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veganism

Vegan Friends Come Together at the DxE Community - Join Us!

Vegan friends come together in the dxe community - join us!

By Ryder Meehan - DxE SF Bay, Tech Team

Even living in San Francisco, California, one of the most progressive and vegan-friendly cities on the planet, I was feeling like a lonely vegan.  I had no vegan friends and none of my other friends wanted to listen to my lectures about it.  I tried going to a few other local vegan community Meetup events but it felt more like a one-time get-together than long-lasting vegan friends or a real vegan community.

Finally, I stumbled into the right community and knew I had found my new vegan friends network.  Direct Action Everywhere said all the right things - they were doing it for the animals but when the protest was over there would be potlucks, parties and jam sessions.  I was welcomed and immediately made my way into the DxE Tech working group where I felt like I could contribute the most.

DxE - San Francisco Bay Area

DxE - San Francisco Bay Area

DxE - Chicago

DxE - Chicago

In the Bay Area Chapter alone there were hundreds of members and they were all welcoming, awesome and shared a passion for a vegan lifestyle and animal activism.  There were events happening multiple times a week offering something for every type of person.  Then every Saturday morning there would be a regular Meetup at the Berkeley Animal Rights Center (ARC) to learn new and interesting things as well as meet even more cool people and get a glorious all vegan lunch out together - it finally feels normal to not eat animals!

so Why is it important to have vegan friends?

After finding veganism and the importance of animal rights, you may feel uncomfortable being around others who are eating animals or you may just want to talk with friends who understand.  There are many reasons if you think about:

  • Shared values in the belief that animals deserve to be happy, safe and free
  • Amazing, harm-free meals with friends
  • Never be made to feel weird for being vegan
  • Build a community with a shared passion for animal rights
  • Learn and share ways to spread the good word of veganism

Why Direct action everywhere?

One of the Organizing Principles that sets DxE apart is to create a community for vegans and animal activists.  One of the most common obstacles to going vegan or staying vegan is that most of society still normalizes eating and mistreating animals.  Unfortunately most other animal rights organizations do not have a true community that meets regularly or socially.  DxE is creating a community where it's normal to NOT mistreat animals.  We help one another out, share our challenges, and come together frequently for merriment and good times!  Think of it like a college fraternity or sorority - only less exclusive and without the hazing.  Oh plus the whole animal rights mission thing ;)

In one year being in DxE, I've been to a karaoke night, potluck, house party, Halloween party, Thanksgiving vegan feast, vegan ice cream social, cookie decorating contest and too many other events to count.  I went from zero vegan friends to having an entire community around me.

And if you're not in the San Francisco-Berkeley Bay Area, not to worry; there are dozens of DxE chapters across the county and the world organizing regularly and building vegan communities (veg-munities?) around the same principles.

So what are you waiting for?!  Come meet your new vegan friends within your own city!  Does your city not have a DxE Chapter yet?  Consider starting one.  And once a year all chapters come together at our global Forum where we meet, learn, share and empower our movement!

 

 

To Answer Your Question, Gary...

To Answer Your Question, Gary...

By Jeff Melton

 

The day after Wayne Hsiung and Gary Francione debated on Bob Linden's Go Vegan Radio show (July 26th, 2015), Gary posed a question to DxE activists:

“A serious question for supporters of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE):

Wayne Hsiung acknowledged last night on Go Vegan Radio with Bob Linden that people don't have to be vegan to participate in DxE 'activism.'

So let me see if I have this right: a non-vegan can participate in a DxE action and go into Chipotle's and chant, 'It's not food, it's violence' to other non-vegans.

Can someone explain this to me? What's the difference between the DxE non-vegan and the non-vegan Chipotle customer, other than the former is wearing a coordinated t-shirt with a DxE logo?”

Yes, Gary, although it is rare for non-vegans to participate in our protests, non-vegans are allowed to participate in our demonstrations, just as they are allowed to participate in most other protests regarding animal liberation issues. As I'm sure you are aware, having participated in animal liberation protests in the past, it is not as though the Vegan Police are standing at a gate checking people's V-cards! 

Should there be such vegan policing at our protests? The general consensus among DxE activists is that this would not be productive. Although not formally incorporated into our organizing principles, informally we follow an open model of organizing. That is, in all that we do, we default to inclusiveness—to supporting, encouraging, and welcoming other activists even if they are not yet fully on board with everything we believe and do. An example of this is that we allow people to join our protests if they are not yet vegan.

Yes, Gary, there is a huge difference between someone who has begun to take to heart such ideas as that harming animals is wrong and that animals are not ours to use sufficiently that they are willing to take a public stand in favor of these ideas and, often, have already expressed serious interest in going vegan, and someone who has not had that sort of epiphany— even if neither one is yet vegan. Research suggests that when people are put in situations that call attention to hypocrisy on their part—to a discrepancy between their professed beliefs and some of their actions—that they are very likely to act to eliminate that inconsistency. In this case, that would mean that, having publicly expressed a commitment to DxE's view that animals are neither our property nor our slaves, they are not likely to continue treating animals as if they were for much longer.

Scott, who joined our protest in Bloomington, Indiana a couple of months ago, is a great example of such a person. Scott was a student in my Introductory Psychology class last spring. In my “Intro. Psych.” classes, I show a video about attitudes toward animals and discuss animal liberation in the context of how attitudes toward animals are arbitrary and culturally shaped. Scott immediately seemed to “get it” and expressed an intention both to go vegan and to come to one of our DxE protests and see what it was like.

A couple of weeks later, at our May Day of Action, we protested at Chipotle and at Chik Fil A. Scott came to our pre-protest meeting, and told us that although he still intended to go vegan, he was not there yet, and said that if we didn't think it was appropriate for him to participate, he would understand. We told him that, although as he knew— and we would keep reminding him— he needed to go vegan in order to live consistently with his newfound value that animals should not be treated as our property, we were fine with him participating, and so he did.

Not only did he participate, but he also spoke at Chik Fil A. I have no doubt that he will stick with his commitments to be vegan and continue being a voice for animal liberation. Other core activists in DxE have reported similar stories of non-vegans joining their protests and becoming vegan soon thereafter. There have even been cases of spectators at our protests joining us, and often also expressing an intention to go vegan, on the spot. There have been other cases where non-vegans who have joined our protests have gone on to become not only vegan, but core organizers.

Now that I've answered your question, I have a couple of questions for you, Gary. First, how can you continue to claim that Wayne Hsiung or DxE are “hostile to veganism” after it has been made so abundantly clear to you by Wayne and others in DxE that this is not the case? In his debate with you, Wayne said, “I just want to emphasize...that DxE, and I, believe in veganism. We believe in veganism fully, our house is a vegan house, and at many of our demonstrations we talk about veganism extensively.” Later, he followed that up by saying that “Every single one of our core organizers is vegan, it is a requirement to be a core member of DxE...at DxE we make it absolutely clear that we believe in total animal liberation, which includes but is not exhaustive of the idea that animals should not be ours to use,” and that “All of us [in DxE] agree that veganism is a necessary condition to achieving animal liberation.” In a blog post the following day, Wayne also pointed out that he and many other core DxE organizers (myself included) refuse to even eat with others who are consuming animal products.

We often talk to people about going vegan at our protests, as Rama Ganesan does in this video, in which she successfully convinces a vegetarian to go vegan. We also do literature tabling and many other forms of vegan/animal liberation education aside from our protests, such as my weekly Farmer's Market table. Some of us even sing about going vegan. It's true that often, we don't tell people to “go vegan” at protests—just as you didn't in an interview with CNN a few months ago. When we chatted back in May on Bob Linden's show, we agreed that in the brief time you had you got the point across that animals should not be our property and that no use of animals was necessary, which is indisputably a message implicitly advocating veganism. Similarly, at every single one of our protests, we get that same point across, whether or not we use any v-words, with chants and speeches that make clear that animals are not ours to use, such as “Their bodies, not ours; their milk, not ours; their eggs, not ours; their lives, not ours.”

The second question I had for you is: What is the basis of your claim that Wayne and DxE are “new welfarist,” that we support animal welfare reform campaigns and organizations such as PETA, Mercy For Animals, Compassion Over Killing, or Farm Sanctuary who engage in them? What welfare reform campaigns do you think we support, Gary? You have never named any of them. Wayne explicitly rejected the new welfarist point of view when he was on Bob's show with you: “...the reality is that we are not working with Peter Singer, we are not working with Bruce Friedrich, we are challenging them. I agree completely that welfarism makes people complacent, that there is no evidence that it leads to real improvements for animals in the short or long term...But the difference between you and me, Gary, is I challenge people publicly but I also am willing to engage in dialogue because I think these people can change.”

There is a huge difference between being willing to engage in dialogue with Bruce Friedrich, Ingrid Newkirk, and other leaders of the large animal advocacy organizations and agreeing with or adopting their approach, or being uncritical of them and their organizations. Wayne, I, and many other DxE activists have been publicly critical of the approaches and tactics of these organizations. More broadly, in all of our activism, we make clear that we do not support welfarist tactics but, rather, directly advocate an end to all animal exploitation and killing. That is made abundantly clear in numerous blog posts as well as on our Frequently Asked Questions page.

We have made many detailed critiques of the inadequacies of a new welfarist approach, such as those here, here, and here. Common chants at DxE protests include “Someone, not something!”; “Their eggs, not ours! Their milk, not ours! Their bodies, not ours! Their lives, not ours!”; “Humane killing is a lie; animals do not want to die!”; and, of course, “It's not food, it's violence!” (the “it” being the animal products served in the establishments we protest). Indeed, the entire basis of our “It's Not Food, It's Violence” campaign, and the reason why it has targeted Chipotle and Whole Foods more than any other establishments, is our belief that there is no such thing as humane animal agriculture. Our objective is not to focus on alleviating "animal cruelty" or asking for "more humane" methods of exploitation, but to demand an end to animal exploitation and killing altogether. The objective of building an animal rights movement powerful enough to bring down the system of animal slavery mandates that all of us willing to make that unequivocal demand collaborate with each other. It is not served by attacking and misrepresenting those who are doing the same.


The Evidence Bros

THE EVIDENCE BROS

By Zach Groff

All opinions expressed in this piece are my own, and are not intended to represent my employer.

The animal liberation movement has an evidence problem. No, I don't mean the lack of evidence - though that's a problem, too, and any academic researcher willing to take on the task of studying effective activism could do our movement a tremendous favor. I mean a bro culture that treats as settled science what is very much not, and dismisses any argument to the contrary.

The most recent example of this was a post by the "Vegan Bros" advising DxE activists to lie down in a busy street. This is part of their schtick, and I agree that humor is vital for both satire and comic relief. But this unfunny joke reveals, I believe, an insidious dynamic in the modern animal liberation movement.

Activists, frequently men, use “logic” and “science” to quash counterarguments even when these are actually shakily masking common wisdom. For readers of Paul Krugman's blog, this is akin to the Very Serious People: those who present themselves as bold contrarians and demand austerity in the wake of an economic crisis as being what logic demands when in fact there is substantial evidence pointing in the other direction. These Very Serious People portray themselves as evidence-based contrarians when in fact they are the opposite: followers of public opinion that defies much of the evidence. In the animal liberation movement, supporters of "evidence" repeat the words "evidence" and "science" endlessly in response to disruptive or confrontational tactics with the assumption being that serious, evidence-minded people can resist the emotional pull of these protests.

I should note that I am myself a very evidence-minded person. I work at one of the leading research institutions on solutions to global poverty, one that is frequently cited by GiveWell in its charity recommendations. I identify as an Effective Altruist, I have donated substantially to GiveWell top-rated charities, and I believe that evidence should be the primary determinant of what strategies we pursue. I would add that there is a debate to be had over confrontation, but an evidence-based debate would look very different from the discourse of the modern animal liberation movement.

Having an appreciation for evidence means having an appreciation for the uncertainties, weaknesses, and qualifications of specific pieces of evidence. In the case of the animal liberation movement, this means being very careful when we specify precisely how many animals a particular action will save. It also means being open to multiple forms of evidence, provided we account for their underlying assumptions, and being aware of our tendency toward measurability bias: overweighting short-term, direct effects that are concrete and measurable and underweighting longer-term and more diffuse effects.

The case for collective action depends on these longer-term and more diffuse effects. In the immediate term, political scientists have found, voters broadly agree in their hatred of protesters. But conflict inspires activists to join in, attracts readers and attention, and then once a movement builds, 100,000 loud, obnoxious people are not to be mocked and dismissed— they are to be reckoned with and pacified by acceding to their demands. This is not to mention the subtle shifts in opinion that occur when a position begins to be portrayed as a common or significant one by a powerful movement rather than a fringe group.

Political scientists recognize this, as do sociologists and economists. But focus narrowly on the near-term, and all you will see are immediate, negative reactions. Look only at survey data to figure out what appeals to people, and you will miss out on the powerful social norms and emotional context that frame survey responses. Use studies with bias built in to the design, and you can easily find a life-saving impact of leafleting whether or not it exists.

The use of evidence by the "Vegan Bros" and others often commits the oversights mentioned above. At the Animal Rights National Conference, speakers cited debunked studies on leafleting and assumed causality in a downward trend in animals slaughtered that, according to the HSUS's own statistics, has at least stagnated. Yet despite the weakness of this evidence, the effectiveness of strictly accommodationist tactics— tactics that defy historical precedent— retains a stranglehold on the movement, while confrontation, despite a fair amount of research touting its potential (nicely summarized in this blog post), is regarded as freakish.

It is no coincidence that one of the most aggressive promoters of this "evidence" is the Vegan Bros and the bulk of the “evidence” crowd is largely cisgender and heterosexual men. This knee-jerk invocation of "evidence" to guard the prevailing wisdom conforms to narrative that has a long cultural history. From the Book of Genesis to Virgil's Aeneid, Western culture often portrays masculine reason as contrasted with feminine emotion and praises those who dispassionately do what logic demands despite the pull of their heartstrings.

Unsurprisingly, scientific and mathematical fields have a well-documented problem with gender balance. This is problematic in its own right, and as a movement, we stand a risk of alienating women, LGBTQ people and the broader, feminist left. Controversy over this problem is rife, and there's cause for concern about its effects: a peer-reviewed literature review suggests that men have a more autocratic approach to leadership, suggesting that male leadership on the movement's assessment of evidence puts us at risk of discounting alternative views— as seen, for instance, in our movement's all too common disregard of tactics viewed as emotional.

People are motivated not just by facts, but by emotion, and the most effective tactics must take this into account. The emotional content of an action is not a roadmap to its ineffectiveness. Instead, in the context of nonviolence, emotion is part of what makes the action work. Those who dismiss the effectiveness of provocation despite its emotional appeal make a fatal error, for that emotional appeal gives nonviolence its potential, and there is evidence behind this.

The irony is this: people often avoid nonviolent direct action because of their emotions— a desire for popularity, a discomfort with conflict, an inclination to conform. So it is perhaps the bros who are the most emotional of all, despite their attempts to hide this in the guise of reason. This is troubling for a bro, because undertaking nonviolence requires admitting the possibility that evidence and emotion are on the same side, and that those of us who care about the former should get comfortable with the latter.

Francione and Hsiung debate Direct Action Everywhere (Audio)

GaryVWayne

Last Sunday, Bob Linden from Go Vegan Radio invited Hsiung and Francione to discuss the tactics of Direct Action Everywhere. Did you miss the show? Want to listen to it again for good measure? We've attached an audio file below:

Why activism, not veganism, is the moral baseline

Activists across the world took action this weekend for animals as part of the international event: #LightThePath (Credit: Pax Ahimsa Gethen)

Activists across the world took action this weekend for animals as part of the international event: #LightThePath (Credit: Pax Ahimsa Gethen)

Why activism, not veganism, is the moral baseline

In the aftermath of the Francione debate, DxE’s cofounder explains why veganism is not enough.

by Wayne Hsiung 

In yesterday’s discussion, Gary Francione repeatedly stated that DxE is “anti-vegan” – implying that we condone the use of animals. This is false. At DxE, we believe that it’s important to avoid personal contributions to animal exploitation, and we have strong norms against using animal products within our community. (Indeed, many of our organizers – including me – take this a step further and refuse to eat with others who are eating animals. Here’s Lauren Gazzola explaining why at last year’s AR conference.)

The difference between DxE and Gary is that, at DxE, we also believe that our personal actions are not enough. That if veganism is a political principle and not a personal choice, we must live out that difference in action.

Let’s use a hypothetical to explain the difference.  

Suppose you come across a mob of people beating a child with a stick.

In the face of nightmarish violence, a global movement for animals grows. #LightThePath to liberation.

“Join us,” they say. “It’s fun.”

The first response to the mob is, “Everyone else is doing it, so I might as well, too. And who knows, maybe they’re right that it’s fun.” This is the unthinking reaction that most people give to the brutal violence raging against animals. While we often condemn them for this choice, moreover, it’s important to note that most people don’t make a real choice. They never say to themselves, “Between torturing and slaughtering billions of gentle baby animals, or not torturing and killing… I choose torture.” As with other historical participants in atrocity, they simply accept the way things are; they are products of the system to which they were born.

Our most basic perceptions of the world – even something as simple as the length of a line – can be hugely distorted by cultural or social influence. And it’s difficult for ordinary people to see atrocity as atrocity, when it has been “made normal.” So yes, participating in mass violence is a shameful and unethical choice, but let’s always keep in mind that, ultimately, this participation is a systemic and not individual problem. (See the recent talk we gave at Northwestern for more on this distinction.)

The second response to the mob is, “I’m not comfortable with beating a child. It’s wrong. So I’m not going to join you.” This is veganism – non-participation in a violent practice. And while it’s certainly preferable to beating the child ourselves, it still falls far short of the moral baseline. Because where we have the power to take some action to help someone who is being abused – whether a human or non-human child (and note that virtually all animals killed by humans are, in fact, children) – we have a duty to do so. Indeed, many jurisdictions make it a crime when we fail to act to assist a helpless person in need.

This is especially true when we have benefitted in some way from the victim’s abuse. For example, while ordinary citizens do not have a duty to intervene in or report violence, if someone joins and partakes in the benefits of such a criminal conspiracy, the law requires them to take action to stop that conspiracy.  For example, suppose that you have been paid to be the getaway driver in an armed robbery. It’s not enough to say, “I won’t participate” after you’ve already been paid. After all, if you have benefitted from the crime, you have a responsibility to stop it.

As beneficiaries of 10,000+ years of human supremacy, and of continuing violence against animals both in captivity and the wild, we are all in this position. We are beneficiaries of a violent conspiracy. Our homes, our gadgets, our streets, and, yes, even our vegan food are products of violence against animals.  (For every animal humans kill for food, there are perhaps 1,000 who suffer and die to habitat loss and climate change.) And simply attempting to remove ourselves, when we continue to benefit from this system of violence, falls far short of our moral duty. So yes, participation in violence is shameful and unethical, but so too is inaction in the face of violence. So too is veganism without action.

But then what is the moral baseline? This brings us to our third response to the mob: action.  “Hey, stop what you are doing!” we might say to the men who are beating the child. Those of us who can muster the courage might try to physically shield the child from the blows. We might call 911, or try to rally other neighbors to help us save the child. We might even use physical force to defend the child and take away the stick. But if we truly seek to fulfill our moral duty in the face of the largest atrocity in history, we must do something beyond inaction.

But if activism is the moral baseline, why do so few vegans take action? There are at least three important reasons. The first is that they have not been taught to do so. Partly due to pseudo-scientific research, our movement is so focused on personal consumer behavior that it loses sight of its reason for existence: not vegan food, but the animals. I’m distressed by the number of conversations among AR activists that start with the tone and color of justice, and end with the tone and color of a vegan cupcake. But this is not a personal but a movement flaw. We need to collectively stop talking about where we can get vegan French fries, and start talking about animals and their lives. We need to make action for animals, not vegan consumerism, the unrelenting focus of our movement.  If people are not taught to act, they will not.

The second reason is that people have no idea what action to take. There is extensive research showing that, if people are presented with too many options, and those options have uncertain effects, they will often be paralyzed by indecision. “I want to help animals, but how?” Anyone who says they have a 100% clear answer to this question “What action?” is deceiving us, but there are big picture insights, from both the practice and scholarship of social movements, that should inform our decisions. One of those big picture insights is that movements rise or fall on the basis of their ability to mobilize and sustain nonviolent direct action. It turns out doing so is rather hard because early movement adopters face ridicule, rejection, or even repression. But it’s not nearly as hard as one might think. In fact, all you need is 3.5% (and probably far less). If you can mobilize 3.5% of the population in sustained and nonviolent civil resistance, you win. Every single time.

DxE's model in one simple infographic. 

This is the reason for DxE’s existence. We don’t need to convince 100% of the public to “go vegan.” We need to inspire those who are already vegan to take action. To give people the mentorship and support they need to speak and act strongly and publicly for animals. To build the organizing capacity, the social institutions, and perhaps most importantly, the culture that our movement needs to change the world in one generation. To create activists, connect them in networks, and inspire those networks to take nonviolent direct action.  

But can we actually succeed? This brings us to the third reason for vegan passivity: hopelessness. Recall the hypothetical we started this discussion with, of a mob attacking a child. While morality requires us to intervene, where we can, it does not and cannot require us to intervene if there is no way to actually stop the violence. Morality cannot require the impossible.

If the raging atrocities against animals are unstoppable, then, we have no obligation to take action. Action requires hope. And hope, in our movement, is seemingly in short supply. Many advocates suggest that the end of animal exploitation might occur hundreds, if not thousands of years from now. They say, with confident regret, that people will most likely always exploit animals. We’ll never get to 3.5%.

But this is nonsense. Indeed, it is a cognitive bias that a distinguished psychologist at Harvard calls “The End of History Fallacy.” Because it turns out, change does happen, and it happens far faster than any one of us can predict. Just a few decades ago, marriage equality would have been unthinkable. Only 1 in 4 supported it, and even progressive politicians rallied to “defend marriage” against the insidious influence of “the homosexual agenda.” A professor of mine in law school, one of the most distinguished progressives in the legal academy, said that, when he started as a professor decades ago, the term “gay rights” sounded like a criminal conspiracy. Yet 20 years later, the tides have turned. Over 60% of the population now supports marriage equality (and a much higher percentage of young people), and it has been enshrined as a constitutional right. Gay rights is no longer a criminal conspiracy. It’s what every upstanding American citizen believes.

We will achieve the same progress for animal rights. Indeed, a recent Gallup poll showed that 32% of the populationhigher than the percentage who supported LGBTQ equality in 1996 – currently believe that animals should have the “same rights as people.” Moreover, this percentage is increasing quickly…. while animal exploiting industries get smaller. (Agriculture, for example, is a vanishingly small percentage of the American economy, and our calculations show that it would take a mere 1-2% of US GDP to rescue every single animal currently in captivity and place them in a sanctuary for the rest of their lives.) Further, animal issues are blowing up in our broader culture. The Dodo founders have pointed out that animals are among the most shared subjects on social media, and an astonishing 79% of people in America say they must be protected from “all suffering and harm.” As Frank Bruni of The New York Times points out, windows into the world of animals are growing, both big and little. And the more we see of animals, the more we realize: they are us. They are our family members, our children, our friends. And when we see they are us, we see, too, our duty to defend.

In the face of all these incredible reasons for optimism, it’s time for us to discard our cynicism and doubt. It’s time for us to be inspired, not to lonely inaction, but empowered activism. And it’s time for our movement to take a new and more confident tone: That we are strong. That we are smart. And that we are inspired.

And we will succeed. 

 

 

Celebrity Vegans: What Does the Science Say?

Celebrity Vegans: What Does the Science Say?

by Wayne Hsiung 

The Internet was afire yesterday with back and forth arguments about the impacts of celebrity vegans, most of whom adopt vegan diets for selfish reasons.  But one thing was notably missing from the discussions: evidence.

As someone who has performed research with some of the top social scientists of our day, back in my time as a researcher and then faculty member at MIT and Northwestern respectively,  I have a special interest in utilizing evidence over mere intuition. So what does the evidence say?

1. Celebrities don’t have nearly the influence that you might think.

Malcolm Gladwell coined the term The Law of the Few to assert that, when it comes to social change, some people are just more important than others. Those with special influence, connections, and fame – like Beyonce or Miley Cyrus -- can cause messages to explode exponentially. Gladwell’s popular writing refers back to work by a psychologist at Yale, Stanley Milgram, who famously conducted a study on spreading messages through a social network in 1969. Milgram’s study made two startling conclusions: first, that every human on the planet is connected within just a few small steps (thus the famous Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon test);  second, that an astonishingly small handful of people seemed to be “supernodes” through which all messages would be transmitted. Gladwell implied that, if we could change Milgram’s supernodes, we could change the world.

It’s a compelling story. The problem is, quite simply, that the data does not bear it out. Duncan Watts, a sociologist at Columbia, showed us why. First, in experimental tests of message transmission using thousands (rather than dozens) of messages, it turned out that supernodes were not so important. Messages would, in fact, be spread through a small number of social steps. But there were many pathways through which this could happen, most of which did not utilize any highly connected person. The supernodes, it turns out, were not important.  A second set of experiments explained why. In everything from musical tastes to Twitter retweets, it turned out that masses of highly motivated “ordinary people” – and not a few strategically placed influencers – were the driving force for change. If Watts is right – as most social scientists now think (see, e.g., Christopher Chabris's takedown of Gladwell at Slate) – then we should be spending more time on building networks of highly motivated ordinary people and less time on celebrities. Gladwell’s Law of the Few should be retracted and replaced with the Law of the Many.

2. Focusing on selfish motivations (e.g. health) can “crowd out” intrinsic and moral motivations (ethics).

Many say that we should “throw everything but the kitchen sink” to convert people to veganism. Others say that humans, as selfish animals, must be given selfish motivations to refrain from harmful conduct. The upshot is that we often focus on selfish reasons for people to go vegan – health, beauty, etc. The problem, again, is that these arguments are contradicted by the evidence.  

In a series of ingenious experiments,  sociologists, psychologists, and economists have shown that selfish motivations can “crowd out” moral ones – and lead to more harmful behavior as a result. In perhaps the most famous example, Uri Gneezy and his collaborators showed that creating a material incentive to encourage parents to arrive on time to day care actually increased the number of people who would show up late. The reason? There was a prior moral motive to show up on time – the embarrassment of forcing employees to stay late, and appearing to be bad parents – but focus on the selfish motive, i.e. financial costs, crowded this moral motive out.  And when framed in a callous and self-centered away, surprise, surprise, parents failed to pick up their kids.

The same is true of focus on selfish motivations for veganism. To the extent it’s framed in selfish terms, people will behave selfishly (e.g. abandoning veganism the moment it becomes inconvenient). This problem, in turn, is not just theoretical. The vast majority of vegans (over 75%) revert to eating animals, and in an astonishingly short period of time. (One study found that 60% of self-identified vegetarians were eating animals again... within a week.) This reversion, moreover, is associated with selfish motivations for going veg. 

In short, if we want to create effective, robust change, we should focus on the social and moral instincts that have driven human beings since our inception as a species

3. Economic change, on its own, is not effective at creating social change.

Finally, many argue that the growing consumer power of vegans, limited though it might be at present, will take us down the path to liberation. Animal exploitation, as an economic industry, must be challenged on economic terms. Only by increasing the costs for exploitation, or benefits of nonviolence, can we shift our social equilibrium. Celebrities, given their supposed influence on mass consumer behavior, are a powerful tool to achieve this success.

But once again, the data from notable historical periods simply does not bear this out. Robert Fogel, the Nobel Prize winning economist, is famous for exhaustively researching the data on slavery and finding that, surprisingly, economic factors played almost no role in its disappearance. To the contrary, slavery was a massive, profitable, and growing system, right up to its abolition in the 1860s. But if slavery didn’t end via economics, how did it end? In short, moral and political mobilization.

Fogel’s research is part of a massive trend in social science that some have called the “cognitive revolution.” The basic idea: that we cannot understand behavior without looking at mental models and processes. Numerous examples of activism targeting consumer behavior -- from the failed free produce movement (which attempted to economically modify slavery via boycott) to modern green consumer activism -- have failed to achieve tangible results. In contrast, powerful moral and political mobilizations -- the antislavery movement that began in the 1830s, or the early environmental movement built on direct action -- achieved groundbreaking systemic change. Yet in so many ways, modern thinking within animal advocacy remains mired in outdated social science. As animal advocates, we too often assume that we can understand incredibly complex economic systems as if they are deterministic and predictable, e.g. with poorly-supported claims of how many animals we "save" via a vegan diet. And we focus on changing supply and demand rather than reshaping the moral and political ecosystem that determines what counts as a “product” (as opposed to a “victim’s body”) in the first place.  This naiveté undermines our effectiveness. 

Summing up, when you see the next celebrity going vegan, don’t jump on the bandwagon. First, ordinary people – like you – are the ones who power movements. Second, the selfish motivations that often motivate celebrities can “crowd out” the powerful moral norms that are our movement’s greatest weapons. Third, even if celebrities drive consumer behavior, that alone is not sufficient to drive social change.

So by all means, keep eating vegan, Hollywood. Just don't expect social change to result.

Because it is the moral power of ordinary people -- and not a celebrity-inspired consumer fad -- that will change the world for animals. 

Why Beyoncé Going Vegan is Bad for Animals

Why Beyoncé Going Vegan is Bad for Animals

By Brian Burns

This Monday, Beyoncé announced a vegan diet as her key to weight loss on Good Morning America. And while her fans rushed to the blogosphere to voice their disappointment, animal rights groups proclaimed victory. This announcement, along with many others this week - including Ben and Jerry’s soon-to-come vegan ice cream and Miley Cyrus’ similar dietary change – is hailed as strong evidence that the animal rights movement is winning.

But it isn't. Why? Because veganism for its own sake is not good for animals. Instead, the promotion of the vegan diet without animal rights messaging actively harms the animal rights movement. Moreover, the movement’s focus on mass consumer dietary change has little historical or empirical basis, despite being our movement's main strategy.

To be clear, both I and DxE believe nothing short of a vegan diet is morally permissible, because killing and eating others is wrong. But we must acknowledge that focusing on getting people to go vegan, rather than other tactics to help animals - such as protest, community building, or simply encouraging people to talk to their friends about animal rights - is a deliberate choice by the animal rights movement, and this choice is not optimal.  We can do different and do better than hailing celebrities such as Beyoncé or Miley Cyrus. Below are a few reasons why we should consider other options for advocacy rather than simply focusing on consumer change.

1. Veganism frames society’s conversation about animals suffering as one of consumerism and dietary choice rather than justice and equality.

When presenting any issue, framing is extremely important. Is climate change about saving people and the planet, or do-good liberals interfering with productive industry? Is high defense spending about imperialism and killing, or ensuring defense for a strong America? We should ask ourselves, then, how we are framing the suffering of animals - and the answer is that veganism and dietary choice frames animal rights in favor of our enemy.

If you've ever argued with someone who eats or kills animals, you must have heard, "it's my personal choice to eat meat!". Why then, are we making this argument for them? By framing animal rights as an issue of dietary change - titling animal rights leaflets "Your Choice", for example - rather than one of justice and equality, we set ourselves up for failure.

2. This framing disempowers vegans from speaking strongly for animals.

By focusing on creating individual dietary change rather than communities for activism, we create a dispersed nation of lonely vegans. This loneliness is extraordinarily disempowering, and causes vegans in best case to remain silent on animal rights, and in the worst case to go back to eating animals again (84% of the time, in fact).

Moreover, consumer vegan messaging induces complacency and stops vegans from helping animals. Because the central focus of our movement is to "go vegan", many get the sense that once they change their diet, they're done, and need to do no more for animals. But animal rights, as we all know, only begins with our diets. We need to inspire people to do more for animals by not just believing in animal rights themselves, but by bringing animal rights to their family, their friends, and the world.

Finally, say they decide to do just that. With a focus on veganism for veganism's sake, animals' lives often get lost in the message. For example, consider an interchange of which I myself have been very often guilty: you're eating with a friend, and they ask why you ordered the veggie burger rather than the steak. "I'm vegan", you respond. Not, "Animals deserve to live, they are not our food". Not, "In all ways that matter, animals are like us - and violence against sentient beings is wrong". A serious opportunity for dialogue and change is missed, and the personal choice framing is reinforced.

3. Veganism as a strategy has no basis.

Simply put, the vegan boycott as a tactic for helping animals - in place of others, such as protest and community building - is failing. According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2012, the number of vegetarians has declined in the last decade, and "Vegetarianism in the US remains quite uncommon and a lifestyle that is neither growing or waning in popularity".

Perhaps then we're just not there yet. Perhaps with continued efforts at vegan advocacy we will reach some critical mass of vegans, which will in turn create a social cascade for animal rights in society. Unfortunately, this model is tried and tested - look at the nation of India. Some regions report as high as a 40% vegetarian population, yet animal rights is fading as violent western habits spread into the country. Vegetarianism, historically framed as a personal or religious choice, is an outdated fad. And while enormous change is beginning to happen for animals, this is due to grassroots animal rights organizing in contrast to - rather than in support of - the consumer vegan messaging so present in the movement today.

Finally, boycotts on their own have not succeeded in other social justice movements without the accompaniment of direct action campaigns. The best possible example of this is the Free Produce Movement in the early 1800s, which sought to fight the American slave trade by boycotting all goods made by slaves. The boycott was tried, then decried as a failure by the leaders of the antislavery movement, who moved on to much greater success by building chapters across the country that held meetings, debates, and protests centered on the lives of slaves in the US, and not the quality of their cotton coats or tobacco cigars. We should think about what we can learn from these past efforts.

Conclusion

In summary, the centering of veganism for its own sake - exemplified by our movement's universal hailing of Beyoncé, Miley, Ben, and Jerry, despite little to no words from them on the subject of animal rights - is a stumbling block for our movement. What, then, do we propose instead? Simply: treat animal rights as an issue of social justice. Focus on creating activists instead of consumers. Build community centers for animal rights rather than making dispersed, lonely vegans. And most importantly, stay on message: animals and their lives, rather than humans and their diets. In doing so, we can create enormous positive change for animals. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for an updated strategy piece with much more information on this issue.

****

EDIT: It was pointed out that using Beyoncé’s name and image in the title of the piece comes in the context of the movement’s history targeting and policing black women, of which I was sorely unaware as a white man. 

While the intention of the article was to discuss strategic problems with consumer framing in the animal rights movement (using news items such as the movement’s recent hailing of Ben and Jerry’s, Miley Cyrus, and Beyoncé as lead-ins), the choice of Beyoncé as a title and image is indicative of implicit bias on my part, and certainly has aggravated much of the already existing hate towards black women (or all women) in the movement.  I seriously apologize for some of the horrifying comments that others made after the blog was published, either as a consequence of the article or as a consequence of the context in which the article occurred - for example, the selective targeting of women wearing fur rather than men wearing leather with hateful language such as “fur hag”, or some of Gary Yourofsky’s violent statements towards women and people of color.

In that respect, I hope that people can discuss the substance of the post - that vegan celebrities are not our messiahs, and more importantly that the animal rights movement must think seriously about consumer veganism as a strategy to help animals  - rather than selectively target certain individuals, especially when that targeting is selective on the basis of race, sex, or other group membership. Not only is it factually inaccurate to say that animals are suffering as a result of individuals rather than systems and social norms, but it is harmful in a very real way to people, and makes our movement weaker and less inclusive.

Thanks,

Brian

Interview with DxE Lisbon's Andreia Carvalho Mota

Interview with DxE Lisbon's Andreia Carvalho Mota

By Saryta Rodriguez

 

Andreia Carvalho Mota is one of the founding organizers of DxE Lisbon, and she and others at Acção Directa have been doing some phenomenal work. Learn about the group’s founding, its goals, and upcoming events below!  Thank you so much, Andreia, for taking the time to share your experience with The Liberationist.

Andreia Carvalho Mota participating in Disrupt Speciesism, DxE's September 2014 Day of Action, in front of a McDonald's in Lisbon, Portugal.   

Andreia Carvalho Mota participating in Disrupt Speciesism, DxE's September 2014 Day of Action, in front of a McDonald's in Lisbon, Portugal.  

DxE: Please tell us a bit about how you first became involved in veganism and animal liberation.

ACM: At the age of 20, I started thinking about going vegetarian, but I was not well informed about animal exploitation so I comfortably kept to my lifestyle. I was pretty sensitive, since I was a little girl, to all those animals issues (like bullfights) and to every social injustice. I used to think about a lot of questions all of the time. “Why should animals die to fill my plate? There are vegetarians in the world; if they can do it, so can I!” Unfortunately, thinking this way wasn’t enough at that time for me to change.

When I turned 26, I started attending bullfights protests almost every week. Then I met several activists and I made the connection between the cruel entertainment I was ferociously against and the food industry. So I cut the animals out of my meals, started doing volunteer work and, gradually, I cultivated myself: reading, watching documentaries, learning from my fellow activist friends, and understanding how easy and positive turning to veganism really is.

Once I realized that nonhuman animals are not ours to be used for any purpose, I became vegan. Melanie Joy was also an important influence to me, even if I was already vegan for a while before I learned about her work. I learnt from her how to better deal with carnists or nonvegans, which is definitely the biggest challenge for me. I also realized how environmental and other human issues are connected to veganism, so it was like the perfect change in my life.

I found myself really inspired by some activists along this path. I’m very honored to know such greats activists, most of whom are also my friends.

I reached veganism through activism and became a more solid and strong activist since I went vegan. I used to say that first of all, I’m an activist, and then I am a vegan. You can be a vegan without doing anything more. Being an activist means everything to me. Veganism is clearly not enough.

In the last five years, animal liberation has become a clear goal. I realized that no one is free until all are free and this is a question of social justice. I understand how tough it is to break an oppressive system, but it is possible and there is good news: we are getting there!

DxE: How did you hear about DxE? What factor(s) caused you to identify with the group and inspired you to start your own chapter?

ACM: I heard about DxE through my friend Vítor Magalhães, who has ‘liked’ a DxE publication and then Priya got in touch with him, asking if we would like to make a DxE chapter in Portugal. At that time, I was in an activist group called actiVismo along with Vítor and he put us in contact with Priya, who explained what DxE does and asked if there were any of us who wanted to be a main organizer. I watched the videos about DxE and I accepted to be the main organizer and, along with Vítor, we have created the DxE core in Lisbon.

I left actiVismo and I started a new group, Acção Directa, along with Vítor, and a new chapter in my activism life. I was strongly inspired by DxE actions, it was a sort of a strange feeling because it was like: “Well…maybe that will not work…maybe that’s too much,” along with ‘That’s the thing!’ I didn’t think I was able to do those kinds of actions. I was definitely inspired by the coherence, the assertiveness, the passion, the brilliant attitude of Wayne and Priya, but I doubted at the same time that I would be capable. However, they raised my confidence.

As the movement grew, I felt inspired by all the other DxE activists and I was totally sure that we were trying a different approach but a valid one.  Since then, Acção Directa has grown and now we are a five-member group! We were so lucky to find such amazing and motivated activists. Besides me and Vítor, Ana Maria Santos, Anne Matias and Sandra Marina belong to AD.

I read a lot about nonviolent direct action and when it has been applied in the past. The Animal Liberation Movement needs different ways and tactics. There is no magical formula to do the best activism. So it is important to recognize that we are always learning. Honestly, the movement calls for a revolutionary approach, never forgetting to focus on the victims we defend.

DxE: Tell us a bit about your first action.  How many people showed up? What was your game plan? Did things go as expected, or were there any surprises in store for you?

ACM: The first action was in February 2014. We were six people doing the action, plus another two recording it. We heard about DxE only the week before, so we were unsure of what were supposed to do. We went to McDonalds and, in silence, we showed our signs saying “Não é Comida, É Violência!” (“It’s not Food, Its Violence!”). We didn’t have a plan. We spent about half an hour sitting in a nearby shopping mall and talking about what to do. So it was a pretty spontaneous action. A customer called the manager, but by then we were already leaving. The other actions have been different. We started speaking and trying to involve more activists as speakers. In the beginning, we were really trying to find ourselves.

DxE: What is the AR scene like in Lisbon, and do you collaborate with other groups for certain events/campaigns?

ACM: The AR scene in Lisbon is growing and winning its own identity. Nowadays we are finding more activism groups proliferating throughout the country. Until recently, it was only the biggest organization for animal rights, ANIMAL, that was responsible for driving actions. Now I feel people more aware of their abilities and power as activists and that they can’t always expecting ANIMAL to organize everything. Each of us can and should be active, and inspire others.

Before I create Acção Directa, I use to collaborate as a volunteer in ANIMAL and now in Acção Directa we establish partnerships with other groups. For instance, we organized a protest against a movie which used animals, along with the platform “Cidadãos pelos Circos sem Animais” and now we will synchronize an international action called Empty the Tanks in June, with Porto Pelos Animais e Algarve Pelos Animais.

We are also working in the organization of Veganario, an annual vegan festival. Last year we heard that this festival was not going to happen and then we encouraged them to do it with our help.  We joint strengths and now we are working hard.

DxE: What are some of the challenges DxE Lisbon faces? How are you typically received by consumers, restaurant and market owners, and/or the police in your home city? In other parts of Portugal?

ACM: I think the main challenges are still the development of our actions, how we film them since filming people is forbidden by law in our country, it is consider a crime.

We have so much to learn yet but with no doubt that we are facing a troubled speciesist reality that has a more prominent focus in a country like Portugal. We still deal with strong discrimination against so many social groups that animal rights are seen as a minor problem. However, we are seeing people grow more concerned and conscious about nonhuman animals, day by day, step by step.

Consumers don’t usually behave aggressively towards us. Sometimes we hear some unpleasant stuff, but nothing that bothers us too much.  Market owners and managers politely ask us to leave. Police never appear, which is great. We organize two different actions every month: one is an external one with a public event and the other is an internal one where we protect ourselves and don’t post our event publicly in order to avoid problems with authority.

In the externals ones, we try to create visually appealing demos and deliver leaflets with assertive information. Being straight to the point in those flyers could be really useful. We don’t yet have other DxE chapters in Portugal, only in Lisbon, but we strongly encourage people to make them!

DxE: Please share with us one truly inspiring moment you’ve experienced as an organizer with DxE Lisbon.

ACM: I would not say there was a specific moment, but I was really happy to know from a person I interact in an action, that he became vegan after knowing us and talking with me. Now he is attending our protests and supports the Animal Liberation Movement. Also, after my Disrupt Speciesism challenge, I received a message in my inbox from another person asking me to help with his transition to veganism and declaring that he felt truly inspired by my action. That was so awesome!