Wednesday, 27 July 2011

You might as well live*

I'm all for diversity in how we approach animal rights/vegan advocacy - to a great extent each person or group of people can be most effective doing what works for them. It isn't a one size fits all thing. Also, I can accept that it isn't all bunny-hugging and flowers and unicorns farting rainbows and crapping candyfloss** - if you let yourself dwell on the animal cruelty angle, even to the extent of motivating yourself to act or informing yourself so you can inform others, it can get downright depressing, and dealing with certain people's reactions can be demoralising and make you wonder whether you will EVER get anywhere. Trust me, I've been there, I'm not glossing over that. I feel that these are necessary disclaimers, because the other day, via a question on my Formspring,*** I came across an approach that in my view takes that latter point too far and is beyond what I can remotely get behind. The basic premise was that veganism isn't a zero-harm lifestyle, nothing is in fact, and that animal rights will never be accepted by most of the population - and hence, the best thing animal rights advocates can do is commit suicide.

That's right, commit suicide in the name of human extinction, as this is the only viable way to help animals. Now, human extinction isn't a new concept - but for the most part it's limited to not creating more humans. Controversial, sure, but at the end of the day breeding or not breeding is not such a drastic decision as deciding to no longer live.

Now, I suspect there may be other issues at play here. Certainly I have known of animal rights activists who have committed suicide, for reasons related to the ones listed above. But they weren't killing themselves 'for the animals'. Being depressed at the state of the world in general and people's treatment of animals in particular, to the point of wanting to leave the world, is not the same as dying for the animals, and I'd suspect the friends of the people concerned would realise that. I'm not going to criticise those people. At the end of the day, taking your own life is a personal decision - certainly it can have negative effects on those around you, but at the end of the day it is your business. Advocating suicide TO OTHERS as the ONLY way to help animals, however - that, I feel I can have an opinion on. And that opinion, quite frankly, is that it sucks. Pushing these ideas to a movement with a high proportion of young people (including teenagers going through the normal adolescent crap and often having to defend veganism to hostile family members and friends) and fragile people is quite frankly irresponsible. To get a bit personal for a minute, if I'd seen the website in question at 17 Veganicity might not have come to exist because I'd have been dead for a decade and not doing a whole lot for animals in that time.

And that's another thing. How does removing the animal rights advocates from the world make said world better for animals? I will admit that the vegan lifestyle isn't zero-harm, because such a thing is pretty much impossible. All you can do is minimise the harm you do. Even if we're being strictly instrumentalist, isn't it better to hang on and promote animal rights than to leave? Then there's the question of whether we should be instrumentalist about our lives - I'd argue not. If someone genuinely believes that the lives of their own species, including or especially those members who are actively trying to improve things, have no value whatsoever - there is a lot going on there and none of it pleasant.

Also, having this sort of thing around as anything other than really obvious satire does absolutely nothing for the public's perception of veganism and animal rights. Seriously - 'changing your lifestyle and promoting change to others is pointless so DIE!!!' - such a great message to send out. I can see how that would convince people to do, well, anything other than just keep on eating meat and dairy, using animal tested products, etcetera ad nauseum, because cutting these things out will have no effect. Can you read the sarcasm in that sentence? And it promotes the idea that veganism is either a sign or a cause of being unbalanced - there's enough of that anyway without animal rights advocates joining in.

I would like to believe the website I saw was satire, but unfortunately I have encountered a few people in real life promoting that sort of attitude - and was lucky not to get too far caught up in it. All I can say is, if you are having suicidal thoughts and someone tells you you should go through with it because that will do more good for animals/the environment/other people than staying alive - please get as far away from that person as soon as possible.

Fluffy-bunny posting will be resumed shortly...

*Dorothy Parker
**Probably just as well given the subsequent dilemma about whether vegans can eat the candyfloss a unicorn happily deposited on the living room floor
***Currently underused, feel free to change that

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