It has not escaped anyone’s notice that the most recent mass shooting—the so-called YouTube shooting in San Bruno, CA—was carried out by a vegan and animal-rights activist, Nasim Aghdam. It would be hard to miss it, since it’s all over the news.
It was hardly the worst mass shooting that we’ve had: three people wounded, one very seriously, and the shooter is dead. But it’s getting a lot of attention, maybe because the shooter is female, or because she is so discoverable because of her extensive YouTube presence and Instagram following. When any mass shooting occurs, and they occur all the time in the US, we all hope that the person is not a member of a group that we identify with or sympathize with … as if people who share thoughts, or causes, or ethnicity with someone who does something like this is somehow responsible. That’s kind of ridiculous, but inevitable, and the press seem eager to help us make those connections—especially here, where the fact that this woman was vegan is all over the media coverage.
The fact is that it appears this woman was not really focused on animal-rights issues in her anger. She did care about these issues, but she seemed to be angry at YouTube for what she felt was the repression of her videos on all sorts of subjects—including her exercise videos. And she wasn’t an active participant in animal-rights activism outside her YouTube postings (mainstream media outlets tracked down that she was at one PETA protest in 2009).
Still, her veganism and activism were there for sure—a fact that perhaps presents an opportunity to reflect on some of the things that unite us all. Because there is no reason to believe that among vegans there are no people who are deranged, or evil. There are. The huge community of people who care about animals are human, and as such, we have every kind of behavior among us. And just like any other group who has a member who does something deranged or evil (or both), we are not responsible for their actions just because we share some of their beliefs. Period. Full stop.
But it does give us a moment to reflect on the fact that we are all—every single one of us—deeply, deeply traumatized by what we know about what happens to animals. No matter how positive an outlook we maintain, it is inevitable that the level of knowledge each of us has about what is happening to animals is traumatizing.
What is the solution? We each have to find community. We have to support each other. We have to avoid becoming isolated. Sometimes it’s exhausting. Most of us don’t need to do this because otherwise we’re going to go out and shoot people. At most, we are at risk of becoming depressed and lost. We owe it to ourselves, and to the animals, to practice collective care (especially now) and, of course, self-care. For some reason—it remains mysterious why—some of us have awakened to the multiplicity of issues that propel us to stop eating animal products, while so many have not. But they will. And each of us has to be there to help that happen.
Jasmin Singer is the Senior Editor of VegNews and the co-host of the Our Hen House podcast. Mariann Sullivan is also the co-host of the Our Hen House podcast and teaches animal law at Columbia Law School.