Published on
April 4, 2014

On Emotional Authenticity, Reprise

(by Kelly)

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the importance of our emotions in our advocacy for the silenced. It seems to be a hard point to drive home -- and I admit difficulty internalizing it fully myself -- so I'm going to offer a few more words on the matter.

You're not an activist because you think it's the right thing to do. You're an activist because you feel it's the right thing to do.

I don't care how rational you are or how intelligent you are, you don't speak up for the oppressed because you have assessed through processes of logical reasoning that it is what you should do, you speak up for them because you feel compelled to.

Yeah sure, there really aren't any arguments against animal rights and liberation that can hold their footing, but when it comes to effecting change in other human minds, how flawless and without-counter an argument is is actually pretty irrelevant. Our arguments are ultimately just tools, and it's our emotions that wield those tools.

(Secondary-traumatic-stress trigger warning for the following three paragraphs... but that's the point.)

When you think of a human inside a filthy concentration camp, grabbing a newborn piglet up off the floor, and taking a knife to his body and ripping out his testicles -- when you hear that infant screaming, when you see his body writhing, do you feel nothing? Do you think detachedly, "this is an injustice for x and y reasons, and I should advocate for an end to it for z reasons"? Of course not. You feel his suffering, and you feel a compulsion to help him. You feel the injustice.

When you hear him cry for help, when you watch him struggle to break free, time slows, and in your empathetic engagement with his suffering you feel your heart racing, and your hands impulsively fly to your ears, and your eyes cloud up with water, and your breath gets shallower and shorter, and your muscles tense, and you feel a shiver up your spine, and your blood begins to boil, and you can't even think because your whole body is locked in a desperate loop of empathetic suffering and helplessness.

When you see him curled up and shivering, all alone in a cold, dark, filthy metal corner, you grieve deeply for him. You just want to wrap your arms around him and take him away from that horrible place. You're not thinking about why this is wrong, you're feeling how wrong it is.

We know that people selectively expose themselves to information and arguments that confirm what they already want to believe, so it really doesn't matter what information you hand people if they don't have a "why" they should care about it -- and no, "why" is not a conscious, rational reason, "why" is an intuitively felt emotional compulsion. Heck, plenty of people intellectually accept that the atrocity is wrong, but evidently that's not enough to get them to fight against it.

So let's get out of this ridiculous Enlightenment model and stop wasting so much time on intellectual reasons for animal liberation (or veganism*). Such arguments will only effectively move people into action when they support (and are thrust by) emotional motivation.

Help people empathize with the animals. Tell their stories.

*See the following linked blog posts for my thoughts on "vegan" advocacy (as opposed to animal rights/ nonhuman liberation advocacy) as reinforcing speciesist objectification, perpetuating problematic patterns of thought, making animal advocacy vulnerable to co-optation and suppression, and trivializing the atrocity.

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