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Vegans, let’s talk about our anger. 

Most of us vegans are pretty angry and upset at what’s happening to animals, and we have good reasons to be. We have reason to be angry at the indifference that most people display towards the billions of creatures that suffer at human hands. We especially have reason to be angry because we believe that most people by now should know better.

You might say about anger that it’s a positive, constructive, mobilizing emotion, an emotion that can get people to take to the streets, organize protests and dissent, and consequently, Change.

I’m agnostic about whether feeling angry is a good or a bad thing, or an essential part of a social movement, though my sense is that it’s definitely bad for a person to feel angry all the time. But what I want to talk most about here is expressing or showing this anger. Because, even if anger can help us get going and get organized, I believe acting in an angry way towards people, showing our anger, is probably not a good thing in most cases.

So when I feel anger myself (and I do sometimes), I try to transform it into something productive. And I try not to come across as angry. I try to not blame and criticize and guilt-trip people. I basically try – I don’t always succeed – to be nice to everyone, even if I think they are participating in or doing things that are, at bottom, pretty horrible. What helps me is realizing that, even though I may boycott animal products myself, I am not without sin. And therefore I feel wary of casting stones and being angry at others’ behavior.

Yet around me, I do see so much anger being expressed, in the vegan and in other social justice movements. It is very visible anger, and I think it is anger that alienates, anger that closes hearts rather than opening them.

And I see vegans not just being angry at non-vegans, but also at fellow vegans and animal advocates. Maybe those vegans are angry because they believe other vegans are not angry enough. In the eyes of the angry vegans, the nice vegans are pussy-footing their way around the sensitivities of those who eat animal products. The angry vegans would rather, from a place of passion and emotion, serve meat-eaters the truth, straight up. And they get impatient with advocates who don’t, and who suggest that we are a bit more considerate with omnivores, not just out of compassion, but also because of effectiveness.

I also see many vegans being angry with fellow advocates because they’re not heeding all the issues that they themselves find so important. Some angry vegans will not stop being outraged at how other advocates’ communication is, in their eyes, sexist, racist, classist, ableist, consumerist, or even speciesist. The angry vegans think that the others don’t get the interconnectedness, don’t get how all things are related, and are sacrificing one social justice cause for another. Maybe the angry vegans think their fellow vegans are not abolitionist, not intersectionalist, not anti-system enough. And maybe they’re right; most if not all of us still have blind spots (oops, an ableist term) for some or many of the issues that are important.

But here’s the thing, if we want to, we will always be able to find reasons to be angry. We can become addicted to outrage. I suggest that in the case of people who seem to be constantly finding reasons to be angry, their anger has more to do with themselves than with the righteousness of the cause they are fighting for. It’s probably not a very good idea to use advocacy as an outlet for your anger. Then, veganism, or feminism, or any other social justice movement just becomes… angry-ism.

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For myself, I know that anger doesn’t give me peace of mind. I’m not really enjoying myself or my day when I’m angry. I also don’t feel I’m getting better results when I’m angry. And I know that when I see an angry person or meet them online, I will do my best to avoid them, make a detour not to bump into them (or even block them online). I don’t find them entertaining, I don’t find them credible, and I don’t listen to them more than I listen to a person who manages to be nice and calm (and who could be equally passionate about their cause).

By speaking out against expressing anger all the time, I am by no means advocating that we just be silent, sitting in our room, careful not to step on anyone’s toes. I suggest we be out there, making a difference in the things that matter to us and to others. But we can do that, I think, with less anger, and more understanding. We can choose to trust people. Trust that they will see what is the most compassionate thing to do, some day – maybe not right away. We can see others as potential allies rather than opponents, or even traitors.

Whether we like it or not, we’re all in the business of selling something – our message of compassion – and I don’t think a car salesperson ever sold a car being angry at their customers.

Maybe there will come a time when massively showing our anger will be a productive thing to do. That will be when there are enough of us to make a difference that way. That time is, I think, not yet here. Right now is the time to turn our anger into a productive way of interacting with others, so that, rather than making them turn away even more,  we can open their hearts and minds.

14 thoughts on “Angry-ism

  1. What’s the best way to attract followers? Lead by example. So what’s the best way to attract people to the cause of animal rights? Be the kind of Animal Rights advocate that you would choose to follow or emulate. For me, that’s someone who advocates from a position of compassion and empathy. Furthermore, I don’t want my time on this planet to be poisoned by anger 24/7. When I feel it, I deal with it myself, then move forward and do my best to advocate in a way that I feel will attract the most people to the cause of Animal Rights and Animal Liberation. If I use my advocacy as an outlet for my anger, I’ve failed to do my best for the animals.

  2. “Maybe those vegans are angry because they believe other vegans are not angry enough.” And others are angry because they believe other vegans are too angry 😉

  3. Yup. Just like some people care more about “veganism” than animals, some people care more about their anger than actually making a difference for animals.

    1. Totally agree! Anger, I’ve noticed, can quickly degenerate into self-indulgence and, in a weird way, almost become its own raison d’etre. I admire Tobias’ comment that “[w]e can become addicted to outrage.” Very perceptive. I do think that, like most addictions, the anger addiction burns people out. One thing I’ve noticed consistently is that long-haul activists, the seasoned ones who have been part of the movement for many years, are often the most positive and hopeful. They are my heroes.

      1. to give credit where credit is due, i heard “addicted to outrage” first from sam harris, in one of his latest podcasts 🙂

        yes, i think the people who stick it out for a long while could do so because they are positive people.

  4. While the advocacy message here is all fine…..pussy-footing around what all the anger means in the vegan movement is denying the giant elephant in the room. There is a difference between anger and lashing out at mainstream society….and being upset with some factor. The anger here is, I think, the direct result of what is going on in the vegan community, namely, how matters are being farmed by leaders in the community. This toxic environment attracts people that are angry at society and provides cover and encourages the anger. That is, perhaps a lot of the anger in the community isn’t a reaction to animal exploitation at all…..but instead the result of the general disposition of people that the movement seems to attract. And perhaps the anger and vitriol expressed by this group encourages anger in people that would otherwise be calm and rational?

    So this seems to be another case of blaming some individuals while ignoring the sort of rhetoric, etc that is creating the toxic environment in the first place. One really needs to know what is going on socially here because this will determine the best way to resolve the issue. If the situation is as I described, then its going to be very hard for individuals to resist the anger, etc….and lashing out at anger vegans will, ironically, just add to the hostility.

  5. Since we live in a non-vegan world it would be overwhelming to constantly be directing anger toward non-vegans. Even the epitome of vegan anger, Gary Yourofsky can make piece with his none vegan friends and relatives.

    The vegan-vegan anger is more understandable when, as a vegan someone with the same label appears to speak for all vegans just by association. One feels violated. In addition, when I, as a vegan see strategies that I believe actually set back the progress toward a vegan society and animal rights, its hard not to be, at the very least, exasperated.

  6. I do think that anger is a legitimate emotion, considering all the animal abuse that is going on. It is indeed not always productive or effective, but we vegans are just human too and do not have an obligation to be the best advocate we can be all the time. So if you get tired of being mocked, if you lose your patience and you burst into rage, you shouldn’t beat yourself up for it either. Dont get angry at the anger.
    I’d like to think that different forms of activism all have a different place in the movement and affect different people. Some meat-eaters just need a harsh wake-up call, and there is Gary Yourosfky to give it to them. I always try to be patient, respectful and not too pussy, but at the end of the day if someone says ‘I don’t like veganism because vegans are always so angry’ that’s just another lame excuse to not go vegan. I think Melanie Joy said something like: If you are angry, you are an angry vegan, If you are sad you are overly sensitive, If you are happy, you are a happy tree hugging hippie.

    1. the problem is that person x, who might be open to being influenced by approach y, is not the ONLY person exposed to approach y. together with x, many hundreds, thousands, even millions of people may also see y, and they may get turned off by this approach. so it’s not as simple as saying that every approach helps, unfortunately.

    2. In regard to not having an obligation to be the best advocate all the time, could you elaborate? I might be understanding your comment too literally, because I think activists, although human, do, in fact, have an obligation to the animals to be the very best advocates we can be, at all times. No exceptions. Because every time an activist lashes out or is unreasonable, whether in person or in the Internet, it does real damage to the cause and feeds into the existing set of prejudices that people have about vegans and animal rights activists generally. Sometimes, it’s best for activists just to take a break when they’re going through an angry phase. Or, if a moment of anger arises, simply walk away from the situation or conversation. But I do think the obligation of best advocacy is indeed there, always. I’d be interested to know if I’ve misinterpreted your comment, though. Maybe what you meant was that we should accept that, in spite of our best efforts, we will not always succeed as model advocates? This seems a little different from the notion of an obligation to do the best we can. Not trying to nitpick your language! 🙂

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