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How The Mainstream “Animal Movement” Has Destroyed Veganism

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Ever wondered what the effects of the mainstream “animal movement” are on the public perception of veganism? Look no further than this article in grist by author Eve Andrews, who puts forward “the case for imperfect veganism.” The article talks a lot about something that doesn’t represent ethical veganism in the slightest, and that’s precisely because the mainstream movement has done such a good job convincing people that veganism isn’t representative of a fundamental moral position. Instead, it’s merely presented as one of many ways to “reduce suffering,” which is why people don’t think they need to take it seriously. The word “vegan” is bandied about a lot, but it has no substantial meaning to those in the “movement” (and subsequently the public) who use it. It has no context, and remains open to interpretation in just about any way you can think of.

We are part of a culture in which people seem reluctant to take a moral position on anything. Every time our societal conduct is challenged, we ask for more “evidence,” and when there is more “evidence,” we ask for more, and more. It’s a game we play in order to avoid confronting our own actions, we maintain that there’s always something missing that disables us from making a decision or taking a position on anything. What people don’t realise (or realise but don’t want to believe) is that questions involving morality do not need “proving” and do not require “evidence.” Where humans are concerned, we are moral realists, by and large. We do not ask for “proof” or “evidence” concerning the immorality of using humans as replaceable resources, or of engaging in human discrimination. We accept that there are moral absolutes that do not require “evidence,” and that they exist and are inherently true regardless of whether or not somebody else chooses to violate them.

Society also has moral absolutes with respect to animals, but they have been warped and clouded and are not followed through to their rational conclusion. I mentioned before that the word “vegan” is left open to interpretation by the mainstream “animal movement.” This is not a coincidence. There is a multi-billion dollar animal welfare industry that relies on confusion and ambiguity to secure its bottom line. They provide “evidence” of “animal suffering” and promote means of remedying that “suffering” in ways that merely ensure the continuation of animal exploitation. These remedies take the form of donations; campaigns that increase the efficiency or profitability of industry under the guise of animal welfare; a plethora of ways to “reduce suffering” where each option is considered no less morally valid than the other, cage-free eggs, vegetarianism, flexitarianism, veganism, reducitarianism – it’s all considered the same.

The reason for this is simple; a moral absolute that the majority of people recognise with respect to animals is that it’s always wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering and death. The problem is that the mainstream “animal movement” has done a magnificent job promoting the idea that animal products can be produced without suffering, and that the concept of animal use itself does not present a moral problem. Combine that with the fact that these are the people the public are exposed to when questions surrounding animal ethics arise, and it becomes easy to see how the perception of veganism is beyond confused. We see this clearly in the grist article, where Andrews refer’s to Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation as the “vegan bible.” Animal Liberation is a horribly speciesist book. In it, Singer values human life over animal life based on arbitrary cognitive characteristics and maintains that killing an animal “painlessly” does not have to be ruled out in order to live an ethical life. For Singer, “merely sentient” beings are just “receptacles” of pleasure and pain, and so long as we replace those “receptacles” with new vessels for pleasure and pain when we kill them, we have not done anything wrong. This is the guy that people are directed to when they want information on veganism. Again, is it any wonder why people are so confused? The “animal movement” loves Singer, precisely because his work gives the green light for continued exploitation and enables them to continue making money.

Andrews believes the “idea of veganism as a philosophy, as opposed to a practice, is what’s working against it. A practice is something that you will occasionally screw up, but that’s fine, because you’re working on it every day. If you screw up a philosophy — like a religion — you have exhibited some form of moral failing. A slip-up becomes a sin. And if one has to be perfect in veganism, why try it at all? Perfect, after all, is impossible.”

Singer responds to her saying that veganism “starts to approximate to a religious attitude toward what you eat. It’s reminiscent to laws about kosher eating, or something like that — where any little lapse is as big as a much larger lapse, and I think that’s not what this is about. What I see it as about is reducing your impact on climate change, reducing your support for industries based on cruelty to animals.”

Both Andrews and Singer are not talking about veganism here. They are embracing an old ideology that has been around for hundreds of years and are merely using veganism as an outlet for it. Andrews seems to think that she’s on to something new, when the reality she’s merely regurgitating a form of welfarism that allows people to continue exploiting animals provided that they are mindful of “animal suffering.” She says that “perfect, after all, is impossible.” This is exactly what welfarist’s say who reject the moral value of animals as sentient beings with a right not to be commodified, and who maintain that a reduction in suffering is all we’re obligated to provide them. Andrews fails to grasp that while perfection is indeed impossible, the absence of perfection does not mean the absence of moral absolutes. We see this where humans are concerned. The absence of perfection in our endeavours to not cause incidental/accidental harm to other human beings does not mean that we can abandon moral principles and treat humans as replaceable resources. The same stands for animals, but because the mainstream movement and the likes of Singer have done such a good job promoting veganism as anything but a position based on moral principles in recognition of the inherent value of animals, this inconsistent behaviour is left unchecked and indeed is embraced by the “animal movement.”

In the above passages, Andrews talks about veganism as nothing more than a personal “practice” where there is leeway for “slip-ups,” and Singer adds support by unleashing his true utilitarian form in denigrating the fact that a “little lapse” is considered “as big” as a “much larger lapse.” In both cases, the “slip-up” and the “lapse” are not considered moral problems, because the underlying assumption from both of them is that animal use – animal exploitation – is a legitimate practice in the first instance. Singer believes this because he explicitly embraces welfarist ideology, promotes animal exploitation, and views animals as lesser than humans. Andrews believes this because she has not had her core beliefs (where the default position is welfarism) sufficiently challenged to see that accepting the moral value of animals means accepting their right not to be treated as replaceable resources. For different – but related – reasons, neither recognise the “slip-up” or “lapse” as representing a violation of fundamental rights, as would be the case if we were talking about humans. (Singer, as a utilitarian, would assume a rule that acted in a similar way to a right in maintaining that utility would be best maximised by protecting humans from exploitation as replaceable resources). Animals, as sentient beings, possess the same fundamental right as humans not to be treated exclusively as resources or as the property of another, as to do so denies the existence of that beings inherent value and places them in the class of things. For the purpose of treating sentient beings as resources, humans and non-humans are equal, and using either as such represents a violation of fundamental rights.

Andrews goes on to cite a Quartz article (which I responded to a few weeks ago here) as somehow demonstrating that “the best way to achieve vegan goals, it turns out, might not be to push perfect veganism at all.” Apparently there should be “less emphasis on no animal-derived products under any circumstances, and more on fewer, better-raised animal products. The idea is that by getting consumers to demand more responsibly raised meat, as opposed to no meat at all, more animals would be saved in the long run.” This endorsement is coming from someone who also cites “The Vegan Bros” and their video talking about how honey is vegan. Apparently talking about honey not being vegan will scare people away, and we should be more concerned about people “gnawing on a chicken leg.” According to the “bros” we’re not being “awesome” if we talk about honey and if we do, we’re engaging in the equivalent of cramming hens in wire cages by putting people off veganism. What Andrews and the “bros” don’t realise is that this lack of moral principle (and outright speciesism with respect to the bees) is what contributes to the mainstream perception of veganism as a crazy position with no meaning in the first place. They think that talking about non-veganism will bring people to veganism and that talking about actual veganism will put people off veganism. Yes, you read that right. This kind of stupidity is actually real.

This fundamental misunderstanding of veganism as a position in recognition of animal value, and the necessary failure of animal welfare to provide “better-raised animal products” due to animals being chattel property, is a product of a culture that has been taught to embrace utilitarianism and the abandonment of moral principle with respect to animals. The moral concern is there, as is the absolute that we should not inflict unnecessary suffering and death, but it has been warped to the point that people like Andrews actually believe consuming “responsibly-raised meat” is a more ethical response to animal exploitation than veganism.

More than ever, the onus is on us to advocate unequivocally for veganism as a moral imperative in recognition of fundamental animal rights. Articles like what we see on grist are getting ever more frequent and unless we, as abolitionist advocates, rally to educate the public in peaceful and non-violent ways, things will just keep getting worse. 

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