“The sun, the moon and the stars would have disappeared long ago… had they happened to be within the reach of predatory human hands.”
~Havelock Ellis, The Dance of Life, 1923
From climate collapse to mass extinction, water shortages to world hunger, the catastrophic problems we face are clear indicators that we are in need of radical change; transformation on a global scale.
At a time when the number of our species equals nearly seven billion, gone are the days when we could procrastinate about necessary changes or take baby steps toward a sustainable humanity in the hope that enough individual “good deeds” could create a meaningful impact. At this point, drastic, sweeping changes are needed, and this fundamental shift in society as a whole must begin with each one of us.
For too long, movements for change have over-emphasized the importance of minor lifestyle “tweaks” – socially-correct choices and eco-friendly purchases – while ignoring the underlying mindset that supports the fundamentally self-centered and hard-hearted behavior of humanity. Sadly, this approach has served to mistakenly teach us that it is possible to “make a difference” without making a difference in one’s perception of ourselves and our relationship to the rest of the world.
But if we, as individuals and as a society, are not willing to honestly examine the perspective from which we’re looking, how will we ever change the direction in which we’re heading? Perhaps sooner than we think, we’re going to end up with no choice but to press pause, step back, and take stock. But it seems that when we finally put some much-needed attention toward the magnitude of the tragedies that have already begun, the question will be whether we still have the power to avert those yet to unfold.
Our collective willingness to overlook the most basic rights and needs of others in order to fulfill our own desires has driven us to invent a way of life that treats everything and everyone around us as expendable resources, whether the exploited be the planet’s natural eco-systems, its populations of wild and domesticated animals, or our fellow people; those in developing nations and those right here in our own.
For some time we have been at war with the natural world, and increasingly, we are finding ourselves to be on the losing side. And now, as our grand experiment begins to reach its climax, we are starting to learn that we are not, in fact, above the laws of nature. As we approach the end of our reign as self-appointed dictators of our planet’s future, we now find ourselves, appropriately, on the receiving end of the violence; reaping the karma of the devastating cycle of destruction that we, ourselves, set in motion.
When the gifts offered by this planet finally run out, there will be an abrupt halt to our relentless pursuit of sensory diversion; to the self-worship of a population convinced that the whole world exists to serve our pleasures. If we don’t change of our own volition, it looks increasingly likely that we will find ourselves forced to embrace the humility we so desperately need. We may find that we have no choice but to take responsibility for our mistakes, to begin to understand and embrace our place in the natural order of things, and to try and find a way to make peace with an entire planet on which we have declared war.
When examining issues of such catastrophic potential, it’s understandable that individuals who care can feel helpless. It’s easy to fall victim to the debilitating belief that we might really have no future; that it all might be for naught.
However, there is a solution that still has the power to change everything – absolutely everything – because it offers exactly what is needed to inspire the necessary change in us; the metamorphosis that will transform us from the self-serving predators who created this mess to the responsible custodians now needed to clean it up.
In a world that makes little of preying upon the meek, showing callous disregard for the pain and suffering of others is not only accepted, but is frequently promoted in different ways by our society. This should make us all stop and think about whether we are actually being true to the values we claim to share.
The Golden Rule offers a common-sense prescription for morally decent behavior, but as beautifully balanced as this ethical equation is, it does no good for it to be recited without being observed. It is a perfect example of where our practices cannot catch up with our principles, until we acknowledge that an ethic of basic respect toward others – all others – includes not depriving them of their life or freedom, whether those others are human or not.
No matter how strong the current opposition, it will eventually have to be accepted that a nonviolent way of life is the way of the future, for it is only by embracing this ideal that we will be able to address all at once the many seemingly different issues crippling our civilization and threatening our very survival.
Our collective addiction to products that come from animals’ bodies has driven us to create systems of production that are not only utterly unsustainable in the long-term, but are also immediately damaging; to natural eco-systems, populations of wild animals, and the survival of people in developing nations.
In order to provide affluent countries with meat, dairy and eggs (not to mention leather, wool, fur and feathers), we have destroyed major portions of the world’s wild lands, seriously altered the levels of gases in the atmosphere, decimated many wild animal populations beyond recovery, and pushed people living in poor countries further and further into cycles of starvation. The UK alone imports £46,000,000 worth of grain from third world countries to feed their livestock. In the US, the amount of grain used to feed animals just for meat could feed 600,000,000 people. How much good can we really be doing with foreign aid, when our dietary choices take food right out of the very mouths of those who need it most?
As the human population continues to grow, and industrialization expands ever further, it brings with it the excesses of animal agriculture, and as a result, we currently run the risk of driving into collapse the essential life-preserving systems of the planet itself. Even the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has confirmed that “livestock production is one of the major causes of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, including global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.”
This ongoing cycle of exploitation not only burdens our planet with the oppressive weight of a population of billions bred into existence solely to serve human desires, it also prohibits us from moving forward into a more peaceful and prosperous future, the inhabitants of which reject brutality and bloodshed as a matter of principle.
A pandemic of violence plagues our society, from school shootings to domestic assault, street crime to police brutality. But the cause of such widespread aggression becomes clear when we recognize that our society and our economy are built on the exploitation of others, and that we habitually feed ourselves and fuel our bodies with products of violence, discrimination, and environmental devastation. We may think that we can avoid the reality of this, by hiding the evidence in neatly wrapped packages and camouflaging it with sauces and seasonings, but our more honest selves cannot help but be aware of the truth, and the violence that is implicit in our meals, as well as in other areas of our lives – from clothing to cosmetics – permeates our culture on all levels from personal to global.
As more and more people begin to wake up to the prejudice and injustice inherent in enslaving and slaughtering animals, it’s also becoming known that the consumption of animal products is detrimental to human health, and that animal agriculture, including so-called ‘free-range’ and ‘organic’, is implicated in some of the worst crimes against the planet. Neither is it any secret anymore that animal camps are the breeding grounds for all sorts of infectious diseases.
And yet, it somehow appears that the light of the vegan ideal is so bright that the vast majority of people are afraid to even open their eyes to it, including individuals who are deeply involved in, and even passionate about, other social causes. What is it that makes otherwise socially responsible people cling so stubbornly to barbaric, primitive practices that are clearly unnecessary, devastatingly cruel, and which, if left unchecked, will almost certainly end up destroying us?
Our pandemic of moral apathy calls out to us to reevaluate our relationship with not only our fellow humans, but with the whole of the natural world, including the other animals. Animals who are not human are the victims of our most extreme and systematic cruelty, and it is time we recognized that they are no more meant to be our possessions or resources than are people with different-colored skin, women, children, or any other sentient beings. They are not inanimate objects to be treated as economic commodities, as money-making machines; they are other minds, other selves; each one with a consciousness as mysterious as any one of ours; each one an individual who values her life, feels pain, fears death, and has a right to live free from oppression.
When we advocate for the widespread adoption of vegan values, we speak for the entire population of humanity’s victims, including once-glorious landscapes that have been preyed upon rather than protected; trampled and trodden under a mass of hooves, overrun by enslaved hordes of genetically manipulated creatures bearing little resemblance to their wild ancestors whom we have all but wiped out.
The vegan ethic embodies the most universal of spiritual and ethical aspirations – non-violence, harmlessness, reverence for life, and the cultivation of compassion within the individual. By doing nothing more than simply living as a vegan – which means to eliminate from one’s life the products and practices that require the exploitation of animals – a person has the power to actually bring such noble qualities down to earth. That is why it is no hardship to give up one form of sustenance for another; to replace one type of fabric with another, or to say no to one form of ‘entertainment’ for another. In fact, it is nothing short of a tremendous joy to finally free oneself from the horrifying injustice of a way of life that can only sustain one by killing another.
The world stands at a turning point. If we are to have a future, the people who live in that future will not be dependent on products that are a result of exploitation, suffering and environmental devastation. We will not stand for the waste and ruin caused by animal farms and feedlots, or the horrifying sights and sounds of the slaughterhouses.
When our world is filled with the brilliant colors of blossoming gardens, the enchanting fragrances of vibrant orchards and fertile fields of crops growing on peaceful farms, we will build our bodies with truly healthy food; food that grows from the ground in clean soil, pure rain, fresh air and glorious sunshine.
As we approach the end of 2012, and we take a step back to look at the final act of the human spectacle slowly fading on the global stage, the ideal of nonviolence still stands tall, inviting us all to embrace a new standard that represents nothing less than an evolutionary step for humankind; a final hope for some sort of viable future, and an opportunity to start anew – to give ourselves another chance.