Sunday, April 27, 2008

Preemptive Redemption

Confessions of a reverse-speiciesist

Elementally, undeniably, part of my personality conforms to the stereotype of the angry vegan who harbors a darkly cynical judgment of humanity as a class of beings who continually inflict a generally genocidal assault on our fellow planetarians. I always assume that anyone who carries the traumatic awareness of all the blood we humans spill, all the carnage and corpses we sweep aside in our pursuit of “progress,” also feels some form of this soul-penetrating outrage and shares my sense of encroaching doom. And, when writhing most bitterly in the throes of obsessive despair, it's typically not difficult to find a few friends of like mind who will readily agree that, yes, human beings do indeed suck – and hard.

But I must clarify that not all vegans have the same negative assessment of our species, and also that I recognize how unhealthy, futile, and counterproductive human-hating ultimately is. I am glad to say that I have met numerous animal rights advocates who temper their steely vision with a positive attitude of acceptance, and resolve to work for a more peaceful, compassionate world. It is their example of fortitude and effectiveness that makes me think I need to process my anger differently in order to change myself, and that only through such a spiritual transformation can I truly reach out to those who need to understand – and come to terms with my own existence as a member of the human species.

It's not like I don't already try, and readily admit to struggling every day to mediate between the warring factions of my psyche. I do sometimes experience brief moments or minutes of clarity when I feel an internal détente has been reached – an integrated state of calmly excited semi-transcendental awareness when distorted distinctions disappear and I can see myself and the world from a more balanced universal perspective. But such respite is temporary, for inevitably, the fierce drama and debate within reassert themselves anew, and I find myself once again a conscripted contortionist uncomfortably twisting in the gymnastics of confusion.

These days, I rarely raise the issue of humanity's inhumanity in polite society (i.e., among non-vegans). I've been told more than once in different ways that “humans are more important than animals, so people come first” – as though mechanically massacring animals were intrinsic to our species' survival. What most people don't seem to see is that human and animal suffering are directly interrelated (especially under modern industrialization), and that working for one liberation cause means you are also supporting other related causes.

Yet I remain silent because the chasm between our paradigms is just too wide to bridge, and to tell the truth, I've been too often disappointed by people who continue to place their pleasure and convenience ahead of animals' lives. When I first started writing about animal rights issues, I naively assumed that people would read my carefully-worded, impeccably-constructed arguments and have some sort of cosmic life-altering revelation (like I did upon reading John Robbins). In the intervening years, that has proved (very clearly) not to be the case, so I have come to sort of accept and expect that most others (even friends and family) will probably never take my writing seriously enough to end their participation in the slaughter – no matter how much or how well I write.

Part of my disillusionment as a vegan, activist, and writer is the apparently intractable way people think about their lives. This can often translate into anger with humanity in general for failing to make more compassionate and less harmful choices. I am reluctant to let that anger show much anymore because that only fosters resentment, while making it harder to have a positive effect on others. So I try to channel the energy of righteous fury into my work, but I also internalize a lot of guilt, turning the anger upon myself for supposedly not doing enough and engaging in self-destructive habits.

Reality can be painful to bear, and though my imagination encompasses a great deal of the inescapable horror that billions of beings must endure, I do not fully grasp the scale and extent of worldwide suffering. Unlike many, I have a high tolerance for images of violence – I can watch disturbing animal rights videos and still go on with my day – but I also want to turn away sometimes, and escape from the agony of empathy into mundane pursuits and daydreams. Yet I realize that hellish reality is always happening somewhere, every moment, and that even though my life is pretty comfy, I cannot really rest easy when there is so much bloodletting.

It is events of the current presidential race that made me want to write about preemptive redemption. With the candidates (especially Obama) facing criticism and controversy for their past associations and their characters, I feel a need to clarify where I stand vis-à-vis my human allegiance. There is also a parallel between this charge and that which is often leveled against “liberals” during the Bush Era: that we hate America merely because we disagree with the direction our leaders have taken us. That is, just as I fear and loathe liars like Bush but still love my country, rejecting humanity’s enslavement of animals does not mean I hate humans – in fact, I want us to better ourselves by respecting ourselves and other species.

And to call myself a “reverse-speciesist” implies that I put animals' interests ahead of humans', but that is something of a self-misrepresentation, as our interests are closely interdependent and for the most part mutually reconcilable. It would be more accurate to call myself an anti-speciesist, because I believe in fundamental rights for all animals – and because humans are actually animals (made, incidentally, of meat), it would be speciesist to condemn us on the basis of our species. Ideally, I strive to accord the same basic level of respect to human beings that I give so readily to non-human animal beings.

Despising humanity's murderous behavior is completely different from despising humanity – much like hating the sin, not the sinner. I abhor and condemn the mass-exploitation of animals and people that takes place constantly in our world, and will continue to write against the system that anthropocentrically markets atrocity. Those of you who interact with me personally may be relieved to know that, as I engage in this ongoing effort, I intend to find more potent ways of effecting change than incessantly complaining about how much humans suck.