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How Passive Will You Be Today?

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http://weotheranima ls.blogspot. com/2009/ 08/refusing- to-promote- veganism- is.htmlRefusing to educate people about veganism is passivism: how passive will you be today?

"How can you thank a man for giving you what's already yours? How then can you thank him for giving you only part of what is yours?" —Malcolm X

How many of us are not paying other animals (human and non) what we owe? Anyone who is not vegan, no matter how good his or her intentions, is giving them nothing at all (besides good intentions). The answer to that question is: too many. And when I write "too many", what I really mean is "far too many".

There's been a lot of discussion about the necessity of education people about veganism lately:
http://my-face- is-on-fire. blogspot. com/2009/ 08/what-is- and-isnt- abolitionism. html

http://www.abolitio nistapproach. com/vegetarianis m-as-a-gateway- to-veganism/

Most vegans have at least have some basic (although often misguided) sense that we owe nonhuman animals something, and that's good. But how many of us are not promoting veganism as a moral baseline or encouraging violence instead of education? The answer to this question is also too many.

If animal use is a moral problem, then so is educating people that animal use is not a moral problem, as is promoting violence over education. If it is wrong to use animals as our property, it is wrong to teach others that it is morally fine to use nonhuman animals as our property, and it is wrong to confuse coercing them with educating them. Wrong, shameful, misguided.

And yet, while at least some "vegans" recognize animal use as a moral scandal, too many see promoting animal use and violence as "practical" solutions; often they seem them as part of the same "practical solution". If animal use is obviously immoral, then miseducation and a refusal of education are morally and intellectually derelict. If we are vegan, then we should believe in veganism. Not just for ourselves, but for every person. If it is right for us, then why is it not right for others? Why keep the good news that they can change themselves from them? Why be so elitist in assuming that they don't have ears to hear, like you and I did?

As a strategy, this kind of stuff misunderstands what we owe nonhuman animals in very basic terms: veganism, and the promotion of veganism, education about veganism, nonhuman animal adoption, creativity, thinking, and discipline. As a tactic, in place of exercising our responsibility to speak on behalf of nonhuman animals, it proposes that we either remain silent or that we say something that is simply, morally untrue: that it is better that someone should pay nonhuman animals nothing at all by going vegetarian than to pay them what we owe them, which, at very least, is veganism. It proposes that we sew confusion and uncertainty in the effort to reap understanding and change. It proposes that we can change the oppressor's mind without telling the oppressor what's on ours. All of which is misguided.

You might be wondering why I started this blog with a quote from Malcolm. Most people either forget or never understood that Malcolm X's contribution to the Civil Rights movement wasn't in shooting people, it was in educating them, not in hating people, but in loving them. He was a minister, not a gun slinger. Most of all, he was someone who was capable of changing his mind when evidence and argument were presented to him, with a sense of humility required to do so. Betty Shabazz worked as a nurse and taught nutrition and hygiene classes. Both were good, honest, and hard work. Their legacy and example remain powerful, at least to me.

In contrast, too many people, even very intelligent people, refuse to see what's right in front of them because they have their rationalizations down pat. I'm sad to say that too many of the self-appointed animal advocates I've met seem to be too heavy for light work, too light for heavy work or both. Too many advocates of nonhuman animals give up before they even get started. Too many confuse activism with apology. Too many confuse "the oppressor" with some poor working stiff in a lab who makes only better than minimum wage or someone who cuts meat for a living when the system is all around us. We were all the oppressor when we ate hamburgers, drank milkshakes or went to the zoo in our leather boots, wool coats and silk scarves.

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. What I can tell you is that violent posturing and "there, there, eating less veal is a great victory!" does not make good soap. Changing ourselves and changing the world is hard work. No one is saying it's not. What I'm saying to you is that violence and apologies are both 'shortcuts' that don't get us or nonhuman animals anywhere.

Many of you who will read this blog are vegan. That's good. I'm not asking anyone to stop being vegan if you don't agree with every word I write. I'm saying that we should speak up for nonhuman animals clearly and directly. I'm also asking you to think more carefully and seriously about what to say when you do speak up for them. And I'm saying that before you quit before you start, you should give others the chance to be educated the way you were. Veganism is what we owe nonhuman animals; nonviolent vegan education is what we should do for them and for others.

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, and that when we fail to go vegan in light of that right, we're not giving nonhuman animals what is already properly theirs. I'm asking you not to retreat into apologies or violence. I'm asking you not to make a prison house of your compassion for all animals, human and non. I'm proposing that rather than hide that light under a bushel, you tell someone else about it today.

Promoting vegetarianism as a way to 'reduce suffering', understands nonhuman animals as "things with feelings" whose suffering we should reduce, not persons to whom we owe something. Promoting violence rather than dialogue is also a cop out to avoid promoting veganism. On its face, promoting less than veganism is speciesist, and speciesism is the problem not the solution. If people who tell others that they are anti-speciesists go around acting and speaking in speciesist ways, how does that help nonhuman animals? If that's helpful to nonhuman animals, then either I misunderstand the word helpful or I'm not as creative in my understanding of reality as some other advocates are.
Some people will call this absolutism or fundamentalism. Leaving aside that these are personal attacks that do nothing to change anyone's mind about anything: am I an absolutist or a fundamentalist? I'm absolutely in favor of the rights of animals (human and non) not to be used as property. I'm fundamentally in favor of veganism as the lived daily practice and as a moral baseline of taking that right seriously.

To be clear, I'm also not opposed in the slightest to criticism. Like Wilde says, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, and no one likes being talked about more than I do. But when we confuse personal attacks with meaningful criticism, it has the inevitable effect of trading our focus on telling nonvegans that what they owe nonhuman animals is veganism for a lot of poorly reasoned finger pointing between ourselves, usually because we're afraid to speak firmly on behalf of nonhuman animals. Criticism and self criticism are invaluable. But trading criticism and activism for a lot of poorly reasoned posturing and finger pointing is not a good trade, either for ourselves or for nonhumans.

Most of all, what I'm saying to you is that we can either spend our days making fists in our pockets, gritting our teeth and muttering nonsense passive aggressively or harassing other people or activists. Or we can spend our days "educating by not educating" people about veganism as a moral imperative. Or we can go out and educate people, firmly but politely and clearly, about veganism and why it is the absolute minimum of what we owe nonhuman animals. Which of these do you think helps nonhuman animals the most? Which are you going to do today? Refusing to do the hard work of educating others is not pacifism, but it's definitely passivism. And so the question I close with is: how passive are you going to be today?


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