A Debilitating Debate
Well, it happened again. The debate between “abolitionists” and “gradualists” exploded in the comments section of Eating Plants. As usual, it was a mash-up of exceedingly intelligent commentary, passion, anger, and dismissiveness. And, as usual, I’m pleased to provide a forum for these sorts of discussions and honored that so many people—including Sue Coe —participated. I remain, however, baffled at how anyone on either side of this debate can be so absolutely assured about her position when, in fact, we have zero data to determine the ultimate effectiveness of any approach to vegan activism. The entire debate is underscored with anecdotes.
And that’s okay. It’s more than okay. While it might seem defeatist to declare that “we’ll never know,” it’s not, because all that really matters at this stage of the vegan conversion project is that we get the word—literally, the word “vegan”—out there. Regrettably, we tend more often than not to introduce it through our own monumentally self-destructive infighting. All these debates do, though, is obscure the fact that, in modern commercial society, becoming part of the white noise is an essential prerequisite for recognition, and recognition is a prerequisite for change. Sophisticated vegan urbanites often think that “vegan” is globally understood. They need to get out more. Leave the comfort zone and come to Kansas. Or East Texas—where I’ll give you a little tour that might provide perspective. In any case, just get the idea out there by any non-violent means necessary.
The other bit of good news when it comes to accepting a multiplicity of approaches is that persuasiveness through rationality may be irrelevant. I know that sounds crazy. But people go vegan for more reasons than anyone could possibly compile. Rarely, though, do they go vegan exclusively because they have been convinced by a purely rational argument. That’s my sense, anyway. And if I’m even remotely correct, it renders all our self-absorbed bickering over “the best” tactic to be an utter waste of time. We may be arguing for the most sensible approach—basing our arguments on rational propositions drawn from anecdotal evidence–when, in reality, people are going to go vegan for reasons that have little to do with our own precepts for change.
Depending on what side of the bed I get out of in the morning, I spend my days optimistic or pessimistic about the future of veganism. One thing I know for sure, though, is that those of us who purport to clamor for change need to stop tearing each other to shreds over ideas that have yet to be proven true or false and, even if proven one way or another, might not matter. We need to simply push veganism into the public sphere and take it from there. None of us can connect the dots forward. No matter how right we think we are.
UPDATE: For those who don’t think the vegan word is getting out, see this: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/14/how-to-go-vegan/.