Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Transitive Property of Pragmatism

So, lookit...I'm a pragmatist. What that means in a nutshell is that I'm a solution-oriented kind of gal. I am about getting from A to Z. I don't spend a lot of time fixated on how things should be. I'm far more obsessive about how we can move and change and repair things.

I've had a couple people express confusion with my approach to some things from the experienced vegan side of the veggie community. I have a great deal of respect for people who have been living vegan for a long time, and so I have given these people's opinions and input some serious thought. I am so grateful for all the help, advice, and lovingly-delivered information I have received and the interest and care that has been shown in my struggles and my process. So, please understand that I am not coming at this with a "tone." I just thought it might be helpful to the conversation if I explained the seeming contradiction in my whole approach to living vegan.

For me, becoming vegan was born out of two main beliefs.

My first belief is that the way we raise and slaughter animals in the United States is tragic, appalling, unnecessarily violent, and sinful. I am a Christian, and whether you share that religion with me or not, I will not mince words. I view the methods of meat, egg, and dairy production in America as a collective, mortal sin that each consumer of these products participates in every time they purchase a product that came out of that system. Above the basic horror of it all, I find the sinful nature of it most compelling because at the center of my moral compass is my faith. I believe that God is up there stomping, red-face pissed at the inhabitants of America--the most materially and naturally rich nation on planet earth--because of this fundamentally sinful system.

My second belief is that once we come to the realization that animals are being horrifically abused on CAFO's, in dairies, in egg production facilities, and in the slaughterhouses, we have a moral obligation to figure out a way to best disseminate that information to others in a useful way. I was 25 years old before I knew even the first thing about abuses in food production, so I have to wonder how many of my countrymen are still walking around in America today completely ignorant of what's going on?

I'd wager that there are millions.

So then what should the focus be? My focus is on putting an end in whatever ways I can to the very existence of CAFO's, industrial dairies, inhumane egg production, and these 13 massive slaughterhouses from which every bite of beef, poultry, and pork consumed in this nation is legally-mandated to come out of. That is my focus. Eliminating the very existence of a system like this is my focus. For the animals, for the good our national "soul," for the ecological balance in the land of my country (and, of course, the planet as a whole) and for the very health and longevity of my countrymen, the only thing I'm motivated by is moving, changing, and fixing the problem.

So how do we do that?

"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Protect the rights of all who are helpless." Proverbs 31:8

Educating people who don't know where the steak and eggs on their plate came from is the first and most important thing. It took me ten years from the time I first heard there was animal cruelty in industrial farming to the day I was able to make enough connections between that fact and my own life to motivate me away from eating animals for real and for good. Becoming vegan was the right choice for me, but it took me a decade to learn enough, see enough, and try enough other "things" before I arrived at veganism. That's a slow freaking process! It won't take everyone that long to change (I'm pretty stubborn), but it might take some people even longer than it took me. Given that, my pragmatism screams, "There must be something else we can do in the meantime."

If, after talking to someone about the health ramifications, the ecological devastation, and the horrible conditions under which animals suffer in our nation, that person still won't commit to giving up meat? Well, I'm open to other options at that point, and none of them consist of throwing poop and epithets at the omnivore across from me. "But why not?" you may ask. Why wouldn't I want to shun and disassociate from a person who won't even try after facing and acknowledging the facts about animal consumption? Several reasons, really. First, some of these people are family members, friends, and people I love deeply. Second, some of these people will be resistant at first because of the socio-political agendas and undertones associated with vegetarianism. Thirdly, people are naturally going to be defensive and threatened when someone tells them that the way they're living their life is morally reprehensible. Finally...because whether I choose to insult and shun that person or not, they will still be out there participating in the problem. You have to accept and respect the reality of these things if you want to bring about useful change.

I'm not interested in manipulating people or tricking someone into doing something. If I can communicate to a person who is resolutely against the concept of ethical vegetarianism the facts about inhumane slaughter practices, that person might start buying organic meat and dairy from coop farmers who raise their beef and dairy cattle on natural foods, in pastures with real grass, and in relatively happy stress-free environments. If I can teach a person about what happens to egg-laying hens and about the way poultry chickens have been genetically modified, maybe that person will start buying chicken meat from a small farmer who raises unmangled, natural chickens or one who doesn't employ forced molting or other inhumane practices to get eggs from the hens. Do I, for myself, think these changes are "enough?" Obviously not. If I did, I wouldn't be vegan. Do I acknowledge that, for some people, this is all they're willing to do? Yes. Does it improve the lives of animals and put a chink in the armor of the great industrial meat machine? Yes. Does a person who cares enough to spend more time, effort, and money seeking out organics and coop-raised animal products deserve respect and patience for trying to walk in the right direction? I think they do...yes.

Every step, no matter how small, is progress. When people open up to one or two changes, they find themselves more willing over time to make a few more. That is where my hope lies. I know that my hope is well-founded because it was a series of small steps over time that led me to becoming vegan. When someone is being asked to change an entire lifetime of ingrained habit and perception, it is obtuse to the level of absurdity for the very people asking him to make the changes to insult him or disdain his progressive improvements.

The small improvements do matter, and I'd rather encourage something that matters, even a little, than do nothing. I'd rather promote giving animals happy lives instead of tortured ones. I'd rather support people feeding their children organic animal products instead of hormone and chemical-laced ones so they can grow up undamaged. I'd rather support people making a collective statement to the meat industry that our status quo is unacceptable even if I don't agree with everyone in that collective about what we should change the status quo to. If we can topple Goliath, isn't that worth trying for...even if the rock David has in the sling isn't the rock we wanted him to use?

I hope that makes sense. It's not hypocrisy. It's not a sense of defeatism. It's not a contradiction. It's pragmatism. If I can't tolerate A, but I can't have Z, then I'm willing to investigate B through Y to stimulate progress.

I have dreams about what the future can be, and I want all those dreams to come true. I truly do. Since we aren't anywhere close to seeing those dreams realized anytime soon, I want to spend my time moving closer and closing the gap. Anyway, that's how I look at the whole picture. I hope that helps to clarify where I'm sitting on all this for those of you who've been good enough to talk to me about it.

No comments:

Post a Comment