Saturday, September 20, 2014

How the World Changes

I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.
-Helen Keller

Thursday, September 18, 2014

More on the Vegan Example

As a follow-up to yesterday's story of a constructive vegan example, here is a thoughtful, insightful article:

Chipotle Closing Down in the Year 2020 Thanks To DXE...Perhaps

Still another article showing why it is so easy for so much of the public to dismiss the vegan message:

Vegan Treats, renowned Bethlehem bakery, pulls controversial, potentially nonvegan sprinkles

As has been said repeatedly by many, we shouldn't spend our limited time and resources focused on what personally angers us. We should be focusing on what will have accomplish the greatest harm reduction. It may not be as viscerally satisfying, but it is the only way to reduce suffering as much as possible.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Power of Example

One of Ellen's fellow Pomona students tells this story:

I read this blog post on veganism and masculinity and it reminded me of a conversation I had last week with some people who were sitting with my friend in the dining hall.  My friend was talking about how she really liked vegan cake despite not being vegan, and I was like, “Yeah these are really good!"  Then the two guys sitting with her said, “Wait, you’re not vegan are you?”

When I told them that I was, they were really surprised and started asking me why.  Then I went into the whole spiel about how animals suffer so much more than I gain in pleasure, except I added in stuff along the lines of, “You know, I enjoy the taste of meat just as much as any other guy but…” They were pretty surprised to learn about battery cages and other factory farming practices.

Hopefully they’ll keep that in mind when choosing what to eat at the dining hall!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Last Thing Other Animals Need

Via Caroline Bailey:

The last thing other animals need is another reason not to care about them. How we act towards other people can provide just such a reason. Being rude or judgmental doesn’t help any nonhuman. A coping technique I use (to quell my impatience, when I feel it bubbling-up in my throat) is to think of the people who ask questions I’ve been asked hundreds of times as mirrors. Yes, I think of them as mirrors. When I look at them, in other words, what I see is a reflection of who I used to be.

Like them, there was a time when I didn’t know how other animals were being treated.
Like them, there was a time when I knew but didn’t care.
Like them, there was a time when I knew and cared but not enough to change how I was living.
Like them, there was a time when I was . . . them!

That’s what I try to remind myself. I don’t want to come across as self-righteous or arrogant. That would give the questioner another reason not to care about other animals, and I don’t want to do that—I don’t want to be that reason.

-Professor Tom Regan, from this interview

Monday, September 8, 2014

Random Pictures

Me and Ellen, 2003
Ellen launching a nuclear missile at the Titan Missile Museum, 2008.

Ellen as Alan Turing, 2012

Ellen and Anne, 2014

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Desert Pictures, Early September

For more, see

Barrel Cactus flowers about to bloom.

Saguaro Cactus skeleton.

Flowers and Prickly Pear.

Flowers and Saguaro ribs.

Ocotillo leafed out after rains.

Sabino Creek.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Hate Begets Hate

Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love... Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding.

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Chanted Morals or Deep-Fried Tofu?

I received this question regarding Paul Shapiro’s Introduction to The Accidental Activist:
I found a particular passage here and would like your thoughts:
     "In many ways, it boils down to this question: Do we want a social club, or do we want a social movement? If we want a social movement, we need to open our arms and have a big tent."
     This is interesting. I agree with you on inclusivity, certainly. But I'm not sure why we should be a movement "that welcomes people where they are, applauds them for taking the steps they've taken." While I agree gains come from compromise, I can't think of a single successful social movement that has taken this incremental, consumer-based approach. Can you? If not, why do you believe its the best way to effect change rather than following the successful movements of the past that focused their efforts on strong messages and systematic, moral change?
There are a number of things we can learn from earlier social justice movements, as discussed in Welfare and Liberation. But it is important to understand the significant differences between our work and previous campaigns.

In the end, we all want a world where animals are not exploited, but rather respected as individuals. Animal liberation, for short. The vast, vast majority of cruelty to animals comes from animal agriculture.

From Animal Charity Evaluators.

To a first approximation, animal liberation would be achieved when everyone stops eating animals. This won’t happen through societal-level changes: no law or amendment will abolish killing animals for food as long as the majority of those in power eat animals. Therefore, animal liberation will necessarily happen individual by individual; laws will follow behavior change, rather than create it.

The question then is: What is the fastest way to get people to stop eating animals?

Lessons from the Relevant Data

Since the determining factor is individuals making different choices, the relevant information comes from psychology and sociology, rather than politics or war. Why people do or don’t make cruelty-free choices is the central question, not how slavery was ended or how women won the vote. (And the animals are in deep trouble if it is going to take a civil war for animal liberation to occur.)

If we want to bring about animal liberation, we need to look at how and why people who currently aren’t eating animals got to that place, as well as understanding why other people don’t currently make compassionate choices.

Over the past quarter century, I’ve personally interacted with thousands of vegetarians, and heard from tens of thousands of others. Very, very few went right from a standard American diet to vegan upon being told, “Go vegan!” I know a handful who went vegan overnight and maintained that change. But I know many more who instantly went vegan and are no longer even vegetarian.

This isn’t a negligible problem. Some of the failed vegans I know were close friends. One was a founding Board member of a major vegan group; he now isn’t even close to vegetarian. He was driven away because of the self-righteousness of many vegans: “I grow weary of the term ‘vegan.’ It seems to become just a label for moral superiority.”

(Unfortunately, that is not an uncommon reaction. Obviously not all vegans are self-righteous, but veganism often attracts the self-righteous. And they tend to be loud.)

On the other hand, the people who have made the biggest difference for the animals  with their choices, their example, and their advocacy  are almost all individuals who have evolved incrementally over time. The lesson is clear: instead of insisting on the last step, we should celebrate every step anyone takes that helps animals.

We’re Already on the Same Page

One unique aspect of our work for animal liberation is that we actually don’t need to change people’s ethics, unlike the abolitionist or suffrage movements. The vast majority of people already oppose cruelty to animals. But we know, from everyday experience and through decades of research, that the vast majority of people simply don’t make decisions based on ethics. They make decisions based on habit, convenience, social norms. To quote Cleveland Amory, we have an infinite capacity to rationalize, especially when it comes to something we want to eat.

Luckily, there is a great deal of psychological and sociological research into people’s choices. Specifically: how and why they change habits when they do, as well as why they don’t, even when they say they want to. This research, as it applies to helping animals, is discussed in The Animal Activist’s Handbook, Change of Heart, and in some of the essays in The Accidental Activist. (And new relevant articles are linked to on this blog.)

In short, we have four facts regarding the majority of the population (the people we need to reach):

  1. People already share our moral revulsion at cruelty to animals.
  2. People rarely act based on their ethics if it conflicts with habit and the norms of their friends and family.
  3. People who make real change and maintain that change do so incrementally. 
  4. Animal liberation must necessarily be achieved from the ground up, person by person.

Given these facts, the movement for animal liberation is inherently an incremental, consumer-based campaign. And if we truly want to do our best for the animals, we must understand and work with the psychology of consumer choices.

For this reason, everyone is a potential ally. With allies, we work constructively. Together, we will continue to shift the consumer landscape such that it is easy for everyone to act on their ethics.

We know how to do this: through our person-to-person outreach, advocates drive increasing demand for cruelty-free options. This in turn improves the quality and availability of supply, which allows more people to get on board. Thus, we create the virtuous feedback loop that will bring about animal liberation.

As I’ve pointed out before, the vegan future is here, it is just unevenly distributed. Almost every vegan has heard, “If all vegan food was this good, I’d eat vegan all the time!” Or, as “a carnivore all the way” said about a vegan restaurant:

Wish they were in my neighborhood, ‘cause I’d be one happy fat vegan cat eating some deep fried tofu with their crazy good tartar sauce. Not kidding.

We will do this. Not kidding.

See also, One Possible Future

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Pragmatist or Absolutist?

Welfare and Liberation
Originally published in 2000

Does working for or supporting welfare measures harm the longer-term goal of bringing about liberation?

Expanding the Floor of the Cage

The Brazilian Landless Farmers movement has a slogan: “Expand the floor of the cage before you try to break out.” It is a way of saying that activists should try to improve the status quo in order to have more room in which to work towards a permanent solution. Believing that we can support efforts that improve welfare and increase awareness while working for liberation marks one position within the animal liberation movement. Another common position can be summarized as “rights first, rights only, rights uber alles.” Does history give us any indication which position will best serve the animals?

The Lessons of History: If Abolitionists Had Been Absolutists

It's easy to advocate pure adherence to our current personal philosophy. However, the history of successful social movements shows us the importance of learning what we can from the past. Successful social movements – abolitionism, the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement – have all pushed for reforming the system while working towards ultimate goals.

For example, take abolitionism and the subsequent civil rights movement in the United States. These efforts built upon successive improvements in the standing of African Americans. Each improvement and each piecemeal reform elevated the status of African Americans. These advances brought greater confidence and experience to organizers, allowing them to fight for further entitlements. If the movement had rejected all reforms, it’s unlikely that it ever could have built enough momentum to succeed. Imagine if Frederick Douglass had argued, “Equal voting rights or no rights at all. Equal representation in government and business, or no representation at all.” Imagine if Lincoln had refused to issue the Emancipation Proclamation because it didn’t cover the border states, or guarantee an end to prejudice or segregation (see When Freedom Would Triumph). Douglass, Lincoln,Thaddeus Stevens (shown here), and others saw that such positions would alienate the majority of the population, condemning abolition to failure (see Lincoln and the First Step).

The same fate awaits any movement that does not seize reforms and strive to gain exposure when opportunities arise. Absolutist movements attract only those already converted to the cause, remaining confined to a small cadre of dedicated but isolated activists. By demanding “nothing short of total liberation,” many groups have condemned themselves to burnout and relative anonymity beyond those already within the movement. They cut themselves off from consideration by potential allies in the public, and do not give the animal industries any incentive to change.

More diverse organizations, on the other hand, have attracted broad memberships of vegetarians and nonvegetarians, allowing individuals to participate and evolve. They achieve results because they can reach out to those who may not currently share every opinion, allowing them to evolve in their outlook and choices, as well as working for changes at an institutional level. These results, in turn, bring in new individuals who gain confidence and experience. Ultimately, history shows that individuals, businesses, and society progress towards a more compassionate ethic gradually, as awareness and reform advance incrementally.

“It Must Get Worse Before It Gets Better”

Some advocates argue that animal liberation is a unique social justice goal, and oppose welfare reforms because they believe people will choose not to go vegan if they learn that animals are being treated “better.” For example, if the public hears McDonald’s might be getting their eggs from producers that keep their laying hens in bigger cages, fewer people will alter their purchasing patterns.

Although this argument may seem to have a certain logic, the evidence indicates that reforms draw the attention of nonvegetarians to the issue of animal exploitation, persuading many to reconsider their ethics and actions; according to the meat industry: “Media attention to animal welfare issues in the past decade has resulted in 'significant, negative effects' on U.S. meat demand. ... This study found increased media attention caused a reallocation of expenditures to nonmeat food rather than reallocating expenditure across competing meat products.” (See this for even more evidence.) Animal groups then use their victories to gain visibility and push for further reforms. In this way, welfare measures tend to be a slippery slope toward abolition, not away from it.

European countries – particularly the United Kingdom – are also a counterexample to the “it must get worse before it gets better” argument. Animals are treated far better there and vegetarianism is more widespread. There are more vegetarian restaurants, and nonvegetarian restaurants have more vegetarian options. The advances in animal welfare have given both the UK welfare and abolition movements confidence and momentum. And the attention paid to animal welfare in business practices and legislation has increased the public’s interest in how their food is produced.

The same could become true in the United States. Reforming a company like McDonald’s could initiate a domino effect throughout the industry. Competitors would have a greater incentive to match and exceed McDonald’s reforms, thereby forcing industrywide improvements in the living and dying conditions for all animals. No company wants to be singled out as “cruel.”

More importantly, when the industries that rely on animal exploitation raise the issue of humane treatment, it receives far more serious consideration from the public than animal advocates could ever hope to achieve alone. Once the companies themselves grant that animals have interests, it becomes harder to justify using them for food, regardless of specific conditions.

Of course, I have total sympathy for those who believe McDonald’s is the “enemy,” and believe we have to “destroy them.” But McDonald’s is simply the embodiment of consumer demand. Vilifying a faceless corporation distracts from what should be our core concern – the suffering of animals. More importantly, focusing on a corporation distracts us from addressing the root cause of this suffering – the choices of consumers.

Obviously, McDonald’s is not going to become vegan tomorrow – not until forced to by consumer choices. In the meantime, reforms and consumer education can lessen animal suffering and raise awareness. This does not preclude advocating compassionate choices with our advocacy. Together, these will bring us closer to animal liberation.

Purity or Progress?

We might choose to spend our limited resources opposing welfare reforms so as not to “compromise our principles.” But this isn’t the case unless our guiding principle is “Never, under any circumstances, allow any group to work with nonvegan people or businesses.” Why would someone hold that principle above all else, especially when it is at odds with another that seems more fundamental and defensible: “Work to reduce animal suffering”?

Of course, this is absolutely not to say that everyone should focus on welfarist measures. At this point in time, most of us can lessen the most suffering in the most expedient manner by promoting consumer change in our advocacy.

If It Were You

If you were being tortured 24 hours a day in a prison cell, would you want an absolutist on your side? Would you ask that no one on the outside try to stop your torture because it has to be “total freedom or nothing at all”? Would you believe that the worse your treatment and the greater your suffering, the closer you would be to liberation? Or would you prefer that someone bring to light your circumstances and enact reforms that could significantly reduce your suffering, while also working toward your liberation?

In short, would you want your advocate to be a pragmatist, focused on doing their best for you at all levels? Or would you prefer an absolutist, whose dedication is primarily to the purity of their position?

See also:
The Longest Journey Begins With a Single Step: Promoting Animal Rights by Promoting Reform 
by Peter Singer and Bruce Friedrich

Friday, August 29, 2014

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

Book Summary: Switch
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
by Chip Heath & Dan Heath (New York: Crown, 2010)
With Anne Green

A chapter in The Accidental Activist.

As you know, we are dedicated to creating as much real change as possible. To that end, we study widely (marketing, psychology, sociology). A book useful for people seeking to improve their activism is Switch. For those not in a position to read the whole thing (it is a quick and anecdote-filled read), we’ll try to hit on the key points as applicable to animal advocacy.
The Heaths start with the analogy set out in The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt (Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus Books, 2006):

Haidt says that our emotional side is an Elephant and our rational side is its Rider. Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader. But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose.

In short, the Heaths’ hypothesis is that to bring about change, we have to: Direct the Rider; Motivate the Elephant; Shape the Path. There are three subsections under each of these steps, and leafleters have experienced all of them.

A. Direct the Rider
1. Follow the Bright Spots
Instead of starting from scratch, look for points of common ground. In our case of advocating for the animals, don’t assume an adversarial (or teaching) position. Rather, find common areas from which to build. Nearly everyone opposes cruelty to animals (and those that say they don’t often do, once you get past the posturing). This is an incredibly powerful bright spot! Do they have or have they had a companion animal? Do they “not eat much meat”? Do they like Boca burgers, or know a vegetarian? Do they have a similar background to you?
You can even take what appears to be a negative and use it as a hook, as with the title of the booklet, Even If You Like Meat.
As Mikael wrote about an encounter he had while he was leafleting:

[O]ne woman stopped and said she loved meat. I told her I did, too, but when I examined my morals and values, they did not match up with my actions and therefore I stopped eating meat. I also suggested that she give up meat on Mon/Wed/Fri and see how that went. She seemed like she would totally give it a try.

2. Script the Critical Moves
“Don’t think big picture, think in terms of specific behavior.” In other words, don’t say, “Go vegan!”—no one changes from such an exhortation (see “shrink the change” below). Rather, give people specific steps they can take to start on the path of change: not eating chicken and pigs, avoiding all food from factory farms, not eating meat several days a week, etc.
Phil reports that, after talking to two guys while he was leafleting:

They both still seemed a little unwilling to never eat meat again. I mentioned that even cutting down on meat lessens a lot of suffering. One got excited and said, ‘I can do that!” They both walked away intently reading the leaflets.

3. Point to the Destination
“Change is easier when you know where you’re going and why it’s worth it.” Again, don’t talk in terms of big picture abstractions (“liberation,” “sustainability,” “environment”). Rather, stick to what speaks directly to the individual.

A professor invited me to address his 70+ student class. I gave a quick introduction, and said, “Listen, even if you just cut animals out of three dinners per week, that would be a huge help for our animal friends. If you read this, please pass it on—the more people know, the quicker this insanity ends.” I then asked who wanted to read a booklet. Not hearing a peep in the room, I stepped off the stage, looked up, and half their arms were raised!

B. Motivate the Elephant
1. Find the Feeling
“Knowing something isn’t enough to cause change. Make people feel something.” Many vegans think a purely philosophical, statistics-filled, intellectual argument should be enough to cause people to change. But the Heaths point out this is absolutely not the case: the rational Rider actually has little control over the emotional Elephant.
This is obviously the key to our approach: show people the hidden cruelty to animals. What people feel has to be a powerful enough feeling to overcome inertia, habits, etc.
Eileen summarized the comments from one leafleting outing:

“Oh man, this is the packet that made me vegetarian!”
“Aw, this is the booklet that made me go vegetarian last year!”
“I went vegetarian from this!”
“I like meat, but this is just so horrible!”

Feedback from FR:

I feel so good helping animals and have helped some of my friends go vegan. Thanks for inspiring me!

2. Shrink the Change
“Break down the change until it no longer spooks the Elephant.”
This is the key lesson from the book! Of course, it goes without saying that we want everyone to be vegan. We want this because we don’t want any animals to suffer for “food.” The key here isn’t the “vegan” abstraction, but the animals’ suffering—very real and concrete. The way to address this is not to trumpet veganism, but to get more and more people to eat fewer and fewer animals.

While I appreciate [another group’s] goals, their all-or-nothing tone always left me feeling guilty and discouraged. Vegan Outreach is the first vegan advocacy and information site that I’ve seen that makes me feel good about my recent decision to drop meat and fowl and explore new foods and cooking methods. Kudos for making a convincing case for veganism without making people feel selfish and evil if they don’t get to 100 percent immediately!

3. Grow Your People
“Cultivate a sense of identity and instill the growth mindset.” In this chapter, the Heaths talk about how to capture people’s pre-existing inclinations (find the bright spot—opposition to cruelty to animals), and get them to start thinking that change really is possible. The way to make the possibility of change real is by getting them to make a small change. Then they think of themselves as someone who can change, not someone limited by habit, peer pressure, etc.

Last night, Hoss was talking about how creating change isn’t always as simple as giving people facts. People have a tough time admitting their previous way of living was wrong. That is what I have always liked about the Vegan Outreach approach—it allows people the opportunity to make changes while still being able to save face. And then the changes lead to more changes; soon the originally held positions have also changed. It’s actually quite subversive.
I saw the results of this approach today at Rochester Institute of Technology. One young woman came up to tell me that, three years ago, she received an Even If You Like Meat on campus. She liked the idea of “you don’t have to be perfect” and immediately cut her meat consumption to basically nothing. She told me that since receiving the booklet, she has consumed meat three times—an average of once per year. The “not all or nothing” proposition sold her and continues to keep her on board.
Also, a faculty member told me a story about her coworker. She once got an Even If You Like Meat and tacked it to her bulletin board for whatever reason; she continued to look at it, to make changes, and is now vegetarian.

C. Shape the Path
1. Tweak the Environment
“When the situation changes, the behavior changes.” We can’t directly alter people’s environment, but we do take advantage of when people change their environment by going away to school.
Theo: “At Santa Clara University, a student mentioned that the booklets had been brought up in one of his classes, and for the most part the students agreed with what was said inside.”
Aaron: “These booklets are becoming recognizable on campuses everywhere. Several students today knew exactly what it was before I handed it to them, and so many said that it is what prompted them to try vegetarian/vegan.”

2. Build Habits
“When behavior is habitual, it’s ‘free’—it doesn’t tax the Rider.” Unless you can move everyone into a vegan household, it isn’t going to be easy to build new habits. But combine this with “Shrink the Change” and you’ll see the opportunity: modify current habits slightly such that people can stay close to their current routine but still make a difference.
In other words, don’t expect people to stop eating fast food and making what is convenient and switch over to diet of a slow-cooked, whole-food, organic, local, fat-free quinoa, amaranth, and bok choy, topped with nutritional yeast “cheese” and sprinkled with chia seeds. Rather, promote a diet that fits in with their current habits: quick microwaved Boca burgers and Amy’s dinners, bean burritos, Tofurky slices sandwiches, Field Roast sausages, etc.

3. Rally the Herd
“Behavior is contagious. Help it spread.” Being a positive, confident vegetarian example in public shows people it can be done, allows those interested to ask questions, and gives support to other vegetarians.

Leafleting at the beach was great today! Four teenage girls eagerly received their booklets:
Girl #1: “Ugh, I can’t look at these pictures!”
Girl #2 (to me): “Are you vegetarian?”
Me: “Yes.”
Girl #4: ‘What do you eat?’
Me (while giving them Guides): “Everything other than our animal friends—easiest thing I’ve ever done!”
Girl #1: “That’s it! Let’s do it! I can’t look at these pictures. . . . I need to go vegetarian. Seriously, let’s do it! Now! Done.”
Girls #2-4: “OK. OK. Done!”

Vic: “One girl at William Paterson today said she had been wanting to go veg, so she got a Guide. Another two girls who are roommates said they would go veg for a week, so they got a Guide and encouragement.”
Yvonne: “A couple of girls who walked by said, ‘Hey, I’ll become a vegetarian, if you do.’ ‘Yeah, let’s!’ One girl ran to her group and shouted, ‘Guess what? I’m going to become a vegetarian!’”

B2 (Shrink the Change) and C (Shape the Path) indicate that the easier change is (i.e., the more vegetarians that are around and the more familiar vegetarian options that are available), the easier it is for people to start on the road of change. It also suggests that a campaign to get more cruelty-free options available on college campuses (and providing local information and social support) could have very significant payoff.