Quite often the argument is made that as people in western society are far removed from certain aspects of society they are able to disassociate themselves, often unconsciously. This is visible in the lack of awareness of the working conditions of people who make many of the clothes those in the west wear — including the exploitation of children in sweatshops. Perhaps the most clear manifestation of this can be seen in the ability, for lack of a more appropriate term, of people to disassociate, for example, the chicken they purchase in the supermarket from the conditions in which the chicken was reared, before finally being slaughtered. There are psychological reasons for this, and this is often a focus of advertising campaigns (i.e. exploited), as much as rationalisations mobilised to justify, support or defend one’s choices. A recent experience prompted reflection on this — an experience often intentionally far-removed from the day-to-day life of westerners.
On a commute I sporadically cross paths with a semi-trailer or two laden with seemingly innocuous stacks of wire boxes, the content of which is not easy to discern. For many, it is the aftermath that exposes them to what the cages hold — if they notice at all. In their wake, which can be seen for some distance and mark the trucks’ trail, feathers line the side of the road, often flailing around in the turbulence of passing traffic.
These trucks emerge from a large broiler farm. The transport the live chickens to an unknown location for slaughter. Irrespective of weather, the chickens are transported without protection — aside from the rows of chickens stacked in cages above them. For those who do note the multitude chickens in the cages, the fear and suffering is pretty in your face.
Like many, I am aware that untold numbers of animals suffer and are slaughtered for the sake, or a direct result, of culinary gratification daily. Given this, why does the visual reminder of this have such an impact? Is it the relative powerlessness of seeking animals suffer at the hands of others? Is it that little will change for a long time, irrespective of one’s actions — that many millions more animals will suffer a similar fate? Is it that once looking into the eyes of one of these chickens, we are permanently affected?
Whenever I am in a store that displays the sanitised remains of animals for purchase, I tend to avoid those isles. As I pass, my eyes are intentionally directed elsewhere, my head turns away. Once one becomes aware of the suffering, the cliché ignorance is bliss shows its true meaning. We look away because we do not want the pain of knowing, at last in that moment. We do not want reinforced what we already know — millions are suffering and there is little we can do about it. That every life is as inherently valuable as our own.
Reflection of this sight of untold numbers of birds being transferred to slaughter, the ending of a life of untold suffering, has a broader purpose. Recently I noted a dialogue (to put it nicely) between someone I have known for some time and others reading his published work. A criticism of his writing was that he often belittles others with differing, less-nuanced or les-informed opinions. His response(s), in some ways, were also belittling — though clearly not noted (or if so, he did not care). This persons is relatively respected proponent of animal advocacy and veganism, and expends substantial effort to these ends. Sadly, their actions and approach to others is not always as beneficial.
What I have noted, sadly in many activist/advocate circles, is a hierarchy where those new to issues are treated differently, and often (not always intentionally and often partly unconsciously) belittled to varying degrees. Developing ones ideas and perspectives take time. What is often forgotten is that those doing the belittling were once in the same position as the recipient. Further, our ideas and awareness continue to develop overtime and there will alway s be someone with a perspective we can learn from. Do we really need to belittle those who have less opportunity than ourselves. Is activism and advocacy not in a large part about education?
The standard (hyper-masculine, often heteronormative) response to attempts at pointing this out is also belittling, often very defensive. Many who have grounded awareness of the relation between means and ends, and see the need for them to be one and the same, similarly respond. Constructive criticism is often dismissed as soft, even hippie-ish (construed in a negative fashion).
Sadly, much of this has manifested in fan club-esque uncritical and unwavering flag waving for created celebrities. It is evident that some who criticise the fandom of others act more like someone wanting to take their place than exposing and undermining the problematic aspects of such fandom. This is not always egoism, though it seems that way in far too many examples.
My point is, that this is a sad indictment on all of those working for change and a more compassionate world. We need to reflect on how we relate to others, be open to nurturing other’s with less experience whilst also being open to constructive criticism and different perspectives.
Many of those engaged in activism and advocacy, most likely a large percentage at one time or another, need to re-think the knee-jerk criticisms of others apparent ignorance’s. On the psychological level, we all try to shield ourselves. Let’s not be overly, more importantly dismissively, critical of those whose (unconscious) attempts at rationalised ignorance are obvious to ourselves…