The first koan: “We can promote veganism by promoting everything but veganism.” You'll frequently see this referred to as “promoting an indirect approach,” and it has wide backers in the regulationist crowd. I find this an odd sentiment in a movement that also claims to be in favor of direct action, but considering that most of the 'direct action' they support, at best, achieves almost nothing except an indirect increase in demand for, government protection of and public sympathy with animal exploiters, I suppose it's not all that surprising. But let's examine the thinking behind this claim. It suggests, quite seriously, that explaining to people clearly that animal use is a moral problem is wrong. It suggests, quite seriously, that we should pretend that animal use is not a moral problem in order to convince people that it is.
On its face, the 'indirect' approach proposes that irrational arguments that don't propose change and don't encourage alternatives are more effective at promoting change than rational arguments that point out the moral necessity of change, the easineess of that change, and the ready availability of alternatives. No feminist would propose this about rape, and no anti-racist would propose this about lynchings, and yet, animal advocates aren't even supposed to speak up on behalf of nonhuman animals, and if they do, they're encouraged to apologize for taking animals seriously. In short, this is a proposal to us to not only abandon those who need us to speak for them, unequivocally, directly, and firmly, it proposes an abandonment of common sense and effective political praxis. I leave you to meditate on what the sound of “no advocates advocating” sounds like (hint: absolutely nothing, or worse, and more commonly, apologias for nonhuman animal use).
The second koan: “We must make animal use more expensive and less expensive.” Actually, you rarely hear this argument phrased in this way, but I'm waiting for the day that it happens. Normally, it's expressed as two different proposals: first, that advocates should work with industry to lower production costs and second, that activists should work with industry to raise production costs. Which is it? I want to make my position clear on this as an advocate of the oppressed who only made it to college-level calculus.
Left between working diligently to bring the cow and her calf out of slavery versus shaving (or adding) pennies to the oppressor's profit margins and twiddling their bottoms lines, I'm going to focus on the former. Maybe it's because I don't own stock in Burger King, KFC and other champions of animal use the way regulationist groups do, or maybe I could just never get the hang of using a calculator to make life and death decisions about nonhuman animals. I care only and exclusively about the rights of nonhuman animals not to be used as property and the end of their property status, period. I consider campaigns promoted on the basis that it will drive up costs or lower them for animal exploiters to be morally and intellectually derelict.
But, let's think about this argument more. What this argues is that tiny fluctuations in price make a serious difference to demand and that tiny bits of activism make a serious difference to price. Neither idea is in close touch with the reality of animal agriculture. The animal agriculture industry is heavily, heavily, heavily subsidized, and exploiters regularly go to the well of public funding with the argument that their production costs are DRAMATICALLY ESCALATING OUT OF CONTROL. In fact, costs have gone up over the last 200 years, but gradually. Nevertheless, people are using more animal products than ever before. If production costs go down, cha-ching! That just means more profit and more money for their marketing departments. In light of consumer demand and government subsidy, it's a profitable industry.
So, why bother with this kind of campaigning if it doesn't benefit animals in any way? Ask the abacus. The organizational policies of most NGOs are driven by whether or not they can sustain themselves financially (obviously). Donations are driven by claiming victories whether there are any, either by claiming to drive up production cost or by reducing it. Every player in the regulated animal use game gets a slice of the pie. It's a mutually beneficial if sometimes personally complicated relationship; imagine when Harry Met Sally, but think When Benito Met Adolf. Yes, that's incendiary, but seriously, start writing letters to any regulationist organization proposing that they refuse all future donations and see how far you get.
The third koan: “The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.” I find this argument the most baffling. Usually, it is expressed as “none of us really knows how to end animal slavery” or, more intelligently, “there's no evidence that promoting veganism will be successful”. Mostly, this reflects a cut and paste job (literal or metaphorical) from some regulationist organization's Web site.
This does not reflect a “tactical difference” between abolitionist and regulationst groups. It is a wholesale refusal of strategy (and reality), and a blanket pass for anyone who wants to do anything and claim that it's on behalf of nonhuman animals to feel good about themselves. It is not a way to promote creativity, an open movement or critical thinking, but instead, a way of dismissing differences of opinion, careful reasoning, reality, evidence, you know, all the stuff important to make a decision about how best to help nonhuman animals. You don't need to think, it argues, just dress up in a chicken suit, go naked, break some windows, glue some locks, buy some easily avoided animal products, say you care, but don't act on it, euthanize some healthy adoptable companion animals, traumatize some children, but most of all, be sure to sign your donation check.
Of course we don't know that promoting veganism will automatically result in abolition. That would be like predicting whether the Yankees or the Dodgers will win the World Series ten years from now. All we can do is think clearly, plan effectively, and work as hard as we can to lay the ground work for change. Still, we know that human beings, typically, cannot fly. We have ample evidence that walking off a cliff will not result in human beings sprouting wings or levitating. From this, we deduce that gravity exists.
I can tell you now, we know what will never, what could never, result in the abolition animal use: self-styled animal advocates running around town telling people that it's not only okay for people to use animal products, but that it's in the interests of nonhuman animals for them to do so. In spite of at least 200 years of animal welfare activism, as Gary Francione argues, animal use is only on the rise. If attitudes are changing, it's because common sense tells people that animal use is wrong and more and more people realize that it is totally unnecessary. The regulationist movement does it's best to convince people otherwise, but thankfully, not everyone is taken in by the absence of thinking.
The fourth koan: “It matters not what we do but what we say (sometimes).” This is a koan developed by the new welfarist crowd. It proposes that, so long as we say we're in favor of abolishing the property status of nonhuman animals, we don't have to actually work on campaigns that stand a serious chance of abolishing their property status, we don't have to take nonviolence seriously, we don't have to promote veganism, we can just engage in romantic, emotionally reactionary and self-aggrandizing posturing. In fact, with some animal advocates, you'll find this in combination with the first koan, which involves believing that we can only promote abolition by promoting anything but abolition. Very, very confusing.
But let's peek behind this rhetorical curtain. If we're opposed to animal use, we should say so. If we want to end their property status, we should say so. But if someone's going to work on campaigns that promote regulated use, what's the difference between that activity and any other welfarist activism? Nothing. Furthermore, what this proposes is that we should focus our time on incremental changes (an extra 1/4” of cage space, nicer killing tools, etc.) that will make no meaningful difference for nonhuman animals rather than on working on incremental changes that will (reducing demand by educating new vegans).
Let's imagine, momentarily, all of the welfare reforms in the history of the world, everywhere, and add them up. If they were all overwhelmingly successful (they aren't), were never overturned, ignored or skirted (never the case), were not just local but globally effective (never are), addressed all species (never do), it would still not result in a single animal going free. What animals deserve is our most focused, considerate and diligent efforts, not in the promotion of welfare reforms, which are meaningless anyhow, but the incremental change that is embodied in each and every new abolitionist vegan.
Deep thoughts born of long and fruitful experience, eh? I'm thankful that I was born simple-minded and that, in spite of the best efforts of many, I've never improved. I don't have the imagination for the 'indirect approach', don't understand the math behind the stock market, believe the evidence when I see it and most of all, I believe in saying what I mean. I often blurt out “I think you should take the rights of nonhuman animals seriously and go vegan!!” Perhaps that's not very deep or even stylish of me, but I grew up in a small town in the corn belt and I believe sincerely that that's what I owe nonhuman animals.
If demand is the problem, and legal and social acknowledgement of the personhood of nonhuman animals is the only meaningful first step toward a solution, the most meaningful things we can do are to go vegan, educate others about veganism, and, if we can, to adopt and restore the personhood of nonhuman animals with love and care. Veganism is the absolute and unequivocal baseline of what we owe them. A directionless carnival of whateverism based on mystical soundbytes is not the best way to make change for nonhuman animals: animal adoption and abolitionist education are.
If you're working on regulationist campaigns now, you'll probably feel a little disparaged by these comments. I know; I'm a big meanie, but if you peak just beyond your nose, you'll see that the use of nonhuman animals calls us to a serious dialogue in which we all must be willing to acknowledge that there is more at stake than our own egos (and I don't mean donations). On the bright side, it's not that I want you to stop working or to stop being vegan; I want you to get off the 'kinder, gentler use' vs. 'no use at all' fence, to go vegan (if you're not already), to promote veganism as a moral imperative and to engage in work that stands a serious chance of ending slavery.
Most of all, I wrote this blog because I believe that you want to end animal use, that you can change your thoughts and your work, and because, brothers and sisters (and folks in between), I believe that nonhuman animals call us not to apologies, half-measures and excuses, but to work together to pull the system down brick by brick, vegan by vegan, rescued animal by rescued animal, with hard work, determination and good faith.