On ‘preachy’ and ‘dogmatic’ vegans

When vegans try to talk to non-vegans about animal ethics, we are often dismissed as being preachy; we are asked not to impose “our” morality on others, as if morality is something personal that certain individuals can have a claim to. The more consistent we are about not participating in animal exploitation, and the more we speak out on the issue – no matter how politely – the more we are denigrated as being ‘absolutist’, ‘intolerant’, ‘vegangelical’, etc. We are lecture on the alleged need for moderation on the animal issue.

But why shouldn’t vegans discuss with non-vegans the latter group’s participation in something that may very well be wrong? Animal ethics, after all, is no different from any other fundamental aspect of morality – using non-humans as means to our ends is either right or wrong. It cannot be a matter of personal or cultural preference any more than basic issues involving humans. After all, no one thinks that human slavery, rape, child molestation, or spousal abuse are matters of personal opinion of preference. To treat the animal issue differently is simply speciesist.

The fact that humans have been exploiting non-humans for a long time – so very long, in fact, that we take it granted as being in the “natural” order of things – does not excuse our continuing to do it. Like scientific truth, our understanding of moral truth is constantly evolving. New evidence and considerations are brought to our attention, calling on us to re-evaluate our assumptions about ourselves and the world we live in. We now know, for instance, that humans can thrive on a plant-based diet, and we have developed acceptable alternatives to animal clothing and fabrics. So to continue to exploit animals is, at this point, to inflict needless violence on animals – something that any reasonable person will agree is undesirable. The onus is on those who participate in senseless violence to justify why they are doing it. We don’t ask non-rapists to explain why they’re abstaining from senseless violence; we shouldn’t ask it of vegans, either.

To frame the discussion in terms of vegans being ‘dogmatic’, ‘fundamentalist’, or ‘vegangelicals’ is to overlook the fact that, unlike religious dogma, veganism – and animal rights – can be defended on rational grounds. And if animal use is unjust, then it would be quite irresponsible for us not to speak out. Those who decry vegans “imposing our morals” on non-vegans rarely stop to think about how their own day-to-day actions impose extreme suffering and death on animals, and extreme degredation on the environment.

Given the pervasiveness of speciesism in our society, and the fact that most people have not had a chance to consider the need for veganism as minimal standard of decency, vegans should avoid judging non-vegans personally. But judging actions is not the same thing as judging people. The whole “please don’t judge me” way of looking at this is a thinly-veiled, narcissistic attempt to divert attention from what’s really at stake in the issue – massive violence being inflicted on vulnerable, non-human individuals who, like us, will never know or experience anything more precious than this life, here and now.

3 thoughts on “On ‘preachy’ and ‘dogmatic’ vegans

  1. It’s a hard thing to balance, maintaining one’s values about veganism and trying to keep the peace with friends/family/partners. I think at some point it boils down to accepting that your values are simply different from others’. I’m a very non-confrontational person by nature and I know that doesn’t help animals, but I also think that by living by example, and persuading others through curiosity, that maybe we can maintain that balance. I envy the brave vegans who do go out and tell non-vegans like it is with conviction.

    • I know what you mean. I’m kind of lucky, I guess, since people often come to me with questions. Otherwise, I try not too hit people over the head with it too, too much – but when/if it does come up, I try to be firm. For example, one time I went out with a friend for desserts at a place that had both vegan and non-vegan stuff. She couldn’t make up her mind about what to order, so she asked me, “If you weren’t a vegan, what would you get?” I tried to explain (politely) that I couldn’t answer that question because I thought animal use was wrong and I couldn’t condone it in any form.

      I agree that leading by example is the best form of activism, though.

  2. Christians who constantly push their opinions, which they feel is warranted because they want to save people’s souls from eternal damnation = Preachy
    Pro-Lifers who constantly push their opinions, which they feel is warranted because they want to save the lives of babies = Preachy
    Vegans who constantly push their opinions, which they feel is warranted because they want to protect animals = Preachy

    The opinions of vegans, however admirable, enjoy no innate exceptionalism (as seen in the concept of American Exceptionalism imagined by Sarah Palin and her ilk). Vegans of course should push their opinions at proper venues, but making comments to those eating meat (while eating!), or wearing a “I Love Hunting Accidents” tee-shirt, or doing a mini-rant on facebook about her husband’s immoral family members who were having cream cheese with their Sunday bagels (yup, that was the one directed at me) is preachy and obnoxious, plain and simple. Vegans of course have the right to do so, but they only manage to alienate those who hitherto were more neutral on the subject.

    Gain converts by virtuous example, selective political activism and by steady, level headed explanations when broached.

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