“Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything. Do something. Anything.”
I will not burden your eyes with endless diatribes about Why Pagans Should Be Vegetarians or anything like that, partly because I don’t take well to being bitched at (and nothing will get people bitching like suggesting they change the way they eat), and partly because the self-righteous preaching of other vegans has already turned off enough people–including me. I no longer spend time on vegan forums or other communities due to the fact that a large percentage of vegans are, unfortunately, holier-than-thou assholes (and there’s nothing assholes love more than an online forum).
Before you agree with me and write off the whole notion of veganism as something only assholes do, consider–a lot of Pagans are also assholes (there being, as Bob Smith once said, a fine line between holistic and assholistic). So are a lot of Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, environmentalists, meat-eaters, Republicans, Democrats…assholism is not inherent to any particular subculture or creed; it simply exists, because humans suffer from a variety of assholery-causing maladies.
One of the maladies that afflicts vegans, as well as folk of other progressive or liberal causes, is the slow-spreading virus of despair. It happens to most people who become any sort of activists, from the hardcore-activist chaining herself to a nuclear reactor to the indirect-activist (passive activist?) writing letters or abstaining from animal product consumption. I’ve seen it befall a lot of Pagans, in fact, who have no particular cause to champion.
What happens is, we look around at the world and see so much wrong that we can’t change, we decide to just give up and do nothing, and go back to pretending our eyes have not been opened. The world seems too diseased for anyone to cure. Where do you start? Animal rights, homophobia, racism, poverty, environmental destruction…where? If you care about one thing, soon you find yourself caring about more and more things, for all of these illnesses of our modern culture are interconnected. Tug on one thread of society’s ragged hem and you find a snarl of knotted threads that must all be untangled in order to see true progress. Then what? One person can’t possibly untangle them all. So why bother?
Why bother? It’s a valid question, and one I’ve asked myself a hundred times in my vegan aspirations, which I am sorry to say often fall short of the mark. If I can’t be a perfect vegan, if I can’t truly “harm none” in the literal sense, why not just do my own thing, keep my head down, and stop caring?
The problem is, once you have your blinders ripped off, they will never stay on again. Oh, you can try. You can pretend nothing is wrong and go about your life as if your Hummer isn’t polluting the atmosphere and that steak wasn’t produced at great cost to the environment, workers, and animals; but deep down, you know better, and eventually that knowing will begin to eat at you, ulcerating your concsience. People who are capable of caring about the world are incapable of forgetting the world, no matter how hard they try.
Cognitive dissonance–the rift between what you believe and what you do–affects a frighteningly large percentage of the population who are willing to “look the other way.” Pagans, however, don’t really have that luxury. If you are willing to look the other way when confronted with hypocrisy and injustice, why did you ever question the faith of your childhood? It’s certainly easier to stay in the mainstream; why create so many hardships for yourself and possibly your family, when all you had to do was pretend everything was fine?
The reason is that at some point, the cost became too great. You could no longer live by believing one thing and doing another. The same thing happens with vegans, or with anyone devoted to a cause. At some point, the risk of hardship and the derision of others is less devastating than the gradual unraveling of your own truth.
Therein lies the point of all this. As an individual, I cannot stop factory farming. You alone cannot stop Big Oil from raping the Earth. And while it is true that, if enough people converted to veganism or stopped buying SUVs and so on, we could change the world, that’s a big if, and will be a long time in coming. People will continue to behave destructively until that destruction is brought home to their doorsteps…but here’s the secret:
Changing other people is not the issue here. What matters is you. Your integrity. Your beliefs. Your ability to look yourself in the eye.
I do not work so hard at veganism because I want to convert the masses to veganism, or even because I think that’s possible in my lifetime. I do it because it’s what I believe is right. In the end I don’t have to answer to you, or to Pagans, or to other vegans, or anyone but my own conscience and my gods. If I am living by my values and doing the best I can to walk my talk, the rest of society and its expectations of me can jolly well fuck off.
This is not to say I don’t think other people matter, or that mobilizing others for your cause is a bad idea (or a lost hope). Quite the contrary. I believe that by living your truth, by embodying Deity and bringing more grace and compassion to the world, you become an example to others who will then begin to question their own behavior and possibly decide to emulate you, or at least your attitude.
Who is more likely to convince you to stop eating meat: a pissed-off, holier-than-thou vegan who derides you for your choices over the lunch table, or a peaceful and kind vegan who never forces his beliefs but just lives them? People immediately go on the defensive when attacked, and who can blame them? The same holds true for any religion or creed–you catch more flies with maple syrup than vinegar.
(Honey, of course, is not vegan. Actually catching flies probably isn’t vegan either. Okay, strike that last metaphor.)
Regardless of what cause or creed you believe in, stop bitching. Unless you’re on Fox News or LiveJournal, nobody wants to hear you bitch. (Ooh, scary juxtaposition, that one.) Get up and do something about it. Maybe all of your efforts will change little in the global sense, but you know what? It doesn’t matter. Even if you fail, the fact will remain that someone, somewhere, cared enough to do something. Someone refused to turn a blind eye. Someone spoke. Someone acted. The actions you take might inspire just one more person to do the same. Then they might inspire another, and another. That may not seem like much, but it’s more than most people manage, and in this age, when so much seems to hang in the balance, it just might make all the difference in the world.