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  • Owen Gunden

Yin liberationism

Updated: Aug 4, 2022

What can you accomplish? [...] Generally, you overestimate what you can accomplish when you have a passion for a good idea. And you underestimate the maintenance cost, and you underestimate how challenging it's going to be to [...] enjoy that idea. - Michael Saylor

As activists, we naturally want to change the world. We see the suffering of non-humans, we see the simple and clear solutions, and we are inspired to take swift and immediate action.

This is awesome! I think every time we speak out on behalf of non-humans, we are helping the cause.

But when we zoom out to the movement as a whole, what we need is sustained (and ideally increasing) pressure in order to achieve our goals. Consider:

  • It's great that we have extra time to protest or volunteer today, but what happens later when demands on our time ramp up and we can't spare the time?

  • It's great that we have extra money today to give to the movement, but what about later when we don't have extra money?

  • It's great that we're emotionally motivated today, but what happens later when we're feeling disheartened?

We need to ensure that as we are putting energy and efforts out into the world, we are also replenishing our energy.

The yin and yang of animal liberation

I'd like to introduce yin and yang as a lens under which we can analyze our efforts. In Chinese philosophy, yang is associated with a more active, overt, outward focus; while yin is more passive, covert, and inwardly focused.

Applying this lens, what I see is that the following activities and approaches are more yang:

  • Promoting veganism or animal rights

  • Working to change corporate policies or laws

  • Lobbying for food system reform

  • High profile disruptive protest

  • Doing outreach to recruit new supporters

  • The traditional nonprofit funding paradigm

  • Effective Altruism*

*: Effective Altruism (EA) is a new-ish approach which places an emphasis on critical thinking, quantifying and measuring the impact of our altruism. I consider it more yang, in that it sees the world as a separate object upon which we may take action in order to improve it.

So what would more yin approaches include?

  • Building liberationist community

  • Creating values-aligned spaces

  • Enhancing the lives of vegans and liberationists

  • Trainings and education for liberationists

  • Organizing vegans and liberationists

  • Expanding the ways in which people can get involved

  • Addressing recidivism

  • Creating economic engines for the movement

Notice that in the yang approaches, the target of our actions is the muggles -- i.e. non-vegans / pre-vegans or institutions that reflect the values of the general public. Whereas with yin approaches, we are targeting ourselves.

Yang approaches are much more likely to make the news and be seen in a public way. Yin approaches are harder to see and feel in terms of direct effects, but they impact us in more deep and pervasive ways.

All in on yin?

I don't think yang approaches are bad, or need to be stopped. Rather, I think we need both. In fact, a well-honed movement for non-humans would have lots of sharp and pointy yang activities taking place plus lots of soft and nurturing yin activities. We don't want to lose the critical thinking, impact-based meritocracies, inspirational actions and influencers -- we want more of them! We just also want the engine of love, community, emotional and economic resilience to be there as well.

If you have ideas on how to incorporate more yin into the movement, or have a specific project that you believe fills a particularly yin gap, we'd love to hear from you.

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