Please don’t turn away

All that evil needs to win is that the good people do nothing, wrote Edmund Burke.

One way of describing the work of vegan activists is to say that we try to stop people from turning away. Stop them turning away from the injustice, the pain, the suffering, the killing.

Animals, if they could express their needs, would want us to look, to feel, to witness. To not turn away.

We hate it when we see people turn away. We want them to look. To face stuff. To bear witness to what is happening.

kindle compassion

Sure, there are people who will be entirely indifferent to suffering. But I don’t believe that’s a majority, even though it may look like that.

What helps me deal with our whole society turning away is one realization: that for many people, their reason to turn away is not that they don’t care. The opposite is true: many turn away because they care.

Because they care, because they feel, because they empathize… they can’t keep watching.

Our task is not to call these people hypocrytical. Our task should be to kindle the flame of the compassion that they feel. Our task is to make sure that acting on their compassion becomes easier. That there is nothing in the way of acting on their compassion. We, as individuals as well as as a movement, should be facilitators of compassionate behaviour.

PS Here’s a powerful version of Pink Floyd’s On the turning away 🙂 (lyrics)

7 thoughts on “Please don’t turn away

  1. I think you are really onto something. The balance between compassion, guilt, denial, powerlessness, and behavior. The all feed each other in complex ways – need to crack the code.

    1. As someone who just couldn’t turn away no matter how much I wanted to, it took me a long time to understand how people who claimed to care about animals could look away & turn their heads. They said it was “too hard to look at” or “I don’t wanna know, it’s too terrible”.

      It was a slow process for me, but I did finally understand what you wrote, Tobias…”that for many people, their reason to turn away is not that they don’t care. The opposite is true: many turn away because they care.”

      I’m not sure if there is a category or name for this group of people, but if we could crack the code like Paul mentioned, I’m sure this a huge group. The problem is figuring out how to get them to actually look at things that are very hard for them to face and they initially want to run away from.

  2. Hi Tobias,
    Of course the whole people are not indifferent. They surely feel uncomfortable with the idea of violence and so they turn away, because it’s easier to forget.
    Certainly they are lazy.
    K&M

  3. I think you’re right. And another important factor in why people turn away – in addition to the pain of witnessing – is that they feel powerless. If you feel powerless you’re not going to act, because it has no impact anyway. That’s what we need to address: provide resources that empower people to take action, and to believe that individual choices matter.

    1. I think this question of power and feeling something can be effective is very important. Silent Warrior says “empower people to take action” and “individual choices matter”. I have to say that I no longer believe individual choices matter, if that means something like consumer choice. The problem is one can’t ” consume” oneself out of animal exploitation, it is too pervasive. Neither can consumption strategies or tactics be particularly effective, except as a very specific campaign within a varied framework. If a campaign to boycott a particular high profile product of a well-known corporation was undertaken, following an expose of something that corporation was doing and ramping up to the max the media storm using every trick in the book, that could be a useful, specific tactic. But the vegan boycott strategy as we know it (getting people to become vegan, thinking more vegan products are a concrete step towards animal liberation) is so problematic as to be untenable. I won”t go into details simply because there are too many details. Effective action never rests on the individual – it is collective. Anything else just allows the status quo to continue.

  4. PS I would add that I think Pattrice Jones’ idea of strategic welfare legislation may be relevant here. She proposes identifying particular points where animal industries are experiencing or beginning to experience problems and putting a greater squeeze on them with relevant welfare legislation. She doesn’t present this as a sole means of achieving animal liberation but as a tactic within a nuch wider and diverse strategy. It would be a prime way of getting individuals to be more active.

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