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You’re not like those other vegans!

March 10, 2017

I have thus far managed to escape the dubious compliment of “You’re not like the other vegans.” 

It’s probably the most back-handed compliment there is.

What the meat-eater means is:

“I like the fact that you don’t challenge me and just let me keep doing what I’m doing.”

There could be no greater knife to twist in the ribs of such a vegan. All that means is that they have been too cowed to make a stand, and have consequently allowed immoral behaviour to pass unchallenged.

When vegans say they “accept” other people’s decision to eat meat, they are merely carnist bargaining. I corrupt this from the term “patriarchal bargaining”, which in feminism means that a woman accepts toxic, masculine views about women and repeats or laughs along with them, the better that she can get on in a man’s world.

She is happy to be the exception to the rule of understandable chagrin, because it gives her the highest social position within her gender, in gendered contexts. She’s not an uptight party pooping feminazi drag who takes simple jokes too seriously – she’s the woman equivalent of a man’s man. This is easy to get on with, for people who don’t like to examine their own behaviour.

Carnist bargaining, then, is when vegetarian’s and vegans allow themselves to be made fun of or even make fun of themselves, making themselves unthreatening and unchallenging to meat-eaters. The idea is the same; do it so you can get on better in this world, since inevitably, you have to rub shoulders with meat eaters sooner or later.

But actually, it just sets a bad precedent. By making it seem OK for people to “banter” with you, saying your food is shit or you’re such a hippy, you’re telling them that you aren’t going to give them a hard time for the things they do wrong.

And frankly, at best, you’re not being honest with your friends about the strength of your moral and political opinions. Sooner or later that may get in the way, and you may drift apart without them being sure why it happened. Given the choice, they might prefer you bite their head off, once in a while.

We may not be able to make all our friends and families vegan, but we shouldn’t hide from the fact that we want them to be. We want them not be thieves and heroin dealers. This is no different. If your moral sense says it’s wrong, of course you don’t want your friends to do it, much less joke about it as if it’s supremely unimportant, which they will, because friends are irreverent that way.

It’s difficult to be firm with people about this. I usually go for mute, smiling politely and not engaging, not wanting to look stony faced in case I add to that stereotype of being the vegan with the stick up their arse.

Another kind of carnist bargaining; we’re letting meat-eaters define us in their terms, then trying to live up to their standards, when actually if we’re so sure right, we should be unapologetic about our fierceness, and wave our arse-sticks around in broad daylight.

Even the best of us are occasionally weak and shallow, and want to be liked by people – people whom we are not even sure we especially like back, because deep down we consider their behaviour immoral, whatever we may say (or not say) to their face. There will always be this kind of hypocritical idiosyncrasy.

There are ways around this balancing act between integrity and alienating all your friends. I once said to my ex, without thinking about it, “Your choice is your morality.” We were buying food, and she had said: “Would you be offended if I bought cheese?” The honest answer was yes. Not wanting behave like law enforcement, I had simply pointed out (I hope not unkindly) that, whatever she decides is ultimately her responsibility.

It was only a short step away from me taking no responsibility at all by simply saying it was her choice, but it was a significant step. By simply saying it’s up to her, she could have inferred incorrectly that I didn’t care what she did, and therefore it didn’t matter what she did.

Instead, I had reminded her that what I think doesn’t matter, it’s whether she can accept the consequences of her actions, knowing full well what those consequences are. Being a vegetarian, she was switched on enough to get know the issues, and my reminder that her choice was her responsibility didn’t go down too well.

I’d dropped the M bomb. “Morality” is a weighty word, and dropping it into a sentence makes it impossible to pretend that an action is only a problem when it elicits the petty human emotion of being “offended”. Morality is higher than that, more objective. You’re reminding people that there’s something outside of yourself at stake.

We can find that middle ground between heavy-handed moralising and appearing lackadaisical about our own moral stance, by gently reminding people that their choice has a consequence, completely divorced from what we mere vegans think.

We should try not to give our friends such an easy ride. Those are not our backs they’re standing on; those are the back of animals.

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From → Animal Rights

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