Enigma Stigma

enigma (2)

There was a recent post on Psychology Today that explores the stigma on vegans. This is something I’ve faced first-hand and has actually played a large role in my ideas on social defeat theory and the social dynamics of mental illness. Some of the claims in the research seem quite shocking and even counter-intuitive, so in this post we will explore and explain what may be occurring in these social dynamics. This is also important because the research and Psychology Today post is pretty misleading and there is a strong probability that vegans could run around misinterpreting the implications of this research.

The first bullet-point is especially unexpected:

Before we jump in, let’s clarify a few things. It seems that the prejudice measured in the research is about expressed attitudes. This doesn’t mean that vegans are more oppressed than Black people. This doesn’t mean that the social issues of vegan stigma matters more than the social issues of Black people, in fact it is because of the fact that the social issues of Black people matters more that there is less prejudice towards them, because it matters enough to become a publicly discussed issue in which progress is desired. There is also the fact that vegans can hide their identity or the fact that it is a choice to be vegan or not. Being Black is not a choice and the fact that being Black is not concealable means that it will magnetize the prejudice, even if it is ‘less’. Choice becomes a complicated issue as well because there are a lot of severely stigmatized ‘choices’ as well. The magnetization of prejudice due to opaque body characteristics will undoubtedly manifest in more experiences of prejudice in the real world compared to concealable aspects of one’s identity, even if asking people about their views on vegans or Black people might show different results on paper.

The effects that racism has on the victims are undoubtedly worse than the effects of anti-veganism on vegans. For example, vegans do not exactly experience lynchings or struggle with police brutality for being vegan. Black people definitely have it worse than vegans in a general sense, not simply due to prejudice but a multitude of reasons. Black people in America have clearly had rougher ancestral social problems that have residual impacts still today. They are also trapped behind systemic social issues that are far too embedded in societal structures. The prejudice on Black people, even if it occurs less explicitly will be more impactful and essentially trap them into oppressed lives, worse job opportunities, poverty, and more. To put this in perspective, we might expect celebrities and the ultra rich to face similarly high prejudice from the majority of the population but clearly their lives are superior to most of the people on earth, at least it seems so. Also, there is hate against president Trump by a vast amount of people, but this does not at all mean that Trump suffers, is underprivileged or oppressed, rather it is contrary: he has massive power. 

This article is only explaining why public attitudes towards vegans may be more negative compared to public attitudes towards Black people. One could argue that Westburro Baptists, Flat Earth theorists, or Scientologists experience serious prejudice, but that it is warranted or justified in those cases. This article does not at all validate the notion that ‘vegans suffer more social issues than Black people’. In fact, this article shows how the research and the Psychology Today post is a bit misleading in it’s bold claims. Neither the research of the Psychology Today post explained these nuances and so that’s why this article may help some understand what it all means. Perhaps we could prevent vegans from running around claiming they have it worse, but also reveal some of the nature of prejudice dynamics more generally.

Another important possibility to consider is that the research is slanted because of the way the stigma on racism may censor people’s true opinions. There is no such stigma on antiveganism. People might be more willing to admit their antiveganism but not their racism for this reason, which may pose as a bias in the research. So it is also possible that the higher prejudice on vegans is an illusion altogether.

Now that the nature of prejudice in this context is clarified,

we can continue.

At first glance, this claim from the Psychology Today post seems incredibly strong, strange and contrary to what people might first suspect. This can be explained quite easily though and don’t worry, the answer isn’t some kind of alt-right bullshit. First, the Black population in America is far larger than the vegan population. This means that awareness of prejudice against Black people is likely to be much higher simply due to the general population’s more frequent exposure to the Black population. It is probably the case that the size of a demographic group will be a factor for how much stigma and prejudice exists. The larger groups have a better chance to influence society and pushback against the stigmas, while the issues of the smaller groups will be almost unheard of or even dismissed or ignored entirely. We expect the Black population to face worse prejudice but it is that we are becoming incredibly aware of the problems that they face. Concepts like micro-aggressions and political correctness have emerged in popular culture surrounding issues involving racism, sexism, and other -isms, while on the other hand, vegans can be openly insulted, mocked, bullied and in the context of a group, the surrounding people may even join in to circle jerk or laugh. Persecuting Black individuals for being Black won’t go over nearly as well as persecuting vegans for being vegan. The fact that we talk about micro-aggressions represents a higher level of awareness around social issues. This is not to suggest it is an acceptable level of awareness, we should continue progressing. It is through exposure to a demographic that we learn to navigate and reduce xenophobic attitudes and behaviors. 

An intuitive way to demonstrate the different level of prejudice faced by Black people and vegans is to imagine approaching your family, friends, neighbors, classmates, and coworkers and asking them “On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being brilliantly acceptable and 1 being disgustingly unacceptable, how acceptable is it to be anti-Black or racist?” Predictably, you likely won’t get many high numbers and people might be disgusted that you would even ask them. People can lose their jobs over expressing anti-black attitudes. On the other hand, consider if you asked your family, friends, neighbors, classmates, and coworkers the same question but replaced anti-Black with anti-vegan. You aren’t likely to get many who feel disgusted by anti-vegan sentiment. It almost seems silly or petty to imagine such an attitude. People often claim they are ok if vegans choose their own lifestyle, as long as they dont encroach on their own lifestyle. At the same time, if you ask people if they think vegans are gross, stupid, psychotic, or any number of negative attitudes, you are probably more likely to get ‘yes’ than if you ask the same question about Black people. The quote from the Psychology Today post is simply saying that popular cultural attitudes towards Black people are more favorable than attitudes towards vegans. In essence, people are more likely to dislike vegans than Black people.

With immigrants, some find ways to justify their persecution towards them, usually through political rationalization. Immigrants in general may face larger prejudice than Black people due to being a less centrally organized group. This is not to say that there exists a purely homogenized or centralized Black culture by any means. ‘Immigrant’ is really just a catch-all label for many different racial and cultural demographics and so the group labeled ‘immigrants’ will be far more diverse than the Black population in America, often not even speaking the same languages. These anti-immigrant sentiments in America may (hopefully) change now due to the current political climate in America surrounding the issue of immigration, but this issue still differs from the situation of being a Black person. Many republicans are openly against immigration, while probably even less of these republicans are racist against Black people, at least in an open way. The history behind these two demographics (immigrants and Black people) is clearly at play with how each group pushes back against the stigmas. Due to the horrific ancestral history that Black Americans have, there is an entire culture focused on annihilating racism. This anti-racist culture is why their status has considerably improved.

It appears that the size of a demographic group mediates an individual’s awareness of the social nuances simply by increasing an individual’s exposure to the demographic, which allows one to understand the differences among the group over time. This appears to be a case of the mere-exposure effect, in which repeated exposure increases liking of something. This is a vast oversimplification of the processes occurring here but most beautifully this abstract pattern still remains. Foreign and enigmatic people, places, and things present us with unsolved conflicts, misperceptions, and even a sheer lack of insight with how to deal with situations involving these people, places, and things. This is the fear of the unknown, which is really a fear of unforeseen negative consequences, which primarily occur with unfamiliarity. Becoming familiar through mere exposure means learning how to navigate all of the stressors and solve conflicts, which increases our liking-ness of these people, places, and things by reducing stressors and negative experiences. The generalization of the tendency to experience unforeseen conflicts with novel people, places, and things is at the core of our fear of the unknown. 

Along with exposure to a group, another factor that mediates a reduction in prejudice towards a group is the loudness and platforming the group has to express the rationality that the prejudice is irrational and unjust. The larger the group size is, the louder the voice in society is, and the more power, influence and pushback the group can express towards the prejudiced of that society. In essence, the stigmatized demographic has more opportunity to express perspectives, correct miscommunications, and challenge stereotypes. Essentially direct action and vocal pushback can more rapidly confront the prejudice that a group faces.

Stereotypes are vast overgeneralizations that, through discussion, we can elaborate on nuances and resolve the demographic to something closer to particulate individuality rather than identity schemas. This pattern of broad stereotyping that humans have, seems to be mediated by exposure as well. Notice how people judge musical genres that they are most unfamiliar with. People often say that every song within that genre sounds the same because they are noticing patterns that overlap in these new sounds. They will focus on how similar memes, moods, and instruments occur repeatedly. For those who have submerged into the genre, their acuity for nuances in the music becomes heightened. Musical genres are like cultures and songs are like people. Nuances are harder to see when you are bombarded with a huge stream of novel information. As we learn and memorize much of the more clear patterns of information we can reduce the sensory overload and become increasingly aware of the minute details. It is like re-watching a movie and noticing more and more sub-plots and aspects emerge that you previously didn’t notice. You can begin to filter out the more broad and newly familiar patterns which allows one to better process the elaborate detail, refining our perceptions in the hopes that we can bring ourselves closer to the intricate realities of the ‘real world’. Exposure and repetition brings us closer to that ‘real world’. There is an idea floating around that the ultimate conclusion of intersectionalism is individualism. The idea that increasing amounts of nuance and detail will ultimately bring us toward giving individual appreciation of people for all of their unique traits, perspectives, experiences, and particulates. The idea that every song is unique.

Overt racism against Black people is becoming less popular in left-leaning places like California as the culture teaches us to stigmatize racism. We are left with more subtle and nuanced awareness of micro-aggressions in place of more overt and clear representations of racism. Those who are vegan might experience a whole group of friends or family turning against them and collectively shaming them for being vegan, simply because it is permissible to shame them. The awareness of why being racist is bad has spread throughout society more thoroughly than the awareness of why being anti-vegan is bad. We know this to be true. You probably do not feel anxious if someone says we should eat meat in front of vegans, perhaps you even find this humorous. On the other hand, if I said to my coworkers that we should go eat fried chicken in front of our Black coworker, you will feel uneasy and perhaps doing so might get you fired. Outside of articles like that Psychology Today post, we hardly even discuss vegan stigma as a problem.

Lastly, there is an incredible amount of diversity within the culture of America and a lot places within the country are likely still highly and overtly racist. Most of this article is based on the extremely limited experience of humans that I’ve observed in my life and on the internet. This article is an attempt at creating a meta-awareness for how foreign cultures, behaviors, and ideas might provoke reactions and that the pathway towards resolving stigmas and prejudice could be through exposure to these novelties so that people can learn, adapt, and resolve their fears of the unknown. It is also an attempt to clarify this very confusing and, at first, counter-intuitive idea that ‘vegans experience more prejudice’. 

The fact is that most of us sympathize more with the social issues that Black people face than the social issues that vegans face. This is exactly why the idea that vegans face more prejudice seems counter-intuitive at all. But this very fact that we sympathize more with the issues of Black people, showcases that the vegan prejudice is commonly worse. In my experience, this kind of counter-intuitiveness problem permeates the debate culture on intersectional social issues and drives major miscommunication that facilitates conflict on the political left. 


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