This post is meant to ask questions rather than provide answers. It's meant to stimulate discussion rather than to divide. I write it with the sort of earnestness that comes from a) the exhaustion of feeling as if I've been pounding my head into a wall over these questions, b) wondering about the effectiveness of said pounding, and then c) feeling judged for not having accomplished anything in that pounding and for d) trying to find a way to be comfortable with that outcome rather than getting tied up in knots over not having been an effective agent. I write it not just for myself, but for my fellow vegan abolitionists who end up dealing with the reality of living in an overwhelmingly omni world. Take it or ditch it for what it is.
A common discussion topic for vegan abolitionists involves the necessity of creative nonviolent vegan education as the primary tool to bring about an end to the exploitation of nonhuman animals. It is generally agreed that (as Prof. Gary L. Francione points out)
[i]f we are going to make progress toward a greater acceptance of veganism, we must educate. And we must educate in a nonviolent, non-confrontational way that takes into account the social, religious, and “movement” realities. This does not mean that our use of animals is anything but a moral outrage; it means only that our efforts to educate about that moral outrage must take into account how the vast majority of humans see this issue.So who and how do we educate? For some, opportunities arise in everyday situations with strangers, while others set out to do more deliberate outreach work with the general public. I've written here back in August about the need to educate vegetarians about veganism (and you'll find numerous links to what others have said concerning education vegetarians in that older blog post, as well).
Many abolitionists, like Vincent J. Guihan from We Other Animals, agree that it goes beyond being a necessity and that educating others about veganism is actually a moral obligation for abolitionists: We owe animals more than to just not eat (or otherwise exploit) them ourselves:
We all have blood on our hands. I wish I could tell you that the feeling of shame that comes from that blood goes away. I've been vegan for a decade, and still, I can't tell you that.So we go about deciding where to start and who and how to educate, and the how needs to involve striking a balance between blunt honesty and not forgetting that those around us have spent their entire lives taught or told that it's a given that nonhumans exist for humans to do with what we will. As Prof. Francione points out:
Most people have been raised to think that it is “natural” or “normal” to eat animal products. They have grown up in homes where an important part of family life has involved sitting around a table and consuming animal parts. Their memories of a deceased and beloved grandparent or other relative are connected to some meat dish that the relative prepared for holidays. They have been raised in religious traditions that have taught them that nonhumans lack “souls” or otherwise are spiritually inferior to humans.This is a common-sense realization of what can be gleaned from taking a good hard look at those around us. Most of us who now eschew the consumption of animals held that mindset at some point, ourselves. Or, rather than holding a "mindset", I guess it should be said that we took things as givens without questioning them.
That being said and realizing that there are some who will just be incapable of or unwilling to listen to why the exploitation of nonhumans is as wrong as the exploitation of a human cousin or neighbour, where do we, as abolitionists, draw our own lines in the sand concerning who we choose to educate? Guihan himself states:
I'm not saying you have to tell everyone you meet everyday of your life to go vegan. I'm proposing that you tell a mother, a sister, a brother, a father, a friend or a stranger that nonhuman animals have a right not to be used as property.So where do we draw our boundaries where that's concerned? Do we raise the issue once or twice and then walk away from it? And what happens when an abolitionist vegan attempts to educate others about veganism--particularly loved ones--and that attempt fails?
I once had an abolitionist I respect terribly tell me that he'd no sooner get emotionally involved with a non-vegan--a speciesist--than he would get involved with a racist. This weighed upon me quite heavily, since it was voiced within the context of my having brought up my involvement with an omnivore I'd come to adore. I've had more than a few abolitionists echo this sentiment since then. On a plain and ordinary level, I've always found myself agreeing with others that racism=sexism=speciesism. However, the association made concerning this person for whom I'd come to care didn't sit well, especially where I felt myself being judged for having allowed myself to accept this person regardless of his speciesism. I'd felt I'd been deemed inconsistent--a bad abolitionist.
So why the disconnect? I felt like a hypocrite. But then I didn't. I have an omnivorous mother. I have an omnivorous sister and two omnivorous nephews. I've explained to them my reasons for going vegan and those reasons have bounced off of them. Should I feel shame for continuing to love them or continuing to associate with them? Is the onus somehow on me to keep pressing them to change, however uninterested they've seemed thus far? Where does one draw the line with regards to one's obligation to educate others about veganism? Particulary when it comes to your personal relationships? And what of the aftermath? What if you fail? Do you "tsk-tsk" and walk away? Or do you acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of humans--whether strangers or loved ones--don't view nonhuman animals as anything other than things to be used? Does compartmentalizing this make you a bad abolitionist? Does it make you a hypocrite? Does it make you a realist?
I envy those who end up embracing the abolitionist approach to animal rights in tandem with a partner. I envy those who've been successful educating their family members about veganism and in bringing them around to veganism. But what of those who don't? How do we come to terms with the reality that the overwhelming majority of people around us, even loved ones or potential loved ones, are not and may never become vegan? Do we need to absorb these as personal failures? Do we need to judge those others around us who are just living their lives the way over 95% of humans do, taking it as a given that nonhumans exist for our use? Do we need to adjust our own boundaries and standards to reflect abolitionist principles and to cut people out who don't come around? Should there be shame in loving speciesists? Should a non-vegan need to fear that I would eventually dismiss him for being a non-vegan?
I look forward to reading your thoughtful comments.