How two people with perfect eyesight gave birth to three offspring with bad vision is beyond me, but my parents did just that. Being one of the lucky recipients of poor vision, I finally was desperate enough to do something about it. For years I had struggled with contact lenses, moving from the old hard lenses, to gas permeable, to soft lenses – yet none worked perfectly. The hard lenses were hardy and allowed the best vision, but could cause blindness if worn too long as they deprive the eye of oxygen. The gas permeable were better, but not much more comfortable. The soft lenses were preferred for comfort, but came out of focus occasionally and were subject to more fanatical cleaning regimes. All of them left my eyes burning, tired, and red. With more and more difficulty seeing clearly, I finally decided to find out what my options were for improving my vision.
The Myopic and Hyperopic Animal Rights Activist
Having good vision is something many people take for granted – at least until the age-related farsightedness kicks in. But how we see impacts the decisions we make, the activities in which we participate, and the amount of freedom we experience. It is one of those things that we barely notice until we no longer have it. So, too, with animal activism — it is easy to become myopic and think the rest of the world is just like our own little corner, that others will react to the vegan message the way we did, or the way our neighbors do. We may think the only way to legitimately help animals is to do what we have always done, using the same old handouts and the tried-and-true tactics that we developed long ago. If we are myopic, we may only see the short-term things, those things which are right around us, and have difficulty expanding our horizons — we are so used to our limited vision that we accommodate to it. This keeps us grounded, but also truncates what we might achieve. Without the larger vision, we may sell the movement short, not reach out for better ideas and tactics, and not expect too much. We may believe that the world cannot really change.
With farsightedness, hyperopia, we cannot see things nearby, but can see further away – which is why older people always have arms that are too short! The hyperopic activist may miss entirely how he is alienating the people around him, because his vision is focused on the far horizon. He has the vision so necessary for achieving the end goal, knows well the theoretical basis for that vision, and is knowledgeable on the finer points of his beliefs, but may have difficulty with the best approach to reach people and to move us towards the goal. If the hyperopic activist is not careful, he will alienate such a wide array of people that he will make it impossible to awaken the myopic to the very necessary vision he alone can see. As he tries to explain his vision to the myopic activist, he becomes frustrated, explaining what he sees that, unfortunately, the myopic person cannot possibly see for himself. He is totally unaware that he, too, has blind spots and limited vision.
Monovision: Seeing It All, Nothing Clearly
For the past few years, I adapted to monovision, because I had myopia, hyperopia, astigmatism, and numerous other visual disturbances. Monovision is what they call using one eye and contact lens for seeing up close and one for distance – somehow your brain learns to deal with it, but you always walk around feeling a little dizzy. You have to compromise when you have eyes as bad as mine, because there is no easy solution. During the years I had contacts, I also had driving glasses, reading glasses, and some kind of strange glasses that allowed me to see near and far but required getting your neck into a contorted position in order to do that. When you have monovision, you can see what the hyperopic activist is seeing, and you can see what the myopic activist is seeing, but you cannot see either one with the same intense devotion that either camp can see with a focused vision. Just like both kinds of activists, you have to adapt to what you have to use.
There do not appear to be many animal activists with perfect vision. Most fall into either the myopic or hyperopic categories and can really go at it with one another. Both are seeing their own realities and failing to see what the other side is seeing. The myopic activist often fails to see the horizon and what is possible, and the hyperopic activist often forgets the importance of things like collaborating, relationship building, and understanding. One activist who had perfect vision was Martin Luther King. He knew he must try to save even the souls of those in the dominant power structure who were oppressing the very people he was trying to free. “If physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive,” he said. Ultimately, he did pay that price and removed one stone from the weight of exploitation and moved it towards the weight of justice in the world. In working to end racism in the United States, he liberated people of all races. This needs to be part of the work in activism for animals, too. We need to save the blighted spirits of even those who are oppressing the animals; we need to see our work as liberating them as well as the animals.
Moving Towards a Clearer Vision
Right now I am in the middle of trying to improve my vision. As with most things, it gets a bit worse before it gets better, which is why vision is on my mind. Just like in my activism, recent events have caused me to experience blurry vision, a lack of clarity, and some alienation from both kinds of vision correction and both kinds of activists. There is a dogmatism in both camps that is so oft-repeated that it numbs my mind. One thing, though, that both sides tend to see as critical: creative vegan education. Some activists believe in incremental reform, others believe we need a new world order, but both agree that we need to educate people about the importance of veganism. For me, that is a starting point.
When I was younger, I refused to wear glasses; I refused! With an active lifestyle, they seemed to impose an unacceptable limit to me. Some people thought I was conceited, but I was actually quite shy–I just couldn’t see them. I remember that today as I try to listen to what other people tell me, as I try to remember how I thought just a few years ago, and consider how to best help awaken someone or help them transition. Maybe the person I am working with in my advocacy just cannot see what I now see. Maybe they are accommodating their own limited vision. If anyone should be patient with those with poor vision, it should be someone who has lived with such limitations for years.
A Vision With Animals – Including Human Primates
With just a couple more optical procedures to go, I am expecting to have improved visual acuity very soon. Listening to more and more people in various parts of the animal rights debate, I am hoping my personal vision for advocacy will likewise be enhanced as I absorb and synthesize all the information within my reach. At their very best, my eyes can never achieve the focus and distance vision of a bird of prey, the night vision of a cat, nor the ability to see on two sides of my head, like a horse. I will never see all the colors available to the butterfly or bird, nor the amazing mosaic of vision available to some insects. About the best I can try to achieve is a wider and deeper view of what has been there all along. In the animal rights movement, that means paying attention to the plight of animals and not getting distracted into politics or personalities, but listening and learning from all those who have different experiences, a different viewpoint, or are trying a new approach. It means more than focusing; it means interpreting and scanning, as well. It is an ongoing quest for a clearer vision and a deeper understanding of our world. In the world of animal activism, it means trying to understand what the horse’s world looks like, what the snake sees, what the cat can comprehend, and respecting the unique vision of each. It means respecting other humans too, even if I disagree with their vision for the future.