Podcast #22 – Violence and Vitriol

“Evil is an abstraction that enables you to look at someone and not see the person.” a quote from Lee Thorn (via Trisha Roberts)

One of the most important aspects of being vegan is, to me, being part of an international peace movement.  “As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields,” said Leo Tolstoy. And even much longer ago, Pythagoras said, “As long as man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. “ A recent study showed a correlation between an increase in violence and the presence of a slaughterhouse within a community. But vegans also know that, while we try to live with the least harm to the earth and other beings, many humans live to maximize capital, remain as comfortable as possible, and acquire the best and brightest toys. Others live to experience the most thrills and chills, to see the most of the world, and to avoid unpleasant realities. Given the real world, the one we hope to change and improve, it is disturbing to find an element of violence within even this vegan movement of ours.

What the World Needs Now clip by Tom Clay

Violence Creates More Violence

On an earlier podcast, I looked at how throwing pies in people’s faces to protest animal abuse was counterproductive – it resulted in negative press for vegans and an upturn in anti-vegan sentiment and anti-vegan book sales. There have been a few notable new ex-vegans that have also, most unfortunately, received violent threats.  This is always a deep irony – for people who do not believe in harming the most vulnerable among us to make threats of violence against another human animal. Do these folks believe that threatening harm is the way to encourage someone to adopt a lifestyle based on limiting harm?  I guess irony is lost on some of us.

Not long ago, I found some ad hominem attacks against a high profile animal rights activist, listed on a thread on Facebook. I was quite upset by this thread, because one of the people attacking this activist was someone who was high profile herself.  This was someone I know works hard for animal issues and someone I had respected in the past.  This thread deteriorated from anything about animal rights and instead focused on a negative yet inappropriate topic about an associate of the activist in question. It was way off point — something that seems to occur when someone is frustrated or angry about another person’s style of activism, personal characteristics, or public stance on an issue. It is never acceptable and always most disappointing. Worse still, it lowers the level of discourse that might actually educate and improve our movement. No one person holds all the answers, nor is one person responsible for all the ailments.  If you do not care for someone else’s activism, work harder on your own. Educate, but do not get into personal attacks – let’s stick to the issues — there are enough obstacles between us and the day animals will be treated with respect for us to avoid creating more obstacles via angry personal attacks.

Military soundoff – What the World Needs Now clip, Tom Clay, part 2

What Constitutes Violence?

Another issue of conflict lies within the definition of what violence means: is it limited to physical assaults only, or are veiled threats and vitriol in the same neighborhood? What is acceptable in the realm of tactics for vegans? An article on Yahoo’s Associated Content challenged those who are “vegangelical” as being too vitriolic for the movement. Some of the examples given seemed in the realm of education to me, but everyone comes from a different place. This writer discussed how someone who was vegangelical might be found on forums telling others that meat is murder – the very idea! You mean there is killing involved, the taking of life? Of course, the fact that is exactly what meat is – the murder of an innocent young being that very much wants to live — seemed unimportant to this writer. To her, this was all about personal choices – for which the animals were not allowed any at all. It is the height of speciesism to eliminate the will and rights of the animals and focus only on what appeals to the human in question – this in effect proves the point the writer was opposing. Irony raises its quizzical head once again.

A guy that self-describes as “Meathead” on Huff Post just wrote an article titled, “Vegans Starting to Sound Like Beck and Limbaugh.” In it he states,

You wouldn’t go into a Jewish Synagogue and yell “Jesus Saves!” would you? And that’s not a flippant analogy, because to some people, the choice to skip meat is religious. God knows, vegans and vegetarians often speak with the zeal and fervor of an evangelist.

In my case, I have read everything from Pollan to Foer, and given my decision to eat meat serious thought. I don’t eat it every day, and I am as horrified by the inhumane conditions under which some factory farms operate as you are. I know the health risks and the benefits. And believe it or not, so have a lot of other carnivores.

So stop preaching. Stop proselytizing. Stop moralizing. You are giving the many intelligent quiet meatless community a bad name.You’re only undermining your own cause.

Craig Goldwyn, ironically, has a subtitle under his moniker that reads Hedonism Evangelist.  I guess preaching is okay if it is mainstream and self-absorbed rather than about concern for the well being of others which might cause someone to challenge their own conscience.  Craig is disgusted by “strident vegans’ who leave posts on meat related articles, but sees nothing wrong in an out loud attack on vegans and vegetarians.  From Pollan to Foer? These guys are hardly presenting widely variant viewpoints. How about some Regan and Francione on your bookshelf, Craig?

So Craig, in the spirit of peace, let’s try to understand one another – what do you say?

You’ve Got A Friend in Me by Randy Newman

A History of Violence Disproves Violence as Solution

On some pro-animal websites there is much violent imagery.  I found a picture of a knife and a gun held in two different hands, the caption reading, “The enemy is armed. It’s time to arm ourselves.” While it is understandable to be angry and frustrated with what is happening to animals, one must carefully weigh the potential consequences that armed conflict might bring. If the root problem is violence, can violence then be any part of the solution?

Kennedy shooting clip, Tom Clay

The recent shootings of innocent people in Arizona beg the question. After Sarah Palin put crosshair imagery on her page targeting Gabrielle Gifford, she frequently talked about “reloading” and has always used guns and hunting as part of her public persona. Yet on her Facebook page, any negative comments have been immediately deleted. For someone who espouses the constitution and the Bill of Rights, well….ironic, huh? I am not suggesting Ms. Palin is directly responsible for the shootings – she did not pull the trigger that killed or shot the elderly and young alike, the politician and the student. She did not slay her political opponent directly. But she did help to create a climate that urges those who are not mentally stable to believe that violence is the answer.  Words matter. Those who use violent imagery, and that includes many who make jokes about poisoning or shooting a public official, are indirectly responsible for the carnage they create. Repeating “Tiller the Baby Killer” without context, with no informative view from the other side, creates a climate for faceless violence. It incites and it is destructive. Sarah Palin is busy protecting her own image rather than taking a socially responsible stand against violence.

Robert F. Kennedy clip, Tom Clay

The Animal Rights Position Rejects All Violence

The animal rights position is the ultimate rejection of violence. It is the ultimate affirmation of peace. The animal rights movement is the logical progression of the peace movement, which seeks to end conflict between humans; the animal rights movement ideally seeks to take that a step further and to end conflict between humans and nonhumans.

Violence treats others as means to ends rather than as ends in themselves. When we engage in violence against others—whether they are human or nonhuman—we ignore their inherent value. We treat them only as things that have no value except that which we decide to give them. This is what leads people to engage in crimes of violence against people of color, women, and gays and lesbians, the poor and the mentally challenged, the animals. It is what leads us to commodify nonhumans and treat them as resources rather than beings who exist for their own purposes. All of it is wrong and should be summarily rejected.

Abraham, Martin and John by Bill Keale

Moreover, for those who advocate violence, exactly against whom is this violence to be directed? The farmer raises animals because the overwhelming number of humans demand meat and animal products. The farmer raises those animals in intensive conditions because consumers want meat and animal products to be as inexpensive as possible. Violence against institutional providers of animal products makes no sense. If we want to end animal exploitation, we need to educate the public about why animal exploitation is immoral. We need to reduce demand for animal products and that can be done only through education–not violence.

Professor Gary L. Francione has stated:

The abolitionist approach to animal rights maintains that those who reject the exploitation of nonhuman animals should be ethical vegans and should engage in creative, non-violent vegan education.

The Rainbow Connection by Willie Nelson

Separate the Person From the Behavior

I have noticed that there exists a subgroup of vegans and animal people who get violently upset about those who abuse animals. They somehow mistakenly believe that by wishing violence on the abusers, many of whom have already been the victim of violence themselves, they somehow show love for the animals.  While it is appropriate to despise the violence, a line must be drawn between the behavior and the individuals.  I know as a therapist that those who are disempowered or were abused may themselves bid for love and, if it is not available, try to identify with the abuser so as to protect themselves from vulnerability and victimhood. When I see a photo posted of someone who does something despicable to a vulnerable animal, I often wonder what happened to that person when they were vulnerable to override the natural repugnance we all feel towards such abuse. I know that further violence will not improve the status quo for animals.

If you do not believe me, look to history for those who effectively changed the lives of millions by using non-violence.

Martin Luther King clip on violence

King’s words still resonate today.

Martin Luther King and Mohatmas Gandhi Supported Nonviolence

King said on June 4, 1957, in The Power of Non-violence:

The end of violence or the aftermath of violence is bitterness. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community. A boycott is never an end within itself. It is merely a means to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor but the end is reconciliation, the end is redemption.

Then we had to make it clear also that the nonviolent resister seeks to attack the evil system rather than individuals who happen to be caught up in the system. And this is why I say from time to time that the struggle in the South is not so much the tension between white people and Negro people. The struggle is rather between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.

And he said on May 4, 1966:

Our record of achievement through nonviolent action is already remarkable. The dramatic social changes which have been made across the South are unmatched in the annals of history. Montgomery, Albany, Birmingham and Selena have paved the way for untold progress. Even more remarkable is the fact that this progress occurred with a minimum of human sacrifice and loss of life.

Gandhi took a slightly different approach, based on Hindu philosophy. From the website, Social Changes Now, is this excerpt:

For Gandhi, ahimsa was the expression of the deepest love for all humans, including one’s opponents; this non-violence therefore included not only a lack of physical harm to them, but also a lack of hatred or ill-will towards them. Gandhi rejected the traditional dichotomy between one’s own side and the “enemy;” he believed in the need to convince opponents of their injustice, not to punish them, and in this way one could win their friendship and one’s own freedom. If need be, one might need to suffer or die in order that they may be converted to love (Shepard 4).

Gandhi also firmly believed that if violence was used to achieve any end – even if it was employed in the name of justice – the result would be more violence.

Nonviolent Resistance is Active, Not Passive

Both Gandhi and King used the power of nonviolent resistance to bring oppression to its knees. King stated that active nonviolent resistance is not passive at all. Some who oppose the nonviolent tactics of fellow vegans miss this important point in history. While their frustration is understandable, giving credence to failed philosophies is dangerous.  As Gandhi believed, history demonstrates that violence only leads to more violence.  Look at the state of the world today – we are hardly become a more peaceful nation since 9/11, but have caused many more deaths than those of the perpetrators of that catastrophe. Who has the violence saved?

For us as animal rights activists, the end must be reconciliation and redemption. As long as the energy goes toward punishment and destruction, the movement will be harmed. If you are taking the stand of non-harm towards animals, those animals must also include all human beings, no matter how unsavory their behaviors and beliefs. The minute we cross the line into becoming perpetrators of violence and vitriol ourselves, we contribute to the overall violence in the world.

Peace to you all and to all our fellow earthlings.  Celebrate Martin Luther King day by practicing nonviolence with those who oppress you.  Never forget the end goal. The cause is too big and too important to push aside for momentary gratification. We must remain strong, we must remain tenacious, we must remain resolute, and we must remain the embodiment of peace.

Let There Be Peace on Earth by the African Children’s Choir

Probing the Link Between Slaughterhouses and Violent Crime

Vegangelical: Does It Hurt or Help?

Vegans Starting to Sound Like Beck and Limbaugh