As a young student, I remember the passion that was agitating me when I read “submission to authority” by the American social psychologist Stanley Milgram. If you have never read this book, I strongly recommend it. It’s about a social experimentation led within Yale University. People were recruited by the university, which made them believe they were participating in a scientific study to test the effectiveness of punishment by electric shocks on memorisation. But the real and hidden purpose of the experience was actually to study the degree of obedience to an authority asking people to perform acts contrary to their ethics.
The results were edifying and confirmed that a person is capable of inflicting the worst suffering on another on the pretext of contributing to a scientific experiment and having acted in accordance with the instructions given.
Published in the early 1960s, the experience of Stanley Milgram echoed Hannah Arendt’s theses developed in her book “Eichmann in Jerusalem: Report on the Banality of Evil”. The German-born Jewish philosopher followed the trial of Adolf Eichmann, responsible for the logistics of the “final solution” and she argued that Eichmann was not a psychopath but an ordinary person carrying out his work zealously.
When I was 20, I thought, and I was really convinced, that I would never have pressed the electric shock button if I had been involved in the Milgram’s experiment. The mere exposition of the conditions of the experiment would have sufficed to scare me away. It goes without saying that at the time I also liked to think that during the war, I would have been a heroine of the resistance and not a collaborator!
And then at 48, I watched a video about the slaughterhouses. I did it without really thinking about it. What struck me was, of course, the terrible suffering of animals, but it was also, and I must say especially, the profound indifference of the men who operated around the animals. Nothing to do with cruelty or sadism; no, there were just ordinary people performing mundane gestures as part of their daily work.
It was a terrible shock. First, the shock of realising that I live in a world where it is possible to inflict horrible suffering on sentient beings on a large scale and without any state of mind. Then, the shock of realising that for 48 years, eating meat, drinking milk, wearing woollen clothes and leather shoes, I had made myself an accomplice of this barbarism.
Since that day, I see animal suffering everywhere, on plates, clothing, cosmetics, household products. This is not a choice. This is how it is. My mind has changed. And now I tirelessly check the labels because the very idea of using a product of animal origin makes me sick.
Veganism has completely changed my way of looking at the world. It did not just make me more compassionate. It also made me freer. By adopting the point of view of animals, I have incorporated a new frame of reference, which allows me to question and challenge a certain social conformity. I (re)found my freedom of thought.
By making my consumption habits consistent with my values, I am obliged to make active choices that restore the mastery of my life. I (re)become an actor in my life.
So, believe me, veganism is a true champion of individual freedom. You should try it!