Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Parallel Travelers

on animals and on peace

At Vegan Soapbox, Eccentric Vegan writes:

"College students are particularly receptive to a vegan message because they are generally young and thus their habits aren’t quite as rigid as older people. Young college students are in a stage in their life when they’re learning and exploring; they are willing to experiment and try new things."

I think this is true, but I am also interested not only in what demographic features might make a person open to a message of nonviolence for animals, but also what ideological features. Some people already have ideological commitments and ethical stances about which they are quite passionate. Some people are already engaged in and open to exploring the realm of ideas. And some people may have ideological commitments which may be in line with an ideology of nonviolence for animals. In particular, I think there are two groups of people with particular values that animal advocates should try to reach.

Antiwar advocates
Opponents of warfare seem more likely to have compassion and moral consideration for death and suffering that is not directly related to them. Pacifists and other antiwar advocates have reached a conclusion that it is ethically wrong to use violence to achieve particular ends. I would not ask fellow pacifists to equate animals with humans, or to equate the suffering and death of animals with the suffering and death of humans. However, if an individual reaches the conclusion that violence against human beings, even for supposedly noble or justifiable ends, is wrong, how far would that individual need to go to reach the conclusion that violence against animals for mere pleasure is wrong?

Not all ideological opponents of warfare will reach the same ideological conclusion about animals. Some antiwar advocates oppose war more for practical reasons than moral reasons (economic waste, ineffective or counterproductive means to achieve desired ends, long-term consequences, etc.). Religious pacifists who see in their religion a moral demand to renounce violence against humans may not find in their traditions the same demand to renounce violence against animals (though they may find in their religious traditions demands that lead to care for animals). But I think pacifists and opponents of war have ethical consideration and compassion to be open to the topic.

Jonathan Safran Foer writes in Eating Animals that

"someone who regularly eats factory-farmed animal products cannot call himself an environmentalist without divorcing that word from its meaning" (59).

I think there are at least two reasons environmentalists should be vegans/vegetarians. First, there are plenty of studies, reports, books, and articles detailing the negative environmental impact of animal agriculture. Animal agriculture's impact on climate change and on local environments is widely discussed. If you call yourself an environmentalist, can you repeatedly (most likely daily) engage in activity that is a major contributor to global warming and other environmental damage?

Second, if you wish to protect and preserve the environment, but you still believe that animals may be killed for your pleasure, then whom are you protecting and preserving the environment for? For you, for other people, for your children and descendants and future generations, surely. But not for animals. Such environmentalism does not see inherent value in nature itself, as such environmentalism allows for brutalization and death of nature's creatures, and for mere pleasure.

Environmentalists may be convinced to reach the conclusion that animals are a part of the natural world, and as such are a part of what deserves preservation and protection, not destruction.

The Opportunities
People with strong ideological commitments are often willing to talk about them, and may even make arguments for their commitments. Pacifists and environmentalists may be the ones to initiate such ethical or political discussions. In many social contexts, vegans and vegetarians may feel leery about initiating discussion about animal issues, for fear of seeming preachy, badgering, hectoring, or judgmental. But if somebody else initiates a discussion about peace, or initiates a discussion about environmentalism, then the discussion has begun, and a proper and fitting opportunity arises to bring up issues of animals, too. When a discussion about ideas arises, it is a perfect opportunity to discuss ideas about animals, and an opportunity to discuss these ideas with people who may be receptive.

I think another point is worth making here. Christians who proselytize should not see themselves as the ones performing conversions: they should see themselves as bringing the gospel or Word to people, and it is God who through grace changes hearts. I think a parallel is relevant. If you advocate for animals, it is not you that convinces, or manipulates, or leads to a conclusion. I actually think in the realm of ideas, it is not hard for animal advocates to win an argument, but winning an argument does not change the worldview or behavior of your opponent.

If I advocate for nonviolence for animals, I see myself as sharing information, ideas, values. Animal advocates can and should even see ourselves as living examples. But we present those ideas, and we can even argue with passion and with logic, but we must know it is still the individual that will change his or her mind and heart. I like Eccentric Vegan's word choice of "power to influence." We can influence, but we should be conscious of how we can influence, and that in our interactions with individuals in our lives, we are sharing in such a way that allows other individuals to consider these ideas with the the hope that they will reach compassionate conclusions.