Much of what advocates for other animals talk about has to do with whether this approach or that approach will be most effective in getting other people to accept that harming and killing other animal is wrong. That is, we ask questions such as: Is it helpful to show graphic photos? Or, Should we focus on so-called single-issue campaigns (protesting the slaughter of dolphins for example) or should we focus on promoting veganism? Or, Will advocating for less-cruel forms of exploitation (cage-free housing for laying hens for example) actually make things worse – make it harder in the long run to bring about the changes we seek? These are all interesting questions. But what if they are not the right questions?
Are we even asking the right questions?
What if it doesn’t matter whether or not we show graphic photos? What if it makes no difference whether we focus on the slaughter of dolphins or promoting veganism? What if how we make, or do not make, incremental changes in the current abhorrent practices ends up changing nothing at all in the long run?
What if none of all this matters to the vast majority of people who currently think nothing at all about the ways in which other animals are harmed and killed?
Now, we all like to think that it does matter, and that if only we could get people to see what we see, and know what we “know”, then things will change. If only we can find the right arguments, and get people to face the facts, then things will change.
Unfortunately, I suppose that just isn’t true. What I believe is true is that people, by and large, do know what’s going on when it comes to how other animals are being treated and killed every day. I believe that many people choose not to recognize the facts as they are. I also believe that there is no argument that will change most people’s minds. Rather, I believe that people ignore the facts about other animals, just as people have long ignored the facts about other human beings when it was in their self-interest to do so. I also believe that arguments and “reason” are, more often than not, employed by people to defend what they want to do and have decided to do, come what may. We are clever animals, we humans, and we know how to rationalize and justify whatever it is that we like and want to do.
What would be the conditions in the world such that the harming and killing of other animals was no longer in the self-interest of most people? What would be the conditions in the world such that the plain facts – that anyone who is paying attention must already see – would no longer be ignored? I don’t know.
What I do know is that throughout the course of human history, the hard-won battles for increasing social justice have not been won because the majority of people “woke up” to the great moral crisis of their day. Those battles were won because the other side had already lost. Human slavery in the Atlantic ended in the 18th century not because most people suddenly recognized the inherent value – the humanity – of people of African descent. Slavery ended (such as it has) as a result of a complex set of compelling psycho-social, political and, most importantly, economic forces that converged in time. There had been a 200 year moral crusade against slavery prior to its abolition. That moral crusade was ineffective at ending slavery because the people who supported slavery effectively ignored that crusade. To those people, the argument wasn’t compelling and the facts of the matter didn’t matter at all. What mattered was their self-interest and when it became clear that it was in their self-interest to abandon the institution of slavery, that institution was abandoned (even when it was abandoned in the wake of war).
Are there possible some similar set of forces that will converge in time and bring about the end to the exploitation of other animals? As I said, I don’t know. I’d like to remain hopeful, but to be honest, it seems an unlikely possibility to me. I can no longer foresee the day when “the world is vegan” and it’s not because I don’t want it to be. It’s because I can’t see the day when most other people will want it too, and there is no argument and there are no facts that will make them – go vegan.