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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