned we'd need a vegetarian option at a picnic

Lauren said...

I am Lauren, but not the Lauren who already commented. Not only did she take my name, she stole my comment too. I should probably call her nasty things to restore my sense of equilibrium, because tearing someone down is a great way to raise yourself up. You know, like goats on garbage heaps. Oh wait, was that sarcastic?