The Vegan Street Blog
When Unity Is Untenable.
Like many people who grew up under a yoke of dysfunction, I was raised with the belief that loyalty to family was a virtue that was both paramount and inviolable. It was not something you thought about; the mere act of considering an alternative to steadfast loyalty was an indictment of one’s character. Loyalty was understood in my household as unswerving, unquestioning obedience as opposed to anything I would have any agency over. Loyalty from this framework removed the element of choice: You were uncritically obedient. You agreed with your father, no matter how irrational he was, because otherwise you’d get in trouble. You didn’t question your aunt’s views, no matter how hateful and bigoted they were, because doing so would be disrespectful. You toed the line. Buttressing this expression of loyalty was its heavy-handed cousin, the notion of unity.
I know when I am being asked to suspend or discard my own thoughts and values for the sake of unity because that was the environment I grew up in, like many others. We were raised with empty platitudes that exhorted us: We must unite. We must stand in unity. We must be united together. Because we grew up with this notion, we recognize when we’re being pressured to fall into line again.
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Unity makes sense from an anthropological point of view.
The survival of the family, thus the continuation of the genes at the most fundamental level, meant we came together in a united front to uphold and defend the members of our tribe. We were stronger woven together than as individual strands. If there was wavering, if there was less than conformity behind each other and especially behind a “leader”, it made the whole unit more vulnerable to being attacked. This makes all the sense in the world if there is a mastodon charging at your living quarters, but starts to become irrational pretty soon after that.
These ancient echoes still reverberate in many of us, though, fostered by family and messaging by society and perhaps even coded into our DNA. A display of unity is what we learn from an early age to avoid being cast out and exposed to potential harm. Our primitive genes can’t really tell the difference between real and perceived threats. Even when we live seemingly very autonomous, self-sustaining lives, the expectation that we will fall in line with those in our units remains a powerful pressure point for leveraging compliance.
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With the new administration in the U.S. last week, I heard this theme again, the same one I have heard my whole life, the calls for unity, the ending of division. On paper or in oration, this can be moving and often high-minded: Who is for division, after all? That said, we must very seriously consider who we are being asked to unify with in these calls and what is at stake if we heed the call. Are we being asked to unite with people who promote long-disproved notions of the earth being flat? Are we being asked to unify with those who promote convoluted, often bigoted-at-the-very-core conspiracy theories about a shadowy elite (*cough*Jews*cough*) trying to rule the world? Are we supposed to be united with those who believe in the supremacy of white people? With misogynists, propaganda boosters, violent and regressive rioters?
Further, in practical terms, how is this unification supposed to happen? Is the middle ground a place where we accept some of the notions they believe in or tacitly agree to overlook them?
I mean this quite seriously: How do we unite with something or someone that is anathema to our values? I suspect that if we do, we would be asked to accept an erosion of our own morality. Just like when disgraced former reality TV host Donald Trump characterized white supremacists as “very fine people” alongside anti-racism activists, those who were upholding a position against bigotry were deeply downgraded and the racists were suddenly - and very undeservedly - elevated. What happened in Charlottesville should not have taken on the tone of breaking up a brawl between two toddlers over a Tonka truck: This was people on the wrong side of history, the side of history that supports genocide and a belief in racial superiority, suddenly being as decent as those fighting against Nazism, as if these were equally right factions who just had different opinions. It is also like the fundamentalists who insist that creationism be given equal time to evolution in public high school science: It simultaneously elevates one to a position it has not earned as it devalues the other. That is always how these things balance out.
It is irrational, unconditional, unfair, unearned and dishonest.
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We hear this same call in the vegan movement when we are told to put aside our values for the “greater good” of a united front. We are told to great manipulative effect that we are hurting the animals by being divided. Especially when we know that QAnon followers, flat earthers, misogynists and racists are found in the vegan ranks, how would we unite with conspiracies and bigotry without tipping the scales in that direction?
I will never, ever unite with vegans and animal rights activists who promote junk science, unhinged conspiracy hypotheses and oppressive, bigoted views. It does the animals no benefit to unite with such individuals because it cheapens and discredits all of us, thus it hurts our outreach and the animals. What we need to do is elevate. If the people promoting oppressive attitudes and/or disinformation want to meet us there, that is where we can start. They can become better educated. But never, ever should we debase ourselves and this cause by uniting with that which is anathema to an informed, educated, diverse and compassionate social justice movement.
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