Three Cups of Tea. A man with an amazing life story, against all odds he's built over 100 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the last 10 years. He spoke incredibly movingly about the importance of lifting up whole societies by educating children--especially girls.
Next to me at the talk was a woman wearing a fur coat--not a faux fur coat, but a real one. Which got me thinking--if you care about one moral issue, will you care about others, or is there some limit on how many things we can care about? Do people inevitably become specialists--with some caring about animals, others about the earthquake in Haiti, others about capital punishment, etc?
I suspect it's some of each. If you're tuned in to one moral issue, you probably will care about many others. But passion, commitment, activism, rethinking basic assumptions--all these are another matter. There are lots of problems in the world, and there's inevitably a division of labor. Those who are intensely focused on girls in Afghanistan may just not have the energy to also think about animals, and animal advocates may be too preoccupied with animals to think about girls in Afghanistan.
Because of these facts about our moral psychology, it's got to be right for activists to appreciate small contributions. We went to this event with friends who are extremely tuned in to Afghanistan issues. They may have been disappointed when we didn't accept their invitation to join a reading group focused on those issues. On the other hand, I couldn't help but notice the meat they ate for dinner. Well OK--the truth is that we've each bit off some of the world's problems, because that's just how people are.
Most animal activists know to accept what each person is prepared to give on behalf of animals--whether it's just meatless Mondays, or adopting a dog, or sending a check to the Humane Society, or becoming 100% vegan. Some don't know it, and demand nothing less than a vegan lifestyle overhaul from all. Not smart, I wouldn't say. When they demand that much, they ought to ask themselves "what have I done about girls' education in Afghanistan lately?" That might make them demand less...and (in the aggregate) get more.