A quote wrongly attributed to Andy Warhol claimed, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.”
It’s up for an update because that future has been realized: in the present, everyone will be canceled for fifteen minutes.
I should know. A few days after the start of the year, I experienced what many would call being canceled. On the platform formerly known as Twitter, a now-suspended alter porn account had posted a cat licking his genitals, which justifiably roused up anger among people. I then posted a photo juxtaposing a screenshot of the offensive cat video with a farmer inserting his hand into a cow’s orifice to artificially inseminate the creature.
“Why is one wrong, and the other acceptable?” I asked. After all, in both incidents and whatever the intent and purpose, the end result was the same: a nonhuman animal was being sexually violated.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t expect what came after. A barrage of hate messages flooded my timeline, calling me with various permutations of dumb, annoying, anti-poor. Some people have asked me to go kill myself, which other people have defended as just a joke. Maybe I’m humorless, sorry. It’s just that I don’t find the idea of ordering someone to commit suicide remotely funny.
I couldn’t exactly say I truly got canceled. At least, that’s not how it seemed like, based on what I’ve heard and read. Maybe my experience was not as intense as those who undergo regular online harassment. Maybe it wasn’t prolongedly severe (it seemed people had moved on quite quickly and my fifteen minutes were up.) Or maybe I’ve grown up and no longer care too much for popularity over speaking the truth.
With social media, fame has felt even more attainable. When before it felt like a lottery where only one took home the million-peso jackpot once in a blue moon, the times have drastically changed. (Especially in the Philippines, where in 2022, 433 people won a share of the ₱236 million jackpot –– which some mathematicians have claimed is statistically highly improbable –– while 331 winners claimed the second prize worth ₱100,000 in the same draw.)
I say felt because it’s all smoke and mirrors. Yet countless people try their luck, believing that all that separates them from celebrity status is a couple of witticisms and sarcastic remarks. The performance is often pushed to extremes: controversies generate likes, retweets, and comments. Attention is the commodity, engagements, and impressions are how its value is assessed.
Guy Debord, in his book first published in 1976 entitled “The Society of the Spectacle”, waxed prophetic when he said: “Stars — spectacular representations of living human beings — project this general banality into images of permitted roles. As specialists of apparent life, stars serve as superficial objects that people can identify with in order to compensate for the fragmented productive specializations that they actually live. The function of these celebrities is to act out various lifestyles or sociopolitical viewpoints in a full, totally free manner[….]But the activities of these stars are not really free, and they offer no real choices.”
It’s strange to see how people position themselves as progressives but spout regressive, reactionary viewpoints. I don’t acquit myself from this, I certainly have my blind spots as well. It’s not really surprising to be progressive when the progress benefits you. It’s human nature to protect one’s interests first. But this nature can be problematic.
That’s why we see gay men who are transphobes, arguing that the LGBT+ movement shouldn’t go too far. Essentially what they’re trying to defend is their imagined social status, which they didn’t even win for themselves: the out-and-loud queer people –– those who do not have the luxury of hiding who they are –– were the ones who fought for it. Long before it was socially tolerated (I say tolerated because obviously, we’re still far away from acceptance), even way back when it was unimaginable that it can be cool to identify yourself as queer, trans persons, butch lesbians, effeminate gay men, and non-binary people were out there, championing the community and raising awareness just by the mere fact that they exist in an intolerant society.
What followed was wider tolerance and a glimpse of winning our rights, as elusive as it still is. What also followed are queer transphobes who now say, enough, we’re going too far. Let’s stop here. Let’s stop including the others.
I’m not going to lie and say that winning queer rights wouldn’t benefit me. Of course, it would. I fight because I have a stake in the issue. But society will not progress for the better if we will only fight for our self-interests. This is what activist Reyna Valmores argued when she said before that true queer liberation recognizes the intersection of our problems: LGBT+ people will not win if we do not fight for our other queer siblings in the margins. How can a gay farmer, a trans sex worker, or the many queer poor fully empathize with our calls for marriage equality or the need for an anti-discrimination law, when the oppression they experience because of their queerness blends in with their other oppressions?
I’d like to extend that argument by proposing that queer people must become vegan, as a natural extension of our call against oppression and toward liberation. Shouldn’t we try our best to end suffering where it exists? It’s not even radical, considering that in 2012, prominent scientists came together with “The Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness”, which asserted that nonhuman animals are conscious, and are thus capable of feeling and suffering. Nonhuman animal suffering is not imaginary, unlike the argument that plants are conscious.
Decades ago, Albert Einstein himself had said: “A human being is a part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.”
It only makes sense for queer people to become vegan, as it is a social justice movement that seeks liberation for both human and nonhuman animals. How can we not empathize with the suffering of trillions of animals systematically abused and slaughtered every year, not because it is necessary, but because the animal agriculture system has rendered this suffering invisible, and when it is surfaced, defended as acceptable, even preferable? The society in Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Ones Who Walk Away from the Omelas” is real. But it’s not one child whose suffering we turn a blind eye to in support the system that we enjoy: it is the unimaginable suffering of all those creatures we’ve deemed unworthy of our compassion.
We argue for this encompassing liberation because it is, by extension, one that already aligns with our cause. Queer people do not deserve rights because we are productive, or because we are smart or beautiful or funny or whatever purpose the majority imagines we must serve. We deserve rights because we exist. In the same way, animals do not deserve our consideration because we find them cute or cuddly or lovable. We are all beings of this earth, sharing it with other fellow sentient beings. Our joy and suffering matter. We all have a claim to exist on this earth.
And it is from this understanding of suffering that we queer people should find ourselves mirrored in the injustice that nonhuman animals also suffer. It is in this injustice that we must find inspiration to extricate and ensure equitable transition for those who have been entangled economically in this industry of suffering, as it similarly affects humans who society deems as dispensable and inconsequential: poor farmers, poor fishermen, poor market vendors.
We can move toward a better future. Not just every new year, but every day, little by little, step by step. Sure, change appears slow, but as writer and activist Rebecca Solnit recently wrote: “Describing the slowness of change is often confused with acceptance of the status quo. It’s really the opposite: an argument that the status quo must be changed, and it will take steadfast commitment to see the job through.” But it is a future worth fighting for, worth risking the cancellation of a society that has yet to wake up.
Message Evan at writerinmanila (at) gmail (dot) com.