When Do We Make a Difference?

There’s a book by Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point, that introduces several case studies to draw the conclusion that small things often make a huge difference in the end. This isn’t a book review; I actually read this one a couple years ago and hardly remember it. Nevertheless, the point is important: small movements can eventually gain steam and, when their time has come, change the world.

While this observation can cause one to be optimistic, the flip side of the coin is a little darker: good ideas may, for years or decades or even centuries, be ignored, mocked, or otherwise dismissed. Those who advocate for such ideas may be ostracized or even killed. Eventually the world comes around, accepts the facts, and we all move on. Those who were right all along are vindicated, but rarely are reparations paid out for the time they spent trying to get the world to see what eventually became obvious to all.

Examples that easily come to mind are slavery and the rights revolutions of the 20th century. Many people advocating for animal rights point to these societal exorcisms and declare that the next revolution will create a better world for animals. I certainly hope so.

Gladwell describes the factors that cause ideas to stick on and encapsulate a society. Usually there is some sort of accident along the way, something that strikes a match and sets the world ablaze, where the conditions necessary for a fire lay in wait. The idea must be catchy — like a slogan — and it must be advocated for by the right people, strapped with knowledge and social clout.

I believe the ethical philosophy behind veganism is catchy enough. I also think that many of the people who loudly advocate for a vegan lifestyle do so in an effective manner. And we all know that veganism is becoming easier by the day. Right now we vegans are a tiny minority, and to be frank, we don’t have much influence in the grand scheme of things. But if I’m right, I think we are simply waiting for the wildfire.

And that which lights the match may be lab grown meat. As I’ve talked about before, veganism is a lifestyle change, and lifestyle changes aren’t easy. That’s an additional obstacle we will have to overcome to see the change we wish for. Perhaps this will be less of an “accident” than previous tipping points: maybe the world knows eating animals is wrong, and will only admit it once there is a cruelty-free source of animal products that doesn’t require a lifestyle change, or at least a very small one.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has tried to calculate whether my decision to forego animal products is actually making a difference. It could be that the nature of animal agriculture somehow prevents an individual from saving lives through simple non-participation.

We may become frustrated by those around us who continue to eat animals. We may wonder why the world hasn’t been able to see what we see so clearly. But what’s certainly true is that we make a difference when we engage in mass non-participation. That’s something to be proud of, but we have more to look forward to: the day we reach a tipping point, and the world accepts that we’ve been right all along.


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