Have you ever seen an anti-abortion protest, replete with disturbing imagery of destroyed fetuses overlaid with text imploring God to stop the “murder of innocent babies”?
You were probably rather repulsed by the individuals — the men in particular — who deemed it necessary and noble to stand outside the Planned Parenthood and harass passers-by about the supposed modern-day Holocaust going on behind closed doors. You probably felt the urge to scold them about a woman’s right to have control over her body and the patriarchal overtones of their religious scripture.
What you probably didn’t feel was any sort of sway on the topic of abortion. On the contrary, you were likely more entrenched in your views that the right to abortion access must be protected from these modern-day theocrats.
This is because weaponizing one’s own emotions in an attempt to strong-arm others into having a similar emotional reaction on a topic in order to change their mind and behavior simply doesn’t work.
People often talk about emotion and reason as being opposing forces. It’s true that a particularly strong emotion can make it extremely difficult to think clearly. We can all relate to the lapse in judgement experienced by a character in our favorite movie when the villain is hot on their tail. Or picking a not-so-compatible mate at the end of the night when the party dies down and it’s looking like you’re otherwise going to turn up empty. More mundane is the experience of grocery shopping while hungry, causing us to make food choices that our satiated selves know better than to make. (Perhaps those last two are more similar than I intend…)
But the truth is that reason and emotion are almost always working in concert. In a very important sense, there is no one without the other. Without any emotion at all, we’ll struggle to make even the simplest choices, while emotion without reason is pure tragedy.
When animal rights activists march into restaurants, or otherwise appeal to emotion in advocating for a vegan lifestyle, their audience feels just like you felt walking by those Planned Parenthood protesters (leaving aside the scientific and rational basis for veganism, which is absent in anti-choice activists). People are either vegan or they are not; when vegan activists walk in the door shouting, each person’s emotional reaction is preordained. In the off-chance that someone in the audience is already vegan, they may be glad (or embarrassed). But otherwise, they’ll react negatively and become more entrenched in their feelings that veganism is not an ethical imperative.
Instead, we — vegans and non-vegans who are open to conversation — have to work from a common identity: as creatures who are capable of reason. There is simply no other reliable way. Most vegans grew up as non-vegans; the emotions connected to the horrors of animal agriculture were not always there. We learned how they came to our plate and we made a rational, ethical decision to no longer take part in such a brutal system. We must appeal to that compassionate side that resides in all of us, non-vegans and vegans alike.
Just because we’re emotional about the plight of livestock doesn’t make us wrong. But arguing from that emotion does not work on people who do not see any reason to be vegan. We must meet people where they’re at, and walk them through the logic and rationality of veganism. It can be quite easy to do.