How Not To Be An Angry Vegan
My Thoughts on a Love Ethic in Vegan Activism
When I first opened my eyes to the suffering of nonhuman animals, I was angry. I was furious at how our society had indoctrinated me and everyone else into believing that killing other beings for our own pleasure was acceptable. I lashed out against meat eating by making fun of animal products and maturely saying “eww”, while pretending to vomit, whenever my family would munch down on an animal product dripping with grease and torture. To me, this was an acceptable way to react to this violence. My rationale was that my behavior towards my family was nothing compared to what animals experience and that I was standing up for them. I sometimes would get so frustrated that I would label the people who pushed back at my beliefs as inherently evil.
What this thought process forgets is that I too once participated in acts that I now view as insupportable. I too once loved steak and said things like, “oh I could NEVER go vegan, meat is just SO good!” By viewing my own family as evil, I was drawing a line between us and putting myself above them. I created a bad guys and good guys situation. Although I still believe that meat is unethical, I don’t believe that all people who make unethical decisions are bad people. Many people are unaware or mislead about the consequences of their actions and even if they do know, there are many other parts to being human that don’t make you evil.
bell hooks’ theory of love as a practice of freedom, although it related to the topic of sexism and anti-racism, reminded me of my own struggle to incorporate love into my acts of resistance and also opened my mind to how transformative love can be if properly used. Love doesn’t mean that you have to agree with your opponents, it means you need to come from and communicate from a place of love, not hate. bell hooks states, “black folks starting thinking solely in terms of ‘us and them,’ internalizing the value system of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, blind spots developed, the capacity for empathy needed for the building of community was diminished”. bells hooks acknowledges that when there is an “us and them” conflict, this leads to more separation and less understanding between groups, which will not lead to resolutions.
The angry vegan stereotype is a fitting example of how a lack of love in your activism can lead to more division. One of the most controversial anti-fur tactics has been to throw fake blood on people wearing fur, even celebrities like Joan Rivers. Although this act publically shows that killing animals for a fashion statement is murder, I don’t believe it does much to help animals. The point of throwing blood is also to shame fur wearers which naturally leads them to be defensive. Many of these people and the onlookers themseves can build up resentment against vegans because of the cruel treatment they impose on others.
Thankfully, I found other models of activism that incorporate love and respect in their approach to spreading a vegan message. One of these activists is James Aspey, who took a year of silence to bring attention to the silencing of animals voices. Since then, Aspey has gone all over the world giving free talks on veganism and posts Youtube videos even talking to people on the street about the ethics of eating animals. Aspey’s philosophy is that we must be firm in our beliefs, but communicate them respectfully and compassionately. In a recent Youtube video, Aspey says, “Its all about learning about how to give this to people, giving them this gift, so they don’t feel like they are attacked, so they don’t feel like they’re judged, so they don’t feel like this is a party they don’t wanna be involved in.” Aspey’s communication is based on bringing people in through positivity whereas a lot of activism has been based on shaming and judgement.
A love ethic can be incorporated into any form of activism and is probably the strongest tool we have. No one wants to be yelled at, talked down to, mocked, or have blood thrown on them. To show the world that we are on the side of love, we must show love through all parts of our activism. We must have compassionate motives and speak to others respectfully if we wish to bring the world to our side. A love ethic is transformative for not only for people who oppose us, but ourselves as well. bell hooks mentions how many activists tend to support other systems of oppression while fighting another. A love ethic is one way in which we can open ourselves up to criticism of our hateful actions and learn to be more loving towards all kinds of people and species.
I now work on being a more productive vegan advocate who understands the struggles that people face with overcoming the beliefs that have been ingrained in us since birth and how multiple systems of oppression need to be dismantled to liberate humans and nonhuman animals. I consciously form my words so that they are firm but not defensive. What good is it to call people murderers when they don’t fully understand the systems that they support? Change will only come when we stop seeing others as evil, and instead see them as misguided. Instead of shaming people into believing what we do, we should guide them by our actions of compassion and empathy.