Breaking through Vystopia to Create Powerful Change for Animals

In this interview with the animal rights campaign group ANDA in Brazil, Clare Mann shares her work in animal social justice and her vision for a more compassionate world through collaborative and ethical leadership principles.
Original article in Portugese can be read here

In a world ruled by the abuse and death of billions of animals, Australian psychologist Clare Mann has identified a phenomenon she called “vystopia”

According to her, it is an existential crisis experienced by vegans that arises from the awareness that we live in a world with the omnipresence of animal exploitation in a modern dystopia.

Clare will publish a book on the subject in 2018 called “Vystopia: the anguish of being vegan in a non-vegan world.” She also provides communication tips so that vegans can raise awareness in a App called ” Vegan Voices ” (a free video with these tips can be seen on this page ) and is the editor-in-chief of Ethical Futures magazine. In this exclusive interview given to ANDA, Clare explains how psychology can help activists and addresses strategic communication tools.

ANDA: How and when did you start to defend the animals?

Clare Mann – I became aware of cruelty to animals in slaughterhouses about 40 years ago in the 1980s when I read a book by Bob Geldof (the autobiography “Is that it?”). It was so terrible that I stopped eating red meat, but I wish I had asked more questions. Over the years, I have made steady progress towards veganism. Ten years ago, I heard about the pigs raised by livestock farming in Australia. I became a vegan and activist at the same time, joining various groups and began to speak on their behalf.

ANDA: How can psychology be applied to activism?

Clare Mann – Psychology talks a lot about people and animal rights activism is about persuading others to change. Knowing the different stages of individuals, groups and society as a whole is very important. Thus, you are able to work with attitudes, emotions, working both with logic and with emotional connections. Know about these stages and choose information to communicate so that people ask great questions and say, “Tell me more.” It is also about understanding an individual and how people change, how we influence them. How do we make them listen, commit to seeing the cruel images and videos of cruelty and do not run away. We want them to be disturbed and angry so they do not feel like being part of it. If we do not understand how change occurs or the resistance people have – defense mechanism – people will blame others for telling them this rather than being indignant about what goes on behind closed doors. On a social level, it is very important to understand that people belong to groups and to understand how these groups and norms are formed and how people want to fit in.

It is important to understand the pressure of groups, whether family or social. At the social level, some models seem to help us understand that people have different levels of consciousness. Some spend their lives looking beyond themselves and do not want to destroy the environment. Others are very individualistic and there are different models to try to understand this, how we can communicate and be activists. Neuroscience shows that changes in blood flow and brain electrical activity leave people calm and relaxed rather than agitated and angry.  Activists are in a state of agitation and indignation, and when we try to talk about it and blame or embarrass people, they block this information. They begin to attack the other person, and if you present the subject in another way, they will be able to discuss it.

ANDA: What are the main challenges of this work?

Clare Mann – One of the major challenges is the pain that animal rights activists suffer from knowing the size of the problem. Faced with resistance to change, an activist becomes enraged and frustrated and they begin to hate people. They hate the selfishness of people who do not want to change. Another challenging fact is the high degree of emotions and different principles of activists that generate discussion in our groups. This is another challenge, that we do not become angry with each other, but become united.

ANDA: What are the most common communication mistakes made by activists?

Clare Mann – In the first place, their emotional state and, secondly, the anger and resentment that blame people and their consumption habits. One fact that we need to understand is that if activists blame people who do not know about it, they miss the opportunity to make people care about it. Another common mistake is telling people instead of engaging them. It is necessary to understand what a person knows, his/her level of understanding. Instead of telling people that they are a part of it in a very confrontational way, since they did not even know about it, it is very important to be collaborative and engage people, to know where they are, to ask them questions instead of blaming them and being in an emotional state. This not only makes people on the defensive. Neuroscience tells us that when people feel they are not being judged they tend to question. In street activism, I also find it very important to say, “This is what we do not know” instead of “This is what you do not know”.

ANDA: Could you give some examples of effective communication strategies that vegans can use to raise awareness?

Clare Mann – It is fundamental to know techniques for very emotional moments and with very different opinions. Listen to what they have to say, ask questions such as, “What do you mean?” “Can you talk more about it?” Say: “What you seem to be saying is ..” and then put it in your own words so they can understand what we are going to share. Ask people what they think veganism is. Many do not know, say that it is a lifestyle without animal exploitation. One of the common mistakes is that activists do not know the background of these people, they do not ask them questions. There is also the word “we”. Often vegans say, “You do not know that  animals are suffering” so they become defensive. When we say: “We have been deceived and when I discovered the reality, I was horrified. Can I tell you the reality? ”

Another factor is the hooks, they can include social justice, health, the environment, social norms. Listen carefully and then start asking questions and telling them about the abuse and exploitation of animals, cosmetics, plastics in the oceans and the dairy industry. Discuss the economics, job opportunities and people who are hungry in the world because animals are fed what we could give them. These hooks are very powerful. When we ask people if we can tell them what we know, two things happen: they feel they have the choice to say no, but they also feel that they are not listening to a speech.

This partnership does not involve blame. I always think that when people say “I do not want to see the pictures” it is because they feel an emotion so intense that they can not be in this state of vulnerability. Ask them, “What do you think will be so terrible about what I’m going to show?” Many people who have worked in slaughterhouses and who say “they are just animals” come out of the industry and become activists. We want them to feel the emotion and change their behaviors and we do that by becoming partners with them, involving them. When we ask them questions, we can position our response.

When I was doing street activism, one person said, “You should be more concerned with children than with animals,” and I said, “What makes you say that we should care more about people than about animals? “I wanted to know if she was religious, involved with human rights, someone who did not understand the connection between animal abuse and world hunger, environmental problems, etc. I said, “It is very important that we defend all vulnerable beings. Defending animals and exposing what is happening behind closed doors is one of the best things we can do for peoples health amd conscience. These animals are also innocent, have no voice, and defending them is the best I can do for people. ”

ANDA: Your new book will address a concept called Vystopia. Could you explain what that is and how did you identify it?

Clare Mann – I have been a psychologist for over 30 years and have seen an increasing number of people become vegans. Thousands talk about the pain I feel. I knew it was time to find a word that would synthesize the complexity of being a vegan and an animal rights activist and trauma. I decided to create a word to explain to people the experience of veganism. Vystopia is the awareness and emotional anguish of discovering the systematization of cruelty in our society. This anguish intensifies when we tell people and there is a collusion with what I call the “vystopian” world. We know that a utopian world is a place of happiness and freedom, and a dystopia is a dark, cruel world with totalitarianism.

I believe that when vegans become aware of the cruelty of this world,  that is unknown to most people, there is an existential crisis. People think, “All that I thought to be true is not,” they question the integrity of others, they see the corporations, the lies of governments, corruption, pharmaceutical industry etc … The person who suffers from vystopia realizes that it is not only knowing about cruelty, but to deal with a dystopian world and this is the anguish vegans feel. I wanted to help vegans and my new book will talk about the extent of this and it will be a powerful tool that people can give to others to explain that this is not just about animals, it’s a much bigger problem.

ANDA: How can activists stay positive and turn the pain of knowing that countless animals are suffering worldwide in action to defend them?

Clare Mann – It’s very challenging because we suffer so much from what we know. First, stay positive and have exquisite self-care: Rest, have a good diet, drink water, exercise, take a break, watch fun movies and hang out with friends. You need to take a break. Get enough sleep and seek professional help. Post-traumatic stress disorder is very powerful in people’s lives, and the more you become a great communicator and be gentle with yourself, the more powerful you are. We have to sell a solution to a problem that people do not know they have and we need to learn how to spread veganism.

For example the reason people eat this way and go to zoos is because it’s a tradition and a habit and they follow what they’re told to do, they do not question. When we create a new vision, people gravitate around it. Recently, Animals Australia conducted a survey to find out how people change and realized that as change grows, it grows exponentially, which we have seen in the last few years. Mahatma Gandhi said, “First, they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win.” We are watching the confrontation and they only fight with you because they know you are urging them to change. Spend time with other activists, don’t traumatise yourself so you can be a voice for animals over time.


Originally published as an interview by Aline Khouri of ANDA on 12th December 2017 under the title of “Psychologist writes book about existential crisis experienced by vegans”.

ANDA is a journalistic online platform, based in Brazil which promotes strategies and perspectives on creating a more ethical treatment of animals and respect for our environment.


Related Articles

You are not alone: mental health in vegans and animal activists

Originally published on the (no longer running) You are not alone: mental health in vegans and animal activists Mental anguish is common among vegans and animal rights activists, but there is help out there. Like many vegans and animal activists, Sydneysider Lyndsay Doyle has experienced intense mental suffering relating to her veganism. Fighting pain from…

Is Veganism the Latest Conspiracy Theory?

When I embarked on the Australian Tour of the new smartphone App Vegan Voices, I anticipated collaborating with vegan around Australia to collectively create a vegan world. I was encouraged by the positive energy and connections arising out of the tour and I’ll share with you later how Vegan Voices enhances this potential.  However, unanticipated…

Would I Follow Me?

Lessons from psychology that assist vegan advocacy Clare Mann – Barefoot Vegan 2017 With a background in organisational psychology, I have seen people in organisations working in silos on different projects and only engaging with other groups when absolutely necessary.  Members of each different group identify primarily with their own group and often resist collaborating…