Many of us know who Tucker Carlson is. He is a particularly abrasive and pompous pundit on FOX News who is known for fiery arguments. He is also known for strong and dramatic language, more to provoke reactions from people than to be serious about the issues or discourse. For example, he recently claimed that modern white supremacy is a “hoax”… He does that annoying thing pundits do when they pretend to be fair and reasonable. Most of the time, it’s just him telling the other person why he’s right, especially when they’re people he disagrees with. This is all common for punditry, but he is very good at it. He’s opined about many issues and told us all why he’s right about them, but the atrocity of factory farming was one subject he couldn’t palter about. This is old news, it happened in September 2018, but when it happened, it sent shockwaves through the vegan community. A lot of the response can be likened to “Hey everyone, look at Tucker Carlson get owned about veganism”, which is unfortunate because there is a really big teachable moment in this. I want to discuss what can be learned by careful and well-framed advocacy.
Tucker Carlson couldn’t refute any of the arguments made for veganism, which is an incredible symbol of the power that a well-framed concept for veganism can have. If such arguments can stop Carlson in his tracks, then they are likely to stop anyone.
So, Tucker Carlson had Farm Sanctuary Founder Gene Baur to discuss veganism, what happened was a great model for how to advocate to people. Because this is such an excellent example of advocacy, I want to break each major point down so we can observe the style and techniques that were exercised by Baur. There were two major lessons in Baur’s rhetoric and other tactical lessons I identified, which I think are important to consider and perhaps employ.
Breakdown and Analysis
The discussion itself…
- Carlson began by asserting that Baur was telling people what to eat and suggesting that he supports “forcing” people to eat vegan, which are both wrong.
- Baur addressed this by plainly stating that he isn’t ‘telling’ or forcing anyone to eat anything, but he is trying to educate people that veganism is option for people.
- Then Carlson claimed that “there’s a super high level of fussiness” among the vegans and “they’re all super easy to push over”.
- Baur named many professional athletes who are vegan; and he cleverly addresses the point about “fussiness” by arguing that some vegans may be like that and there are many others who aren’t like that, including himself. He then pivots the focus of his answer by talking about how he is ultimately trying to live compassionately and being vegan is how he does it. (Lesson #1 Connect back to your cause as much as possible.)
- Carlson asks why the priority is about being vegan, rather than advocating for changing the industry to improve animal welfare.
- Baur responded that advocating for improving animal welfare is a priority for him, too (Lesson #2 Highlight areas of alignment). He continues that while he’s advocating for improving animal welfare, he can also educate the public about how “we can live well eating plants instead of animals” (Lesson #1).
- Carlson then questions why dairy is harmful to animals.
- Baur explains how cows must be forcibly impregnated to produce milk until they can’t do so any longer, then they’re slaughtered. He also mentioned how male calves are used for veal.
- Next, Carlson brings up how dogs are slaughtered for meat in China and suggests that doesn’t get enough focus because all of the focus is on American animal agriculture. (He actually states how China should be sanctioned for these practices, which was a surprising and slightly funny claim to me.)
- Baur agrees that slaughtering dogs for meat is horrible (Lesson #2). He states how “kindness is important across the board, across the world” and that humane policies be enacted in other countries, too.
- Finally, Carlson questions if we have “dominion” over the animals. First, he puts this in the context of being stranded on a mountain with a goat; wouldn’t we eat the goat? Then he poses the question as a fundamental matter; if we have total “dominion” over the animals or if they are “our peers”?
- Baur’s response is very smart to this. He essentially dismisses the premise of the first part of this question, arguing that most people don’t really have to face that quandary of whether to eat an animal to survive, but that ultimately people have a desire to survive. As for the fundamental question, Baur reframes the premise by stating that we have “power” of animals and we can kill them, but “whether we should kill them is a bigger question”.
More general things about the discussion…
- Baur actively listened throughout the discussion and always let Carlson finish his point before speaking. There were a few times when Carlson talked over Baur, but he politely let Carlson speak and then responded to the point that was just made.
- Baur’s language, tone, and body language were relaxed and genial, yet resolute. He also made it a respectful dialogue while diplomatically refuting the misconceptions invoked by Carlson.
- He tied the discussion back to the cause multiple times.
- Baur’s arguments for veganism were really well-framed and nuanced. He skillfully kept the discussion on a productive track, at times subtly and respectfully dismissing claims made by Carlson.
- He was clear and consistent that veganism isn’t a monolithic body. He emphasized several times how many vegans lead different lives, many express their beliefs differently, and that no single person represents all of veganism.
- He pointed out the ways the interests of vegans align with those of non-vegans.
- He was firm in his positions, but not over-bearing.
- He kept veganism in a positive and compelling context, as a cause that is ethical, diverse, and reasonable.
The importance and instructive value of Baur’s approach is self-evident in the video, but I wanted to capture it so we can be intentional in our advocacy about veganism. We need to be deliberate in how we represent and promote veganism. It’s a cause that is burdened by a number of social and psychological barriers, so it’s important that we act carefully in our own capacity.
To me, Carlson’s constant misconceptions about veganism is reflective of a larger misconception that the public has. This may happen for a few reasons, such as media depictions and misunderstandings, but another reason these misconceptions exist is because of vegans themselves. I have seen numerous examples of vegans acting zealously and/or irrationally, sometimes framing the movement as a singular group of people and other times expressing divisive language and opinions. When vegans act that way, it does harm to the movement and the cause, this is something I highlighted in my article about Waka Flakka Flame’s reversal from veganism.
If we want to be effective advocates then we should be careful about how we represent and promote veganism. When we do a good job, the movement is strengthened and the cause is promoted.
This interview with Gene Baur offers a lot of insight on how to advocate well, and there are, of course, other examples of really great advocacy. Figures like Earthling Ed, Kathy Stevens, Michael Greger, and Peter Singer are great representatives of the movement and cause. Oh, and us, too! Myself, Evan, and Mike are putting veganism into a new framework that ultimately benefits the movement.
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