Lately I’ve been thinking about how differently I viewed the world only 2 years ago. I have always, always loved my dog and my cat and other people’s pets and therefore considered myself an animal lover, but at the same time, I never really thought much about farmed animals. I ate them and I wore them, but I never really thought about the real-life animal that the food on my plate and leather on my shoes once was.
My boyfriend a while back was not much of an animal person at all, but when he saw how much I loved my pets, he said to me, “I am surprised that you eat animals with how much you love them.” That got the ball rolling. He had a point. Still, I continued to eat them, putting cats and dogs into a different category than sheep, pigs, cows, and chickens.
I honestly don’t really know what else it was that prompted me to really, really think about farmed animals. I know I had some down time at work and would sometimes peruse various websites about animal welfare issues, and I suppose that kept nagging at me, but I can’t point to one specific event that made me flip the switch to become an animal rights person.
Yesterday, I spent much of the afternoon reading Tom Regan’s book Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights. It is one of the most influential books of the animal rights movement, and being only a third of the way through, I can already see why. One chapter of the book is titled “How did you get that way?” and reading it kind of made everything come together for me; I now realize that I’m really not THAT weird –at least not when it comes to making the transition from omnivore to vegan, or from pet lover to animal rights activist.
According to Regan, there are 3 primary ways people come to the movement:
1. They are born with an animal consciousness, meaning they just kind of “get” animals from an early age. They can empathize with them, understand when they’re upset or happy, and they form bonds with animals that most other people can’t or just don’t. He calls these people Davincians.
2. Damascans, on the other hand, have a change in perception at some point in their lives, usually triggered by a noteworthy event–many times that event is witnessing a particularly brutal act toward a helpless animal. “One minute [Damascans] accept the cultural paradigm; the next minute they do not” (Regan, 2004, p 24).
3. Lastly, and most commonly, there are the Muddlers. “…Most people who become [Animal Rights Activists] just muddle along in life, first learning one thing, then another; experiencing this, then that; asking some questions, finding some answers; making one decision, then a second, then a third” (Regan, 2004, p. 25).
This all made a lot of sense to me, and when I look at who I’ve become, I think I am a mixture of a Davincian and a Muddler. I think I’ve always had a powerfully compassionate side to me. When I was a kid, I loved animals so much. Not just that, but I assigned emotions and personalities to my dolls and could play with them for hours on end. To this day, I still sort of imagine that my plush toys have feelings – because, really, what 27 year old woman doesn’t still imagine that? Right? No? Oh…
At any rate, I fully admit that I lost my Davincian ways over the years, and came to the movement as a Muddler. I struggled a lot with making the changes I made in my diet and other consumption patterns – rejecting 27 years of such cultural norms isn’t easy, I know that. It was almost like I just got to a point (much like Regan says he did) where I had no choice anymore: There I was, an animal rights activist, in all my glory and confusion. Looking back over the whole process, I don’t think I’d change a thing. I mean, sure, I wish I had come to this place earlier in life, but at the same time, I think we all need to do it when it’s right for us. I sure am glad I did, because I know now that it’s the right decision – no second guesses, no doubt – and that’s a pretty good feeling.