Thursday, May 27, 2010

Some Thoughts on Compromise versus Militancy

I have several vegan and animal rights friends on Facebook and I read their posts every day.

One of my friends is very outspoken and militant and, well, he can be harsh at times toward omnivores and other people with whom he disagrees. He often has mean words for ominivores, calling them (among other things) "corpse munchers," and insisting that those who drink milk were just as guilty of abusing the cows and calves as the workers at the Conklin Dairy Farms in Ohio (see my post on that situation below). This friend loves controversy. He even posted a picture of Jesus Christ flipping the middle finger with the inscription "Dear Corpse-muncher" on it. Not surprisingly, that image triggered a heated debate.

Lots of the posts on this friend's page, in fact, involve debates that often turn downright nasty - and some even involve vegans ripping into other vegans.

The more militant veganistas and animal rights activists not only lambaste the omnivores; they occasionally go after the non-confrontational vegan moderates who don't necessarily enjoy trashing omnivores. The moderates, too, are sometimes guilty of fanning the flames by focusing too much on the tactics of militants instead of those institutions and ways of thinking that result in rampant animal abuse.

I have to admit, I am probably what one would call one of the "nice" people. I have lived a lifetime committed to nonviolence, and remain a firm believer in the power of nonviolent action as the only method of resistance in democratic society. I don't refer to my foes as "motherf---ers." When I come across a heated posting debate on Facebook that deteriorate into a heavy-duty trashing session, I feel incredibly uneasy.

Those of us who read a lot of history know that what I'm seeing on Facebook is actually a common trait of mass protest movements throughout history. All movements contain overzealous types who can be hardcore, harsh and even hateful at times. One can understand the level of animosity. A lot of animal rights activists are mindful of the thousands and thousands of animals who are being slaughtered every minute of every day.

Also, there have been times in the past when fanaticism has been effective. Look at abolitionist John Brown. Most historians agree that his utopian raid on Harpers Ferry in the summer of 1859, even though it had zero chance of liberating slaves (which was its purpose), was one of the key events that led to the coming of the Civil War.

Movements need moderates and militants. Moderates are needed to keep the discussion going; militants are needed to pull the pendulum leftward.

But speaking strictly personally, I feel far more comfortable with people who embrace Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s attitude of hating the sin, not the sinner.

It is, I think, profoundly unrealistic to say, "Hate the sin, love the sinner." Those sadists who kicked and beat innocent cows and calves do not seem like the kind of guys I can "love" (even though I like to hope that maybe the best among them can try to redeem himself). But don't ask me to love them. Not the way I deeply love those in my personal life, like my children or my companion and her children or members of my family. That's asking too much. We don't want to turn saintliness into a form of insanity. And let's not make a mockery or cliche' of the word "love."

But it is also important to remember that bad ways of thinking and harmful institutions are the real enemies, more so than individual people.

In addition, I think vegans need to try to reach out to omnivores. I know some omnivores can be frustrating. I like a lot of what Michael Pollan has to say about the food industry, but when he starts talking about animal rights or veganism, I often disagree fiercely with what he says. But I am grateful that he speaks his mind. Free speech should be celebrated. Dogmatism and rigidity should be rejected.

That doesn't mean we should become "flexible" vegans, or even adopt an "I'm OK, you're OK" attitude. We owe it to the animals who live in the worst conditions imaginable, and who are being murdered by the thousands as you read this post, to be decisive and vigorous in our fight for them.

But we should also recognize that most of us were omnivores at one point or another. And omnivores who are having doubts are potential comrades in the struggle for the liberation of animals and steering the human race toward a plant-based diet.

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