Options for tribalism growing up were fewer for me than exist for monoracial people, I gather. There was no comfortably homogenous group into which I could retreat without question. I am not entirely sure whether my parents’ expectations that I excel, or my own vague recognition that I was an “other”, drove me to embrace uniqueness from an early age. Possibly it was a combination; in any case, this mindset offered some practice in existing distinctly from mainstream mores.
In early 2014 a new co-worker – an ethical vegan – arrived where I was interning. After a polite exchange with her about plant and animal-based foods, I reflected on the short stint in college when I had adopted a vegan diet for about a month. I’d learned about the cruelty of factory farming, but the challenges when interacting with others had ultimately worn me down. I was “missing out” on certain foods and my family’s culture(s), felt I was being difficult at restaurants and in others’ kitchens… really, what difference did my little boycott make, anyway?
Realizing I’d learned a little something about supply and demand since then, I reconsidered the issue. I delved into the internet – reading articles, watching YouTube videos… within days I was convinced that veganism was morally superior to carnism, and generally healthier for humans and the planet. Hadn’t I wanted to save the world since the impressionable age of six, after all? I had one last “humanely”-produced, non-vegan pizza dinner from Whole Foods, and went vegan the day after.
Eventually I stopped believing there is any humane or justifiable way to exploit or kill animals without a dire need. This created tension with my concept of God. Though I’d been seeking God beyond Christianity for years, I clung to the Eden story in defense of veganism (supposedly, all creatures were herbivores until The Fall). Further thought and discussions revealed the holes in my presumption that God would not sanction unnecessary animal harm, at least according to “holy” texts from various faiths. Meanwhile, I’d long noticed a YouTube channel that I’d been hesitant to click on – “The Vegan Atheist”. The name alone was triggering. I’d never given serious consideration to the possibility that there is no god, yet intellectual honesty demanded I do just that. Truth is preferable to delusion, as veganism had affirmed. Freedom is preferable to comfort, as my transition to minimalism (during a similar period) had affirmed. I had come to value freedom and truth above almost all else, and they coincide. I could no longer simply ignore arguments that opposed long-held beliefs.
Intellectual honesty demands a constant re-examination of our beliefs and values. After exploring atheism I questioned my political and socioeconomic opinions. Anarchy, anti-racism, and anti-oppression movements in general piqued my interest. I began to see power struggles as a pervasive underlying dynamic driving most societies’ ills. As with electric potential or hydraulic pressure, the more imbalance imposed, the more dramatic the phenomena in pursuit of equilibrium. So then, the more we can dismantle hierarchies, the less tension there will be to fuel these struggles. Power does not disperse without a fight, though, does it? So, do we save the world (ourselves) by forcefully dismantling the current systems, trying to change them from the inside, or erecting parallel systems until the foundations of the oppressive ones are eroded? Or should we try to walk away from it all and seek happiness in nihilistic solitude? I imagine the answer depends on who you are and what you have to lose… who must be martyred and who must live to fight another day… who is even able to “fight” in the first place?
I wonder what I’ll learn next, how much more of an outlier I’ll become (biracial, vegan, atheist, poly-bi, introverted, etc.) ... how that will empower or challenge my communications with others about solutions to the world’s problems… and – the recurring existential crisis – what to do with my own life considering the world as it is now? Surely there’s a happy medium between martyrdom and hermithood in rejecting the current system(s)? Maybe making peace with death is part of empowerment… maybe just completing an entry into a STEM career as a female PoC is activism enough…