Saturday, May 27, 2017

Taking on the Angry Vegan Stereotype

The Vegan Vine
When I was in my early twenties I was obsessed with the original Star Trek series. I was even somewhat of a Trekkie, having attended a Star Trek Convention in New York City (sans costume). My fascination with the show centered on Spock. While I admit I found his pointy ears and Vulcan eyebrows irresistible, there was something else about Spock that enamored me to him. After much consideration, I realized that I envied Spock for being my paradox: a measured and unemotional being who keeps his human passions from overwhelming him. While human rage and pain have always been part of Spock's makeup, he mostly kept them well-contained and controlled.

For a passionate and emotional person like myself, keeping my feelings even and steady when discussing dire social issues is not my strong suit. After all, it is my zealous spirit along with my desire to eradicate social inequities that have brought me to veganism and have allowed me to channel my emotions more productively through animal advocacy.

Most ethical vegans are continuously looking for opportunities to strike up conversations in order to educate others on how their decisions affect the lives of other animals. For many of us, we may be the only vegans our friends, coworkers, and family members know, so they look to us to be a model of veganism. Because there are so few committed, ethical vegans, there is a lot of pressure to present well to others. For example, my friend worries about the way she looks and fears being overweight gives a misleading reflection of what it means to be vegan. I agonize over my interactions with unconscious defenders of animal ab(use) since I want to be as effective as I can be for animals. 

What a vegan looks or acts like can vary greatly because we are all unique. Furthermore, considering the colossal, entangled system of animal abuse and the insidious nature with which the animal-industrial complex is promoted and permeates every area of life, it's difficult not to show anger or frustration, especially when people respond crassly and defensively to facts. 

In Aftershock: Confronting Trauma in a Violent World, A Guide for Activists and their Allies, Pattrice Jones reminds us that—first and foremost—we are animals and to be effective we must embrace our animal emotions, not suppress them. As vegans, it is understandable to feel shame for the methodical suffering we recognize and often witness as a result of daily human activities; we are permitted to feel isolated and lonely when we can't find other vegans with whom to share our grief; we are justified in feeling mournful because of the sweeping violence and death needlessly inflicted on animals, and we are certainly within our right to feel enraged at the levels of human greed and indifference.

Not only do we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be good examples to others, but there's also the added pressure put on by animal advocacy VIPs and leaders of welfarist organizations who sometimes chastise animal activists for expressing anger or for not possessing an immaculate demeanor all the time.

In "Reframing Anger" in Vegan's Daily Companion, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau asks why animal activists shouldn't be angry. "Learning about the atrocities enacted against animals is enough to drive the most levelheaded of us to despair, grief, and even anger. . . . Corporate greed, personal convenience, and human pleasure drive the institutionalized abuse of billions of nonhuman animals all over the globe. It's considered radical to oppose this. Of course they're angry. Anger is a real response to a devastating reality . . . accept it as a part of awakening, resist being afraid of it, suppressing it, or labeling it as 'wrong.' Feeling anger is necessary; it's what we do with anger that will make or break us."

Audre Lorde's 1981 presentation on “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism” also applies to speciesism: "the belief in the inherent superiority of one race [or species] over all others and thereby the right to dominance, manifest and implied." 

Every person "has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being," said Lorde. "Focused with precision it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change. . . . Anger is an appropriate reaction to racist [and speciesist] attitudes, as is fury when the actions arising from those attitudes do not change."

Rage Against the Machine sang that anger is a gift. Johnny Lydon of Sex Pistols fame wrote that anger is an energy. Anger can be useful if dealt with constructively, but blaming vegans for not suppressing their anger or grief is gratuitous and belittling. Instead, we would do well to offer sympathy and support to our fellow comrades because anger is often a veil we wear to hide our own inadequacies and deep feelings of sadness and helplessness.

"I cannot hide my anger to spare you guilt, nor hurt feelings, nor answering anger," continued Lorde; "for to do so insults and trivializes all our efforts. . . . And my anger is no excuse for not dealing with your blindness, no reason to withdraw from the results of your own actions." 

Legions of animals are enslaved, tortured, and killed every day for human pleasure and with human approval. While animal liberationists—labeled as domestic terrorists in the US under AETA—are serving prison time throughout the world for freeing animals from their own prisons and untimely deaths, others invite people to eat "humane" animal products and remove meat from their diets on Mondays only, and then have the audacity to castigate those who express outrage. Matt Ball, co-founder of Vegan Outreach, who has been on a media rant these days chiding angry vegans, has started a new group called One Step for Animals that simply asks people to stop eating chickens. And he wonders why vegans are outraged!

Invoking Lorde's sentiments, for it is not the anger of vegans that spreads like a virus unleashed upon the world. It is not our anger that drops bombs on civilians; authorizes billions of dollars on agents of war, death, and disease; artificially brings countless of animals to life solely for their destruction; destroys the environment; keeps millions hungry and living in famine and abject poverty, and slaughters, rapes, and enslaves untold innocent beings. And it is certainly not vegans—angry or otherwise—with the power and influence to obliterate us all. 

In a vegan advice column, Marla Rose advised a woman who was sick and tired of being stereotyped: "My belief is that the best way to combat these annoying stereotypes is simple to be you—glorious you. Even if some of your interests and personality traits resemble the cliché . . . you should still do your best to simply be yourself."

Good advice for those committed and less diplomatic vegan allies who wear their hearts on their sleeves. As Spock says, live long and prosper!

1 comment:

Don LePan said...

I absolutely agree that vegans have a lot to be angry about--and the point is very well made here.

But are vegans actually more angry than the average person? I doubt that's the case. More likely, I think, is that accusations against "angry vegans" are instances of the same sort of psychological mechanism operating as that which underlies most accusations about "angry feminists." For many people, unfortunately, ad hominem generalizations are a way of escaping the actual arguments being made.

I did a blog post on this question some years ago; here's a link--