Going Down The Vegan Rabbit Hole
The conspiracy theory’ threat to the vegan movement
When I write about veganism, I tend to avoid criticising other people who manifest veganism differently to me. However, I have a weak spot.
Being an ethical vegan zoologist – and a rational person – I cannot help being triggered by the many conspiracy theories that seem to be surfacing everywhere, and when I see vegans believing some of them, I find it difficult to keep my cool.
Conspiracy theories are elaborated collective fantasies involving many people, which are invariably false as are based on several wrong premises about power and human nature.
Conspiracists follow several conspiracy theories as a belief system, quasi-religiously, and may begin acting on them (which is when they can become dangerous – and even lethal).
Conspiracist ideation — the belief in conspiracy theories — may be pathological and correlated with psychological projection, paranoia and Machiavellianism.
Unfortunately, I have met some vegans who may be suffering from this, but what worries me are those who I see gradually falling into the conspiracies’ rabbit hole (for example believing global warming, vaccines or COVID-19 are hoaxes), without even realising.
I get how veganism can attract vulnerable people who fall for this social ‘epidemy’ because the first act of the journey to veganism is often the same symptom of those who get ‘infected’ with conspiracist ideation: we challenge the ‘system’ in the search of the truth.
New ethical vegans break the chains of carnist indoctrination and ‘awake’ to the truth of animal exploitation, but new conspiracists break the ties with reality and ‘sleep’ into the lies of conspiracy fantasies.
An obstacle to the vegan world
In my new book Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world, I write about the chances of achieving the compassionate, true and fair vegan world we want in the distant future, and I looked at the obstacles we would face on the way there, among them false news and the social ‘pandemic’ of conspiracies. I write:
“This epidemic worries me as it is negatively affecting the vegan movement, and I cannot help but be upset by seeing vegans falling victims of it, and by doing so discrediting the movement.”
“I am not quite sure how we should be dealing with this. As veganism is so easily promoted through critical thinking, rationality, facts, evidence and science, any trend which undermines the importance of these beacons of truth is bound to prevent more people becoming vegan, and lead vegans to start consuming animal products again.”
What might we do?
After having seen the recent deadly effects of conspiracy theorists on American democracy by the Washington DC insurrection, as well as on the health of people everywhere in the world by the anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers, some ideas about ‘how to deal with this’ are beginning to crystallise in my mind.
This is what I thought we could do. First, stop spreading the theories further, reducing the number of their ‘copies’ out there as much as we can.
Second, weaken the main communication platforms where such theories are commonly spread, including the very ‘infectious’ specialised ‘alternative’ social media channels and websites that thrive on them.
Third, expose the full-on conspiracists as such so we can keep a ‘social distance’ from them and keep a sceptic eye on their communications.
Fourth, to prevent new outbreaks, we need to delete the conspiracy posts which are still circulating in our social medial channels.
Finally, stop enabling full-on conspiracist who organise vegan outreach events, as these are likely to spread misinformation to passers-by.
Can it backfire?
But then, I thought, what if I am wrong? What if my five suggested interventions cause the opposite effect?
If we try to stop spreading the theories by reducing the ‘copies’, will not we be increasing the ‘value’ of each surviving copy, and with this increasing the ‘power’ of those who still have one?
If we eliminate the current communication platforms conspiracists use, how would we find out what they are up to?
If we attempt to expose the full-on conspiracists, won’t we be ignoring the most infectious type, the ‘asymptomatic’ ones?
If we delete the conspiracist messages in our social medial channels, how can we teach people to detect what is a fact-based statement and what is conspiracy rubbish?
Finally, if all the non-conspiracist vegans never meet again any of their conspiracist counterparts, how likely it would be that they can be ‘cured’ from this social epidemy?
The Compassionate approach
It seems I need to go back to square one. Perhaps we should concentrate on the truth and celebrate reality. Focus on us, not on them.
If conspiracies provide to them an anti-system identity, the more we alienate them from the system the more this identity is reinforced. So, let’s show them an alternative identity to feel more at home with.
Let’s make the vegan identity stronger than the anti-establishment identity, showing how you can progress the cause from within the system (as in my Employment Tribunal case which led to ethical veganism becoming a protected philosophical belief in Great Britain), and thrive in it with compassion, wisdom and equanimity, rather than struggling with it with fear, ignorance and ill will.
If, as an ethical vegan I am to avoid doing any harm to any sentient being, I should not exclude from my circle of compassion humans falling into conspiracy theories.
Words by Jordi Casamitjana, Vegan animal protector