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If I recall correctly, the question was first asked of me (in a vegan/AR context rather than a more general one) when I expressed interest in seeing the slightly infamous documentary involving interaction between Peter Singer and Tipu Aziz. It seemed that certain acquaintances thought even watching the show constituted letting the side down. I think my reasons at the time were along the following lines:
-To see for myself whether Singer does in fact capitulate and express pro-vivisection sentiments. (admittedly I have a fairly healthy level of scepticism regarding the editing process, so wouldn't be 100% convinced unless he had made a very clear statement) Dude went from hero to hate figure at nought to sixty on the basis of publicity before the show aired - personally I have never seen him as either, but to make any sort of judgement I need to know what someone has actually said or done rather than what someone else claims they said or did, if that makes sense.
-To make up my own mind about Singer's words and actions.
-To be informed about what the opposition, in this case Tipu Aziz, was saying.
-To reinforce my own beliefs by testing their strength and locating the weak points that need fixing. Not a fan of dead dogmas over here.

I still apply that rationale to what I read. (I don't currently have a TV, so no idea what's going on in that arena) It's why I often read the blogs of anti-vegans and born-again ex-vegans, even though they often exasperate me. I want to know what the opposition is, what I'm up against. I might take the piss sometimes, but I try to treat these folks like worthy opponents* as far as possible. I intend at some point to read Lierre Keith's The Vegetarian Myth, in among a reading list composed of different vegan perspectives, because I want to know what she is saying. At the moment I am open to any of the new wave of vegan-hater types brushing me off with 'read Lierre' and using that as an excuse to not engage. It's a gap in my armour. Meanwhile, I feel that I am strong enough not to be 'converted' by her, so why should I be afraid to read it?

I believe that many people are afraid to read or otherwise encounter views that challenge their own. Why? Is it a betrayal of your own camp to know how the other side put their views? Are your own views so weak that they collapse when being challenged? I would hope not.

*99% of my students never want to hear those words emerge from my mouth or pen again for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately I will continue to deploy the phrase until 100% learn that brushing off the opposition without engaging will lose them marks. That could take the rest of my working life...

Originally posted at Increasing Veganicity.

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Comment by Lise Duck on January 29, 2012 at 2:02

It was in a vegan/AR context in the sense that the question was asked by an acquaintance in my (then) local animal rights group.

Comment by Richard McMahan on January 27, 2012 at 12:38

What are vegans..? possibly 1%  of the population? All we generally hear are arguments to our ethic. Its laughable to suggest we are somehow ignoring apposing views. 

Comment by Lise Duck on January 27, 2012 at 6:53

@Barbara yes, my attitude is similar to yours. I remember the fuss about Colin Blakemore being on ARZone - that's why I thought this would be a good post to bring over here. It was intriguing to see someone I'd grown up with as a hate figure express a more nuanced set of opinions. Doesn't mean I agree with him, but these days I prefer to engage with a person rather than take pot shots at a cardboard cut-out villain...

Comment by Kerry Baker on January 26, 2012 at 21:40

I agree.  You can't argue against something you haven't bothered to read or listen to.  I think people are regularly misquoted or taken out of context and it is vital to make up our own minds.  People tend to read into things what they want to justify their views, so forewarned is forearmed.

Comment by Carolyn Bailey on January 26, 2012 at 17:45

Wow, Lise! I couldn't agree more! 

I have said for a very long time that I learn more from those whose views I oppose, than from reading the same theories or reasoning over and over again. I have never understood people who refuse to read Peter Singer, Steve Best or other philosophers on issues regarding other animals, or other issues, simply because they have preconceived ideas that they will disagree with them.

Isn't that the whole idea, to broaden our knowledge in order to learn better why we hold the opinions we do, and to challenge those opinions, which, I think, only makes them stronger. 

Great post, thanks for offering your opinion! 

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