Monday, October 27, 2014

Why We're Winning (Talk in Phoenix)

Photo by Kari Nienstedt, from an earlier talk.
All the best public speakers know it is key to start with a joke, so here goes:

This past June, I nearly died.

What? Not funny?

As with many people who almost die, I found myself thinking a lot about what is most important. In doing so, I realized much of what seems to be important really isn’t.

But another thought occurred to me: How would the world have been different if I had died? Beyond my immediate circle of friends and family, what really would have changed?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized this is a good question to ask, especially in regard to our activism. How many people here are vegan? So many of us see veganism as the pinnacle, as the end point. I know I certainly did. But if that’s the extent of it -- if all we do is not eat animals or animal products -- then what would it matter if we died tomorrow?

Luckily, everyone here tonight is dedicated to having a constructive, positive impact on the world. We’ve all gone beyond the passive philosophy of “Do no harm” to the active goal of “Do good.” If any of us died tomorrow, the world really would be a worse place in the long run.

There have been many people dedicated to the concept of “Do good.” But history shows good intentions aren’t enough.

In her introduction, Anne noted the great successes we are having [legal protections; better and more widespread vegan options; Presidents, Vice Presidents, athletes and celebrities going vegan; the number of animals slaughtered down by hundreds of millions each year], and that we are winning on every front. But we aren’t winning simply because we want to win. Rather, we are winning because more and more people are dedicated to doing the most good, to having the biggest possible impact.

This wasn’t always the case when it came to the animals. Even though almost 99% of the animals killed every year die to be eaten, 25 years ago, we focused most of our efforts on fur and vivisection. This was true for me as well.

Now obviously, this isn’t to say the animals killed for fur or vivisection don’t deserve our consideration. Of course they do. But if we give all animals equal consideration, it would be hard to argue that we should spend our extremely limited time and resources on something other than the 99% who die to be eaten.

One of the many, many, many mistakes I made over the past quarter century was failing to realize that when we choose to do one thing, we are choosing not to do another.

Think about it this way: We could spend our entire life trying to free a bear from a Siberian zoo. The bear is obviously worthy of consideration, and winning his freedom would be a victory. But the opportunity costs are significant. If we instead spend that time and money advocating for farmed animals and promoting cruelty-free eating, we would have a much, much greater impact in the world.

So here’s the punch line: Because there is so much suffering in the world, and our resources are so very limited, we are morally obligated -- morally obligated -- to pursue the course of action that will have the greatest impact. We must base our choices on what will reduce suffering as much as possible.

In other words, we owe it to the animals to give them the biggest bang for the buck.

If we want a vegan world, we have to convince more and more people to stop eating animals. It really is that simple. And this is what we strive to do at VegFund, where I work. VegFund is driving the actions that are building the vegan world as effectively and efficiently as possible. We fund online ads, pay-per-view videos, food sampling, and movie screenings. We leverage the passion and opportunities of activists around the world to give the animals the biggest bang for the buck.

25 years ago, most of us -- myself included -- adopted the “do something, do anything” approach to activism. We protested whatever was right in front of us, or what was in the news, or whatever personally upset us.

Now, however, more and more of us are dedicated to optimal advocacy, to working for the 99%. We use the latest psychological research and most modern tools available, and we strive to make sure our limited time and resources have the greatest possible impact.

This is why we are now winning. This is why we will win.

And each of our lives will matter, and each of our lives will be memorable. Thank you for being a part of this vital work.

Cross-posted at the VegFund blog.

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