Effective Altruism for Animals: Utilitarian equivocation and moral consistency

I recently came across a comment from William MacAskill that helped me to think a bit more about Effective Altruism (EA) and utilitarianism.  Previously I hadn’t really thought it possible to move beyond the association between them, especially with Peter Singer and William MacAskill as central figures.  However, it does seem to be the case that Effective Altruism is something other than utilitarianism.

In relation to Effective Altruism for Animals (EAA) the door seems to be held open for ideas that tend to be rooted in different perspectives, whilst also appearing to regard the incorporation of different approaches (diversity) as beneficial to the movement.  Of course, this is not going to be an easy thing to accomplish, and arguably has not managed to do so up to now, or indeed will do so in the near future. However, progress with this issue could potentially be a very useful thing, as it seems helpful to foster an environment where ideas can be discussed equally, despite our own preferences (perhaps biases) toward different perspectives.

This isn’t a straightforward proposition, and it might require a fair understanding of different ideas alongside the resources to do that work.  Further to this, we also need to ensure people are included who are already engaged in their own struggles, which can be inextricably tied into those of other animals.  So we could also ask why it is people might prioritise something like Effective Altruism, if the organisation itself doesn’t appear inherently relatable?

With this important issue outstanding, we might also move to consider that as Effective Altruism isn’t ‘Effective Justice’ and isn’t Effective Utilitarianism (though some perhaps disagree), then what would it be in an animal movement context? I believe it could be an approach which acts as a system to improve overall movement effectiveness independent of which framework people are using.  However, this does require that people holding different perspectives do get involved / are willing to take part / are given a platform, whilst there is also a general spirit of collaboration in this process beyond the fact we may not believe other Effective Altruists (who hold different philosophical perspectives) are supportive of our own approach.  For instance, I am not personally in agreement with a degree of Peter Singer’s work, yet that doesn’t necessarily present a barrier to becoming involved with Effective Altruism to a certain extent, because it doesn’t mean to say there isn’t something to learn from the movement, and to give to the movement in terms of contributing time, ideas and perhaps some resources generally.

However, in order to be involved in such a way which isn’t relentlessly critical, there does need to be some agreement about what may or may not constitute a reasonable outcome within Effective Altruism.  This would mean that criticism isn’t necessarily focussed on rejecting an idea outright, but on adjusting ideas to become more useful / effective as viewed from both inside and outside of the movement.  This means the guiding principles of EA are adhered to, whilst people can identify where various comparisons and evaluations are being made that are integral to Effective Altruism.  I think one consequence could be that certain outcomes do not reflect the best thing from any particular perspective, yet it could ameliorate various ‘bad things’ by applying values consistently, and this may lead to an improved representation of different positions with better outcomes moving forward.

Some practical implications.

As most groups that are recommended by Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) appear to support a mainstream ‘pragmatic’ perspective (partly due to criteria, willingness to conform, support from movement leaders and associated privilege) then it is going to be incumbent upon those groups as recipients of EA money to take reasonable steps to consider rights based issues in their work.  This isn’t to say they have to do rights based work, instead I would say it is practically impossible to bring the two together, though there is a large degree of overlap the perspectives are often quite differently aligned. This will mean however, that we also need to compensate for this issue if we are not going to generate negative outcomes in the broader movement (particularly through declining diversity / crowding out).

When we locate different perspectives we also know there is often contention, yet much of this could be viewed as beneficial or useful in terms of improving approaches, so it should not necessarily lead to stagnation or division.  For example, out of the top groups recommended by ACE it could be possible the Good Food Institute (GFI) would be widely supported.  Yet whilst the organisation has an interesting agenda, there are issues with the approach that could be addressed, such as how a philosophy of animal liberation appears to be neglected. In this sense, I think it is almost preferable were someone more ‘neutral’ and even non-vegan to lead the group, as it seems there may be limited value in expending resources relating to the animal movement when this is not the audience.  Two further issues spring to mind, such as bringing a conflict of reducetarian interest into the vegan movement, and diminishing movement effectiveness through support for the Animal Industrial Complex.  These are both neglected issues that require evaluation,  yet this doesn’t mean to say GFI is going to be particularly controversial overall, particularly if its position were clarified in relation to the advocacy movement.

A brief consideration of two ‘mainstream’ advocacy approaches.


Reducetarianism is an interesting proposition in relation to Effective Altruism. It represents an idea developed by Brian Kateman who has a track record at the Centre for Effective Altruism and the Good Food Institute.  In this regard, an interesting question to consider is the degree to which Effective Altruists are likely to support it?  I would say utilitarians could do so quite easily, at least as part of a broader project.  Though rights activists are likely to be more sceptical in relation to the inherent association with carnism.  However, i do not believe that agreement over this approach would be necessary, instead a general sense of indifference where apparent negative consequences were minimised could be sufficient to make it reasonably acceptable.

I would suggest this ‘acceptance’ could be located in the tendency of rights activists to prioritise work around one of the greatest obstructions to animal liberation (animal eating), and arguably reducetarianism as it presently stands creates an issue here.  This becomes a particular concern where the carnistic defences are brought into the equation, so I would argue these defences ought to be minimised overall rather than utilised ‘strategically’.  For instance, we would need to accept that rights activists are likely to support a Vegan Society definition* of veganism in order to build a movement around that idea (with consistency as far as possible), and for this to happen people are going to address the carnistic justifications within reducetarianism (I don’t eat much meat / it’s not all or nothing / animals are food).  Indeed, the same can be applied to vegetarianism or flexitarianism, despite these identities regularly being viewed as steps in the ‘right’ direction.  In this way I believe other activists correctly view this as a potential sticking point, and where we find the intent to do as much as we can for other animals, I believe this ought to be supported and encouraged so people can also be moved to join a social movement for change that is based on rights ideas.

To further address the reducetarian issues, we could also question the positioning of veganism as ‘extreme’ or ‘purist’, whilst saying it isn’t ‘all or nothing’ appears to be unhelpful overall. This particular idea seems to be used as leverage to draw attention from a speciesist society, whilst consequently shutting down consideration for the vegan perspective.  A further point is that it seems to be a less than good idea to say that vegans are reducetarians, because although vegans have reduced their animal consumption, it is plausible to consider they wouldn’t necessarily associate with reducetarianism (carnism), so rather than ending ‘conflict’ it may exacerbate some issues.  I think it is fair to say that some of the consequences of reducetarianism are yet to receive much attention, although there are examples of areas that have been considered.

Following on from these points, I don’t believe it is a reasonable expectation that people wouldn’t consistently argue points in favour of veganism outside of Effective Altruism. However, there do seem to be attempts to convince people otherwise, for instance through the ‘Centre for Effective Vegan Advocacy’ (CEVA).  In opposition to this, I would suggest that rights activists tend to have less interest in appealing to the systems of power most utilitarians appreciate, indeed it could be argued that rights activists tend to favour building from the ground up, rather than from the top down, and this would take on a different appearance within the movement.

In terms of the organisations generally taking a more casual approach to ‘vegan’ advocacy, then it likely depends on the claim that is being made on veganism and how that affects people who are trying to relate to one another in the broader movement, and in relation to advocacy itself.  In this instance therefore, it isn’t enough to claim that vegans are not the audience, and that relating to definitions wouldn’t be necessary, or that doing so would even be harmful.  This is because social movement regulation, sometimes referred to as ‘policing’ is also important.  In fact, very important in terms of identity, belonging, authenticity and movement building, whilst this isn’t to say there aren’t issues that need to be regularly addressed.  Yet veganism remains a social movement in itself, whilst existing as part of the broader animal movement, and this needs to be acknowledged and accounted for in the work of Effective Altruists.

I tend to believe that when animal groups associated with Effective Altruism choose to start talking about veganism it probably ought to be in relation to making a case for that, or at least realistically presenting what it is, which would conversely undermine the reasons for reducetarianism.  As far as the larger groups are concerned the manner of communicating and advocating veganism probably hasn’t reached a reasonable standard because of the impact of ‘pragmatism’, and it could be more effective to largely allocate this work to the grassroots movement.

I think EAs could recognise and support that work and likely already do to an extent (although i am sceptical of the way in which the term ‘grassroots’ is often used).  We can also note that groups who are principally engaged in other than vegan advocacy (principally as compassionate carnism), are the beneficiaries of a rather large proportion of EA resources through ACE and the Open Philanthropy Project.  Following from this I believe we could make a reasonable case for prioritising the dispersal of some funds to benefit a larger number of smaller groups, this in turn could include supporting groups that have good processes in place, or where training could be provided to enhance processes, and one benefit here would be to increase competition for funding within EA.

I think finally, it is also worth noting there appears to be a significant difference between non-vegans and vegans advocating reducetarianism, which often seems to take place under the guise of ‘pragmatism’.  Whilst we can also make a similar claim for veganism that is often made for reducetarianism, where vegans engaging with someone to incorporate vegan alternatives could reasonably lead to a 10% reduction in exploitation.  So I believe there needs to be a substantial evidence base before we argue in favour of vegans replicating carnistic reducetarian claims, certainly more than the one which presently exists.  In this regard, I believe some caution is warranted from Effective Altruists, particularly as this approach would likely benefit from further evaluation, even as it has been widely supported by mainstream groups.


In terms of welfare it has sometimes been argued that rights activists could take part in this work in relation to the industry, if it were clear that people were also asking for veganism and opposing speciesism.  However, given the backdrop of the animal movement in this area it does not seem particularly worthwhile to try and carve out a niche.  In relation to this, people sometimes speak of ‘authentic’ welfare rather than ‘welfare that deceives’ (Lee Hall, 2016) to differentiate between the issue of caring in a system of exploitation and supporting that exploitation.  I think that even were people to argue in favour of a standard welfarism with the aim of harm reduction (without reducing the number of exploited animals), this could gradually receive less emphasis in Effective Altruism and the broader giving movement.  This is particularly the case when we also consider potential gains to human health and the environment through reduction.

Advocating to change the way we view animals, whilst simultaneously improving the way people can access the vegan lifestyle, could become a higher priority as it appears to offer greater simplicity and clarity.  In accordance to EA this might be favourable, as those areas that may be agreed upon could also carry greater weight when it is apparent they would more readily reflect movement cohesion.  It is also worth noting that welfarism disrupts the market for plant based products, particularly by making over reaching claims on animal wellbeing in systems of exploitation, whilst the impact of negotiating a settlement over acceptable harms are problematic.  I also believe that when we say less harm is better than more harm, there exist issues if we endorse specific areas of harm.

Concluding thoughts.

Effective Altruism it seems is not a space to argue over whether one philosophical approach is better than another, but a place to increase accountability to ensure that we are in fact thinking about best practice and how it is we value the principles of Effective Altruism.  We could get bogged down in a form of intransigence as one group prefers one action over another, yet if Effective Altruism reasonably meets a certain set of standards then that should be more important. Whilst there may also be some ‘flexibility’ given the utilitarian weighting, though it ought not be so flexible the values of Effective Altruism become increasingly difficult to discern.

As it stands a central issue with EAA has been the utilitarian influence.  This has a number of consequences, one of which relates to the diversity of ideas and approaches in EAA, and a subsequent question of their authentic representation when they do appear.  I believe that moving forward there can be some uncertainty as to whether utilitarians will effectively equivocate in relation to EAA (with particular regard to institutions), and in such a way that would allow for different approaches and organisations to flourish.



Further links.

Beyond the Echo Chamber.

Considering Considerateness: Why communities of do-gooders should be exceptionally considerate.

Diminishing returns.

Effective Altruism as Utilitarian Equivocation.

Frameworks for selecting interventions.

Social attitudes towards vegetarians.  (“Do Gooder Derogation”)

The Guiding Principles of Effective Altruism.

What is Effective Altruism?


* The definition of veganism from the Vegan Society: “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 Unilateralist’s Curse and Effective Altruism for Animals

This is a short article that seeks to examine how it could be possible to apply some of the ideas associated with the Unilateralist’s Curse to EAA and veganism. I was initially drawn to this idea by the way that veganism is sometimes considered ‘puritanical’ or ‘extreme’, and how the intentional marginalisation of veganism has by and large characterised the approach of various animal groups that are primarily considered to be the most ‘effective’ within EAA. I would firstly say that it is true veganism does go beyond the initial welfare intentions that are considered important by EA, but nevertheless veganism does include consideration for animal welfare, albeit the conclusion is not to use animals (largely because welfare myths underpin animal exploitation / the approach hinders advocacy through replicating various carnistic defences).

My point would be that it appears at least reasonable to question whether there is something of a Unilateralist’s Curse in relation to the ‘mainstream’ animal movement, in the sense that rather than the appearance of a minority holding a balance of power, the majority or ‘mainstream’ is perceived to do so. This appears to be the case because a small group of thought leaders in the movement appear to have acquired the most power (influence) / financial resources and have dominated movement discourse. This could give the impression of a mainstream consensus through an association with the large animal organisations, when instead this movement context could be identified as informed by a fairly narrow, uniform ideological approach that has been established and promoted by a very small group of people (this would be the curse).

‘Reducetarianism’ could be a good example that represents a manifestation of this ‘curse’, because it doesn’t appear to have been evaluated in relation to various EA expectations (cost-benefit analysis / counterfactuals / opportunity cost / cost-effectiveness analysis), and neither have various stakeholders been consulted, either because they aren’t recognised, or because they have been historically undervalued within EAA (reflecting a certain inevitability of the curse, or a lack of intentionality relating to EA standards / values). For example, we may see a discussion around ‘diversity’, yet this tends to refer to the scope of a single ‘pragmatic’ ideology, rather than diversity within the broader animal movement. We can also observe the casual application of ‘diversity’ within AR2017 which could lead us to believe these issues do not tend to merit serious consideration. We can also look to how the movement is often split into simplistic dichotomies such as ‘abolitionists’ and ‘pragmatists’, where abolitionists exist peripherally in the movement, and other stake holders are either hidden or incorporated, with ideas appropriated and distorted to fit into an ‘inclusive’ pragmatic paradigm.

At the very least, there appears to be a significant flaw in the way animal organisations currently operate in relation to EAA that appear ideological, and could precipitate EAA falling short of the standards we might expect from Effective Altruism. Of course, we could argue there are ‘strategic’ gains to be made, but I would counter that a significant evidence base would be required in order to warrant the appearance of falling short of EA standards / values, or to potentially risk the reputation of EA.



Framework for selecting interventions

‘Pragmatic Pork’

Social movements

Unilateralist’s Curse



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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.




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 there has been increasing popularity within the mainstream animal ‘rights’ movement to try and bridge gaps between different ideas in the animal movement.  This has frequently led to privileging certain approaches that are not rights based, as they tend to be more accessible to people currently consuming animals, and the mainstream groups correctly point out that people consuming 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 approach that has recently gained traction relates to ‘carnism‘, and this has been 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 provides 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’, then it follows that 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 be a dietary or personal purity response 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 with the claim ‘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 neocarnist 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 carnism 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  relation 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.** This has also been presented as ‘orthodox’ or ‘dogmatic’ by the mainstream animal movement, when in fact it is ‘just’ veganism.

It also 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.



*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.

** “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.”    https://www.vegansociety.com/go-vegan/definition-veganism



Beyond Carnism

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

The Vegan Publishers blog

Information about 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.



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


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.


From animals to anarchism

In relation to veganism

Protest Inc.‘ by Peter Dauvergne and Genevieve LeBaron

Vegan or veganish?

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