Feet of clay: a weakness or hidden flaw in the character of a greatly admired or respected person
Without any effort at all, I can think of a number of high-profile persons who are hero worshipped for their claims to represent the interests of animals of various species, but who, by their own admission, are not vegan. By definition, this means that they support and fund brutality and violence in their consumer choices. This is simply a fact.
On social media, as soon as the fact that they are not vegan is mentioned by anyone who is, there is an unseemly rush from apologists ready to defend their heroes on the basis of their nonveganism being shrugged off as inconsequential, coupled with a barrage of what can only be termed vitriolic bile being levelled towards the one who had the audacity to mention it.
Today on social media I had the misfortune to witness one such exchange on the page of a staunch animal rights advocate who lives by every single word that they say. The thread unfolded in the sadly predictable pattern that results from any naming of names; the same way in fact that this essay would, if names were named. However the names are not important; what these non-vegan ‘heroes’ represent, most definitely is.
Today, apologists, non-vegans and the ‘can’t all be perfect’ brigade weighed in to accuse, contrast and condemn on the basis of what in this instance was proclaimed to be the ‘wonderful work’ done by their hero, with scathing remarks demanding to know ‘What are you doing compared to that?!’ According to critics, only a ‘zealot’ would consider that self promoted ‘good works’ do not grant a free pass to at least some brutal and exploitative behaviour. According to the defenders, the predilection of the hero for consuming cheese made from nonhuman breast milk, and the slaughterhouse-tainted nightmare that the practice inflicts annually on millions of defenceless mothers and infants, should not only be discounted as a mere trifle, but the vegan ought to be ashamed for even mentioning the matter.
So before I continue, let’s step back and consider this phenomenon in a human context. Such an exercise is always useful to reveal aspects of our view that may be speciesist. I use it frequently.
Thinking about human rights
If you will, I’d like you to think of a high-profile, human rights campaigner, past or present. I’m sure we can all think of at least one such person whose shining example has inspired our admiration. Now, still thinking of this person, imagine that you have just been made aware that this icon was, by their own admission, a supporter and promoter of something incompatible with their stance, such as – say – child pornography.
Would this revelation that they were saying one thing while doing something completely contradictory, affect our perception of the chosen hero? For the sake of those who may, at this point, choose to deny any change, we can try taking this a step further. What if, when the stash of child porn was uncovered, we were to discover that our own children were amongst those whose innocence had been violated for a thrill?
Would we see on social media a spirited defence of this human rights paragon on the basis that their ‘good works’ outweighed their predilection for sexualising infants? Would we see derision, scorn and vitriol being levelled at anyone with the audacity to point out that no matter how ‘good’ the ‘works’, it is impossible to dismiss and forgive on behalf of their victims, such a fundamental betrayal of every human rights issue ever? Would we see scathing comments of ‘So what? Nobody’s perfect!’?
I suspect we wouldn’t. Because it’s not so easy now, is it? By defending those who harm other animals, we’re actually saying that collateral casualties are a reasonable price to pay as a scientifically unproven route to some imagined ‘greater good’. However that sort of high ideal is fine only when we’re talking about someone else’s loved ones. Or in fact for some, preferably some other species and their loved ones. It’s always easy to sound magnanimous about situations that are never going to touch us personally.
Heroes as influencers
So, to return to the conversation that I mentioned at the beginning, what we have to ask is what is the message being sent out by these high profile animal users?
My merciless memory raises its hand at the back of the room again. Until 2012 I was not vegan and I admired and aspired to emulate many other non vegans who claimed to represent the interests of animals. I was influenced by what they said. And what I heard was a vindication of my own efforts to be ‘compassionate‘, and I felt reassured that I was doing the best anyone could reasonably do. I already thought that the use of members of other species for any and all reasons was a ‘necessary evil’, and so from these non-vegans my impressionable former self learned that there was a ‘kind’ and ‘caring’ way to deprive my victims of their lives and of every single thing that made those lives worth living. Through such teaching in my decades as a non-vegan, my ‘awareness’ was not even slightly ‘raised’ above the corpses, the eggs and the breast milk products on my plate. Only vegan education did that.
With clay-footed heroes elevated onto pedestals by those who either don’t know any better, or by those who see in the failures of their ‘heroes’ some vindication of their own inconsistencies, a message is proclaimed to a non-vegan world only too happy for the reassurance, that some animals matter but there’s no need to be extreme. They don’t all matter equally and it’s perfectly fine to harm and kill them as long as we are ‘kind’ and ‘compassionate’.
On the cult of celebrity
It is dismaying that there is an escalating media circus surrounding vegan advocacy, with the inevitable result that the victims of our species are so often becoming eclipsed by the clamour of ‘celebrities’. We don’t need to be looking for ‘heroes’ to put on pedestals. We don’t need to be hanging onto every word of ‘celebrities’.
The decision to be vegan is a personal one, made in the silence of our own thoughts and guided by our conscience. Once we understand the inevitable consequences of our consumer choices to use broken lives and bodies, the decision to be vegan is a line that we draw as an individual where we say ‘Enough. Not in my name.’
Yet for as long as the message that ‘heroes’ are broadcasting, ignores or trivialises the need for veganism as the absolute least we can all do, the rest of us will just have to work twice as hard to defend their victims.