Why are vegetarians so annoying? A teetotaling non-vegetarian responds.

May 15, 2014 BY danariely
The pink elephant in the room. Pun by Nina Strohminger and illustration by M. R. Trower

Like my labmate, Matt, I’m pretty open in the first “getting to know you” conversations. I’ll freely offer up information about my career, hobbies, reality TV preferences, even my sexuality (for the record, my answer to all four questions is “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?”). But there is one topic I avoid discussing for as long as I can get away with—I don’t drink.

After the big reveal, the inquest begins. No, I don’t drink at all. I do not enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, or a snifter of port at Christmas. I’ve never been drunk. I don’t know if I like the taste of alcohol. I’m not a recovering alcoholic, and alcoholism doesn’t run in the family. I don’t use any drug for recreation. It doesn’t have anything to do with health, and it’s certainly not a moral objection. Whatever you do, please don’t call me “straight edge” (a crypto-religious and painfully uncool musical subculture whose puritanical sanctimony represents no minor threat to my patience).

My inquisitors want a satisfying answer to the question ‘why’, but alas, none exists. Mine is less a deliberate choice than it is a preference (if it helps, think of me as gay, but for not drinking). In terms of overall utility, it’s not at all clear this preference leaves me better off. It makes me an awkward installment on dates, at parties, at pretty much every social gathering. It also raises the threshold of tolerability for such events considerably. It was a particularly absurd and socially suicidal eccentricity in college. I’ll admit, though, to having developed a sort of taste for the look of consternation on collegiate faces when boys discovered that their red plastic cups were useless against me.

But it’s not just would-be suitors who have expressed deep concern and alarm over my recalcitrant sobriety. Lurking beneath the curiosity of strangers is an unmistakable defensiveness. I am careful not to flaunt my club soda, but the very act of abstaining is seen as an indictment. This is because most of the reasons to be a teetotaler—like most of the reasons to be a vegan or vegetarian—are rooted in some form of moral concern. Drunkenness is not exactly associated with responsible decision-making. Meat consumption contributes towards such minor piffling matters as animal suffering, environmental destruction, and global injustice. Even health-based reasons carry with them a sort of moral weight, for the body is a temple, and self-control a virtue. The devil is in the sizzle of every delicious steak and the buzz of every flavorless PBR.

What makes the moral minority irritating is not that they hold exotic moral beliefs. Quite the opposite: most everyone feels the force of the arguments against eating meat or drinking alcohol. If our conscience were not pricked even a little, we would not feel implicitly judged. This explains why only certain idiosyncrasies provoke the inquisition. No one gives me a hard time about not drinking coffee, because (Mormonism aside) there is no commonly understood moral position against indulging a caffeine habit.

Everybody enjoys a good irony, and in my case that takes the form of having subjected many vegetarians to my own tedious ruminations over the years (while I could easily do without bacon, it is difficult to imagine a lifetime without cheese). But take heart! This windbaggery is actually a form of soul-searching. Whether flesh-eater or liquor-imbiber, it comes from the same vulnerable place: the desire to be—or at least be seen as—a good person.
~by Nina Strohminger~

Part 3: The Amorality of Drunk Driving

August 17, 2012 BY danariely

Over the past week I have blogged about the amorality of drunk driving and critiqued some of the policies attempting to curb drunk driving. Drawing from behavioral economics research and the comments I received, I have drafted 4 ways to combat Drunk Driving. Finally, I included a one-way caveat about why this problem will remain difficult.

#1 Friends need to speak up.  “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk” is a great slogan and I have followed that slogan my entire life. However, most nights I am working late in the Center for Advanced Hindsight. Thus most nights I am not with my peers while they are drinking and potentially driving.  I think a better slogan would be “Friends tell their friends that drunk driving is wrong.”  I find myself always nodding and laughing to others’ stories of drunk driving, when I should be expressing my disapproval. Jonathan Haidt (author of The Righteous Mind) argues that gossip and social disapproval can help regulate morality.

#2 Clean Slate.  One problem with drunk driving is that most people likely to offend have already offended and may have even been arrested. We need a way for people to say, “That was a mistake and I won’t do it again.” I am personally looking into this clean slate idea and hope to provide some clarity in the near future.

#3 Stigmatize.  How to properly calibrate appeals and accomplish this will be difficult but we need to make drunk driving look disgusting rather than sexy (as I think some ad campaigns do). We can call on some of the smoking ads which made smoking seem less attractive and attractive people condemn smoking. Backlash may occur, but a systematic and well-funded experimental research program should discover something nuanced enough to work. This means the government needs to team up with researchers and conduct large-scale experiments. University researchers can come up with theories to guide policy, but policymakers need to calibrate these theories into efficacious policy.

#4 Remove the Fudge Factor.  How many times have you heard people say “I am not drunk, I can drive.” No matter how much you try and convince them they are drunk, they protest. However, if you could show them via a breathalyzer that their blood alcohol content was above the legal limit, then people (even when drunk) might have a harder time justifying getting behind the wheel. Would mandatory breathalyzers at bars reduce drunk driving? It is an empirical question worth answering.

Another possibility is to adopt the Alcohol Anonymous practice of saying, “One drink is one drink too many.” If one could not drink period, then any drinking makes one cross the line. If there was a large public awareness campaign (integrated with alcohol companies’ ads) indicating that designated drivers do not drink one drink, this could potentially be effective.

A Final Caveat.  Some readers used psychological research to claim that threats of punishment might be the only thing that will work. They argued, because people who drive drunk do not think they are endangering others, they do not think they are engaging in any moral violation. Thus if drunk driving is not seen as a moral violation then only the assurance of random checkpoints and breathalyzer tests will curb drunk driving. I think this speaks to my point. All drunk driving policy is shortsighted; it asks what could we do right now to reduce drunk driving. It does not consider the effectiveness of developing national moral standards or engaging in rigorous experimental research (though some does exist). However, as I have argued above, I think we can and need to transform drunk driving into more of a moral issue.

~Troy Campbell~