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. 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 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

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.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Opening Minds vs Being Right

To change attitudes, don't argue — agree, extremely

"What if the best way to change minds isn’t to tell people why they’re wrong, but to tell them why they’re right? Scientists tried this recently and discovered that agreeing with people can be a surprisingly powerful way to shake up strongly held beliefs.

"Researchers found that showing people extreme versions of ideas that confirmed — not contradicted — their opinions on a deeply divisive issue actually caused them to reconsider their stance and become more receptive to other points of view...."

Full article.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Do Liberals Rely Too Much on Guilt?

"Spend some time following internet conversations about your liberal cause of the day (global warming, racial injustice, etc) and eventually someone will get to the nut of why the issue pisses many people off: they think activists want them to feel guilty and they don’t want to feel guilty. That’s pretty much it. A huge part of our failure to do anything about the climate disaster or racist asshole cops comes from people protecting their delicate ego."

Full post.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"We must demand no less from ourselves"

Ellen's latest Science of Fandom has like a million hits or something ridiculous. Anne recently reminded us this (from 2+ years ago) was the most popular post ever on her blog:

Ellen's Speech

My daughter, Ellen Green, wasn't selected to give this speech at her high school graduation ceremony, so I decided to give her an audience here. Because I'm the mom.

Tonight, we go into the wider world. In many ways, we are the most fortunate generation to do so, benefiting from the efforts of past generations. It is thanks to their ingenuity and determination that our phones have more computing power than the room-sized computers of our parents’ generation, with access to more information than anyone imagined just a few years ago.

Many of us here, too, have personal opportunities because of the dedication and the drive of past abolitionists, suffragettes, and other heroes who refused to accept the status quo. Through their efforts, we have dramatically expanded the circle of compassion and rights. Interracial marriage was illegal in our state until 1962. 1962! - within many of our parents’ lifetimes. These incredible changes have only come about because of the efforts of countless dedicated individuals, striving to bend their piece of the arc of history towards justice.

Yet the world is far from perfect. Our nation is still tottering back to its feet from economic collapse, the product of unfettered greed. We have grown up in a polarized nation. My right to control my body continues to be attacked, and fellow women continue to be subject to the wage gap and underrepresented in key areas of influence. Those of us who don’t fit the status quo of sexuality and gender remain unprotected from discrimination on a range of fronts. American citizens continue to die in the longest war in our history. And we continue to drive global warming with no regard for future generations.

In the face of these crises, we cannot afford to move unquestioningly through the world. We must get informed. One of the greatest opportunities given to us by past generations is the incredible availability of information. Let’s not take it for granted. We cannot afford to take political dogma as gospel, or let TV's corporate talking heads do our thinking for us. Let’s examine the evidence, question our politicians, fact check our news. It is easier than ever, if we choose to pull off the blinders of apathy and ideology.

We cannot afford to ignore facts. We must get informed.

We must get informed, and we must get active. After graduation, it would be easy to let ourselves be sucked into the endless pursuit of ‘more’ - more money, more cars, more stuff. But no one ever dies happy that they got the latest BMW. No one is ever remembered for that last bonus they received.

We can all seek something better than that, something larger than ourselves. We can be the next links in the chain of heroes who have bent the arc of history towards justice. We can be part of the chain that has included Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harvey Milk. The arc of history will not continue to bend without our efforts. We must refuse to let it stagnate or retreat. History has not been kind to those who clung to fear and prejudice. Let us never forget that.

As we sit here tonight, we face this challenge, this enormous opportunity to lead a meaningful life and change the world for the better. History demands nothing less. Future generations demand nothing less. And we must demand no less of ourselves. Thank you.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Understanding the World

This is perhaps the best primer on understanding conditional probability I've ever seen. You don't have to read far to get a good "aha" moment.

Eliezer Yudkowsky's site is filled with fascinating -- and well-explained -- writing.

I love the internets!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Catching Up On Links

An estimated 12 percent of millennials say they are "faithful vegetarians," compared with 4 percent of Gen X'ers and 1 percent of baby boomers.....

The ever-insightful Ginny on Restrictive Eating and Ex-Vegans

The poultry industry continued to feed DES to chickens for years after it was shown to cause human vaginal cancer.

The great Marla on the Sadness and Power of Knowing.

Better use of world’s existing cropland could feed 3 billion more people

And for dessert: Desserts!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Some Pics

My first Tiger Rattlesnake. Click on any for larger.

Gila Monster from earlier in the same hike.
For more from me, see this (specifically, this):
for more on the desert, see 

Another double rainbow, from our front porch.

One of the few days the Rillito River is running.
(Was running much more in the morning.)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

How the World Will Change

As I've noted many many times over the years, the vegan future is dependent on our use of capitalism to free up people to act from their better angels.

Josh Tetrick makes the case brilliantly in the Huffington Post. Please share widely!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Paul Shapiro's Introduction to The Accidental Activist

Thanks so much to Paul for his contribution to The Accidental Activist!


Paul Shapiro
Vice President, Animal Protection
The Humane Society of the United States

I have a confession. As with most confessions, it’s one I’m not proud of. And, perhaps unlike most things an animal advocate would confess, it harmed animals.
Before I get there, let me tell you a little about myself. I became vegan in 1993 and have devoted much of my time since then to trying to give animals a voice and reducing their suffering. I founded an animal protection club in high school, called Compassion Over Killing, which later became a national organization. After ten years of running that organization, I left to work at the world’s largest animal protection organization, The Humane Society of the United States, where I now serve as vice president of farm animal protection.
During these past two decades, I’ve been a part of dozens of campaigns: political campaigns, corporate campaigns, outreach and awareness campaigns, and more. The driving question in my life is a simple one: How can I most effectively be an ambassador for animals and therefore reduce the greatest amount of suffering?
But it wasn’t always that way. It wasn’t always the case that effectiveness came first in my mind. You see, when I first became involved in animal protection, I suffered from what some people jokingly call “newveganitis.” As a young teen, I was sometimes more focused on what made me feel good, what made me feel right, what made me feel “pure” when it came to these serious issues. Effectiveness, I’m ashamed to admit, sometimes sat lonely in the back seat.
So here’s my confession: I believe that much of what I did in the first several years of my life as an animal advocate didn’t do that much to help animals. In fact, the real confession is that some of it was actually counter-productive, meaning I believe it harmed animals.
Fortunately for me, and even more fortunately for animals, reading one of Matt Ball’s essays (a precursor to “A Meaningful Life”) changed so many of my views on animal advocacy.
I wasn’t short on desire to help animals. I wasn’t short on repulsion at animal cruelty. I wasn’t short on willingness to make sacrifices to try to advance animals’ interests. What I was short on was the type of strategic pragmatism that Matt opened me up to.
Matt made it clear that the bottom line in animal advocacy is how much suffering we can reduce (and, of course, creating happiness is also very important). Everything else, as they say, is just commentary.
My appearance was once one that was, let’s just say, countercultural. At one time, multiple earrings adorned my lobes, dreadlocks fell from my scalp, and a long wallet chain hung from my very oversized jeans. I was the type of person who would implore myself and my fellow animal advocates to be willing to do almost anything for animals, which of course makes sense, considering the unfathomable misery our species inflicts upon them.
I remember imploring other advocates to shout our lungs out for animals, to argue with people and try to “beat them” in those arguments, and so on. It was even common back then just to expect as an a priori assumption that “true” animal advocates would be willing to go to jail without question “for the animals.”
The painful questions I wasn’t asking included: Was I willing to get a haircut for animals? Was I willing to put on a button-down shirt for animals? More broadly, was I willing to actually try to be effective for animals?
Rather than being interested in winning arguments and being right, I needed to be more interested in winning people over and being effective. For animals, it’s not enough for us to be right. We need to be both right and effective.
Matt’s essay caused me to rethink my focus on animal advocacy: to concentrate primarily on farm animals since they represent the vast majority of all the animals we exploit; to modify my own appearance so it would no longer be a stumbling block for others to dismiss compassionate living; to recognize that we tend to accomplish more with a friendly, welcoming message than one which simply accuses and condemns.
I recall stupidly thinking when I was a new vegan that in advocating dietary change, it was all or nothing. Of course, I now recognize that countless people care about animals and want to help them, but may not be ready to become vegan. We should be welcoming to everyone who wants to help animals, no matter where they are on their journey. That’s not to say we shouldn’t always encourage continuous improvement for everyone—myself certainly included—but it is to say that there shouldn’t be an orthodoxy or litmus test for people wanting to do something helpful for animals.
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.
To be a big tent, it’s imperative that we continually ask ourselves: Are we so insular as a movement that we demand purity rather than progress? Are we so orthodox that we don’t applaud people for taking the first step, but rather punish them for not taking the last step?
By adopting a mentality that welcomes people where they are, applauds them for taking the steps they’ve taken, and reminding ourselves in a friendly way that we should continually strive for uninterrupted improvement in that parts of the advocacy that matter most, our movement—and therefore animals—will be much better off.
I don’t profess to have all, or even most, of the answers on how to be an effective animal advocate, and certainly neither does Matt. But I do know that I wish his essays had been around when I first became part of the animal protection movement. Perhaps I’d have a bit less to confess today had I been able to read them back then.
You don’t have that excuse. You now have the benefit of reading Matt’s essays right here, and then thinking critically about how they may help you become a more pragmatic protector of animals. I’m certain they’ll give you a lot to think about, and more importantly, to act on.

December 2013