In response to my previous post, where I pointed out that “happy” slavery is still slavery, one person responded by saying that my argument was kind of like throwing a slice of cake on the ground, because you can’t have the whole cake. This person missed the point of my post, which was that animal welfare isn’t even a meager slice of the cake - it’s more like throwing all of your flour and soy butter into the toilet and then shitting all over it; it’s a guarantee that nothing even remotely resembling a cake will ever come to fruition. But the gist of the argument – that abolitionism is “all of nothing” – is brought up often enough that I thought I’d address it.
There are two issues here. The first one being: what do we actually owe other animals? As I’ve argued before, veganism is the only thing that makes sense if you agree (and I’ve never met anyone who disagreed) that it’s wrong to frivolously kill or harm nonhumans. That is, since we don’t need to eat, wear, or use other animals to live healthy lives, we should stop doing it. None of the reasons why people actually use animal products – convenience, habit, tradition – have anything to do with necessity.
The 9 (ok, 200) or so people who follow this blog regularly are probably getting tired of this point by now; I drive home the veganism as a minimum!!1! point in pretty much of all of my posts. But I do it for a reason: because it’s a simple point that needs to be said, even though it rarely is. Virtually all of the animal groups – PeTA, Mercy for Animals, Compassion over Killing, etc – talk about veganism as just one of the many things that people can do for nonhumans. So if you go vegan, cool; if you eat cage-free eggs twice a week, also cool.
For instance, check out this breath-taking quote from Matt Ball of “Vegan” Outreach:
This may sound odd coming from a cofounder of Vegan Outreach, but it doesn’t matter what label anyone places on me, or what label anyone places on themselves. For example, if Peter Singer (author of Animal Liberation) were to eat a dish that contains dairy when at a colleague’s house… should our limited time and resources go to judging / labeling [him]?
I dunno, man. If a white anti-racism activist was caught harassing people of colour and yelling racist epithets at them, should the limited time and resources of anti-racist activists go towards calling him out on his hypocrisy? Or should we just let it slide because racial equality can mean whatever people want it to mean?
If you can see the need for consistency in other contexts (say, racial equality), then it’s speciesist not to apply the same consistency for nonhumans. If animal use is in fact unnecessary and cruel by definition, then veganism can’t be one of many options available to people, on par with flexitarianism and other things; it needs to be the baseline for the animal rights movement. Talking about how you believe in animal rights while using animal products now and again is kind of like saying you believe in racial equality, only to make racist jokes a few times a week. It doesn’t work.
And that brings me to my next point: if veganism (abolition of all animal use) is where we want to get to, and we’re in a situation where animal use is as common as dirt, then we need to be absolutely, crystal clear about what our goal is. Anything else is a waste of time.
There are some vegans who say that we shouldn’t openly and unapologetically talk about veganism, because it’s “too radical” and will scare people off. Umm… what the elitism? You understood it just fine, didn’t you? So what makes you think other people won’t?
The problem with promoting vegetarianism, flexitarianism, “happy” meat and other (supposed) “stepping stones” towards veganism is that these things don’t work. Instead, it makes animal rights activists look like we’re constantly moving the goal posts, muddying the waters, lying to the public about what we want and what we believe in. It certainly doesn’t move people towards the position that veganism is a moral necessity.
For the record, there is no other social justice movement in the world that knowingly hides its own goals the way the animal rights movement does. There are social justice movements in which people promote different things because they believe in different things – liberal feminists often talk about abortion as a personal choice, while radical feminists are more inclined to talk about “reproductive justice” and to demand socialized (free) abortion on demand. But that’s because they disagree about what the problem is and what needs to be done about it. When feminists, or any other social justice group, agree that a particular thing is always wrong (e.g. rape), they will never promote a “humane” version of it. They will always make it clear that rape (or whatever it is that they’re campaigning against) is wrong and that it should never be tolerated.
The animal protection movement has now been peddling confusing, self-defeating nonsense for 30 years, and we have nothing to show for it. Animal use is rapidly increasing in both absolute and per-capita (per-person) terms. Whatever the potential downfalls of promoting veganism loudly and proudly (something that we’ve never done with any real consistency), we know for a fact that animal welfare doesn’t work. It wouldn’t hurt to give veganism a chance.
And, by the way, if someone can’t or won’t go vegan overnight, we can encourage them to take “baby steps” in the form of gradually increasing their consumption of vegan foods until they hit 100%. They could start with vegan breakfasts, then going vegan for lunch, then vegan for dinner, and then snacks. Or they could start by going vegan one day a week, then two days, three days, and so on. But our message, as animal advocates, should always clear.
It’s speciesist, and elitist towards other humans, to do otherwise.