Hypocrisy as Effective Advocacy?

Lately I’ve been asking myself (and others) a lot of questions about social change:

  • Why does it take so long?
  • Can big changes be made, or does it always have to be incremental?
  • Should we compromise our values to meet people where they are?

If we believe animals should be free to live without being commodifed and seen as property, don’t we have a responsibility to speak out against it without compromise? If we think raising and killing animals for food is inherently wrong, regardless of how nicely they’re treated before they’re killed, isn’t it wrong to congratulate people on anything other than abstaining from it?

On the other hand, since animal liberation is not a mainstream opinion – not even close – don’t we, in the aim for effective advocacy, have a responsibility to meet people where they are and work toward incremental changes such as encouraging people to eat less meat and asking factory farm owners to give the animals more room to live in? Isn’t it important to applaud every step that brings us closer to caring more about animals, considering them more than we do and ultimately liberating them? And isn’t it judgmental and self-righteous to judge anyone else who isn’t living exactly as we are?

But if we look at it logically in comparison to other situations, it gets even muddier. Paying others to abuse and kill animals is morally similar (equivalent, perhaps) to abusing and killing them ourselves, isn’t it? And isn’t that a pretty reasonable request? Asking people not to eat animals is akin to asking them to refrain from any number of other abuses: “Please don’t kick puppies.” “Please don’t punch babies.” “Please don’t eat horses.” “Please don’t shoot deer.” “Please don’t go fishing.” Ah, but now we get back into territory where the majority of people, due of course only to the society in which we have been raised, see these acts as normal, not as cruel.

So, incremental change or absolutism/abolitionism?

How do we reconcile these two seemingly-opposite strategies? How do we ask people to buy meat from small, local farms (where presumably the animals have more space and a less terrible life while they’re alive) while holding the opinion that humane farming is a myth and that we shouldn’t kill animals if we don’t need to?

I don’t have the answers. All I know is that social change is frustrating, heartbreaking, wonderful, necessary and way too slow.