The dairy farmer vs. the vegan vs. you
Someone made an interesting statement to me recently with regard to people having different principles. They said “a vegan would have completely different principles to a dairy farmer” or indeed to themselves, as someone “who likes a decent steak”.
I disagree. I think we all have very much the same principles. But first I would like to say that I’m a moral realist. I do believe there are universal truths, inherent moral principles which we generally consider as fact. For example, murder is wrong. I think one problem is that we just don’t realise or understand that almost all of us do believe in these moral truths—foundations of equality, fairness and justice.
Why does the racist think it’s okay to discriminate? Why does the sexist think oppression or objectification of women is acceptable? Because, in my view, we have generally been indoctrinated through culture and tradition into this way of thinking. We have been taught this behaviour by those who have influenced us from a young age and, for whatever twisted reasoning, we believe that it is okay to continue this unfair behaviour towards these “others”, based on the idea that they are less than us. They have less value and therefore we do not have to give them the same consideration we would expect for ourselves.
The suggestion to me was that a vegan’s principles are at odds with those of a dairy farmer or a person who “’likes a decent steak”. I suggest that all three would actually generally hold the same baseline moral principle when it comes to animals—almost everyone believes that it is wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering and death on animals. Almost no one wants to harm animals.
The dairy farmer is making a living from what is broadly considered to be a socially acceptable process (as well as consuming animal products themselves). They rely on what they do as a means to provide for themselves and their family. This, however, doesn’t make their actions right or fair or just, even though they view themselves as taking “good” or “acceptable” care of these living commodities. These commodified sentient beings are all inevitably killed, as there is an economic equation that dictates when and how these living, feeling commodities are killed. Perhaps the dairy farmer even kills their own animals but I suggest they would not enjoy doing this unless they had psychological issues. At any rate, all dairy farm animals are killed since this is essential to ensure that dairy products are affordable for the consumer (you?). The dairy farmer mistakenly believes that they are not harming these animals, or that if they are, it is necessary to do so. However, it’s highly unlikely that they would contemplate using their family dog in the same way!
Someone else may be hesitant to personally kill the cow for their “steak” (cow flesh/muscle), and perhaps may even be adamant they could not. Or for example in the case of perhaps having shared a home since a young age with the cow, this person may rightly think enjoying the “steak” would be like enjoying the cooked flesh of the beloved family dog or cat, whom they know intimately as individuals—as nonhuman persons—whom they would find it morally reprehensible to harm. This person would most probably like to believe that there was a “steak” they could enjoy that didn’t involve harm—a complete fantasy. But most people will gladly and without any true consideration of the necessary consequences of their demand for the “steak”, or any animal product, pay someone else to do the commodification, exploitation and killing for them.
However, the vegan has learned that it is not necessary to use animals for food (or for clothing, entertainment or many other uses). The vegan can also see the situation from the victim’s point of view, without bias. The vegan has taken meaningful action to assert their belief—that it is simply wrong to inflict suffering and death on someone for unnecessary reasons—by stopping their own direct demand for the exploitation and killing of animals.
An abolitionist vegan such as myself would state that there is no moral justification to use other animals as resources at all and that no sentient being (a being who is subjectively aware and who has interests) should be the property of someone else. Since, in the human context, using persons as things and owning them as property is recognised as a breach of an inherent basic right (based on a universal moral truth), we almost universally and internationally believe that human slavery is wrong. Abolitionist vegans believe that, similarly, domesticating and using nonhuman animals is unfair to them; that there are no morally relevant criteria to justify discriminating between human or nonhuman animal species when it comes to using someone as a resource. Abolitionists also maintain that the law can’t meaningfully help animals. This is because under the law nonhuman animals are property, having only economic value, and “normal” societal behaviour is to use them as such, on an almost incomprehensible scale.
Often it takes “radical” minorities to educate and facilitate change based on moral principles and to bring about social realisations regarding fairness among the majority. The acceptance of gay rights—such as gay marriage—worldwide is but one example of slow change due to moral considerations, whereby people are coming to understand what is fair, regardless of the discriminatory beliefs they may have held or may now be reconsidering.
Ultimately, I think it is simply about what is good vs. bad; what is right vs. wrong. How do we know what is right? There is a moral truth. We may not all see it; we may not all yet agree or understand, but it’s there. The fundamental basic principle of goodness and fairness always exists and most people can intuit it, or use critical thinking to at least recognise it. In my view history has proven that ideas and beliefs about what is fair and just eventually bring about moral evolution in society. Unfortunately for many human victims the change is far too slow and the supposed superiority of one group over another has time and again been the unfair justification for slavery and genocide. For nonhuman victims of slavery and mass killing—those who cannot represent themselves—it requires individual humans to stop participating in their exploitation as resources. We do this by first going vegan—avoiding using animals and animal products wherever possible. I believe only then can we give meaningful consideration to the principle of avoiding harm to animals without bias. We will then see that the vegan and the dairy farmer and other nonvegans all hold the same basic principles when it comes to animals. Moreover, that in the interests of justice and fairness, with objective ‘clear eyes, full hearts’ we must act on our principles; we must stand up and reject exploitation and harm; we must stop contributing to it and paying for it. We must go vegan. Veganism is the moral minimum when it comes to acting consistently on the principle of not causing unnecessary harm to animals.
I believe that we must continue to educate as many people as possible (one by one if necessary) that morality, fairness and justice are essentially meaningless unless we can recognise, and put into action, that these concepts must apply equally to everyone. That includes, especially, those who are the most different from ourselves, the most vulnerable, misunderstood and devalued. Please take action by going vegan.
Edited by Linda McKenzie.
Based on the theory of The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights by Gary L. Francione.