Fleshing Out Carnism: Part One

Updated: Oct 14, 2019

Melanie Joy's latest book typifies the shortcomings of her theory of ideology. Vegans and animal advocates should take notice.

Melanie Joy is a popular author, Harvard-educated psychologist and social psychology professor, non-profit leader and animal advocate. In the last two decades, Joy has worked tirelessly to promote social change in human-animal relations.

I’ve been a reader of Joy’s work for more than ten years, and in the process I have learned some positive lessons about social change and communication. Joy is a beloved figure in the vegan community, and through CEVA continues to provide some extremely useful lessons for advocates in strategy.

Best known for coining and popularising the concept of carnism, Joy introduced the concept in 2001 in a little known online social justice journal, Satya, and made it the subject of a PhD thesis and books to follow. Joy most famously popularised the concept in the publication in 2009 of Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism.

It was in the wake of this book that Joy shot to worldwide attention. The 2015 Ted Talk featuring Joy, Toward Rational, Authentic Food Choices, was until recently one of their most viewed videos.

With all of this in mind, this post has been a challenging one to write. That’s because it calls into question the usefulness of the concept of carnism. In what follows, I offer a substantial critique of Joy’s theory of ideology that informs the construction of carnism by Joy, a theory that often determines the use of the concept by vegans, vegetarians, and activists.

Carnism is defined as the ideology and belief system that underpins the consumption of animals. Joy’s work since 2001 has been focused on exposing carnism and make the ideology of eating animals ‘visible’, a common metaphor in Joy’s writing that I will continue to examine below.

A comprehensive review of Joy's work, Part One of "Fleshing Out Carnism" will begin with a review of Joy’s latest book. Throughout this review I will consider the way in which Joy's concept of carnism, the apparent ideology and belief system the underpins the consumption of animals, influences her understanding of power.

The argument to be continued in Part Two will be that Joy's analysis of carnism as an ideology has been limited by repeated distortions of the science and theories of social psychology that have led to a body of work that, stimulating and thought-provoking, is also imprecise and misleading. Other concepts such as speciesism, I will argue, seem to provide a much more fruitful avenue for investigating social change where they are freed from the theory of ideology that Joy presents.

Part Two of "Fleshing Out Carnism" will address some of the next steps that animal advocates and vegans can take to address this critique and develop some positive politics. The shortcomings of Joy’s theory of ideology have become more and more apparent because they have been maintained and bolstered consistently since 2001, and Joy’s latest book, Powerarchy: Understanding the Psychology of Oppression for Social Transformation (2019), gives us a chance to review how Joy puts a theory of ideology to work in understanding oppression and social change.

All oppressions are one

In her latest book, Powerarchy: Understanding the Psychology of Oppression for Social Transformation (2019), Melanie Joy maintains the provocative descriptions and explanations of carnism that have helped win her work such popular attention.

Joy claims that the research into carnism and the psychology of relationships she conducted in the early 2000s has prepared her to explain not just one form of oppression - against animals - but all forms of oppression whatsoever.

The audacious scope of Joy's speculative book would seem to promise a welcome contribution to social change advocacy. It may bring together advocates of all kinds in a non-violent communication platform that considers the interests of both human and non-human animals together.

There is no doubt that there is a pressing need for more communities and cultures in the world to adopt paradigm shifts, such as to shift to the One Welfare paradigm that has wide implications in the redesigning of citizenship and service society with human-animal relationships in mind.

The universalising scope of Powerarchy is, however, aarguably one of its severe drawbacks. Joy in Powerarchy assumes that power is a finite structure that can be abolished, and that by abolishing the cognitive ‘roots’ of the system, we can avoid the way that 'history manages to repeat itself'. Joy uses the metaphor of weeding and roots to describe how finding the right diagnosis may end oppression, by pulling out the metasystem, or powerarchy.

In effect, Joy offers something like a liberation mythology that is shared by many vegans, combining all oppression into a single 'oppressive mindset', much as Joseph Campbell identified the metasystem of mythology itself, or eighteenth century antiquarians taught that ‘all religions are one’.

This totalising approach to social change work is troubling, as it seems to ignore the relational reality of oppression in various ways for the sake of a ‘comprehensive framework’, and then insists that 'oppression is largely a relational phenomenon' at other times. The theory of powerarchy seems like a seductive way to identify a single, curable root of all evil, that will finally end the competition between advocates over which oppression matters more but at the cost of facilitating a seemingly homogeneous thinking of social change.

Arguably such a 'metasystem' is a flawed theory and an unnecessary, contradictory and limiting framework for analysis. For example, powerarchy is apparently a 'fundamentally nonrelational' metasystem that creates 'relationally dysfunctional' systems. Power appears to be paradoxical, then, because it 'reflects and reinforces a relational dysfunction, a pathology in how individuals and social groups relate'.

Joy refers to Kimberlé Crenshaw's theory of intersectionality in Powerarchy, but claims to have invented or discovered a unique model, powerarchy, which is 'the metaystem of oppression'. This leads to a central claim of Powerachy, that if we 'understand the psychology', we can 'transform oppression'. It is just this common claim by Joy that is never carefully explicated or evidenced in Joy's work.

The understanding of power and ideology presented in Powerarchy seems to be out of step with today’s liberal arts and humanities disciplines. If this theorising were peer-reviewed, we suspected that it would not be unchallenged in gender studies or social science. And, yet, Joy attempts to strongly popularise this understanding in Powerarchy.

In disciplines, the forms of ‘powerarchies’ that Joy casually equates with a single mindset, the emphasis is on the importance of epistemic humility for making claims that can be supported and that reflect the diversity of the problem at hand. It is also no longer the age of ‘big theory’, in which theorists equated all and every oppression with one another.

Queer theorist and philosopher Judith Butler is representative, for example, in criticising a universalising concept of patriarchy as involving “erasures” of other forms of subtle and layered oppression, imposing a kind of “theoretical imperialism” over the need to analyse the empirical and preformative details of who, what and where. It’s just such a theoretical imperialism that seems to push Joy’s work into popularisation, but risks simplifying what are very complex and contestable areas of social change that deserve a level of humility.

As a key example, although the concept of patriarchy has had a resurgence of usage in popular media, most scholars in feminism and gender studies have until recently largely abandoned the concept. As Charlotte Higgins puts it: 'Once a term debated in endless articles, conferences and books, many theorists now regard it is as too blunt and monolithic to capture the nuances of oppression.'

Higgins usefully illuminates how the concept works as a kind of ideological unifier with a political purpose: 'the concept of "patriarchy" has offered itself as the invisible mechanism that connects a host of seemingly isolated and disparate events, intertwining the experience of women of vastly different backgrounds, race and culture, and ranging in force from the trivial and personal to the serious and geopolitical' (Higgins 2018).

It's a concept that, as philosopher Amia Srinivasan puts it, 'allows people to ask whether some machine is at work that connects all the experiences they’re having with all the experiences others are having'. It’s a common pattern in critical thinking that calls for a liberation concept to arrive at a figure of the machine.

For Joy, that machine is the ‘carnistic matrix’, a concept that we will analyse in Part Two. History does indeed repeat itself in Joy’s work, but so do common conceptual quandaries, as carnism via speciesism and powerarchy become subject to some troubling questions.

The most troubling of all is, the question we always need to ask about liberation: 'does the naming and understanding of this invisible mechanism offer the key to its destruction?' (Higgins 2018).

Precedents for Powerarchy

Let’s consider some of the major precedents for Joy’s work in bringing together varieties of oppression and leading us to liberation questions.

We could consider social psychology research, social change activists, feminist analysis and eco-feminism which all seems to play a part in Joy’s writing, or the various animal and human liberation theories that influence it, but we will explore those further in Part Two.

There are also the newly growing fields of vegan studies and animal-human relations, which Joy’s work has happily helped stimulate.

Instead, let’s consider some of the influences from animal liberation and veganism:

  • Carol J. Adam’s The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory (1990) considers the way in which women are often subjected to sexist abuse in discourses that use the language of animal consumption.

  • A substantial body of work by many different advocates in intersectionality has led to the Vegan Bill of Consistent Anti-Oppression.

  • Even though current emphasis on intersectionality seems to focus on bringing together different forms of oppressive systems, Kimberlé Crenshaw’s ground-breaking concept of intersectionality in legal studies and social analysis also provides for an understanding of how different forms of discrimination impact the oppressed differently and often in compounding ways. This is a nuance that is sometimes lost, and that we will return to as we consider Powerarchy.

  • Another precedent in veganism and intersectionality is the Sistah Vegan Project, driven by Dr. A. Breeze Harper and other activists. Whether Joy’s work is able to engage with this body work is another matter to consider, but the ‘white elephant’ of the ‘homogeneous thinking’ of animal advocacy leadership is something to keep in mind whenever we approach work that claims to speak for the impacts of power. There is a rich body of work on the intersection of oppressions and vegan advocacy we should not ignore.

  • A precedent for not only Powerarchy but also for carnism in Joy’s writing is the concept of speciesism brought into ethical philosophy by ethicist Peter Singer, who developed the term from psychologist Richard D. Ryder’s work, who introduced speciesism using an analogy with racism, a form of discrimination based on a similar flawed logic, in Animals, Men and Morals: An Inquiry into the Maltreatment of Non-humans (1971).

Because speciesism is so important for understanding and positioning Joy’s concept of carnism, let’s consider the concept in more detail.

In his ground-breaking book, Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for our Treatment of Animals (1975), Singer re-introduced speciesism as a word, ‘not an attractive one’, but as an appropriate word to consider in an ‘analogy with racism’ as ‘a prejudice or attitude of bias in favor of the interests of members of one’s own species and against those of members of other species’.

Singer did not consider speciesism to simply mean that ‘all lives are of equal worth’, and in fact argued against this idea depending on the interests of lives, such as the awareness of pain, or sentience. Instead, he preceded and paired the concept with that of the ‘equal consideration of interests’, a familiar concept in utilitarian philosophy.

The argument was that we should care for other lives based not on their abilities or qualities, but make ethical decisions that take into account their interests, one of the most basic ones being the interest in avoiding extreme, preventable suffering.

Singer’s analogy with racism was that racists give greater weight to the interests of members of their own race over members of others; similarly, speciesists give greater weight to the interests of humans over other species.

When we are placed in real time ethical decisions, this prejudice matters, and if we don’t want to be speciesist or racist, then avoiding group membership bias and giving precedence to the ‘equal consideration of interests’ is an indispensable cognitive and practical way in which we can make better and more useful ethical decisions for everyone who has interests in the issue.

In Singer’s work, continued in Practical Ethics (1980-2011) and numerous essays, speciesism was the guide to interrogating ethical decision making and enlarging the moral circle of compassion. Singer considered eating animals and experimenting on them for research to be key areas of concern where ‘large-scale, systematic speciesism’ (58) was being practised and justifying unethical decision making.

It’s important to recognise what Singer’s ethical philosophy does not do, as much as what it introduces, in the way it coins and defines speciesism:

  • It avoids considering speciesism as an ideology in any way that suggests it is the result of automatic or unconscious decisions.

  • It is focused on improving ethical decision making, not on the underlying sources of how and why decisions get made, even if it lends itself to that speculation about bias and discrimination.

  • It at no point makes a strong claim that there is a single way of thinking and relating that underpins speciesism or its analogous way of thinking, racism.

From Speciesism to Oppression

Let’s see how Powerarchy takes up these precedents. It is on the basis of theories of speciesism and veganism, and through research in social change and psychology, that Melanie Joy has produced a theory of power and oppression.

Joy begins Powerarchy examining the 'utterly invisible' contradiction of speciesism that she had managed to make visible at age four during a fishing expedition with her parents.

In short, this is the 'meat paradox' (Loughan et. al. 2012) that Joy now calls 'the relational paradox': the 'relationally contradictory attitudes and behaviors' that involve justification and dominance over animals we consider normal, necessary and natural.

Joy describes being 'confounded by the dysfunctional state of humanity that not only allowed for but perpetrated widespread suffering'. This state of dysfunction seems clear cut, but at the same time it is difficult to know where to locate responsibility and accountability.

It implies that it is not human, or at least dysfunctional, to allow for and perpetrate ‘widespread suffering’, but is that true, and what does it mean to accept this as a truth? This lack of precision typifies Joy's motivated approach to the relational and meat paradoxes, but it becomes more glaring when Joy begins diagnosing any relationship a human can have within society.

Powerarchy promises to offer a framework for diagnosing relationships, but it is mostly still informed by research conducted by Joy almost two decades ago: it offers a 'framework' that is 'based in part' on the empirical research of her PhD thesis (24 interviews) and some further analysis and borrowings from Relational-Cultural Theory (RCT).

Joy claims that what she took away from her PhD research was not only 'the discovery of carnism’ but also:

how, specifically, violent or oppressive ideologies are structured. I had deconstructed the carnistic system, identifying and articulating the specific social and psychological defense mechanisms that keep it intact.

Whether a PhD dissertation on its own, involving interviews with 24 participants, was sufficient to have 'discovered' carnism and the basic structure of ideology in any empirical sense, deserves more scrutiny. But if we accept this discovery, we are met with another discovery of Joy’s that has produced Powerarchy; that is, 'these same mechanisms exist in all oppressive systems'.

This claim is actually very likely, because it’s not a discovery that Joy has made that psychic numbing, cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias and other psychological defense mechanisms such as social conformity exist, and these theories are universal, found (as empirical evidence suggests) wherever human psychology operations. But the reader is presented with a remarkable discovery.

In such important matters as the mechanisms of oppressive systems, Joy's obscuring of some of the fundamentals of psychology as a social science is not particularly helpful.

Statements that 'the same psychological (and social) mechanisms that enable us to harm nonhumans enable us to harm humans' are not particularly explanatory, as they conveniently ignore the degree of research which needs to be undertaken to demonstrate what causes and what kind of effects these mechanisms have in a social context.

On the basis of little empirical evidence, then, or explanatory analysis, Joy claims 'there is an overarching belief system that informs all oppressive systems', or powerarchy. Powerarchy acts as a 'metasystem' much as speciesism does as a force of discrimination; it 'is a nonrelational system that is organized around the belief in a hierarchy of moral worth', and it 'reflects and reinforces relational dysfunction' by introducing 'nonrelational power dynamics'.

It is unclear how the relational paradox works, in this case, if 'powerarchies can be social systems, such as racism and sexism, or interpersonal systems, such as an abusive relationships'. Power seems at once nonrelational and a driver of dysfunctional relationships, which is to say, abusive ones. This is in many ways many a very classic model of power, one that assumes it is everywhere identifiable in dysfunction, while also making social systems work.

How does this help us take speciesism further and understand its relationship with other social systems? Powerarchy provides Joy with a model of oppression that moves across the interpersonal and the social, so that abusive relationships can be said to lead to 'large-scale social powerarchies', which are 'systems such as racism, sexism, and classism'.

Carnism for Joy is also a social powerarchy, which are ‘dominant systems’. Such systems are received as ‘universal truths’ and they are ‘invisible, woven through the fabric of society to shape norms, laws, beliefs, behaviors, and so on.’ What is more, these powerarchies shape our beliefs and ‘impact virtually all of our interactions’, and we are not even aware of the way they shape us:

we unknowingly bring these powerarchical dynamics into our hearts and homes, where they can wreak havoc on our lives and relationships and where we may re-create and reinforce them even as we work to transform such systems on the societal level.

All of this may have some truth, but why should we be merely satisfied to have another theorist who says they are opposed to oppression, if there is not any clear evidenced claims, specifically those with empirical falsifiability, let alone analytical specificity?

As a theory, powerarchy is wrought with a Cretan liar-style contradiction: if most of us are unconscious of powerarchies, why would a single theorist be able to become conscious of them, simply by naming the phenomena? It is unclear how and in what way power influences, how much control powerarchies have over 'hearts and homes'.

Powerarchy according to Joy is a model that is both 'descriptive' and explanatory' of oppression. It provides a 'deeper understanding not only of oppression but also of liberation'. Joy refers to the importance of process in the function of power, but then claims to introduce social scientific understandings of power models.

There is not, however, a significant body of research to support the way in which Joy conflates process and purpose: ‘The process of an interaction often reflects the purpose', but no social scientist can assume that dysfunctional social relationships are involved if the process and the purpose differ. There is also not a strong body of research to support her claim that powerarchy is a dominance model that involves 'individualistic rather than relational' power.

Powerarchy, Joy claims, is a dominance model. It is unclear if Joy is referring to social dominance orientation research, or to feminist and ecological critiques of "power-over" behaviours. The drawbacks of Joy's popularisation of neologisms and concepts is that they are often not more than shorthand, simplifying reams of research that is then not fully incorporated into the theory at hand.

Joy's description of functionalist social scientists falls into this problem and ends up making unscientific statements: 'functionalist social scientists hold that, rather than serving to protect and preserve groups, power-over behaviours tend to harm groups'. Enlisting all and any 'functionalist' social scientist into a dichotomous construction of power, in which only one process of power functions for the good of the group, may serve a purpose for Joy to pathologise oppressive relationships as dysfunctional, but it doesn't serve a scientific analysis that must resist conflating process and purpose.

Clearly for Joy power is a controlling mechanism that requires constant vigilance, so much so that the methods of sociology seem inadequate to study the process of power. Joy's invention of a 'metasystem' seems to operate on a mythic level to instead provide liberation:

Because the overarching myth, or metamyth, of all powerarchies is the myth of a hierarchy of moral worth, one could argue that all oppressive systems are subideologies of the metasystem, the overarching system of powerarchy. Powerarchy is the ethos; it is the hub of the wheel from which all the spokes radiate.

In the form this liberation takes, Joy seems to have subsumed the theory of intersectionality into a kind of metamyth. Where intersectionality can explain how oppression impacts people in multiple different ways, Joy seems more interested at taking intersectionality and explaining the single, homogeneous mind-set of an oppression. We speak less of the impacts of ageism and ablieism, for example, and more about the pathology of the ageist or the ablest.

It is unclear how this is empowering, as there is a strong tendency to sideline intersectionality as an analytical practice. Crenshaw and the theory of intersectionality barely receives an introduction and then Crenshaw reappears briefly in a chapter on privilege giving a TEDWomen speech. Joy tends to assume that concepts that name processes of power are homogeneous and their impacts everywhere the same or simply not as important as the mindset that causes them.

What is promised as a model of empowerment seems to come at a great cost of the experience of the oppressed and the systemic impacts they grapple with everyday and that cannot be so easily summarised as a portable metamyth or metasystem we can root out, in some psychological illumination that is much brighter than economic justice, social programs and civil and political empowerment.

That the latter forms of social change get little mention in this work, that a group of scholars and advocates in veganism who consider social and economic justice, and the role of privilege in white veganism, are never referenced or even discussed in this work point to its metamythic and even ideological oversights.

Joy's lack of evidence for theorising power and oppression would not be a glaring issue, if Joy had acknowledged the limits of this theorising, but Joy’s work constantly suggests that it has the backing of evidence in social psychology and that, moreover, it explains behaviour. Joy's book specifically excludes from its audience those 'who are skeptical about the existence of social power imbalances or privileges', but it is nonetheless vitally important to be skeptical of how we explain power, regardless of how documented oppression is.

Joy implies that Powerarchy is 'a comprehensive, relational framework with which to understand oppression', but only a very generous reading would consider it to function as a framework that is particularly explanatory, and it is unclear how identifying 'a key common denominator that underlies all forms of oppression' and that is located in psychological theories that mirror defences that are universal theories offers much in the way of explaining the process and specificity of power's impacts.

The idea of a common denominator leads to Joy's claim that 'ending oppression' is possible with the correct theoretical exposition, in an echo of much vegan advocacy in this space that leads to the kind of ‘homogeneous thinking’ Dr A. Breeze Harper has criticised before.

A common vegan abolitionist meme. Anonymous.

If oppression is indeed non-relational, it seems clear that we can end such a thing with a checklist of strategies. If ending involves 'intercepting and transforming' without a clear ending, this is closer to understanding a relational oppression, that is universal in relationships, if still something we can counter and reduce.

This latter understanding of oppression seems be something Joy may accept but ultimately avoids whenever the diagnostic and structuralist attempt to illuminate 'patterns of thinking and behaving' re-appears.

For various reasons, Powerarchy misses the mark. It arguably becomes a blurry bundle of descriptions that cannot sustain explanation due to their inattention to empirical evidence, context or precision. While Powerarchy is a dazzling read and an impressive compilation of animal and human liberation tenets, it is the result I argue of anachronistic thinking about power and ideology.

Powerarchy promises liberation but never develops the kind of precision that might develop more than a mythology about ‘the transformation of the way we think and, ultimately, relate.' Its 'anatomy of oppression' remains mythological because it never explains the causes or effects of a single mentality that underlies 'all oppressions'; much like Burton in Anatomy of Melancholy (1621-1651), Joy is trawls through the entrails of a psychological equivalent of the humours, and offers a liberation bile theory for a wired and distracted age.

Joy’s earlier work on speciesism in an academic context seemed to contain less mythology and more analytical critique:

Speciesism, discrimination against others based on membership in a species, is an ideology in which countless animals are sacrificed for human ends. This system may be supported by a set of problematic psychosocial processes that are detrimental to humans and nonhumans. (Joy 2005)

These claims are important, and deserve explication, but whether Powerarchy is able to do them justice is another question. In any book that promises to explain the hidden cause of all oppressive phenomena, there is little chance to hide shortcomings.

What does social psychology suggest?

Social psychology, a field of enquiry in which Joy has placed the concept of carnism that has lead to the theory of powerarchy, has evolved a number of mechanisms to explain cognitive factors in social interactions between humans and animals and traced some similar impacts across human and animal oppression.

The insights of social psychology for social change and animal advocacy are extremely useful, but whether or not this line of enquiry in the case of animal consumption requires the concept of carnism and its attending assumptions about ideology to explain the consumption of meat, is a subject for debate.

It is questionable whether or not Joy's rejection of 'psychology's incorporation of the reductive Western scientific paradigm' and the proposal of 'humanistic paradigm' (Joy 2005: 113) can sustain a close consideration of human-animal relationships to the degree required to provide strong evidence for concepts such as powerarchy or carnism.

To understand power, Joy refers to the ecopsychological concept of power over (Macy, 1995) that is contrasted, again in a binary way, to ‘power with’. Even before the publication of Why We Love Dogs (2009), Joy has been claiming that 'humans discriminate against nonhuman species in much the same way that we have discriminated against human groups—that an unconscious prejudice, speciesism, informs our relationship with other beings.' (Joy 2005: 109).

Joy in Powerarchy seems to outline the limits of the 'psychological wellness' and 'wholeness' she previously found in a relational, 'humanistic psychoethic' (Joy 2005: 123). Joy's psychology of human-animal violence allows her to set about 'reenvisioning the definitions of mental health and disturbance' (Joy 2005: 126). Whatever became of this ‘reenvisioning’ of ‘mental health and disturbance’ is perhaps best left to the discussion of pathology and animal advocacy in Part Two of "Fleshing Out Carnism".

Nonetheless, claims about the connection between our violence and ethical conduct toward animals and discrimination seem, in the concept of speciesism, to offer us a way of categorising the outcomes of our collective decisions.

As Scott Plous puts it (2003):

If the core of prejudice and discrimination amounts to prejudging and treating others poorly based on their group membership, there is no question that certain types of animals qualify as targets of discrimination. Throughout history, millions of animals have been treated as though they experience little or no pain, as though they do not feel emotions, as though they have no family bonds, and as though they have no vested interest in living.

These facts – more like a trillion a year now – are telling in their own right, but social psychology has still not been able to empirically verify the assumptions that may make such claims compelling.

Social psychology still cannot tell us that: discrimination against animals and humans is the same single ideology or mentality of oppression everywhere; that people cannot be selective in discrimination; or that discrimination is always the factor that allows people to eat meat.

It is in these respects that Joy's claims about carnism may seem intuitive enough but are not on particularly solid ground. It seems clear enough and there is solid empirical evidence that animals are the target of prejudice and oppression, although that is not the same thing as claiming that there is a consistent ideology that creates mass dissociation and that is consistently believed by anyone who eats animals.

Some psychologists have posited that 'omnivores may have a series of chronic tendencies to categorise animals and think about the human-animal divide which act to automatically suppress the moral rights of animals', and even named this 'the meat paradox' (Loughnan et. al 2012). This is a hypothesis for a reason: there is no clear evidence that there is anything 'automatic' or 'chronic' about the way we justify meat eating and dominance.

One study suggests that unmotivated categorisation may be involved in justifying meat eating, but it is inconclusive (Bratanova, Loughnan, & Bastian, 2011). The best evidence suggests that motivated reasoning is powerful enough to provide a so-called carnist defense, whereby someone who eats animals can justify it through psychological mechanisms. This defense, of course, is very similar to universal theories such as cognitive dissonance. So similar, it is uncertain why carnism needs its own label or why it is a universal form of discrimination across various forms of oppression, rather than just a human cognitive principle.

Some connections between different forms of discrimination and oppressions are also in some areas of social life well-documented but there is not always credible evidence that does more than offer forms of prejudice as analogies. At best, to explain the similarities between speciesism and human oppression, we can adopt the theory of a 'similarity principle', that forms of discrimination and oppression, such as racism, sexism, and so on, may share similar psychological features across human-animal relationships, even though they cannot otherwise be equated (Plous 2003).

There is ample evidence from a wide range of disciplines showing a pervasive tendency for humans to view and treat animals as lower status creatures (Cohn, 1996; Plous, 1993; Stibbe, 2001; Vollum, Buffington-Vollum, & Longmir, 2004). Research suggests that perceived similarity between humans and nonhuman animals leads to a concern for the fair treatment of animals, and that people are more likely to see the conservation of animals that are like them (Allen et al 2002; Plous 1993).

However, in high-conflict situations, drawing attention to the similarity of nonhuman animals to human beings is likely to have strong negative effects (Opotow 1993; Richards 1995). When we draw attention to the creaturely and mortal nature of human beings, this nexus of human-animal similarity is likely to actually increase conflict with animals, promote ingroup values, and lead to negative attitudes toward animals (Beatson 2009).

In regards to meat, social psychology does help us understand that meat is symbolically central to people's lives, that it has a 'socially constructed value' (Allen 405), and that it may be associated with right-wing authoritarian, conservatism and social dominance orientation (Allen 2000; Heleski et. al. 2006; Heyers 2006). Gender may be a factor in the perception of animals as worthy for welfare and emotional value, and roles in activism (Hills 1993; Herzog et. al 1991; Mathews and Herzon 1997; Plous 1991).

Meat is often the source of taboos in different cultures and has a 'cross-cultural centrality' that may be more than either functionalist or symbolic approaches can explain (Fessler and Navarrete 2003). Interestingly, evidence suggests that the brains of vegetarians, omnivores and vegans may be said to differ in their empathy and affective appraisals of suffering (Filippi et. al. 2010), but despite the role of emotional reaction in social interactions, there is no evidence that suggests anyone has been brainwashed, programmed or deprogrammed.

Moral judgements may be much more based in social intuitions, evaluations that are quick and automatic; we are like dogs with rational tails (Haidt 2001). But this may not be a reason to discount moral reasoning, and slower, longer term evaluations may provide more rational moral judgements. Haidt’s theory is that most people have a pattern of "my-side bias" (Baron, 1995; Perkins et al., 1991) and a "makes-sense epistemology" (Perkins, Allen, & Hafner, 1983), by which they are motivated by relatedness and coherence to act like intuitive lawyers. Morality may have an intuitive and emotional bias, while still being a cognitive process.

The Interspecies Model of Prejudice (IMP) (Costello & Hodson, 2012) theorises that prejudice originates in negative or hierarchical attitudes toward animals and offers that hypothesis that perceiving animals as inferior to humans is a contributing factor to the development of perceiving human outgroups as inferior (Costello & Hodson, 2010; 2012). A link between racism, on the one hand, and speciesism or carnism, on the other, has been experimentally established. For instance, children’s human–animal divide beliefs predicted greater racial prejudice, an effect explained by heightened racial dehumanization (Costello and Hodson 2012).

The study of people’s relationship with animals, especially the ones chosen to like and to eat, is still fairly new. But it appears to be a fascinating and blossoming field, which will surely also be improved by a new understanding of the psychology of vegans and vegetarians (Ruby 2012).

People who express greater racial and cultural prejudice are more likely to discuss their willingness to make use of non-human animals, and there appears to be a correlation between social dominance orientation and forms of bias that include racism and speciesism (Dhont, Hodson, Costello, & MacInnis, 2014). Empirical evidence suggests that animal cruelty is far more common among young people who access mental health services (Ascione 2001).

Another social psychologist who studies human-animal relations, Hal Herzog, offers a view that is closely grounded in empirical studies. Herzog suggests that people relate differently to different animals not because of an invisible ideology, but simply because moral intuitions are so variable and we are prodded into ethical actions by different moral heuristics (Herzog and Burghardt 2005). In other words, our own construction of morality in any given situation guide us, not merely a lack of empathy or an invisible ideology.

Hal Herzog, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals (2010)

Herzog suggests that there is a battle between a rational and a violent approach in human nature, but another view might suggest simply that our moral heuristics are determined by a number of things which are both rational and emotional. We are dogs with rational tales, in other words, and we justify our behaviours after or during the fact of organised violence.

It is sometimes argued that recent experimental studies confirm Joy's concept of carnism. One study has shown that categorizing an animal as “food” may reduce their perceived capacity to suffer (Bratanova et al. 2011), but this study may just as well confirm a view of dog with rational tail theory, because categorisation can act as a powerful rationalisation. Another study showed that when people are asked to eat dried beef instead of dried nuts, they show less moral concern for cows and animals in general (Loughnan et al. 2010).

Brock Bastian and other scientists showed that people attribute less mental capacity to a cow (or a sheep) when the animal is described as being bred for meat consumption as opposed to having been bred for a different purpose (Bastian et al. 2012). If these studies show a correlation between edibility and a lack of empathy for suffering, they do not necessarily show that an invisible ideology of carnism is an accurate description of the moral heuristics that people use to justify their activities.

These are by no means conclusive studies involving mostly college students in Western countries. Does social psychology show that identity is always shaped by and in consuming meat in a single, common way? No. Does it show that this identity or even orientation is an invisible one, conditioning people to believe things they otherwise would not? Of course not.

The theory of an ideology associated with meat is still a 'speculative one' in social psychology to this day; some two decades ago social psychologists Allen, Wilson, Hung Ng and Dunner were referring to 'a meat-dominance ideology in which emotional distance, anti-intellectualism, as well as other features, are but some of meat’s many conceptual and representational frames.' (Allen 420) But the concept of ideology they speculate about is not the same as Joy's; it refers to a political and social concept that accompanies right-wing authoritarianism and helps neutralize or anonymize meat, not to a hidden ideology that overcomes all social relationships.

Nowhere in their important review of psychological and empirical evidence in the study of human-animal relations do authorities in the field Catherine E. Amiot and Brock Bastian discuss carnism. Their review points to a multiplicity of factors in human-animal relationships, including the fact that they are much broader in import than simply the ethical issue of how we eat animals.

Their comments on ideology as a factor in these relationships are typically measured. There is empirical evidence that suggests a correlation between those who endorse a social dominance orientation and the degree to which they believe that humans and animals are similar (Costello & Hodson, 2010, Study 1), and the more they reported using animal products for their own ends (e.g., clothing, cosmetic, food, medicine; Hyers, 2006).

This is of course a very visible instantiation of social dominance orientation, which can be defined as the belief that human hierarchy is normal, natural and necessary and that those in power should be entitled to greater privileges (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). There is room here for speculation about 'powerarchy', but the empirical evidence is not comprehensive and there are important limiters that are nowhere to be found in Joy's work.

It should be noted that evidence in social psychology and the social sciences about human-animal relations comes almost entirely from Western contexts, and specifically from samples drawn entirely from (Western Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD) societies (Henrich et. al, 2010; Amot and Bastian p. 36). There may be some broad consistencies, but normative, cultural and social behaviour is likely to vary across different cultures.

Human-animal relationships are being viewed as 'increasingly important for gaining direct insights into human development, health, and decision making" (36). Empirical evidence suggests that violence against animals can be linked to a greater likelihood of engaging in antisocial behaviors humans such as bullying (Schwartz, Fremouw, Schenk, & Ragatz, 2012).

Perpetrators and victims of human-human violence have been shown to be more likely to have abused animals (e.g., Baldry, 2005). Children who commit animal cruelty have been shown to be more likely to commit violence against humans in adulthood (Henderson, Hensley, & Tallichet, 2011; Overton, Hensley, & Tallichet, 2012). Women who are victims of domestic violence are more likely to report that their male partners had committed acts of violence against animals (Ascione et al., 2007).

It is well known in sociology that ideological factors help shape 'intergroup relations' and 'may even legitimize the harmful treatment of an outgroup' (Sidanius & Pratto 1999). There is scant evidence that denying moral responsibility for animals is an unconscious strategy, even when it comes to food.

Animals can be neutralised morally, and their sentience denied, in 'a concrete strategy that allows us to distance ourselves from animals prior to exploiting or harming them (Arnot and Bastian 2015; Burghardt, 2009; Haslam, 2006). How we categorise, discuss and label animals makes all the difference for which ones we eat, how we view them and how we give them moral significance (Bratanova, et. al. 2011), but this categorisation varies across cultures (Herzog, 2010).

Anthropocentrism and 'human uniqueness' may be, as other social psychologists have put it, 'strategies of moral disengagement' (Bilewicz, et. al. 2011). Again, there is little to no evidence that moral disengagement is an automatic, unconscious decision or that the factors that influence us to disengage or maintain the status quo of 'carnism' come from a single, consistent ideology without cultural, social, personal or other differences. This does not mean that violence against animals should not be studied looking for similarities.

Erika Cudworth, a profession of feminist animal studies, has argued that an ‘emerging sociology of violence’ should ‘take account of the more-than human world’, and has demonstrated that human violence toward animals, whether or not for food, ‘demonstrates the ways in which violence constitutes a distinctive practice clearly linked to sets of social relations in which human interests are prioritized.' (Cudworth 2015: 15).

Given the scope of Joy’s work leading up to Powerarchy, it might have been useful if Joy had heeded Erika Cudworth's for 'caution' in this study. Joy's social psychology of violence arguably tends to blur the differences for the sake of a broad scope, rather than extend understanding. The ambition and scope of powerarchy would not be subject to such a gulf if Joy had delimited the work and avoided conceptual overreach that does indeed justify the somewhat scathing label, 'theoretical imperialism'.

So many analogies, crudely drawn, and deterministic diagnoses seem justified by such a work that is unfortunately not seemingly designed to open up a useful extension of human-animal intersectionality. In fact, no fully-tested empirical evidence supports Joy's theoretical assumptions about carnism or powerarchy, and animal advocates would do well to be cautious in adopting the concept of powerarchy.

There can be no doubting Joy's courage and dedication to returning to her academic work on social violence she began decades ago. What is revealed by Powerachy, however, is that Joy's groundwork in coining and investigating carnism as an ideology may have been flawed from the start.

Ideology fails

British sociologist John B. Thompson succinctly describes ideology as ‘meaning in the service of power.’ Joy’s work repeatedly returns to concepts that describe just such a functioning of meaning, but the concept of ideology itself is nowhere clearly defined or analysed by Joy, even where it seems fundamental to the claims of books like Powerarchy.

Ideology is, as an expert in the field of ideology, Michael Freeden has put it, 'the problem-child of political analysis' (Freeden 2006). Ideology has a notorious pedigree in debates between marxists and fascists in the twentieth century and in its adoption as the political platform par excellence after Marx and Engels, despite the origin of the concept appearing in their ruthless critique of ideology itself, first in The German Ideology (1846).

Ideology in this respect is 'a loose cannon when used professionally' (Freeden 2006), as it suggests not only Marxist influence, but also an imprecision in analysis that is no longer tolerated. Nowhere in Joy’s books is Marxism a feature or a reference, which is to be suspected in works that popularise social change and human and animal liberation.

Nonetheless, Joy refers often to ‘dominant ideology’, and implies there is rigorous psycho-sociological evidence for it, or agreement across functional sociologists. If we consider a major way that the dominant ideology thesis has been maintained in contemporary humanities, however, we have to turn to Marxism and post-marxist theories. Terry Eagleton, a British literary theorist, and intellectual explained ideology in terms remarkably similar to Joy’s in the classic 1991 book Ideology: An Introduction:

Ideology is a system of concepts and views which serves to make sense of the world while obscuring the social interests that are expressed therein, and by its completeness and relative internal consistency tends to form a closed system and maintain itself in the face of contradictory or inconsistent experience.

Any literature or education student, as Joy was at Harvard, would likely have read Eagleton. Post-marxists adopt this idea of ideology as a system that, closed, resists the contests of social interests. This notion of a closed system, never confirmed by empirical evidences, rests on the ‘false consciousness’ thesis of Marx and Engels, by which the bourgeoisie obscure their social interests through a dominant ideology, and on the thesis of economic determinism.

Ideas in this respect act as free floating signifiers, producing meaning but offering a kind of false ideology which appears to be a closed system. Closed because of the possibility of this absolute obscuring in a language that is assumed can act in an essentialist way, even where the essentialism of this obscuring of social interests is to be challenged.

This is a classic structuralist concept of ideology that, once common in functional sociology influenced by Marxism and Parsonian functionalism, is shared with various schools of psychoanalytical and critical theories that have as their basis, rather than in clinical empiricism, in a tradition of so-called continental philosophy. In many respects, this is the kind of contradictory tradition of ideology that Joy has, if not completely adopted, at least assumed as supporting concepts such as carnism, which is often read through these traditions of intellectual engagement in order to assimilate Joy’s ideas into familiar frameworks.

In 1980, British sociologists Nicholas Abercrombie, Stephen Hill and Bryan S. Turner published the controversial but paradigm-shifting book The Dominant Ideology Thesis, which exposed the flaws of the dominant ideology thesis that was then an orthodoxy in post-Marxist sociological thinking and functionalist sociology.

Ever since this book, professional sociology has accepted the need to challenge the orthodoxy of the dominant ideology thesis and have produced more empirical evidence rejecting what we could consider a strong case for a dominant ideology and the ‘over-socialised conception of society’ that is assumed by the dominant ideology thesis.

This strong case is one that Joy repeatedly refers to but never explains or complicates: that ideology completely dominates its victims, on a spectrum from brainwashing to simply incorporating, so that these victims become unknowing agents, and that it is ideology that plays a dominant role in the way power is exercised.

The authors of The Dominant Ideology Thesis show up the assumption that ‘dominant ideologies are clear, coherent and effective’ and ‘show that, on the contrary, they are fractured and even contradictory in most historical periods’ (156).

Sociologists who accept the strong thesis of common culture and ideology ‘take on faith a variety of unsubstantiated generalisations which are derived from their theoretical preconceptions rather than any real evidence’ (155). It is not even useful to hold a strong theory of ideology, because it seems clear that ‘social order cannot be explained primarily by ideological incorporation and value consensus’, and that nonetheless social order and integration can be maintained even in the ‘absence of powerful consensus values’ (153).

Rather ‘the non-normative aspect of system integration provides a basis of a society’s coherence, irrespective of whether or not there are common values’, and this is because social integration and system integration can ‘vary independently’ and a ‘network of objective social relations’ can be enough to bind people together in various commercialised practices (168). In other words, it is not that ideology is dead as a subject of study, but rather that ‘the range of utility’ of ideology must be ‘set widely’ and always investigated.

The thesis that feudalism or early modern societies completely incorporated their subjects using ideological incorporation, a mainstay of post-Marxist and functionalist sociology, for example, is shown to be extremely faulty in The Dominant Ideology Thesis, and moreover empirical evidence and analysis does not support the idea that there is a single dominant ideology in any area of life in later capitalism that can show that people are completely incorporated into power in an unknowing way.

The only way the dominant ideology thesis is supported in an analysis of media and cultural production is through ‘a priori reasoning in addition to indirect evidence’, but the claims become ‘so vague and trivial that the concept of ideology loses any utility’ (Abercrombie, Hill and Turner 1980: 130).

The chapter on late capitalism in The Dominant Ideology Thesis is well worth reading to examine the way in which assumptions about ideology are broken down into different subsets of institutional, economic and social behaviour, and communication failures, showing that ideology in late capitalism is a inconsistent and contradictory thing.

This is not merely because social interests are obscured, but because social interests have become changed by competitive and structural forces and because what holds societies together is not the stability of capitalism, but the mere potential for state-sponsored violence and non-normative social pressures.

Compulsion, economic and social, and social conformism is an ongoing factor in late capitalism and its culture of ‘pragmatic apathy’, but nonetheless ‘one still cannot argue that the stability of late capitalism is mainly produced by any form of ideological or value coherence’ (155).

Of course, we can never completely reject ‘the possibility of ideological incorporation’, but empirical evidence and social analysis supports the likelihood that even in different historical periods ‘ideology generally plays a secondary, partial and insignificant role in social order’ (Abercrombie, Hill and Turner 1980: 57).

The authors of The Dominant Ideology Thesis pointed out what scholars in the field have today grown to accept, that the notion of ideology has ‘given rise to more analytical and conceptual difficulties than almost any other term in the social sciences’ (187). Sociologist Daniel Bell referred to 'the trap of ideology' and to ideologues as 'terrible simplifiers' (Bell 1962).

Most academics with a commitment to empirical evidence would, with a minor quibble or two, agree: 'recent views have contrasted ideology with science or, more specifically, with the empiricism at the heart of science' (Freeden 2006). That said, no one rejects the concept of ideology completely, but shifts from a strong to a weak case for it.

Michael Freeden explains how political theory and sociology have carried out the relatively recent 'rehabilitation of ideology both as a social phenomenon and analytical tool' through a paradigm shift in which ideology has moved from 'just a class or mass occurrence to a general feature of political thinking'. It is arguably now no longer scholarly to ignore the 'built-in conceptual indeterminacy' of ideology, or to ignore 'the contestability that is the quintessential fact of political language and political action'.

An ideology is no longer a 'defect in argument' or an 'absence of attainable rational and ethical consensus', but is 'political thinking pure and simple' (Freeden 2006). In a turn of phrase that Joy would appreciate, Freeden considers ideologies to be 'the thought-products par excellence of the political sphere: they are necessary, normal, and they facilitate (and reflect) political action' (Freeden 2006).

Ideologies act, for Freeden, as 'imaginative maps drawing together facts that themselves may be disputed' (Freeden 2006). It is important to socialise the concept of ideology as a basic social and relational element, for ideologies are 'collectively produced and collectively consumed'. Freeden will also warns that 'not infrequently the unavoidable selectivity of ideologies acts as blinkers that are themselves the cause of our injuries'.

When we consider the concept of carnism and veganism in Joy’s writing, we’ll see how Joy’s concept of ideology leads to the distortions and even ‘blinkers’ that obscure how sociology and social psychology today understands ideology. Perhaps Joy's classic concept of ideology belongs to the era of 1960s and 1970s protest sociology, when the social sciences acted as critique, as described by Boyan Znepolski:

Critique was inscribed into the research programmes themselves: social research was regarded as critique, while the ultimate purpose of critique was to “unlock”, to provoke, and to catalyse social change by revealing the mechanisms of domination and exploitation; by demystifying the dominant ideology, whether with scientific detachment and a claim to objectivity and distance vis-à-vis the object of research, or in the form of close collaboration with the social movements it was studying.

It is hard to fault Joy for a sustained collaboration with the vegan social movement, and for wanting to bring research into social critique, but more awareness of limitations and the need to specify and include before frameworks are built seem to offer ways of improving this work. Powerarchy is a concept that has been fashioned through a social critique that seeks to 'catalyse social change by revealing the mechanisms of domination and exploitation'.

I have sympathy for this approach, but the domination is in the details. Social sciences such as sociology, politics, and social psychology have moved on from an era in which 'dominant ideology' was the one and only important object for research. The conceptualisation of ideology has changed as new empirical research and new forms of protest responding to new social orders have necessitated a rethinking of the old post-marxist theories of ideology.

Joy has promoted for almost two decades decades now a traditional concept of ideology means that it is in danger of leaving behind the opportunities and realities of social change. Far from illuminating the relationship between speciesism and other power systems, this framework could simply alienate social action from the reality of today's mechanisms of domination and exploitation.

In 2014, Joy had appeared to reassess some of the implications of the concept of ideology she created for her readers when she worked with another academic, environmentalist and gender studies scholar, Adam Weitzenfeld. Their work on speciesism together was couched in the intimidating academic jargon that usually means a new field is being demarcated.

Their paper in the field of 'critical animal theory' did not have the reach of Joy's other books, but nonetheless it points to how the psychologist envisages ideology working in Powerarchy and offer some further complications that this book does not. Joy refers to the critical theory discussed above and claims that it 'shares with other emancipatory traditions the desire to redeem the conscious living subject, or person, from thoughtlessness, violence, and domination' (John Sanbonmatsu: 2011, p. 5).

Although she does not discuss Marxism anywhere else, Joy claims that it is possible to recover 'the human (and animal) others' originary freedom and wholeness before alienation, repression, and fragmentation under capitalist patriarchy' (Weitzenfeld and Joy 2014: 26), and her choice is clearly to prioritise critical theory rather than the posthumanist turn.

However, a sophisticated reader might not see a 'critical disjuncture' between critical theory and posthumanism, but rather a useful enlargement of resources for critique. Joy and Weismann consider speciesism as ideology 'not the source but the symptom of oppression that lies in hierarchical material relationships whereby power and capital--fiscal, social, cultural, and spiritual--are accumulated through the exploitation of animals' (Weitzenfeld and Joy 2014: 27).

This characteristically post-marxist theoretical conflation of a normative concept with material reality offers no empirical or even genealogical evidence to support it, Normative materialism is now a common framework for critical understandings of the role of power in society, but even in the case of meat and animal consumption, scholars are now calling into question these normative values and placing more attention onto the elements of cultural, religious, gender, communal, ethnic, political and class differences and determinants that help compose the status of meat and animal products (Chiles and Fitzgerald 2018). The wider fields of social change and sociology seems to be a much more relevant areas of investigation than normative or even social psychology.

For Joy carnism is not a complex thing in its socialisation and allows us to refer to a speculative superstructure that holds power to witness, by naming what ‘it’ wants to hide: 'Naming and deconstructing carnism therefore may enable us to make invisible naturalized and normalized practices and affects of speciesism visible objects to challenge and transform.' (Weitzenfeld and Joy 2014: 28). This linguistic essentialism is provided with no empirical evidence to support it but it is, as we have seen, the common trope of liberation mythologies.

It is at this point that Joy offers up carnism as the name that names the unnameable, similar to powerarchy, but also returns to the dominant ideology thesis without much of a non-circular explanation of the role of such an ideology in power: 'Dominant ideologies and narratives, and the complexes they inevitably form, maintain power largely by remaining invisible. The invisibility of the carnist-speciesist complex—and of its defenses—form some of the central pillars on which the system stands.' (Weitzenfeld and Joy 2014: 34).

The strong claim of ideology is apparent: 'exploitative systems such as carnism must use a set of institutional and discursive mechanisms that enable otherwise empathic people to participate in violent practices without fully realizing what they are doing' (Weitzenfeld and Joy 2014: 29-30).

Animal liberation pamphlet: "Small All Oppression".

These totalising claims about ideology and society come from the theoretical framework of 'total liberation': 'Vegan praxis', Joy and Wiesman claim, 'must be oriented toward challenging all oppressive power structures, externally--in the realm of material institutions--and internally--in discourse/perception/affect' (Weitzenfeld and Joy 2014: 34).

From this, it somehow intended to follow that 'vegan praxis' is 'the most effective and direct way to subvert the speciesist complex' (Weitzenfeld and Joy 2014: 28). Leaving aside the political consequences of such a conception of power or the focus on veganism, it is by asking questions about how power works in this complex, and how dominant classes may exist, that we can bring out some of the tensions of Joy’s theorisation of a total liberation, a powerarchy that provides vegan praxis with an ready access to a framework that, unfortunately, is hampered by the vagueness of a dominant ideology thesis.

In The Dominant Ideology Thesis (1980), there is a useful summary of some of the basic unanswered questions in the idea of the dominant ideology that Joy refers to as supporting her argument. It is based on the assumption that such an ideology is ‘easily identified as a system of beliefs which is obvious, consistent and widely prevalent in society’ (3). Accompanying such an assumption is a failure to specific answers to basic questions.

The main elements of the thesis assumed are regularly as follows:

  1. There is a dominant ideology, the precise content of which is not always carefully specified. Neither is it clear what scientific procedures would establish whether any given ideology is dominant.

  2. Dominant classes ‘benefit’ from the effects of the dominant ideology, although not necessarily through their own deliberate activities. There is generally little investigation of the impact of the dominant ideology on the dominant classes.

  3. The dominant ideology does incorporate the subordinate classes, making them politically quiescent, though there is considerable disagreement as to the degree of incorporation and the consequent degree of social stability. The effect of ideology is to conceal social relations.

  4. The mechanisms by which ideology is transmitted have to be powerful enough to overcome the contradictions within the structure of capitalist society. (Abercrombie, Hill and Turner 1980: 29)

While these positions as outlined are characterising Marxist and functionalist sociology theories, the abstract notions such as capitalist or subordinate can easily be replaced by the concepts and notions that Joy uses in books such as Powerarchy.

The result of the positions above is that ideology has often taken on an exaggerated but never specified importance, so much so that other sociological concepts, such as legitimation, are often confused with ‘ideas in heads’, rather than with institutionalised practices.

One of the classic mistakes of the dominant ideology thesis is that participation in an ideological context means that social actors hold or internalise beliefs. This is a non sequitur that mirrors assumptions about class and responsibility and that assumes that people act as signifiers of power, rather than agents who may hold their own contradictory interests.

The authors of The Dominant Ideology Thesis point out the dominant ideology thesis as a strong thesis often assumes a kind of instrumentalism of ideology, that ideology can be wielded by a dominant class, without the effects of that same ideology on the dominant class needing to be specified. This is, of course, the falsehood of ‘mass indoctrination’ or brainwashing we have criticised elsewhere.

Joy in Powerarchy takes up many of these features of the dominant ideology thesis, without specifying clearly who the dominant classes actually are, or how they are affected. At the origin of ideology, Joy does not put class, but an abstract conception of hierarchy, power and oppression. It is not social interests that are obscured by powerarchy, but violence, which is made – in what is perhaps the least substantiated thesis of all – ‘invisible’.

It seems clear that Joy has not fundamentally changed the structural assumptions of the dominant ideology thesis, and merely popularised a form of vernacular social psychology that mirrors many of the conspiracy theories and popular narratives that circulate in underground culture and that appear in movies such as The Matrix.

In Part Two of "Fleshing out Carnism", we will consider in closer detail how Joy introduces and presents carnism, the so-called invisible belief system that conditions us to eat meat. Concluding the two-part piece, we will consider some ways that animal advocates and vegans can move away from the flawed notion of ideology that informs the concept of carnism.

"Fleshing out Carnism" is written by Beornn McCarthy, founder of Open for Animals and Social Change Leadership Consulting in Melbourne, Australia. For more info or enquiries email info@socialchangeleadership.com.

"The Secret Reason We Eat Meat", Beyond Carnism


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