As you may know, I am a student of persuasion. That means I have a fine-tuned radar for the effects of social influence. You probably know already that “peer pressure” is a thing, but you don’t recognize how far it goes. I spend a lot of brain power looking for it, and it’s everywhere.
One thing you start to recognize is what resistance looks like. When your mind encounters information it doesn’t like, it has to react in order to protect its beliefs. It comes out physiologically in a number of ways. This is called cognitive dissonance. Just as a person who passionately believes vaccines are dangerous is completely immune to science and factual reasoning, vegans and sober people can be subconsciously compelled to defend their behaviors. (Note that I think being sober is great. But veganism is not for me.)
For context, this is just speculation. I have no way to confirm this because there is no control group. But it lines up well with my past observations of social proof, tribal behavior and cognitive dissonance. Onward.
There’s something called the backfire effect, which to me looks a lot like cognitive dissonance in a specific form. This is what happens when you present a Creationist with facts about the age of rocks, bones and plant fossils. Their mind doesn’t like the existence of conflicting information, because the alternative to being right is feeling like an idiot. So they dig in. Hard.
And this is the case with everything you believe strongly. If you regularly act on the belief and your identity is crafted around it, good luck giving that up. It would take someone extremely persuasive to move you from that position, whatever it may be.
I know what a successful attempt looks like. The person kind of looks away, squints or grimaces, and goes, “huh.” That’s one of the ways I recognize a successful attempt to persuade. But what does the result of a failed persuasion attempt look like? I have a suspicion I know what it looks like from afar.
Reaffirming your identity feels good. It removes some of the cognitive dissonance that is shielding you from seeing the other side of things. So naturally when you find information that doesn’t jive with who you are, one of your reactions is to dig in.
Vegans have a lot of conflicting facts to deal with. A short period without animal proteins and fats might have a net positive outcome for your health. But veganism is probably bad for your health over the long term. There’s lots of research pointing in that direction, which means vegans have to resist a lot of persuasion that is based on the credibility of scientists.
When something uncomfortable about veganism enters their mind, they publicly reaffirm their identity. That feels good and produces positive social proof for veganism. The result is that they tend to hang out together and feel healthy about their diet, even though it’s probably not healthy to be a vegan. (I had to use bold italics for the word “not” so the vegans could read it. Otherwise, something else in the room would suddenly appear to be more interesting. I’m serious.)
I think people who don’t drink do a lot of the same things. They tell everyone about how sober they are until they replace all their drinker friends with non-drinker friends. Eventually after sober people are left with only sober friends who have better things to do, they stop talking about it.
But the big difference is that sobriety has more obvious benefits. Alcohol costs an absurd amount of money. If you drink and you are over the age of 25, you could have learned to socialize without alcohol by now because it would be necessary. Instead you continue to limp along with a crutch. And while a glass of wine now and then might be good for your health (regular drinkers read that as “alcohol can be good for you” and think, “That’s me!”), the net is bad on any scale, large or small.
Can you tell I don’t drink much?