*Disclaimer: I use the word “information” a lot because I feel like it’s most applicable word in the context of my post. Let me know in the comments any synonyms you know of for me to use in the future, haha.*
I used to be obsessed with conspiracy theories. Obsessed. I would wake up early in the morning and stay up late into the night to watch hour-long videos about elaborate and semi-coherent speculations about government involvement in events like the Sandy Hook Massacre, the Boston Bombing, and 9/11; and the occult and its power over world events like climate change, globalism, and science. It began as a humorous interest of mine, laughing at the grandiosity of those theories and juxtaposing that with the information I was hearing from scholars at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institute, the Cato Institute, etc. (I listen to a lot of podcasts). I found it intriguing that both of these groups of people – the academics and the conspiracy theorists – they have a lot in common yet they also live in totally different worlds. The idea that Alex Jones, David Icke (whom Mike F and I saw speak for an epic 10 hours!), and even the smaller-scale commentators truly believe the things they blather about was also hilarious and mesmerizing. Like, when he’s by himself, Alex Jones probably thinks to himself “Yup, it’s the Satanic liberal globalist occult that’s behind it all.”; David Icke thinks “Yup, it’s those inter-dimensional reptilians.”; and Jeff C from FreeRadioRevolution thinks “Yup, Seth McFarlane had something to do with the death of Robin Williams because they both were supposed to be on Flight 11 that crashed into the North Tower on 9/11 but they both ‘coincidentally’ missed the flight.” That last one is a real video and it was kind of my first step into this awesomely perverse and wide-ranging pocket of people, it was love at first sight.
What started as a part-joking, part-serious inquiry eventually shifted into being an extremely formative and philosophical journey. The videos and these considerations became less about making fun of irrational ideas and more about getting to the core of what underlies those beliefs. Like, what principles and theories underlie Alex Jones’, David Icke’s, and anyone else’s beliefs? What makes them think they’re right and others are wrong; and if everyone thinks they’re right and others are wrong, then who is truly right? What is right or true? It came to some very awesome and powerful conclusions that have affected me deeply.
Now, I’m sure you’re asking what this has to do with veganism. The answer is that there are actually many areas where conspiracies and veganism overlap. For starters, the premise of veganism is slightly conspiratorial in nature, that there is a behemoth industry that exerts an immense amount of power over society and intends to keep people consuming even at humanity’s and the world’s detriment. The animal agriculture industry doesn’t care about your health, the health of the animals, or the health of the planet, they just care about their bottom-lines. The industry has worked behind closed doors with governments to engineer an economic and regulatory system that protects their position in society and keeps them profitable. This point is made in many important vegan documentaries like “Food Inc.”, “Forks Over Knives”, “Cowspiracy”, and “What the Health?”, but it also makes some intuitive sense as well. To some, animal agriculture can be seen the same way as the occult or the Illuminati or whatever else you want to call it.
They overlap on another level, too. Being vegan can put someone in an ‘us against them’ position, wherein once ‘you open up your eyes to the reality’ and break away from the dogmas imposed by society, then you’ve liberated your mind and seen through the façade. This can lead to a kind of toxic cynicism and entrenchment where a chasm develops between yourself – the vegan – and mostly everyone else. Each side of this chasm thinks they’re right and better, and the other side is wrong and worse. I think this is one of the forces behind why vegans can be zealous or aggressive truth-tellers, rather than tactful and empathic. It’s almost as if they’re so woke about these issues, they lose their ability to empathize with nonvegans insofar as recognizing and respecting their perspectives. It even happens with me sometimes, where I feel so right in my beliefs that I think to myself that we live in a society where people are conditioned to be the way they are and all they’re missing is the truth to change. The reasons I don’t succumb to those impulses when they’re at their worst, however, is because I’ve had the time to oversee a battle of ideas and information between two diametrically opposed philosophies and cultures (government-establishment, scholar types versus anti-establishment and anti-globalization dissidents). During my time in conspiracy-land, I had the opportunity to observe two irreconcilable belief systems, and to accept that both sides ‘know’ they’re right and the others are wrong. This is an epistemic quagmire, but it needs to be considered to understand that information isn’t the same to everyone, it significantly matters how it’s framed, delivered, and received. How it’s framed, delivered, and received are major factors in the persuasiveness of information or an argument.
This can all be framed as an information war. It’s the information held and accepted by general society against information for vegans. The lucky thing for vegans is that the breadth of information that supports a vegan life seems incontrovertible, but this doesn’t mean the case is clear for everyone. The unlucky thing for vegans is that it’s a radical and revolutionary belief system, which means that there are inherent barriers to convincing people of the the rightness and goodness (i.e. the two virtues). In other words, it’s going to take more than just information alone to compel people to become vegan. This is where the information war can get volatile: bad and nonvalid information pervades society and most people accept it, like how eating meat is necessary, healthy, and natural, or that today’s captivity, exploitation, and slaughter can be “humane”. Meanwhile, good and valid information doesn’t get the same attention and credit, such as the breadth of evidence of the stark environmental abuses committed by the animal agriculture industry, or the absolute brutality and subjugation imposed on almost all innocent farmed animals. Bad information is far more appealing, and it has entered the discourse about veganism.
I learned this lesson hard when I stumbled onto a website called PETAkillsanimals.com. Initially, I was intrigued and upset by the information on this website. Maybe I’m naïve, but I didn’t know PETA killed cats and dogs in their shelter in Virginia, so it took me some time to absorb and I was shocked. I’m still not quite sure how I feel about the issue, but I soon I realized that the website itself isn’t very trustworthy; its message is exaggerated and charged, and its purpose was to attack PETA. What gave it away to me was that the website clearly didn’t seem to be administered by vegans. Usually, I wouldn’t believe that assumption so strongly, but PETA is amazingly polarizing and hated by a lot of people, so it seemed very plausible that someone or a group of nonvegans would go to such lengths to discredit the organization. I began looking into this website and I was pleased to fall into another wonderful conspiratorial rabbit hole.
The website is founded and operated by the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), which is a consumer “education” organization that essentially engages in promotional campaigns for interests that profit off the public’s vulnerability and harm. Although the organization doesn’t officially publicize its donors, Rachel Maddow and John Oliver have each done a good analysis to suggest CCF is funded by industry groups and corporate interests. Its primary focus seems to be animal rights activism, but they have done campaigns promoting short term health insurance plans, fighting against soda taxes, and even fighting Chipotle. It employs a robust and sophisticated system of undermining the animal rights movement. CCF has attacked the Humane Society of the United States in a similarly deceptive and clever way as with PETA, also establishing a defamatory website, humanewatch.org. It has even established a third website that focuses more broadly on animal rights extremism called animalactivistwatch.com. Each of these websites exist to undercut, delegitimize, and smear animal rights organizations with a slew of misrepresentation and masked bias, just like any good information war.
The harm from these websites aren’t necessarily that they directly contradict animal rights activism or vegan values, the harm really comes from how they obfuscate information and the truth. Their mere existence adds confusion into these subjects and distorts what is real and right. Similar to what I argued earlier, what makes this especially pernicious for veganism is that it entrenches people in the idea that animal rights activists and vegans are bullying and careless ideologues who want to harm individual farmers and individual choice, which makes people less likely to open-up to or accept the information we provide. The best way to counter this is to misinformation is learn how to spot it and put the discourse into honest and fact-based contexts. More importantly, however, we must be careful about how we frame and deliver our message, and make sure it is as well-received as we can control for. That is how we rebuke the stereotypes that pervade this misinformation and appeal to peoples’ nature rather than their rationale.
To repurpose a phrase from Alex Jones, “There is a was on for your diet!” No argument can stop a reasoned vegan!