A common off-the-cuff response to vegan advocates is that what a person eats is nobody else’s business, and that it’s wrong of vegans to try to enforce their lifestyle choice on others.
What worries me about this response is that it shows just how little people actually think about the arguments when using off-the-shelf phrases such as “live and let live” or “each to their own”.
Of course it is true that you shouldn’t try to enforce something as subjective as a lifestyle choice on other people; it would be an impingement on their personal liberty. But respecting animal rights is no more a lifestyle choice than respecting human rights.
Assault as a personal preference?
It is a mistake to view veganism as just another lifestyle preference. The unnecessary slaughter of animals, not to mention the torture involved in factory farming, is not comparable with one’s choice in music or hairstyle.
Whether you support animal rights or not, it is undeniable that it is an ethical belief. And ethical beliefs, such as your view on the death penalty, are not comparable to a preference for tattoos or a commitment to healthy living or being a swinger. To dismiss veganism as a mere lifestyle choice is a misunderstanding, equivalent to considering assault a matter of personal taste.
Choosing to pay someone else to commit a crime
Unlike lifestyle choices or personal tastes, the whole point of ethical beliefs is that they apply to everyone, not just yourself. We wouldn’t let a rapist off the hook if he demanded we didn’t enforce our values on him. The very essence of morality is that it is a public duty, not merely a personal choice. To refuse to debate an ethical issue on the grounds that your actions are no one else’s business is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of morality: “Why do these preachy non-rapists keep enforcing their lifestyle choice on me and locking me up? Smug prats!”
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It’s worth remembering that up until the 1970s it was perfectly legal for a man to rape his wife, but thanks to the feminist movement this monstrously unethical “lifestyle choice” has now been banned. Examples such as this are an important reminder that what is currently legal or illegal is not always a useful guide to morality. In the 70s a passionate feminist would try to prevent spousal rape even though it was legal, and in 2013 a vegan will try to prevent the unnecessary killing of sentient beings, even though that too is legal.
We are not asking you to believe in angels
Another ill-conceived response to animal rights supporters is to compare them to religious fundamentalists trying to forcibly convert everyone.
This comparison is extremely flawed.
Religious beliefs involve the assertion that certain entities exist: gods, angels, afterlife, souls etc. Vegans are not trying to make others put their faith in unprovable claims, they’re simply questioning whether the unnecessary torture and killing of animals is justifiable. To compare veganism to religion is to fail to grasp the difference between faith and a moral argument. It’s the equivalent of comparing women’s rights to a belief in Vishnu.
The heart of the matter is this: ethical beliefs are not comparable to a belief in angels or preference for a music genre, they are serious arguments about what is most fundamentally important in society, and they cannot be dismissed with a cheery “Each to their own”.
When people quip ‘live and let live’ or “each to their own” in response to animal rights advocates, they’re ignoring the very meaning of what they’re saying. You can’t “live and let live” if you’re killing other sentient beings.
Everyone is entitled to their own personal tastes, free from interference, but, and this shouldn’t need saying, justice is not a lifestyle choice.