The Threatening Nature of Vegans and Truth
From Animal Rights/Vegan Activist Strategies Articles Archive

FROM The Vegan Vine
December 2019

"In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."
- George Orwell

While I try to shine a light on the truth, others seek to cower from it and live in the dark, as if not seeing will make it all disappear. Don't they realize that their own blindness and apathy is the reason why the world is such a terrible place, especially for nonhuman animals?

Nicole Kidman
Image of Nicole Kidman in 'The Others'

I was interviewing for a job and was prepared for the ubiquitous question: tell me a little about yourself. I mentioned a few interests, like organizing, reading, and writing, but it wasn't enough to satisfy my interviewer. I hesitated to mention my being vegan and knew if hired that it would eventually come up, but I went for it anyway. The interviewer seemed intrigued and as most "animal" conversations go, she related to a former dog companion whom she had loved and discussed at length.

"It must be a great sacrifice to be vegan," she finally stated, almost questioningly.

"It isn't a sacrifice, but a great joy," I beamed. "Going vegan is one of the best decisions I ever made because I no longer contribute to animal suffering through what I eat." I could see the wheels turning.

"Well, it's a choice, right?" she asked, rather rhetorically and smugly. "And that's your choice."

I smiled, noting the usual self-protective posturing. "Yes," I said.

Nonvegan rebuttals like the one above are both confounding and instructive, and provide interesting studies in psychology. When confronted with my being vegan, the interviewer quickly sought to make me "the other" so she didn't have to examine her own behaviors. Likewise, she sought to separate herself from me by implying that my being vegan is my own "personal choice," instead of a moral requirement. This begs the question: why would anyone want to defend a choice to do harm to others?

Years of experience has taught me that people need to put distance between themselves and what I'm espousing so they don't have to examine their own self-deceits. When someone insists that my being vegan follows my own "personal beliefs," I promptly point out that we both share the same beliefs. When I ask them if they believe that causing other animals unnecessary harm is wrong, they agree. Thus, when I point out that eating the flesh, milk, and eggs of other animals is unnecessary, causing billions of animals to be needlessly tormented and killed every year, they typically get defensive. The only difference is that I'm acting on our shared values and beliefs, while they are not.

"A person who tells you that eating animal products is a personal choice is experiencing a state of cognitive dissonance," wrote Robert Grillo in "Eating Animals and the Illusion of Personal Choice" (Circles of Compassion: Essays Connecting Issues of Justice, 2014). ". . . they have made this issue personal precisely in response to vegans making it public. Making the issue personal is a nice way of saying, 'I don't want to be judged or held accountable for my actions that harm animals.' So this is not so much an attempt to defend eating animals as it is a defense intended to block any further discussion or evaluation. Moreover, personalization removes animals from public discourse and keeps them tucked away in our closet of denial and silence."

Farhad Manjoo, who is not vegan, recently addressed the topics of guilt and cognitive dissonance that make people hostile to vegans and veganism in his deeply honest and heartfelt piece, "Stop Mocking Vegans."
"Many [nonvegans] understand the toll that meat wreaks on the planet, and we can’t help but feel the tension between loving animals in the abstract while eating them with abandon on the plate. All of this creates feelings of defensiveness, so when a vegan comes along, their very presence seems like an affront."
I recently became aware of the term "moral envy" after reading Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber. He describes moral envy as "feelings of envy and resentment directed at another person, not because that person is wealthy, or gifted, or lucky, but because his or her behavior is seen as upholding a higher moral standard than the envier's own." I strongly believe that nonvegan resistance, whether unconscious or conscious, is also tied to moral envy.

There is, however, an easy solution to moral envy: align one's actions and behaviors with one's purported values. Ah, and there's the rub!

Many people claim to love and care for nonhuman animals, but few people actually do. Most people do not see themselves as persecutors and murderers of other animals, so when someone exposes the truth of what their actions bring about, rather than ask what they can do to alleviate this great injustice and make things right, they try to justify their actions to avoid self-correction and to make themselves feel better.

If we believe the lives of other animals matter, then abstaining from manipulating and massacring them for food, clothing, and entertainment is a moral requirement, not a personal choice. Grillo went on to say quite plainly, "mere personal choices don't have victims."

This false sense of choice that makes people think that they have the right to oppress, use, and execute the bodies of other living beings—either directly themselves or by paying someone else to do the dirty work for them—is made possible because the law gives it cover since other animals are still considered property. In addition, because the majority of people exploit and eat animals for personal pleasure, convenience, and entertainment, a mob mentality allows such injustices to continue. I was once told by someone very close to me that "millions of people can't be wrong." Indeed, they can, and centuries of history has borne this out. As Leo Tolstoy once exclaimed, "wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it."

There was once a time when husbands could beat their wives without prosecution and white people could enslave Black people. These and other great injustices were legal, but that didn't make them right. There is a higher moral law than just legal man-made laws. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” in April 1963, “. . . there are two types of laws: there are just and there are unjust laws.”

People have a personal choice when it comes to what kind of car they drive, what style of hair they wear, and what color they paint their living room walls; however, their sense of entitlement to the lives and bodies of other animals is morally bankrupt and baseless. It is self-deceptive to argue that one has a right to personally harm another being, which is why murder, assault, and rape are not considered personal choices in our society. The distinction between persons (bodies) arises from nothing more than arbitrary notions of property and what is considered socially acceptable by the masses at a given time.

Which brings me back to my interviewer. While her love for her dog companion was apparent, she was unable to apply the same consciousness and status to those animals whom she imposes upon and consumes.

"In the Western world, we feel it wrong to torture and eat cats and dogs, but perfectly acceptable to do the same to animals equally as sentient and capable of suffering," said Canadian activist Twyla Francois. "No being who prides himself on rationality can continue to support such behavior."

Whenever I share information on animal abuse and exploitation I get lots of push back and, in certain cases, even warnings. I'm not surprised that in a world like ours, facts and truth can be so threatening. People don't want to hear about day-old male chicks ground up alive or suffocated in plastic bags because the egg industry finds them useless. Nor do they want to know about newly born male calves ripped away from their wailing mothers and sold to the veal industry or left for dead because they can't produce milk for dairy enslavers. This knowledge requires action, and action requires change.

"In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."
George Orwell

While I try to shine a light on the truth, others seek to cower from it and live in the dark, as if not seeing will make it all disappear. Don't they realize that their own blindness and apathy is the reason why the world is such a terrible place, especially for nonhuman animals?

I am vegan because I'm only doing what I am obligated to do—the most good and least harm. People frequently repel what is good and holy because it deprives them of carnal pleasures, and that is why there is contention. We often know what the right thing to do is, but we fail to do it.

Unfortunately, I have become accustomed to nonvegan opposition. I can only hope that one day soon such reactions will be the exception and not the rule, and that people will realize that I am not so different from them. Social constructs that teach us that it is acceptable to manipulate, use, and kill other animals for personal gain are learned and can just as easily be unlearned. All it takes is a willingness to open one's eyes and do the right thing. 

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