When an individual reveals or shares his anti-speciesist opinions (in favour of equal consideration of the interests of sentient beings), it is not uncommon to be asked whether he belongs to a cult. Moreover, in some cases, they are not even asked: it is said so.
This reaction is often part of a strategy of deliberately misrepresenting the anti-speciesist position. The idea is to create a frightful argument that can easily be refuted and then to attribute it to the opponent. It’s called the straw man sophism.
“It is inconsistent to use the criterion of the species to which an animal belongs to decide how it should be treated and the moral consideration it should be given.
– What a sectarian discourse!”
The statement is generally tinged with bad faith and is characterized by a notable fact: it is accompanied neither by a willingness to explain its position nor to enter into a rational and argued debate.
We will therefore not know what a sect is (what are its precise characteristics?), nor to what extent anti-speciesist discourse is a sectarian phenomenon.
In other words, once the opposing thesis has been pejoratively connoted (“you belong to a sect!”), the trick is done: there is no need to use well-grounded arguments. To have qualified the opposing thesis as sectarian makes it possible to extract oneself from the debate.
As a sub-genre of the argumentum ad odium, the argumentum ad secta can have a name just for itself because it is so common in exchanges on topics as thorny as animal ethics issues.
The main problem that the argumentum ad secta poses is that it implies an absence of a serious and rational analysis of the phenomenon under consideration. Launching his argument as if it were a reflex, the individual who “cries out to the sect” does not seek to know whether the subject in question is indeed part of a potentially dangerous sectarian discourse or not.
Thus, he would risk doing harm (by decredibilizing them) to those who would sincerely point the excesses of certain movements. And there can always be excesses. That is why a constructive movement must remain alert on these issues and be open to reasoned criticism. But if the criticisms are mostly fallacious and based on unfounded assimilations with dangerous movements, then it is not possible to take them into account: the debate is therefore not moving forward and the movement could well be strengthened in belief to be is right.
In our example, once the bad criticism is invalidated, anti-speciesists could be reinforced in the idea that they are right not to place the interests of the human species before those of all others. This result is probably not sought by the one who emits the pseudo-criticism that is the argumentum ad secta, but it could well be the implacable consequence.
Finally, the argumentum ad secta is likely to have a counterproductive effect. To consume with… Argumentation!