This Thanksgiving I was with my girlfriend's family. Turkey was served. I held back tears for a little and finished my food. But I couldn't hold them back very long. I ended up going down to the basement to cry. I cried off and on for over an hour. My girlfriend held me. Eventually we went back upstairs but my mood never really improved. My girlfriend's mom was hurt. I just cannot do this anymore. I told myself I would get through thanksgving for my girlfriend's sake but I just couldn't stop crying.

In California, I met several birds who had been rescued from farms. These birds grew up in truly hellish conditions. Most chickens live in crowded amonia filled sheds. Here is a very short, very grisly video of the conditions on factory turkey farms. They never, or almost, never got to enjoy feeling safe in the sun. All of the birds I met were rescued because they were in especially terrible shape, even by the standard of birds trapped on factory farms. Despite what they endured they seemed to enjoy many parts of their lives. Several birds seemed actively consistently happy. People, including non-human people, can recover from a lot even if their scars never fully heal. 

It is just so sad to see the body of a bird and think: 

There was still time to say we were sorry. There was probably still time to give you a decent life. A life where you could have felt happy and safe at least some of the time. Maybe in a different world we could have sat in the sun together. We could have been friends. I had a miserable childhood but I eventually got to lead a real life. But instead of apologizing and making amends we killed you. Now you will never get to experience the life you deserved. I am so sorry...

Tears must flow.

Several activists I know have taken the liberation pledge. The pledge is pretty simple. 

one | Publicly refuse to eat animals - live vegan.
two | Publicly refuse to sit where animals are being eaten.
three | Encourage others to take the pledge.

I don't really believe in taking pledges and try to avoid promises if I can. I trust my future self. But right now I am in compliance with the pledge and expect I will be in the future. Pledge takers commonly wear a bracelet made from a bent fork. Its time to bend a fork. 

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26 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 1:30 PM

I have a negative reaction to most emotion-based animal suffering arguments, but this post struck me as being very sincere and heartfelt and I was glad to have read it. Maybe because I had a similar node of sadness come through on Thanksgiving, about poverty rather than animal suffering. I don't even think poverty is the most important cause but it's extremely sad that people are suffering and dying for preventable reasons and I feel good about acknowledging that when the feeling comes up. 

On a meta-level, people seem to be reacting to this post by saying that vegan activists should not "make a scene" and feign sadness when encountering symbols of animal suffering, both because it's excessive and because it's counterproductive.

However, there are many cases in which I'd imagine people here would actively endorse experiencing an awkward emotional outburst about other issues. 

Imagine the case of someone whose parent is on the fence about cryonics but never got around to signing up. The parent is in the hospital with a terminal condition, and family members frequently visit to express sadness and farewell. Is it ever appropriate to cause a huge intra-family controversy about signing up the parent for cryonics? I think the answer is yes. Under ordinary ethics, when someone's life is on the line, it's sometimes appropriate to take drastic actions, even awkward and socially shameful actions, to save their life.

It may be interesting to compare this case with the one in the post. In both cases, the actions taken are unlikely to change anyone's minds; in fact, they're more likely to turn people off and cause unnecessary strife. However, they both have a small chance of changing people's minds: in both cases, a sympathetic family member might, upon seeing your strong reaction, realize how important the subject is to you and try to understand things from your perspective. If truly successful, that sympathetic family member may even intervene and join forces (ie. either go vegan too, or help convince the family member to sign up for cryonics).

The main difference between these cases might be that people think saving a family member's life is extremely important, but going vegan isn't. But if this is the main difference, then it's ultimately an arbitrary and weak difference. Plausibly, deluks917 feels just as strongly about veganism as they would about a family member dying. Yet if that's so, then some of the arguments in this thread seem to be missing the point: the only robust argument against this emotional outburst is that deluks917 shouldn't feel so strongly about vegansm. But why?

there are many cases in which I'd imagine people here would actively endorse experiencing an awkward emotional outburst about other issues.

For me, I would not endorse an outburst on ANY topic, when that topic is incredibly predictable, and the outburst interferes with a private event in a very unexpected way.  

Feeling sorrow and pain may or may not be in your control, and may or may not be helpful.  I have no judgement on that, and I feel my own sadness at your suffering.  Putting yourself in a situation where you reasonably expect to face such pain, without warning or seeking accommodation with the hosts and bystanders, is not something I can support or sympathize with.

If you'd instead said "I was too overcome with grief to go out, knowing the millions of animals killed for this holiday", I'd feel nothing but sympathy for your suffering.  Since you willingly and predictably imposed suffering on others as part of your pain, I'm less sympathetic.

[meta: this is probably the limit of what I'm willing to discuss on LW on this topic.  Please feel free to rebut or respond as you will, without expecting further comment from me. ]

I think the commenters reacting negatively would take issue with your analogy. I think they see a fairer analogy as driving to something like Arlington National Cemetery for Memorial Day, then going to the car in grief during the service.

I will use this analogy to create distance from the contentious issue, but understand I am trying my best with the metaphor and any failures to charitably represent Deluks's position are unintentional and should be raised so that I can fix them.

The action taken was with awareness of what situation would happen. The poster drove to the cemetery knowing what they would literally see.

Though they probably didn't predict this, their imagination is what ended up hurting them. The poster did not see any soldier killed in front of them, they saw the graves. Their image of a widowed wife and broken family scarred by grief--representing their metaphorical family background--is not a fact of the territory but of their map.

I would sum up the other commenter's position as "You shouldn't take actions that you have reasonable belief will hurt you and then ask others to change". I think the other commenters mostly don't actually care about veganism or its merits in this instance. They are being priests of law, insisting that the argument is bad, not the conclusion (though the conclusion may be disagreed with too, and you may accuse them of motivated reasoning).

I think they see a fairer analogy as driving to something like Arlington National Cemetery for Memorial Day, then going to the car in grief during the service.

Who would get upset that someone needed to go to the car and cry during an Arlington National Cemetery service on Memorial Day!? If that's a fairer analogy, then I'm still confused.

This seems quite disanalogous to deluks917's analogy to me because (1) It is socially acceptable and often expected that people will cry during a cemetery service, (2) There is no "call to action" that such behavior is signaling, and there are no demands being put on others. The main way it's analogous is that it might just be a mild inconvenience to others.

I would sum up the other commenter's position as "You shouldn't take actions that you have reasonable belief will hurt you and then ask others to change".

Yes, but this argument doesn't follow, at least if you admit you are morally permitted to act disruptively in my cryonics scenario. In that case, your actions would be reasonably expected to harm your reputation, and possibly insult others, and yet even still, it is permissible, because your parent's life is on the line. The principle is simple: your parent's life > minor reputational harm.

Similarly, one may believe that {some amount of animal misery > minor reputational harm}. Of course, as highly social and conformist animals ourselves, it may be hard to actually walk-the-walk and act in accordance with this belief. But that's not an argument against doing so, if we are indeed committed to the principle.

Hey, I appreciate your reply, but I think you should give me more credit. You claim a few times that there is some difference between what I said and what Deluks said. There is a whole space of beliefs that might be pointed at by what I said, why not pick the beliefs that don't have trivial objections?

To get all of this explicitly represented, I'll add a few more sentences below. I'll also consider more heavily how much shared background I'm imagining.

When someone goes to Arlington and cries, it is expected to be because they are sad people died, not out of blind grief and rage against the Military Industrial Complex. If someone came back from Memorial Day service outraged about the service, and brought out a pledge detailing the fact that they would refuse to take place in any militarily-influenced acts and try to convince others to do the same, this would not be typical.

Whether or not I think it is "morally permitted to act disruptively in my cryonics scenario", I think introducing morality is a pretty easy way to fuzz up a conversation. As Scott Alexander points out in "In Favor of Niceness, Community, and Civilization",

Suppose I am a radical Catholic who believes all Protestants deserve to die, and therefore go around killing Protestants. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, there might be some radical Protestants around who believe all Catholics deserve to die. If there weren’t before, there probably are now. So they go around killing Catholics, we’re both unhappy and/or dead, our economy tanks, hundreds of innocent people end up as collateral damage, and our country goes down the toilet.

So we make an agreement: I won’t kill any more Catholics, you don’t kill any more Protestants. The specific Irish example was called the Good Friday Agreement and the general case is called “civilization”.

it's not always a good idea to fight for your idea at 100%, because there are lots of ideas. You are attempting to get me to agree, similarly, that all religious folks with hell-type places are best served by constantly attempting to convert you. Would you convert in this case? I wouldn't! It would be incredibly irritating, and hey, in real life, we do a pretty good job of ignoring anyone who goes around trying to sell us things, from door-to-door salesmen to Jehovah's Witnesses.

This is a component of the argument: intentionally radicalizing yourself is hurtful because it doesn't get you more options, just less restraint. I believe Deluks themself previously has endorsed the strategy of leaving options open to your future self after regretting a large charitable donation that they later thought was unwise. I believe this is part of the reason they are avoiding taking a pledge over an issue they care about.

Some of the reactions to this post baffle and astound me. I don't know what to say. These reactions feel totally lacking in empathy and compassion. And also like they don't understand the grieving process. 

It seems like a reasonable response to cry with grief over the suffering and murder of beings. ? 

If someone started crying about this in front of me, my response would be one of sympathy. It just seems like such a reasonable thing to be upset about! I've cried about the Holocaust, about factory farming, about civilizational inadequacy, about nuking Japan, etc. These things are tragic. Grief doesn't necessarily wait for the family dinner to be over or for people to first be comfortable with your crying. 

It seems like a stupid suggestion to avoid all situations where one might encounter a factory-farmed animal?? Like what are you advocating? Avoid being with friends and family if you expect to be upset because 'being upset' is 'bad'? You are confused. "Bad feelings" are not inherently "bad". This is a weird map-territory confusion. 

The tactic of 'avoid things that make you feel bad' is a terrible one. Equating 'feeling bad' with 'something bad happening' is also terrible. It is entirely possible to be very happy deep down while one is grieving. Grieving is a healthy, good, and normal human reaction. Even at Thanksgiving, over a dead turkey. 

Avoid being with friends and family if you expect to be upset because ‘being upset’ is ‘bad’?

I think this is a strawman of the other side of the conversation. The snippet "My girlfriend's mom was hurt" hints at the actual issue they are pointing at, that someone was needlessly turned against the issue that Deluks is hoping to fix (see point 3 of the pledge). Their suggestion is to avoid entering situations that will predictably lead to looking hurt in front of others because it sets off the "zealot alarm" in other peoples' heads without improving the situation.

Many of the responses don't actually bother to have object level disagreement with a vegan philosophy, but seem to say that this isn't a good way to advance the goals held by one.

I hope you'll consider, and think you'll enjoy this article, Killing the Ants:

I still think about it regularly. The author carefully considers various animal-killing actions. Is it bad to exterminate ants that invade our house? It is bad to kill ants when we walk across grass? Every time we wash our bed sheets, we kill dust-mites. Is that morally significant?

In some aspects, our world is a hell. Everything has a cost, and often a cost that is quickly translated into suffering and death. In plant production, field mice are crushed by tractors. Combines destroy bird's nests. Pesticides kill billions of insects. Every product we buy, every bit of electricty we spend, every kilometer we drive in our cars, we cause harm and suffering. 

I support vegetarians and vegans. When they eat at my home, I cook a vegetarian meal. But these actions and pledges seem excessive. Not eating where animals are being eaten seems excessive. Not being able to eat a Thanksgiving meal without crying, an hour in the basement and hurting your partner's mother seems excessive. 

You own electronics. You probably drove to the house of your partner's parents. You're probably not spending all your time working and donating the money to Effective Altruism. Would you want to be 'attacked' for that? Would you want people to not be able to eat with you because you own a smartphone and/or PC? Would you want people to not be able to socialize with you because you regularly drive to places, or because you benefit from people and products that have been driving to places? You would harm less beings if you wouldn't own and do these things... Where to draw the line? 

It's good to want to improve the world. It's good to want to relieve suffering, and to improve well-being. But the world is complex. Your actions and non-actions have infinite consequences and we know so little about them. 

I think lab-grown meat is great. We're getting closer to mass producing it every day. If it's fully developed, if it's healthy, if it's tasty, if it's affordable - 'real' meat will be out of the grocery store in no time. And then it'll get very tightly regulated. Aim for revolutions like that one. Make the world a better place, permanently, for everybody, instead of starting conflicts and polarizing ourselves even further for little gain. 

I think these posts of mine are relevant, and would be interested in your reactions to them:

ETA: I think reading them may introduce doubt about the rationality of feeling such strong emotions in this circumstance. Am curious how much doubt they end up actually introducing.

The second post is really quite good. But I am not sure it's the best fit for what I wrote. It's not like I wrote about racism or how much people suffer in solitary confinement. I am expressing some truly niche views that are only popular among a tiny minority. For fundamentally I think my emotional reaction is grounded in some very basic cruxes. As far as I can tell turkeys served for food really do suffer terribly. I think one is just Eulering themself if they start rejecting 'suffering is bad'. 

I think the first post is an interesting critique. Responding to it in a serious way requires going into some deep water about how to model what we want and how we should 'generalize' our desires. There is definitely some doubt introduced. I am going to link 'shut up and divide' to my trusted friends and see what they think.

I would say I care quite a lot about the aggregate plight of animals. I am not even sure it's humanely possible to care an appropriate amount about this plight, but I definitely act like I care. Never mind caring an appropriate amount about future astronomical suffering. But I would rather close as I can to the optimal amount.

I am expressing some truly niche views that are only popular among a tiny minority.

This isn't really evidence against the second post being applicable. Every mainstream morality today must have started as a niche view among a tiny minority. A lot of humans probably have a status-gaining strategy of trying to be a successful moral vanguard. There are lots of examples of people playing status games in a tiny group. The Status Game has a chapter on Heaven's Gate, for example. Or maybe a better comparison is to the anti-vaxx movement, which must have once been as small as veganism is today. (Not saying these are morally equivalent, just that the status dynamics are probably similar.) Here's a relevant quote from the book:

Soon, Maranda was out in the world, playing a virtue game, evangelising her new beliefs. She told her mother and her cousins. She began looking for any reason to raise the topic socially. ‘You want to bring it up with people you can argue with, because you want to be like, I’m smarter than you, I know more than you do, look at this thing I know that you don’t. It’s really embarrassing to think about now. I thought I knew it all. I thought, that’s going to show them, they’re going to really regret arguing with me.’

I asked Maranda if part of the point was to go back to the group and report in, for status rewards. ‘That’s absolutely accurate,’ she said. ‘And that went for everybody: “I went to the doctor’s today and boy did I show them.” “I went to my cousin’s today and I was spittin’ fire.” You were rewarded for that. The louder you were, the more unmovable you were, the higher you moved up socially. You became someone for other people to try to strive to be like. You’d look at them and you’d think, they’re so confident in everything they’re saying, they believe it so strongly, they’re willing to do anything. I need to become this. I think it’s an unconscious thing. Humans want to be revered. They want to be on top of the group.’

I really enjoyed the second one, strong upvoted it

I can't tell if this is a literal report of your experience at a family dinner, or an exaggeration to make a point.  Regardless of the morality of things, I'd advise a lot of introspection (likely guided by a professional) about why you chose to attend, knowing you'd observe a dead bird being served as food, and then be incapacitated with grief. This interfered with your own happiness, the happiness of your GF's family, and likely interfered with human connections you might have made.  AND it probably didn't save any birds or change any attendees' beliefs or behaviors.

I sympathize (but do not empathize or feel it myself) with your sorrow, and I'm sorry you're suffering.  I respect your right to follow this pledge, and to avoid situations where you feel bad.  I will gladly prepare and serve vegetarian dishes if you ever visit me.  

At the same time, I don't think this is the most effective way for you to react or behave.  If this is the controlling issue for all interactions, and nothing is more important or interesting enough to outweigh it, I suspect I won't enjoy your company enough to have you over in the first place.  Which means you won't get the opportunity to explore my reasoning for eating meat, and to help me see the error of my ways.

I have the impression (reading the comments and seeing the number of votes/the score of the post) that the LW readers are roughly divided 50/50 on how they feel about this post. In my case, I am one of those feeling very strongly against it. My reasons are:

  • This post reads more like a political pamphlet than a typical post from LW.  For instance, "People, including non-human people" seems to me a Shibboleth. 
  • I don't find any interesting insights here, simply an anecdote of someone (in my view) overreacting to a trivial experience that could have been avoided. 
  • More at the object level: I am not vegan myself, not planning to become one, but I can see that many of the reasons why some people decide to do it are good reasons. After talking to many vegans, I realized that it is a good thing at least reduce the intake of meat. However, this behaviour displayed in this post creates in me (and I am probably not the only one) a very strong aversion to vegans.

Marshalling yourself in this way, reflects poorly on your movement. If I imagine myself as a member of this family, I would react poorly to the behaviour displayed. And would be repulsed by this movement, which can make someone act in such a way. 

Now, I don't share your emotional reaction to animal cruelty, and plausibly I am less empathetic. But consider what your emotional reaction here is doing, compare it to abstract acknowledgement of the harms and kind, thoughtful but confident explanations of your veganism.

And as a matter of scope, your reaction here is incorrect. The terror you saw at that table is as nothing compared to the industrial farming conditions as a whole. Reacting to it as a synecdoche of the agricultural system does not seem useful. It seems paralyzing.  

Also, promoting norms of disassociation among vegans makes veganism even more unappealing than it already is. 

Once cruelty free meats are cheap, and veganism itself becomes a cheap signal, those looking back from the future at your pledge will admire this uncompromising stance. But in terms of actually doing the most good for animals, I suspect it is harmful. 

And as a matter of scope, your reaction here is incorrect. [...] Reacting to it as a synecdoche of the agricultural system does not seem useful.

On my reading, the OP is legit saddened by that individual turkey. One could argue that scope demands she be a billion times sadder all the time about poultry farming in general, but that's infeasible. And I don't think that's a reductio against feeling sad about an individual turkey.

Sometimes, sadness and crying are about integrating one's beliefs. There's an intuitive part of your mind that doesn't understand your models of big, global problems. But, like a child, it understands the small tragedies you encounter up close. If it's shocked and surprised, then it is still learning what the rest of you knows about the troubles of the world. If it's angry and outraged, then there's a sense in which those feelings are "about" the big, global problems too.

At the risk of being uncharitable and the hope of being productive, I'm going to tell you my honest thoughts. If I met you in person, I would think you had had a bad childhood and are projecting that baggage onto animals. Your linked post confirms that. I wouldn't engage with your intellectual arguments because I would think the hurtful emotional fragility you demonstrated at Thanksgiving indicates you are unable to have dispassionate discussions. I'm sorry you had a bad childhood. You're allowed to cry about that without crying over every bird in the world. You're not going to save every turkey in America from a day almost everyone sees as a celebration of gratitude and family. You might be able to save yourself if you worked through your issues around feeling "happy and safe." I truly wish you the best.