Let’s see if you can make sense of these ramblings…
Whenever there’s an issue of some complexity, there is, so to speak, a pre-consideration stage and a post-consideration stage. For instance, the issue of animal rights: in the pre-consideration stage, you probably will eat meat. In the post-consideration stage (at least if you put your conclusions into practice), you might be a vegan.
Often, or even most of the time, the beliefs in the pre-consideration and the post-consideration stages will look radically different. But sometimes, interestingly, they are or appear the same. A person may be in the post-consideration stage on some issue, but to you their actions and beliefs look like those of someone in the pre-consideration stage.* Usually, our little egos will tell us that if someone differs from us in opinion on an issue that we have given a lot of thought to, we will assume that they have not given it enough thought. But obviously, that’s not necessarily the case.
Let’s look at an example to see this more clearly. Imagine that you are someone who is very skeptical about GMOs (you’re boycotting GMO products, maybe attend anti-GMO protests, etc). When you meet a person who’s not bothering about GMOs at all, you may assume that they are in the pre-consideration stage: you believe they don’t know much about the GMO issue, don’t know about the supposed dangers of it, haven’t educated themselves about it, and therefore are just eating and buying anything, independent of whether the product has GMO ingredients or not. This person, however, may be doing what they are doing (which is being indiscriminate and indifferent about GMOs), because they are well informed about it and have given the issue a lot of thought. In other words, they are in the post-consideration stage (who knew?!). Their behavior looks the same, but their beliefs and intentions are entirely different.
What this means, in short, is that we may easily mistake someone who’s in the post-consideration stage (on a certain issue) for someone who’s in the pre-consideration stage. While we think they are behind us in their thinking, they may actually be ahead of us – meaning they have thought about and researched the issue more than we have (without this implying that they are necessarily right and we are wrong).
Now, let’s look at how this applies to veganism and vegan advocacy. Here too, we can find statements, behaviors, attitudes, beliefs… that at first sight seem to be part of the pre-consideration stage, but could as well be demonstrated or voiced by people in the post-consideration stage.
Take, for instance, many of the objections from omnivores that vegans usually refer to as unthoughtful (to use a polite term). You’ve heard them all before:
– “Isn’t being 100% vegan extreme?”
– “What would you do if someone offered you a lot of money to eat a steak?”
– “What if plants feel pain?”
– “In the wild, animals kill each other, too.”
Boring and exhausting, right? But can you imagine that these statements actually could come from thoughtful people, including vegans, who have given serious consideration to these issues? Let’s re-interpret them in that way:
“Isn’t being 100% vegan extreme?”
A person in a post-consideration stage may say this to voice their concern that being one hundred percent pure, always and everywhere, is not necessary or productive: they would believe that avoiding tiny ingredients publicly is not the best advertisement for the vegan lifestyle and may have a net negative effect.
“What would you do if someone offered you a lot of money to eat a steak?”
A person in a post-consideration stage may say this to show that following vegan rules is not all that matters, but that actual impact and consequences may at times be more important than sticking to one’s principles. This is from a thought experiment I raised myself, where I suggest that you can donate the money you get to an an animal rights group and, thus, have much more impact.
“What if plants feel pain?”
Again, we usually think this is a stupid gotcha, but at the same time, it’s a perfectly sensible question. We’ve been wrong about the cognitive capacities of other species before; so, is it not at least possible that we are wrong in the case of plants, too? If we are wrong, what are the consequences? (It’s definitely an interesting question to ponder.)
“In the wild, animals kill each other, too.”
Rather than using this as a “gotcha” the way people in the pre-consideration stage may do, a person who has thought about this issue more deeply might take this argument very seriously and might raise this issue, not to apologize for meat eating, but to relativize the impact of veganism (which is focused on avoiding human-caused animal suffering) and emphasize that we indeed should also care about the suffering of animals in the wild. Indeed, the new field of wild animal suffering deals with this and takes this issue very seriously (as do I).
Another example: when someone is vegetarian but not vegan, you may think that they are in the pre-consideration stage regarding veganism. But can you imagine other, post-consideration factors that contribute to this behavior? For instance, I recently read how one vegan was considering becoming a lacto-vegetarian in public settings because it’s way easier and, therefore, easier to spread as a behavior than veganism. (I’m not ready to take this step myself, but I can’t say it doesn’t at least make some sense to me).
All this leads me to think about something that we could call post-veganism: a more rational version of veganism, that is the result not of excuses, callousness or laziness, but is a consequence of giving the issue some serious critical thought. In my mind, post-veganism is still veganism (though it won’t be so for people sticking to the original definition, obviously). A post-vegan may seem similar to a non-vegan at times, but is actually entirely different.
Post-veganism, in my mind, goes back to the roots of veganism, which is a concern with reducing suffering, abuse and killing. It re-appraises this concern and looks at our actions in that light. Post-veganism, thus, does not prioritize rules and labels (the way “classical” veganism often seems to do), but rather focuses on impact and consequences. Post-veganism is not a mere ideology or a belief system, but something that makes actual sense in the real world.
Here are some things that could be part of a “post-vegan manifesto”, if there were such a thing:
– a re-evaluation of objectives and a confirmation of the fact that veganism is not, in the final analysis, about sticking to rules but about having a real impact for animals
– distinguishing exactly between when we’re doing something just to stick to rules and doing something to make an impact
– realizing that being 100% vegan is often not necessary
– realizing that being 100% vegan is, at the same time, not enough: that there are other things that we are affecting by eating our food
– a return to the idea of reducing suffering and killing would imply that we’re also going to take seriously the problem of wild animal suffering
– the realization that changing our own consumption is not the only and not even the most important thing we can do, and that our advocacy and our money can have a bigger impact for the animals.
It’s just an idea. What do you think?
(* I’m borrowing from the American philosopher Ken Wilber, who, in this context, talks about the pre/trans fallacy, in the context of rationality.)