This is a guest blog by a friend. I think it contains valuable insights in the process vegan/animal rights activists go through in terms of their emotions, their relationships with omnivores and other vegans. The author prefers not to be named, but is prepared to answer feedback in the comments section.
I have always despised the word ‘journey’ when discussing veganism; that and ‘baby steps’ have been the bane of my life over the last year or so since I began identifying as an ‘abolitionist vegan’. It seems ironic, therefore, that I now find myself on my own ‘vegan journey’.
Let me take you back to my first year as a vegan. Luckily for me, I found all of the aspects of veganism very easy to adapt to; I had been vegetarian for quite some time before that and had ‘flirted’ on and off with veganism over the years. I was, however, always a vegan at heart. From a young age I hated cruelty towards animals and often felt more affinity towards my cats and other animals than I did with my own friends. It seemed logical therefore that I became vegan and avoided all animal use.
Going back to my first year, despite finding many aspects of being vegan easy, I began to get more and more depressed. I became addicted to Facebook and joined every vegan group I could find. I signed petition after petition and tortured myself with graphic images. I began to feel nothing but animosity towards non vegans and I was an angry and volatile person when discussing veganism. I shared post after post, day after day, accusing non vegans of being barbaric and murderers; they were even ‘rapists’ for consuming dairy products. I did actually ‘make’ a few new vegans this way. However, many blocked me and probably thought of me as another ‘vegan lunatic’.
When I started familiarising myself with the abolitionist approach, it all started to make sense. I loved the straightforwardness and the ‘no bullshit’ approach adopted by the likes of Gary Francione. I felt that finally I had one simple answer and an effective way to advocate. It was also comforting to see that abolitionists didn’t advocate petitions or the sharing of graphic images. I finally felt content. I became a better advocate both online and in person in many respects; I was calmer and more confident. Few people could argue with me, such was the strength of my conviction.
After a while, I noticed that I began to feel unhappy again. My disdain for non vegans had been replaced by disdain for other vegans. Ironically, I began to feel more comfortable around non vegans than vegans who didn’t share my abolitionist views. Indeed, I felt that if someone wasn’t an abolitionist, they weren’t ‘truly vegan’. My posts promoting veganism on my facebook page had started to become diluted with posts critiquing other organisations who weren’t ‘vegan enough’. I started to delete friends who promoted single issues such as anti fur campaigns and God help anyone who shared a petition to my page. Vegans started to be separated into ‘abs’(abolitionists) or ‘wellies’ (welfarists). If they weren’t in the former camp, they weren’t people I really wanted to associate with.
When I saw criticisms of the abolitionist approach, I and my ‘colleagues’ would come down on them like a ton of bricks; they were welfarists, they didn’t care about animals truly etc. Oh and of course, the most popular slur; they were ‘speciesist’. Any critique of the abolitionist approach automatically meant you were welfarist or speciesist. We would all respond in tandem, that ‘veganism was the moral baseline’ and accompanied with that would be an analogy of the holocaust or slavery(this isn’t just an abolitionist trait.
I see this amongst all vegans). I think few of us used our own words or analogies after a while; we would simply churn out the same rhetoric used by Gary et al. Whilst all of that was going on, I honestly felt like I was doing the right thing for the animals. If we had all these ‘fake vegans’ in our midst, how were we ever going to change the world? It didn’t cross my mind that the world certainly wasn’t going to change whilst we constantly bickered with one another.
Recently I took a break from vegan advocacy to gather my thoughts and started reading various different articles, webpages etc. I was shocked to see how much animosity there was to Gary and his ‘clan’, I felt part of that clan to a certain extent but also understood the criticism as I read his page and saw nothing but argument after argument. I felt drained reading it, I had always defended Gary’s need to block so many people as ‘It’s an abolitionist page and if people don’t agree with him, then tough, they should be blocked’.
However, seeing it with fresh eyes, I just felt despondent and sad. On one day he had managed to write about four status updates- each one fiercely criticising other organisations (from DXE to Vegan Outreach) (Whilst I’m not a fan of the former, I went on the Vegan Outreach website to see if it was true that they were ‘absolutely hostile to the idea of veganism’ and noticed they must have said vegan about 5 times in just a few paragraphs). I simply didn’t/don’t want to be a part of this hatred anymore and I started to panic; what if these organisations I have mocked actually do mean well?!!!
So where am I now you may ask? Well currently I am terrified of being called all of those things I called others. I’m certain the abs would be calling me a welfarist for daring to criticize the dogma if they read this. It’s horrible to think that I can’t even have a change of heart for fear of criticism. And what’s worse, is that the criticism will be that I don’t care about the animals enough- something that couldn’t be further from the truth. I have also started to admire other prominent vegans who certainly do not fall into the abolitionist category but who are passionate about ending all animal use; they just go about it a different way. Bearing in mind, I am not an economist, nor can I see into the future, I don’t actually know the best way of advocating anymore. As an abolitionist, I was certain it was telling everyone that ‘veganism was the moral baseline’. As for vegetarians and meat reducers, I found them despicable- the ultimate traitors to the cause. Now I feel happy that they are doing something (the dreaded ‘baby steps’) and I will, where possible always encourage and support these people to do more and become vegan. What I now refuse to do is to put them down, or compare their reduction of animal products to a ‘rape free Monday’. I’m sorry but that analogy never has nor never will work as we simply don’t view rape or murder the way we view consuming animal products as a society. Just because I see what we are doing to animals as the greatest atrocity of all, it doesn’t mean I will win over others by making comparisons that will simply get their back up.
In conclusion, what has changed? I am even more passionate about vegan advocacy than ever before; I absolutely believe that animals are not our property and are not ours to be used. I want the world to go vegan more than I can possibly convey. I cannot stress this enough. But what has changed is that I now believe we have to adapt our approach to suit the audience if we want to make a real change. It’s not about speaking the truth all the time and I think we forget that. We may feel that if we don’t say the absolute truth that we are being immoral and that we are letting the animals down. Well maybe, just maybe, we are letting the animals down by being so dogmatic in our approach, the use of our words and our tone. Sometimes, we need to bite our tongue when someone says they are making steps towards veganism for example. Yes, it’s frustrating that they’re not there already and yes they are continuing to cause harm by their purchases but let’s see what happens if we congratulate them and be more encouraging (I’m not suggesting that all abolitionists adopt this ‘all or nothing’ approach but it is undoubtedly very prevalent). Finally, I think we should concentrate on our own advocacy methods and stop focusing on other organisations and how ‘evil’ they are. Maybe they are trying a different tactic too. Let’s stop thinking the worst of one another and let’s start thinking for ourselves.