|Enewsletter • May 20, 2001|
Ellen (our first-grader) asked me Friday what one should do to accomplish the most for all animals. This is a question Jack and I have struggled with for years.
Excerpts from Activism and Veganism Reconsidered: Personal Thoughts at the New Millennium
by Matt Ball
Given the scale and degree of animal suffering in the world, I believe animal liberation is the most pressing issue of our time. Our focus should be on changing the habits and institutions that cause this suffering as efficiently and quickly as possible.
Over 99% of animals killed in the
We don't need a majority of people to go vegan in order to achieve a huge reduction in animal suffering. If just 5% of Americans were to stop eating animals, more suffering would be prevented than if we completely abolished every other form of animal exploitation in the U.S.
Promoting veganism brings about the fundamental change that is needed. Done at a reasonable pace, it can sustain activists who would otherwise burn out in the face of endless "battles." It can be hard to concentrate on "hacking at the roots" when we are continually faced with specific cases of exploitation, but it is necessary if progress is to be made towards animal liberation.
The Vegan Example
In general, people do not want to believe that they are supporting cruelty by eating animal products. They don't want to give up convenience and their favorite foods, and they don't want to separate themselves from their friends and family. So it is unlikely that people will listen to our message –let alone think about changing their diet – if they perceive vegans as joyless misanthropes.
There often appears to be a contest among vegans for discovering new connections to animal exploitation (of course, links can be found everywhere if one looks hard enough). This attitude makes us appear fanatical and gives many people an excuse to ignore our message. We should realize that if veganism is a path toward animal liberation, it should not be an exclusive, isolated club. Rather, veganism must become the mainstream. By allowing most to ignore us, and causing others to give up the whole process out of frustration, we undermine our efforts when we foster the impression that "It's so hard to be vegan – animal products are in everything" (as well as emphasizing animal products where the connection to animal suffering is tenuous).
The way veganism is presented to a potential vegan is of great importance. The attractive idea behind being a "vegan" is reducing one's contribution to animal exploitation. Buying meat, eggs, and/or dairy creates animal suffering – animals will be raised and slaughtered specifically for these products. But if the by-products are not sold, they will be thrown out or given away. As more people stop eating animals, the by-products will naturally fade, so there is little reason to encourage other people to worry about them. We want a vegan world, not a vegan club.
Practical and Symbolic Vegans
Most vegans have many motivations, but primary motivations often distinguish vegans, such as "health vegans" or "spiritual/religious vegans." I see another type of distinction as being useful: "practical vegans" and "symbolic vegans." Practical vegans avoid the specific products for which animals are bred, raised, and eventually slaughtered. Every product they choose to avoid can be directly and causally linked to animal suffering. Symbolic vegans, in addition to avoiding those products, go beyond this to some level (e.g., avoiding sugar or film) so as to be able to make a statement (about solidarity with the animals, personal purity, etc.).
Once the demand for primary animal products shrinks and the by-products are no longer so cheap, companies will find new filtering methods, new ways to cure concrete, new means of producing steel and rubber, new blood-test methods, etc. As more people are concerned about animals, farming practices will be altered so fewer animals are harmed and killed during planting and harvesting of vegan food.
The Future: A New Vision
No matter how many chants we shout, no matter how many sound bites we gain, no matter how many labs we vandalize or "enemies" we defeat, animal liberation will not occur until we join with others in a vegan world. If there is to be a fundamental change in the manner in which other animals are viewed – if there is to be animal liberation – there can be no "us and them."
There is hope for animal liberation only if we learn how to help people get past their wall of denial and manifest their latent compassion. To succeed, our interactions with others must be rooted in empathy and understanding – working with and from a person's motivations, fears, desires, and shortcomings. Instead of approaching others with a "fighting" mindset that makes people defensive and closed to new ideas, we should provide people with information they can digest on their own time and act upon at a sustainable pace. Only then will real progress be made.