This may seem like an odd place to start my story, but I’ve been an atheist for my whole life; in other words, I’ve never held a positive belief in any deity. This didn’t really manifest in my behavior during my childhood, though, because religion wasn’t mentioned much at all at home or amongst my friends. I basically operated as though religion didn’t exist until late in high school when I started becoming more socially conscious. In freshman year of college, I joined the Secular Student Alliance and started doing some independent learning about all of the harm religious dogma causes in society. I became quite infuriated that people in the world were discriminating against and killing each other for such stupid reasons.
As a result, I strongly identified as an atheist and began participating in religious debates (partly because I believe dogmas are harmful and partly because I just love debating) in early of 2012. In those debates, a common argument I would see was something like “If there is no god, then there is no basis for morality. Ethics would all just be a matter of opinion.” That seemed like a rather absurd thing to say (as I had always been at least reasonably ethical – at least by societal standards – despite my non-belief, and didn’t think I was doing so arbitrarily) but I didn’t really have a great answer for what the basis for my ethics was. What was it exactly that made bad things bad and good things good? I did a lot of thinking and reading, and found myself agreeing with themes of compassion, putting yourself in the place of others, minimizing suffering, practicing equality, etc, etc.
In that process, I started to realize that if ethical principles really were true, then I ought to act in accordance with them. Moreover, I didn’t want to be a hypocrite advocating that people do things I wasn’t willing to do. I sought to live my life in the most ethically consistent way possible. Doing so was a relatively easy task that didn’t demand too much change on my part– until late October 2012, when I encountered the idea of speciesism (similar to racism, but based on species). It had never really occurred to me to include nonhuman animals in my moral theory, but the concept was so compelling that I thought about it more.
I quickly realized that for me to act on speciesist assumptions would be a blatant example of moral inconsistency. If I was going to justifiably continue to consume animal products, I’d have to explain my differing treatment of other species in terms of some non-species-based distinction between humans and other animals. I explored the arguments from rationality, moral agency, free will, intelligence, etc. but all of them came up short. After a conversation with some friends I (at the time very reluctantly) decided that I had to adopt the vegan lifestyle. I began on December 1, 2012.
After that, I joined several vegan Facebook groups to get more information. I learned about all of the devastating effects animal agriculture has on the environment. I learned about how unsustainable it is. I learned about how unhealthy it is. I learned about how it contributes to world hunger. And, most compellingly, I was exposed for the first time to the full extent of the suffering that humans inflict on other species. I had always had a general sense that we didn’t treat them well, but actually seeing with my own eyes the degree of the atrocities was beyond my imagination. Watching the documentary Earthlings – http://earthlings.com/?page_id=32 – was the catalyst that turned me from a vegan to an animal rights activist. From then on I just knew I couldn’t sit back while these horrors continued.
So while I initially titled this ‘How I Became a Vegan and Animal Rights Activist’, the title really should be ‘How I Discovered Who I’d Always Been’. I didn’t adopt any new beliefs. I didn’t become a different person. I merely followed all of the beliefs I already held to their logical conclusions.