I read an article for my global politics course that I found on the notorious database network, JStor, which I have access to thanks to the school that I go to. I read the work of these two Swedes that did a sociological investigation on the emotion work that is involved in vegan activism. Their data came from interviews with 18 vegan/animal rights activists from different groups in Stockholm and Gothenburg. They identified 5 different categories of the emotional processes from each interviewee. It was a strange experience reading about what they all went through, because I had gone through the exact same things as them. I think that it struck me more than it should have because I do feel isolated from these activists, as I try to have a more holistic view of the wrongs in the world, whereas often times, I have felt that lots of these activists can be quite misanthropic and not radical politically enough. However, I still do attend protests, awareness raising outings and other events with them. I have tried to get to know the local vegan community better within the country I live in, and it has helped me practice and be exposed to the language/s of the country, and I try to have discussions that link human politics with non-human politics. As I have mentioned before in another post, it’s important for any progressive movement to support others and to be present in others’ movements! Unity is key 🙂
Back to emotion work…
I will give a basic explanation of each of the different categories. Learning about them helped me understand myself better from an external, more rational point of view. The 5 consist of containing, ventilation, ritualization, micro-shocking and normalization of guilt.
This is what we do when we are trying to raise awareness, at a stand passing out leaflets, having conversations with people, showing them footage of what goes on behind the walls of factory farms. We contain all of our anger and sadness, put on a façade of tranquility. Clearly, this is not applicable to every vegan, hence the stereotype of the “angry vegan”. In order to dodge these critiques of vegans being irrational, angry, mean, aggressive people, we have to contain these explosive emotions inside, because otherwise people would not take us seriously and be turned off by the very logical and rational reasons. Not only this, but I also think as many of us were not vegans from birth, we need to approach people with kindness and respect, for most of the people we encounter are warm-hearted people. Containing is not just a tactic for spreading veganism, it is a way of seeing hope in people and humanity and realizing that it is our cultural values’ fault and corporations’ fault for conditioning us into thinking that consuming and producing products that involved the enslavement, torture and murder of animals is morally acceptable.
Letting out the anger and frustration that is bottled up when one is containing them! In the article, they mostly talk about activists going to protests where they can chant and yell in anger, letting out the repressed frustration. I think that writing in a blog like this, or releasing tears and letting out my thoughts to vegans, comrades and other friends and family is also a form of ventilation. These authors decided to look at the emotion work involved in veganism, and this does not surprise me because being part of a social movement, especially one like this where there is such a huge urgency, with hundreds of millions of animals and more that are being killed per day for you and I, carries such a huge emotional toll on you. Ventilating out all the bottled up torment inside is important.
I look at this process as “charging your batteries”. Sometimes as activists, we wear out. We need a break, and in the article they talk about how the activists would engage socially with other activists in fun activities such as eating out together or sharing recipes. It makes us feel like we do belong again, as we usually feel marginalized. I think that ritualization doesn’t only involve socializing with other vegan activists. I do find it nice and refreshing to go for dinner with vegan activists after an activist session out on the streets, but I still feel intense from the experience, and we mostly talk about our lives from a vegan point of view. I feel ritualized a lot of the time when I am doing other things as well, not necessarily related to veganism. Writing poetry and songs, playing music with my friends, going to a concert, talking to my friends (that are not vegan or part of the movement), reading… etc. Those activities help me a lot to not burn out emotionally and continue to be the best animal rights advocate and activist that I can be.
This process is linked to moral shocks, a term that is also brought up in the article. A moral shock is when you finally decide that whatever a social movement is advocating for is right, and this happens because your rational-thought capacities are triggered through your emotions regarding your morals. As activists, we try to trigger moral shocks to non-vegans by either showing graphic footage of how animals are treated or having discussions with people, quite often by using the Socratic method, where we ask people questions in order to get them to the conclusion that we want. Yes. Call it manipulative if you want, but we never force people to be vegan, we just want to have a discussion with them, just to get them to come to the conclusion that their morals do not fit with anything less than veganism.
So what I explained above are moral shocks. MICRO-shocks on the other hand… is the process of vegans triggering these moral shocks into themselves. This is done in order for the activists to remind themselves of why and what they are fighting against, whose rights they are fighting for. A few of the activists they interviewed would watch slaughterhouse footage every morning, to keep that fire burning inside of him. Some vegan activists on YouTube talked about how going to slaughterhouses on a weekly basis, seeing the scared animals in the trucks being taken in, looking into their eyes when they try to give them water to help their dehydration… They also said that this would help them keep fighting as hard as they could, and kept them from doing any less than they were doing. I used to give myself these shocks when I was starting out as an activist by watching footage of the way animals were treating inside slaughterhouses and factory farms. I don’t think that I am capable of watching that kind of footage anymore but every time I see or smell any food that was evidently made with animal products, it triggers those images into my brain. That is my form of micro-shock I suppose.
Normalization of Guilt
This consists of feeling like one is not doing enough for the cause. It usually happens during the times when one is not actively participating in activism, therefore usually during periods of when one is “ritualizing”, doing anything other than fighting for the cause. I don’t only feel like this about the animals, but for human and environmental problems. This constant feeling of guilt. However, one must realize that there is only so much one can do, and ritualization is important. We need to recharge our batteries. Or else we wouldn’t be able to help the cause at all. I had quite an embarrassing episode when I went to this jazz festival this summer and had had too much wine, and had a huge panic attack about the world. I felt guilty about being at the jazz festival, having a good time because I wasn’t spending that time to be helping others. Clearly, if I weren’t under the influence of alcohol, those emotions wouldn’t have been enhanced as much but that is the way that I feel most of the time.
Learning about all of this, and reading it from an academic article in the ivory tower land of JStor was really helpful for my own “psychoanalysis”. I enjoy analyzing and understanding my emotions and others’, and although these terms don’t label the most complex ideas, it’s nice to have a vocabulary to help express my emotions and it showed me that I am not the only person that experiences this. I felt a weird sense of acceptance of my emotion work, because it is the trade off for this type of activism, but I find it to be worth it. 🙂 I also find that these 5 emotion work categories are applicable to activists from other movements, as activism in general isn’t light on our emotions and mental health.
“Emotion work in animal rights activism: A moral-sociological perspective” (2013) by Kerstin Jacobsson and Jonas Lindblom