Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What We Fight About When We Fight About "Vegan"

Harish Sethu, the brains at Counting Animals, estimates that vegans make up 0.47% of the US population (based on the Faunalytics study, which Harish considers the best).

Not even half a percent.

Not even 1 in every 200 people.

This is what we fight about when we define, debate, and defend "vegan." This is the impact we've had in decades of defining, debating, and defending "vegan":



As the surveys show, the percentage of vegans has hardly changed in decades. But even if our obsession with only speaking and promoting our truth was somehow to allow us to double, overnight, the number of vegans, this would be the impact:


Or, in terms of animals, a full doubling the number of vegans would spare 0.47% of the animals being brutalized on factory farms and being slaughtered in industrial slaughterhouses.

Of course, we know from decades of experience that there is no magic wand we can wave to convince others to magically go vegan. And furthermore, we know that the vast majority of people who go vegan quit and go back to eating animals.

Please believe me, over the past three decades, I have heard every single argument about why our message must be "vegan." Many times. Many many many times.

One definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. The suffering of farmed animals isn't philosophical. It isn't a matter of semantics or purity or baselines or "truths." It is real – brutally real.

And any sane individual should realize it is time to try something new.





9 comments:

  1. I've for a long time liked and support the work of Vegan Outreach and that you do Matt but some of the stuff you've published since the start of this blog is very weakly argued.

    This recent post is a good example of that. You write:


    "Please believe me, over the past three decades, I have heard every single argument about why our message must be "vegan." Many times. Many many many times."

    It seems to me that over the past three decades most of the animal outreach activities have been welfaristic campaigns. We might then as well argue that the 0.47% number is the meager outcome that 3 decades of welfaristic campaigns of the kind you still promote tends to produce.

    "The suffering of farmed animals isn't philosophical. It isn't a matter of semantics or purity or baselines or "truths." It is real – brutally real."

    Who would disagree with that? Your repeated portrayal of those pursuing other strategies as only interested in "semantics" or "purity" are incorrect, unproductive, unnecessarily divisive and so weakly made that they come across as dishonest. The real situation is that there is a disagreement about facts concerning the very complex question about what methods of large scale social change are most effective. There are many trumped up claims about empirically proven methods (I'd say that you and Francione are about as trumped up for your respective There-Is-Only-One-Way-messaging) but in fact there is no social scientific consensus on the matter. We don't know. Good then that there is a lot of experimentation with different methods.

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    1. Hi vegan for decades,

      On one hand you say, "We might then as well argue that the 0.47% number is the meager outcome that 3 decades of welfaristic campaigns of the kind you still promote tends to produce."

      But on the other hand you say, "The real situation is that there is a disagreement about facts concerning the very complex question about what methods of large scale social change are most effective...in fact there is no social scientific consensus on the matter. We don't know."

      If one takes this into consideration, I don't quite understand how the conclusion & argument can be made that the 0.47% number is due solely to "3 decades of welfaristic campaigns".

      I've been an activist for over 20 years, and while I don't keep a tally or have precise figures, based on my experience and what I've witnessed, one of the biggest obstacles to increasing that 0.47% figure is the negative experiences people are left with from vegans who behave and speak condescendingly towards them.

      I can't but wonder if vegans and activists have considered the possibility that the 0.47% isn't "the meager outcome that 3 decades of welfaristic campaigns", but rather a result of negative and condescending behavior by vegans turning people off from veganism.

      What about this possibility? What if "3 decades of welfaristic campaigns" at one point actually helped increase the number of vegans to 10%, but 9.53% left because of the the negativity encountered once in the vegan community?

      As Matt wrote, "we know that the vast majority of people who go vegan quit and go back to eating animals." I can only speak for myself, but I've become almost embarrassed to say I'm vegan...not because of what it stands for, but because of the negative impression people have been left with due to other vegans and their negative behavior and words.

      This is a perfect example of what I see that turns people off and away from vegans and our message:

      http://www.ecorazzi.com/2016/01/28/if-you-are-on-a-plant-based-diet-stop-calling-yourself-vegan/

      I can't help but wonder if the author was truly interested in persuading others to make the switch to veganism, rather than criticize people for what she sees that she doesn't like, and if she'd instead offer support & encouragement for what "plant based eaters" are doing that she does like, she'd most likely have much better results.

      And help to increase that meager 0.47% increase.

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  2. Joseph T. EspinosaFebruary 3, 2016 at 6:57 AM

    Most behavior change in most people and societies is incremental, not real rapid. That is well documented in the social science literature. We can pretend that is not true if we do not want to believe it, but it is. Dealing honestly with the world as it is seems like a good place to start if our goal is to effect positive change. With so much suffering and death hanging in the balance, this is important.

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  3. "Most behavior change in most people and societies is incremental, not real rapid. That is well documented in the social science literature."

    True and not in dispute I think. But that alone does not answer what mode of activism is most effective. Historical social change movements have had a mix of activists and messaging, from those who uncompromisingly and provocatively demand big change now to those who ask for one first small change on the margin. What mix is most effective? I see no social scientific consensus on that only scattered evidence pulling toward different conclusions. I'm not surprised that honest, intelligent, compassionate animal rights people can disagree on methods then. That is no obstacle to you going all in for the VO approach. But what good comes from in addition to that positive pursuit also negatively portray those who earnestly develop and pursue other methods as not caring about facts or suffering?

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    1. Say you are in a motorcycle club and want to recruit more members. Which choice will result in a larger number of recruits and people interested in what what your club is about?

      1) Tell people that their current brand of motorcycle (which they've grown up with all their life and their family has owned for generations) is wrong and lacking, and they will only be right once they have the exact same brand as you and those in your club. Tell them joining your club is the only way to be right. End of story.

      2) Invite people to learn more about your club in a friendly way. When they show interest, even if though they currently own a different brand of motorcycle, you let them know they're welcome come check out a meeting.
      You also let them know they are also welcome to ride with the club on one of its weekly drives to see what your club and your brand are all about.
      You give them a flyer about your club and directions how to get there (the next club meeting is on "Monday"...how about that?).
      Maybe they don't join your club right away, but at least they're interested...and at the very least, you haven't scared them away because they think you're part of some crazy biker gang.
      You left them with a good impression, so they do decide to join your club on one of it's weekly rides.
      Maybe this leads them to realizing that your club's brand of motorcycle is actually better than the one their family has owned for years.
      And maybe a couple weeks later they trade in their old motorcycle for the same brand as yours.

      vegan for decades wrote, "But what good comes from in addition to that positive pursuit also negatively portray those who earnestly develop and pursue other methods as not caring about facts or suffering?"

      Maybe the question should be "what good comes from any pursuit that claims to care about facts and suffering, but whose methods negatively portray those leading that pursuit"?

      It's ironic that one of the basic tenets of veganism is showing compassion for all living beings, but for so many "pure vegans" this seems to fly out the window when it comes to showing compassion towards humans, and not just animals.

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    2. My experience has shown me that the negative impression of "those who earnestly develop and pursue other methods as not caring about facts or suffering" is due in large part to those persons very own behavior, and not to the portrayal of them by others.

      If one behaves in ways that aren't caring, then one only has themselves to blame if they're seen as not caring.

      If one behaves in ways that show they don't care about what suffering they cause others (such as by being condescending), then one only has themselves to blame if they're seen as not caring about suffering.

      If one behaves in ways that show they don't care about the fact that people don't like to be negatively judged, and the fact that people respond better to praise than pointing out their faults in your eyes, then one only has themselves to blame if they're seen as not caring about the facts.

      If one knows all this and still continues to do it, I'd personally argue that they actually care more about themselves than they do about increasing the number of people in the world like themselves.









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    3. It has been my experience that many people care about themselves and their superiority and their identity as a vegan. Anything less than pure veganism is a threat to their sense of self-worth.

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  4. Joseph T. EspinosaFebruary 4, 2016 at 3:01 AM

    All past social change movements also went on when bread existed. Therefore bread was an essential component. Ok, I am being funny. The point I am trying to highlight is that the presence of something does not mean it was useful to the progress being sought. It could have positive effects, no effect or negative effects. It could well be that nearly all past animal protection efforts (which typically try to get people to empathize with our fellow mammals) have actually increased animal suffering and death as people decrease consumption of cows and pigs and increase consumption of birds. I am not sure where you see the portrayal you refer to, but, let me guess, you are vegan and therefore very sensitive ;-)

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  5. I agree, just looking at the numbers it does seem like advocating a pure vegan message is unlikely to reduce animal suffering just theough converting more vegans. However I think a vegan message could also reduce the meat consumption by meat eaters just through virtue of raising these issues. I think the best argument that I have seen to support welfare campaigns are Jean Kazez's eights based welfare approach.

    http://kazez.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/francione-vs-friedrich.html?m=1

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