Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The source of hostility toward veganism

Every vegan has encountered ridicule and hostility. Even when there's no preaching or attempts to convert, the very existence of veganism is enough to set many people off. What's the source of this hostility?

One easy surface explanation: The vegan is always at least implicitly condemning the omnivore by rejecting the consumption of animal products as immoral. When we reject animal products offered to us at someone's home, ungraciousness doubles our sin. But think of other actions people take in support of their ethical beliefs, e.g. volunteering at a homeless shelter. This too could be seen as an implicit judgment of those who don't volunteer. But nobody ever ridicules someone else for volunteering at a homeless shelter. They praise and admire the volunteer, sometimes they're even inspired to volunteer themselves. Other than veganism, it's hard to think of any behavior undertaken to reduce the suffering of others that results in hostility to the person engaged in the behavior.

Maybe it's just that people attach so little value to the lives of non-human animals. But, given the choice, most people would prefer that their meat didn't require the death of an animal. They therefore acknowledge that the reduction of suffering and pain is morally desirable. But still they ridicule vegans for acting on this belief.

Maybe non-vegans simply see vegans as overly earnest in the pursuit of an objective that doesn't merit it. They think this kind of moral obstinancy should be reserved for more appropriately serious causes the rest of the world deeems worthwhile. They object to what they see as the disproportionate intensity of our purpose. We refuse to consume animal products. Very few of us "slip" and eat meat. Anyone who does slip from time to time would not be considered a vegan. I think maybe this is what people can't stand. They see the ideals of veganism as unworthy of the moral rigidity of its adherents.

Either that, or they're all just a bunch of self-centered punks who will gladly inflict torture and pain if they get a nice tasty meal out of it.