August 13, 2007
The struggle to make vegetarianism the new normal
In my wildest dreams I would have never imagined the kind of negative response I got to my vegetarian rant. My attempt to stir debate was set aflame on account of my tone, which as Martin Striz correctly noted, "psychologically primed [my] readers for a certain kind of response by framing the discourse in a disparaging tone to begin with."
Clearly, I misjudged the severity of this 'disparaging tone,' while my efforts to infuse humour and levity into the piece clearly failed; I obviously need to work on that.
But one thing I certainly learned from this exercise is that people are hypersensitive to rather forceful attacks on their dietary habits and their choice to eat meat. I clearly hit a soft-spot in a way that enraged a number of my readers. I even lost a number of regulars -- a consequence I find most fascinating. While I'm sure that many of these individuals were upset at my attitude and my over-the-top effort to proselytize, I have to think that the subject matter had a lot to do with it as well.
As I learned from writing this article, one cannot yet stand on a soapbox and make the declaration that eating meat is wrong without the fear of severe reprisal (particularly in the way that I did!). This exercise was a very clear reminder to me that vegetarianism is still very fringe, as is the broader effort to advocate for animal rights.
In other words, the debate hasn't yet been normalized in our society. Arguing for an end to livestock today would be tantamount to arguing for same-sex marriage in the 19th Century.
Now, I've pissed off my share of readers over the years. I'm a polemicist and I wear that label like a badge. I'm used to all the negative feedback and ad hominem attacks. In fact, I consider a polemical article a failure if I get very little response; it means I didn't say anything of import, I didn't push any buttons.
But this last article, jeez did I ever hit a nerve.
And over what?
It wasn't like I was saying we should abandon democracy or throw away the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I wasn't suggesting that we bomb Iraq or that we should be forced to wear clown suits from now on.
Nope, it was about meat.
I told my readers in very blunt terms that the practice of eating meat is unethical and that they should consider converting to a vegetarian diet. That message earned me the most abuse of any post I have ever written about anything.
Yes, I used a big stick approach, but that was very deliberate. It was an effort to get attention.
One commenter suggested that I should have written a very polite article in which I carefully made my points. Sure, I could have done that -- but no one would have read it. Instead, with my sensationalistic approach I brought thousands of people to the article.
Did I change any minds? Well, maybe -- I know that at least one couple has converted to vegetarianism on account of my article. But my intention to change minds was indirect; what I really wanted to do was pass on the message that eating meat is very uncool -- and I think that accounts for a lot of the anger.
The in-your-face nature of the post was intended to upset and cajole. I wanted meat eaters to know what I think of their habits. I wanted them to know that there are people in our society who look at their eating choices with disgust and disdain. This is a very serious issue -- about as serious as it gets because we are talking about the welfare of living, breathing creatures (not to mention the environment).
Another reason for all the negative feedback is that a significant portion of my readership could care less about animal rights. They visit my site to read about transhumanism, science, futuristic technologies, the search for extraterrestrial life, and so on. The sudden shift to animal welfare and vegetarianism must have certainly seemed like a huge disconnect and a real turn-off.
But there is good reason for this; much of my transhumanist methodology is derived from non-anthropocentric personhood ethics. At its very core transhumanism is about the acknowledgment of worthwhile and morally valuable personhood space outside of Homo sapiens -- whether it be the personhood of advanced humans or more 'primitive' non-human animals.
Consequently, this ties directly into my futurist activism; I want to help create a future in which animals do not have to suffer to the degree that they do today. Sure, technology can and will help to make that happen, but today we have to use common sense food choices.
Now, in regards to the accusation that I'm a 'bigot' or intolerant of meat eaters, that's an interesting point. Bigotry, I suppose, is relative. Let's imagine for a moment that I had written an article titled 'Racists are bad people,' or 'Homophobes are bad people.' Do you think I would have received the same kind of negative response? Hardly. Aside from a few anachronistic and unenlightened perspectives I'd get a slew of comments saying, 'right on, brother.'
But the fact that I didn't get these sorts of supportive comments, aside from a small minority, indicates to me that our transition to a mostly meat-free society is a process still in its infancy.
And yes, this is not just my vision for the future, it's also an imperative and a prediction.
The ultimate goal is an end to livestock and to make vegetarianism the new normal (eventually we'll have lab grown meat at our disposal, but until then vegetarianism is a good short-term fix). How do we achieve this goal? Well, we can continue to pussy-foot around the issues and act like everything is okay, or we can raise a stink much like I did. I don't tolerate racism, homophobia, religious prejudice and sexual discrimination, nor do I tolerate speciesist meat-eating culture.
Yes, I realize that this perspective will turn off many of my readers, but for that I make no apologies.
And I don't believe I'm out of line with these sorts of comparisons. I assign high-moral worth to non-human animals. They are not our property to do with as we please. This is a crucial social issue as millions upon millions of animals suffer needlessly every year.
In closing, to those of you were offended by my rude and belligerent tone, please accept my apologies. For those readers who were angered by my message itself, please ask yourself what it is you're getting so upset about and contrast that with what I'm so upset about.
I would like to see less animal suffering, improvements to human health and a reduction in environmental degradation.
You want to eat meat.
Does this not seem disproportionate to you?