You look to your neighbour, you see a killer. Your family, our friends, those hungry masses, all blood-thirsty and cold-hearted. With jokes they make light of the plight you stand against, ignorant to the torture they lovingly embrace. You grow to hate them, for the way they live. If they only knew…
Many animal rights campaigns will show you animal slaughter house and abattoirs. Films like Meet your Meat and Earthlings and to shock their unsympathetic viewers into a new cruelty-free diet. But what about the converted? What changes in ethical vegans and vegetarians every time we see the same thing? Our sympathies begin to blunt as we look to the guilty, our view of our fellow carnivorous humans begin to change.
J.M. Coetzee’s book, The Lives of Animals tackles this subject in a kind of pseudo-fictional work. Coetzee, through the fictitious character, Elizabeth Costello, feels a deep disdain for meat-eating people. Costello can, “no longer look another person in the eye,” since they idly abide the worst travesty in all of human history. Costello (Coetzee, really) lectures as an author tired of the acts of meat-eaters and takes a lot of imagery from the holocaust in order to fully illustrate her (his) concerns.
Certainly the images are abound. Any livestock truck is reminiscent of the train cars carting living beings to their deaths. The language used to describe the flesh of animals is also reminiscent of the way the Jewish people, before WWII, were treated as “lesser” or somehow beneath the likes of non-jewish peoples.
It is difficult to breach this subject with many people; perhaps the mass-consumption of animals is equal–if not worse–than the heinous acts carried out by the Nazis on Jewish people. The argument is generally met with furled brows and that, ‘whoa-easy-there’ mentality that always tails touchy subjects.
Consider, however, that anyone who is sympathetic to the plight of consumed animals, finds it fairly easy to rationalize a deep hatred for meat-eating people. Just like Nazis have been justifiably vilified for their acts, so too are the meat industries who peddle their wares.
But what about the modest consumer of animal? Where does their culpability lie? How much can the average vegan hate a meat-eater for partaking in the slaughter? To use Coetzee’s analogy, the same blame can be allotted the average meat-eater as the average German citizen during WWII. Rather, and more specifically, any socially conscious citizen.
The argument opens: how responsible are people who either don’t care, or can’t care about the horrible acts of an authority they can’t directly control? This, I fear, is a subject for a whole new article. What concerns me more is: how vegans (and ethical vegetarians) are expected to see fellow meat-eating humans, when the carnivore’s choice to eat meat stands in direct conflict with a vegan’s defendable ethics?
Put simply: If I think it is ethically wrong to consume an animal, how am I supposed to feel about the person sitting across from me who orders a steak for their meal?
It’s reasonable to see how a vegan, given their stance, can begin to vilify any meat-eating person. It is easy to understand how Costello, at the end of her wit, can no longer respect her fellow human because she sees them as uncaring, murderous wretches.
Animal rights groups do not make this sentiment easier to deny. As any vegan will tell you, to follow one of these groups on any social platform, is to be bombarded with the worst-of-the-worst of animal abuse. Every day I open my computer to a new, fresh hell of animal abuse, savage husbandry and awful consumption and I can do little more than donate my daily coffee-money to stop it.
What is a vegan expected to? These images are meant to cultivate anger in order to stir the masses to help. They are meant to inspire the protest, but instead they inspire compatriotic hatred. This kind of absurdity is only compounded by the fact, it is usually sympathizers that are the ones following these feeds. These images never make it to their intended audience–an audience of ignorant consumers–as they should be. Instead, they act to securely and absolutely sow the seeds of hatred for our neighbours, family and friends.
Costello was defeated by this. In the book, she no longer sees how philosophy can stand to teach, but is just a social brain-wrinkling between pretentious like-minders–which stymies philosophy’s very purpose.
One escape from this mental trap for vegans may simply to be aware of this fact. To realize that such hatred, while defensible, is only a further echelon of fruitless activity. It adds nothing to the debate except unbridled emotion. It is then a choice to hate the perpetrators, instead of helping them understand the dilemma.
The problem is not solely the ignorance of consumers, but the intended purpose of advocacy. Many organizations aim to crate revenue for their cause, over and above, the actual point of the campaign. The angry, emotional vegan is more liberal with their wallet than a rational, calm one.
Next time you sit down at the table and eat with the “enemy”, break bread with discussion, not enmity. The revolution will be a podcast, not a cage fight; something too many animal right groups need to keep in mind when orchestrating their campaigns.