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Reclaiming Anger So We Can Speak Truth to Power

The other day, a woman asked me if I thought she was a bad person because she ate meat. Beyond feeling admiration for her for asking the question at all – most people don’t have the guts – I found myself thinking about what, exactly, constitutes a good person in the context of humanity as I see our species – our flawed, problematic, intrinsically destructive species. The first answer that popped to mind was yes, you are a bad person, and so is everyone else. But that’s hardly productive, especially since adjectives such as “good” and “bad” are relative to some extent. And so the answer that came out of my mouth was no, I don’t think you are a bad person, but eating meat is a bad thing to do.

From that point, we had a conversation about many things, such as just how long people have been “domesticating” (aka controlling) the lives of countless species, including certain members of our own species. We talked about how everything about eating animals and their bodily toss-offs is harmful: harmful to the animals, harmful to the environment, harmful the workers who operate slaughterhouses and farms. We talked about other deeply-entrenched ideas such as the belief that women are still not considered fully legitimate people in many places, and whether individuals in cultures with deeply embedded misogyny should be considered bad people, or badly trained.

We talked about many things. I don’t know that she will ever embrace a plant-based diet, though. Assuming she doesn’t, that leaves me with the same question to answer. If she continues to behave as she does now, after she has been exposed to the truth behind her food choices, will that make her a bad person?

I will preface my thoughts by saying that I have genuine caring and affection for a few people who are in my life and who have not gone vegan despite knowing what happens to the animals who are “involved” in animal farming. I will also say that I do understand that our perspective on animals has been informed by literally thousands of years of indoctrination, brainwashing, and imprinting, to the point that it is so deep, I am not sure it can ever be fully uprooted even by the most ardent animal rights activists. I mean, hell – I don’t believe that the concept of race can ever really be fully eradicated from the psyches of even the most ardent anti-racist activists, and racism is far younger than speciesism. It’s a process, I believe, one that some people continue and other people get tired of. The activists I admire the most are the ones who keep toiling away, because they know that to do otherwise risks developing a sense of complacency that eventually leads to ineffective activism.

Back to the question. In short, I firmly believe that people are what they do. We are only as “good” as our actions; that is to say, it is what we do, as opposed to what we think about doing, or what we feel about something, that defines who we are as an individual. Certainly, there is a relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, but in the end, it is what we choose to do and say that matters. Now, I’m not saying that every last decision we make can be considered a mission statement on The Kind Of Person We Are; rather, it is the collective sum of our actions that makes that statement.

This is why I get so unbearably frustrated when people tell me they “love animals.” It is not because I doubt their feelings. I don’t. I am sure they do love “their” animals, and I’ve seen people love animals – not just dogs and cats, but chickens, cows, sheep, and so forth. So, that’s nice. Love is nice to see. But in the end, love is not an action. Love is a feeling; what’s more, I’ve usually seen that feeling come to nothing (referring to behavior-change, here) because in the end, most of us only know how to love in a self-referential fashion.

So great, I think. You love animals. But you’re still eating them and wearing them. You still paint them on your face to hide your wrinkles and you still use chemicals to kill them. So love in itself – for that matter, any emotion in itself – does not equate with an action, nor is there any documented evidence that I’m aware of to show that love leads to actions with any greater frequency than any other emotion. There’s a lot of activist rhetoric around love being an agent of change, probably because many activists choose to contextualize their actions in love (as in, I am fighting to make the world a better place because I love the creatures of the world) – but I have yet to see a demonstration of causality before the fact; I also know that far more people feel the love and do little more with that feeling save those actions which make them feel good. So, I remain unconvinced.

Let’s get back to the matter at hand. People are only as good as what they do. I really do firmly believe that, to the extent that I would say let’s throw away the concept of self-esteem altogether and replace it with self-efficacy. Interestingly, I developed these beliefs when I taught in a school that was firmly committed to the Generation Y edict that All Young People Are Good Wonderful Perfect Fabulous Terribly Great Individuals No Matter What They Do. Fist-fighting in the classroom? Gee golly, let’s chat about that in the office. Terrorizing a new teacher? Hey, you know, he’s had a hard year, his daddy was sick. Cheating on the state standard exam? Now come on, you know how kids are. Need I say more? I actually don’t – there are plenty of studies to show that Generation Y people have been done a disservice by their parents and teachers by being taught they are good just because they eat, breathe, and poop. (And of course, the world in general has been done an even greater disservice because we are forced to deal with this influx of narcissism.)

Here’s one example:

In any case, that’s what I believe – you are good if you do good things. Moreover, I kind of feel that you can think or believe whatever you want while you do those good things, because it’s the actions that count, not the thoughts meandering behind the actions. I believe that one can be angry or annoyed while doing good things – one can even resent doing those things from time to time, as long as the resentment does not color the action and thus modify it from its state of goodness.

For example, right now – literally, as I type this – Zoe the cat is on my lap. I hate when she does that. She cannot sit still, so she kneads and kneads, pushing my hands this way and that, disrupting my ability to type smoothly. What’s worse is that she licks and sucks on my shirt: lick and suck, lick and suck. It makes an enormous wet spot that frankly is not very comfortable later.

If I was reading about a cat doing this to someone, I would think it was awfully cute. But I assure you that I am not feeling that way right now. I can’t stand when she does this. Mostly, I’m tired of retyping letters that she’s messed up with her licking and sucking and kneading. But she needs and wants to be on my lap so I’m dealing with it. My feelings and thoughts are NOT HAPPY, let me tell you, but she has no idea about that, so that makes it a good thing because it’s something I can do for her. So who cares what my feelings are?

This is a minor example, but life is one big bunch of minor examples. When you put it all together and look at the trends, this is where you see the kind of person behind the actions. That’s what I mean: how do all of our behaviors add up over time? What picture do they paint of who we are? Despite the hype about goodness being something intrinsic, something part of our cells (which I frankly believe to be neutral ground, entities in their own right), in the final analysis, people are perceived as good or bad based upon what they have done, and what they do, over time.

The person who chooses to continue to eat meat despite knowing their choice dooms countless sentient beings to pain, suffering, and death is making a very, very bad choice. The action is bad, the behavior is bad, everything is bad. Is s/he bad? I say that many things need to be taken into account, many behaviors, and upon occasion explanations for particular behaviors, before making that determination. Because that’s what I’m saying too: that to be defined as a good or bad person, in my book anyway, requires the analysis of a repeated number of willfully chosen actions that have taken place over a reasonable amount of time. Despite my frequent pronouncements of “he’s such a good person” or “she’s an evil person,” I know full well such determinations are far more difficult to make and certainly need to be based upon far more than the one thing that’s annoyed me and prompted me to rant and rave. And you know – we all do that. All of us blow off steam, as it is called.

So where I come down with non-vegan people for whom I have affection or love is here. If we are friends, then I have decided you are a good person (good by my definition), as well as compatible with my personality. Depending upon the length of time and depth of our relationship, I have either love and trust or fondness for you. I would like to keep you in my life. But I will always think that your choice to eat animals and their products is horrible. I will always think — I will always know — that it is a very very bad thing. I will never agree with or support that position, and in fact will continue to spend the bulk of my life working against that position. And you know what? My friends who are not vegan know that this is how I feel.

I mean – how can they not know? Of COURSE they know! Do you think my dear friend Jennifer (a pseudonym) doesn’t know I wished she didn’t eat animal products? Of course she does! And frankly, I suspect she wishes I didn’t do a few things myself. ;-) But I think she’s a good person. She gave up considerable financial gain for a decades-long career working with young people who have learning differences. She adopts special-needs dogs and takes extremely good care of them. She’s very caring of and kind to me, and I get to speak with her about things that I rarely can with anyone else. I love her dearly. Perhaps most significantly in terms of our relationship, she is a strong person — significant because she is friends with someone whom she knows disapproves of her behavior in this regard, so strength is a requirement in such cases.

I tend to think in analogies, and I’ve been trying to come up with one, for a very long time, to describe this dynamic. It’s hard. The best I can do is to imagine a western feminist woman being friends with a traditional Bedouin male. You can kind of see how that would go, right? The feminist admires the Bedouin for his strength of character, his ability to make decisions and remain calm under pressure, his remarkable skill with a tent. The Bedouin admires the feminist almost as “another animal,” respects her strength and appreciates her willingness to speak her mind, qualities he would not tolerate in “his” women. He knows she condemns his treatment of women and she knows he knows it. But they love and respect each other beyond and around this issue, and so maintain a genuine friendship. Because we are social animals, this is possible.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t strains in the friendship. That is especially true when the feminist is someone like me, someone who is able to tap into her anger, and who is not afraid of her anger: not just despair, not just grief, but pure and simple rage. I mean everything I said about people doing bad things – but even when I don’t think an individual is “bad,” per se, I can still get quite angry about the whole group of people who are making the exact same choices as my friend. Moreover, I call behaviors as I see them. If something is hypocritical, I name it as such. When something is self-indulgent, that’s what I call it. And there are a plethora of similar accusations that can be levied at people based upon our relationships (so-called) with animals.

Is it bad to say such things? I certainly don’t think so. Hey, there have been plenty of times I’ve been hypocritical; when I’ve been lucky, someone has called me on it. When they’ve been right, I’ve changed my behaviors. Generally, this involves quite uncomfortable periods of adjustment, sometimes tons of resentment, but it’s always a positive effort that allows me to improve my ability to live on this planet and do the least harm imaginable.

It isn’t like I don’t remember the first time I went vegetarian. My then-girlfriend had taken me to the North Park zoo outside of Pittsburgh. We were standing outside a pen in which a few depressed deer were roaming about (although at that time, I couldn’t see their depression). I said wow, I can’t imagine how anyone could kill such a gorgeous and gentle creature. She said well, what do you think you ate for lunch today? We’d had burgers – aka cows. I just looked at her and realized she was right. And I went vegetarian. I only made it for about five minutes though; the hypocrisy of being someone devoted to human social justice issues while consuming the murdered bodies of the biggest victims on the planet would not truly sink in for another decade or so.

My point is that she called me a hypocrite. Well, big deal. She was right. And this has happened more than once, probably because I’ve never been one to shut my mouth about anything. As an ethical person – as someone who wants to try to be a good person – aren’t I glad about that? I’m forced to examine my behavior to see whether or not I agree with that individual. It never occurs to me to be dishonest about what I see in my examination; that would be like a runner training for the marathon and lying to herself about how many miles she’d run that day. If what I see tells me that I have indeed been a hypocrite, then I set things in motion to make some changes. The motion might happen quickly or slowly, but as long as it’s moving in the right direction – and for my purposes, it’s usually an endless track to root out whatever dis-ease caused the bad behavior in the first place – then I’m satisfied. And grateful.

I remember another time when I was in eighth grade. I’m this little randomly Semitic girl and I’m telling one of my teachers – a black woman whom I discovered was a lesbian many years later when I ran into her at a club – that our Italian gardener is amazing because he pulled himself up by his bootstraps (yes, I really did say that), unlike so many black people who seem to need a handout all the time. Thankfully, I was not born any later, or I might have been done the disservice of hearing about how we all have our opinions and aren’t I special because this is my very own opinion. How fucked up is that? It’s certainly not what Ms. Thomas (not her real name) told me. She started by telling me I was wrong, and when I explained that I was only repeating what my dad had told me, she let me know he was wrong also. She told me many of the reasons, rooted in the history of Pittsburgh as well as the nation as a whole, why everyone could not “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” and she even explained how that notion is frankly ridiculous, because no one does anything without help. She was patient but firm and the overall message was that I was being wrong and I needed to evaluate my beliefs before I got really stupid about them.

So thank you Ms. Thomas. I mean it. What a gift she gave me.

Yet another time I was working at Trailblazers in Ann Arbor, MI – a community-based psychosocial rehabilitation clubhouse for adults with serious mental illness. The clubhouse model is an excellent model – possibly the only recovery paradigm designed by people with mental illness (as opposed to others who want to help them, study them, or make money off of them). It’s completely voluntary, and in its ideal form, visitors can’t tell who are staff and who are members. Trailblazers isn’t there any longer, but FountainHouse, in New York – the first clubhouse – is still going strong:

In any case, this was a good place to work. But part of the program involves a daily lunch, and it sure wasn’t vegan. It was whatever we got from the Food Bank, which was quite good (Ann Arbor being not just an affluent place, but one in which people do things like donate generously to food banks), but definitely heavy on animals and their products. It was toward the end of my five years with Trailblazers that I began moving in a vegan direction, but I still was of the belief that if the food was donated, then it represented post-consumer goods and thus it didn’t matter if I ate them or not. Now, I am still firmly committed to freeganism, but this was a different thing. What’s more, I wasn’t really thinking about this issue from an ethical perspective, but frankly from the perspective of someone who was looking for any excuse whatsoever to continue eating flesh.

One day we had a man visit from Food Not Bombs. He was the friend of a staff member at one of the group homes that brought some of our members to us during the day. We had a short talk about him getting involved with Trailblazers – short because when I told him we served animals and animal products for lunch and snacks, he said sorry, I can’t be involved with that. I tried the “but we get everything from the Food Bank” argument, but he didn’t budge and essentially made it clear that this was hypocrisy – that he was happy to help folks in need but not by hurting animals – and he would not be a part of it. After he left, his friend apologized for him, and although I was stung (I don’t like criticism any more than anyone else), I said no, he’s sticking to his principles.

And then I went home and I thought about those principles. A lot. I fought against them, I resisted them, I frankly didn’t like them. But I had to conclude that he was right. Helping people with serious mental illness does not have to come at the expense of other creatures. So, again – another one of many situations where someone has called me out on my behavior, I’ve considered what they said, and I have changed my behavior.

I mean, if it’s wrong, it’s wrong. Go ahead and nurse your hurt feelings for awhile, but then suck it up, apologize to the world, and change your behavior.

In all of these cases, to bring these anecdotes back to some sort of point, the question remains: Was I doing something bad? And the answer is Hell yeah! It’s not good to start life as a racist. It’s not good to think deer are pretty but cows aren’t so it’s OK to eat the one but not OK to eat the other. It’s definitely not OK to help one group of people at the expense of another.

So yes, in these and other cases, what I was doing was bad, and I worked to change my behavior. It’s hard work for sure — so hard that I wouldn’t bother to change my behavior if it didn’t hurt anyone else or bring me some wicked-great advantage. Was I a bad person for doing these things? Frankly, most of the time, I couldn’t care less about the big picture of “Miriam Good” or “Miriam Bad.” I just care about what I’ve done with the hours of the day, and whether or not I can justify my actions.

So back to the anger. Yes, despite my own knowledge that change is a process, and that none of us is “above” needing to examine our lives and our actions, I still get angry at animal rights issues. I cannot imagine not getting angry at those issues. In fact, I get angrier and angrier as time goes on and I see in greater depth the magnitude of this horror-show we call the world. Yet — and here we finally come to the second main point of this ramble — a surprising number of animal rights individuals disapprove of my anger. It’s non-productive, I am told. I am being too mean to people who don’t “agree with me,” I am told, as if they perceive animal liberation to be a neutral matter of opinion, like should I wear green and purple together, as opposed to an on-going holocaust involving every damn body, all over the planet. I need to have compassion for people, I’m told. Catch the world in a love embrace, as it were.

This never fails to blow my mind. It makes me wonder if I’m living in a different world than these people. Everywhere I go – Everywhere I Go – all the time – I see animals being dominated by humans. I see this because it’s there. I’m not hallucinating. It’s real. Pain and suffering screaming out all the time. Yeah, Vermont is gorgeous, and plenty of times I’m walking around astonished at the beauty. But eventually I hear a lawn mower, or a chain saw, or a car whizzing by, or any one of a number of other things, and I remember oh yeah, it’s everywhere. Sometimes the examples are worse than others (a dead coyote on the side of I-91, a factory-farm style dairy barn complete with skinny, bellowing, locked-up cows and a festering shit-lagoon) – but they are always there. I’ve learned how to shut down my emotions in response to most of these things, but I have not succeeded in killing them off.

Nor would I, even if I could. If you’re not outraged, you are not paying attention; by the same token, if you are not paying attention, you can’t be outraged. So that makes me wonder, have these people who take issue with my anger learned how to not pay attention? Do they not see what’s around them? If not, is that a defense mechanism or a literal changing of mind, the way people do when they are scared they will get “too radical” and thus invite even greater censure from society? If it’s the former, hey, that’s great. If that’s what it takes to show films, volunteer at sanctuaries, write letters to pressure corporations, organize fundraisers for grassroots AR groups – if that’s what it takes to stay active, go for it. But if it’s the latter, then over time, your sheer, gut-level knowledge of the wrongness of animal use and abuse gets fuzzy. It diminishes over time, becomes dissipated.

And then you get mad at people who direct their anger where it belongs. It’s typical. It happens in every movement. But that doesn’t make it reasonable, or right. How dare anyone call me out for being outraged at animal suffering? How dare they? Do they remind me of the humanity of war lords who kidnap young kids? How about rape? When I express my outrage at rape, am I reminded that I should feel love and compassion toward the rapist? I am allowed to be angry at actions that are inordinately, insanely horrible. Why can’t I be angry? In fact, I believe I have every right to be angry with the people who will not allow themselves to BE ANGRY, and who further censure other activists because they are angry.

Some activists have told me that I can be angry but that I shouldn’t call people out on their actions (which is interesting, given that I’m told this in the context of being called out on my actions). Again I say: why not? If someone is acting in a harmful way, who should I worry about more: them, with potentially hurt feelings, or the victims of their actions? If people are good people, then they are open to being told their actions are hurtful, or hypocritical, or just plain wrong. They will either agree or disagree, but while they might be initially annoyed or angry, they won’t hold a grudge about it. But at some point, someone has to tell people yo, you are acting in a hurtful fashion, so knock it off. It’s not just about giving them another vegan cookie – it’s about making it clear what the cookie symbolizes.

Now, some people aren’t given to rages like I am. Pattrice, for example, has deep-running emotions – extremely deep – that don’t always involve anger, even when she’s physically protecting someone, or otherwise involved in a right-here, right-now situation that calls for serious intervention. She also believes that random rages can be counter-productive to animal liberation (with which I agree, even when I can’t pull that off). But she GETS IT. She UNDERSTANDS why people might be angry about this or that. She doesn’t say gee, Miriam, stop being so mad about this animal abuse stuff, for heaven’s sake. Surround the meat eaters with light and love and hope they stop doing what they are doing. That will never be me — and she gets it.

That’s all I ask. Some understanding of anger. And I don’t ask it for myself. I ask it because without the collective will of our movement to TELL PEOPLE LIKE IT IS – to say what you are doing is BAD and it must STOP and it makes me ANGRY that you are hurting other animals – without that kind of emotional backbone for our movement – how far do we think we will get? We can’t be afraid to at the very least speak truth to power. In this case, power means EVERYONE – the 99.9% of the human world that isn’t vegan. That’s the power. Will you speak truth to it?



20 comments to Reclaiming Anger So We Can Speak Truth to Power

  • Damn it! You’d better stay angry…or I’ll be forced to come up there and call you out on it. :-)

    I promise that you have complete understanding (and acceptance and agreement with) of anger from this person. Totally.

    My outrage and despair and grief are intact and vivid. And I know I must never lose touch with them…or smother them. Never…for as long as this horror show is still playing.

  • Jack McMillan
    Just so, so, excellent, honest, and cuts to what we grapple with personally and externally…thanks for the food for thoughts and help as we struggle…
  • Sheryl
    Miriam, I hear you. Anger and rage are normal reactions when facing the suffering inflicted on living beings. How to use that rage productively in advocacy, and how we express ourselves, is an individual matter.

    Thank you for speaking to the “good person” question, the many non-vegans in our lives. This did it for me: “I have either love and trust or fondness for you. I would like to keep you in my life. But I will always think that your choice to eat animals and their products is horrible.”

    Just as I don’t hate my animal-consuming friends and family, I don’t hate my pre-vegan self. I’m not proud of consuming animals, but I don’t think I was evil. When I learned the truth, was devastated to have contributed to unspeakable suffering. I felt betrayed to have been indoctrinated into a system of animal oppression and death. I also recognize that took me until my 30s to realize the truth enough to go vegan.

    Others aren’t there yet, may not ever get there. Still, I am human and feel care and love for humans, and want to participate in human community. Also, I want others to *want* to spend time with me, even (especially?) if they’re not yet vegan, because they’ll see and hear the truth. Which they wouldn’t, if they can’t stand to be around me. (Some might not like me for other reasons, or even just because I’m vegan before I say anything about it, but that’s easy — I move on.)

    I speak the truth. While I don’t dump anger on those I’m speaking with, it’s an uncomfortable conversation for all involved. It should be.

  • Nancy
    I feel that to have friends who condone the systematic abuse of nonhuman animals is to tacitly condone what they do, yet another form of cognitive moral dissonance. I would never be friends with someone who is a cog in the slaughter machinery just as I would never be friends with a misogynist, pederast or rapist. All of which are inherent in flesh based agriculture.
    If the victims were human, would any of you? If your answer is different because of the species, then you need to review the term speciesism.
  • stupidstuff
    Well! I enjoy the kneading but what I could do without, and what I have a hard time enduring, is JD flinging himself at my overhanging rump whenever I happen to have my feet propped up on the computer desk. But that’s my own struggle and I should really work out a bit more anyway. JD, thank you.

    No, I do not consider someone to be a BAD PERSON simply because they choose to eat meat. If we happened to live in a society that did not condone and encourage the eating of meat I would consider a meat-eater to be a BAD PERSON. OK. Until this time comes about, however, I will consider said person to be someone who has not risen above her circumstances, one of those who thus far anyway, has not been able to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” as the saying goes. I see this as some unremarkable weak person living in a BAD SOCIETY. As you allude to, “thousands of years of indoctrination, brainwashing, and imprinting” must take a toll. So, do you buy the following? I don’t consider it a mark of distinction for someone to own slaves. But while the act is wrong, always, the circumstances (I’d even say “the feelings” if I felt up to it) behind it must be accounted for in order to distinguish between ordinary and extraordinary actions. Would anyone feel the same about an antebellum slave owner and someone who today is found to be holding slaves? Perhaps so, but I’ll chalk the difference to the former failing to rise above his circumstances and the latter going out of his way to expand on the already overly generous array of acceptable forms of oppression spread out in front of him. The former should do better and the latter could hardly do worse. That’s the difference, as far as I’m concerned.

    As far as anger goes, if you like it I love it. It takes all kinds.

  • bravebird
    Nancy, I totally understand where you are coming from. And I do agree that rape is rape. However, do people COGNIZE it as rape when it’s done to a cow instead of a human woman? That is the question. Generally, we do not cognize it that way. And we are wrong, and horrible for that (in my opinion), and what’s more, ideally will die out because I do not believe we CAN cognize it that way, en masse. But the reality is, we do not.

    This is true when comparing human to human violence as well. Do we cognize murder as the same thing when it’s a husband killing his wife as when it’s a soldier in WWII killing a Nazi? After all, the Nazi is probably just a kid — we’re not talking Himmler here — just a kid. So how is that murder different than the wife-killing? It isn’t. But of course we cognize it differently as a culture (hence memorials to soldiers who are valorized for their murders).

    As a matter of fact, I personally HAVE been close with people who have killed other people, raped other people, and so forth. I have reasons for each of these instances, which I won’t bore people here with, but I will just say that those reasons have to do with a combination of understanding the context and the ability of the individual to cognize what s/he was doing, in combination with their self-improvement process to learn to not do such things any longer.

    In the end, I would also like to remind all of us — myself included — that with extremely rare exceptions, we were not born vegan.

  • bravebird
    “Stupidstuff,” I love this line:

    I’ll chalk the difference to the former failing to rise above his circumstances and the latter going out of his way to expand on the already overly generous array of acceptable forms of oppression spread out in front of him. The former should do better and the latter could hardly do worse.

    Extremely well said — thanks for posting. :-)

  • bravebird
    Hey — I love this line: It’s an uncomfortable conversation for all involved. It should be. And you are right, it should be — ideally it is QUITE uncomfortable because that is what sparks the dissonance that makes people change (if they are going to change, which of course they don’t tend to do — but one has to try)…..
  • bravebird
    Thank you, Jack, for your kind note. :-) Grapple is exactly what we do, for sure…..
  • bravebird
    Veganelder, thank you. :-) I think, though, I will have to go soft and fuzzy just so you come up and visit. :-)
  • bravebird
    Nancy, one more thing — I was just weeding my garden (one of those intrinsically oppressive activities in which most of us engage without a second thought) and could not stop thinking about your comments. My inclination was to rush inside and post about twelve thousand things explaining and justifying my decision to have friends (two, as it so happens) in my life who are not vegan, but that inclination tells me that instead, I need to really think about stuff. So I just wanted to thank you for provoking me to think further about this.
  • For me having “friends” who aren’t vegan is difficult (impossible). The relationship always feels strained. Of course most don’t have the courage to outright ask “Do you think I’m a bad person for eating meat?”. But they know, that I know that the question is always there.

    And then in the back of my mind is always “the good vegan” who repeats over and over “I should not judge. I should not judge. I should not… And of course I know that they know that this is so.

    It’s way too much stress to pretend the topic doesn’t exist. Too much phony, fake, reality-avoiding drama to contend with. I’d just as soon keep my interactions as superficial as possible… They are only acquaintances and how their actions hurt me can only go so deep.

    Angry? Hell yeah! But not only for what they callously do to innocent animals – But that they’ve chosen (indirectly) to cause our “friendship” to wither. I was a good person… Supposedly, that’s why they originally chose me as a friend. I’m still as worthy as I was before… Maybe even more so!?! But they’ve allowed their own cowardice to create a chasm in our relationship – Yeah, I was angry… At all of it!

    What the carnists do to others must be called out as wrong, bad, evil and unacceptable! I think this pussy-footing around the issue does nothing but enable them to gleefully continue. I sure haven’t seen any radical changes in their thought process by being gentle with their choices. As the months/years pass… My tolerance level for their excuses wears thin. Still, I smile at them, and am as cordial as the circumstance necessitate… But I know that they know that it’s all just for show. These are hardly relationships I need to preserve. It’s liberating to figure that out. No more anger now… Just the indifference that exists when communication is built on denial and lies. Who needs it? :/

  • CQ
    Kudos to you, bravebird, for your candor. Your righteous indignation. Your refusal to compromise with evil.

    “She doesn’t say gee, Miriam, stop being so mad about this animal abuse stuff, for heaven’s sake. Surround the meat eaters with light and love and hope they stop doing what they are doing. That will never be me — and she gets it.”

    LOL.:-) I don’t mind being regarded as one of those maddening (is that an adjective you might use here?) “light and love” people. I hope none of my previous comments sounded like I overlook violence toward animals and coddle the violator.

    No way. I can get as upset as you or anyone else when I think about the arrogance and ignorance of humans toward nonhumans.

    But where do I direct my indignation? At an individual? An institution? Or at culturally perpetuated beliefs that, subtly or blatantly, manipulate people’s motives and acts, mess with their inborn integrity?

    Well, I think it’s most effective to attack the original victimizers: the layer upon layer of lies that we learn from infancy on, that become entrenched, and that we refuse to question or rebel against. The lie that happiness is found in fleshly pursuits and pleasures. The lie that man is naturally selfish. The lie that Homo sapiens are superior to all other species, born to dominate them. The lie that hating a deserved-to-be-hated enemy will accomplish anything good.

    Somewhere I read this allegory: An adder bites a horse’s leg. The horse rears, throwing his rider. The rider lashes out at the horse. An eyewitness accuses the rider of abusing the horse. Meanwhile, the adder, undetected, has slithered back to his den, where he is safe.

    Everyone is blamed except the hidden cause of the chain reaction.

    From that story I conclude that the source of my woes, my anger — the lying and lying-in-wait, hidden malicious serpent — needs to be found out, brought into the light, exterminated. [Of course, I don’t think actual snakes are the culprits!]

    About thoughts vs actions. I think silent, unseen thoughts have more power — more effect on the universe — than do actions that aren’t sincere, that aren’t backed up by good thoughts. At the same time, I believe thoughts not translated into deeds are meaningless. Does that sound like a contradiction? :-)

    In the case of your letting Zoe knead you even though it bugs you — that, to me, is an example of your unselfish love (good thoughts) for your cat overpowering your intense dislike of the kneading.

    The points I’m trying to make are better articulated in this excerpt from Chapter 5, The Law of Right Returns, in “The Gentle Art of Blessing” by Pierre Pradervand [please pardon the length :-)].

    “We live in a universe where all is energy. The most modest movement requires an expenditure of energy, but the most powerful energy of all is thought — because it gives birth to all the rest. One might say that on the level of the mind, thoughts are like boomerangs. We need to heed the thoughts we send out into the universe, for sooner or later they will return to us, with increased negative or positive energy.

    “The teachings of an African sage, Tierno Bokar, as reported by the Malian philosopher Amadou Hampaté Bâ, illustrate this in a striking metaphor.

    “Tierno was explaining to a group of his students that the most profitable good deed consisted of praying for one’s enemies. In cursing one’s foes, said Tierno, one did far more harm to oneself than in blessing them. One of the students said he did not understand this, since a powerful curse, well-aimed, could destroy an enemy. (This needs to be understood in the context of the traditional African system of beliefs, with its frequent reliance on black magic, voodoo, and similar mental practices.)

    “Tierno answered the student with the parable of the white and black birds.

    “‘Imagine,’ he said, ‘two walls facing each other. Each wall is full of small niches in which nest black and white birds. The black birds are our bad thoughts or words, the white ones represent our good thoughts or words. Like the niches, the birds have slightly different shapes: the black ones can only enter the black holes, the white ones the white holes.’

    “Then Tierno has his student imagine two men who consider themselves enemies, Ali and Youssouf. One day, persuaded that Ali is fomenting evil against him, Youssouf sends him an evil thought, thereby releasing a black bird and freeing a niche of the same color. The black thought-bird of Youssouf flies in the direction of Ali’s wall, looking for an unoccupied black niche of its shape. Let us imagine that Ali did not respond by sending a harmful thought (a black bird in the parable). No black niche will be available for Youssouf’s oncoming bird, so it will return to its original niche in Youssouf’s wall, laden with the evil it carries. Not having managed to harm Ali, it will harm Youssouf, for evil, explained Bokar, never stays inactive, even (and especially) to the one who gives birth to it.

    “If on the other hand Ali plays into the hands of his supposed enemy (for all this happening on the subjective level of the two men’s imaginations) and also sends out a black thought-bird, he will immediately free a black niche into which Youssouf’s black bird will enter and deposit part of the evil with which it is loaded. Meanwhile, Ali’s negative messenger will have deposited its load of hate into the niche freed by Youssouf’s black bird. Thus both black birds will have reached their goal and harmed the person they were aimed at.

    “‘But,’ added Tierno, ‘once their task is accomplished, each bird will return to its original nest, for it is said, All things return to their source. The evil with which they were loaded not being depleted, this evil will turn against its authors…. The author of an evil thought, an evil wish or a curse is thus hurt by both his enemy’s black bird and his own.’

    “Of course, the same mechanism functions with the white birds, but positively. If, whatever the circumstances, we send out only good thoughts, only blessings, when our enemy is sending us just the contrary, his black birds will not find a place to rest, and ours will return strengthened by the exercise of flying in the often agitated skies of human thought. And the black birds of our opponent will be ‘returned to sender’ stronger than when they left.

    “‘Thus,’ concluded Tierno, ‘if we send out only good thoughts, no evil, no curse can ever reach us in our being. That is why we must always bless friend and foe alike. Not only will the blessing fly toward its objective to fulfill its mission of appeasement, but it will one day or another return to us with all the good with which it was loaded.’

    “However, in Tierno Bokar’s explanation, one can still discern a residue of self-interest — my good thoughts will return to me and do me good. There is another level of consciousness from which to practice blessing, and that is a state of totally “unselfed” love, where all concern for the human self or ego has simply melted away….

    “That is why loving unconditionally is the most important activity in the whole universe, the one most able to produce the deepest happiness. We do not love unconditionally to satisfy some abstract moral law or some faraway deity. As the French writer St. Exupéry, the author of The Little Prince, wrote, ‘One loves because one loves. There is no reason to love.’

    “If the very ground of our being, our very essence, is love — which is one of the postulates of this book — then love is simply the most genuine, the most natural expression of our true being. And in active love, we will also discover a wonderful path toward happiness, health, and fulfillment — but it will be an unintended result, so to speak….

    “Love is the very structure of reality itself…. To bless without any expectation of a return, anonymously, is one of the numerous expressions of unconditional love. With time, you will find a sweet joy that is unsurpassed in quietly blessing one and all, from your querulous neighbor to a dictator on the other side of the planet….”

  • bravebird
    Bea, I hear you completely. I suspect part of my ability to do this with the couple of friends I have who are carnists, as you say, is that I’m very good at dissociating. Because you are right, you have to be able to split off that particular aspect of the person and focus on the other stuff for it to work. Luckily, most of the people I know who are close to me are vegans — I say lucky because it’s quite hard to meet like-minded folks when you live in a rural area (as I remind AR activists who live in cities).
  • bravebird
    CQ, so far you’ve never told me to shut up about being angry, so I would not call you maddening. ;-) I do sincerely respect differences in approach, particularly because there is little evidence that any one method is more effective than another — there is some, but not much, as far as I can see.

    In any case, though, I do have a question. You say you believe it is most effective to get to the roots of the issue, and I agree — but what does that mean, exactly? How does one operationalize it? Does one simply write and explain about the roots of animal use and abuse? There is no clear-cut adder in this picture, as we are ALL the adders — so how does that work, exactly, as you see it?

  • Nancy
    Bravebird, I don’t think it matters if the person killing/maiming raping the “other” cognizes it. I was just reading Popular Justice
    A History of Lynching in America and read how with spectacle lynchings the person would be tortured for HOURS, then murdered and people would tear them apart to take body parts as souvenirs. My point is that the abuser never cognizes the victim that is why they can do what they do. Your friend “loves” dogs but continues to consume other nonhuman animals because of cognitive moral dissonance. In my opinion it is what allows vegans to go to a place that sells animal flesh so they can have their “vegan option.”
    I am glad I got you thinking, its a never ending process.
    Speaking of weeding, I have a hard time with it because I am killing live beings. I have taken to calling it goddenning.
  • bravebird
    Hey Nancy,

    Well, I hear you, but the trouble is that I think comparing one’s participation in a lynching with one’s consumption of a steak is a misleading comparison. Now, if we were to compare the lynching of a black man with the torture of a cat — THAT would be a comparison that makes sense, because even when lynchings were going on, PLENTY of people — white people — found them abhorrent, just like even though almost everyone thinks it’s fine to eat animals, most people think torturing a cat is abhorrent.

    To me, a more apt comparison is owning slaves in, say, WAY early colonial times and eating a steak. European-derived “white” people were completely sure of their right to own human beings from Africa just as almost all humans today are completely sure about their right to eat non-humans. Was every single person who owned a slave a “bad person?” Possibly. I would argue, though, that some of them didn’t have a clue, and, more to the point, couldn’t have a clue, because they had been shaped to believe what they believed, from birth, and nothing existed to tell them otherwise.

    Am I saying slavery is OK? Surely someone somewhere will decide that’s what I’m saying. HAHAHA But of course I’m not. I am saying that the way a culture and families shape their young into grownups is the way they end up acting and believing. Most humans have no inner strength, no ability to make significant changes, no ability or desire to “go another way.” It’s how we are.

    I mean, think about it. How many humans REALLY stray from the way they were raised? It takes rabble-rousing, serious work for a long time, to make change occur. Much of the time you have to FORCE people to change either through laws or other means, because on their own, humans just kind of go ho-hum, doop-doo-doo along the road that is their lives.

    Now, of course it doesn’t matter whether or not something horrible is cognized, in the sense that the final outcome is still obscene, but it does matter when it comes to making a determination about whether or not a person is a “good” person.

    I mean, let’s take the whole gardening thing. We both agree that it’s horrible to kill some plants and tend others. But we do it — even though technically it isn’t necessary for our survival. Why? We do it because we are convinced that we have to do it — to forage for our food is virtually unthinkable in this day and age. Are we bad people? Well, on one level yes, I think we are. On another level — the contextual level in which one asserts there can be such a thing as a good human — no, I don’t think we are. But the reality is, to cognize a world in which all humans scavenged for our food (as we used to do) is unthinkable to all but the most die-hard ALF/ELF/animal/plants/rights activists. Of whom there are like 10. ;-) And so we grow our vegetables in our little vegan gardens.

    I guess what I am saying, in case I didn’t make sense, is that the human brain has a remarkable capacity to, as you say, engage in cognitive dissonance (among other things). This allows us to do horrific things, which we frankly have been doing since we “evolved” into the current form we now occupy. This is why I do not, and never will, believe that the human species is anything other than intrinsically flawed. This is why Veganism Is the Next Evolution is very literal to me. We MUST evolve, and I don’t mean in some spiritual sense — a literal, genetic evolution allowing us to rejoin the rest of the animal kingdom (if only from a distance) must occur if humans are ever to be what I call anything other than destructive.

    Still thinking, though. :-)

  • CQ
    Hey inoffensive bravebird,

    I haven’t taken time to think through a response to your “adder” question yet — and it might just be impossible to explain in a rational way in a blog comment. But I think it’s really open-minded of you to at least ask people about their views instead of closing your ears when you don’t agree with them. You’re like one of the delightfully inquisitive chickens you hang out with! :-)

    Meantime, I do have a comment on your last reply to Nancy.

    You write: “I mean, think about it. How many humans REALLY stray from the way they were raised?”

    How right you are. (Hey, we agree on something! Actually, I’m sure we agree on a lot of things!)

    I think a lot about why people cling — as if clutching a baby blanket and stuffed bunny — to beliefs learned in their youth. Is it a feeling of security and safety they are seeking? Probably so. It’s torture to consider the possibility that our parents and preachers and teachers could have taught us anything that is, in fact, wrong. And it takes the average person a long time to grasp that what worked in the past is no longer viable. On the latter point, abolitionist poet James Russell Lowell’s lines in “The Present Crisis” are instructive:

    “New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient creeds uncouth;
    They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth;….”

    Here’s what Jane Goodall learned about this subject, based on a regrettable decision she made, as a young girl, to go on what she thought would be a harmless horseback ride with friends: “What if I hadn’t seen the fox at all? Would I have wanted to go again? What if we had lived in the country, and had horses of our own, and I had been expected to go hunting from an early age? Would I have grown up accepting that this was the thing to do? Would I have hunted foxes again and again, and watched dispassionately their suffering, ‘all pity choked by custom of fell deed’? Is this how it happens? We do what our friends do in order to be one of the group, to be accepted? Of course there are always some strong-minded individuals who have the courage of their convictions, who stand out against the group’s accepted norms of behavior. But it is probably the case that inappropriate or morally wrong behaviors are more often changed by the influence of outsiders, looking with different eyes, from different backgrounds” (Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey).

    P.S. Your use of the word “rabble-rouser” reminds me of a clever headline I saw recently that referred to “rebel-rousers.”

  • Friends – I am now in my seventies—and I’ve only been a vegan for FOUR MONTHS!! So much of what you’ve all expressed here really touches me and makes me glad of my decision, and sad that I didn’t reach it forty years ago. Keep writing about it, keep trying to make people THINK!
  • CQ
    You’re something ELSE, Les Roberts!

    You may be in your seventies, but you sure aren’t ancient. What’s ancient are the faulty customs you gladly put behind you, once you decided to learn a little more truth.

    Actually, I just realized that I slightly MISquoted Lowell’s poem above (I was referencing, without realizing it, to an adapted version in a hymnal). Here’s how the poet’s two lines really read:

    “New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ANCIENT GOOD uncouth;
    They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth;….”
    (caps added to highlight the corrected word and the adjective that comes before it)

    To me, eating animals is an example of an “ancient good.” People didn’t know better, and thought they really needed animal flesh and secretions to survive (and probably many had no other choice). Today, though, people (including the new you, Les) DO know better. They realize they not only do NOT need to eat animals to survive, but that the custom runs counter to the good they desire for themselves, for the earth, and, yes, for the animals.

    None of us will ever be ancient, as long as we let our thinking improve and evolve — and let our actions follow. :-)

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