The irony for which I currently find myself embroiled, is that as I sit here and crank on veganism week after week I also happen to organize a huge honking vegan support group. The two rarely make the connection and the friends in between don’t tend to make a deal of it so it somehow works…for now. Years ago, when I had my vegan falling out, I downgraded our group’s mission statement from one of advocacy to one of simple support. It was the only way I could resolve the cognitive dissonance I dug up, but that’s something I’ll save for a whole ‘nother post. In that spirit of support I wanted to empower our niched vegan membership the power of critical thinking. Smacking down woo is a game of whack-a-molé (please, don’t smack moles) no person can win. The best thing to do is inoculate the population and hope for the best. This also protects them from me as it’s more likely than not that I’m biased, wrong, and simply unqualified. I gotta assume I’m fulla baloney, if history is any judge.
In the book Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan outlines what he calls “the baloney detection kit”, which is basically a guide to critical thinking. That book changed my life and I had a yearning to share it with others. I felt a deep connection between critical thinking and my recognition of animal injustice. Sagan himself alluded to this and while vegans would love to have seen Sagan vegan (say that three times fast) I think his ideas regarding other animals were far more powerful than any lentil burger. I believe the eventual outcome of reason, especially with all science has discovered about evolution, is to afford other animals a bit more recognition even if that means elevating ourselves above our supposed natural disposition.
Of course, I could just be yet another crank who thinks he’s thinking critically but really conforming it around a cherished bias. But how can one go wrong with advocating critical thinking? This, I think, is my new platform. I feel compelled to leverage my years of vegan advocacy experience to adopt this cause in the same manner. It’s a cause that is so fundamental that every other justice issue could benefit. It’s not just a solution, it’s a toolkit to empower the thinker to discover and invent their own solutions. As far as I know there hasn’t been a leaflet made up and passed out on the matter. That is my challenge.
So when the annual local vegan fest sprung up for which we would usually table as our vegan group I decide to use that as an excuse to finally finish the critical thinking advocacy piece, for which I was working on for months on PlantBasedPeople.com. I took Sagan’s “baloney detection kit” and attempted to distill it down to something palatable for the vegan masses. I made a play on the word “baloney” with the title saying “Baloney isn’t vegan!” to try to appeal to their interests. I added a “red flags” section that both exemplified fallacies and were commonly seen with vegan issues.
Within the course of a few weeks I rushed a designer through whipping up a tent card for 200 prints with 100 ‘No Baloney’ buttons made up to stick on the back of half. I spent the night before the event scoring, folding and sticking buttons on the cards with the help of my assistant organizer and somehow we pulled it off. I expected to give away maybe 50 or so the next day but people were way more receptive than I thought. We gave away almost every single one!
Throughout the course of the day me and my assistant organizers honed our pitch trying to explain the value of thinking critically. For every pitch we watched each other and borrowed and improved the process, it was so fun! We got some confused looks and some high fives but for the most part people seemed to get it and took a baloney detection guide (especially if it had a free ‘no baloney’ button on the back). It went a little like this:
So baloney isn’t vegan, right? And when it comes to eating animals vegans are critical thinkers, right? Shouldn’t though, critical thinking be practiced with everything? Just because something might claim to be vegan it might not be true, it might be baloney. This guide, [open and present] based upon the baloney detection kit from Carl Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World, [point at book on display] helps you detect what might be baloney and what might be true. Also, it comes with a free ‘no baloney’ button on the back! [flip around and show button] [hand over]
Since we were situated near the entrance we were often one of the first tables visited. Hopefully these guides came in handy when confronted by the anti-GMO, anti-vaccine, anti-gluten & chiropractor exhibitors tabling alongside us. Vegans are particularly preyed upon by those willing to exploit their distrust of mainstream culture. Baloney detection would go far to offset this vulnerability.
The guide isn’t perfect by any means and you could never fit a comprehensive guide on a leaflet. To make up for that we added a url to a page on our site <http://baloneydetection.veganchicago.com/> as a supplement and ongoing updates. There we will hone and shape our own take on making critical thinking palatable. As I get feedback I intend to update the content and smooth out the rough patches and print a version 2. I was quite happy with the result of version 1 though and the support of so many people really help pull this off. If you, dear reader, have a critique of this guide I invite you to do so in the comments here.
Critical thinking, science, skepticism and animal rights are all subject for which people often associate with unattainable ideas for the common person. This, I don’t believe is, true. It’s just a matter of putting it within reach. While ideally this stuff would be taught in schools we have to bridge that gap and advocate this cause on all fronts just like any cause. It’s a fixable problem with an iterative solution but we need activists to do so. The skeptics are starting to catch on from what I saw at TAM 9 and each of us has a niche to fill. Outreach is going to have to be a bigger part of our repertoire if we’re serious about making things better.
- Graphic: Vegan Chicago’s baloney detection guide
- Picture: The cover
- Picture: The inside
- Picture: the back
- Photo album: Pictures from the event
* big thanks to tablers Debra, John and Mauricio of Vegan Chicago for kicking ass on the righteous tip!