Cuz you know, it's classy, clever and cool to attach the word "new" to a term to make it a pejorative. Um, no, it's actually old and tired, but hey, small things amuse me. All kidding aside though, I DO struggle with what to call myself. I'm abolitionist, but have no problem supporting reform measures that reduce suffering. And for that I may have earned the openly mocked "new welfarist" label by some, but tough.
So why am I bringing this up now? The beginnings of this post has been sitting untouched in my drafts folder since February of 2012, and I suppose I just wanted to finally get it off my chest. And because this time of year tends to make me a little Grinchy before the spirit of the season eventually manages to infiltrate my system, I thought I'd deal with it so I can hopefully move on to a more positive state of mind. And clean up the coal before the new year begins. ;)
I've been vegan for a fairly long time now (8 years next summer is pretty long, no?), but did you know that I almost gave up on being vegan practically right after adopting the label? As soon as I decided to go vegan I looked up the concept online so I could join the group of loving, joyous, peaceful and supportive folk that vegans obviously were. [Okay, I'll give you a minute here to guffaw at my naïveté.] You can imagine my shock then when I discovered that the animal rights movement was more divisive than any other movement I'd thus far encountered, and in comparison made being a feminist look like a walk in the park.
One of my first online searches landed me in a forum (it may have been Examiner) where I soon noticed this one person being even more obnoxious than the rest. What also annoyed me was that unlike everyone else who just went by their first name, this individual kept including their educational and work credentials every time they said something. Who is this jerk, I thought, and why are they so damn status-conscious? Sorry, but that kind of crap doesn't impress me, and I hoped they would just go away already. Oops, as I learned soon enough, this was the leader (leader!) of an influential branch of the movement, and I was almost ready to throw in the towel. Because if this jackass (or, to be more fair, person with jackassy ways) was supposed to be someone to admire and learn from, well, the movement could count me out.
I was genuinely bummed for a while, but then figured that there had to be other vegans whose philosophy and approach more closely resembled my own, and of course, there were. Veganism is about compassion and other animals more than the petty (and sometimes not-so-petty) differences between vegans, and it wasn't long before I found my own kind of people so to speak.
That first person who rudely awakened me to the reality of the vegan movement never did go away, and I encountered them again years later in a completely fruitless one-on-one online discussion that cemented my dislike of this person even more. It also made me question their professional skills because surely a lawyer would know that parroting the same stock phrases over and over does not an argument make? Zero listening skills, debatable debating skills, complete arrogance, and the most linear black-and-white thinking I've ever seen. Not exactly a recipe for inspiring change methinks.
That opinion hasn't changed. And while I'm sure that this individual started out with the best of intentions and still truly believes that their approach and strategy is the best one where other animals are concerned, we have to call a spade a spade. Or in this case, a bully. Not a label I use too often, but from my own personal and work experience, I tend to recognize bullying behaviours almost instantly.
Okay, at this point you're probably thinking that I'm not being nice right now either, and you're likely right, but I also believe that vegans have a responsibility not only for our message, but for our messengers as well. And allowing even one of those messengers to be controlling, to delete comments that even slightly deviate from their own opinion, to ban group or forum members outright for not strictly toeing their philosophical line, and to deny any legitimacy to other approaches is well, unacceptable. What's worse is that this kind of behaviour would be rightly recognized as abusive were it to happen in a personal relationship, so why do we condone it when it happens in a political movement?
It's not right, and we shouldn't.
These days I tend to describe myself as abolitionist in theory and ideals, and pragmatic in approach. In short, a pragmatic abolitionist. Call me new welfarist if you will, but I define myself as an abolitionist because I want to see the abolition of animal use. I just don't see it happening as quickly as certain absolutist abolitionists do, and definitely not by just chanting the world is vegan if you want it over and over. It will, in my opinion (and those of others), require many strategies (both abolitionist AND reform), many approaches, and the inclusion of people who aren't even vegan.
Until that time, we need to be nicer to each other, and to those we are trying to reach. We need to lead by example (myself included), both online and out in the real world that we're trying to change. Because if compassion for others isn't shown, why the hell should non-vegans think compassionately about other species?
In sum, I can't really call myself a new or old anything if I don't at least try to live up to the ideals of what veganism really means. So I pledge, right now, to become a better person in the new year, and to try and become the kind of vegan I admire. Anyone with me? :)