Sorry You Holiness, But Compassion Demands Disruption

Published as a Guest Opinion in the Daily Camera on 06/28/16. Original can be found here.

That’s so disrespectful.

This is the first comment I overheard after a group of animal rights activists displayed a banner during the Dalai Lama’s second talk at CU Boulder. The banner was draped from the concourse behind the main podium and read: “Meat Is Violence, Not Compassion.” The three activists didn’t shout or exhibit aggressive behavior, nor did they violently resist when the police dragged them away. The whole disruption lasted less than five minutes.

That’s so disrespectful.

I understand the sentiment. I overheard similar comments when Black Lives Matter activists disrupted a Bernie Sanders event in Seattle and when a BLM activist disrupted a Hillary Clinton speech over her “superpredator” comments. These disruptions were also called “disrespectful,” but not by everyone, and certainly not by Sanders who ceded the microphone to the activists for several minutes. My hunch is that even those who were initially upset by the disruptions eventually understood, perhaps even respected, the impulses behind the protests.

Marginalized groups are rarely, if ever, given a sufficient platform to voice their concerns. Marginalization is predicated on the unjust and institutionalized silencing of specific populations. This is why we can understand the motivation behind these protests. This is also why social justice activists must seek and occupy any channels through which their voices will be heard. Until a satisfactory public platform is provided, the appropriate platform is anywhere, everywhere. If not now, when? If not here, where?

The Dalai Lama referred to the 7 billion human animals currently inhabiting the planet, but what about all of the others? What about the animals that the Dalai Lama himself unnecessarily uses and consumes? Nonhuman animals are indisputably the most violently oppressed and marginalized group of all sentient beings. Sixty billion land animals are intentionally, unnecessarily, and avoidably slaughtered each year, not to mention the trillions of sea animals. These animals matter morally even if their voices don’t resemble our own. One need not be a Buddhist to recognize this fact.

In his second lecture, the Dalai Lama expounded on the need for education, clear and rigorous thinking, scientific discovery, a global ethics independent of religion, and most of all, compassion. All of these subjects beckon a recognition of animal rights as a social justice issue of the utmost importance. The use and consumption of all animal products, not only “meat,” involves the infliction of intentional, unnecessary, and avoidable violence. Our willful participation in this violence contradicts exactly what reason, reflection, science, ethics, and most of all, compassion, compel us to do.

That’s so disrespectful.

No, not nearly as disrespectful as how we routinely exploit and kill the most vulnerable among us. Not nearly as disrespectful as ignoring the moral status of nonhumans for the sake of taste pleasure, habit, and convenience. Not nearly as disrespectful as treating sentient beings as things, animals as “meat.”

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