Monday, April 13, 2015

Vegan advocacy can be tricky

and figuring out how to do it, with justice, can be difficult. I ran across this little video recently and while it might seem elementary...sometimes that's the best place. Definitely it is the case that when complexity becomes so extensive that confusion exceeds clarity...retreating to the elementary can often be illuminating.

Everyone has a different set of experiences and capabilities. You haven't lived my life nor have I lived yours. We may both want to get to the same place but...that doesn't mean that we can automatically follow the same path...note the two individuals in the video. If we want to travel together...we have to take into account our differences and sometimes put forth the effort to find a path that works for both of us.

I can quit harming animals, but if I want you to do so too, I have to take into account which path(s) might be available to you. For us to travel together we'll have to find a way that works for both of us.

I can be oblivious (just like the caterpillar) to difficulties and experiences and knowledges that someone else might have that I don't...and vice versa.

This phrase compresses a tremendous amount into just a few words: "positionality biases epistemology." Which is a fancy way of saying that your location in terms of membership in various dominant or oppressed groups has profound implications in terms of what you know and what your experiences might be...and what your unknowings might be.

The article I linked to in the last paragraph contains a quote that tries to express something that is quite important. The quote:
"the narcissist sees the world--both the past and the present--in his own image. Mature historical knowing teaches us to do the opposite: to go beyond our own image, to go beyond our brief life, and to go beyond the fleeting moment in human history into which we have been born. When we develop the skill of understanding how we know what we know, we acquire a key to lifelong learning."
The snail knows things that the caterpillar doesn't, the caterpillar knows things that the snail doesn't. Each has to struggle with issues/situations that the other may not. Each, as a result of their struggles, may have competencies/awarenesses that the other does not. 

Saying all that to say...whenever I end one of these posts with the exhortation to go vegan...that simple urging can be seen, depending on someone's position, as achievable and admirable or as profoundly goofy and clueless.

This article does a good job of wrestling with some of the issues that are often glossed over and discounted by those of us who seek the ending of oppression for our sister/brother Earthlings. Ignoring issues doesn't help when those issues prevent some of us from achieving what we desire for all. As the author writes: "We can advocate for animals in a way that does not point the finger at underprivileged people."

Think about the video, the caterpillar and the snail both had to do some thinking. Advocating for veganism...necessarily...requires more thinking than the simple sounding admonition: "just don't hurt animals".

Hey...did you imagine that this was going to be simple? Never forget that veganism is about human behavior and we human animals are superlative at complicating the simple (and oversimplifying the complicated).

But...I just want to help the animals you say? Me too...the problem isn't so much helping the animals...the problem is how to do that without creating harm or barriers or ignorings for others and figuring out paths that we can all follow. That's the tricky part.


David Ashton said...

Excellent point. In our eagerness to liberate the other species, it's easy to forget to be kind to the animals wearing our clothes.

joan.kyler said...

It's a complicated and intricate situation. As much as we might just want to shout and berate, that usually gets negative results.

Ellen said...

Oh my gosh, thank you for your wisdom and your gift! I am new to both veganism and animal activism, and what I see in the animal activism community is so much ego and judgment, and I just know that it's counter-productive to our goals...and neither compassionate to others nor to ourselves. In fact I think that it is rooted in our own guilt about the suffering that we have caused. I certainly feel that for myself, and see signs of it in others. Ultimately I think that it will firstly take self-forgiveness and compassion for ourselves on a grand scale, to create more of an atmosphere of receptivity to our message from the masses. And I think that this may be the angle with which I approach my activism.

It's so refreshing to read your work. I found you from a comment you left on another blogger's post about veganism, activism and depression...a blogger named Vegina. I was so taken by your writing that I clicked on your name and ended up here. I'm so grateful to have found your page, and look forward to reading more of your offerings.
In gratitude, Ellen

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting David. The temptation to squish humans into boxes labeled "good" and "bad" is ever-present and powerful...the problem is that we all...depending on perspective...qualify, at times, for both boxes.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Joan. Indeed...generally it's counter-productive to pitch a fit. Things might be easier if it wasn't...but it is.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Ellen. Your kind words are greatly appreciated.

Your observation that our self-directed behavior probably ought to model our other-directed behavior is well taken. Gandhi (I think) is credited with saying something to the effect that we need to be the change we wish to see in the world. Which is a more eloquent way of saying that we oughta walk the walk if we're going to talk the talk.

Otherwise...we'll put ourselves in the dubious position of telling folks to do as we say, not as we do.

You found me via a path that has sometimes led me to writings that I enjoyed. I'm glad that it led you here and that you took the time to write such a thoughtful comment. Thanks again.

Have Gone Vegan said...

Tricky indeed. And while it can be tempting for a person or group to think they have the answer for e.g., the best way to get folk to go vegan, that's obviously not the case as there would be many more vegans by now if that were true!

No, maybe we need to bypass the simple slogans and concentrate on both commonalities and differences. Take for example The world is vegan! If you want it. Just what exactly would a vegan world look like? And not just in white middle-class North America or Europe or Australia, but everywhere? What would that world look like in different cities, rural towns, impoverished areas? How would a vegan world be experienced by individuals who belong to all sorts of other groups? How exactly do we form this vegan world, without as you say, ignoring real obstacles? Or worse, inflicting harm while we're trying to do good? And who gets to decide if the world is indeed vegan if we ultimately would get there?

Ah, if only it were simple. But I really like the video, and I'm sure I'll be thinking more in terms of snails and caterpillars now. :)

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting HGV. Indeed, we're terribly prone to think that if we know one then we know all. Thinking that since we "know" one human then we know all humans is easily seen as a fallacy...but we seem to be just as easily prone to forget it. It may be that in our quest for simplicity...we often only make ourselves simple.