Tiger King: Widen Your Circle of Compassion

Tiger King 2' isn't grr-reat - CNN

The new season of Tiger King is out on Netflix and once again it’s all everyone can talk about. But the part that no one is talking about is the unbearable hypocrisy it exposes. There are so many layers of hypocrisy in fact, that I don’t even know where to begin. I suppose I’ll start with the mind-blowing disconnect that Jeff Lowe demonstrates when, in reference to Joe Exotic, he says: Two years is an awful long time to spend in a cage. My jaw dropped at this. He did not even flinch at this comment as dozens of big cats pace back and forth in cages he put them in just off camera.

Clearly the men and women working at these zoos don’t comprehend the immorality and cruelty of what they are doing by keeping and breeding these animals. One woman even went as far as to say: How could this be wrong when it makes so many people happy? With complete disregard for the happiness and wellbeing of the animals providing that happiness to humans. Even Joe Exotic himself, who on multiple occasions seems to acknowledge the suffering he has inflicted on these animals by keeping them on his property, still insists that the government is “out to get them” and wants to shut down all of these little zoos.

Now I’ve come to expect comments and mindsets like these. Humans are the only beings that matter and we can use and abuse every other living thing as we please because we’re the best. I see this written on the face of most people I meet in this world. They wear this opinion almost like a badge of honor, despite how disgusting it truly is. But what surprises me more is the people that go out of their way to fight for the rights of these big cats, spout all of these noble flowery ideals, then go home and eat a steak. I just don’t know what to do with that.

I cannot comprehend where these people draw the line. Why does a tiger deserve freedom and happiness, but a cow does not? Why should a lion’s suffering matter if the suffering of a pig even being mentioned causes scoffs and eye rolls? Do these people even think about this? The longer I am vegan, the less I understand this painfully obvious hypocrisy. What is the distinction being made between farmed animals and exotic animals, between exotic animals and pets? Why is cow meat an acceptable, “healthy” meal, but horse meat is an abomination? IT MAKES NO FUCKING SENSE!

The only difference between these animals is what humans think about them. I don’t think anyone would actually say this, but it seems like the only animals people deem worthy of protection and compassion are animals that we like, animals that bring us some kind of pleasure (non-gustatory pleasure that is.) But what a fucked up distinction to make. The selfishness, the narcissism of human beings knows no bounds. It makes me want to grab the entire world by the shoulders and shake them.

I want so desperately to have a real genuine conversation with my meat-eating friends about this, but by now I know better than to even try. It has always just turned into a big joke when I’ve attempted to have this discussion in the past. Well pigs are so tasty though. *laughter* Cows are too stupid to suffer. *chuckle* What other purpose do those animals even have besides being food? *snicker* The cognitive dissonance is so thick that no one is able to be serious on these topics. All my past attempts to talk about this have ended in mockery (by others) and fury (on my part).

People have been so conditioned to disregard farmed animals that even comparing them to other protected groups is taken as an egregious insult. Since the black lives matter movement began, I’ve been tempted to co-opt the idiotic “all lives matter” counter argument by making a shirt with those words alongside the image of a pig, cow, or chicken. It’s as if these people don’t even consider other beings as lives at all. The thought would never even enter their heads. However, I don’t act on this impulse because I know it will only cause people to hate me and think I’m a bigot. Oh my god, she is equating black people with animals! They’ll say with disgust. The point I’m trying to make with these arguments only results in people doubling down on their disregard for animal rights.

Since I’ve stopped my SSRI and am able to feel my emotions deeply again, these topics are almost too much to bear. It brings me to tears whenever I see veganism as the butt of so many well-received jokes. How can you laugh?! How on fucking earth can the suffering of these beautiful, innocent, sentient beings be funny to you!? The sheer weight of the knowledge of the billions of animals in unbearable, unimaginable conditions right now is enough to crush me entirely. I am ashamed to be part of the species that has created and perpetuates such atrocities. My mind flashes with images from documentaries like Earthlings as the world laughs at me. I feel so worthless, so useless that I can’t save them. I want to beg the God I no longer believe in to please help them. I want to throw myself at the feet of these animals and ask them for forgiveness that I know I don’t deserve. I would sacrifice my own life to end their pain. I would do it happily. But I guess that’s just another joke, isn’t it?

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Veganism: The Burden of Knowing

Even though veganism has improved my quality of life ten fold, it has also forced me to grapple daily with some pretty harsh realities. Going from a primarily meat centered diet to one that consists mainly of whole plant foods is undoubtedly challenging, but it cannot compare to the challenges I face now as a full-fledged vegan. Documentaries such as Earthlings, Cowspiracy, and What the Health along with countless studies and lectures have shown the immoral, corrupted, grotesque, and unsustainable face of the human race. Yet even exposed, the lurching sickness of our legacy on planet earth continues.

When I was younger and only knew of the moral implications of veganism, I was full of fire. There were animals suffering and I knew that it would end. That I would make it end. That time would bring humanity to its knees before the immense shadow of pain we’ve created and there would be a new era of compassion on earth. I knew that my voice would add to the cacophony of animal agony and that every ounce of energy I exerted was pushing society to this inevitable peak. Each day I was breathless and flushed with anger and passion.

Then in 2014 when Cowspiracy was released, the rug of blissful ignorance was pulled from underneath me for the second time. Before this documentary I had no idea that the practice of animal agriculture was having such a devastating effect on our environment. As the documentary went through every aspect of our earth: air, water, land, my chest became heavier and heavier until my breath was shallow and rapid. It is already too late. This thought continued on repeat inside my head. The only conceivable hope humanity has is to start RIGHT NOW. I felt the urgency in my bones. For the first time in my life I desperately desired power, the power to change this damning destiny I saw laid out before all of existence.

But I wasn’t powerful, and I’m still not. And three years have passed by. And more animals are suffering as the population grows. And the Earth is still decaying under this heavy greed. And this is why it’s hard to be vegan. Veganism is the burden of knowing. It is the burden of seeing the eventual fate of our earth but being unable to change its course. It is seeing the futility of your efforts and giving everything you have anyway.

At some point each day I find myself coming back to this reality. Over every good moment hangs the specter of the future. It is daunting to plan for years that you may never get to. It is even harder to find counsel and help coping from a society that doesn’t believe you. In the beginning I was so eager to share what I had learned but soon realize this was more painful than silence. It was agonizing to hear again and again from so many friends: It will be okay. The scientists will fix it. Things will change before anything get’s “too” bad. I’m not worried about it. 

Psychology has taught me that human beings are hard-wired for hope. We as a species are known for underestimating the likelihood of negative outcomes. However, even revealing to others the science behind the optimism bias doesn’t seem to shake their confidence that everything will be fine. Even other vegans seem to brush off this sobering science with ease, finding more fuel in small victories and advancements. But my fire is burning low these days. It is so tiring to struggle against this enormous momentum. I wish I had a solution for these feelings I have, a way to comfort other vegans that may be suffering in the same silent way. I hope that my solidarity will suffice until then.

I am pleading with those of you who have yet to adopt a vegan lifestyle to please educate yourselves about the dire state of our earth, human health, and animal rights. So much damage has already been done to our environment and there is no indication it will be slowing down. I truly believe based on the scientific evidence that this is a pivotal moment in human history. It’s time to choose whether we will change or perish.

And to any vegans that may be reading this right now that feel the way that I do, I am always here for you if you need consoling conversation. Just remember that your actions and choices in this life still count immensely. Although we may lose the earth, every vegan day is another day less animals had to suffer to stifle the sickness of human selfishness. And every moment of peace we can give them is precious.

♥ Keep fighting. They need us. ♥