The Thinking Vegan?

» April 6th, 2014

Okay, cue up your outrage:



Now, take a deep breath: what do you do here? How do you react?

There are thinking and thoughtless ways to approach this image. The most thoughtful might actually be to shrug it off as a shallow and insulting marketing gimmick. But doing so misses an opportunity to explore what exactly makes American culture—especially the complicated culture of the American West—uniquely supportive of this kind of message. That’s a big topic, a great topic, a  topic relevant to animal ethics. But it’s not what I’m going to explore at the moment. I simply want to note that a thoughtful response to this image might tend in that direction—the direction of thoughtfulness, the kind that illuminates the culture we want to change.

My real reason for including this image is to offer a case study on how not to react. This image came to me via a tweet from Gary Smith’s “The Thinking Vegan.” The twittery tag line was “what a horrible human being.” Inspired by such insight, Facebook readers smelled blood, launching into a tirade of invective that collectively made Palin look like Gandhi by comparison.

Here are what “thinking vegans” had to offer by way of intelligent analysis:

“Sarah Palin is a ignorant lying bloodthirsty murdering psycho in any language”; “I think she is but a stupid slut who did`n`t get enough love and care while growing up”; “Dumb bitch!”; “what a piece of effing shit”; “Fuk u her thats why your fukd n will die of some of cancer”; “I hate her”; ”Sarah Palin is an old Indian word for Cunt”; “She is an ignorant murdering bitch”; “Sarah Palin is an old Indian phrase meaning fuckwit!”; “Palin is an old Alaskan word for murderer coke whore…what a waste if oxygen this bitch is”; “Dumb as a rock that woman. Wanna throw up in her face”; “Ugly excuse for a human being.”

Ugh. And this from a Twitter profile that claims to have “a philosophical bent.”

Some of this was on The Thinking Vegan’s FB page, some on the page of the person whom The Thinking Vegan retweeted. Either way, there’s nothing thoughtful about this dump of anger. The Thinking Vegan should reconsider the impact of stoking cheap outrage. If anything, this kind of exposure alienates otherwise thoughtful and compassionate people who want to create a better world for animals. There are reasons that many potential vegans refuse to identify as vegan. And this example is one of them.

It might feel good to lash out, but what’s the benefit for animals?


12 Responses to The Thinking Vegan?

  1. Jennifer Greene says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for saying so.

    Sometimes, I point folks to Matt Bear’s essay:

    He writes, “Love in the tradition of Nonviolence doesn’t mean acceptance of an opponent. It doesn’t even mean you have to like your opponent. Love means connecting to the potential of your opponent. Love means seeing yourself in your opponent.”

    It’s self-indulgent to spew that kind of outrage. As you write, it might feel good to lash out. But is it in the animals’ interest for us to do so? I’m disappointed when I see vegans forgetting to keep that question at the fore.

  2. Kip Sieger says:

    Great points James. Clearly this type of invective, while in some ways understandable, is grossly counter-productive. While I wouldn’t necessarily expect Sarah Palin to give it an objective read herself, I would steer the discussion toward a 1994 article written by Rita Laws entitled “Native Americans and Vegetarianism,” in which the author ably debunks the widespread myth of all Native American cultures being predominantly hunters. It is well worth the read. History of Vegetarianism – Native Americans and Vegetarianism:

  3. John T. Maher says:

    Looks like a Sako bolt-action, possibly in .308, is used as prop. No field wear on the furniture so I doubt the gun pictured has ever been out of the box and also I bet SP is more likely to eat dinner out and order a steak or burger that was raised in a CAFO than actually shoot something and eat him or her. I would prefer that artifice be eliminated. If Palin wants to hunt, she should do it with her nails and teeth. Try that with a grizzly bear.

    Either way it is posed and artificial and designed to manipulate and polarize and commodify the affective response of a woman with a gun symbolizing a romanticized American freedom, exceptionalism and denial of responsibility which does not exist.

    This is about symbols and lifestyle nonsense. Don’t take the bait. “Indians” (!) did not have the technology for guns and so Palin attempts to conflate a romanticized view of Native Americans with her lifestyle choice in order to elicit an emotional reaction among self indulgent humans in thrall to their emotions. The symbols presented which are then in turn sold to hairy palmed and sweaty handed American who live in suburbs and dream of a life worth living. They are predominantly the same demographic as serial killers, white males with career frustration between 30-45.

    Will Kymlicka and Sue Donaldson recently wrote on native hunt ethics and it is enlightening.

  4. Karen Dawn says:

    I actually laughed before I shrugged it off. While I don’t agree with the sentiment, I appreciate the humor. I have been reading so much lately about what makes people tick, makes them vote the way they vote (currently reading “The Political Brain”) what makes people change. And each new book or bit of information further convinces me that the most counterproductive thing we can do if we hope to veganize the world is to set ourselves, as vegans, apart from the rest of humanity. We need to present our lifestyle as on the same continuum as that of the majority of people, who see themselves as basically compassionate, just at a different place on that continuum from their current (totally understandable) position on it. I think being able to laugh at jokes that everybody else finds funny is part of that picture. And I think vehemently and profanely expressing anger at the idea of hunting for one’s food just sets us miles apart, out of reach, and most importantly, makes us not the kind of folks that most people would want to reach and be like.

  5. Bob Wilton says:

    As a lifelong vegetarian/vegan I see Sarah Palin as becoming a caricature of herself to garner attention for whatever media job she takes to make a living. Not that I don’t take her influence seriously, but a highly profane public reaction by vegans only empowers and solidifies her base.
    People who maintain “compassion” is at the core of their philosophy especially animal rights and then intentionally demonstrate the opposite so publically greatly hurt their own cause. Who would ever believe we have compassion for animals let alone other people. Opponents to animal rights, veganism/vegetarianism have put this hypocrisy to good use. Sarah Palin isn’t our worst enemy, we are.

  6. Cameron says:

    These sorts of comments both intrigue and concern me.

    As a former hunter myself, once upon a time I was on the receiving end of similar comments. Whilst those making the comments are able to ‘feel good’ about themselves, because they ‘defended the faith’, or ‘stuck it to’ the hunters, etc. I wonder if they will shoulder some if not all of the blame if those individuals are turned off veganism due to their actions?

  7. Mountain says:

    I think it’s great that Sarah Palin can be both red meat to unthinking conservatives, and pap to unthinking vegans.

  8. Marla Rose says:

    Honestly, my first thought upon seeing this ad and that cliche of a tagline just now was the same one: “What a horrible human being.” I am not a fan of Ms. Palin for many reasons, some of which include her views about and treatment of other animals, but I would keep my comments about her from being misogynist, violent and vitriolic. I think Gary Smith did this with his succinct and honest reaction to this obvious attempt by the Sportsman Channel to build ratings by inflaming more culture wars. In regard to the over-the-top, barely comprehensible reactions to his post, that is the nature of the beast of social media, I am sorry to say, and I don’t know what can be done about that other than to delete the offensive comments.

    I think that we should be allowed to have our honest responses to what we observe in the world around us without pressure to appeal to every omnivore’s personal sensitivities because we will be unable to do that. It’s not possible: as I now know after being online all these years, someone is always offended by something. :) I think honesty, balance and being examples of real people finding our way as we live in this flawed world is the best we can offer sometimes, not trying to pretend that we are perfectly all right with everything we encounter. It is a dance, back and forth, of being honest about our truth and being understanding that not everyone is with us yet, but I don’t think hiding behind a facade of “everything is wonderful” serves anyone. Yes, though, keep the vitriol and misogyny out of it.

  9. Aquila89 says:

    Well, in that case, most people in the developed world are vegetarian since they never hunted anything in their life, and would surely do very poorly if they tried.

  10. Ingrid says:

    This is actually pretty mild content in the context of outdoor-and-hunting channel programming. There’s a reason they call those shows “horn porn. I agree that the negative attention is counter productive, especially since Sarah Palin’s hunting skills aren’t even admired within the ranks of many hunters. Her last television hunting extravaganza resulted in quite a bit of inside derision about her gun-safety ignorance and lack of aptitude. I think she’s pretty much a charade across board and could become a cultural figment were it not for the effective attention mongering. I sometimes wish I wasn’t so familiar with the atrocities committed under the auspices of hunting and trapping — and I know so many others share that feeling. But perhaps it’s that immersion which helps animal advocates respond in more measured ways, even as the heart and psyche cracks on the inside for the cruelty displayed.

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