Sunday, May 15, 2011

Doing the Right Thing: No Pride, No Shame

From Low's music video for "Shame"

I'm rarely introspective about the fact that I'm a vegan. If you have been vegan for a while, you'll understand when I say that it becomes ‘second nature’. Kind of like breathing and blinking — it's automatic more often than not. Anyway, if I did ponder my veganism, my thoughts would go something like...

Of course I'm a vegan. It's the right thing to do. Even if I never do anything else about the exploitation of animals who aren't human, I'll always be vegan. I owe them at least that much.

What wouldn't cross my mind is that veganism makes me super awesome and worthy of praise or adoration. It doesn't. So I'm not prideful about being a vegan. It's not a source of pleasure in my life. Thankfully, I do have moments of happiness. You know: sunny spring days, spicy cauliflower curries, J Dilla instrumentals, and so on. But veganism, by itself, doesn't bring me joy or contentment.

The word pride has a few different meanings. In an effort to preempt confusion, I'll discuss some understandable uses of ‘pride’ that are related to veganism:

1) Being vegan generally involves violating some of society's norms and discarding some of its values. Simply put, veganism runs counter to expectations and beliefs we are taught from an early age. It's also true that most new vegans must adjust or abandon a few traditions shared with family, friends, and other groups. In light of these social realities, I can accept intermittent feelings of pride, which are mild and short-lived, during the first year or so following one's decision to become vegan.

2) It's possible, although quite unlikely, that deviating from society's expectations and beliefs concerning nonhuman animals could lead someone to face discrimination (perhaps in the form of bullying). In such scenarios, the term pride could be used as an expression of one's dignity and entitlement to respect.

3) The popular assumption is that a complete and tasty meal requires nonhumans' flesh and secretions. Many new vegans go through a process of discovering unfamiliar cuisines and expanding their cooking repertoire. It makes sense that some people will feel a touch of pride after creating a moist and delicious cake, or savory soup, with only plant-derived ingredients.

What I'm not comfortable with is anyone being perpetually prideful about their veganism. There are at least a couple reasons why. First, avoiding nonhuman exploitation is a basic component of a morally decent life. Second, veganism should primarily be about the injustice endured by nonhumans, not how it makes us feel or improves our lives.

Would I be similarly troubled if we were discussing human oppression? Certainly. Does it sound off to say, ‘I'm proud that I never rape and murder people’, or ‘I take pride in not using racist and homophobic slurs’? I think so. We don't exploit and discriminate against humans because it's wrong. We don't expect credit, and we aren't self-congratulatory. Why should our attitude toward nonhumans be any different?

When interacting with others, I hope to convey my confidence in the morality and importance of being vegan. But this isn't pride shinning through. It's a lack of shame about fulfilling my minimal obligation to nonhuman animals and a belief that others should do the same. In years past, I would endeavor to keep my ‘personal choice’ from others. Now it's clear to me that whether or not purple is my favorite color is personal. (But, in the spirit of being candid, I'll say that purple is one of the best colors!) Participating in the slavery and death inflicted on billions of sentient beings is anything but personal. Rejecting such an odious system is nothing we should be embarrassed about or reluctant to share.

We must abolish nonhuman exploitation. Embrace your responsibility — become a vegan.