I wonder if these marches manage to convince enough people to reduce their meat consumption to offset the ill will that they possibly sow.

While wandering around in London’s Piccadilly Circus neighborhood, I stumbled upon what I later learned to be the National Animal Rights March. A sizable gathering of colorful and impassioned people, young and old, were marching down the street with signs and banners, advocating greater sensibilities for the treatment of animals and a wholesale prohibition on the consumption of animal meat.

National Animal Rights March — August 6, 2022

National Animal Rights March — August 6, 2022

Standing on the sidewalk as a spectator, I wondered how this scene would be received by the average passerby, and then again by the vaguely politically centrist Western adult whose value system is vulnerable to rational argument, but who also enjoys a juicy hamburger every now and then. Certainly, principal among the goals of this march was an increased concern for animal well-being, further cashed out by a reduction in the consumption of animal meat and greatly improved conditions for those animals raised for slaughter. But in that moment, I felt that the spirit of these goals was lost amidst the thunderous pounding of the drums and clamor of the numerous chants and rallying cries.

Having tried to give up or at least greatly reduce my intake of meat, I am sympathetic to the vegan cause, but my fear of bothering others with my choices has attuned my attention to some potential negative outcomes of this style of advocacy. In short, bombast taken to the street in this way seems to place the otherwise blameless onlooker on the receiving end of disproportionately severe moral reproof, as common among the signage wielded by these protesters are images of blood-letting and accusations of moral degeneracy on the part of greater society. I suspect that the reaction to this unfettered admonishment could be indignation, borne of a feeling that one has been judged for a crime not committed. “I had a chicken sandwich for lunch, and you call ‘murder.’” If not this, then there must at least be a wide swath of people who look upon such spectacle with disgust, if merely for its unsightliness and fanaticism.

In usual ruminating style, I don’t have a solution to offer, and can only again wonder out loud whether there is more harm being done here than good. Is there not a style of activism with enough gravitas to make one pause and consider the nature of suffering and its almost certain incidence in anything conscious more neurologically complex than a mouse (to draw the line somewhat conservatively)? Surely, there must be a way to strike the tone of a measured plea, and to calmly appeal to reason and compassion without drumming up (literally) so much agitation.

Certainly, these marches manage to bring awareness to the very real atrocities in our factory farms, and admittedly, many of the slogans seem to make honest attempts to appeal to one’s sense of compassion. One must also acknowledge that many a hard-fought battle in the realm of civil discourse have only been won through boisterous public protest. However, if anything can be discerned from the latest patterns in the great experiment of modern society, terse, pithy slogans and witty pseudo-aphorisms delivered with incensed fervor tend to send our adversaries deeper into their nests, and so it seems the project of turning society’s attention on the well-being of non-human creatures could be muddied when all it seems to do is block downtown traffic and visit a cacophony upon all those in its path.

For now, I will continue to donate to Giving What We Can’s animal welfare fund.