Carnivore thinking

I would not want to endorse a view that in the U.K., Boris Johnson has been too heedless of the economy and too heedful of the pandemic. Much of what I see suggests the contrary. But I include Bob Moran’s cartoon from the Telegraph (figure 1) because it is one of those rare instances where we acknowledge that both problems are severe and deserving of attention.
Fig. 1. Cartoon by Bob Moran in the Telegraph, July 2, 2020, fair use.

In a tweet using a cartoon by Mike Luckovich of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Rodney Latstetter complains that to the contrary we, in the United States, have been focused on the economy to the exclusion of the pandemic, which indeed seems to be returning with a vengeance.[1]

I’ve recently been thinking about what I call “carnivore thinking,” where we seem able to focus only on one problem, much as a predator focuses on a single prey animal in a hunt. Even a predator’s eyes are oriented on the front of their head to emphasize depth perception, for the pounce, rather than on the sides of their head, as with herbivores, to emphasize a wider range of vision, hopefully to spot that predator sooner.

Whatever vegans may say about our guts—we evidently have the intestinal tracts of herbivores[2]—we have the eyes of predators and I understand that it is this very arrangement that leads so many animals to fear us, even as we admire them for being ‘cute.’

Carnivore vision is a problem when I’m trying to find a book on my bookshelf or when I’m looking at one thing in traffic while I also need to see something else. Carnivore thinking leads us to consider only one problem when there is a multitude.

Carnivore thinking is inherently competitive. The prey one animal catches will be shared, if at all, only with those in a small social circle, a family or perhaps others who participated in the hunt. The competition is against both members of its own species and against members of other species. It does not end with the kill, as the feast must then be defended. Carnivores often mark territories, which they defend.

Herbivores, by contrast, watch for danger, but aside from mating, rarely compete with each other. They coexist, often in environments with plenty to forage. Herds are protective.

In the present crisis, we have the urgent demands of anti-racism protesters, a pandemic, and a recession or, potentially, a depression, all set in a context of pervasive social inequality and a climate crisis.[3] Carnivore thinking shows up when we think of any one of these to the exclusion of the others. It shows up even when we focus on the symbolism of pulling down statues and forget about more substantive forms of racism.[4] It shows up even in how we relate to each other in the capitalist system. Moran portrays (I suspect inaccurately) a politician focusing on the pandemic to the exclusion of the economy. Luckovich portrays a society focusing on the economy to the exclusion of the pandemic. Both cartoonists forget, at least in these drawings, about racism. Donald Trump wants to forget about the pandemic and to forget about racism and just to reopen the economy.

We need instead, what I might call “herbivore thinking,” to take in a wide view of the problems we face. And to synthesize solutions that address all of them, to protect all of us and the world we live in.

  1. [1]Talal Ansari, “Texas Governor Rolls Back Reopening as U.S. Virus Cases Hit Record,” Wall Street Journal, June 26, 2020,; Annie Gowen, Arelis R. Hernández, and Lori Rozsa, “Young people urged to take virus more seriously as pandemic worsens in U.S.,” Washington Post, June 27, 2020,; Thomas Heath and Hannah Denham, “Dow tumbles 730 points as covid-19 flare-ups force states to push back reopening,” Washington Post, June 26, 2020,; Toluse Olorunnipa, Josh Dawsey, and Yasmeen Abutaleb, “With Trump leading the way, America’s coronavirus failures exposed by record surge in new infections,” Washington Post, June 27, 2020,; Lisa Shumaker and Brendan O’Brien, “Record spike in new coronavirus cases reported in six U.S. states as reopening accelerates,” Reuters, June 16, 2020,; Meg Wagner et al., “Fauci, Redfield testify on Covid-19 reopening as cases rise,” CNN, June 30, 2020,
  2. [2]This point is also made in Greta Gaard, “Vegetarian Ecofeminism: A Review Essay,” Frontiers 23, no. 3 (2002): 117-146.
  3. [3]David Benfell, “Tipping point,” Not Housebroken, June 5, 2020,
  4. [4]David Benfell, “The loss of the Lost Cause,” Not Housebroken, July 2, 2020,

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.