Advocacy tips from Tom Regan

The following ideas represent some really helpful advocacy tips that featured in Tom Regan’s War Analogy article.

‘From my reading of Gandhi, I have come away with five principles:

1. Practice humility
The last thing other animals need is another reason not to be respected. So the first thing we need to insure is that we do not provide that reason — something we do provide if we come across as thinking of ourselves as so much better than, so superior, to the meat-eaters or the fur-coat wearers of the world, for example. Who wants to be around arrogant, self-righteous people? Who is going to listen to what they have to say? I don’t know about you, but when I’m in the company of such people, I’m looking for the exits. Non-ARAs can be counted on to behave the same way if we present ourselves as holier-than-thou. We don’t help other animals by turning-off other human beings.

2. Believe in the potential of others
In particular, believe in their capacity to change — and believe in their capacity for goodness. Think of things this way: we are trying to help people have a change of perception. Here is a person who does not know what is happening on factory farms or on puppy mills. Here is another person who knows, but doesn’t care. And here is yet another person who knows and cares, but not enough to do anything about it. Unless you’re very unusual, these people used to be you.

I know they used to be me.

For me, looking at these people is like looking in a mirror — a mirror that reflects the past. My past. And, if you’re like me, your past.

If we can have a change of perception (as we have), then there is no reason why the same thing cannot happen to other people. We need to believe in the possibility of change in their lives before we can help facilitate this change.

3. Accentuate the positive
The idea of animal rights does not live in a moral vacuum. Those of us who believe in the rights of animals are for life’s great values, not merely against animal abuse.

We stand shoulder to shoulder with those who are for peace and tolerance, for compassion and mercy, for personal integrity and social justice, for human freedom and equality, for the preservation of the environment and the advancement of science, for special concern for those with special needs.

We are for, for, for, not only against, against, against.

So (as I mentioned earlier) because the general public has a negative view of ARAs as a result of how the media portrays us — this means . . . what?

It means that our job as educators takes on added importance. We are so many Davids. The media (fueled by advertising dollars from the animal abusing industries) are so many Goliaths.

Well, we all know how that story ended.

And, yes, we all should take inspiration from the outcome.

4. Take the path of least resistance
We cannot make people have a change of perception. All we can do is try to help this happen. The more we force the issue, without preparing the ground (so to speak), the less likely we are to succeed. So prudence counsels taking people where they are.

They care about their health or the health of their families.
They care about scientific misconduct or the ill-effects of prescription medicines.
They care about environmental degradation or the extinction of species.

Fine. Fine. They care about something.

And whatever they care about in the list I’ve given (and I could write a much longer list, and so could any other ARA), there is a way to bring nonhuman animals into the conversation. We need to help these people see the connections. Help them see why what they care about intersects with what we, as ARAs, care about — and, indeed, with what these animals themselves care about. Helping them see the connections will not convert them to animal rights advocacy on the spot, but it can provide them with an opportunity to move forward.

5. Stay on message
As ARAs, we believe that other animals should not be turned into food, turned into clothes, turned into competitors, turned into performers, turned into tools. We are categorically opposed to all practices and institutions that treat other animals in these ways. This is not something we should be hesitant to say. We owe it to others to be open about our deepest convictions. We owe others our honesty. We should not expect, of course, that vast numbers of people will agree with us just because we’re honest about what we believe. But neither should we conceal our deepest convictions because this is not going to happen.

Being the change we want to see in the world.
So, what is involved in being the change we want to see in the world? This is a very big question to which I have given a very small answer. At a minimum, though, we embody that change if:

we practice humility;
believe in the possibility of change in others;
accentuate the positive;
take the path of least resistance;
and stay on message.

Our failing to do this represents our failure to help people have a change of perception and, by doing so, guarantees that the undeclared war being waged against other animals will go on. And on. And on. And on without end.’

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An interview with Tom Regan

The Vegan, Winter 2006, Archive.

Tom Regan is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at North Carolina State University. He is also an uncompromising ‘Animal Rights Advocate’ (ARA). In his latest book Empty Cages – Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights he argues that human beings should not enslave non-human animals and use them as means to their ends. Rosamund Raha puts some questions to him.

In Empty Cages you refer to ‘DaVincians,’ ‘Damascans’ and ‘Muddlers’; what do you mean by these terms?

These names refer to three different ways people can acquire what I call animal consciousness. Da Vincians follow the model of Leonardo Da Vinci who, from a very early age, would not hurt animals and sought to protect them. Nobody had to convince him to be this way. He did not need a rational proof before he adopted his compassionate way of being in the world. It’s just the way he was, as a matter of his individual nature. Something in the genes, so to speak.

Many ARAs are like this, which is why I call them Da Vincians. Damascans differ. They don’t have the natural empathy we find in Da Vincians. But neither are they wanting some proof, some rational argument before they enlarge their animal consciousness. No, their life is changed radically, dramatically because of something they experience, the way things changed for Saul, in the Biblical story, as he travelled on the road to Damascus. According to the Biblical story, Jesus spoke to Saul ‘from the heavens,’ directly to him in a quite dramatic fashion. It was on the basis of this single, life-transforming experience that Saul, one of the main detractors of Jesus, became Paul, Jesus’s most influential disciple. Some ARAs undergo a similar transformation, which is why I call them Damascans.

They see something. They read something. They hear something. And there, on the spot, in the blink of an eye, they are born into animal rights advocacy. A dramatic event in their life changes the direction of their life forever. Then there are those I call Muddlers.Unlike Da Vincians, Muddlers are not born with natural sympathy for animals. And unlike Damascans, there is no single event in their life that changes who they are, changes why they live. Instead, Muddlers – well, they just muddle along, asking one question, then another; learning this, then that; asking for reasons for why they should change; needing to be convinced. Change is a drawn-out process for them, a journey. But if they keep at it, a day dawns when they look in a mirror and, much to their surprise, they see an Animal Rights Advocate looking back at them. That’s certainly what happened in my life. Nothing in the genes. No Road to Damascus conversion experience. Just a long slog to animal rights advocacy.

In your essay Animal Rights and the Myth of ‘Humane’ Treatment, you say that most people believe that non-human animals are treated well on farms and in laboratories. Why do you say this?

Most people believe this because this is what they are told by the multi-billion dollar animal-abusing industries. And by the government, whose inspectors basically serve as arms of the industries themselves. Read any mainstream magazine. Peruse any newspaper. Watch any television station. The story is everywhere the same. Animals are treated really well by really caring people. When Joe and Jane Consumer hear the same message, over and over again, it’s natural that they would accept it as true, especially if those of us who challenge the message are pictured as extremist wackos. The major animal-abusing industries are very skilful at blunting our message by attacking the messengers.

How do you think people should respond to this betrayal of trust?

The first challenge is to help people see that their trust is being abused, which will take time and patience. In my own view, one of the best ways to do this is to let industry spokespersons speak for themselves. For example, we have quotes from the hog industry or the veal industry saying how ‘humanely’ they treat their animals. And next to what they say we show pictures of how these animals are being treated.

The sub-text is, ‘These spokespersons think you (consumers) are so stupid, so uncaring that they can say “Black is white” and you’ll go along with them.’ The story we need to get out is that these industries not only are abusing animals, they are abusing the trust (and insulting the intelligence) of their customers. Once we have raised consumer consciousness to this level, but not before, we have an opportunity to channel consumer anger and outrage into a positive force for the animals.

In the autumn 2006 The Vegan magazine, Peter Singer said that he could ‘imagine a world in which people mostly eat plant foods, but occasionally treat themselves to the luxury of free-range eggs, or possibly even meat from animals who live good lives under conditions natural for their species, and are then humanely killed on the farm.’ How would you feel about that kind of world?

I can imagine such a world but, in my judgment, it certainly is not the one Animal Rights Advocates should be working to realize. Think about what ‘humanely’ means. It means to do something with compassion, kindness, and mercy. Are any animals ever killed in this fashion? Yes, I think so. Consider those animals who are dying and who suffer greatly; there is nothing we can do to help make their life any better. In circumstances like these, I think the humane thing to do is to end their life, on grounds of compassion, kindness, and mercy. However, this is far, far different from taking the life of a healthy animal, in the prime of life. What kindness, what compassion, what mercy do we show to these animals by slitting their throat? In my honest opinion, people who endorse a view like the one proposed by Singer are too interested in preserving French haute cuisine and too little interested in working for a world that truly reflects respect for animal rights.

As the natural habitats of some species have been mostly destroyed, Peter Singer suggested that animals such as chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans may need to live under human control and protection. Do you consider this necessary?

I believe we may be fast approaching a time when the best home for these and other wild animals might be in sanctuaries or wildlife preserves that protect them from human and other forms of predation. Not circuses, for heaven’s sake. And not safe havens open to hunters. It will take vast sums of money, expansive natural habitat, and fierce enforcement of tough laws. For an example, consider the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee (USA). I think the founder, Carol Buckley, and her staff are living proof of what can be done to save imperilled animals without compromising the animals’ dignity in the process.

Yes, and of course in a vegan world there would be so much more land available to rebuild wildlife habitats because eating lower down the food chain uses much less land and water than eating crops through the intermediary of an animal.

Do you believe that a vegan world will ever be possible?

Yes, a vegan world is possible. Why do I believe this? All I need to do is look in the mirror and see a vegan looking back at me. People need to understand. Not only did I eat ‘meat’ of every cut and description as I was growing-up, I worked as a butcher to help pay for my college expenses. During those years, I had eyes but did not see, I had ears but did not hear. So if I, Tom Regan, can evolve into a vegan, anyone can do the same. We who have arrived at this destination must never lose hope that others will join us. We are all imperfect creatures in an imperfect world. The last thing we should do is provide people with another reason for ignoring animals.

Which is why, in my view at least, we must open our arms to others, not drive them away from growing more compassionate because of what we say or how we say it. The means we use create the ends we achieve. Our hate can only create more hate. But our love for others, even those with whom we most disagree . . . well, in the long run, that is the only solution, when you stop and think about it.

Thank you very much Tom Regan for giving such an uplifting interview, your positive comments give us all hope!

 

A few further resources.

Empty Cages and other books by Tom Regan

The Philosophy of Animal Rights by Tom Regan

 

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Addressing movement politics to improve animal advocacy

05j_bald-eagle-soaringI think it could be fair to say that people are generally reluctant to deal with the fairly opaque politics of the animal movement.  This could be for several reasons, including the idea of taking time away from grassroots animal activism, the time it could take to unravel some of the issues, or not being heard by those in positions of power which would render time spent in this area of little value.  Yet accepting the present situation (by not explicitly challenging it) helps maintain the status quo in the movement itself, which has necessarily hindered the promotion of effective approaches around rights based ideas.

When examining effective approaches to animal activism, we can look at effective activism from a perspective of rights based ideas and veganism rather than from an ideological position of pragmatism, which claims to include aspects of many different approaches, yet fails to represent those involving anti-speciesism in reliable ways, and even deliberately misrepresents them (for example Vegan Society Today, the work of the ‘Vegan’ Strategist and Reducetarianism). These issues have been discussed many times in different groups and have yet to be resolved satisfactorily, partly because it hasn’t yet been acknowledged that doing so could serve the ‘mainstream’ and largely consumerist animal movement in useful ways.  Whilst advocates for the pragmatic approach (where animals are often regarded as ‘meat’ and objects to consume) are decidedly reluctant to engage with people that would call their approach into question and challenge their dominant position in the animal movement.

One of the defining moments which led to the ascendancy of the pragmatic approach took place when various ‘leaders’ chose to ‘divide’ the movement. When this event took place it wasn’t to cut the movement in half, instead it was more realistically a takeover of the movement, and activists that weren’t enthused by this approach were generally pushed further into the margins. Indeed, there are many perspectives that challenge the premise of mainstream ideology that have either been excluded, or are just not considered. As a consequence it has become increasingly difficult to take claims of ‘effectiveness’ seriously from within the mainstream movement, as those pragmatic ideas are favoured both ideologically and strategically, whilst ‘Effective Altruism’ has appeared to reinforce the dominant position of a ‘pragmatic’ approach from within the animal movement, despite various claims of ‘cause neutrality’.

One of the main issues is where we identify that ideas around ‘effectiveness’ (broadly translated to successfully engaging people / affecting change) can be applied to various forms of rights based activism through a more limited, though not limiting framework.  There are a number of benefits to a rights based approach which are backed by research, for instance undermining rather than reinforcing stereotypes, and the transformative language rights based activists can utilise.  So it isn’t as if the merits of a rights based approach cannot be evaluated, and this would be a more constructive approach to take, rather than putting forward ideological points that masquerade as criticism.  In this regard we can identify areas where this has been popularised, because it has also served as a useful tactic to distract from the general failings of mainstream ideology (take for example regular accusations of ‘purity’).

When ‘movement leaders’ acted unilaterally to ‘divide’ the movement, it is probably fair to say they could have more carefully allocated resources to different areas, whilst considering the idea of uncoupling certain aspects of the movement that would have allowed people to develop their ideas and approaches more effectively (a somewhat surprising oversight given a reliance on a business / corporate approach that should have ensured this situation was both considered and evaluated).   As a result the concept of rights and veganism ought to have been separated or at least markedly distinguished from the pragmatic mainstream ideology they favoured, whilst the ‘mainstream’ could have solved some of the issues by taking on the mantle of reducetarianism or flexitarianism, which as an approach seems to be both preferred and a natural fit, and so would have had the dual benefit of people being more closely affiliated to their own beliefs, whilst freeing vegans to do their work.  A further positive aspect could be identified where it would also help alleviate internal pressure from a mainstream movement that has often appeared to mimic the ‘carnistic defences’ and stereotypes utilised by mainstream society, whilst reinforcing aspects of cultural speciesism that many vegans are trying to undermine.  This is largely reflected in how the mainstream movement has acted to placate speciesism.  For example, by perpetuating the humane myth or promoting reducetarianism, and focussing on ideas such as carnism rather than speciesism.

It also seems fair to say that animal rights activists have enough to deal with regarding groups like non-humans first and other ‘free speech’ groups, whose origins partly reside in the mainstream movement (no gatekeeping / open door policy / little discussion around approaches / utilising various defences that maintain prejudice instead of addressing it), without also having to deal with internal strife from people that are necessarily antagonistic to rights based ideas, veganism and a pro-intersectional approach to animal rights.  One solution could be to uncouple some of the ideas that mainstream activists have become attached to, whilst they may also need to accept that rights based activists are necessarily opposed to speciesism and would naturally undermine a mainstream approach that seeks to collaborate with systems of exploitation, and that would be an issue that would need to be acknowledged and addressed rather than resisted, or merely dismissed.

 

 

Links.

Commonalities of Oppression – pattrice jones

Farm to Fable by Robert Grillo

From Animals to Anarchism by Kevin Watkinson and Donal O’Driscoll

Invasion of the Movement Snatchers:  A Social Justice Cause Falls Prey to the Doctrine of “Necessary Evil” by James LaVeck

Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights by Bob Torres

PRAGMATIC PORK:  How the vegan movement broke out of its echo chamber and finally started disrupting things

The Foundation of Justice: Veganism and the Animal Rights Movement – Sarah K. Woodcock

‘Veganish’ or Vegan: An Animal Rights Perspective

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The paradox of neocarnism in mainstream ‘vegan’ advocacy

paradox(This blog first appeared as an article for ARZone)

In recent years it has become a popular approach for the mainstream animal ‘rights’ movement to bridge gaps between different ideas in the animal movement.  This has frequently led to privileging approaches that are not rights based, because these are approaches that tend to be more accessible to people that consume animals, and as many in the mainstream movement correctly point out people that consume animals largely constitute our audience.  However, there are a number of issues which need to be taken into account when we are advocating for animals that strengthen or weaken our advocacy. So how we approach advocacy is important in regard to the claims that we make.  One such approach that has recently gained traction is ‘carnism’, this is described by Will Tuttle as a concept which is ‘important and empowering; it uniquely names and illumines what has been virtually invisible in our culture’s most defining attitudes and practices.’ The central tenet of carnism is that we are conditioned to eat certain animals, and this issue has often provided a useful starting point for discussions around animal exploitation, whilst the ideology surrounding carnism can also help us examine the behaviour of ‘carnists’.

There are however, some issues with the ideology of carnism that shouldn’t be overlooked.  So if we are going to use aspects of this ideology to inform our advocacy, then it is also worth reflecting on its limitations.  One such issue is where we identify carnism as being ‘food choice’ oriented, and how veganism has consequently been reduced to a diet (where other vegan implications are missing), and this is a general reflection of how the mainstream animal movement presents a diminished view of veganism.  It is also more accurate to say that veganism is the opposite to speciesism, rather than the opposite to carnism.  As carnism is considered a ‘sub-ideology’ veganism can deal with carnism within its broader scope, so there is no need to limit the philosophy of veganism in regard to carnism.  A particular consequence of this approach could lead to dietary or personal purity responses instead of invoking the broader social intentions surrounding the original idea of veganism, rooted in opposition to animal exploitation and the pursuit of social justice.  If anything, a plant based diet is the opposite to carnism, or even vegetarianism which has been stated on the Beyond Carnism website and in itself would address meat consumption.

With these issues in mind, there is one particular aspect of carnism that sought to illuminate an attempt to protect the social conditioning of animal exploitation, and this takes place through the process that has been called neocarnism.

The main function of neocarnism ‘is to provide rational arguments (carnistic justifications) to invalidate veganism—primarily by invalidating the three pillars of the vegan argument: animal welfare/rights, the environment, and human health.’

The presence of people with neocarnist attitudes isn’t anything particularly new in animal rights / vegan / anti-speciesist spaces, as many people that are transitioning toward veganism exhibit these attitudes and behaviours.  However, there are also neocarnists that have rejected veganism, such as Lierre Keith and Rhys Southan who were ‘vegan’, but now attempt to argue against a vegan position. Whilst we can also recognise there are many people who are vegan that continue to exhibit speciesist traits due to the extent we have been socially conditioned to devalue other animals in our everyday lives.  This is exemplified by a continual process or ‘journey’ when people arrive at veganism.

Whilst there are traditional neocarnists who undermine the pillars of veganism, there are also ‘professionals’ within the mainstream vegan advocacy movement that express neocarnist traits, and this theme seems to have gained momentum as it has facilitated a disconnect from philosophy or theory (Regan and Cross for instance), and has paved the way for what is enigmatically termed an ‘effective approach’.  The potential negative consequences of taking this approach aren’t evaluated from within that part of the animal movement, and when attention is drawn to neocarnist implications they are often reflexively dismissed or ignored.  For everyone else, it is important that we look at the central aspects of neocarnism to better understand the process that is taking place, and in this way we can begin to identify that process in the mainstream animal ‘rights’ movement.  For example, there are two points from this article on neocarnism that particularly stand out:

‘The danger of the neocarnisms is that they offer themselves as a solution to a problem that they cannot solve—and they therefore become attractive alternatives to those who might otherwise support veganism.  The neocarnisms act as a carnistic safety net: those who seek to step outside of carnism land in another version of the system, thinking that they’ve reconciled the irreconcilable conflict between caring about and harming other beings.  [For example ‘humane meat’]

The process of the neocarnisms can be seen through their purpose: the purpose of each argument is not to engage with the issue of veganism but to defend against it. The arguments do not reflect openness to further exploration of the issue or a desire to seek alternatives to killing. They do not serve to invite dialogue but rather to shut down the conversation by invalidating veganism as abnormal, unnatural, and unnecessary. The process reflects a black-and-white, rigid reactiveness rather than a nuanced and flexible responsiveness—a healthy process encourages true examination of one’s own assumptions as well as witnessing and validation of different perspectives.’

Beyond Carnism or ‘Within Carnism’?

This leads to the question of whether the mainstream movement actually counters carnism or whether in many ways it reinforces neocarnism and subsequently animal exploitation through making claims of ‘effectiveness’ (this is often what is meant when they say ‘meeting people where they are at’, which we can do, but without validating animal exploitation).  An example of neocarnism could be support for reducetarianism, an approach where animals are considered meat, and where it is ok to exploit and consume them.  In this way reducetarianism represents a case of neocarnism undermining the pillars of veganism.  However, as neocarnism ideology says, we need to ensure that we ‘continue to challenge such proponents to reflect more deeply on their choices.’  Of course the way we do this is important, and the recent book by Casey Taft outlines how we can advocate in a way that supports veganism and animal rights.  Otherwise, where we support neocarnist organisations we end up reinforcing neocarnism regardless of what claims we make based on our own personal ‘veganism’  (perhaps more accurately defined in some parts of the mainstream movement as ‘highly effective reducetarianism’).  So in this regard it is important to examine the implications of professional animal advocates supporting neocarnist approaches, especially in  regard to how vegan recidivism could be facilitated through recuperation, and how this approach would have a detrimental impact on a social justice* framework.

So it is important to be clear that veganism would reject neocarnism within the mainstream animal advocacy movement *because* there is the need to challenge people to reflect more deeply on their carnism, rather than taking an approach that soothes carnists with mainstream tropes such as veganism being ‘extreme’, which in itself is a skewed representation of people who adopt and advocate veganism as it is defined[i] (often presented as ‘orthodox’ or ‘dogmatic’ by the mainstream animal movement, when in fact it is ‘just’ veganism).  So it becomes apparent that claims from Beyond Carnism have not been sufficiently evaluated, whilst new initiatives such as CEVA (Centre for Effective Vegan Advocacy and an offshoot of Beyond Carnism) present a further issue in regard to neocarnism, where there could be a preference for utilising neocarnism ‘strategically’ (under the guise of making veganism appear ‘easier’) rather than making a sound case for veganism.   In this way the organisation would most likely encourage neocarnist reducetarianism in line with the ‘strategies’ of one of their contributors, rather than recommending a sound vegan, animal rights and anti-speciesist approach to effective vegan advocacy.

 

Notes.

*The social justice implications require a separate discussion in regard to carnism.   Utilising the system of carnism or speciesism ‘strategically’ has the effect of undermining vegan and animal rights advocacy and is highly problematic when opposing exploitation and oppression as part of an intersectional justice approach.  A further problem is where ‘effective’ activists would counter this issue by applying their method to other oppressed groups.

In regard to animal advocacy the mainstream ‘strategies’ attempt to occupy the neocarnist space and really have nothing to do with advocating veganism.  Although people attempt to bridge the ‘gap’ between veganism and neocarnism, denigrating vegans and veganism would hardly be considered an effective and encouraging approach.  Instead, it would merely reinforce a neocarnist response and sets up veganism / animal rights as a problem rather than a solution.

There are issues in vegan advocacy and veganism that need addressing, but this needs to take place in an encouraging and supportive way.

Reducetarianism is sometimes confused with reduction.  When we become vegan we reduce the amount of animals we exploit.  In advocacy terms this means from a vegan or rights based perspective, so we look at how to do that.  Whereas reducetarianism uses a carnist perspective that says it is ok to consume animals, though we ought to consume less of them.

 

Links.

Beyond Carnism

Motivational Methods for Vegan Advocacy: A Clinical Psychology Perspective, by Casey Taft

Neocarnism

The Vegan Publishers blog

Vegan advocacy – TAVS

What’s Wrong with Carnism, by Corey Lee Wrenn

 

[i] “A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

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The Cows of Bristol Harbourfront

This is a guest blog that originally appeared at Vegan Bristol.

cowspiracy_cowThe recent Bristol Post article titled ‘Two cows to mooove into Bristol Harbourfront’ provided a distinctly one sided account of animal farming, that appears to have been devised to reassure people over their continued exploitation of animals.  As such the article became an appeal to a false idea of the dairy industry that at best hid a great deal of the ‘truth’ behind animal farming.

The article itself suggests a number of issues to contend with; first and foremost, what exactly are cows doing at Bristol Harbourfront amongst ‘cafés, bars and boats’?  It certainly isn’t their natural habitat, and yet neither would the farm be their natural habitat either, for cows that have been specifically bred to be farmed by humans, there isn’t a natural habitat for these animals.  In fact the whole process of animal farming, and the subsequent consumption of milk taken from another species is quite unnatural in itself, as humans are weaned from human milk at a young age, and are not supposed to consume the milk of another species thereafter.  The milk mothers produce for their calves is specifically formulated for them to grow quickly, not for humans to consume as part of a ‘balanced’ diet.  This goes against the claim in the article that milk is a ‘very ‘normal’, everyday product.’ Of course the consumption of dairy has been normalised culturally, but that in itself doesn’t make it either natural, normal or necessary to consume.

The fact there is an artist at the event suggests there will be a degree of theatrics in the performance.  Yet there also doesn’t seem to be a genuine attempt to speak the truth about dairy farming, where people could make their own minds up, instead of dealing with another layer of distraction.  The intent here seems to be in reinforcing the bucolic image of farming peddled by the likes of McDonald’s and Waitrose, and found in the fables of children, in order to reassure and further encourage the unnecessary consumption of dairy products.  The article then goes on to say the artist will be ‘sleeping together in the pavilion with the cows, milking them, and feed[ing] them.’ It would seem to support an illusion the cows are being well looked after, and are also generally well looked after, until they are no longer useful and are then killed.

The animals themselves aren’t  genuinely considered in the ‘true cost of farming’, whilst it is reasonable to say the environmental costs of animal farming are high, as outlined in the Cowspiracy documentary, and a recent article in the Science journal that also made this point. But the answer isn’t reform, the answer resides in a fundamental change in our behaviour, where we take these issues seriously.  The article also mentions that ‘our planet is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals, with industrial agriculture being one of the largest contributors.’  This is true, and arguably animal farming is a big driver behind this event, so we need to take more radical action in regard to our environment, and make different choices in regard to consumption.  We also need to change the way we view nature and the way we live in this world, and veganism can play a significant role in that.  There is also a mention in the article of ‘Global Food System Inequalities’, and it will be interesting to see how issues of neo-liberalism will be addressed within the performance itself.

But let us wonder whether this is really part of a campaign by Nessie the performance artist.  Someone who is concerned about the dairy industry, and is willing to spend five days and many nights on the harbourfront milking two cows three times a day, possibly on her own time and at her own expense.  If it is, then I admire her dedication, though there are a number of fundamental issues with the claims she has made so far.  Despite this, I think it is possible to understand the struggles of the farming industry too, and there is no doubt it is difficult for people in a declining industry.  Sadly, the government and National Farmers Union will be of little help here, because they rarely show genuine concern toward people that are struggling, indeed they don’t really seem to care at all.  This of course is awful, but it is another truth the industry needs to face in these changing times.  The answer isn’t going to be in reform, the answer is in alternative ways of living.

In regard to dairy itself, there are many alternatives that are widely available, from oat milk, soya milk, coconut milk, hemp milk and almond milk.  The vegan yoghurts, cheeses and creams are also widely available and the homemade cashew cheeses are truly very good.  Whilst it may be difficult to think in terms of ‘giving up’ certain things, when we consider the environmental costs, and the costs to animals themselves, it becomes easier, necessary even, so next time you realise you are reaching for the dairy, think about picking up one of the alternatives instead.

 

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A few thoughts on the animal rights movement

It seems fair to say that Tom Regblogcloudpican has made a profound contribution to the modern animal rights movement, and in this television interview with William Friday, Regan offers a broad introduction to animal rights theory.   In more recent times it has been interesting to examine how this view of intrinsic rights is represented within the ‘animal rights movement’ itself, and it appears these views have become marginalised in favour of a utilitarian approach (generally regarded as harm reduction) where veganism has been presented as one option among many that could effectively address our responsibilities to non-human animals.  This approach has also tended to include a discussion of animal welfare in a way that is underpinned by collaborative efforts with the animal industry, rather than in regard to genuine caregiving or help for non-human animals (Lee Hall considers differences in welfare between ‘authentic welfare’ and ‘a term that deceives’).

One group in particular that has appeared in the ‘animal rights movement’ are the ‘effective altruists’; and a common claim of this group is that they wish to reduce animal suffering on as wide a scale as possible.  However, in practice this often results in violating the rights of one group or individual, in favour of others, in the name of effectiveness.  Decisions taken as to which violations are more acceptable than others often seem to be centred upon the position of human domination, and could be attributed to a continuation of our culturally indoctrinated speciesism.  In this way we could say their approach is inherently speciesist, because they choose not to argue from a position of the individual rights of others, but from their own position of domination.

One of the central tenets of veganism[1] itself is that it opposes animal exploitation, therefore it fits neatly into a *justice for all* approach where there is an anti-speciesist foundation, this is because we need to incorporate anti-speciesism in a similar way to how we need to incorporate anti-racism and anti-sexism into our justice approach.  Adopting this perspective legitimises animal rights as part of an intersectional justice movement.  It would seem the minimum we need to do here for non-human animals is that we refrain from either reinforcing or offering reassurance to people in their exploitation of animals, whilst presenting veganism as the basis of our anti-speciesist approach.

In a recent book Casey Taft outlined how we can advocate effectively for animals in ways that are consistent with veganism and animal rights; and Bob Torres wrote about how we also need to be critical of the structure of ‘animal rights’ organisations because their desire for mainstream success progressed in a way that perpetuated mainstream oppressions (for instance racism and sexism).  Indeed, the quest for positive news stories facilitated a false narrative that effectively limited, ignored or dismissed criticism from justice advocates (often under the guise of being ‘divisive’).  This issue has spilled over into ‘animal rights’ conferences that have frequently been organised to cater to a specific agenda rather than as an opportunity to present a broad number of perspectives *from* an animal rights position.

Since the inception of the modern animal rights movement it appears as if core values have become marginalised, as it is probably fair to say the initial intention was to help people bring animal rights and vegan ideas into practice through support and education (Donald Watson considered this ‘ripening’), engaging in awareness raising activities and to help non-human animals where possible.  The issue of marginalisation has appeared two-fold, on the one hand there is the professionalisation of the movement which has acted to diminish grassroots advocacy, and on the other, the ‘abolitionist’ bogeymen (not without foundation) that have allowed people to conveniently sidestep questions from a rights perspective that legitimately challenged their position.

As the animal rights movement presently stands it could justifiably be described as confusing, and this has caused ‘conflict’ within the movement itself. The animal rights movement has ceded space and hasn’t in turn compensated by either creating new spaces or maintaining space for the expression of rights based ideas.  Where utilitarians have attempted to mitigate conflict they have generally privileged their own approach (hypocritical) and marginalised animal rights views (hypercritical).  As part of this process there have also been attempts to silence animal rights advocates through accusations of ‘policing’, ‘shaming’, and by the construction of false ideas that suggest we are ‘all heading in the same direction’, a misnomer designed to present all ideas as similar enough to be compatible, or that it is our responsibility to back down from a rights based position because it suits the ‘mainstream’ movement for that to happen.  This dominant position within the animal rights movement seems to overlook the necessity for a certain degree of ‘conflict’/ debate / discussion / reflexivity that helps to maintain a functional movement.

As a result it appears useful to refer to the ‘animal movement’ instead of the ‘animal rights movement’ when encompassing the various groups involved, whilst being mindful of different descriptors such as reducetarian and flexitarian to explain utilitarian preferences, and how these approaches have necessarily diminished vegan advocacy.  We ought to allow space for people to discuss animal rights ideas without disruptive accusations such as ‘sounding like an abolitionist’ or not being ‘effective, pragmatic or strategic’ because activists are simply unwilling to reassure people over their animal consumption.  The actual animal rights movement itself has stagnated under the weight of ‘effective’ utilitarian ideas, which when closely examined have little in common with either veganism or animal rights.

 

References

From Animals to Anarchism, by Kevin Watkinson and Donal O’Driscoll (2014)

Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights, by Bob Torres (2007)

Motivational Methods for Vegan Advocacy: A Clinical Psychology Perspective, by Casey Taft (2016)

On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century, by Lee Hall (2016)

 

[1] The Vegan Society definition* and not a dietary misrepresentation some people seem to prefer.

*“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

 

Thanks to the people who have contributed to this piece in a variety of ways.

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A few thoughts on elitism in the animal movement

collapse-diceOne of the central tenets of veganism is how the vegan lifestyle should be generally accessible to all.  This is to say that emphasising animal rights ought to lead to a way of social organisation that includes foundational ideas of justice, solidarity and equality that would allow for that to happen.

The present animal movement contains many groups with approaches that rely on privilege and inequality as a strategy to alter treatment for non-human animals in such a way that animals may suffer less.  This approach neglects the vast system that is responsible for subjugating non-human animals whilst it maintains the supply and demand for exploited bodies, and this is one consequence of an approach that has prioritised an appeal to the elite in society.  So instead of a focus on veganism and animal rights where people are supported to make changes, with those ‘barriers’ to a vegan lifestyle objectively examined, their message instead reflects a campaigning style that favours an appeal to those who have accumulated and maintained a vast amount of power and influence at the expense of human / non-human animals and the environment.

This conventional campaigning approach from mainstream groups has allowed the fundamental issue of power to remain largely unchallenged.  Indeed, it purposefully neglects to examine the issue in order to encourage and reassure those potential ‘allies’, whilst concurrently promoting such methods of advocacy in the grassroots movement, commonly articulated around the dichotomy of ‘professionals’ (bearers of ‘knowledge’ and ‘wisdom’) and the ‘civilians’ (those that have not thought through their approach to advocacy).

This also presents a reflection of the animal movement itself, where the top layers of the movement accumulate and recycle money within their own organisations rather than seeking to distribute wealth amongst advocates, this appears to be viewed as money they have earned, rather than money to be used to end the system of animal exploitation.  Another common theme is how they share their own work or that of their close associates, intentionally overlooking that which other people do, unless there is a way to gain from sharing that work.

This is the case for the vast majority of larger groups (often termed ‘non profits’), and it is indicative of how intrinsic rights for animals have been de-centred from mainstream activism, whilst those same animals are concurrently used for promotional campaigns.  These situations notoriously focus ‘help’ for animals in ways that don’t emphasise attitudinal or behavioural change in a way that would reflect a vegan philosophy and lifestyle, whilst appropriating the effects of grassroots vegan activism as an inherent part of their own success (increased supply of vegan products for example).

It is worth emphasising that a justice approach brings animals into the community, it brings environmental and human consideration into our ideas.  Where we fail to connect these issues we do a vast disservice to the interconnection of justice movements.  Whilst we create our own spaces that can include a broad critical analysis of society and injustice, we ought to also reflect on the many groups that stand on the backs of animals in the name of ‘effectiveness’, their power, money and influence working counter to our own activism.  Whilst they have claimed we are all in this together heading in the same direction, we should be clear their framing of non-human animals does not reflect a justice approach, and instead reveals a patronising ‘compassion’ associated with the elite.

So with this in mind we can instead seek out alternatives to the (speciesist) corporate approach that diminishes ‘rights’ based campaigning.  We can focus our efforts on nourishing the grassroots rather than transferring resources to the higher echelons of the animal movement.  We can seek out excellent work that reflects a rights based approach created by individuals and grassroots groups, where we encourage people to learn about veganism and animal rights as part of a social justice approach that is an inherent part of the broader social justice movement.  In so doing we can utilise these ideas to inform our activism.

 

Further reading / resources:

From Animals to Anarchism.  By Kevin Watkinson and Donal O’Driscoll.

Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights.  By Bob Torres.

Motivational Methods for Vegan Advocacy: A Clinical Psychology Perspective.  By Casey Taft.

Protest, Inc.  By Peter Dauvergne and Genevieve LeBaron.

‘Veganish’ or vegan? An Animal Rights Perspective.  By Kevin Watkinson.

 

Some groups / organisations / pages to look for:

Black Vegans Rock

Chilis on Wheels

Eden Farmed Animal Sanctuary Ireland

Food Empowerment Project

Free From Harm

Project Intersect

Resistance Ecology

Sistah Vegan Project

Striving with Systems

TAVS – The Advocacy of Veganism Society

The Philosophy of Animal Rights by Dr. Tom Regan

Triangle Chance for All

Vegan Feminist Network

Vegan Information Project

Vegankit.com

Vegan Publishers (and the blog)

VINE Sanctuary

 

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Tolerance, ‘division’ and appropriation: Strategy for a mainstream monoculture

corn-fieldIn some ways it might be claimed there are two prevailing views within the animal movement; one suggests that we can achieve our aims within the system (mainstream) and the other which suggests that a ‘justice for all’ approach is not compatible with the present economic / political system. So people could move in different directions depending on how they view that situation. However, when overarching discussions have taken place regarding tolerance and cohesion within the animal movement, they have generally been weighted toward the mainstream (status quo). In this regard, i think there needs to be a greater recognition of different perspectives within the movement. Whilst people who take the justice perspective would probably accept this, people that do not, often have difficulty even acknowledging that different perspectives exist, for them it appears that to do so would undermine their own approach. I expect a similar situation presents itself across many other justice movements as well. So it is plausible to consider that ‘unified and focused’ efforts need to take place across justice ‘borders’ rather than within the animal movement itself. Where the ‘justice for all’ approach gathers momentum there will inevitably be increased tension with mainstream groups that fail to question the economic and political system, or even how they are structured as a reflection of that system.

When we hear calls from the mainstream movement that we are all in this together heading in the same direction, we know this essentially reflects a simplistic perspective that tends to serve the mainstream agenda by erasing alternative approaches. Can we agree that even within these differences non-human animals can suffer less with the ‘pragmatic’ or ‘effective’ approach? I think we can, yet the purpose of the rights position is to represent ‘rights’ in a non vegan world, it is not designed to support exploitative systems. In this regard there is a separate utilitarian approach of ‘animal liberation’, and a rights based approach that centres on justice for non-human animals whilst including a full definition of ‘veganism’ as both a philosophy and lifestyle. When we centre non-human animals we are compelled to find those ‘effective strategies’ that allow us to communicate these ideas in accessible ways, this includes an emphasis on personal responsibility within a social context, where the complexity of society (in regard to inequality, discrimination and oppression) can be explored and addressed rather than sidelined or dismissed.

So, in order for there to be ‘tolerance’ (acknowledging there will always be tension where organisations are promoting strategies that exploit non-human animals) we need to overcome the reductive notion of rights based perspectives being inherently ‘divisive’. Where the ‘mainstream’ movement can acknowledge there are different perspectives, and make an increased effort to understand those approaches, whilst encouraging analysis of their own approach (especially in regard to social context / dismantling systems of oppression). In this way we could more readily move toward understanding differences in a more reflective and co-operative manner, where we may find our relations with each other improving, as understanding is emphasised and encouraged.

Resources:

From animals to anarchism

In relation to veganism

Protest Inc.‘ by Peter Dauvergne and Genevieve LeBaron

Vegan or veganish?

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In relation to veganism

distortionVegans tend to have one thing in common, and that is the definition of veganism:

“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

When discussing veganism it helps to base our discussion around an idea, and this definition suits us well. However, there are also people that have chosen to adopt their own idea of veganism without recourse to the definition, which could be something that either ‘mainstream’ media or ‘movement leaders’ have told them it should be. This has an unfortunate consequence because problematic issues can be marginalised instead of considered, where the issue of finding shared meaning and commonality is easily dismissed, because although our experiences differ we have missed a shared reference point.

Some ‘movement leaders’ are convinced they can cause you to doubt almost everything, essentially an approach full of maybes, possibilities and potentialities with little room for either clarity or learning. In this way they have hoped to do our thinking for us, and where we have allowed that to happen we have been rewarded with a mainstream ‘animal rights’ movement that routinely fails to advocate animal rights in a meaningful way. It is a situation that can be recognised where non-human animals are defined as meat, and objects to consume. Such as within reducetarianism, a movement that has garnered a great deal of support from highly placed ‘animal rights’ advocates.

The root of the problem appears to be a lack of discussion around rights and veganism, where some of those discussions have taken place, it has not been uncommon to have them undermined with claims of shaming, divisiveness, policing and purity. This is no way to enter into a meaningful discussion. If we believe animals are deserving of respect then we ought to begin by behaving and speaking in a way that demonstrates that we do. That said, after coming from a deeply speciesist society it will take time to understand how deeply entrenched these ideas truly are. Even when we are ‘vegan’ there is still a great deal to learn about veganism. Whereas some people have chosen to undermine the meaning of veganism to make things appear ‘easier’ and more acceptable, we neglect that we can also progress to better understand issues of discrimination and oppression, and how they interact with each other to cause harm.

It seems apparent that a commitment to the philosophy of veganism is the central tenet of veganism, and that could be seen as the ‘test’ of veganism. It could be said that many movement leaders do not have a particular commitment to this idea, where instead they have a commitment (though not all do) to the vegan lifestyle. A lifestyle which is equally at home in the ideology of flexitarianism, reducetarianism or vegetarianism.  Those are ideas to which they appear to have a more reasonable claim, where they avoid the contentious stretch and distortion of the meaning inherent to veganism and animal rights, a situation that has often had the consequence of rendering those terms almost meaningless.

 

PictureBeyond Distortion | by Monika Krupicka

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Q and A with Saryta Rodriguez

sarytaFollowing on from a recent ARZone podcast i was really fortunate to be able to ask Saryta Rodriguez some questions about her book ‘Until Every Animal is Free’

I hope you find the following questions and answers as interesting as i found the book.

 

 

In the book you talk about the question of why rather than how we use animals.   That seems to be an important perspective in regard to animal rights.  When we introduce this perspective do you think it helps to shift the burden of proof in society from people having to justify veganism toward people attempting to justify nonveganism?  

You touch it with a needle! That is precisely what is needed— a revolution of sociocultural norms. Because humans have consumed meat for hundreds of years, worn animal hides for hundreds of years, etc., these practices are taken for granted as, if not good, at least acceptable.

Is genocide acceptable? Is environmental devastation acceptable? Is apartheid acceptable? Those things have been going on for a while, too.

On page 67 there is a quote from Joan Dunayer that says observing in silence is to be complicit with the system of exploitationIn regard to this issue, how can we empower people to advocate for non-human animals, and to what extent do some of the large ‘animal rights’ organisations support and encourage people to take a vegan approach to animal advocacy? 

Well, I think the best way to convince folks to speak up for nonhumans is to lead by example— to do it yourself, and to talk about doing it and why you do it. It’s also important to emphasize that there’s more than one way to “speak up” for nonhumans— it does not have to involve speaking. A lot of vegans I’ve met are somewhat introverted and don’t necessarily love getting up in front of tons of people to speak. While this is an important part of raising awareness and our movement needs some people to do it, there are also myriad other ways to contribute. You can write and help organize conferences and fundraisers, as I do. You can give vegan cooking classes and have mentorship programs in place to help people transition into veganism, as Brenda Sanders is doing in Baltimore with her Vegan Living program. You can write songs about animal liberation, as myriad artists have done and are doing, such as Jah Sun, Historias de Andén, and Illy Rap— and help promote such artists, as Kevin Tillman does via the Vegan Hip Hop Movement.

Unfortunately I can’t say much with respect to how nonhuman advocacy organizations are encouraging people to take a vegan approach to advocacy because, frankly, many of them aren’t doing so. Increasingly, mainstream nonhuman advocacy groups are encouraging people to go vegetarian, or reducetarian, meaning they just “cut back” on their meat intake. Vegetarianism violates the rights of cows and other lactating creatures, as well as their orphaned children, while reducetarianism takes the nonhuman animal’s perspective entirely out of the equation and focuses on just one issue: meat consumption. It doesn’t even ask us to stop eating meat (while continuing to consume other nonhuman-derived substances), but only to reduce the amount of flesh we consume. And both of these approaches are only about eating— they do nothing for the nonhumans kept in captivity in zoos, aquariums and circuses, or for those whose bodies are turned into handbags, shoes and other products.

Three groups I can think of here in the US who focus on spreading a squarely, unequivocally vegan message are Sistah Vegan Project, Direct Action Everywhere and the Abolitionist Vegan Society. In Australia, there’s also Animal Liberation Victoria. DxE and ALV focus on protests and open rescue and investigation as means of encouraging activists to speak up, while Sistah Vegan Project and the Abolitionist Vegan Society focus on outreach and educational efforts— spreading the facts as far and wide as possible. Sistah Vegan Project is also particularly committed to ensuring that the vegan message is spread while being mindful of the cultural histories of various marginalized groups— something many mainstream nonhuman advocacy groups neglect to consider.

On that note, I’ve also recently become involved with Millahcayotl, a food justice organization based in San Francisco, and we are hosting our first annual People’s Harvest Forum in December. While this isn’t an “animal rights” group per se, Millahcayotl is committed to solving problems related to food sovereignty in ways that are free of animal exploitation— human and nonhuman alike. So I think groups like ours are very important in addressing multiple issues at once: justice for nonhumans, justice for farm workers, justice for those living in food swamps, and so forth.

(A food swamp, by the way, is an alternative for “food desert,” as the latter implies that a region has no food. Food swamps, at least here in the US, are far more common— places where nutritious food such as fresh produce is scarce, while corner stores selling chips, candy and soda abound. So there is technically food, but not of a quality that can truly sustain people. Such food is slowly destroying the health of the many low-income, mostly of-color residents of these neighborhoods.)

I thought the issue of active listening (page 71) is really important, and also the section that followed around maintaining a safe space for people to communicate.  Can you talk about the ways we can start to bring critical thinking to issues where people have developed a personal attachment to certain ideas?  

Well, that’s a pretty loaded question, but I can sure try! One definition or explanation of veganism that really resonates with me is the one Will Tuttle offers in his essay in Circles of Compassion. There’s a line in which he states that we “come to see veganism as boundless inclusiveness.” I really hope I get to meet Will one day so that I can give him a massive hug for that line. It’s important to remember when dealing with people whose opinions differ from ours that they, too, are deserving of compassion— even if they aren’t (yet) exhibiting it to others. This is not only in keeping with my “lead by example” mantra but also, I think, is a more effective form of advocacy than judgment or exclusion: insulting nonvegans, refusing to spend time with them, and so forth. If we hope to change minds, we must engage habitually— and respectfully— with the minds we seek to change, and withhold our judgments as best we can. It helps to also remind ourselves that we weren’t “born vegan”— we, too, engaged in nonhuman exploitation for years before we went vegan, so we should address others the way we would want our former selves to have been addressed.

That said, I think just studying up on some of the main points nonvegans bring up time and time again and being prepared to refute them is valuable. First and foremost, veganism is a social justice issue, by which I mean that the most important part of the dialogue is to uphold the victim’s perspective. This trumps all other arguments, as whether or not we “need” meat or “need” to test on nonhumans does not alter the fact that exploiting and murdering them is fundamentally unjust. However, there are certain staple arguments nonvegans love to use, such as the “Circle of Life” argument (Lions eat other animals; therefore, so can I!), the “health” argument (Protein, though!), and the “science” argument (We need to test on nonhumans to cure diseases and develop treatments that can save hundreds, THOUSANDS of humans from horrible deaths!). Having logical responses to these at the ready, such as “You are not a lion; humans are actually herbivorous in design,” “There’s plenty of protein in certain plants, and some of the Earth’s most powerful creatures are vegan,” and “We now have myriad alternatives to nonhuman animal testing that are not only just, but yield more accurate results” is useful for reaching those folks who unfortunately just don’t care about justice for nonhumans— those who believe firmly in the Myth of Human Supremacy and are motivated solely by the interests of our species.

We should also be honest when we don’t have an answer to something, and encourage others to research independently, including by recommending good sources when we have them. I think a lot of folks are turned off when vegans treat veganism as a silver bullet, saying things like “Everyone going vegan would end world hunger.” This isn’t necessarily true, because the issue with world hunger is not that there isn’t enough food to go around— it’s about how that food is being distributed. So these nuances need to be clarified in order to maintain our credibility, to avoid folks thinking, “Oh, you’ll just say anything to get folks to go vegan; you don’t even know the facts.”

Finally, we absolutely must be culturally sensitive and intersectional in our activism. We must distinguish, for example, between a motion that brings justice to nonhuman animals— such as the ban on using nonhumans in circuses which exists in many countries around the world— and legislation that discriminates against a marginalized community under the guise of nonhuman liberation, such as banning charreadas (Mexican rodeos) in Arizona while allowing American rodeos to continue. We must avoid using catch-all phrases like “Going vegan is EASY!”, which erase the lived experiences of people living in deserts, tundra, mental institutions, prisons and a host of other places where it is decidedly not easy.

Single-issue campaigns (Page 108) are arguably quite controversial when we don’t succeed in drawing attention to the bigger picture of animal exploitation (and a subsequent resolution).  Is it perhaps better to draw attention to these issues through protest rather than seeking ‘bans’ or changes in the law, and so the focus could be on seeking a broader shift in thinking.  Where we don’t manage to do this are we not complicit in a class-based speciesism(For example, the elephants at Ringling bros. on page 109) I am interested to know whether this might maintain a species hierarchy?  And if it does, how much of an issue might this be?  (The SeaWorld orca campaign would be another example of this).

I’m hesitant to say that one of these approaches is “better” than the other. Instead, I would argue that both are necessary, and that neither would succeed without the existence of the other. Legislation that protects nonhumans wouldn’t pass unless there was a demonstrated public interest in their passage, which is what happens when people protest, sign petitions and so forth. Likewise, protests would ultimately yield little change if they failed to attract the attention of those who have the power to put legislation on the table.

Ultimately, the most important aspects of veganism to me— of creating a vegan society, a vegan world— is shifting our perception of nonhuman animals and, as I said before, revolutionizing the sociocultural norms we have adopted.

I do worry that single-issue campaigns reinforce a speciesist hierarchy, as I wrote in this article some years ago as a member of PALS (Phoenix Animal Liberation Squad), but that doesn’t mean that no good can come from them. It doesn’t surprise me that the Nonhuman Rights Project chose as its first species to try to represent in court under habeas corpus, the chimpanzee. Most people already feel compassion for chimpanzees because they are the most “like us.” So that is probably the most likely species to ever get legal representation, but once they get it, I don’t see why NhRP should stop there— and I don’t think they intend to do so. They’re just trying to get their foot in the door, so to speak.

For these reasons, the shift in perspective is necessary to see animal liberation realized. We need to get folks thinking about cows, pigs and chickens the way they already think about chimpanzees and dogs— and then, I’d argue, go even beyond that, as even the most avid dog-lovers often assume that humans are more important or “special” than dogs. I don’t personally participate in single-issue campaigns, but for those who do, I think what’s most important is that they consistently frame their campaign within the larger scope of animal liberation. If they only ever speak of one species, then I take issue with that. The only reason I mentioned the circus campaign in my book was because of what Mayor Quan said that night at the city council meeting— that she looks forward to the day when all nonhumans will be liberated from the circus industry. Without that, it would have just been a meeting about elephants— not about nonhuman liberation.

I really liked the way the formation of The Vegan Society featured in the book (page 174), the history of (contemporary) veganism often seems to be neglected in the mainstream movement.  How important is it that we are informed by the origin and development of The Vegan Society when trying to understand the philosophy and practices of veganism?  

I actually think it is hugely important, as increasingly folks seem to conflate veganism with a plant-based diet. Understanding the history and the original definition reinforces the notion that it is so much more than that: it is a philosophy deeply rooted in nonviolence and justice for all sentient beings.

I was really interested by the Ronald Duchin quote (1).  I’ve heard claims that people critical of collaborative approaches with industry are actually harming the interests of non-human animals, because welfare campaigns are identified by industry as most problematic to them.  In the quote Duchin suggests otherwise; why do you think some vegans continue to believe the animal industrial complex has an interest in speaking the truth, beyond that which serves their own interest?  Is it not the power behind their message in terms of finance and media that maintains their grip on public consciousness; that it is ok to exploit non-human animals?  Why would the animal advocacy movement want to get on board with that message?

I ask myself these questions every day. It’s really disappointing. Our movement could be so much stronger if our messaging were more cohesive, but when you have efforts like humanewashing (perpetuating the Humane Myth: That there is a “right” way to kill or exploit someone), pescatarianism, vegetarianism, and reducetarianism all conspiring against veganism, the nonhuman animals lose. Veganism is the only nonhuman advocacy option that promises to protect nonhumans to the utmost. Veganic farming in particular helps to protect the nonhumans often harmed by the production of vegan foods (for instance, “vegan” crops grown using fertilizer that results from the waste of “farmed”/enslaved nonhumans). Unfortunately, I always come back to the conclusion that people support these efforts because deep down, they just don’t want to change their lives that much, and these efforts enable people to alleviate some of the guilt they carry upon understanding the harm they are causing, without having to give up very much. It’s easier— for them. This is why the victim’s perspective is so essential; it is the only argument that successfully and immediately evaporates all of these smoke screens.

We should not be collaborating with animal abusers, whether their victims are homo sapiens or bovine or porcine or aquatic or avian. These industries don’t need to be reformed— they need to be eradicated.

 


Two further articles from Saryta Rodriguez:

Comparing Social Justice Movements

Exploding the myth of the Moral Underclass


 

(1)  ‘In 1991, Ronald Duchin, an Army War College graduate and former special assistant to the Secretary of Defense, gave a speech to the Cattlemen’s Association in which he outlined three critical steps in eliminating the threat animal liberationists pose to their business:

1. Isolate the radicals.

2. Cultivate the idealists and educate them into becoming realists.

3. Co-opt the opportunists into agreeing with the industry.’

 

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