Fighting the Four Fs

As a vegan activist and an admirer of Veda Stram‘s quarter century of work on behalf of animals, I agree completely with her comment. What humans have been doing to nonhuman animals — and not out of life/death Darwinian necessity for survival or health, but only for the four Fs: Flavour, Fashion, Finance and Fun — is monstrous and getting worse with time.

But, as Veda stresses in her guidance to activists, there are many different strategies for trying to inspire people to stop hurting — or contributing to hurting — animals. If we knew for sure which strategy works, or works best, we’d flock to doing it. But we don’t know. So we have to go by the little available evidence, and our own feelings.

I too feel disgusted — in fact, worse, outraged: enraged, and wishing I could make the human race vanish instantly — when I contemplate the unspeakable horrors we are inflicting on countless victims every second of every day, gratuitously, just for the four Fs.

But then I turn my thoughts away from the perpetrators to the victims, and ask myself what good my feelings of impotent rage — or their expression — can do the victims: Can I shame people into renouncing the four Fs and going vegan? Some, perhaps. But the little evidence we have about the effects of different strategies suggests that trying to shame people far more often inspires resentment and rejection rather than empathy and reform.

Another strategy about which it’s hard to imagine that it would inspire people to reform is to state that people are incorrigible. Even if we believe that people are incorrigible, it’s best not to say it, lest it become a self-fulfilling prophecy, discouraging activists and emboldening the practitioners of the four Fs to dig in even deeper into their ways.

This was the reason I suggested feigning optimism even if we don’t feel it: Not to pretend the horrors are not horrors — monstrous, impardonable horrors — but to keep alive the only hope there is for the victims: that humanity can change for the better, as it has done in the past with slavery, racism, sexism and a lot of other wrongs we’ve done and have since rejected, despite the fact that they too were driven by three of the four Fs.

Not only do I recommend assuming that humans are corrigible as a strategy, I actually believe it is true that people’s hearts can be opened.

I’d like to close by mentioning another sad fact that animal activists are alas all familiar with too: the tendency of activists to turn on one another. On the one hand, it’s completely understandable: The vast majority of people are perpetrators — because of the four Fs — of the animal agony we are fighting to end. Vegan activists are a tiny minority, and we all have daily experience of having to face the apathy or active antipathy of the perpetrators, starting often with our own family and our friends. This gives rise to a lot of frustration, disappointment, and, yes, sometimes an adversarial defensiveness, a sense that the world, inhumane and hostile, is against animals — and us.

This adversarial feeling has to be resisted, again mainly because it does no good for the animal victims, rather the opposite — but especially when it overflows into defensiveness even toward fellow vegan-activists whose strategy may diverge slightly from our own, or even just appears to. We sometimes feel we’re yet again facing that same majority mentality, the mentality of the exploiters and the condoners, even when it is not there, and it’s just one of us.