Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"You're so brave!"

Today, boys and girls, we will examine something that is both well-intentioned misconception and carefully crafted excuse, the “You’re so brave for being vegan!” So often do I tell someone I am vegan only to hear people ooze with amazement at my stores of courage, bravery, and strength. After all, to someone who has never had to wrap their brains around the idea of giving up convenience for ethical principles, it would seem like a lot, and it seems like it would be a nice thing to say to a vegan friend. It hardly needs to be said that veganism is a big change from the normal omnivorous lifestyle (at first, but that’s another post). But really, it’s not hard. I don’t wake up in the morning biting my lip, getting ready for another difficult day of ethical challenges, glad I was blessed with the heart of a lion.

Are you strong for not enslaving another human being even though it would be easier for you to have someone else do all your work?

Does it take courage and grit for you to not throw around gender epithets (e.g. slut, skank) with abandon even though other people around you may do so?

Is the bravest thing you do all day refrain from narrowing your eyes at a homeless person because it’s their fault for being lazy and stupid?

No, no, and no. You just wake up and do those things because it’s second nature to you. Veganism is no different. I wake up and live my life in line with my ethics, square against the things I think are wrong and cruel and shameful, celebrating the things I think are good and true and beneficial for the world. That's all I do. That's what veganism (and other things, like feminism) means to me, and it's not hard at all. To an omnivore it may seem as ridiculous or unnecessary as not wearing the color purple for ethical reasons, but for vegans it’s something that goes far beyond simply not eating x, y, or z. It’s believing that all creatures – animals, humans, men, women, the poor, the rich, all who share this earth – deserve, at the very least, to belong to themselves and no other, to be in control of their lives and happiness. No matter who you are or what you eat or care about, it takes far greater strength and effort to silence one’s conscience than it ever would to live it.

So in other ways the “You’re so brave” is just an excuse, a justification, however subconscious, for inaction. After all, if being vegan takes extraordinary courage, then it’s automatically beyond the call for “normal” people. If it’s something only the truly strong can hack, then no one should feel bad for not being able to handle it, right? In the post of mine in another blog on which this one based, Gary Francione summed nicely, “As we know, however, a better way to avoid cognitive dissonance - in this scenario, at least - is to not engage in the morally troubling activities that cause the dissonance.” Wait, you mean, not do things that are ethically wrong? Crazy talk…

And to round out the overall tone of this post, here is Gus the bulldog having a snack. I love you, internets!

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