Today, as I walked out of class, I was approached on-campus by a young man who carried with him a large stack of pamphlets. You hear about these kinds of things all the time, yet I found it a not-too-common surprise.
As he walked past the couple in front of me, we never broke eye contact; I suppose it’s understandable to single out the guy walking alone with only the music from his phone to keep him company, rather than the two students mid-conversation. However, for all the subconscious decision-making I’m sure went through his head that led to him approaching me, the interaction was so brief I don’t quite think it was necessary. He pulled a single pamphlet from his pile, and extended it towards me. I accepted it, he acknowledged this with a “Thanks brother,” and walked away.
I turned my attention towards the pamphlet, and read it’s title: Compassionate Choices Making a Difference for Animals. No big surprise here. As I briefly flipped through the pages I realized I had walked past about 3 more individuals passing out the same pamphlet. Huh. For the time being, I was less concerned with the pamphlet and more concerned with the awesome matching hoodies they had with “The Humane League” plastered proudly on the front.
Once my fascination (mixed with a tinge of jealousy) with their uniform ceased to preoccupy me, I began to pay more attention to the pamphlet.
Before I go any further, I guess I should explain that in high school I took a course that, itself, covered the regulations regarding the living conditions and methods of execution for livestock; in addition, this class led me to joining the FFA for a brief period.
As I flipped through the pamphlet a bit more attentively, it only took me half a moment to realize there was going to be nothing in it that I hadn’t heard or read before. I had seen the “hard to look at” photos the pamphlet provided (I quote it’s own words – I’m sure even they’d admit they held back a lot for the sake of passing this pamphlet out in large quanities), and I had heard the horror stories. However, what became increasingly obvious the further I read into the pamphlet was a bit upsetting – there was literally nothing new.
To be fair, this pamphlet was most recently revised in April of 2012, and these types of publications don’t really receive heavy makeovers for the sake of keeping them cheap to maintain, and I understand this. Isn’t there a social responsibility that should impede a organization from releasing a modern reading material with information thirteen years outdated though? I kid you not, on the very first page of the pamphlet is a Time Magazine quote from November of 1999 reading, “[The cost of mass-producing livestock] include hugely inefficient use of freshwater and land, heavy pollution from livestock feces, rising rates of heart disease and other degenerative illnesses, and spreading destruction of the forests on which much of our planet’s life depends.” There are older quotes, but these are usually people’s opinions regarding the morality of animal treatment; I can understand this, but I think anyone would be hard-pressed to justify the usage of decade-plus old sources for your argument.
The vast majority of the sources used for this pamphlet are dated between 2002 and 2004, and while that may not seem so long ago, the truth is that (at the time of this revision) those sources are between 8-10 years old. Trailing behind at a far second place in quantity are sources between 2007 and 2008. The most recent sources were typically informative government pieces, and were used to explain statistics and regulations; Nearly every time these were used they were then followed up with a piece of the farm-horror-story that was being cited from one of the older 2002-2004 sources. The most recent, incriminating source was Mercy For Animals’ “Mike” story, in which one of their under-cover investigators went into a pig breeding facility in Pennsylvania during the year 2009. The pamphlet totes a few claims of his story and informs the reader that there is a secret film he recorded during his investigation – whether this film is available or not is unknown to me, and I don’t particularly care to find out since the issue isn’t of huge importance to me. Let me clarify this again, I really do not care about the issue at hand.
This brings me to the true reason I’m writing this. While it only took me a moment to realize that the information in this pamphlet was irresponsibly being used and presented, there are many who wouldn’t take the time to do so. In English courses we’re taught to use recent sources that are still relevant to our argument, and we’re taught to do so because that is the socially responsible way to present our arguments and claims. This isn’t what Vegan Outreach, the publisher of this pamphlet, is doing though. They clearly have an agenda (the last half the pamphlet is essentially a “How to go vegan” guide), and they pursue it aggressively and obviously. What they’re not doing is being socially responsible – as I’ve pointed out, they are not ashamed to mix-and-match information in a way that manipulates past and present into a twisted pseudo-reality. Why is it that they can do this, though? Why are we taught to write in a certain manner lest we be disregarded, yet they are free to do as they please?
The obvious answer is because casual readers (the vast majority) of these pamphlets won’t bother to check the years, consider the age of the information they’re being spoon-fed, and ultimately will accept it as truth and fact without another thought.
Since this is the case, the real question we have to ask ourselves is this: If the majority of readers simply don’t care about the validity of the information we present to them, why should we bother learning how to present information in a socially responsible manner?
Perhaps we’d all be better off taking “Intro to Modern Propaganda” courses.
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