Monday, May 23, 2011

"Who Here Thinks That's Enough?" pt. 2

When Anne and I were in speaking in Colorado last summer, people were focused on the Gulf oil spill. Now, people are focused on the tragedies in Japan. Sometime soon – six months, a year – there will be another highly visible horror that will grab people’s attention.

These calamities are, of course, horrible and worthy of our concern. But nearly every catastrophe receiving blanket coverage has one thing in common, something that can be summarized in three words: “Not my fault.” People don’t feel there are any personal implications from outrage at British Petroleum, and few here have any personal connection to an earthquake and tsunami.

Compare this to the leading cause of suffering on the planet: raising and butchering animals for “food.” Despite our masterful penchant for rationalization, there is a direct connection between the suffering of these animals and our choices, the meals we eat. If we were to consider these animals’ plight, it would have personal implications. The hidden realities behind our food choices call into question if we really are a good person.

Furthermore, animals being raised for food aren’t living wild and free, suffering from only at the end of their lives. “Food” animals – especially pigs and chickens – suffer during their entire lives.

We all know about the horrors, that we could watch hours and hours of gruesome, sickening video from factory farms and slaughterhouses. I assume we can take that as a given, OK?

But of course, these videos won’t be played on TV 24/7.

Given the corporate media’s relative unwillingness to expose modern agribusiness thoroughly, and people’s amazing capacity for rationalization, you might think I’m pessimistic.

But the flipside to all this is the opportunity, the power we have.

Every day, our food choices can send a clear signal – against animal suffering, and for cruelty-free foods. Those of us here recognize there are more important things in life than accepting the status quo, following the norms of society, and taking the easiest path. We have the character – the guts – to stand up to peer pressure, to live true to our values, to write our life’s narrative.

But get this: we can do so much more!

Look at it this way: By being a vegetarian, you will spare many hundreds of animals from the malicious maws of modern agribusiness.

This is a tremendous accomplishment. But who thinks that is enough?

Who wants to do even more?

By leafleting or donating such that just one person stops eating animals, we can accomplish as much as we will with every single food choice we will make during the rest of our lives! Close your eyes and think about every meal you will carefully plan for the coming decades – you can double the impact of all that effort by just writing a check or leafleting for an hour or two!

In other words, if we agree that being a vegetarian is important, that standing up and speaking out for the animals is crucial, then we must also recognize that being an effective advocate for the animals is many times more important. Efficient outreach has truly enormous potential; if you think compound interest is a good deal, effective vegetarian advocacy allows for exponential returns!

In all our decades of activism, this is quite possibly the most important lesson we’ve learned, so let me ask it another way:

Who here simply wants to survive in a non-vegan world?

Who wants to be an active part of changing the world?

Whenever we talk about “changing the world,” at least a few people scoff. But this isn’t a fantasy – really, it isn’t! Thinking the world doesn’t and can’t change is the fantasy – just look at recent history.

In all of human history, it took until late in the nineteenth century for slavery to be officially abolished in the developed world. Despite thousands of years of human civilization, only in the last hundred years was child labor abolished in the developed world, child abuse criminalized, women given the vote, and minorities given even basic rights.

Many thoughtful, admirable people worked to bring about those ethical advances for humanity.

Now is our turn.

Because of the number of individuals suffering and the reason for this hidden brutality, animal liberation is the moral imperative of our time. We can be the generation that brings about this next great ethical advance. We have an amazing opportunity to be part of something fundamentally good, something incredibly profound.

In the end, in our hearts, we know that, regardless of what we think of ourselves, our actions reveal the kind of person we really are. We each determine our life’s narrative.

We can, like most, simply allow the narrative to be imposed on us, mindlessly accept the current default, follow the crowd, and take whatever we can.

Or we can actively author our lives, determining for ourselves what is important. We can live with a larger purpose, dedicated to a better world for all.

We have no excuse for waiting – we have the knowledge, the tools, and the truth. Being an effective advocate for the animals requires only our choice. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr.:

The arc of history is long
And ragged
And often unclear
But ultimately
It bends towards justice.

Please be a part of bending the arc. Thank you.