An attempted put-down I have seen is for nonvegans to dismiss activists or their posts as being ‘over emotional’ in a transparent attempt to discredit information that makes them uncomfortable. The phrase that was used about a recent post was ’emotionally charged drivel’ and though this was clearly rude and uncalled for on a piece that did nothing but state the truth, it made me think in more depth about the prevailing attitude to emotion within our culture and society.
There are reams written about ‘being in touch with our emotions’. It’s considered socially acceptable to be emotional about our children, to gush over babies, puppies and kittens. Some demonstrations of varying degrees of emotion are deemed acceptable, particularly towards other humans and to a lesser extent, to companion animals. It’s fine to cry at weddings, christenings and funerals and to be emotionally moved by music. It’s even socially acceptable to rail against and point fingers at what we choose to think of as ‘cruelty’, violence or abusiveness in others, provided we remain blinkered to the inconsistencies that this highlights in our own behaviour and provided that on no account do we point out those inconsistencies in our audience. The other side of this coin, of course, is socially acceptable admiration for those who, when faced with emotionally challenging situations, remain controlled with regard to their judgement or their behaviour. Emotional response is unashamedly manipulated by the media, by politicians and by others, in many cases quite unscrupulously.
Unsurprisingly, it appears that it is generally considered inappropriate to relate emotionally to those circumstances, situations and behaviours where societal norms dictate a pragmatic approach. One of these norms is our obsession with the use and consumption of nonhumans that requires us to view them as commodities and ingredients. This perception is necessary to discourage deeper consideration of the sickening violence of actions that most would readily admit are against our deepest values that abhor the causing of suffering without justification or necessity.
The unacceptability of an emotional response to the billions of victims of humanity’s indulgence is never more apparent than when one becomes vegan. When we, as vegan advocates, declare that the annual slaughter of 56+ billion sentient land-based beings is for something that cannot be called anything more noble than human selfishness, suddenly, any emotional response on our part is considered distasteful. If we propose that sentient beings deserve moral consideration and provide easily verifiable information about the absence of morally justifiable reasons for the carnage, again the contempt for any emotional engagement is palpable. References to nonhumans using the same terminology that we would use to refer to humans, or in fact any phrase that suggests they are anything other than inanimate objects is frequently derided.
Those childhood myths again
Advocates frequently encounter scathing mockery, ridicule and accusations of emotionally fuelled misinformation. It is particularly startling when in almost every case, the accuser is clinging to childhood myths of entitlement and necessity that should have been consigned long ago to the same memory lane as Santa and the Tooth Fairy.
And there, I suspect, lies the root of the knee-jerk scorn directed by so many nonvegans towards the impassioned activism exhibited by many advocates. I’m no psychologist, however we all have direct experience of our natural emotional response to animals being shut down with varying degrees of forcefulness, when we were children starting to question what – or as it turns out, whom – we were being compelled to consume or wear. In becoming vegan, we have all experienced a breaking-through this shell of conditioning, and for everyone I have spoken to, this was a painful, distressing and yes, emotionally draining experience.
Triggers to becoming vegan
For me, the trigger that finally broke through my conditioning was by confronting the obscene manipulation of the reproductive systems of sentient creatures that is the fundamental principle that underpins all nonhuman ‘farming’. I found truth about the dairy and egg ‘industries’ particularly offensive. In giving birth to and nurturing my children, motherhood was a profound experience for me and I was overcome with an unaccustomed but socially acceptable tide of emotion. I am eternally grateful for this feeling and for the reverberations which never quite went away. They were ultimately the route by which I became vegan.
As I have mentioned before, it was on Facebook that I discovered what seemed at the time to be outrageous claims about the suffering of beings in the dairy industry and started my quest on Google for the truth. Once I realised that all the myths about nonhumans being unaware of their predicament were nothing more than self-serving excuses at best or outright lies at worst (as so excellently discussed in the recently shared post by Adrain on Society, The Arrogance of Intelligence Culture: Animal Rights and Emotions) my empathy as one sentient mother to billions of others forced me to confront my complicity in their misery. The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in 2012 further emphasised that we have far more in common with other sentient creatures than we were taught as children and my transition to veganism took place.
Other advocates recount that reasoned debate was what acted as their trigger. Faced with the moral arguments against causing unjustifiable suffering to the helpless and vulnerable, they considered that the only rational response was to become vegan. Every advocate has their own style, their own way of conveying the vegan message and providing that each consistently holds that veganism is the moral baseline and that there is no acceptable level of nonhuman exploitation whatsoever, then we are simply different voices with a single message.
Not at all apologetic
So I make no apology for appealing to emotions; these are a potentially powerful route to disrupt cultural conditioning; the same conditioning that, unless we challenge it, ensures that we continue to act in ways that we all believe are against our deepest values. If it worked for me, it can – and judging from the conversations I’ve had, most certainly does – work for others. Those who feel compelled to ridicule this appeal to emotion by making dismissive posts are simply proving a point. In arousing their scorn, we have in fact provoked an emotional response that may plant a seed that will flourish on another day.
If the enslavement, torture and confinement of billions of helpless and vulnerable beings, the inexcusable annual slaughter of 56+ billion land-based sentient individuals that we have bred into existence specifically to use and kill, and the unnecessary deaths of uncounted trillions of aquatic creatures each year do not provoke an emotional response, what hope is there for humanity? How can impassiveness and cold complacency about injustice on such a breathtaking scale possibly be considered admirable? We need to get back in touch with our emotions and rediscover our lost humanity. Let us realign our actions with our values. We can start this by becoming vegan.