Most of us are basically good people – we don’t want others to be hurt or to suffer. Yet we have certain behaviours which seem to go against our true natures, and I think this often happens because it’s so easy to be in denial about things we haven’t seen for ourselves.
Many people, for example, would intervene if they saw someone killing or mutilating an animal in the street. But those same people may actively support industries which kill and mutilate animals by buying meat, dairy, eggs, leather and products tested on animals.
There aren’t many people who believe it’s acceptable to destroy the budding horns of calves with a hot iron, cut off the sensitive tips of chickens’ beaks, or rip out piglets’ testicles without anaesthetic. So why do we support these industries?
Many of us are unaware that these are standard practices in animal agriculture. But then again, we often haven’t made an effort to find out how the animals we consume are treated. I think there’s an obvious reason for this – we just don’t want to know. If we remain ignorant, we can plead innocence – “I had no idea!”
The way we treat our planet is a similar example. We’re all horrified by the quantity of plastic in the oceans, the destruction of the rainforests and the release of greenhouse gases. But there seems to be a disconnect between this horror and our everyday actions, which most of us don’t take a whole lot of personal responsibility for.
I’m constantly amazed and infuriated by those who make little or no effort to recycle, use a plethora of disposable and single-use products, and drive when they could easily walk or get the bus. Surely by now everyone knows these things are bad for the environment? But we don’t see the effects of our actions, so it’s easy not to think about it and thus not to care.
I’m not innocent of this – I still buy food wrapped in unrecyclable plastic, for instance. I tell myself I can’t afford to avoid plastic on my current budget, but I’ve heard people use the same reasoning for continuing to eat animal products. Maybe if I did some more research I’d realise it’s perfectly feasible. There are people who live zero waste on a budget, and they might think I’m just making excuses.
Then there’s cheap clothing – we all know about sweatshops in developing countries, but we still buy the clothes that come out of them. If reminded of this inconvenient truth, we may convince ourselves that our favourite shop would never exploit workers, or that there’s nothing we can do – we have to wear something, after all!
These justifications allow us to dismiss the nagging of our conscience and think about something else. But if we were to become aware of the real extent of this issue (by watching a documentary like The True Cost, for instance) perhaps we’d think again.
When I take part in animal rights activism, the goal is to bring cruel practices into the public eye by raising awareness of them. Some people continue to be in denial even after seeing video evidence, but many express a desire to change.
For this reason, I feel that activism is incredibly important – if people won’t seek out information for themselves, we must find other ways of making them aware. This applies to all injustices, not just animal rights issues.
The moral of the story is that we shouldn’t hide from the truth. I believe we should always strive to educate ourselves and make the most ethical decisions we can – we can’t afford to turn a blind eye to the suffering of our fellow beings (whether human or not) and the destruction of the planet. As long as we’re apathetic towards suffering and exploitation, we’ll make little progress towards a better and more peaceful world for all.