I know that factory farms have not been emptied. I know that slaughterhouses have not been shut down. I even know that greater human tragedies have occurred, and that tremendous human suffering continues around the world.
I can logically understand all these things, and yet, I have to admit that, having been involved in animal advocacy for a decade now, the events of Tuesday affected me unlike anything else ever had.
“What are you going to do?” my brother asks over email. What can I do? Can I do anything to lessen, let alone remove the hatred in the world? Can I address other's despair when that is what I feel? Can I end poverty, deprivation, fanaticism? Starvation, sickness, violence? This week, I have felt a pointlessness of trying to say or do anything, the naiveté of calling for a vegan utopia in the face of fiery fury, murderous malice.
Is it futile? Can one really expect a better world when people will immolate themselves with the only purpose to horrifically slaughter as many fellow human beings in a certain country as possible?
One answer might be: “What choice do we have?” Is the horror in the world really such that we are unable to accomplish anything? I think that, when taken as a whole, history indicates that progress has been made towards a more just world. Those trying to extend the circle of ethics have met with halting yet relatively steady success. As pointed out in The Economist (8/19/95): “Historically, man has expanded the reach of his ethical calculations, as ignorance and want have receded, first beyond family and tribe, later beyond religion, race, and nation.” Or, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The arc of history is long, but bends toward justice.”
The arc doesn't bend on its own, however. Rather, it has been bent by dedicated efforts of those who refuse to be cowed by the oft-seeming hopelessness of humanity. The hard, sometimes unbelievable progress has been made by those who look beyond the travesties of their time, to force – through shear force of will and that magical, impossible blend of pragmatic idealism – the next turn in the arc of history.
Obviously, the arc of history is jagged. Yet because of those before us who dedicated their lives to justice and compassion rather than anger and hatred, we also face unprecedented opportunity. Instead of having to struggle for basic liberties for ourselves or other people around us, we are able to seek to address the suffering of unseen individuals of other species.
This week, it may seem an absurd goal. Yet despite all the horror and continued suffering, we, like the selfless visionaries before, should take the broader view. As The Economist concluded, “To bring other species more fully into the range of these decisions may seem unthinkable to moderate opinion now. One day, decades or centuries hence, it may seem no more than ‘civilized’ behavior requires.” It is up to us to make this happen, but to do this, we must not allow ourselves to be defeated not only the pettiness and banalities of our time, but also the evils.
To paraphrase Camus: “Perhaps we cannot prevent this world from being a world in which there is suffering. But we can lessen the number of those suffering. And if you do not help us do this, who will?” I believe that we must continue to do what we can to make a better world, to alleviate the suffering, to lessen the violence, to counter the hatred, to expand the circle, to bend the arc. I believe that this is our ethical duty, our human duty. Not just so violence doesn't triumph. Not just because it is the most purposeful thing we can do with our lives. Not even just for those who are suffering. We must continue, if only to honor those who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much for us.