“If a Human non-vegan knows of the suffering that occurs in respect to Animal Agriculture and chooses to keep eating/using meat/animal products, then they are a bad person and they don’t deserve to live, to further prevent the suffering of non-Human animals.”
– An unnamed radical activist
I have heard this phrase uttered amongst my fellow Vegan activists, and I have not felt confident enough to speak up against it, for I find it not only damaging to our cause but also possessing a lack of understanding of anything other than the Vegan movement. I have not felt confident enough to speak up against this because I felt that I would be excommunicated by the group, and this lack of internal pushback has meant that this damaging idea has gone unchecked, and this is a problem. If there are none who challenge the status quo within the group, then the conditions are perfect for an echo chamber to emerge. This is particularly dangerous because it leads the group to believe that all that they think, say and do is correct, right and just. Let me make this clear, condemning others to death because they do not share your ideology is wrong, at least in the context of my morality of compassion, and in the context of the Australian penal system; a system that does not support capital punishment…not even for serial killers.
We cannot derive a moral code from objective and universally shared facts about the Universe, unlike how we can derive mathematics and physics. There is nothing that is intrinsic to the natural world that tells us that one thing is better or worse than another. If anything, the Universe would tell us that destruction, death, domination and mayhem were the acceptable states of being; I am lead to the conclusion from observing what occurs in ‘nature’. In light of this, it is obvious that an objective moral code does not exist, for there are no objective truths of the Universe on which to base this objective moral code. If there is no objective moral code, how do we derive our sense of what is right and wrong? Is this right and wrong based on the opinion of the majority? Is it based on the opinion of the individual? I don’t know the answer, but regardless, we can deduce from this analysis that objective morality cannot exist so therefore any morality imposed, or self-imposed is purely subjective. This is called subjective morality.
Killing somebody for killing someone else makes you equally bad, as an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind; Killing a Human being for killing another being, an act that goes against your subjective morality is absolutism. Think of all the dictatorships that have existed, whereby if you went against their absolute ideology you would be condemned to death; modern-day Saudi Arabia is a prime example. To condemn others to death for believing in a different subjective morality is no different than the Catholic church past killing heretics, no different to Saudi Arabia beheading those who go against the state’s ideology, and no different to Islamic Extremists who murder, rape and torture anybody who goes against their ideology. What makes you so sure that you are correct, oh self-righteous one?
Why does your ideology allow you to condemn people of another ideology to death?
Vegans, including myself, would state that our ideology is correct, right and just as we believe in reducing unnecessary suffering for all beings, Human and non-Human alike. However, this belief that unnecessary suffering is inherently bad, is nothing but a belief. Why? It is a belief because all morality is subjective, and there is nothing in the objective world that we can look to and determine a moral code. Previously, before the decay of religion from the mainstream, our moral code was determined by the bible. However, as religion is no longer the dominant force in the Western world, what objective thing do we derive our morals from? How can we universally agree on what is moral and what is immoral if there is no objective thing that is true for all peoples to agree on? It is for this reason that our ideology, our morality is inherently subjective. If all moralities are subjective, then our beliefs are just that…beliefs. Who are we to say our subjective view on what is moral and immoral is the right?
As Vegans, we believe in our subjective morality strongly because when we see a Human or non-Human animal suffering unnecessarily, we feel empathy and compassion and we want to help. However, this does not make our subjective morality better than any other subjective morality, for our subjective morality is not based on objective truths of the Universe, but rather our subjective view and experience on what we perceive to be correct, right and just. If we cannot measure subjective moralities because we do not have an objective reference point (objective morality) to which we can compare our ideology to, therefore it is impossible to determine which ideology is more moral. If a rank order of moralities cannot be determined then it stands to reason that it is an act of absolutism to condemn participants of another ideology to death on the grounds that the acts they commit are immoral. Who are we to judge?
How do radical attitudes come to emerge within an ideologically motivated group?
Like attracts like. Those who share the same views, ideas or lifestyles coagulate. When people group, their shared ideology becomes the defining characteristic of the group. This ideology becomes the identity of many within the group; this strong identification with an ideology results in an intertwining between the sense of self and ideology. The amalgamation between self and ideology creates the conditions in which members feel that they are unable to speak up against dominant ideas, attitudes and behaviours within the group; contrary ideas, to go against the grain…is heresy. Any contrary ideas challenge the ideology and thus directly putting the identity of those who hold these ideas to be gospel into question. We require a solid sense of self, and to question your identity means to question the foundations in which your sense of self is built upon. To question is to journey into one’s own psyche, and it is common for people to avoid such behaviour as to engage in it is to produce a sincere feeling of discomfort; being forced to face the dragons that guard your psyche is frightening enough to make the legs of any adventurer quiver.
Humans require a sense of safety, and this is often provided through a mechanism called predictability. Predictability is knowing your foot will land on the solid ground each time you take a step. Predictability is knowing that you have enough savings to survive an unexpected financial situation. Predictability is requiring a structured daily routine, thus reducing the number of decisions required to be made. We would rather know that a bad thing is going to happen for certain, rather than dealing with the unpredictability of whether a bad thing will or will not occur. For example, would you rather know that you would be attacked in 3 months, or not know whether you would or would not be attacked at some point within the next 3 months? To question your sense of self, the foundations on which your identity is built produces unpredictability, for you do not understand who you are, and thus how you must act within the world.
When we know who we are, we know where we fit in society, what our role is and what we should do in relation to that role. This desire for predictability results in a self-categorisation; self-defining in relation to what who we believe that we are. To question who we believe we are is to question our place and role in society, and what we should in relation to this self, culturally and socially imposed role. To question the ideology is to question the identity of all of those whose identities have become indistinguishable from ideology; an attack on the ideas they align with is an attack on them. This perceived threat would explain why those who identify with ideas strongly will do anything to justify their behaviour, defend their ideas or to deny aspects of themselves that contradict how they see themselves. To put our identity into question is to produce a feeling of unpredictability.
We are afraid to question dominant thoughts, attitudes and behaviours within an ideologically motivated group because we understand that this criticism is likely to be met with backlash; a criticism such as this article. This backlash is often a result of those whose identities have become so intertwined with the ideology, that when an aspect of their ideology is criticised or attacked, it is interpreted by them as a personal criticism or attack. This backlash decreases the likelihood that members from within the group will speak up against wrong, damaging or malevolent thought that circulates within the group. However, this is something that needs to change, specifically within the Vegan activist community.
It starts with you. Speak up. Say something.
You can prevent this echo chamber by playing devil’s advocate when discussing ideas. You can speak up when you disagree; you can speak up when a holier-than-thou attitude surfaces within a conversation. You can enact change through internal resistance. Malevolent attitudes of moral superiority only damage the Vegan movement and make it more likely that non-Vegans will possess a negative attitude toward us, thus decreasing the likelihood that they will take Veganism seriously. Be the change you wish to see in the group, speak up, do something, disagree. To remain silent in the face of dogmatism and ideological possession is but a dagger in the side of the Vegan movement. Speak up against dogmatic behaviour, stand up against a lack of compassion and most importantly, stand for truth, for the truth will always prevail.