patttrice jones, Polarization and Vegan Activism


pattrice jones, The Oxen at the Intersection
patricepattrice jones is an ecofeminist writer, scholar, and activist who, along with Miriam Jones, cofounded VINE Sanctuary, an LGBTQ-run farmed animal sanctuary that operates within an understanding of the intersection of oppressions. She is the author of Aftershock: Confronting Trauma in a Violent World: A Guide for Activists and Their Allies (Lantern, 2007), and has contributed chapters to Ecofeminism: Feminist Intersections with Other Animals and the Earth (Bloomsbury, 2014); Confronting Animal Exploitation: Grassroots Essays on Liberation and Veganism (McFarland, 2013); Sister Species: Women, Animals and Social Justice (University of Illinois Press, 2011); Sistah Vegan: Food, Identity, Health, and Society (Lantern, 2010); Contemporary Anarchist Studies (Routledge, 2009); Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of the Earth (AK Press, 2006); and Terrorists or Freedom Fighters?: Reflections on the Liberation of Animals (Lantern, 2004). Her portion of the proceeds of the sale of The Oxen at the Intersection will go to VINE. pattrice is pictured here with Luna.


Caryn Hartglass: Hey everybody, we’re back. I’m Caryn Hartglass and it’s time for the second part of It’s All About Food here on a lovely young fall day, September 23, 2014. And I’m looking forward to this one. I’m bringing back to the show pattrice jones. She was on last month and we got kind of disconnected towards the end, and I wasn’t finished talking with her. So we’re going to talk a little more. She’s an eco-feminist writer, scholar, and activist who, along with Miriam Jones, co-founded VINE Sanctuary, an LGBTQ-run farm animal sanctuary that operates with an understanding of the intersection of oppressions. And we talked about, on the last show, her most recent book, The Oxen at the Intersection. And if you haven’t read it, get it — it’s a Lantern book, and it’s one of my favorites for 2014. pattrice, hi!

pattrice jones: Hi Caryn, thanks so much for having me back.

Caryn Hartglass: You’re welcome. Ok, now, I’m not going to do any complaining, I don’t want to complain.

pattrice jones: Okay.


Caryn Hartglass: I just want to exude joy. But at the same time [both laugh] I want to understand. So, I thought we could have a conversation because you have some really fine perspectives on humans, and some of the things we do — some of them nice, some of them not so nice. I want to talk — start with talking about polarization. Let’s talk about it in a variety of different contexts. I remember in your book you talked a little bit about polarization.

pattrice jones: Sure. You’re thinking of group polarization.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.

pattrice jones: Which is a fairly robustly demonstrated phenomenon in social psychology. And how group polarization works is when people are together with like-minded people, their views tend to become more extreme. And then they tend to self-segregate, and then their views become even more alike with their own group, and they become even less able, then, to make contact with or even begin to understand people who are in a different group. So in a gated, conservative community, the members of that community will tend over time — they’ll start out conservative, and over time they’ll become more and more and more and more conservative. The members of a left-leaning, vegan commune will become more and more and more and more left over time. And depending on which views you’re having — I certainly wouldn’t argue against becoming more and more left over time. But the problem is that there’s a certain insularity, and then this makes it difficult for there to be any kind of dialogues that lead to anybody at all actually changing their mind, actually taking in new information. And in the book I talked about that, for a couple reasons. Certainly — just for those who don’t know the book, The Oxen at the Intersection is a kind of case study in calamity. It talks about the failed campaign to bring two oxen known as Bill and Lou to Sanctuary from a very insular college called Green Mountain College here in Vermont. And what we noticed, what I noticed as the campaign was going on, was that it wasn’t just that the people at Green Mountain College were absolutely unable to understand or even try to understand where their critics were coming from, but also that the vegan advocates of Bill and Lou seemed to be, for the most part, or at least some seemed to be, fairly unable to talk in ways that would be heard by people who didn’t already agree with them. And so that led me, in the book, to think about this concept of group polarization and think about what I’ve observed over the years as veganism has become — as some of our efforts to make veganism more accessible have taken off, as some of our efforts to promote veganism have taken off, as the internet has taken off. What I’ve noticed that for a fairly substantial subset of folks who think of themselves as vegan, who think of themselves as vegan advocates or animal advocates, are doing a lot of talking to each other, are doing a lot of spending time online, listening to radio shows like this (sorry!), podcasts, reading magazines written for vegans, talking to other vegans about how much they would like to convince other people to go vegan. And none of this is bad. It’s great to be able to exchange recipes. It’s great to have some support when you’ve made a decision that many people in your life don’t understand or agree with. But there’s a danger too. And the danger is group polarization. The danger is the creation of a sort of in-group feeling of special purity, from which you preach to everybody else — and not very effectively. And so what I’ve seen, just in my own personal life, knowing a lot of people who are vegan animal advocates, is that a number of vegans have gotten to the point where they’re so caught up in the vegan — what they would consider the vegan culture, I don’t think there is just one.

Caryn Hartglass: No, there isn’t.

pattrice jones: The cupcake-eating vegan culture, let’s call it.

Caryn Hartglass: Versus the kale-eating vegan culture.

pattrice jones: Not that I don’t love cupcakes!

Caryn Hartglass: Yes.

pattrice jones: But they’re not able to do the one thing that they want to do the most in the world. Which is to convince people who aren’t already vegan to think about getting the animals out of their diet.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. Now, something I like to do on this show, just on behalf of me and this programs, and our wonderful listeners, and some of them are not vegan — I like to align with people not necessarily vegan, but on the ideas where we agree and where we can work together on those issues. Like genetically modified foods and organic food, and even eliminating factory farming. There are people that believe in eating animals, but they don’t think they should be factory farmed. So we can all talk about the issues where we agree, and then, you know, it opens the door for even talking about some things we don’t agree on. But I like to align with people on things. One of the things that I’m seeing — and it’s like there’s the cupcake vegans and the kale vegans — we’re starting to polarize within the vegan movement. And I’m starting to think it’s almost like religion: many people compare, you know, how devout we are with religion, and there have been so many religious spin-offs where we have Catholics, and Protestants, and in the Jewish religion we have the Reform and the Conservative and the Orthodox and the Hasidism, and there’s all these different variations. And now we’re seeing different variations of veganism, and they’re getting very polarized.

pattrice jones: Yeah, yeah. And that’s distressing for a number of reasons. I did want to just say, about what you were saying before in terms of finding things that you can work on with people. Certainly we can agree, for example, that everybody ought to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, and everybody ought to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Everybody ought to have access to affordable grains and legumes. And the beauty part about working together with people on bounded projects, where you don’t have to do anything that you don’t agree with.

Caryn Hartglass: Mm-hmm.

pattrice jones: And if you can set aside the idea that even talking to or working with somebody means that you agree with everything they have ever said in their lives, then what happens when you start to work together on projects like that is that you begin to feel like you’re connected. You are connected.

Caryn Hartglass: Yes.

pattrice jones: You’re connected through this shared project, through this shared labor. Doing something together, working hard on something together is a powerful way that people can feel connected to one another. And as you begin to feel more connected, then you are more trusted, and each party is more interested in what the other party has to say. And so then you get to be in a position where rather than sort of trying to force somebody to think about veganism when they’re walking past you on the street corner not thinking about that and not really wanting to engage anyway, you’re in alliance, you’re working on something, and then the person says, “Well, why don’t you drink milk? I’m vegetarian, I have been, and I don’t understand — why don’t you drink milk?” And then that gives you the opportunity to say, “Oh, well, listen. I didn’t realize it myself, but, turns out, there’s even more death in milk than there is in meat.

Caryn Hartglass: Yes.

pattrice jones: And let me tell you what happens to the female cows. And let me tell you what happens to their babies. Et cetera. Or whatever it was that most moved you. And so you can have a conversation, and you’ll be much more likely to be heard. I’m concerned, in terms of the polarization, that these days I think we sometimes have people who are interested in working on animal-related issues such as vivisection, or zoos, or SeaWorld, and are not yet vegan or ready to be vegan. And my concern is that they may be facing sort of a chilly climate when they try to actually do good work for animals. And so that if you come to an anti-circus protest because you’re just horrified because of what you’ve learned about what happens to elephants, and the person on the picket line with you welcomes you, and y’all talk about elephants, and then y’all go out to eat afterwards, and then the veganism comes up naturally, and you explain it — that’s one thing, and that’s a good thing. But if you come to that picket line and, within five minutes the person is quizzing you on whether you’re vegan or not, and making it very clear that you cannot be a part of our party if you’re not vegan, then you’ve just lost somebody for the anti-circus movement.

Caryn Hartglass: Right.

pattrice jones: And I don’t see how that — and you’ve probably lost the opportunity to have the kinds of long-term conversations that it sometimes takes for people to decide to be vegan. I know some people decide very quickly, right away, but there’s lots of different paths to veganism. And I fear the kind of thing we’ve got going on now has made animal advocacy not an attractive thing to do for anybody who’s not ready to instantly convert to being vegan.

Caryn Hartglass: Ok, now let’s jump to a subject that I bring up a lot on this program, and I’m listening to different voices because I need to hear them. It’s about the animal welfarists versus the animal rightists, the abolitionists versus those who believe in doing incremental steps for animals. The bigger-cagers versus the empty-cagers. And it’s becoming very polarized.

pattrice jones: Yeah, yeah. I don’t know if you heard me sighing.

Caryn Hartglass: I did.

pattrice jones: While you were talking.

Caryn Hartglass: I heard that sigh and I sigh a lot. I want to think that there’s a place in the world for everyone who wants to do good.

pattrice jones: Well, I think first of all that there’s a lot packed into this so-called “abolitionist versus welfarist” divide, right? And one of the problems that I identify in The Oxen at the Intersection is a way of thinking about the world that is, in which the world is sort of divided into these opposed binaries: male versus female, human versus animal, et cetera. And so this tendency to sort of divide things into binaries — abolition versus welfare — that, right away, is deeply problematic. There are people who are what people who call themselves abolitionists mean when they say “welfarists,” there actually are people who believe that animals are property, and that they should just be treated more kindly, right?

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.

pattrice jones: But that’s not who abolitionists are actually talking about when they talk about welfarists. What they’re talking about is people who agree with them…

Caryn Hartglass: Yep.

pattrice jones: …that animals shouldn’t be property, but who have some tactical differences about how to achieve that end, and have a difference of opinion about whether or not it’s important to do whatever you can right now to reduce the suffering of animals who are currently held captive, and are going to still be held captive next year unless we figure out how to convert everybody to veganism overnight. And so right away, already we’ve got three terms here, rather than just the two. And it turns out that there’s all this blurriness between people who call themselves abolitionists and people who have been called by abolitionists, “welfarists.” And there’s not a lot of talking back and forth, and so, there’s actually just a lot of preaching back and forth. And so then what happens is that the people who have been decried by the so-called abolitionists feel themselves not at all accountable, and so then we have awful missteps on the other side, like HSUS recently sponsoring that awful “Hoofin It” event.

Caryn Hartglass: Mmm, “Hoofin It.” Can you just explain what that is so those…

pattrice jones: Yeah, I was just going to say, for those who weren’t familiar with it: HSUS, the Humane Society of the United States —

Caryn Hartglass: Which is not a vegan organization.

pattrice jones: No, it is not. It’s an organization that — well, I’ll let it define itself. But up until … it just crossed the line. I think there’s a big difference between advocating against particular cruelties such as battery cages or gestation crates, and actively promoting the oxymoronic idea of “humane meat” or “humane dairy.” And they crossed that line big-time recently when they sponsored a festival of animal eating in Denver. Not just a festival of animal eating, but a festival of animal eating with, like, mocking names. It’s just awful. So please, I hope that no one who’s hearing me critique this abolitionist-welfare divide would think that I’m saying, “Oh, well this means that the people who have been called welfarists are doing everything perfectly.” They certainly aren’t. But this whole idea that you have to decide between trying to liberate animals from the status of property — which by the way is only one thing we need to do for animals, it’s not the only thing we need to do for animals. So this idea that you’d have to decide between that and doing whatever you can to ease animal suffering right now — that, to me, is a false dichotomy that’s rooted in this way of thinking about the world that artificially divides it into opposed binaries. And that way of thinking about the world, “the logic of domination,” some eco-feminists call it, is at the root of speciesism, as well as other forms of oppression. So to be thinking in this way is not only to not be thinking very clearly, but it’s also to be thinking somewhat dangerously. There is actually no reason at all why you would have to decide between trying to liberate animals from the status of property, and doing whatever in the world you possibly can to reduce the suffering of animals who are alive right now. There’s just …

Caryn Hartglass: It’s almost like when people say, “Oh, you love animals so much and you want to help animals, and you don’t care about humans.” And then we learn that it’s the same problem. You can care about humans and you can care about non-human animals. You can care about them both! It’s not either-or.

pattrice jones: Mm-hmm. Yeah. This making of the world into either-or is a dangerously…

Caryn Hartglass: You say “either” and I say “either.”

[Both laugh]

pattrice jones: Oh no! Do you say “tomato” or “tomato,” Caryn?

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, let’s call the whole thing off. No, no, ok, I’m sorry.

pattrice jones: So listen — this really is a dangerous way of thinking, and I wish I could — I could take up the whole interview trying to explain why that is. So why don’t I just hype my own book, and suggest that you buy The Ox in the Intersection, and read why that’s a dangerous way of thinking, and also a little bit more about my really — I’m not sure how folks are going to feel. I feel like, “Uh-oh, I maybe made myself no friends with this book,” because I’m quite clear on my critiques of Gary Francione and his so-called abolitionist followers, and I’m also unstinting in my critique of HSUS. But what I’m most unstinting about is the idea that those are our two options. ‘Cuz those are not our only options. And there are a lot of things that we need to be doing, but that we can’t even imagine doing unless we break out of that way of thinking.

Caryn Hartglass: I like it. Thank you for bringing us some clarity. Can we —

pattrice jones: There’s always stuff I want to say, but I know there’s more stuff that you wanted to talk about when you had me.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh no! What do you want to say? Please. We addressed what I wanted to address last time, and I’m breathing more freely right now. Thank you for that.

pattrice jones: Oh, well, I’m so glad.

Caryn Hartglass: I wanted to comment that …

pattrice jones: I was trying to remember when we got cut off before, and I think we got cut off at the point where you had been saying that you were surprised when you found out that during the campaign to save the oxen called Bill and Lou, the people at Green Mountain College, the administrators who were making decisions, often behaved in ways that were not consistent with what the rational economic actor would say would’ve been the thing for them to do.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. Key word “economic.” Most people will make a decision where it’s economically beneficial. And they kind of let their ego and, I don’t know what, take over, and stick to their original decision, which was not economically beneficial, and it wasn’t beneficial for any reason.

pattrice jones: Ah-ha! That’s true! How they acted is true. But ah-ha! Because Caryn, you just said most people will make the economically rational choice, and that is in fact the presumption of traditional economic theories such as trickle-down, that got us into so much trouble. So what’s true about human beings is that we’re animals, we’re apes. We have bodies. And quiet as it’s kept, our brain is in our bodies, not, like, floating above it, and everything that we’re thinking, feeling, choosing, doing, is happening in our nervous systems, and is a physical process that is happening in a physical place. And turns out to be very very very very far from the ideals of rationality, including economic rationality.

[Caryn laughs]

pattrice jones: It turns out, researchers in numerous fields, not just psychology, but neurobiology and the like, have just demonstrated again and again and again and again and again, that people do not in fact usually make the economic choice, the economically wise choice. They might think they are, but it’s by no means to be assumed that people are going to make the economically rational choice. It’s also the case that even when people are thinking really hard, and trying really hard to be logical or rational, their, as you say, egos, but also their emotions, come into play. Your emotions are — what you think of your emotions, and what you think of as your thoughts, if you were to scan your brain, no way you’re going to be able to pull out which strands of electrical activity are thoughts and which strands of electrical activity are feelings. They’re happening constantly at the same time and influencing each other.

Caryn Hartglass: It’s so hard to be human.

pattrice jones: It turns out that most of our thinking is not of the “one plus one equals two” variety, but that we are making decisions a lot of the times based on highly emotionally laden symbolic imagery, a lot of our processing goes on below the threshold of consciousness. In other words, there’s all sorts of things going on inside, some of them we’re aware of, some of them we’re not, and we sort of then, this leads us to feel a particular way, to lean in a particular direction, and then that’s when our conscious brain steps in and starts figuring out all the rationalizations that would allow us to say that doing this thing or thinking this thing or behaving in this way is the rational thing to do. Does that make sense?

Caryn Hartglass: Yes, and my conscious brain, unfortunately, is telling me we are out of time.

pattrice jones: Oh my gosh, again! Oh no!

Caryn Hartglass: I could talk to you —

pattrice jones: Oh no, so I guess that means people have to read my book.

Caryn Hartglass: They have to read your book. So how do they find out about it?

pattrice jones: Oh my gosh. Well, they can go to Lantern Books online. They can also please visit VINE Sanctuary online, that’s, Or they could just google The Oxen at the Intersection and it’ll pop right up.

Caryn Hartglass: pattrice, thanks for joining me. I wanted to just mention the great music you’ve got going on in the background.

pattrice jones: [Laughs] Well, you were hearing roosters before, and now there’s all these dogs, who are like, “Oh, are you done? Are you done? Are you done? Let us out!”

Caryn Hartglass: [Laughs] Ok, well, you are done. So thank you so much for all you do, and for joining me. Bye, pattrice jones. Ok.

pattrice jones: Bye.

Caryn Hartglass: And that’s the end of this program. Thank you for listening; thank you for joining me. Visit me at Send me a message at And there are lots of great recipes for you to have a very delicious week. Bye-bye.

Transcribed by Chelsea Davis, 4/30/15

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