“It often happens that the universal belief of one age, a belief from which no one was free, or could be free, without an extraordinary effort of genius or courage, becomes to a subsequent age, so palpable an absurdity that the only difficulty is to imagine how such an idea could ever have been deemed credible.”
—John Stuart Mill
The vegan ideal embodies the highest of ethical aspirations – non-violence, justice and compassion toward the innocent. Yet this deep and powerful value system continues to be marginalized by society. The example set by those who embrace these principles is too often vehemently opposed, trivialized or simply ignored. But the effects of this paradigm shift in perception are far-reaching, and the rewards beyond measure.
And yet, it somehow appears that the light of veganism is so bright that people are afraid to open their eyes to it, even individuals whose eyes are open to the truth behind other social causes. What is it that makes us cling so stubbornly to a practice that is clearly unnecessary, devastatingly cruel, and, if left unchecked, will almost certainly end up destroying us?
More and more people are recognizing the prejudice and injustice inherent in enslaving and slaughtering animals, in order to feed our appetite for flesh, eggs and milk. It is no secret that animal concentration camps create breeding grounds for all sorts of infectious diseases. It’s also becoming known that animal products are detrimental to human health, and that animal agriculture, including ‘free-range’ and ‘organic’, is implicated in some of the worst crimes against the planet. Even the truth about the animal industry’s role in world hunger and food shortages is starting to come into the open.
With all the advancements of human ‘civilization’, our addiction to killing keeps us in the dark ages. It inhibits us from cultivating our capacity for kindness, empathy, and justice; the very qualities we need to develop if we are to move forward into a safe and prosperous future, in which we do not fear one another.
In a world that makes little of preying upon the innocent, showing callous disregard for the pain and suffering of animals is not just accepted, but is frequently promoted in different forms by our society. Why would this be, when so many of us feel such a strong bond and love for animals?
Animals remind us of our own connection with (and separation from) the natural world, a world we once shared with them. Out of our intense desire to leave behind a way of life where daily survival had to be fought for, we managed to climb out of the world of nature, leaving behind the terror of the predatory paradigm. But rather than using our position of advantage to help our fellow animals, we have used it to further oppress them, and to push them into lives of even more fear, more pain, and more suffering, this time at the hands of those who claim to have evolved beyond their animal instincts to become creatures of moral conscience. It is for this reason that we feel guilty when we look at animals, because something inside us knows that we have betrayed them, and we continue to betray them, on a massive scale.
Animals value their lives, and strive to be free from pain. Since the same qualities exist in us, empathizing with them comes naturally. When we suppress that empathy, it makes it impossible for us to look more deeply into the true nature of animals, and the rest of the natural world that they rely on for survival.
Indifference toward the suffering of other creatures is an accepted societal norm that calls out for us to remember what basic human values are: justice, empathy, compassion and respect; for the natural world, for the other animals, and for our fellow humans. By re-evaluating and renewing our commitment to these fundamental values, and by calling attention to the need for an ethical evolution, we can create new standards of behavior, motivated by our desire to be better people. Only in this way will we become deserving of the position of stewardship that our physical evolution has granted us, but which we have rejected in favor of self-serving domination.
All over the world, animals are imprisoned, enslaved, tortured and violently killed, and all over the world, people who are otherwise kind, gentle and caring, continue to ignore this unspeakable suffering. And yet we wonder why the human race is plagued by violence on a world-wide scale. We go about our business, acting as though this state of violence does not indicate something terribly disturbing about our psychological state, individually and as a whole. Our lack of concern for innocent beings has caused us to de-sensitize ourselves to suffering, which in turn enables us to inflict pain on each other.
In the words of Russian novelist Count Leo Tolstoy:
“As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields.”
The vegan ideal is at the core of the shift from predation to protection and from prejudice to justice; an essential step into a way of living that is more suited to the nature of people who care about the suffering of others, and who can empathize with another’s situation. The vegan solution contains within it the power to solve even the most overwhelming problems we are facing, on every level from personal to planetary.
If we are to have a future, the people who live in that future will not be addicted to products that are a result of exploitation, suffering and environmental devastation. They will not source their food from animal farms or slaughterhouses, but from fertile gardens, vibrant orchards and veganic farms. People will be kind, compassionate, gentle and just.
This quantum leap in perception may seem unlikely from the position we are in today, but it is within this very change that our hope for the future lies.