Tuesday, July 19, 2022

The Least You Can Do

On Punching

Very many years ago, a vegetarian acquaintance would regularly try to drag me into an argument. He would attempt to force me to pass judgment on his vegetarianism (and this would almost always happen after he had consumed a number of beers). He would press on and on and always present me with the same two options: I should either 1) roleplay to embody a "preachy judgmental vegan" stereotype to give him the fight he wanted so that he could come out swinging, or 2) I should placate him by telling him that he had indeed most certainly fulfilled his ethical quota for the critters and had no reason whatsoever to bother with the "extremist" idea of going vegan. The most I would do (after failing repeatedly to change the subject) was to try to tactfully explain again what he already knew was the position I held (i.e. that going vegan is the very least we owe to other animals – that it’s a starting point) and to repeat to him that I had zero interest in arguing with him, particularly when he was drunk and spoiling for a fight.

The thing is that he followed the posts on my blog's Facebook page and he took personally each thing I wrote about how dairy/egg consumption is really no different from the consumption of meat. He processed these posts as if I were directing them specifically at him. and instead of trying to understand why there's no real ethical difference between consuming one animal product or another, he felt insulted and resented me. And times like these he’d come out swinging, trying to push me into that same old corner, knowing that I meant him no ill will and that I'm not a confrontational person and also knowing that I'm not a liar. It had become personal to him for reasons that had little to do with me and everything to do with him and I refused to be some sort of emotional punching bag to let him work through those feelings. Yet, as calm as I attempted to remain, he would simply punch harder to try to provoke me, saying things like: "So you think you're a better person than me because you're vegan and I'm not, don't you?"

He knew that I certainly didn't (and don't) view myself as a "better person" than anyone else simply because I am vegan and they're not. We're not stick figures living in that simplistic a world. Nobody is vegan because they think they're better than another individual; if anything, people generally tend to go vegan for a completely different reason -- precisely because they don't see themselves as being any more important than other beings. We don't see our pleasure and convenience as trumping the interests of those other beings and we do what we can to avoid participating in -- or contributing to -- any facet of their exploitation.

Then Crunching

At some point in this attempted argument, my vegetarian acquaintance would (predictably) try to number-crunch: I had been a vegetarian for around 12-13 years and had only been vegan for a few years at the time these confrontations occurred. He would remind me that he had been vegetarian for over 25 years and that he had obviously done "much more" for other animals in all those years than I had during my shorter stint as a vegetarian (and even shorter stint as a vegan). "You've been vegan for an hour," he'd say. "I've saved far more lives than you and you'll be lucky to ever catch up." I'd point out to him that veganism is not -- and never has been -- a contest and that veganism is really not about past actions, but is about what you're doing now and how you’ll proceed moving forward. And if what you're doing now involves choosing to continue to treat other animals as treats existing for your convenience or pleasure, you're really missing the point about what it is that we owe other animals. But he was convinced that he has doing his "part" and was doing "enough" and that there was no need for him to even weigh going vegan. (Never mind that every single meal he consumed included cheese or eggs.)

More Crunching

Every once in a while, people message me through this blog's Facebook page to ask me for suggestions for places or organizations to which they can donate money. Around a year ago I got into a discussion with one of them. He told me outright that he had "a lot of respect for people who choose to go vegan" but that it just wasn't something he felt he could do because of its "inconvenience". He told me that to "compensate" for this, he would donate at least a few hundred dollars a year "to groups like PETA" but that he wanted to give a little bit extra that year, so wanted my recommendations. 

I pointed out to him that throwing money at PETA was a complete waste and that his dollars would be more useful in the hands of small vegan-run sanctuaries or to grass-roots groups engaged in educating others about veganism and in helping people become vegan. I also told him that if he really wanted to make a difference, going vegan himself was the least he could -- and should -- do. I asked him if there was any way I could help him sort out what he felt was inconvenient about going vegan. He told me that he didn't really want "to feel bad about [his] personal decisions" and he thanked me for providing him with the names of a few groups and sanctuaries. He messaged me again a few weeks later to report how much he had paid to whom and to thank me again for the suggestions. He joked that he felt better after having paid "[his] annual guilt money".

In the End

Is it great that a couple of small sanctuaries in need received a few hundred dollars they had not been expecting? Sure. But what about when the person donating the money is one of the reasons farmed animals end up in these sanctuaries in the first place (the fortunate ones, anyway)? It becomes no more than a sort of self-imposed "meat tax" where the person tries to make themselves feel better about choosing to continue to be part of the problem.

Is it great that someone chose to eschew eating meat while continuing to consume dairy and eggs and perhaps even in larger quantities than before? Not really. You're just shuffling stuff around on your plate and kidding yourself since we all know there’s as much suffering and death in the dairy and egg industries as there is in the meat industry – even more so.

At the end of the day, it’s sort of nonsensical to try to convince yourself that you’ve taken steps to chip away at a problem while deliberately choosing (easily avoidable) actions and (easily changed) habits which contribute to that very problem. While it may make you feel you’re doing something, throwing money at other animals and/or shuffling parts of them around on your plate won’t substantially change anything at all for them. You still view and treat them as things existing – in some form or other – for your pleasure and convenience instead of viewing and treating them as beings with rights and interests of their own. And for all those who would insist that any semblance of change, any well-intentioned gesture (even if misdirected or self-delusional) should be applauded as a “baby step” instead of described as what it actually is (i.e. walking in place while going nowhere), you’re missing the crux of the issue. Until we realize, accept and act upon the fact that other animals aren’t ours to use, we’re just crunching and shuffling while going nowhere. It’s when we do realize that we owe other animals so much more that it becomes clear that the logical first step to take – the starting point – is to go vegan.

No comments: