21 March 2012

How does being vegan affect your political voting/political leanings?

Becoming vegan has had a great effect on my voting process, both in my beliefs about leaning within our party system and my will to be politically engaged. It’s led me to believe the liberation of animals, regardless of the many obstacles, is entirely possible and that no cause has been able to strike me as more important. It’s redefined my path in life and changed my perception of our political system and leadership within it. Most importantly, it’s been a catalyst for action and change. I’ll try to explain the observations and events that brought me to such a point, and the personal arguments that have evolved to create these convictions.

Many years ago, my lack of a justification for the killing of animals for palette preference led me to adopt a vegetarian diet. The move to become vegan was a result of more thorough efforts towards personal moral compliance. Applying the golden rule to my relationship with members of non-human species, again, prompted by a lack of solid reasoning not to do so, resulted in the need to change.

The change was surprisingly easy and inspiring, what I thought would be a sacrifice has turned out to be a great improvement in my quality of life. What followed was more questions that could not be ignored, the most impacting: “If I were in the terrible position that many animals are in, how would I want to be treated?”

It became clear to me that not only would I want others to abstain from the behavior that causes my suffering, I would want to be saved. However inconvenient or unnatural it was for me, advocacy would have to become a part of my life, providing whatever aide I can.

While this shift occasionally includes the sacrifice of some social grace and feelings of isolation, finding a supportive community that continues to grow around the same ideas has been very reassuring. Continued involvement and awareness has even spawned the belief that animal liberation is entirely possible, that society is currently on a path toward that end, and if continued, will happen years in the future. Like many, my hopes to lessen those years rely largely on bringing animal issues into light and the political arena.

Recently on Saturday Night Live, a portrayal of a stiff and uncomfortable Mitt Romney, going through a failed attempt at an at-home chat with America, ended with his weary dog entering the room, barking and clearly agitated.

He does that with me! [ he laughs ] Good dog! [ the dog inches closer, then backs up ] Oh, good dog! Easy! Easy! You gotta please stop barking, Bear. Come on, help me here, buddy. Bear, I'm not kidding you. You want to go back on that roof? Do you?

This was a reference to a story where Mitt Romney strapped his dog to the roof of his car to save space on a family trip. I viewed the presence of this joke and the laughter that followed as a huge win for animals (all but Romney’s dog of course). What was once a relatively unknown story, has become popular enough to be the center of a joke on Saturday Night Live.

It follows that the mistreatment of animals is not a concern for just a fringe of society. Romney didn’t feel the need to apologize after being pressed multiple times -- maybe this is to avoid a perception of weakness. The public is not letting the story go, though. I think a more significant weakness would be a lack of understanding from a presidential candidate, that such an act should require a solid justification or an admittance of wrong doing -- he has been unable to provide either.

There’s clear evidence all around us of a growing concern and unprecedented progress towards helping animals in the last few years. While social media is turning the spread of arguments for animal rights and welfare from a linear model to an exponential one: Myths about lack of nutrition in veggie diets are fading away; the use of gestation crates, financially, is creating more risk then its worth for many pork companies; a growing selection of compassionate food products are tasting much better, with some moving beyond health food stores into large super market chains; West Hollywood is seeing bans on fur while Spain is seeing bans on bullfights; And in many social circles, mock justifications for the killing of animals like, “I eat animals because they taste good” are becoming less funny.

To me, it’s more and more promising that the ethical arguments against animal cruelty and domination will propagate at a speed that will bring an inevitable tipping point. Additional evidence of this can be found beyond the accelerating progress of a passionate minority into a more widely accepted axiom, that the unnecessary harm of animals is wrong.

As the movement continues to gain momentum, those who profit from animals are becoming fearful and reacting, leveraging the biggest advantage they have, money and lobbying ability. Right now in states like Utah, Iowa and many others, working against farm animals and their sympathizers, law makers are creating severe punishments for exposing the inner workings of factory farms with video.

It’s hard for me to imagine greater evidence of a flaw in society’s moral code then the fact that someone who exposes physical abuse can end up in the same jail cell as another who performs physical abuse. Despite the major investigation-spawned achievements from groups like Mercy For Animals, which led large corporations to drop suppliers who use torturous or dangerous processes, legislators view these actions as an attack on businesses that must be stopped.

Are they wrong or are they correctly serving the majority of their constituents? As a proponent of freedom, I can’t ignore the right of a business to protect its well-being and it’s property; however, I can’t ignore a conscious being’s right to not be property and subjected to the cruelty that comes with their transformation into a packaged product.

Effective political leaders understand and harness the interests of those whom they lead, empowering them and clearing a path for success among the group. With the legal status of property and the insufficient protection that results from that status, animals don’t have a role in our political process but they are surely stakeholders in the outcomes of our decisions. While I used to think my hands were tied, now I know that I do share responsibility, however small, for the conditions they live and die in.

As a voter, a vegan and animal rights advocate, I believe I should act as a surrogate for their interests. While I can’t confirm with them what those interests are verbally, the attributes of consciousness and the ability to suffer confirm that they include not being hurt or killed.

To me, the seemingly best ways to act as a surrogate in politics is to know which candidates will help animals; address and inform them whenever we can and vote accordingly. The American system of checks and balances was designed to avoid a majority tyranny while allowing a consensus of truth to build. This is meant to manifest in an individual's prioritization of convictions being reconciled with that of their peers and voiced to a larger group by their appointed representatives. 

Ultimately, this should let ideas live and die on their merits. For animals, this could be realized in an ability to provide swing-vote style support to politicians who are willing to bring them into the human circle of concern. Considering an almost evenly divided country, with the narrow margins in many political races, a measurable group of compassionate voters could provide an undeniable force to bring the plight of animals further into the spotlight, but party line voting could endanger this.

“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.” -- John Adams

Using data from the NY Times Congress API, which provides a programmatic interface to congressional data, a quick breakdown of pro-animal support by party can be obtained. Given 20 recent bills that somehow involved helping animals in the 111th and 112th Congresses and a rough way to score support, giving 10 points for each bill sponsorship and 5 points for each co-sponsorship, we can see that Democrats outscore Republicans on the issues, 4300 to 1090.

While Democratic support is strong and clear, I believe that leaning towards any party, instead of leaning towards compassionate leaders in general, is not in the best interest of animals or the American public. This country has been weakened by a split over 2 sets of ideals, ideals that all have individual merits and applications but are limited by the boundaries created by the division. I’d like to believe that this split is not purposeful, but looking at the widely known requirement of impartiality in “news” and the obvious partiality in most news media holds me back. My fear is, whether purposeful or not, given any idea that falls prey to party line polarization, in an evenly divided two parties, that idea could risk losing about half of its ability to propagate.

As I become more involved in activism, I’m realizing some of my previous notions of politics were wrong. Thinking that there was not much more than a broken system of people grasping for power is not what I find as I follow more news, contact offices of our political leaders, seek relevant petitions to sign and then witness their effect.

Web sites like change.org, aldf.org, http://thomas.loc.gov/ and countless others, make effective political advocacy for animals something that can be done daily with just a few minutes to spare. I’m continually and happily reminded that the barriers between ideas and the people with the ability to act on them, are disappearing.

In conclusion, I believe we are faced by a world of perception, representing everything we view, hear, smell and feel. For Americans, that perception is limited only by our own free will. It guides us in every aspect, from how to maximize our pleasure to how to protect ourselves, our families and other groups that we create.

Leveraging signals from our nervous system, we have the ability to judge how some foods taste better then others and how some car interiors are smoother than others. For the hundreds of billions of animals whose lives provide these enhancements of pleasure, their world is not limited by free will. It is limited by metal bars, wire, drugs, and other implementations we use to keep them the most suited for our purpose. Their nervous systems, like ours, are built to represent pain in a way that aims to increase the likeliness of survival and well-being, but their reactions, however intense, cannot escape our implementations of pleasure. As a vegan, I’ve witnessed the ease with which these conditions can be changed. As a voter, I cannot ignore my responsibility to these animals.

Ron Pastore | @animaldashboard
New York Ron works as a software developer and systems analyst in New York. He is an advocate for animal rights and compassionate living. He also enjoys golf, music and spending time with family and friends.

Photo credit:Ayingel