Am I an abolitionist? ‘Numbness’ Vs ‘Enlightenment’

I’ve been wondering recently about the debate between the abolitionist approach and the animal welfare approaches to improving the plight of animals; do I believe that morally the issue is about the way animals are treated in farms before they are slaughtered or am I opposed to ANY form use and ownership of animals by humans? I think that this essay I wrote a few weeks ago to summarise my transition to veganism answers the question;

“One of the questions asked during a recent ‘Our Hen House’ podcast

(http://www.ourhenhouse.org/2014/08/episode-239-often-it-does-seem-a-pity-that-noah-and-his-party-didnt-miss-the-boat-heaven-is-by-favor-if-it-were-by-merit-your-dog-would-go-to-heaven-and-you-would-stay-out/)  

had a profound effect on me. The question was about why people who clearly do really care about animals do not take the obvious step of becoming vegan.

This is a question I have been struggling with for a few months (most of this year in fact), principally because it applies so much to myself.

Recently I have been feeling pretty ashamed of myself but at the same time relieved to finally accept where I belong morally. To explain this mix of emotions I need to go into my story a little bit so please indulge me for a moment (hopefully others can identify..)

22 years ago (when I was 12 years old) I read some literature about the horrors of the meat industry. I quickly made the decision to become vegetarian. My mum was worried about the nutritional side of taking such a radical move but she really got into researching it and was very supportive – thanks mum!

However, apart from my mum I was completely alone with my decision and, apparently, my beliefs. I did not know of anyone who was vegetarian so I had nobody to mentor me and I found whenever I shared with other people about the horrifying things I had discovered about the treatment of animals it fell on deaf ears. Over time I developed a strong sense that what I was doing was quite strange and ultimately pointless since it was clear nobody else would ever choose to stop eating meat. As a result I stopped preaching my beliefs and pulled away from the animal rights movement that I had only just been introduced to. I avoided learning in more detail about what goes on in farms and what is happening to try to act against the practices.

When I look back now I can see that over the years I have deliberately avoided educating myself further about the treatment of animals and I managed to develop a lot of denial, telling myself that it can’t really be THAT bad – things must have improved. I adjusted the story I told people about why I was vegetarian so that I didn’t seem so weird, “I don’t object on principle to killing and eating animals – it is the life they are subjected to before they are killed that is unacceptable to me.”

Ever since becoming vegetarian I always assumed I would eventually turn vegan, since the cruelty in dairy farming and egg farming is as bad as the meat industry. However, this move to veganism didn’t happen. I can see now that I felt so isolated and demoralised by the whole thing that I couldn’t face even finding out what happens in dairy/egg industries – what is the point of upsetting myself further when it is clear that nobody seems to mind apart from me?

This denial was probably necessary to protect myself from becoming completely lost in despair. However, I lost something important about myself and have been searching for it ever since. I should have joined in with the animal rights/vegan communities so I could feel supported and that my values were not totally weird – but I was way too shy to get involved in any sort of organised group.

Anyway, I finally met a real life vegan when I was 22 years old! She worked at the same place as me and I had for the first time in my life someone to speak to who actually believed in animals’ rights. This was a great motivation for me and it halted my slow relaxation of my values that was leading to me to start eating meat again (I was still vegetarian but was considering going back to eating meat). I renewed my resolve to not eat meat and within a couple of years I became vegan.

Again I was back where I was when I was 12 – taking a decision that nobody seemed to understand (I no longer worked with the other vegan I had met!) and I was half convinced that the only reason I had chosen to take the step was to be different! After all, being vegetarian was really easy at this time with all the labels on food and menus and stuff so to be different from most people I would have to be more extreme.

I still didn’t educate myself enough to remove the denial I had built up about farming and again I was totally isolated with my decision and the reasons for making it seemed a bit odd, really. I was vegan for about two years before I ‘relaxed’ my strict vegan lifestyle to one where I was no longer 100% vegan but a vegetarian who aspires to be vegan (or some such crap.)

So for the last few years I have been somewhere between vegetarian and vegan. It was painful to be stuck between two ideologies and not knowing who I was.

Eventually though, I had to realise that this was not being true to my beliefs and at the start of this year I finally broke through the denial and opened my eyes to the suffering going on behind closed doors. I was reading a website about what is wrong with the egg industry. My guard must have been down because everything that was written on that page I already knew on an intellectual level but for some reason this time the horrors of it hit me emotionally – HARD! For a long time I have been in a sort of state of numbness so that I am protected from unpleasant emotions but this website broke through all that.

I think it had something to do with the videos on the site showing all the male chicks being disposed of. I had already READ about this practice but the video really made it become real – and I could no longer tell myself that its probably not THAT bad anymore really.

Over the next few weeks I researched more – finding out quickly that I have to be very careful what I choose to read or watch. I was no longer numb and all these new emotions were difficult to cope with and I became totally overwhelmed very easily. This was a real danger – I had to allow myself to slowly accept that it is true what is happening and not get lost in helpless depression about it.

I read the home page of the Evolve! campaign website and I realised Immediately that I have ALWAYS believed that animals are NOT here for us to use as we see fit – they exist and morally they have the right to thrive without serving our needs for food, entertainment, research etc. The philosophy was a long way from my own explanation that I had by now convinced myself I believed in – it had become so diluted so that I could sound less ‘weird’ to other people. But I felt like a fool – by denying that I believe in this ‘radical’ philosophy I have been hurting myself for years.

 Since that point I have been finding myself more and more motivated by the online vegan community. I no longer feel isolated and different to everybody. I am committed to the cause and everything is so different now. Like, in the past I have been embarrassed to ask staff in shops and restaurants about the vegan options. I was embarrassed to use the word ‘vegan.’ However, now I feel that I am connected to the community I can say it proudly, aware of what it means beyond the choices for diet.

This has been a revelation for me and I can now see a future where my life has meaning and I am working for a cause I am passionate about. Of course, I’m not exactly full of joy – my enlightenment has meant having to try to accept the unbelievable suffering that is going on right now by millions of sentient beings. However, I would take how I feel now over the self-imposed numbness I have had for years.

So this year has been a formative one for me; I have been getting closer and closer to my true self. The other day I was listening to the Hen House podcast I mentioned earlier while washing up and I felt a sort of epiphany. I felt more strongly than ever that veganism was my path. For years I have been searching for meaning and a direction in life, philosophically, and finally I found the obvious truth that I want to be, and have always wanted to be, involved in animal rights.

I am eager to get started in some sort of activism. I don’t want to rush into something but I also feel that I have a lot of years of being absent from activism to make up for since first becoming aware of animal rights.”

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