By John Carbonaro
[The opinions expressed in these essays do not necessarily reflect the position of ARAUNY.]
Questions frequently arise, particularly with new vegans, as they transition to a new way of being. The animals, either whole or in product form that were once part of the “fabric” of our lives are now viewed differently. The continued separation of our minds and behaviors from the thick layers of experiences, upbringing, and societal conventions requires the kind of mindfulness that cares for the ego while showing its defensive maneuvers to the door.
How fast and far does one go to distance and otherwise differentiate themselves from their former animal-using identities and behavior? The answers often fall in the domain of individual ‘vegan subjectivities’, which is a good place to expand on as we forge a new societal self that stands apart from animal use and sees animals as whole beings. Agricultural identity started 10,000 years ago, but the ground for interspecies respect has always existed, waiting to be enacted upon by anyone who finds themselves there. It has not been done before in the history of humans, so much of the work will be original and inventive. Inventiveness is one of the defining “natural” attributes of humans. Rebuilding on a solid ground through veganism rather than continuing the untethered destructive direction of our narcissism is essential.
That is not to say that such a vegan subjectivity is based in relativism. We are making decisions during our private, everyday lives. We want to directly experience a given moment through the lens of veganism like a hand in glove, rather than some thought adherence to abstract principles. But we should also wish that our lived experience of these principles can be universally recognizable to all who incorporate them. Eventually the shared experiences of these individuals will form into larger congregations until it reaches a societal consciousness level, and transmission of these values into future generations is possible.Thus, a single apprehension of a being’s wholeness, separateness, and rights is grounded in a universal base of justice which is likewise apprehended. Even if a person was the only one among thousands to align with this, they would still be right, because that is what this ethical and existential apprehension illuminates.
Many of the questions and answers vegans have are a reflection of the particular state or level of deconditioning they are at with regards to ingrained speciesism. From this level other concerns branch out to form more practical or procedural considerations as one sorts out what to keep and what to part with.
Sometimes the way one frames the answer is based on how long they have been developing a vegan perspective whilst shedding/transforming previously held beliefs. This perspectival ground combines both reducibility with interconnectivity (e.g. Recognizing an instance of love or suffering with a universal connection to all beings). Once reached through this simplicity, the foundation becomes expansive. This ground is not always yet comprehended by someone who may be in the earlier stages of vegan identity or has limited their conception of veganism.
So while it is prudent to “start with where the person is at”, that does not mean that we should support any rationalization where personal use results in or supports continued animal exploitation. This ethical stance is not reducible to “lifestyle choice” or “personal journey” when it is at the expense of (truly avoidable) animal suffering. There is the risk of people’s defense mechanisms quarantining ‘threatening’ messages by labeling consistent vegans “vegan police” or “purists”. However, abolitionist vegans are mainly clearing a way for others to see and keep the foundation of empathic, interconnected justice vivid in each daily encounter. Like an effective therapist, the vegan as change agent will forge an alliance through a persona of strength, patience, neutrality, and care. Being expected/characterized/provoked into being too nice or too angry only serves to neutralize the vegan as change agent (in the minds of some resistant individuals).
The ability to see slavery, murder, and any other injustice as the same across the animal and human spectrum can take time and processing effort, and therefore the answers we sometimes give to new vegans (and definitely non-vegans) can appear to be a “stretch” or blind spot that is not yet overcome.
Vegans who are now in touch with the transparency of the reduced yet interconnected ground of love and justice, as well as its opposite, discrimination and collapse, sometimes use words that arise from this ground. They must remember the cognitive incremental steps it often took to get (to what is now a daily consciousness) when using words that, while technically true (slavery, rape, murder), should not generally be used as attributes (slaver, rapist, murderer).
It is likely that you will hear new vegans still under the influence of ingrained thought processes that reflect deeply conditioned societal schemas, which are the abbreviated/constricted mental representations we use to reference something. Some of the societally speciesist scripts for continued use after the “break through” (e.g. continued use of old leather garments) may include thought processes such as “I don’t want the animal to have died for nothing and it would be a waste to throw it out”. With care we can point out that this claim is still based on a concept of “use” or “resource”, which the vegan self must divest themselves of. In future posts I will address the psychology behind “continued use” reasons (leather, backyard eggs, horseback riding, therapy animals,etc.)
Certainly there are experiences that can provide the fast train to a reducible perspective for even the earliest of vegans. For example people may be confused by the reductionist phrase “meat is murder”. However when followed by exposure to slaughter they may reach a personal and profound comprehension of this basic phrase faster than taking a course combining animal ethics, environmentalism, or nutrition. (They will still need these content areas to supplement their experience and support long term change). Another form of assisted reduction to the basic ground of species equality is asking the person “what if we were talking about a human? Would your idea of continued use still be tenable?” If that is still too much of a reach, perhaps ask them what if it was the cat or dog in their life.
Reducibility in this sense is the opposite of reducing an animal to a product, which requires fragmentation. People perceive a piece of meat or a shoe as a thing in and of itself, but once reunited with the whole being, it loses its standing. One cannot remain fragmented from seeing it now as flesh and skin.
As people build upon their comprehension of animals and divest themselves of speciesist thinking and behavior, the clarity of the simple inter-connectedness of issues and the accompanying daily, lived consciousness of our ethical stance will be solidified. That is what authentic vegan “purity” means. One sees it in the reflection of an animal’s eyes and behavior that is experiencing joy or pain.
Until that time, each new vegan will be in a process of unfolding considerations and individual circumstances that will benefit from different perspectives (everything from facts to personal tips) that frame the problems and solutions.However all of these individual paths can be recognized as etched into one universal ground of oneness.