The belief that all it takes is for humans to be exposed to the truth regarding animal exploitation, lacks thorough historical, social and cultural perspective and context, which we’ll elaborate about further in this answer. But first we wish to make a much more basic point.
While it’s true that still most people aren’t exposed to what the animals go through in factory farms, they are aware of the basic facts. Humans don’t have to know every detail about the cruelest exploitation system ever in history, it is enough to generally know that factory farms exist to be morally accountable.
And it is even more basic than that, humans know that meat is animals’ flesh. Even the least informed humans are at least aware that meat is made of animals who were murdered specifically to make the meat they eat. They are aware of at least that, and still freely choose to participate. They know that animals are born to be killed for their flesh. Meat is never made of animals who died of diseases, accidents, by other nonhuman animals, or of old age, but only of animals that other humans murdered. So humans are not only fully aware of animals being murdered for their meat, murder is an obligatory condition for a corpse to be considered as meat. Humans know meat is murder. Knowing that they participate in hurting nonhumans is sufficient for them to stop. Humans consume animal products because they want to, not because they don’t know better.
The only thing that at least some humans can honestly say is that they didn’t know the extent of how horrible animals’ lives actually are. But the basic fact that meat is a piece of carcass, should definitely be sufficient to at least ignite basic curiosity and motivation to look for more information, if humans cared. However, humans don’t even try to figure out what happens to nonhumans before they become their meat. Extensive information is available for everyone nowadays, and activists are more than willing to explain to everyone what is going on and what they can do about it. So even saying that they didn’t know how horrible animals are treated, is less a case of lack of knowledge, and more a case of lack of motivation.
Humans know enough to at least start asking questions. But they don’t want to know more, or know but don’t want to think about it. And when someone knows but doesn’t want to know more or doesn’t want to think about it, s/he doesn’t care. The problem is not ignorance, but apathy.
The argument that ‘the problem is that people don’t know what is going on’ is quite popular among activists since the antithesis is deeply depressing. It is very discouraging to internalize that humans know but don’t care enough to stop, or that humans choose to eat meat fully aware of the fact that it is made of animals (and maybe even because it is made of animals). Clearly it is more empowering for activists to believe that humans are basically and naturally compassionate, and they are doing horrible things as a result of deceit and manipulations, as it is the hardest thing to make others care about something they don’t really care about. Raising awareness and informing humans is the relatively easy task, making others care about something to the point of changing their beloved habits, is a whole different story. So of course believing that humans are not doing the bad things they do because they want to, but because they don’t know better, is a much more comforting position than that they know what’s going on and do it anyway.
"Animal Liberation" by Peter Singer was written more than 40 years ago, "Animals Machines" by Ruth Harrison was written more than 50 years ago, and since these two, hundreds more were published, and there are thousands of websites and social media platforms with thousands of videos and tens of thousands of photos documenting animals' systematic exploitation by humans. Humans have many ways to get the information if they want to, they just don’t.
The animal rights arguments are so simple and right. They are based on solid facts and evidences. Nobody can confront them rationally. Why then is it so hard to convince someone to go vegan?
The reason is that rationality is not enough in this world. It has proved itself as an insufficient element in order to change people’s habits. Rationality can’t beat motivation (for a more comprehensive view on that matter please read Even the most selfish argument is not working in our article section).
Obviously, humans are trying to avoid the acknowledgment that it is not moral to exploit animals, arbitrarily drawing their personal line at any place that fits their day-to-day routine. From minding themselves only, to family and friends, same country, same religion, same species, "free" range eggs only, no veal only, no tested cosmetic products only and etc.
Unfortunately, activists are avoiding the acknowledgment about how humans are avoiding the acknowledgment.
Take vegetarians for example, not only that many of them are aware of the harms inflicted in factory farms, they are even actively resisting parts of it. However, as you know very well, and more importantly for that matter, as many vegetarians know nowadays, the milk industry and the meat industry are inseparably bound together as a mother is inseparably bound together with her babies. The leather industry is even more strongly bound with the meat industry. And of course, the egg industry shares with the meat industry all its violent elements, and even for a longer period of time for each victim. Despite these facts, or any logical consistency and ethical coherency, vegetarians artificially separate the industries as if you can resist one and support the other. Not because they are unaware of the cruelty involved in eggs and dairy, but only because this is where they have decided to draw the line.
A few decades ago vegetarians could have honestly argued that they are not aware of the harms in the eggs and milk industries. But in the last couple of decades, when almost every vegetarian knows what’s behind animal derived products, they can no longer honestly argue for lack of awareness.
The very existence of vegetarianism as an "ethical" category in an age of abundantly available information about the violent industries vegetarians participate in, is a very strong indication that the problem is not that people don’t know what is going on.
And not only that the incoherent concept of vegetarianism didn’t gradually evolve into veganism, there are many more vegetarians than vegans, despite that veganism is ethically firmer, coherent, factually based and logically consistent. The estimations are that there are 7 vegetarians, and 23 meat reducers for every vegan in the U.S. Of course there are many problems with veganism (for more information about it you can read our article about the subject), however they are much more complex than the ones with vegetarianism, which scream out of the dairy farms and battery cages.
Vegan activists are too familiar with the frustration of unsuccessfully trying to persuade vegetarians to go vegan, and how they are not simply ill-informed about the facts. Most of the vegetarians for ethical reasons, people who perceive themselves as having a moral backbone, are not willing to hear about the violence they actively support for their pleasures, which goes to show that it is about them and not really about the animals.
The overwhelming majority of humans will always choose the more comfortable option that requires less behavioral change from them. In principle, the smaller the demanded change, the greater the chances of it to happen.
That’s why there are significantly more vegetarians out there, classifying themselves with different titles, according to the various compromises they have decided on with themselves. Creating or joining a category gives them a sense of consistency - it provides defined and simple boundaries, despite being arbitrary. For example there are ovo-vegetarians (exclude flesh and dairy products, but do consume eggs) or lacto-vegetarians (exclude flesh and eggs but do consume dairy products).
And since for the vast majority of humans even vegetarianism is too hard, there are far more of the various pseudo vegetarians out there. They might call themselves pollotarians (limit flesh consumption to chickens), or pescetarians (restrict their flesh consumption to fishes and other marine animals), and of course flexitarians and reduceterians. Each with their set of excuses, each with their speciesist red lines, each with the suffering they accept happening directly for their benefit.
We find vegetarianism very characteristic of humans, being mostly selfish, and occasionally making gestures to sooth their conscience.
By adopting vegetarianism, they gain the moral superiority feeling despite still participating in violence, a sense of reasonableness despite the reasonless, and the self-image of sensitiveness despite the cruelty.
Vegetarians don’t consume meat but do consume milk and eggs, not because they don’t know what’s going on, but because it is less demanding of them.
As hypocrite, nonfactual, inconsistent and senseless as vegetarianism is, it is easier than veganism, so many more humans choose it rather than the much more valid, logically consistent and ethically coherent option.
But the point here is not to show how illogical and unethical vegetarians are, boycotting some industries and not others, but how illogical and unethical activists are entrusting animals’ fates in humans’ hands instead of looking for ways to dethrone them.
The point is not how lame vegetarianism is, but how typical it is for humans to set the bar so low, and how lack of information isn’t the problem.
Probably an even stronger indication that the problem isn’t one of knowledge availability, is the historical perspective. Throughout thousands of years, humans not only knew exactly how meat is being produced, and not only that they were exposed to very visible violence against nonhumans and were perfectly fine with it, most humans had inflicted the cruelty with their own hands.
When humans had information about how animals are treated (information, which as mentioned, most have created themselves) it was absolutely unnoticed, and only after a long and gradual general social refinement process, which (as we broadly address in the post about the civilization process) had nothing to do with how humans view or treat nonhumans, and after most of the violence, at least in most parts of the world, moved far from their daily view, could they start to empathize with animals.
The conventional assumption among many animal liberation activists is that the exclusion of animal exploitation from the public eye enabled the human society to intensify it. But it is the exact opposite. It is the distancing of violence from the eye of the public that created the initial scenery for even considering violence towards animals as violence. Before the removal of violence towards animals from humans’ sight, it wasn’t even considered as violence. It was just the way things are. Only when masses of humans were brought up without seeing violence towards animals on a daily basis, without it being part of the “natural” order of things in the human social life, they could think it is wrong when they did suddenly encounter violence towards animals. As long as it was a routine to see animals being murdered in the streets of every city around the world, let alone the country side, there was no way that humans would rethink it.
But still the reencounter with the information about the cruelty doesn’t have the desirable effect.
Most humans would probably find much of the violence in the world today repugnant as opposed to most humans some hundreds of years ago. However, most of these humans don’t do anything practical and meaningful with their repugnancy. The repugnancy is only momentary and humans’ are masters of rationalization and justification. Humans can almost automatically overpower their slight cognitive dissonance by spitting the first excuse that comes to their mind and keep their pleasurable violent habits.
The fact that humans don’t need much to deal with their instantaneous repugnancy (usually easily justifying and permitting horrendous violence by calling something natural, traditional or claiming that they have no other way to get the nutrients, or whatever crap they usually spew) means that humans are repelled enough to feel the need to come up with excuses, but apathetic enough for these excuses to be incredibly foolish and lacking any causal relation, logic or facts.
And most importantly humans are apathetic enough to continue participating in these horrors. They knowingly keep consuming products which are the result of the exact same violence they are allegedly repelled by. They are empathetic enough to say it is terrible when they see or hear about the violence involved in the making process of certain products, and apathetic enough to consume them anyway.
The convenient arrangement that the distanced factory farms have created for humans is not planned or designed in order to protect them from sights of animal slaughter. It was a technical, functional process aimed at making the exploitation process more efficient. It was on the production sphere, not the consumption sphere. Flesh consumption is growing and growing not because of the removal of factory farms from the public eye, which enabled the consumers to be emotionally detached and so indifferently consume violence. It simply enabled prices reduction and made animal products more available.
Humans know meat is a corpse of an animal that was raised and murdered for them. They see animals in all kinds of situations during their lives, in farms when driving outside the city, inside crowded trucks when driving on highways, dead but in a relatively whole and unprocessed state in markets, alive in the case of fish and crustaceans in markets and even restaurants, and of course in the last couple of decades in the movement’s publications, on TV, and online. People know what’s going on. They just don’t care enough to do something about it.
Nowadays, more and more humans, in more and more places are exposed to more and more of the violence from factory farms by activists who face them with the truth. But the reaction of most is not a moral repugnance, but mainly avoidance from any ethical consideration. Most don’t want to watch violence towards animals, but to keep enjoying the “products” of it.
Whether for symbolical reasons, as meat is a symbol of nature domination, social circumstances such as conformity, or simply since they find animal flesh tasty - the advance in the threshold of repugnance regarding violence inflicted on animals mostly revolves around the visual aspect.
If slaughterhouses had glass walls, almost everyone would look away from the violent sight and keep eating animals flesh.
It takes much more than making the walls of slaughterhouses transparent. It is true that many humans would find it hard to watch violence towards animals, but it is much harder for them to change their habits. The set of myths, norms, flavor, history, availability, convenience, the cultural symbolism that meat represents, are way stronger than the refinement humans have gone through. The refinement may be enough to cause a feeling of repugnance but not enough to cause a change.
If you examine the arguments that are raised in conversations about animal rights and about veganism, you won’t find even one rational argument against animal rights or veganism.
But you’ll never stop hearing the same stupid old responses:
“What about how other animals kill and eat each other?”
“Human beings are a part of the food chain, and eating meat is natural. So then, how can it be wrong?”
“But didn’t our ancestors eat meat?”
“If God did not want us to eat meat, then why did he place animals on the Earth?”
“How do you know that plants can not feel pain too?”
“What about insects?”
“Where would I get my protein from?”
“Would you rather save your child or your dog?”
“Shouldn't we focus on solving human problems before worrying about animals?”
“If everyone become vegetarian, then what would we do with all the farm animals?”
“If we didn't raise animals for food, then they would never have had the chance to be born and experience life at all.”
“Don’t you have something better to do?”
…and you will give the same answers…
For how long will you participate in this game?
Lack of information is not the problem. The problem is that people that do know what is going on are not doing anything about it, and the few that do something, are aiming at the wrong direction.
Humans’ awareness of what’s going on is sufficient for them to decide not to participate in the abuse. But besides that, on a deeper level, behind the argument that “the problem is that they don’t know”, lies the speciesist assumption that humans should be presented with all the available information, all the reasons and rationales for stopping their systematic abuse, first, and then they will decide whether to stop or not.
A non-speciesist claim on the other hand would be that nonhumans should be free from their exploitation first and regardless of humans’ decision or opinion.
It shouldn’t be about what humans know or don’t know, or willing or not willing to do - as it’s not about them. It’s about stopping the suffering of their victims. Morality shouldn’t be about humans and their journey of gaining knowledge, and self-improvement and redemption.
Choosing to inform humans about their daily torturing of animals is accepting and reinforcing the concept that it is humans' decision whether or not to change the way they treat nonhuman animals. It is declaring that it is their minds that count. Humans’ power and control shouldn’t be an obvious given.
The fact that the animal rights activists’ natural tendency and the first and last plan of action is to inform humans that their daily torturing of the weaker for their own minor benefits, habits and pleasures is wrong, is in itself wrong, violent and speciesist.
Our job is not to convince humans to stop abusing, our job is to stop the abuse.
The problem is not that humans don’t know what’s going on, the problem is that activists - the most caring people in the world - are wasting their precious time on informing the rest of humanity about the greatest exploitation system ever in history, hoping that some of them will be kind enough to stop some of it, instead of looking for ways to annihilate them all so none of it will ever exist.