Suppose every vegan made one vegan in five years, and those new vegans did the same thing in five years, we’d have a vegan world in no time.
Ever heard that argument? It’s one of those things that sounds good at first sight, but gets problematic once you spend some time thinking about it.
Somtimes this argument is used to argue for the position that we don’t need any big animal rights organizations, or laws, or big companies… but that we can realize all the change that we want by just having vegans talk to other people about animal rights and moral obligations.
But if it would be that simple, why don’t we have a vegan world yet?
Some would answer this question by saying that, quite simply, it’s never been tried. They would tell us that we have never, consistently and as a movement, given omnivores the straight vegan truth and the go vegan message. In this sense, veganism, for some, is like communism: it’s never been tried hard enough.
Of course that’s not true. Surely, for as long as there have been vegans, many or most of them (at least the “ethical vegans”) have been trying to convince other people to join team vegan. And at times they were probably successful.
But still, no vegan world. Why not?
Let’s dial the numbers a bit. Let’s start with an extremely low present number of vegans: one. Yes, one vegan. Imagine that there was just one vegan, but that this vegan would make one new vegan in one year, and that each of those would do the same in one year. The whole world – the whole WORLD! – would be vegan in… 38 years.
With exponential functions, everything goes very fast. But that doesn’t mean much. Multiplying ourselves is not as simple as it looks. If it were, there would have been many sects who would have conquered the entire world by now. But the fact is we haven’t been all convinced to become Jehovah’s witnesses or Scientologists.
Maybe we think for veganism it’s different because our argument makes more sense, and potentially more people would buy it than they would buy some dogmatic religious idea? Maybe, some day. For now it didn’t work yet. For now there’s many more people buying weird religious ideas, for instance, than our rational vegan ideas.
One problem of course, is that not all of us are expert communicators and that the way we talk about veganism is not always attractive (in the worst case we turn more people off than we attract). Another point is that vegans seem to fall off the wagon almost faster than we can “make” them. For every vegan there’s three or four times as many ex-vegans. One step forward, two (or three, or four) steps back, it seems?
The point I mostly want to make here though, is that a one-on-one approach, based on moral arguments, is never going to cut it. It’s not that we haven’t been trying it. It’s that it’s not enough, and not even the most important thing we can do.
So the “imagine if every vegan makes one more vegan…” argument is not an argument that would justify only focusing on one-to-one outreach and grassroots activism, as some would have it. We need much more than that. We need lobbying and product development. We need laws. We need supermarkets and restaurant chains to work with us. We need the power of big groups. We need to fundraise a lot of money. We need to be present in the education system. We need influencers in all domains of society, from celebrities to business leaders to politicians, who can help many more people change their behavior and their minds. And above all, we need to think about strategy and psychology, so that our one on one advocacy can be effective.