Why Are So Many Vegans Assholes
Why Every Movement Needs Them
We've all met one. They're the person at the party who you desperately avoid eye contact with. The guy who launches into his long-winded speech before you can open your mouth to stop him. The woman whose words drip with judgement as soon as she finds out you don't subscribe to her particular belief system. The assholes. Why are there so many of them? Why won’t they leave me alone?
To answer that question, we need to take a step back and consider the makeup of a social movement. In any such group, there is always a wide range of participation—from the moderates at the centre of the spectrum to the extremists on either side. Environmentalists, feminists, activists for gun rights, or gay rights; each of these groups is made up of a handful of familiar characters, and all of them have their purpose.
Photo by: Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash
The first are the radicals. Willing to break the law, the radical gives zero fucks about what others think—the only important consideration is the cause. A great example is Daniel G. McGowan of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) who was featured in Marshall Curry’s, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front. McGowan was convicted of arson after setting fire to an Oregon lumber company in support of his extreme brand of environmentalism.
Another example is Black Lives Matter’s Rodney Diverlus, who blockaded the 2016 Toronto Gay Pride Parade, along with dozens of other BLM members. Radicals often lose their fringe supporters with their unorthodox behaviour, but they also bring a great deal of media attention to their cause. Make no mistake, every movement needs the radical, if for no other reason than drawing the attention and traction that no one else can.
"A Sign Of The Times"
Photo by: Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash
Next come the activists. While unwilling to resort to the same extremes as the radicals, activists remain committed to their causes through peaceful protests and awareness rallies. Activist vegans made a name for themselves last spring when they held a protest for weeks on end at Antler, a restaurant in Toronto. Conflict escalated one evening when owner Michael Hunter came to the window of his restaurant to greet the protesters and butchered a deer in front of them.
Another example is the more than one million high school student activists who rallied this year in Washington as part of the March For Our Lives movement. With their motto of “never again”, it was the most dramatic and powerful show to date of teenage activism against gun violence.
Photo by: Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash
The third segment of a social movement is one I like to refer to as those who are 'concerned'. They are vocal about their cause, and not afraid to share their opinions on social media or at dinner parties.
There is a joke that goes something like this:
“How do you know someone is vegan?”
“They tell you, over and over again.”
This segment of a movement is often most visible in politics. The concerned have signs on their front lawns, bumper stickers on their cars, and very vocal reasons why you shouldn’t support certain candidates. This was the group the Russians invested advertising dollars in to sway the results of the 2016 United States election.
Finally, all movements have a group of passive lifestyle supporters. In the vegan world we see this group choosing not to eat meat, but they do not extend their support to protesting outside slaughterhouses. In politics you'll find people who want to see a certain candidate win, but won’t discuss their views, and certainly won’t post on Facebook about them.
The radical, the activist, the concerned, and the passive lifestyle supporter are all essentially pulling for the same result, they're simply doing so with varying degrees of effort and dedication. Within this divide is where the people who care the most get labeled as assholes, because they are willing to go to extreme lengths to get their point across. They will inconvenience you, they will get in your face, and they will even shame you. And here is where our initial question comes into play again: why are so many vegans assholes?
To put it bluntly, it's not them, it's you. The reason so many vegans are perceived as assholes is based on your own filter: the way you view the world. If you are a gun advocate, you'll see the anti-gun supporters as assholes. Maybe you run a business that is constrained by unions, they can be real assholes. Perhaps you're simply trying to get to work on time, and taxi drivers have blocked the streets to protest Uber: assholes.
We all have our biases, and the asshole is in the eye of the beholder. There are plenty of passive vegan lifestyle supporters, but you don't often hear their voices, and the perception of the whole group being a bunch of assholes is therefore skewed toward the radicals.
But the thing about the radicals? We need them more than we think. We need the people who are willing to give up their reputations to fight for something. Most of us look at Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Gloria Steinem, and Paul Shapiro as heroes because we believe in their cause, but each one of them was once seen as an asshole by one of their ideological opponents. When you don’t understand the cause, like many privileged white males when they hear “black lives matter” or “#metoo”, it's easy to brand its supporters as assholes. But we support the radicals when we find even a slight amount of alignment in our values. We need radicals, we need activists, if only to ensure we don’t go too far in any one direction.
The world needs assholes. Without them, it would be a very quiet, stagnant place.