Published on
October 2, 2015

Five Tips on How to Confront

By Zach Groff

DxE has made a name for itself by encouraging confrontation. Confrontation forces people to pay attention and enables an issue to travel rapidly through social networks. While confrontation is a critical tool, it requires careful strategy. Ideally, confrontation not only spreads a meme but also spreads a meme that will win. Here are some things that I've found helpful in confrontations - both in speak-outs and in interpersonal argument, and particularly helpful in planning disruptions of major cultural figures, like Tom Vilsack and Chris Christie.

Confrontation should make animals and their defenders look good, advocates of violence against animals look bad, and move people in the direction of support for animal rights. However, there’s no perfect recipe, and in fact, much of what I’m suggesting doesn't involve much arguing at all. I hope some of these tips could help resolve or avoid a lot of nasty Facebook arguments and other situations, as well.

It's worth saying that a first step is recognizing that you will probably not convince many speciesists or omnivores in one fell swoopA better goal is to create instability among those with previously settled feelings and to generate questions. That leads me to my first point.

1) Stick to a Simple Message

It's common for animal liberationists to throw all the arguments at the wall to see which stick. They don't care about animals? How about climate change? World hunger? Nutrition? Food safety?

This approach assumes that the reason people continue to support violence against animals is because they think it's right and just haven't heard the correct argument against it. There's much more to behavior and beliefs, though, than rational argument. Social psychologists have repeatedly shown that people can say and do things that are blatantly wrong if others encourage it.

While psychologists differ on how much emotion and reason matter in moral persuasion, there is something of a consensus, best described by Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman in his 2011 book Thinking, Fast and Slow, that humans lapse in and out of a fast, emotional system and a slower, logical system. In the heat of a confrontation, it's likely the emotional system that carries the day, so don't get bogged down in complicated and long-winded arguments.

There is one simple, irrefutable reason for species equality, and that is that animals are individuals. Stick to this message, and once you've delivered it, there's little else to say.

2) Ask Questions

Psychologists have found that one of the most effective ways to get someone to change their mind is to get them to explain their reasoning in detail. Most people do not understand many things nearly as well as they think they do. Psychologists have termed this "the illusion of explanatory depth." When forced to explain themselves, people start to question their behaviors and beliefs. Animal activists know how exhausting it is to have to constantly defend themselves. To the extent that you can put the focus on speciesists' arguments and force them to defend their position, you will lead them to realize just how weak their position is— even if they don't admit it then and there.

If someone asks you, "Why don't you eat meat?" don't answer the question. Instead, ask them, "Why do you eat meat?" If someone tells you, "eating meat is natural," don't argue why it's not natural. Ask them to explain why it is natural, and why that matters. Put the spotlight on their arguments and let them realize how weak they are.

If you're planning a speak-out, don't focus on what facts you need to teach the onlookers. Focus on the questions you want to make them wrestle with.

3) Tell Stories, and Get Personal

When Brian Burns came to visit me, I quickly realized how effective an advocate he was because he could describe from personal experience what it feels like to be on a Whole Foods farm. If you volunteer at a sanctuary, share the stories of animals you know. Ample evidence shows that people relate to identifiable victims more than statistics. As Jon Stewart, an omnivore, admitted to Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary, "It's a lot harder to eat meat when you know the animal's name." Many omnivores would echo this sentiment. So give them an animal and a name, and force them to think of that animal when they see flesh. Once you have granted an animal personhood, there's little need for gore. Say that seeing animals hurt and killed by industry is upsetting to you because it reminds you of an animal who you know.

That makes it an insult to you for someone to go on not caring and makes you, rather than a moral scold, a speaker for the oppressed

4) Don't Engage

We should embody resistance to the mass violence against animals that goes on in our society, never throwing in the towel or shying away from confrontation over a grave injustice. What I mean by "Don't Engage" is that we should avoid protracted debates that are tiresome and infuriating for us and merely harden omnivores' pre-existing beliefs. This "backfire effect" is precisely what psychologists say happens when people with decided positions encounter opposing arguments.

Many people invoke the "backfire effect" to criticize confrontation as ineffective, but it has an important upshot. The "backfire effect" often coincides with the "backlash effect." There's evidence from news readership that events with heightened emotion capture attention. As scholars and practitioners of nonviolence have noted, aggressive responses to nonviolent protests are a key part of what make them work. These effects work best, though, when the activists look good and those reacting look bad. Knowing when not to engage is a key part of this.

In a speak-out, this means not responding to hecklers or questions from the audience. In a discussion, this means that there is a point at which to cut off debate. I like to say something along these lines: "I can keep arguing with you all day, but I can't change your mind. Only you can do that. I would ask you to ask yourself: ‘do I really believe what I am saying?' and beyond that, I don't think there's much point in us continuing to argue." This line ends debate but does not concede and leaves them to consider their thoughts, which is just what we want.

5) Let Your Words and Actions Do the Work

Project— don't scream! In writing, use proper grammar, and avoid caps lock. Shouting your argument does not make it stronger. Your argument is strong on its own, and all you need to do is deliver it strongly so that people can hear.

Much of what I have said comes down to this: there is a difference between confrontation and aggression. Be confrontational, not aggressive. Create instability, present a simple, tight, personalized argument, and then cut off debate. That will get the message out there in a way that preserves your energy and pierces through the haze of speciesism.

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