So it’s my V-day. Four years ago today, I turned vegan. In retrospect, it seems odd that I did not attach any significance to the fact this happens to be Cinco De Mayo or that it, like this year, was a presidential election year. In truth, I did not attach any particular significance to the date at all. The way I know that my V-day is May 5 is by reconstruction from an email commemorating the anniversary of my joining HappyCow.net, a site where vegetarians and vegans can review vegan, vegetarian, and veg-friendly restaurants and retail outlets—and even more important, get them listed, so we can find them.
I was, at that point, still enmeshed in my Master’s program; I graduated the following year (2009) at, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the depth of the recession. I remain unemployed, but I’m in my second Ph.D. program, where I’m much happier, having clashed with the founder of the first—not a path to success.
And Barack Obama was headed for the Democratic Party nomination and the presidency. Four years later, he seems to have accomplished the purposes the elites set for him in allowing him to be elected: 1) He has advanced the mythology of a post-racial society and downplayed the racism that, it must be said, surely underlies the rather vicious right-wing attacks—especially birtherism, in which his origins are doubted—against him; and 2) he has advanced the national security state in ways that would, at that particular moment in time, have embarrassed all but the neoconservatives in the Republican Party.
Obama also made it evident for all but his most ideological followers that the U.S. government is not “a government of, by, and for the people,” unless one only counts the extremely wealthy as people. Oh sure, he complained about the Citizens United decision, but his pandering to pharmaceutical and insurance industry lobbyists in passing health care so-called reform, a reform whose premiums many lower income people may be unable to afford, and whose coverage will too often be accompanied by high deductibles that they may also be unable to afford; his pandering to the financial industry whose fraud caused the crash; and his pandering to warmongers—presumably funded by the military industrial complex— have been no better.
I remember warning my students about the coming recession almost as soon as I started teaching—in 2007, as a teaching associate in my Master’s program, a position I was obliged to relinquish when I graduated—and within a few months of turning vegan, in July, 2008, in fact, I would conclude that I could not support Obama’s candidacy. Now it seems that U.S. citizens will be presented with two appalling choices this November. On the one hand, the extremely wealthy couldn’t have a more loyal friend than Mitt Romney. On the other, people who lost their homes and people who lost their jobs have watched as the political establishment presided over by Obama has found plenty of money for war and for the wealthy, while austerity requires that help for the dispossessed and the jobless is slashed mercilessly.
One of the reasons I turned vegan was that I recognized that we have no right to exploit animals for our own purposes. I was, of course, well aware that humans do the same even to our own kind. Those who are not wealthy exist as means to wealthy ends—and that certainly includes those who enlisted to fight these incessant wars in the hopes that the military would pay for their college educations. I wish I could say that there has been some movement toward some recognition on the part of the establishment even of Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative that each person shall be an end unto her- or himself. I can’t.