It was recently suggested to me, once again, that vegans ought to “encourage and support incremental changes made by non-vegans on their journey to becoming vegan”. In something of a new slant on the idea, this individual likened the situation to alcoholics becoming and hopefully remaining sober in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and finding support from other AA members during that process. They said, “AA has Twelve Steps and that’s ok, so why should it be different with non-vegans?”
It was immediately clear that this individual had little if any understanding of how 12-Step support groups function, nor much understanding of just how far short their “non-veganism-is-like-alcoholism” analogy fell.
[This essay briefly discusses correlations between defense mechanisms used by addicts to protect their maladaptive behaviors and those used by non-vegans to protect their use of products of animal exploitation. From that perspective, non-veganism can be compared with alcoholism.]
Having had over two decades of experience both professionally and personally with many facets of substance abuse recovery, I have come to understand that the 12-Step process in AA and similar recovery fellowships doesn’t lead to sobriety as an end goal to be achieved, but rather presents sobriety (or at least abstinence from addictive mood-and-mind altering chemicals) as a starting point on a path of recovery that will hopefully last a lifetime. In order to fully benefit from and move through the Steps, one must cease the maladaptive, self-destructive behavior of substance abuse at the onset of the 12-Step journey of honest introspection, internal moral inventory, spiritual housecleaning and daily behavior maintenance. Otherwise, if one continues their chemical use, one’s chances of growing, healing and recovering from the damage done by one’s addiction(s) diminish by the day. As it says in the Alcoholics Anonymous basic text (commonly known as the Big Book), “Half measures availed us nothing.”
I’m not opposed to encouraging and supporting any individual who wishes to stop abusing themselves no matter how quickly or slowly they cease their self-destructive behaviors nor how many times they relapse and resume damaging themselves. I’m firmly in support of self-improvement. However, here is a key distinction between alcoholism (and other manifestations of addiction) and the consumption of animal products – alcoholics who drink (and addicts who use) primarily victimize themselves* through engaging in active addiction while non-vegans primarily victimize innocent, vulnerable individuals through the consumption and use of products of animal exploitation to satisfy their pleasure, comfort and convenience. Of course, mountains of scientific evidence make it abundantly clear that non-vegans also compromise their own health by consuming animal flesh and secretions, so they can also be counted among their own victims.
[*it should not be discounted that alcoholics and other addicts do harm others, including but not limited to family members, loved ones, employers/employees, co-workers and friends, both directly and indirectly through their self-destructive behaviors, however those others, in many cases, have choices as to how much abuse they are willing to take and have the ability to set boundaries to limit their exposure to the damaging behaviors of the alcoholic/addict in their lives. Conversely, the animals who are unnecessarily harmed and killed for use by non-vegans have absolutely no choice nor ability to take action to seek safety on their own behalf. They are, in the purest sense, defenseless innocent victims who are powerless over our relentless oppression.]
Encouraging and supporting people as they strive to stop hurting themselves and become physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy is appropriate and acceptable. Encouraging and supporting people to take their time (sometimes for decades) in ceasing their complicity in the morally unjustifiable exploitation, enslavement and execution of the most vulnerable members of our global society – non-human individuals – is inappropriate and unacceptable. The transition timeline for anyone to embrace veganism is up to each individual who moves in that direction (for many of us, the transition was instantaneous once we understood the fundamental injustices in which we were participating and knew immediately we had to stop). What is up to us, as vegan advocates, is to present a clear and morally consistent message that anything less than veganism means a person is still engaging in violent, unacceptable, oppressive exploitation of the vulnerable and to encourage the fastest transition possible. To think and behave otherwise is to engage in and reinforce the current cultural paradigm of speciesism, as one would never take such a laissez-faire position if the victims of any oppressive situation were human.
Is Veganism “Difficult”?
When we clearly define an idea or concept, especially one that is routinely misunderstood, misinterpreted and mischaracterized, it becomes easier to understand and identify whether it is something with which one resonates ethically. Veganism is:
“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.” – Vegan Society 1979
There is a difference between something being “difficult” and something being “inconvenient”. To many, the prospect of living vegan can seem daunting at first, as it is a way of living that goes far beyond mere dietary choices and extends into most aspects of life and the choices we make on a daily basis (clothing, cosmetics, body care products, home cleaning products, furniture, automobile upholstery, etc.). I have found, as have many other vegans with whom I’ve spoken, that the changes I once may have thought of as “difficulties” turned out to be “inconveniences”. For example, it was never actually “difficult” to reach ten inches past the cow’s milk to pick up the almond milk – it was merely inconvenient. In reality, any perceived inconveniences I have ever faced in living vegan pale in comparison to the actual difficulties (which is far too weak a word to adequately describe a lifetime of horrific and perverse agonies) suffered by every animal used to satisfy human pleasure.
Hi. My Name is Keith, I’m a Recovering Non-Vegan
Does making the commitment to live vegan require a Twelve Step process? No. The only Twelve Steps I know that relate to veganism are the twelve steps it takes to walk past the meat/dairy department to the produce department in my local supermarket, and I find those are twelve incredibly easy steps to take!
Here are the Two Steps we suggest when it comes to veganism:
- Live vegan.
- Educate others about veganism as our minimum moral obligation to individuals of other species.
Why waste time – and continue causing unnecessary suffering and death to others – by intentionally putting roadblocks in our own way? Perhaps it’s better to heed AA’s popular slogan, “Keep It Simple”.
If you are already vegan, please educate others about veganism. If you are not vegan and believe that animals matter morally at all, please consider living vegan as it is the choice that matches your morals.
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