Saturday, July 7, 2012
In her 2009 New York Times bestseller, Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America, Barbara Ehrenreich traced the history and analyzed the effects of the relentless pursuit of “positive thinking” on American society. Ehrenreich addressed the popular belief that we can get ourselves through anything with some steady optimism (along with a refusal to ponder or even acknowledge negative outcomes). According to Ehrenreich, the warning seems to be to “smile and be agreeable, go with the flow—or prepare to be ostracized.” Life coaches and workshop motivational gurus continually encourage followers to drop “negative” people from their lives and stay away from the news because, according to one motivational speaker, “you can’t do anything about it.”
As a vegan, I’m very aware of the fact that my attempts to educate others about animal suffering are not always welcomed or agreeable; however, I’m often reminded of Margaret Mead’s famous words: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” How can citizens change the world if they first don’t recognize and admit what is wrong with it? Where would we be, after all, without the critical and challenging people who refused to be yes-men and yes-women, who questioned the status quo and shed light on the darkest of places? As I read this book, I can’t help but wonder if this optimism assault hasn’t also influenced the way we see—or choose not to see—the daily lives and sorrows of “food” animals.
Those who continuously claim to love animals yet persist in eating them and their secretions often become defensive when informed about the systematic cruelties inflicted on cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, goats, and other farmed animals who are turned into food. They don’t want to know about what goes on in slaughterhouses and factories. Like the three monkeys, they’d rather not hear about it, not see it, and not talk about it. Like many of the “positive thinking” adherents, they don’t want to be confronted with the painful impact that their “food” choices have on other sentient beings. Instead, they remain optimistically ignorant, eliminating gloomy facts like they do “negative” people.
The world is a cruel place but as Dr. Phil likes to say, “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.” Merely telling ourselves that everything is hunky-dory doesn’t make it so. Reading and watching the news, being critical or inquisitive, and educating ourselves about social injustices doesn’t make the world any less cruel. In fact, the only way to increase real positive results and build a less cruel existence for every being is to open our eyes and act. Conversely, remaining self-delusional and shrouded in a noxious unreality can actually prevent genuinely constructive outcomes.
Those who maintain the fallacy of happy cows and free range chickens are just deceiving themselves and are supporting and preserving continued animal suffering. Like “positive thinking” disciples, they are concealing themselves from the truth. We can create better realities for everyone, including animals, but we can’t create our own truths. Ask yourself how you contribute to animal anguish and learn how your food choices affect other living beings and the planet. To construct a more just world we must first concede what is reality and what is truth, not simply what is convenient for us to believe. The truth may not always be warm and fuzzy and upbeat, but at least it’s the truth.
I invite everyone to get a glimpse of farmed animals' realities by watching the trailer for Earthlings and then do something positive about it.
Ehrenreich, B. (2009). Bright-sided: How positive thinking is undermining America. New York, NY: Picador, p. 57, 59.