There’s a tendency amongst advocates in the mainstream “animal movement” to believe that single-issue campaigns are like lines of dominos. The theory goes that if you eliminate (or knock down) one form of exploitation the others will have to fall with it. This is a deadly delusion. The reality is that single-issue campaigns are nothing but harbingers of continued exploitation and portents of perpetual speciesism. Animal use is pervasive and as accepted as the fact that human beings require air. Within this context, there is no way for a non-vegan to make sense of a single-issue campaign other than to say that the targeted exploitation is somehow worse in a moral sense than all non-targeted forms of exploitation. The implication is that all non-targeted animal uses must be better in a moral sense and that as a normative matter, all non-targeted exploitation is perfectly legitimate. Aside from the promotion of speciesism, single-issue campaigns breed a culture of confusion as to what it is advocates actually want. As discussed in this abolitionist approach article, drawing arbitrary lines between different forms of animal use results in a counterproductive message that gives the public yet another reason to dismiss what is a matter of fundamental morality. People are not stupid and can see that the message promoted by single-issue campaigns is transparently inconsistent – why would somebody oppose hunting when they think that going to the supermarket to purchase animal body parts is perfectly acceptable? They have not been challenged to question the morality of animal use as a whole, and so it makes no sense to expect them to reject one form of animal use while simultaneously engaging in a use no different themselves.
If they do reject one form of animal use while simultaneously engaging in exploitation themselves, that just proves the point that single-issue campaigns promote speciesism and normalise all other forms of exploitation by drawing arbitrary lines between different forms of animal use. Indeed, these sorts of people are required for single-issue campaigns to work. In order for a campaign to gain traction, it needs to solicit support from both vegans and non-vegans. It will attract the attention of people who think that a certain exploitation is morally problematic but who otherwise think that the exploitation that they themselves engage in is just fine. This creates a coalition of both vegans and non-vegans (learn more about coalitions from the source here and here) that targets a single form of exploitation, the implication being that all other exploitation – exploitation that the supporters of the campaign engage in themselves – is perfectly fine. The coalition necessarily promotes animal exploitation by assuming the legitimacy of all other animal uses.
The irony is that the domino effect that is touted by “animal advocates” as being one of the successes of single-issue campaigns actually works in the opposite way. There is indeed a domino effect, but the pieces aren’t falling where the mainstream “animal movement” would have you believe.
Using a recent example involving the campaign surrounding £5 notes, it is easy to see where the dominos fall and the moral confusion they leave in their wake. Journalist Andrew Pierce appeared on Sky News a few days ago alongside Kevin Maguire for their regular “Week In Review” spot. The linked video is 25 minutes long, but between 20:20 – 21:30 there is a discussion surrounding the use of animal products in currency. There are a number of new £5 notes that are apparently worth £50,000 if they bear an etching from Jane Austen. Pierce interjects wondering “what those ludicrous vegans would do if they get that fiver, would they cash in the £50,000 or would they say oh I can’t touch it because its got animal fat in it.” The presenter responds saying that she thinks “they might conveniently forget their principles with £50,000 in the mix.” Pierce once again interjects saying that he “still can’t understand why vegans are upset about this – they’re not meant to be eaten.” Interestingly at this stage, Maguire (a non-vegan) pipes up saying that he doesn’t think that animal products should be used in currency (Maguire in this case is representative of the non-vegan portion of the coalition). Pierce quips that Maguire (and by implication, the vegans) should just “get over it.”
It is clear to see the nature of coalitions here and how single-issue campaigns distort the vegan message to the point that it is no longer seen as a serious position concerning fundamental morality. The single-issue campaign bears no message of coherency or value and instead presents a non-vegan audience with something akin to street theatre. There is nothing there for the public to take seriously, because people have no way to conceptualise the campaign other than from the default societal position that animal exploitation is a legitimate practice. From that position, they have neither a reason to take this issue seriously, nor the impetus to change their own behaviour. The domino has fallen backwards. If anything, they have another reason to dismiss veganism and are perhaps less likely to take someone seriously in the future who wishes to educate them about abolition. The whole thing has contributed to their perception of vegans as irrational, crazy people, and by extension, veganism as a position itself. Those non-vegans who aren’t affected in this way are most likely those who helped form the coalition in the first place and who have simply had reaffirmed to them that the exploitation they engage in themselves is somehow morally defensible. In the case of the £5 note campaign debacle, please see my two articles here and here.
As we’ve seen in the Pierce and Maguire example, the single-issue domino effect does either one of two things; it either allows people to dismiss veganism by generalising the absurdity of the campaign to be somehow representative of veganism itself (Pierce and the presenter), or it allows non-vegans to believe they have something meaningful to say about animal use while still engaging in exploitation morally indistinguishable from the targeted use themselves (Maguire).
But the story doesn’t quite end there. Not only does it give people a reason to dismiss a matter of fundamental morality, it fuels our culture of moral schizophrenia and grants a faux-legitimacy to that culture through generalising all vegans as “ludicrous.” While all vegans are considered “ludicrous,” our love affair with the animals we fetishise is somehow considered sane. And this phenomenon occurs all while we unnecessarily slaughter billions of other animals no different to those we cherish. Pierce, almost in the same breath, goes from talking about the ludicrous vegans to how much he loves Giraffes. He talks about how adorable they are and how terrible it is that they are on the brink of extinction due to poaching and habitat loss; but also how great it is that, thanks to a recently published report, we can expect increased efforts in conservation to “save them.” There is a palpable disconnect here between two morally indistinguishable practices – the exploitation of Giraffes and the exploitation every non-vegan is responsible for. Single-issue campaigns help to breed and culture our society of moral schizophrenia through the subsequent denigration and misinterpretation of the vegan message, and the false sense of righteousness these campaigns instil in non-vegans to continue fetishising certain animals over others, as the vegans – as interpreted by the public – are clearly mad.
The only way forward is to do what should have been done way back in the early 80’s; abandon single-issue campaigns and welfare reform, both of which necessarily promote animal exploitation (the latter with additional problems) and instead sink our time and resources into peaceful abolitionist education. Within the context of a speciesist society, the single-issue domino effect has no other way to fall but backwards.