I caught a bit of an interview with comedian Cameron Esposito on NPR in March 2016. I don’t know and therefore have no opinion on this person’s work, but something they said in relation to same-sex marriage really struck me. Here’s the quote:
When I explain to non-vegans that there is no moral justification for using sentient individuals for reasons of pleasure, fashion, entertainment or other human conveniences and they proceed to either ignore the information, try to find holes in the logic or – worst of all – create bizarre counter-arguments to defend continuing their habits and traditions of unjustifiable animal exploitation, it is, to borrow Ms. Esposito’s phrase, “a real problem” and can at times be infuriating.
Similarly, in over 20 years of working professionally to help people who suffer from addictions understand the benefits of living a clean/sober/recovering life (as opposed to living a life wherein one descends into an ever-deeper and ever-darker hell of one’s own construction) and offering them the tools they’ll need to build such a life and instructing them in how to use those tools, it can be frustrating to see them choose to continue using their old tools rather than the new tools while knowing full well that their “best” thinking got them into the terrible trouble they’re now in and that to keep moving in that direction will have potentially deadly consequences. One of the most brilliant therapists I’ve ever had the pleasure to know, the late Angelo Castiglione, used to say, “Addiction is a disease that resists its own recovery”. Sadly, I’ve found this to be the truth.
I’ve long noticed a correlation between the defense mechanisms used by addicts to protect their maladaptive behaviors (y’know, those quirky li’l behaviors they exhibit like, say, coping with “stress” by shooting heroin in their neck – that falls under “recreational use”, right? – or drinking three bottles of wine in one evening to “take the edge off” – believe me, somewhere in the middle of the first bottle, those edges are as smooth as a cue ball) and those used by non-vegans to protect their use of products of animal exploitation. These include, but are not limited to: rationalizing, justifying, minimizing, intellectualizing, blaming, shaming, deflecting, avoiding and the granddaddy of them all, DENIAL (here’s my favorite acronym for denial: Don’t Even Notice I Am Lying). I see them all used by members of both groups all the time. Am I saying that those who consume animals and their secretions are addicted to those substances? Not necessarily, as I don’t definitively know that to be the case, but when confronted with the idea that what they’ve been doing all their lives – engaging in behaviors taught to them by their well-meaning parents and viewed as “normal” (which we all know is just a setting on a washing machine) by the society in which they live – cannot be morally justified, their first instinctive response to the cognitive dissonance they now feel is to fight to protect themselves from what they perceive to be an attack on their character and an attempt to cause them shame and to… (gulp!) … change.
When I engage in vegan education, it is not my intention to shame anyone about their behavior. In my opinion, there should be no shame in engaging in behaviors one truly does not know are wrong or harmful to others or themselves. That is simple ignorance born of a lack of education in a particular area and aided by ongoing campaigns of targeted misinformation designed to maintain and deepen such ignorance on a mass scale. When this happens, one is, in a sense, a victim. However, when one engages in willful ignorance – learning the truth about one’s complicity in the exploitation of the vulnerable and purposely choosing to ignore it and take no meaningful action to change – I believe that a feeling of guilt is appropriate and necessary because, when one does this, one is indeed guilty of victimizing others. Brené Brown, Ph.D. and other psychologists have shown that feelings of guilt can and often do lead to positive changes in behaviors and attitudes and that guilt is actually a healthy emotion: “I now know I’ve been behaving in ways that conflict with my core values and beliefs and feel badly about my behavior. From now on, I will behave differently and live, as best I can, in congruence with my morals and ethics.” Cessation of guilt-inducing behavior leads to, as you might imagine, a reduction in guilt and, as an added bonus, increased self-esteem. Plus, to put it bluntly, when individuals start living vegan, they stop paying people to kill innocent beings. What could ease one’s guilt and restore one’s self-esteem better than ceasing to hire hit men to kill babies (yes, most of the animals used by humans for food are killed within the first months of their lives) and adults and entire families for no good reason?
“At that moment, when my closed mind opened, the light inside turned on and my heart spoke louder than my stomach, I knew I had been changed forever and that I could no longer participate in the system I now understood for what it was. It was then that I began to live vegan – to eschew, wherever possible, the use of products of animal exploitation and to educate others where and when I could about how they too could stop promoting this injustice. I hadn’t known till then that there was another choice available – a choice to live a vegan life – and once I knew, I couldn’t un-know.”
Ms. Esposito said that what is most upsetting is “people that are unable to change”, however for me it is people who are unwilling to change. We all have the capacity to change; some of us simply refuse to do so, even when presented with evidence that change is, if not required, then certainly a really, really good idea. Changing from using vulnerable beings for one’s own selfish pleasures as a non-vegan to living vegan spares the lives of others, improves one’s own life and make the world in general a better place. These are not opinions – these are immutable facts that it makes no sense to deny. But, as is the case with addiction, denial is not about what makes sense. It is about what makes us comfortable, or at least not uncomfortable, and there is a sad comfort in that which we know and have gotten used to.
Do I find this, as Ms. Esposito does, infuriating? I have, but it’s rare that I feel such exasperation these days. Instead, I make a point of remembering that I, too, have had plenty of personal experience with being unwilling to act appropriately on new information, which makes it difficult for me to resent others when they act as I did. I have at times been unwilling to change, but more than willing to keep myself in the dark and refuse to see the light for fear that facing the truth might hurt me in some way… because being non-vegan is “all about me” and living vegan is all about them, the non-human victims of human violence and oppression. Admitting to and reminding myself that I was among the unwilling allows me to remain (somewhat) calm and rational when discussing veganism with non-vegans, an approach I find to be much better received and far more effective than any vitriolic rant, verbal fisticuffs or fusillade of finger-pointing.
I’d like to say I wish everyone would live vegan, as I believe it’s the key to a better, healthier, more peaceful world, but wishing won’t get us there. As I first heard via Stephen King, “Wish in one hand, shit in the other. See which one fills up first.” On the other (non-shit-filled) hand, what will get us there is clear, consistent, unequiVOCAL vegan education.
From my heart to yours, thank you for listening.
Photo courtesy of www.VeganTrove.com