Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On Hope in Human Animals

I think that a lot can be gleaned from this video below within the context of how vegans should consider engaging non-vegans around them about speciesism. It shouldn't follow that in loathing another's behaviour that we somehow need to loathe the person herself, should it? It's also less than conducive to facilitating vegan education to treat non-vegans as 'untouchables' and to expect our fellow-vegans to do so, as well. I say this with the full understanding that it can be anything from saddening or maddening for vegans (particularly those who support abolitionist principles) to watch their loved ones fail to connect the dots--to fail to take the interests of nonhuman animals seriously. And I say it with the full understanding that most vegans struggle with this issue every single day of their lives and deal with the issue in such a wide variety of ways that we likely won't all see eye-to-eye on this.

I don't have a checklist of answers, myself, concerning how best to cope with a lack of success in getting loved ones to come to understand that it's wrong to exploit nonhuman animals. (Some respondents to my previous blog entry mentioned success in bringing family members around to veganism; I would love to have some of them chime in to share those experiences!) I do think that it's important to acknowledge that we'd be lying to ourselves in refusing to admit that not succeeding at vegan outreach with the people closest to us in our lives is harder on the head and heart than not succeeding when leafleting or staffing a booth, and that the emotional entanglement that's involved can often end up loading the issue or even conflating it with other matters driven by underlying or unrelated relationship dynamics. I'm no expert; I've just a hunch based on my own interactions.

I do know with certainty that you cannot and will not educate a single person about a single thing if you choose to cut her off. A few people who responded to my previous post stated that you can't choose your family, but that you can choose your friends and partners and that this can somehow guide our decisions whether or not to walk away from others who, even after we've tried, choose to continue exploiting animals. As an adoptee who is by no means incredibly close to those who legally qualify as my own kin, I'm not so sure that a decision concerning whether or not a vegan should accept or reject an individual for holding speciesist views should rest on blood ties or a traditional concept of what should count as familial ties. I've actually chosen my family over the years and continue to build it up with people who've proven themselves worthy of my hope and love. Would it not make more sense to be more patient with them?

In response to my expressing a fair amount of dismay on Twitter one day several weeks ago at not having convinced a vegetarian friend to go vegan, Prof. Francione responded saying that I had planted a seed. Call me naive or call me speciesist, even, but I think that in my own interaction with my loved ones that I'd like that to be my focus. Rather than write off an attempt and a loved one as a failure, I'd like to hope that I've managed to at least plant a seed.

Here's the video:


Vera said...

Great blog!I´d like to share some thoughts with you. In this phase I am right now, I am often able not to react on people´s reaction towards veganism but try to let them know what they are doing is wrong and it makes me feel sad their lack of consideration for nonhumans, because it really does, and when they see the sadness in my words,I notice they don´t feel hated. Of course, this does not mean they will change their attitude but, at least, they know the matter is not "me", "them" but the focus is nonhumans.

Amanda Rock said...

Everyone is a potential vegan! :)

c-la said...

Wonderful blog! I think as Vegans, we are all susceptible to isolating ourselves -- and while I can absolutely relate to those who would rather isolate from the omni world out there... sometimes the tougher the obstacle -- the greater the reward. Who knows how little it could take to plant that seed and let a tree of knowledge begin to grow where there was none before. :)

Cavall de Quer said...

The Fundamental Attribution Error! - i.e., I did what I did because circumstances made me, you (he/she/it) did it because of the sort of person they are. We all do this all the time - it would translate into the "who you are" conversations in the video - but once it's recognised, it can be defused, permitting more "what you did" (and what I did, too) conversations. Individually, we all feel our actions are justified, and we don't like others pretending to know more about us than we do ourselves....handy video, I thought.

M said...

Vera, I think you're wise to point out that the focus needs to stay on nonhumans. When I end up talking to people who are close to me about veganism, I too often end up taking things personally (e.g. when I feel I've failed). It makes it harder to stay focused on the matter at hand--on presenting facts and arguing points clearly. It's one of the reasons I'm a lousy debater.

Amanda, I hope so. Potential is meaningless if nothing ever comes of it, though, hence the need to keep taking opportunities to educate people about veganism. The troublesome question becomes when to cry uncle and realize that your energy may be best spent moving on from someone who seems unresponsive and instead focusing on educating others. I'd like to hope that I've at least gotten those who seem unresponsive thinking about their actions, though.

Carla, I agree with you. That being said, I can also understand why some may feel differently. It's hard to relate to people who choose to continue exploiting, whether they're strangers or loved ones. I've no doubt that the longer I'm vegan and the more obstacles I'll encounter, myself, that my own ability and willingness to relate to non-vegans around me will be affected.

Cavall de Quer, I'm glad that you thought so. When talking to people about veganism, I realize that they stop listening the second they think: "You think I'm a bad person because I eat animals". The knee-jerk reaction is to be defensive rather than be receptive to listening to why exploiting nonhumans is wrong.

Vera said...

Do not know you but from what I´ve read so far, you do not sound a lousy debater. People who are close to us is another story, that´s why I said "often" I am able to focus on nonhumans only. The week has not ended yet and I´ve already had a row with mom, brother, sister, niece and even my four-year-old goddaughter who smashed a bug and was proud of that. Yesterday I said to mom: "you guys ask me a lot of favors and you can even do me a single simple one as stop eating nonhumans". Bad Vera :)

c-la said...

Thanks for your response Myléne.. I struggle with forcing myself to integrate every day and can absolutely relate to the attraction of isolation. Some days are easier than others... only being vegan a short while (January) I'm still trying to figure out how to deal with or what to say in certain situations. Learning more everyday. :)