We’ve all experienced it – the jaw-dropping moment when a fellow vegan sells out the interests of animals for the sake of their image or societal conformity. Sometimes it takes the form of expressing veganism as a “personal choice” – no different to when one expresses an artistic bias towards a painting or piece of music – and sometimes it’s more blatant. For example, international surfing champion, Tia Blanco, recently said the following: “I never tell people how to eat. Respect what’s on my plate, I’ll respect what’s on yours.”
Saying that you can “respect” what’s on a non-vegans plate is saying that you respect and accept the unjust exploitation of animals. It explicitly promotes speciesism and the idea that our most trivial desires morally outweigh the fundamental interests of animals in their lives. In other words, you may be vegan yourself, but you are still choosing to value the lives of other sentient beings at zero. You are arbitrarily assuming yourself and your preferences to be of greater moral worth than the animals and their preferences.
But how is this possible? Surely all vegans recognise the moral value of animals just by consciously ceasing to engage in their exploitation, right? Wrong. Some vegans harbour the same speciesism that they had as non-vegans, they merely exhibit it in different ways.
Many people by the time they go vegan have already confronted their speciesism. Even in the absence of any weighty moral theory, they still recognise their veganism as representing an issue of fundamental morality and not mere personal choice. They still need to learn about how not to inadvertently promote speciesism, and indeed, must educate themselves about what it is we actually owe animals and why, but as a starting point, they already recognise animals as moral equals and consider them beings deserving of respect. This is how it was for me when I first became vegan and many others are the same. It’s testament to the power of abolitionist education and the importance of discussing veganism as a moral matter with people right from the beginning. In the absence of that, we merely legitimise any existing speciesism that the individual may be holding on to by neglecting to call it out.
This form of non-advocacy is prevalent amongst the large animal groups that dominate the public stage. People are told that veganism is merely one of the options for leading an “ethical” life and subsequently, their underlying speciesism is never challenged. They may become vegan for a variety of different reasons – none of which, however, represent the individual having a firm grasp on morality or our moral obligations to other sentient beings. In the absence of moral theory, veganism becomes nothing more than an exercise in self-gratification, where our society’s default welfarism seeps in to fill the gaps and inform our positions. For speciesist vegans, animals are still seen as things, and animal exploitation is promoted through their acceptance and “respect” for the actions of those who engage in rights violations. They not only fail to see veganism as a recognition of animal moral value, they legitimise the popular belief that the personal choices of humans outweigh the moral rights of others.
Don’t be a speciesist vegan. Don’t perpetuate the growing trend of speciesist vegans. Make sure to educate yourself on abolition and apply each of its principles to your own advocacy. When we don’t, we merely contribute to a growing trend of self-congratulating pseudo-vegans who are hell bent on taking the emphasis off the animals and making non-vegans feel comfortable about continuing to exploit them.