Vegans should never promote degrees of morality
I believe that all animal use is wrong. Although many vegans and animal rights organizations will quickly agree with that statement, it’s not uncommon to see people discussing different degrees of morality when it comes to exploitation. This may materialize as campaign subject matter, and often becomes the misunderstood arguments for promoting the ending of some animal use over others. But when it comes to moral distinctions, there should be no ifs, ands, or buts included in the conversation. When we recognize that intent and purpose are irrelevant, and that our focus needs to shift from the aggressor to the victim, then there is never the need to play these “which is worse” games in our advocacy.
To say that a hunter shooting a wild deer is worse than a farmer sending a cow to a slaughterhouse is to inappropriately label the farmer’s actions more morally excusable than the hunters. We see this all time, with people berating the use of animals in one facet in comparison to the use of animals in another. Realistically, we should never participate in this juxtaposition, because it sells most animals out. Animal rights organizations famously focus on these hot and cold examples of exploitation, and in essence adjust the temperatures of morality to fit their purposes. When PETA puts a spotlight on the way SeaWorld treats and breed orcas, they decide that’s more morally perverse than how they treat seals, and that aquariums should be seen as doing more wrong than other facilities that promote animal entertainment. Similarly, when Mercy for Animals releases undercover videos of farm workers kicking pigs, they are saying that abuse is more reprehensible than workers that carefully place pigs on the conveyor belts that lead to their demise instead. In both scenarios, an animal is used. But by ignoring one heinous act for that of another, we label one as worse. Rather than deciding what makes the act of killing justifiable or grotesque, we should be focusing on ending the killing altogether, regardless of the means.
If we were to imagine other social justice movements making these same choices, they wouldn’t be tolerated for a second. Consider the abolition of slavery. Some slave owners thought people of colour were lower than them. Others focused on the economics of keeping slaves. We would never condemn one slave owner for being racist and compare them to another slave owner who is at least conducting this injustice for reasons outside of racism. That’s no different than hating the hunter for mounting their kill on the wall, and not having the same discomfort with the hunter who hunts to eat their kill instead. There’s no “at least” one did this over the other. The conversation should never be about the intent behind the deed, but the deed itself. If it exploits an animal, it’s not moral because all use of animal is not moral.
One of the reasons we are wired to look at “why” something happened is because we’re conditioned to focus on the aggressor rather than the victim. In all situations, turning our attention to the person suffering prosecution would remind us that things are more absolute than they are commonly depicted. It would also remind us to fight for clear distinctions. For example, our judicial system argues that first degree murder is worse than manslaughter. Despite that, no one would advocate for manslaughter when speaking to a murder. Instead, they’d plead for them not to conduct murder at all. So why then does veganism commonly fall for the trap of requesting steps that change the experience for the aggressor but not the victim? Bigger cages and stricter penalties don’t actually save any animals from being used or abused. When we say cage-free eggs are better, we say treating chickens one way is worse than another, and no chickens are helped because we are still promoting chicken use.
It’s in our nature to compartmentalize our experiences, and pick and choose which things we feel are worse. And it’s not out of the realm of normality to think that there are ways to add insult to injury. Of course there are going to be more unreasonable intentions and actions happening, but all with the same consequences. What I’m suggesting is that advocating on behalf of non-human animals requires us to categorize all exploitation as equal. When we allow ourselves to provide wiggle-room and excuses for things we know to be wrong, we give up the position that they’re wrong altogether. It’s important that we make sure our conversation is about abolition and not about amendments and baby steps. There’s no good reason for using animals, and there’s no right way to exploit them. With that in mind, there is never a need to spend time setting tolerable and intolerable ranges of immorality. The only way to combat injustices towards animals is to promote veganism, and spread vegan education. Believing animals matter morally means not participating is their use in any way, and helping others to do the same.