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Life Arts

Opposition Confirms my Purpose

By Angel Flinn and Dan Cudahy  Posted by Suzana Megles (about the submitter)     Permalink
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Opposition Confirms my Purpose

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By Angel Flinn and Dan Cudahy

"I found the minds of the people strangely indifferent to the subject of slavery. Their prejudices were invincible--stronger, if possible, than those of the slaveholders. Objections were started on every hand; apologies for the abominable system constantly saluted my ears; obstacles were industriously piled up in my path" What was yet more discouraging, my best friends--without an exception--besought me to give up the enterprise! It was not my duty (they argued) to spend my time, and talents, and services, where persecution, reproach and poverty were the only certain reward. My scheme was visionary--fanatical--unattainable" But opposition served only to increase my ardor, and confirm my purpose."

~ William Lloyd Garrison (July 14, 1830)

We live in a world where the vast majority of people consider it perfectly acceptable to oppress and exploit other animals, despite the fact that we have  no moral justification for doing so . Every year in the United States, approximately ten billion land animals are killed, after being intentionally bred and enslaved, all for human gain. Worldwide, the numbers equal approximately 56 billion annually. When we count animals who live in water, there are tens or hundreds of billions more every year.

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All of these animals are as innocent as children, but we treat them as though being born as a member of a different species is a crime worthy of life in prison, often accompanied by torture, ending with the death penalty. In fact, for the vast majority of them, the lives they are forced to live are so unbearable that premature death --  itself a severe harm   -- might conceivably serve as some kind of merciful release from a life of physical, psychological and emotional suffering.

Widespread veganism is the only hope these nonhuman beings have for emancipation from their brief, brutal existence. Such a fundamental change in our society will only be brought about by a radical moral paradigm shift similar to those which resulted in the abolition of human chattel slavery and the voting rights of women.

Moral paradigm shifts, however, do not cause themselves. They are caused by small groups of people within society -- always considered "radical" in their own time -- who persistently educate others over   decades   about why change is necessary. Indeed, William Lloyd Garrison founded   The Liberator , a weekly anti-slavery newspaper, in 1831, and it wasn't until after 34 years and the bloodiest war on United States soil* that slavery was finally abolished in 1865. Similarly, the women's suffrage movement's first well-known spokesperson was John Stuart Mill in 1865, but women were not permitted to vote until 1918 in the United Kingdom, and 1920 in the United States.

* Note that William Lloyd Garrison, the authors of this article, and the abolitionist approach to animal rights reject violence, and support only non-violent education and reasoned dialogue as a means to social justice, regardless of the cause.

In their efforts to educate and to engage in civil disobedience in the name of noble causes, abolitionists and suffragists endured ridicule, anger, imprisonment, and death threats, both from the establishment itself, and also from counter-movements made up of citizens with an interest in maintaining the current situation.

Nobody minded a quiet abolitionist or suffragist. Respecting "everyone's personal choice" with deferent silence was deemed "moderate and respectable" by those vested in the status quo. Challenging the injustice with moral education was called "self-righteous," "offensive," "extremist," and "off-putting."

Take, for example, the following quote from 1847, in which human slavery proponent Joseph W. Lesesne criticizes anti-slavery advocates and the abolitionist movement:

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"[The abolitionists'] conduct has been most atrocious. No language is strong enough to denounce it. The shameless impudence with which they have trampled the Constitution under their feet, and their mean and despicable contrivances to deprive us of our Slave property ought to be held up to the scorn of the whole Union."

The more direct and unequivocal an advocate's position, the more resistance he or she encountered.

And so it is with vegans today. Despite the fact that we stand so clearly on the side of justice for all sentient beings, we can expect to encounter resistance most of the time. As strong vegan educators and advocates, we can expect to be dismissed, ignored, misrepresented, and to be subjected to whatever treatment those opposing us believe would be most effective at discouraging our efforts. Recognizing and accepting this situation for what it is, and realizing that other successful social justice movements faced similar resistance and criticism over spans of decades, can help us persist in our efforts over decades as well.

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