Saturday, August 19, 2017

Kindness Costs Nothing

From my sister, Mary Alyssa:

I had to go to the DMV yesterday to get license plates. I went to one that is normally not very busy and where I have had much luck in the past getting in and out in record time. That wasn't the case yesterday. I waited nearly 45 minutes for the 9 people between me and my number to be dealt with it. It wasn't fun. We all know the DMV is pretty much the 5th or 5th level of hell. But I get up to the window and I have to do a VIN verification because it was an out of state car I was registering. So I get up there I ask the woman helping me how she's doing. She looks at me suspiciously and says fine. So then we go outside to do the verification and I just try to engage her -"isn't a lovely day? It was raining when I walked in and now it's so beautiful." She was still highly suspicious. When we were almost finished with that part I said something like "you're so efficient maybe you want to take another minute and soak up the sun before we go back in." And her face changed and she smiled and lifted her face to the sun and drank it in. And she looked at me as we were walking in and she said "thanks, I needed that." And I replied with "thank YOU, I can't even imagine how challenging your job is but I appreciate that you are willing to do it and that you are here to help me today." She broke into the biggest grin I have seen in a while. We chatted some more as she was entering all of my information and I paid etc. I thanked her again and walked out. As I was walking out I heard her greet the next person and she did it with sincere kindness and not the same haggard way she greeted me.

NEVER EVER EVER underestimate how far a little kindness can go. Seriously. If there is one thing this world and this time needs more - it is most definitely kindness. Try it.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Pinker: “Get Out of the Way”

It is vanishingly rare for a public figure (other than Peter Singer) to speak as clearly, logically, and forcefully as Steven Pinker does in The moral imperative for bioethics. I can't recommend the whole thing highly enough, but these lines are so great:

“A truly ethical bioethics should not bog down research in red tape, moratoria, or threats of prosecution based on nebulous but sweeping principles such as “dignity,” “sacredness,” or “social justice.” Nor should it thwart research that has likely benefits now or in the near future by sowing panic about speculative harms in the distant future.”

Sorry I hadn't seen this 2o15 article before; I just came across it while reading A Crack in Creation. I also recommend that book. Professor Doudna generally comes down on the right side of the various questions she raises, but not as forcefully as Pinker.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

More Wages of Sin

Longtime vegan and supporter of One Step emails:

“My roommate said the Vox video was the first relatable vegan thing she's ever seen (despite being good friends with me for six years 😆😆😆).

I can't say if doing the video and being seen by 1.3+ million people was worth losing my job and being excommunicated from “the movement [sic], but I continue to be amazed at the reach and impact of this one video!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Online Retreat of Guided Meditations

Our great friends (and some of the first supporters of One Step), Heather Chase and Ken Beller, have a new online retreat of guided meditations: Living Peace: Miraculous Living.

If you sign up for the course (or give a subscription to a friend), a significant portion of the tuition goes to One Step, furthering our outreach!

Anne and I did the course together, and as soon as we finished it, went through it again. We found it very insightful and moving!

You might know Heather and Ken from their multiple-award-winning book, Great Peacemakers. Also, if you are ever in Arizona, you should stay at their Sedona Suites!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Friday, August 11, 2017

Perhaps My Favorite Peter Singer Quote

“When nonvegetarians say that 'human problems come first' I cannot help wondering what exactly it is that they are doing for human beings that compels them to continue to support the wasteful, ruthless exploitation of farm animals.”

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Why the Truth Matters (aka: How do vegans differ from Fox News viewers?)

A number of people have suggested that One Step take a different approach - praising and promoting veganism while emphasizing the importance of concern for chicken.

This advice makes a lot of sense. The most fundamental rule of fundraising is that people give when the organization makes them feel good.

Pointing out that per person consumption of animals is at an all-time high is depressing.
Pointing out that vegans are viewed more negatively than any group other than drug addicts is depressing.

Why would anyone give to One Step, when they could give to a group that will tell them vegans are awesome and veganism is “winning”?

Think about how certain politicians who are supported by Fox News maintain a minimum level of support, no matter what happens. People who watch Fox News only hear the most partisan spin - they never hear the actual facts.

It is a comfortable cocoon - constant praise and positive feedback.

But what drives One Step is not being popular or making potential donors feel good. What motivates us every day is reducing suffering as much as possible.

We believe that only by being honest and facing the facts can we actually have an impact in the real world.

We can't possibly be effective when we care more about vegan than we do about animals.

We can't possibly be effective if we don't recognize that the public has a hugely negative view of vegans.

We can't possibly be effective if we claim veganism is winning when per person consumption of animals is at an all time high.

We don't claim to have all the answers. We believe that reform work and supply-side work is vitally important.

But we do believe that the only way to be effective is to give up on being "Liked" and instead be honest. That is One Step's fundamental core.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Lost Perspective

In a broader discussion of certain people's unwillingness to allow uncomfortable truths to be spoken, One Step co-founder Joe Espinosa makes the point that is so often forgotten:

"What current meat eaters think of us is far more important than what other vegans think of us. Current meat eaters are the ones in a position to directly reduce suffering."

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Dear Senator Flake

Dear Senator Flake,

I've had a soft spot for you personally since I saw you at the taping of Wait Wait Don't Tell Me. I recently read your profile in The Atlantic, and I want to emphasize that my strident opposition to you is not based on you as a person, but your votes on policy. Just two examples:

1. The Affordable Care Act literally saved my life. Your votes would have left my wife a widow and our child without a father. There is simply no way around the bottom-line fact that your vote would lead to the deaths of people like me.

2. Your votes have supported those who attack and vilify members of the LGBTQ community.  Your votes help build a situation where millions of people aren't considered full citizens, and are subject to discrimination and even violence.

You may well be the good person portrayed in The Atlantic. But your votes lead to horrible outcomes for real people.

Thank you for your time.


Monday, August 7, 2017

On the Plus Side

Thanks to everyone who has been supportive after my recent excommunication. Not everything is a negative; I still get emails like this:
"Before I go any further, I think it would be an injustice if I did not express my gratitude for everything you have shared with the activist community, and the impact this has had on how I approach activism, and perhaps more deeply, how I live my life. After I recovered from the initial embarrassment and guilt from what I now realize to be myopic vegan viewpoints, I feel that my life and work will take on a new meaning.
"As someone who wants to be as effective an advocate for animals as possible, this will make a tremendous impact. But I am also coming to realize just how universal suffering is in our world, how it is the guiding principle for doing good. These ideas will permeate into all aspects of my life."

Thanks again to everyone!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

One of My Many Regrets

Being sent the below reminded me of my failings that I document in Letter to a Young Matt. Every generation....

Click for larger.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Rules to Be Get Liked by Vegans

1. Make everything about vegans and their veganism.
2. Condemn everything non-vegan as equally evil. All-or-nothing!
3. Censor anyone who points out facts that make you unhappy. Make the truth-teller the enemy.

Because, of course, being popular with vegans is all that is important.

What else could possibly matter?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Reading Facebook

The schism noted here
is very apparent in Facebook comments. Whenever there is news -- a new product, business, law, or reform, you get two tribes.

The first says "I" and "vegan." E.g., "I wouldn't eat that!" "That is not vegan!"

The second says "people" and "animals." "That might really get more people to consider...." "That will reduce / prevent animal suffering."

And one tribe uses a lot more exclamation marks.

PS: Sorry I'll miss everyone at the conference in DC. Maybe I'll be allowed to speak at some point in the future, but I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Sunday, July 23, 2017

“Have you ever had a bad vegan experience?”

As discussed here, objective surveys of public opinion have shown “vegan” to be a severely damaged brand. (And the attacks, vitriol, and censorship I've encountered for simply pointing out these studies seems like a conscious attempt to prove the public right in their perception!)

One Step 
advisor, Dan Kuzma (right), once gave me great advice for using this fact about public opinion to be able to reach new people. Dan works at Youngstown State in Ohio, and speaks before classes all the time. His insight led me to change my approach. What follows is one example of why it is important to be honest about public perception, and what we gain from reaching people where they are (please also see also this related story from 2015):

Something was wrong.

As I worked through my prepared remarks, I sensed a distinct lack of interest. Funny slides went by without even a chuckle. My questions went ignored. Many in the audience simply looked down – not to take notes, but simply because they weren’t engaged.
Article about my time
with this class

I knew I had to do something, so I asked:

“How many of you have had a bad vegan experience?”

To my left, the professor laughed.

Only later, after the class had ended and all the lingering students had left, did the professor tell me the class hadn’t wanted me there. When she had discussed my visit the previous week, the consensus was, “Vegans are angry. Vegans are fanatics. Vegans are unreasonable.” And “Vegans are nuts." 

But by unknowingly referencing their stated dislike of vegans, I had gotten through. Having broken the ice with “bad vegan experience,” the questions came quickly. I did my best to emphasize that my only goal was to reduce suffering as much as possible. For example, I’d rather that three people ate half as many animals than have one person go vegan – as this saves more animals and each meat reducer has more potential for further change.  

One of the early questions was, “Do you think all killing is wrong?” In a twist on the Socratic method, I replied, “What do you think my answer will be?” 

“That all killing is wrong.” 

“And what do you think?”

“Not all killing is wrong. Mercy killings, for example.”

Well, yes, I agreed. I would never keep a dog or cat alive if the rest of their life was only going to be suffering. I’ve experienced times when I’ve wanted to die; if I knew all I had to look forward to was more suffering, I’d want the option to end it.

Prompted by other questions, I agreed that not all suffering is equal, and not all “animals” have the same capacity for suffering. Fish almost certainly do not have exactly the same capacity to suffer as the great apes. Clams and oysters can’t suffer at all. 

And yes, I admitted the general treatment of different species does vary. I’d much rather be reincarnated as a cow destined to be slaughtered for beef than as a chicken being raised for meat (to make it fair, one would have to be reincarnated ~250 times as a chicken – a truly hellish scenario – to provided the same amount of “meat” as a steer). 

As the students realized I wasn’t there to preach at them (one told me later that they expected moralizing and scolding), but instead to have an honest exploration of the issues, the questions got deeper. For example: No, I’d rather not exist at all than be a factory farmed chicken or pig. But I don’t know if non-existence would be preferable to the life of any cow in any circumstance. 

This entire time, I knew some people outside the classroom would disagree with my shades-of-grey answers. But the point isn’t to reinforce an easy, black-and-white worldview. I wasn't there to make people who already agree with me feel good about themselves.

Rather, my goal was to get these students to take animals seriously, to really consider the issues and the implications of their choices. 

And they did! Over and over, someone would say, “I never thought of it that way.” “I never considered that.” “No one has ever put it like that before.” “I can see that.” They all knew – and had rejected out-of-hand – the caricature of the vegan worldview (everything all-or-nothing, all killing wrong, honey as bad as veal, etc.).

But the conversation we were having was a different ballgame.

The discussion went on and on, respectful, insightful, and sincere. It went on after the class was supposed to end. No one left. Eventually, the professor stepped in, but students stayed around to ask more questions. (Since then, I’ve been contacted by many of them who had additional questions or who want to talk more.)

The class wasn’t a “vegan” experience, good or bad. It was a discussion of and for animals, the unseen individuals these students rarely (or never) considered previously. At least for these students, animals won’t be forgotten.

The professor – not a vegetarian but sympathetic – was surprised and pleased. “You won them over. You really won them over.”