Vegans Decide: Am I an Apologist or an Extremist? Depends on the Eye of the Beholder.
The other day my son asked me a question that turned out to be more nuanced than at first blush, as his questions tend to be. He asked what was the most common criticism other vegans leveled at me. I said, “That I’m an apologist,” fresh off that day’s latest disapproving comment on Instagram. “Or that I’m not vegan enough.” Then I thought about it for another few seconds and said, “No, it might be that I’m an extremist,” remembering a random potshot from the day before, this time on Facebook. “That I’m a purist.” The more I cogitated on it, the more I realized that the scornful comments from other vegans about how I practice my veganism seem to happen in equal measure on either end of the too strict/too accommodating continuum. Weird, huh?
Let’s first look at some real-life examples that will set off the armchair critics…
• If I give someone seeking advice guidance on phasing animal products out of their lives rather than shame them for not removing it all at once? I’m an apologist.
• Even though I know it is a process, I don’t pretend that animal products are harmless. Thus, I am an extremist.
• I understand that we live in an imperfect world, thus even our choices as vegans are unavoidably influenced by this, so I’m an apologist.
• I still hold that we should do the best we are able to despite this lack of perfection. Therefore, I’m an extremist.
• If I am encouraging to non-vegan restaurants when they try to incorporate more plant-based options to their menus it must follow that I’m an apologist. (I’m also a sell-out who doesn’t care about vegan small businesses.)
• When I give restaurants feedback that removing animal-based ingredients and still paying for them without a substitution is not a fair or considerate option for vegan diners, it must mean that I’m an extremist. (I’m also pushy and discouraging.)
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Maybe this can be understood as falling under the same header as how we form many of our opinions, from “What is beauty?” to “What is pornographic?”: It is simply a matter of the subjective perspective, the eye of the beholder. We all have our preferences and our biases, our backgrounds and our slants. My personal set of biases make it so I am more inclined to think that those whose vegan practice and activism looks more like my own are more effective and reasonable. Our brains are hardwired for confirmation bias; it’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it is something to be aware of so we can try to factor that into our calibration and realize these reactions are not necessarily rooted in facts but inseparable from the flawed mechanism through which we interpret information.
Perhaps it’s also that the internet pushed our tendency towards criticizing and judgment into hyperdrive. Whereas once we knew that there was a lot we didn’t know about those we don’t even know in person, with access to conversations online, suddenly we know allllll of what a person is about without room for nuance. We have the illusion of familiarity and instant understanding; heck, perhaps it’s our predisposition towards confirmation bias that is behind this as well.
I guess the point is, our activism is our activism, our vegan practice is our vegan practice, our way of communicating with others is…you get it. How can I be both a vegan apologist and a vegan extremist? It’s in the eye of the beholder.
How about you? What criticisms do you face from other vegans?
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