Every time there is general omnivore outrage over a case of animal abuse (we can call this “selective outrage”), a lot of vegans are angry. They’ll point the finger at these people who are horrified – for instance right now at what happened to Cecil the lion – and sometimes seem actually very irritated with them.
My question is: would we prefer those people were not outraged at all over such horror? Given that mass outrage over what happens to pigs, chickens and cows is not exactly for today, would we prefer omnivores to be consistent and shut up about Cecil? I guess not.
Trust me, I’ve had my own (too long) phase in which I felt this “I’ll tell the hypocrites”-anger myself. But why would I tell people off like that? Because I thought it would be effective? I get it: we hope that 1. people will see the inconsistency when we point it out and 2. they will change their behavior to make it consistent with their most compassionate feelings. Sometimes it happens. More often it doesn’t. And anyway, I think when we do this, when we are angry and irritated and impatient, it has a lot to do with wanting to be right, with showing them, with all kinds of things which are very different from having impact.
I’m happy, personally, with the omnivore outrage against what happened to Cecil, inconsistent and absurd as it might be. It’s the beginning of something. It’s a seed of compassion that has taken root.
I’ve talked before about what I think is the main reason for people’s different reactions towards different cases of animal mistreatment. I’ll post this picture again (I did so before in this post), because I think it’s very important: the difference in reaction towards the matador vs. the butcher is mainly explained by the fact that people don’t have a stake in bullfighting (i.e. they are not participating), but they do have a stake in animal agriculture. With a pun, we can say it is the difference between being a steakholder or not.
I have just read the late Norm Phelps’ Changing the Game, a book on strategy for the animal rights and vegan movement which I highly recommend (I’ll refer again to it in later posts). Here, Norm basically says the same thing:
“People tend to be extremely resistant to moral criticism of things they are personally doing (…) The only way around this is usually to expand the bounds of their ethical awareness gradually, one step at a time. Thus, most people come to the animals’ cause by way of something that outrages their conscience that they are not doing themselves, like fur, vivisection, or dogfighting. As they become more committed, they make the move vegetarianism and veganism. The reason for this, of course, is that when people are not committing the offense themselves, they can follow their fundamental moral principles without triggering cognitive dissonance.”
So outrage over Cecil is a start. We would do good in watering the seeds of compassion we find in people. In the next post, I’ll show you how I tried to do that in a op-ed piece for a newspaper. I tried to appreciate people’s outrage, and make the connection by not alienating them. I welcome your thoughts. Let me know how you think I can make it better