WOARadio #4: How to answer a question about veganism: extended remix

In this podcast, I tackle how to answer a question about veganism, why beeganism is a moral and intellectual problem (bees are animals!), and why promoting veganism remains critically important to nonhuman animals.

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The animal advocate messiah complex: how about a little less Jesus, a little more Noah?

I know some of you will be offended just by the title of this blog, but I refuse to be silenced by the atheist wing of the animal advocacy movement. No, but seriously, although atheism is not uncommon among animal advocates, there are also a lot of religious people who are vegan or otherwise interested in animal rights. In fact, although I'm not religious myself (unless you count Marxism), I'm often very troubled by the disdain shown by a minority of regulationist advocates for "religious people." That's not what this blog is about. No, this blog is about something dear to my heart: messiah complexes (or is it complices? I don't remember my Latin that well).

Dim the lights. All eyes on me and my halo for a second.

What's with the nigh-constant messiah complex? It's a serious question. I pose it not to be flippant but out of some sincere concern. The lives of messiahs rarely end well, and yet the animal advocacy movement seems full of them (myself especially). The tendency toward cult of personalities, the need for attention even when it's negative, as well as the tendency to paper over differences of opinion so that we can be one big happy family trouble me. It's not about us and our need for leadership, attention, or salvation. It's about nonhuman animals, their right not to be used as property, and our unequivocal duty to go vegan in light of that right.

I'm not blaming anyone. I was raised both Irish-American and Catholic, and it's hard to think of a more contrarian upbringing that lends itself more to a messiah complex. That's two strikes already. Even still, there's a curious double motion in the rhetoric of some parts of our community: "We're all working toward the same things, brothers and sisters -- except for those divisive abolitionist devils over there! Hallelujah! Don't forget to put some offerings in the plate!" I can see all the self-righteousness, but I wonder where the love is.

Still, that's not really the topic of this blog (and yes, I'm getting there). It's not even to propose that advocates seek therapy for their messiah complexes. That's probably too much to ask. Instead, it's to propose that those of you who feel as though you've heard the call dial back the Jesus, channel a little more about Noah. That's also not meant to be a slight to Jesus in any way. But the problem he was trying to solve and the problem that Noah was trying to solve were different. Between the two, I'm proposing that Noah provides a better model, if, indeed, we just can't shake off our personal emotional needs to be the focus of attention.

To be clear, it's nothing against other Old or New Testament figures (or figures from other religious traditions). I'm just most familiar with the Judeo-Christian tradition. For those who don't know already, I narrowly dodged the Catholic priesthood, and who got the better end of that near miss (me or Benedict XVI) I can't say. I suppose that's enough sacrilege for one blog; I don't want the Legion of Veg*n Decency after me.

In fact, Moses isn't an entirely bad example either. He had a clear objective (getting the ancient Hebrews free), a clear plan (dialogue with Pharaoh), and a set of tactics that matched that plan pretty well (leaving the slavery of Egypt in an orderly march). He was firm, but not overly confrontational when he told Pharaoh to let his people go. He also had a clear sense of the basic rights of the Hebrews not to be used as the property of the Egyptians, as well as the unequivocal obligation of the Egyptians to let the Hebrews go in light of that right. He wasn't proposing reducing their suffering, an economic boycott or a nicer slavery. He was proposing an abolition of that slavery, period.

Furthermore, Moses also wasn't ashamed to tell Pharaoh that he was a Hebrew, and I can't help but feel he provides a role model for all of the would-be movement celebrities who are ashamed to even mention that they are vegan. It troubles me that so many of our celebrities are in a rush to lead us forward, but when they get to the microphone, they tell everyone that they're not like the rest of us: "they're all crazy, angry, and fanatical. I'm the reasonable one. Let me be your interpreter!" Shameful. I am not angry in the slightest.

But I'm troubled by the nonhuman animal use in the story very much (in the form of the plagues), and I'm troubled by the killing and mayhem involved. It's true that Pharaoh limits the choice of Yaweh by refusing to respect the rights of the Hebrews. But given that animal advocates are not held in slavery today, that we are not prohibited from acting today in ways that can irrevocably and radically change the system (nonviolent creative vegan outreach), the story of Moses provides a problematic model. It proposes that we conflate ourselves with nonhuman animals and understand ourselves as slaves.

Given the preponderance of the slave mentality among many animal advocates today, I can see this story is at work in the minds of any. Thinking about something Roger Yates has said, it seems clear to me that an unfounded pessimism shackles the minds of many of us to meaningless welfare reforms, to pointless violence, or a meaningless and pointless combination of the two. But solidarity, as a type of work and social struggle, involves understanding that we ourselves are not the oppressed, that we are their agents, and that as their agents, we are freer to act on their behalf, and that we should do so carefully, humbly and diligently. I'm not asking anyone to stop working; just to think more about the work we're doing.

It's also nothing against Jesus. There are parts of Jesus' plan of work that provide us with an excellent example: education, nonviolent mass-movement building, self-sacrifice. It's the Crucifixion part and the martyrdom that I think provides a mixed model for advocates today. It's not that I don't value the Crucifixion or the martyrdom per se, it's just that it's been done. Advocates don't have an obligation to martyr themselves, nor is their martyrdom helpful to nonhuman animals. We can be a little more creative with our work.

In practice, among some advocates at least, I find the messiah complex also reflects a tendency towards elitism; it poses a false humility that often papers over what seems like a self-esteem so fragile that it requires a nigh-constant nurturing. You can't go around telling other people to be humble and to stop being divisive without trying to hoard an inappropriate authority in doing do so yourself. Telling others what to think and how to behave involves a claim to authority, and the very least we can do with that authority is to ask others to do right with it, not tell others to do wrong with it. That's probably more than enough psychoanalysis for me in one blog.

Suffice it to say, you can all get off the cross: the rest of us need the wood to build an Ark.

Before anyone gets too wound up, I say that in good faith. I'm a big-temple person: I prefer to push away with the left hand and draw closer with the right. So, why Noah? Well, there's the whole Ark thing. I like stories of building things that involve a sound understanding of engineering principles. Clearly, Noah had skills and was willing to do work. God also tells Noah to save nonhuman animals. I have to say, I like that part as well. I also like that Noah doesn't go around dickering with reforms to the existing system, and he doesn't play Pharisee while pretending to be Jesus the way some regulationist celebtrities do.

He also doesn't stand around practicing his poses while talking about saving nonhuman animals. Like those who save the lives of nonhuman animals on a daily basis in shelters, by fostering, and by adopting nonhuman animals, without even so much as a press release, Noah just goes go to work. Two by two. I like the objective (saving nonhuman animals), I like the motivation (because nonhuman animals have inherent moral value), and I even like the strategy and tactics (nonviolence and Ark building).

But I don't like the fact that Noah wasn't even vegan himself. Nor do I like the ending where Jehovah tells Noah that nonhuman animals are for his use. On the other hand, no story is perfect and this was the Old Testament. I don't like the fact that Noah uses a dove to save his ass, but I'm not at all surprised that the story reminds us that it was a nonhuman animal who helped save every sentient being on earth. But this story should remind us all, so long as nonhuman animals are property and not persons, their interests will always be subjugated to the interests of human beings.

Against my more fiery judgement, I think we can excuse Noah. It's not clear that he understood that he didn't need nonhuman animals either for his health, the environment or entertainment (the way that those of you reading this blog do). And since it took many of us decades to go vegan ourselves, often with substantial help and education, I'm sure we can agree that what we owe nonhuman animals is not always self-evident. If I had been around in the Old Testament days to give him one of Gary Francione's pamphlets, he might have changed his mind.

I hope the moral is clear here: our work as advocates is not a matter of reaction or martyrdom; it's a matter of solidarity, veganism, and acknowledging that our work should be guided by what's best for those we're seeking to help, that it involves a clear objective, a clear and consistent strategy and a clear and consistent set of tactics. Each of those parts is important.

There is, indeed, even a moral to this story for nonvegans as well. Veganism is not a matter of martyrdom or elitism. It's a matter of conscience and humility. Like Moses, we may never see the promised land, but no one's going to get there without a lot of hard work and willingness to follow a map. And like Noah, if we want to get to Ararat, we need to understand that nonhuman animals are persons just like us, that our relationship is not a matter of salvation, it's a matter of solidarity, and that if we ever hope to get anywhere, we all need to start paddling.

In short, if you're not vegan, please go vegan today, and if you want to learn more about abolition, please read my other articles or have a read through www.abolitionistapproach.com.

Opening an abolitionist vegan business is 1,000 times more powerful than closing a nonvegan one

In the interests of full-disclosure, I never took a business class in university. I did, however, wash windows over some of my summers as a teenager with my father (Gene) and a friend of his (Ron) for street-level businesses in Chicago as a "family business": Casey Brother's Window Washing. Now, they were neither brothers, nor were they Caseys. But they could both wash windows and that's what really matters in a window washing businesses. I'm sure you can imagine that lots and lots of people needed their windows washed in Chicago. Early mornings spent washing the windows of coffee shops and greasy spoons were my primer on political economy. Demand drives supply, and while many business owners are somewhat economical with the truth, they all respond to demand or they go out of business.

When I write that it is 1,000 times more powerful, that's not an exact calculation (so, don't quote my math). But the basic economic truth remains: if advocates waste time getting one employee of one agribusiness to quit (in an industry of billions and billions), or even one small business to close, demand would hire another employee, demand would open up another business, demand would move to another neighbourhood or to the Internet and open up a business there. Demand would just keep going. It's actually more probable that that demand would just be subsumed by a larger, better organized and more powerful agribusiness that offers better economies of scale, lower prices for customers perhaps, better margins for advertising dollars perhaps, or perhaps both. And yet, some advocates tell me this is a good use of time.

Furthermore, some of the advocates I've met in the last few years in particular have criticized veganism as unnecessary or not meaningful, and often this springs from a misconception of what veganism is. Many advocates, even militant ones, don't even necessarily mention the fact that they're vegan. Frankly, I think that's a shame. Personally, I'm not embarrassed for people to know that I am vegan, nor do I particularly care if anyone is offended by my making that plain. Other advocates have, mistakenly, suggested that veganism is an economic boycott to hurt agribusiness financially or a way to reduce suffering, and both of these views misunderstand that veganism is neither of these things although it may often have these affects.

Being quiet about our veganism while we praise apologists is not radicalism, and neither is wearing our veganism like a Che Guevara t-shirt while we threaten someone's mother in front of press cameras. Fred Hampton, Sr's legacy, for example, was not defined by confrontations and violence on his part or by bad faith and half-commitment to change through meaningless reforms. It was defined by the education he gave others, the leadership and encouragement he provided as a Black Panther and as a human being, and the breakfast program he started for children and their families. He didn't spend his time trying to get the local clerk down at the local branch of the Chicago police department to quit by standing outside his house shouting nonsense. He was too busy working. His legacy remains powerful, at least in Chicago, because of the positive work he convinced others to undertake. People who don't understand that don't just misunderstand militancy; they misunderstand work and change.

First and foremost, as Gary Francione reminds us, veganism is about the rights of nonhuman animals not to be used as property and our taking that right seriously. Feminists don't avoid raping people as an economic boycott, and anti-racists don't avoid lynching people in order to reduce suffering. They do these things because they are the right things to do. They do these things because to do the wrong thing is inimical to them. Veganism is also, and remember this phrase because it should guide all of our actions, the right thing to do if we feel even the tiniest bit of solidarity for the cow, the pig, the goat, the horse, the elephant or the seeing eye dog forced into slavery. The very least we can do is say "no" to that slavery consistently with both with our words and our works by adopting veganism; how we spend our dollars are only a fragment of the consideration we owe them.

Vegan education is not a matter of telling people what not to buy. It is a matter of telling people that slavery is wrong. That we should take it seriously, that we should understand it, and that we should struggle against it in ways that are meaningful. It is a matter of explaining to them that, just like us, all nonhuman animals want to live their lives, deserve to live their lives without our interference. It is a matter of explaining that the simplest, most basic, the easiest thing they can do is avoid animal use (whether they buy it or not) as an act of clear and unequivocal solidarity with the oppressed.

Too many advocates still confuse talking about burning the plantation with undoing the shackles. They're still confusing helping the oppressed with getting some petty revenge against 'the oppressor'. Animal adoption, educating others about veganism, writing a play about nonhuman animals and what we owe them, just educating others factually about nonhuman animals, teaching a cooking class and creating vegan alternatives to the status quo are other steps, and powerful ones. I'm not telling anyone to stop working. I'm says let's push on the weight-bearing walls of nonhuman animal slavery rather that fussing over its wallpaper.

Of course, veganism is the most important step, but that doesn't mean that that's the only thing that anyone should do. It's just the first step, and as the first step, it's the most important. But we also need advocates who can educate, advocates who can bake, advocates who can talk, advocates who can cook, advocates who can build, advocates who can write books, advocates who can teach, advocates who can buy, advocates who can sell, advocates who can do TNR, advocates who can start sanctuaries, advocates who can do the math better than I can, advocates who can lead, advocates who can draw, advocates who can give speeches, sweep floors, walk dogs, and also advocates who can organize. But, in short, we need advocates who can work and not just talk trash, market their own books or make fists in their pockets.

Getting back to topic, my point remains: opening an abolitionist vegan business would be 1,000 times more powerful than closing a nonvegan one. Why is that? To be clear, I don't mean vegans should go out and start another Sprawlmart. I'm not proposing that we replace Capital with a vegan version, that we profit off of the needs of regular people and divert that cash to our retirement funds. Most of all, I'm not proposing that we should sell indulgences the way that regulationist groups do. But the fact is, people have to eat, and it would be better for a vegan co-op that respects the rights of its employees and nonhuman animals to sell us our produce than an apolitical megastore to do so.

I also mean that veganism is not an economic boycott. It's a refusal to collaborate, insofar as we can, with the systemic harm of nonhuman animals, but also a commitment to lay the groundwork for change. It's not a matter of just tearing down the old house; it's a matter of building the new one. Lopping off one head of that chimera so that another will grow back or another will grow more powerful redefines waste of time. But taking economic power into our own hands, building the economic infrastructure required to lay the groundwork for social transformation, making vegan alternatives readily available to others, now that's something serious. We can't buy our way to revolution, but rearranging our social relations in the present, even within the limited choices of the present, is not merely an economic activity, it is a socially transformative one.

One of the most powerful things any advocate opposed to slavery can do is to remind people that alternatives are right next door or down the street. If cotton was the economic engine of human slavery in the American South, then getting one overseer to quit would have been ridiculous. But opening up a linen co-op right next to the local plantation, giving away free linen shirts right next to the plantation, reminding people that what happens on that plantation is morally wrong and that there are alternatives to what happens on that plantation, right next to the plantation, would have been doing something 1,000 times more powerful than just getting one overseer to quit or even burning the whole plantation down.

In my experience, what stops many people from going vegan, once they understand what veganism asks them to do (and many of them are miseducated about what veganism is) are practical questions. They don't know where to buy deodorant. They feel they need leather shoes for work. They're not sure how to cook vegetables or they don't like the taste of tofu. They either can't see why they should or how they could go the extra half an inch. How much more powerful would it be for one vegan to help all of those people keep moving than for a bunch of "vegans" to convince one security guard in one science lab to quit? I'm willing to ballpark it at 1,000 times more powerful, but that's probably an understatement.

If you want to undo your own shackles and help start the work of undoing the shackles of others, you should go vegan today. If you're already vegan, and you want to work for abolition, put down the rhetoric of molotov cocktails. Pick up some real skills that will help our community build the economic independence that it requires to mount a serious challenge to the existing ways things are getting done and to help nonhuman animals get free.

We can only fight demand by fighting demand: lessons from the war on drugs

If you asked most vegans what they thought of the war on drugs in the United States, most of them would probably describe it as a failure (at least I hope they would). They could tell you that attacking supply does very little to curb demand. They could also tell you that the war on drugs often functions as a thinly veiled war on the poor and people of color in the United States. Finally, they could also probably tell you that the war on drugs often functions internationally as a way for the United States to intervene militarily in other countries on the down-lo and the not-so-down-lo. When it comes to herbs, you'd be surprised how many vegans get the economics right (I'm only kidding – I don't want the straightedge part of the community getting peeved with me).

More seriously, though, most reasonable people can look at the war on drugs in the United States and see that it's deeply flawed. Leaving aside moral and strategic questions about the war on drugs and its objectives, it's very tactically misguided.

First, the war on drugs focuses primarily on supply when the problem is largely demand. It should go without saying that problems of economic demand (lots of people wanting to buy) are best solved by curbing economic demand (convincing lots of people not to buy). Second, it has only hastened the rise of more powerful, better organized and more careful cartels and, as a corollary, it has only empowered the government to get more involved in all of our lives. Intentional or not, it achieves a collusion of interests that mostly helps larger suppliers by eliminating smaller competitors, and allows the government to claim that even more public spending and intrusion into our daily lives is necessary because drug cartels are becoming more advanced all the time. Finally, it allows the government to claim victory over anything in a war of public relations that keeps the public focused on providing moral and financial support for a process that achieves almost nothing either for communities or for drug users. It's a vicious cycle.

Sounds great, right? And yet many vegans are very focused on attacking supply in an equally misguided way. The anti-drug vigilantism of the 80s returns in the proposed vigilantism of militant animal welfare groups. The 'war' between the state and international drug cartels (which is really a war between one set of corporate interests and another) is just replaced with a 'war' between one set of corporate interests (agribusinesses) that wants to sell animal products and labor and another set of corporate interests (animal welfare groups) that wants to regulate those sales. The former sells products. The latter, as Gary Francione describes it, sells indulgences. They ease the consciences of those who wish to buy and the price is only donations. In fact, it's not a war at all; intentional or not, it's an economic struggle between two rival economic interests that's sustained by what amounts to an economic win-win for everyone (except animals). Both are agents of Capital; neither of them is anti-capitalist in the slightest.

There are other similarities. The billions and billions of dollars spent on achieving nil on the war on drugs is matched by millions and millions in the "war against agribusinesses", which is really devoted more to sustaining a bloated bureaucracy and its attending public relations campaign for donor dollars. Leaving aside the moral and intellectual problems (and these are serious enough by themselves), that's a lot of money that could be much better spent on almost anything. Further, there are a lot of shrill slogans that are meant to close down discussion ("USERS DON'T USE DRUGS!", "ANIMALS ARE DYING!"), a lot of testosterone-laden posturing and chauvinism, a lot of very poor reasoning, and a lot of cheerleading of anything as a victory without really thinking about whether or not anything has been achieved.

There's also the mobilization of highly emotional and stereotypical imagery and words to oversimplify “the problem” to fix the case for the solution. Funny, it also sounds kind of like the war against Iraq, doesn't it? In fact, the kind of imagery the war on drugs often mobilized to make its case (e.g., African American drugs lords coercing young white women into smoking crack and sexual slavery) is just as racist and classist as much of what the animal welfare movement mobilizes to make its case (e.g., with it's shrill criticism of Michael Vick, its remarkably sexist campaigns, its general persecution of people of color, the poor, and women for their treatment of nonhuman animals instead of addressing all animal use as morally wrong, etc.).

Sounds pretty misguided, doesn't it? What bell hooks calls white supremacist capitalist patriarchy is very much alive and well in the animal welfare movement, and I hope to blog about that in the future. In short, though, many vegans are willing to look at the mismatch between what the US government says it's trying to do, what it's actually doing, and what it's actually achieving. They should. However, they don't often look at the corporate interests of animal welfare groups and their violent wings, what they're doing and what they're achieving with the same critical eye. They really should. Critical thinking is both a moral obligation and important to effective work.

For example, when someone says, “I'm anti-authoritarian, an abolitionist and a vegan”, but then turns around and supports state-based legal reforms intended to regulate animal use (fail!), refuses to promote veganism (fail!), and instead, just as often proposes an authoritarian and martial framework (fail!) to attack supply to solve a problem of demand (fail!) — very much like the war on drugs — I start to wonder what s/he's smoking. In the interests of full disclosure, I never wonder where I can also get some. I'm not trying to be mean, but it's not clear why any vegan who opposes authoritarianism and corporatism generally would embrace regulate animal use, authoritarian tactics or corporatism in the struggle to free nonhuman animals. This isn't a strategy; it's a refusal of strategy.

In fact, it's hard to imagine a "strategy" that could be more inimical to someone who is anti-authoritarian, a vegan, and an abolitionist than what some advocates propose when they propose a war to end animal use by focusing on suppliers while promoting, donating to, and laboring for state-based regulation of nonhuman animal treatment. Leaving aside the moral and intellectual questions, militant welfarism is bad economics. It's terrible strategy (and that's a charitable statement). It's impractical, and it's very likely that it would be just as effective as the war on drugs has been, which is to say, effective at entrenching existing paradigms of oppression at everyone else's expense.

Does that still sound like a good idea? I know; being in touch with reality and working effectively means we'll have to figure out other excuses to break stuff and shout slogans, but if we care at all about nonhuman animals, we should really focus our efforts on working effectively on their behalf. Don't get me wrong. Lots of people like to shout slogans and break stuff, but being a good advocate means acting in a disciplined way on behalf of those who call us to show our solidarity; it means organizing our behavior around clear strategies with respect to how to best help them as individuals, and as an aggregate of individuals, not participating uncritically in a directionless carnival of whateverism.

Thankfully, there are vegan alternatives to being misguided. Abolitionist veganism provides a moral framework that proposes that nonhuman animals have a right not to be used as property and that people should go vegan in light of that right. That is, abolitionist veganism is almost entirely demand-focused in its response to a problem of demand. Further, abolitionist veganism proposes a nonviolent, anti-authoritarian framework for action, not just fables about a world someday when we may all be nonviolent. Finally, it proposes that we rescue and care for nonhuman animals today, the millions and millions of them all waiting in local shelters, through perfectly legal means. The lives of those animals should be saved, even if they're not exotic or cuddly, and we don't get an adrenaline rush from the experience.

If you're not vegan, you should go vegan today. If you're vegan but not an abolitionist (or one of those supposedly anti-authoritarian abolitionists who supports authoritarianism, statism and regulated use), you should consider the abolitionist approach. Read some of my other articles or check out www.abolitionistapproach.com to learn more.

How to answer a question about veganism: a brief primer

Even if it's only: so, what do you eat? the 'vegan' experience as a daily experience is one that's often defined by the curiosity of others. I can only imagine, for example, how many times someone like Gary Francione has answered "but aren't plants sentient?" He has an excellent FAQ on his Web site, which, if you've never read it before, you should. Read it. Understand it. Print it out. Carry it in your purse or wallet. Added up over time, it may very well save your sanity.

Having to answer questions can often be a difficult experience for many vegans, especially new ones. Just as often, when we're less than perfectly patient with others, we feel bad about it, blame ourselves and think we must have some issue or we blame them and think they must have some issue. But the truth is, asking and answering questions (engaging in a dialogue) is hard work and it takes some good faith effort. It takes a combination of patience, skill and knowledge to answer questions, and it's both a habit that must be formed and a skill that must be praticed. But since so many of us have to answer questions, I decided to write this (mostly) brief primer.

The hardest part of answering any given question is that most of us don't have a lot of practice answering them. That can leave us flustered, but hopefully, this primer provides you with a few simple techniques and process. But the basic formula (the part you should remember most) is even simpler than the steps below: repeat, clarify, answer and confirm.

  • First, gather your thoughts and repeat the question.

  • Second, clarify the question as a whole if you need to do so.

  • Third, define any terms that are appropriate to your answer.

  • Fourth, clarify any misunderstandings of veganism first.

  • Fifth, clarify why X is or isn't acceptable/appropriate/whatever to vegans.

  • Sixth, clarify relevant exceptions.

  • Seventh, mention alternatives.

  • Eighth, get some feedback.

It's easier than you think once you given it a little practice. Some people just want a “yes” or a “no” and sometimes, it's appropriate to answer the question in that way. But if you have an opportunity to educate someone about veganism, then why not take the opportunity to to do so? It's really not that difficult, and everyday questions often provide a simple, and straightforward (and socially acceptable) opportunity to do so. If you're not sure how to answer the question, just be honest and say you don't know.

First, gather your thoughts and some fresh oxygen. Most of us start trying to answer the question immediately because we're nervous and we don't want to look dumb; we want to look alert and knowledgeable. The effect, though, is that sometimes we start answering the question before we know what it is we're going to say. Then we start to focus on what we're saying, and things start to go downhill from there. When someone asks you a question, take a deep breath and collect your thoughts. Repeat the question to ensure that you've heard properly what it is they're asking you. If you have to, tell them to give you a second or two to collect your thoughts. Then, you can start your answer.

Second, make sure you understand the question fully. Some questions need clarification. For example, someone might ask you: "can you eat sugar?". What they are really asking you is: do you eat sugar and/or do vegans typically eat sugar, and if they do, what kind? and so on. You'd be very, very surprised by the lack of knowledge about veganism in the general public and keep in mind, you probably don't know all that much about keeping kosher or halal. Don't get all bent over it. If someone's asking you X, they're probably making a good faith effort to accommodate you or to engage you in a topic of discussion that they think is important to you. Take a deep breath, and say: "Can I eat sugar? Do you mean, do I eat sugar?"

Third, define any key terms you may need as a part of your answer. Can you eat sugar? is not one of those questions that really require a definition, other than what is or is not vegan. Most people know what sugar is. But, for example, you might have to answer a question about violence. If you do, you should try to agree to a definition of what violence means to the both of you before you make a full answer. If you can't agree on a common definition, try to agree on specifics. For example, you might agree that pushing someone for fun is violence, but pushing someone out of the way of an oncoming car is not violence. You might be able to build a larger shared definition from that example and use that to facilitate your discussion. Hopefully, you won't have to do this with many of your questions, but you may.

Fourth once you're clear about what you're being asked, clarify any questions about veganism first. For example, it seems clear from a question like "can vegans eat x?" the person doesn't have a full understanding of veganism. Always try to remember that most of the public thinks of veganism as a diet with weird and unpredictable rules (in large part because regulationist organizations have systematically befuddled them and other "vegans" into thinking some animal uses are fine, but others not, and people often self-identify as vegan and yet still eat animal products). Veganism is not just a check list of ingredients that we can't have. Veganism is a set of moral choices and practices taken in light of what we owe nonhuman animals. We should always be clear that veganism is not a matter of can/can't, it's a matter of do/do not. So, you could say: "Most vegans avoid animal use insofar as its possible and practical."

Fifth, once you have clarified "veganism" generally, clarify why X or Y is or isn't acceptable to vegans. Always try to keep the focus of attention on the action. Sometimes, people will ask: am I a bad vegan if...? There are no good or bad vegans. There are actions that are not typically acceptable for vegans to take and there are actions that are. Someone who slips, misreads an ingredient list, or makes a mistake isn't a "bad vegan". Someone who makes a habit of using easily avoided animal products isn't a vegan at all. So, you could say: "Some cane sugar is bleached with nonhuman animal bone char, and so, I don't eat that kind of sugar. "

Sixth, once you've clarified the general rule, clarify the exceptions and provide any necessary details about exceptions that you think are appropriate to the conversation. For example, it's morally excusable for a vegan in a lifeboat with a tiger and his or her grandmother at sea for days with no impending rescue to eat buns made with sugar refined with animal bone char. It would not be morally excusable for the same vegan to eat the same buns because s/he was hungry in the checkout aisle. So, you could say: "If I were in a lifeboat and starving, obviously that would be different.”

Seventh, clarify any alternatives if it's appropriate to do so. Many people are left with the impression that veganism involves a lot of sacrifice. That really isn't the case. There are more and more vegan alternatives to animal products and labor every day, and helping people understand that there are alternatives helps them to understand that veganism is hardly a hardship. So, you could say:“But Brand X Sugar, agave nectar, organic sugar, beet sugar, molasses, corn syrup stevia, and other sweeteners are readily available. I just use those instead."

Eighth, you'll probably be able to gauge by someone's response whether or not you're answering their question, but there's no harm in asking: “Did I answer your question?” This might be useful if you're having an online or phone-based discussion in which a lot of information is left out. Sometimes people stop asking questions because they're not understanding what it is you're telling them or you've misunderstood what it is they wanted to know. It's not a victory for nonhuman animals if we leave people confused.

Put it all together and you have a simple and straightforward answer: "Can I eat sugar? Do you mean, do I eat sugar? Well, most vegans avoid animal use insofar as its possible and practical, Some cane sugar is bleached with nonhuman animal bone char, and so, I don't eat that kind of sugar. If I were in a lifeboat and starving, obviously that would be different. But Brand X sugar is not filtered with bone char, and agave nectar, organic sugar, beet sugar, molasses, corn syrup, rice syrup, stevia and other sweeteners are readily available. I use those instead. Did I answer your question?"

Almost as easy as going vegan is! If you're not vegan, go vegan today, and if you are vegan, and want to learn more about the abolitionist approach and how to be a more effective animal advocate, check out my other articles or be sure to have a look through Gary Francione's Web site, especially his FAQ.

They believe harm is wrong, but how do we get them to act on that?

Many people already believe that they owe at least some moral consideration to at least some other animals (human and non). Many of them already believe that nonhuman animals have value beyond their value as property, or beyond their value as someone else's pet, that they have value unto themselves that is inherent to them. Many of them already believe that at least some nonhuman animals as individuals have a value that doesn't go up or down based on the stock market or just because their owner decides to dump them on the side of the road. That is, most people believe that at least some nonhuman animals are persons, and that harming them is wrong. But they're confused about what to do about and how they should act in terms of respecting the personhood of nonhuman animals.

For example, if you asked most people, "is it wrong to rape someone?", they would probably say yes. Most of them wouldn't ask a bunch of questions to qualify the answer. They wouldn't say, well, in the 1850s, it was probably okay. They would probably say yes, rape is always morally wrong. If you asked most people, "is it wrong to blow torch a dog (as Gary Francione does in his excellent book, Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or Your Dog?) for pleasure?", they would probably also say yes. Most of them wouldn't ask a bunch of questions to qualify their answer. They wouldn't say, well, if it were a dachshund or a poodle, I might feel differently, or if they're going to eat the dog, then that's fine. They would probably say yes, blow torching a dog for pleasure is always morally wrong.

And yet, if you asked most people, "is it okay to enjoy the benefits of these processes or the processes themselves?", many of them wouldn't know what you're asking exactly. If you asked, "is it okay to eat hamburger, drink milkshakes, ride horses, wear leather?" and so on, they would probably think that either you were asking them a trick question or about to try to them a free magazine. They don't understand that the results (the burger, the boots, etc.) are unavoidably tied to the process (animal use), and that all animal use is wrong, regardless of whether they taste good, look good, make us laugh, etc. But still, most people already believe that it's wrong to harm at least some other animals (human are non) independent of the context in which that harm occurs. What they don't understand is the connection between the process and the result, and they don't understand how to act on the relationship that this information poses; they don't know how to act on their own views.

So, why aren't they all vegan, then? Lots of people have beliefs that they don't understand very well, and even if they do understand them, they don't act on them very consistently. Moral character isn't naturally occuring. It takes works and practice. When it comes to nonhuman animals, when it poses us the slightest bit of inconvenience, we rush to make excuses. They're just animals, some will say. We're human beings and that makes us special, others will say. It's just a little, still others will say. Yet, the truth is, mostly people don't really believe any of these claims very firmly, and others will be unsure of what it is they believe exactly. They know that's what they're supposed to say and that that's a safe answer. That's what they've been coached to say over and over again by a culture that teaches them to love some nonhuman animals as persons but that it's morally fine to use others.

As advocates, how do we help people to understand better what it is that they already believe, and as important, how do we get them to take action on their beliefs? How do we get them to go from a subjective, irrational and passive relationship with nonhuman animals to an objective, rational and active one? The answer, of course, is education. But not all attempts at educating others are equally good. Telling people to go vegetarian and other indirect approaches are harmful to the interests of nonhuman animals. Moreover, losing our temper and harassing people are very unlikely to encourage anyone to go vegan or to stay vegan. We have to draw out the views others already hold, help them understand those views more clearly, and motivate them to act on those views. The question is, how do we do that?

First, we have to understand that most people will be very resistant to change. That's normal. No one likes to think of themselves as a murderer or friends and family as murderers. They will a) not want to hear about it b) make excuses and rationalize their own behavior, c) reconstruct their own immoral choices as moral choices if there's the slightest opportunity for them to do so and d) look to you to forgive them for, and expiate their guilt with respect to, their choices. Don't let them off the hook; help them get the burden of animal use off their backs.

Remind them that a) veganism is not frightening and the changes are easy, b) that they will probably be happier living a simpler life where they don't use nonhuman animals, and c) remind them that it doesn't matter to the dog or to the woman if they are treated well when they are raped or blowtorched: all animals (human and non) have an interest in continuing their lives and not being harmed. Make it clear that there are alternatives, that the alternatives are readily available and that there is nothing weird about taking the rights of nonhuman animals to be harmed seriously. If anything, it's deeply weird (and, of course, immoral) to think it's morally fine to torture nonhuman animals just because they taste good, look good or make us laugh.

Second, be prepared for common fallacies. Some people will put these forward sincerely as questions and some people will put them forward in order to try and antagonize you. Be disciplined. Respond to everyone patiently. For example, some people will argue that other nonhuman animals eat other nonhuman animals, why shouldn't human people? This is an appeal to nature. The simplest way to respond to this is that if a dog humps your leg or if a human stranger humps your leg, the first is an inconvenience, and the second is a crime. Human beings form moral intent, whereas other nonhumans cannot. Lots of things happen in nature between nonhuman animals, and it's irrational for human beings to justify their moral actions on the basis that 'it happens in nature'.

Others will appeal to the Bible: the Bible says it's okay! Others will appeal to the population: but most people eat meat! Others will argue that one person's veganism makes no meaningful economic difference. If you can, do your best to counter these arguments, but also do your best to try to understand whether or not the objections being made are being made to have a sincere discussion or to shut you up. If someone is trying to shut down the conversation, politely move on to someone who is interested in hearing more. For some people, it may take a very long time for them to be convinced, and your time is better spent talking to people who are ready to have a meaningful conversation about veganism.

Third, don't be prejudiced. The guy in the business suit who eats meat three meals a day may be more receptive to talking about veganism than the vegetarian crust punk who eats happy eggs. This may seem counterintuitive, but many people stop thinking about veganism the moment they feel they've solved their moral problems and fulfilled their moral obligations with vegetarianism or 'happy' animal products. Moreover, lots of people are interested in hearing about how they can relieve themselves of the moral burden of nonhuman animal use. Veganism is good news, and when you assume that it isn't, that people don't want to hear about it, or that they're too dumb to understand it, that sells yourself, nonhuman animals and other human beings short. It's also elitist, and reflects confusion, bad faith or both.

Fourth, don't be so defensive. People ask questions when they meet someone who has what they take to be a 'non-traditional lifestyle'. They're curious. Some of them will be annoying about it. Try to remember that nonhuman animals are who's important. The difficulty of answering a few questions when it's appropriate to do so is very small when compared with what many nonhuman animals face. Be brave for them! Moreover, consider that its not just your obligation to say something, it's your right to say something. Free speech isn't just for patriarchal white supremacist speciesist asshats: it's also for feminists, anti-racists and vegans. Science, reason and compassion are all on your side. Most of all, though, if you have trouble talking to people, practice, practice, practice.

Fifth, role play difficult conversations with friends and family. Subject them to talking with you about veganism (even if they're already vegan). Get them to humor you. Make them think up crazy objections to veganism and think about the answers. Ask other abolitionist vegans how they would answer. Read Francione's blog since he answers a lot of these kinds of questions. Try changing the topic of conversation back to what you want to talk about. Try your mack out. Repeat it. Practice it. Win the hearts and minds of friends and family, and when you have, move on to others. One of the most difficult challenge any vegan faces is not knowing how to answer a question. If you face a question you can't answer, just say you don't know. More important, once you've practiced how to respond to common objections with your entourage, you won't be flummoxed when you get out into public. Most people will start the conversation for you by asking "so, why are you vegan?" This is your opening! Seize it!!

Sixth, don't let others provoke you. There are a lot of childish people in the world who don't take morality of any kind (and not just veganism) seriously. Society rewards them frequently for immature behavior. They'll do their best to rain on your parade. Yes, that sucks. Yes, it wears us all down. But don't give up. Retaliate by being the resplendent moral person that you are and remember that if I could be educated, so can other people. Veganism is (or at least it should be) a community of people who think for themselves. You're not alone. I hope to be here for a long time to tell you to toughen up, to think about it when the swelling goes down, and to get the thumb out of your mouth. It's not because I'm mean. It's because I have faith in you. There are others just like me, and there will always be others long after my fingers are too frail to type.

Seventh, most of all, try to remember that most people already believe that we owe nonhuman animals some moral consideration purely because they're persons, too. They are, after all, fighting through years and years of social conditioning to try to understand that what they believe applies typically to another human being, a dog, or a cat, also applies to a cow, a chicken, a fish, a sheep, an elephant, and any other animal. It's not just a revelation for many people; it's a change of years worth of habitual thinking. Many of them won't really understand the idea that nonhuman animals shouldn't be used as property. Once they understand that, they won't understand necessarily that veganism is the absolute moral baseline to respecting that right. But you can change their minds. Many will also be scared of the unknown the same way that you are. They won't understand just how much you're asking them to change and how it will affect their lives, and that will provoke hesitation. Worst, they won't understand how easy the change is and how much happier they will be once they have made it until they've done it. They'll need some cheerleading and encouragement, and you can help them by explaining these things.

If we take nonhuman animals seriously, then our work is mostly that simple. It may seem complicated or daunting, but it's like phoning for job adds or apartment classifieds. It's the first few calls that are the hardest and after that, it gets easier, since we've cultivated a habit of knowing what to say. Still, it can be emotionally draining, repetitive work, but it's nonviolent mass movement that provides the basis of all lasting, meaningful social change, and most of all, if nonhuman animals can't rely on you to speak for them, who can they rely on?

Over the coming weeks, I hope to answer more questions about how to respond to the sometimes difficult questions that get raised in pratical work in a series of blog articles. If you're not vegan now, you should go vegan. If you're already vegan and you're not an abolitionist, you should definitely check out Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or Your Dog? and Gary Francione's blog. And if you want to learn more about how to be a more effective activist, feel free to find me on Twitter or Facebook and ask questions or pose scenarios and I'll do my best to include the more common questions in future articles.

Refusing to educate people about veganism is passivism: how passive will you be today?

"How can you thank a man for giving you what's already yours? How then can you thank him for giving you only part of what is yours?" —Malcolm X

How many of us are not paying other animals (human and non) what we owe? Anyone who is not vegan, no matter how good his or her intentions, is giving them nothing at all (besides good intentions). The answer to that question is: too many. And when I write "too many", what I really mean is "far too many".

There's been a lot of discussion about the necessity of education people about veganism lately:

http://my-face-is-on-fire.blogspot.com/2009/08/what-is-and-isnt-abolitionism.html
http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/vegetarianism-as-a-gateway-to-veganism/


Most vegans have at least have some basic (although often misguided) sense that we owe nonhuman animals something, and that's good. But how many of us are not promoting veganism as a moral baseline or encouraging violence instead of education? The answer to this question is also too many.

If animal use is a moral problem, then so is educating people that animal use is not a moral problem, as is promoting violence over education. If it is wrong to use animals as our property, it is wrong to teach others that it is morally fine to use nonhuman animals as our property, and it is wrong to confuse coercing them with educating them. Wrong, shameful, misguided.

And yet, while at least some "vegans" recognize animal use as a moral scandal, too many see promoting animal use and violence as "practical" solutions; often they seem them as part of the same "practical solution". If animal use is obviously immoral, then miseducation and a refusal of education are morally and intellectually derelict. If we are vegan, then we should believe in veganism. Not just for ourselves, but for every person. If it is right for us, then why is it not right for others? Why keep the good news that they can change themselves from them? Why be so elitist in assuming that they don't have ears to hear, like you and I did?

As a strategy, this kind of stuff misunderstands what we owe nonhuman animals in very basic terms: veganism, and the promotion of veganism, education about veganism, nonhuman animal adoption, creativity, thinking, and discipline. As a tactic, in place of exercising our responsibility to speak on behalf of nonhuman animals, it proposes that we either remain silent or that we say something that is simply, morally untrue: that it is better that someone should pay nonhuman animals nothing at all by going vegetarian than to pay them what we owe them, which, at very least, is veganism. It proposes that we sew confusion and uncertainty in the effort to reap understanding and change. It proposes that we can change the oppressor's mind without telling the oppressor what's on ours. All of which is misguided.

You might be wondering why I started this blog with a quote from Malcolm. Most people either forget or never understood that Malcolm X's contribution to the Civil Rights movement wasn't in shooting people, it was in educating them, not in hating people, but in loving them. He was a minister, not a gun slinger. Most of all, he was someone who was capable of changing his mind when evidence and argument were presented to him, with a sense of humility required to do so. Betty Shabazz worked as a nurse and taught nutrition and hygiene classes. Both were good, honest, and hard work. Their legacy and example remain powerful, at least to me.

In contrast, too many people, even very intelligent people, refuse to see what's right in front of them because they have their rationalizations down pat. I'm sad to say that too many of the self-appointed animal advocates I've met seem to be too heavy for light work, too light for heavy work or both. Too many advocates of nonhuman animals give up before they even get started. Too many confuse activism with apology. Too many confuse "the oppressor" with some poor working stiff in a lab who makes only better than minimum wage or someone who cuts meat for a living when the system is all around us. We were all the oppressor when we ate hamburgers, drank milkshakes or went to the zoo in our leather boots, wool coats and silk scarves.

We all have blood on our hands. I wish I could tell you that the feeling of shame that comes from that blood goes away. I've been vegan for a decade, and still, I can't tell you that. What I can tell you is that violent posturing and "there, there, eating less veal is a great victory!" does not make good soap. Changing ourselves and changing the world is hard work. No one is saying it's not. What I'm saying to you is that violence and apologies are both 'shortcuts' that don't get us or nonhuman animals anywhere.

Many of you who will read this blog are vegan. That's good. I'm not asking anyone to stop being vegan if you don't agree with every word I write. I'm saying that we should speak up for nonhuman animals clearly and directly. I'm also asking you to think more carefully and seriously about what to say when you do speak up for them. And I'm saying that before you quit before you start, you should give others the chance to be educated the way you were. Veganism is what we owe nonhuman animals; nonviolent vegan education is what we should do for them and for others.

I'm not saying you have to tell everyone you meet everyday of your life to go vegan. I'm proposing that you tell a mother, a sister, a brother, a father, a friend or a stranger that nonhuman animals have a right not to be used as property, and that when we fail to go vegan in light of that right, we're not giving nonhuman animals what is already properly theirs. I'm asking you not to retreat into apologies or violence. I'm asking you not to make a prison house of your compassion for all animals, human and non. I'm proposing that rather than hide that light under a bushel, you tell someone else about it today.

Promoting vegetarianism as a way to 'reduce suffering', understands nonhuman animals as "things with feelings" whose suffering we should reduce, not persons to whom we owe something. Promoting violence rather than dialogue is also a cop out to avoid promoting veganism. On its face, promoting less than veganism is speciesist, and speciesism is the problem not the solution. If people who tell others that they are anti-speciesists go around acting and speaking in speciesist ways, how does that help nonhuman animals? If that's helpful to nonhuman animals, then either I misunderstand the word helpful or I'm not as creative in my understanding of reality as some other advocates are.

Some people will call this absolutism or fundamentalism. Leaving aside that these are personal attacks that do nothing to change anyone's mind about anything: am I an absolutist or a fundamentalist? I'm absolutely in favor of the rights of animals (human and non) not to be used as property. I'm fundamentally in favor of veganism as the lived daily practice and as a moral baseline of taking that right seriously.

To be clear, I'm also not opposed in the slightest to criticism. Like Wilde says, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, and no one likes being talked about more than I do. But when we confuse personal attacks with meaningful criticism, it has the inevitable effect of trading our focus on telling nonvegans that what they owe nonhuman animals is veganism for a lot of poorly reasoned finger pointing between ourselves, usually because we're afraid to speak firmly on behalf of nonhuman animals. Criticism and self criticism are invaluable. But trading criticism and activism for a lot of poorly reasoned posturing and finger pointing is not a good trade, either for ourselves or for nonhumans.

Most of all, what I'm saying to you is that we can either spend our days making fists in our pockets, gritting our teeth and muttering nonsense passive aggressively or harassing other people or activists. Or we can spend our days "educating by not educating" people about veganism as a moral imperative. Or we can go out and educate people, firmly but politely and clearly, about veganism and why it is the absolute minimum of what we owe nonhuman animals. Which of these do you think helps nonhuman animals the most? Which are you going to do today? Refusing to do the hard work of educating others is not pacifism, but it's definitely passivism. And so the question I close with is: how passive are you going to be today?

Burning the Ark won't solve the problem; nonviolence is not just a consideration for vegans; it's the basis of veganism

I don't want to sound like a broken record on the importance of nonviolent behaviour to a nonviolent movement. I podcasted about it a bit yesterday. I have a couple of recent blogs on my views. But I read this morning that people were harassing Gary Francione because he's nonviolent. I denounce absolutely these kinds of personal attacks in the movement in general, and I oppose violence on moral and practical grounds unequivocally.

In this post, because every would-be superstar in our community likes to debate: “yes, but what really is violence?”, I am defining violence as any kind of behaviour in which unnecessary (and by unnecessary, I mean unjustified or inexcusable) harm is done deliberately to another animal (human or non). That includes property damage as well as physical and emotional harm as a general matter. This does not preclude all uses of force. Violence subjugates the interests of others to our own interests unjustifiably or inexcusably.

The difference between violence and justified or excusable uses of force is the difference between the rapist and the good Samaritan who phones the police, yells for help, tells the rapist to stop, and failing everything else, tries to pull the rapist off the victim nonviolently. It is the difference between pushing a child down on the playground and pushing the child out of the way of an oncoming car.

What's the difference between justifiable and excusable and what do these mean? Francione talks about the difference in a recent podcast on vegan cats. You should have a listen if you haven't. If someone is trying to kill you (or you otherwise face immanent harm), a limited amount of force in self-defense is often justifiable. If someone is holding a gun to your head and compelling you to take a violent action, for example, that may be excusable.

This is not a set of open exceptions for advocates to take any old action they want because they feel justified or excused in doing so. Determining whether any use of force is ever justified or excusable is a rational process that requires careful and clear thinking about what should or should not be morally acceptable based on the rights of others. Sometimes, nonviolent force may be necessary to ensure the rights of others are respected, but it does not follow from this that we all should feel free to play the school yard bully. It is equally ridiculous for those who are nonviolent to to dress up in a cape and go play Batman in ways that will all but ensure a violent confrontation that harms others.

Violence, shorthanded as an unjustifiable harm we do to others, is, by definition, morally unjustified. The day we confuse our role as the good Samaritan with some sort of self-appointed, messianic duty to play Batman, or worse, the rapist, in the name of nonhuman animals is the day we've lost all meaningful moral sense of what we owe all other persons. If there is no meaningful moral difference between us and the oppressor, between “us” and “them” then there is no “us” and “them”. If animal advocates are violent, and the oppressor is violent, if we're all violent, then there is no hope for change; there is only tyranny and we are only agents of varying expressions of that tyranny.

Those of you who read my blog know that I enjoy some amateur psycho-analysis. I do wonder whether people who don't understand that justice in a vegan sense is not just informed by, but predicated upon, nonviolence go wrong. And what I mean when I write that 'veganism is predicated on nonviolence' is that nonviolence isn't just a process that we should consider when we decide how to speak and act and solve a moral problem.

What I mean is that nonviolence is so intrinsic to veganism that one cannot be said to act violently and to act veganly at the same time. I know; veganly is not a word. But the movement's preoccupation with violence is driving me to extremely extreme extremes. In short, every vegan, to act in a way that can be said to be properly vegan, must begin with the assumption that all harms to other persons are unjustified and inexcusable and try to solve the moral problems they encounter as nonviolently as possible. To do less is to work from and to reproduce the moral problem of the current system: that others are our property to use to our own advantage when it suits us to do so.

The defining difference between vegans and nonvegans is that we embody nonviolence toward animals in our actions. None of us is perfect. We all compromise, even those who type poorly written screeds about the necessity of violence and then have a high-five and back-slapping party into the early morning hours, no doubt, from their parents' basements. I could point out that the computers involved are probably made with animal products in some fashion and/or with chemicals tested on nonhuman animals, but people who pen this kind of nonsense are always in a rush to give themselves a pass at the expense of others. Their lack of moral character and their bad faith prohibits them as a matter of habit from thinking, acting, and speaking, in self-disciplined, self-critical and moral ways. They misunderstand what it means to speak truth to power because they misunderstand fundamentally both the nature of truth and the nature of power.

That may sound overly critical. It is worth pointing out that many of us come to the movement with little moral character (at least I did). But it is critically important for each of us to build that character for nonhuman animals and for ourselves. Yet, I've found the quickest and surest way to be labelled authoritarian in the animal advocacy movement is to ask people, nominally 'anti-authoritarian' people, not to behave in authoritarian ways. I've never worked in a political community that so confused the difference between authority and authoritarianism. I find there is a strong sense that the right to free speech to say any old thing is a moral end in itself and that by encouraging others to think about what they should say, it's somehow 'divisive', 'bad for nonhuman animals', 'authoritarian', etc. This is deeply misguided.

Frankly, I wonder why more advocates aren't more concerned with their right to hold and express an educated and well-informed moral view on behalf of nonhuman animals. I wish more advocates used their right to speak to clamour for their right to that kind of speech. This is the long way of saying that too many advocates, in my experience, set their expectations on 'the system' too low. They mistake the difference between reaction and radicalism. And they content themselves with their rights to lemons when they should be insisting on their right to lemonade.

Every radical vegan wants each and every nonhuman animal to go free, today. I don't mean letting a tiger loose with your grandmother in the bathroom. I mean that we all want their property status to end, for them to be acknowledged as persons and for them to receive the care they require as refugees, as Francione describes them. I say “radical vegan” because not all vegans have radicalized. Some vegans may never radicalize. That may sound doctrinaire or dismissive, but the truth is, some vegans may never develop the sense that nonhumans are not just 'things with feelings' that we are defending from on high as a kind of saintly moral masturbation; some will simply never understand that we're all animals, that all animals have rights and that respecting those rights is not only what we owe others but also what we owe ourselves.

It is not an act of goodly charity to encourage others to lament animal suffering and give up all veal but 'free range veal.” Anything but veganism (as a set of practices that respect their basic rights) is a moral failure to pay nonhuman animals the bare minimum of what we owe them; and it is also a moral failure when we encourage others actively to pay nonhumans less than what they owe them. We are all animals. We all have the right not to be used as property by someone else. In fact, this blog is devoted entirely to just that principle: that we're all in the Ark together. That we're all trying to get free from a system of violence and slavery that harms and degrades each and every one of us.

Even as anti-slavery advocates, we cannot wholly escape the system. There is no meaningful comparison to be made between how the system harms us and how the rights of nonhuman animals are violated by their property status, by the scalpels that cut them open, by the chemicals sprayed into their eyes, by the ringmaster's whip, by the bolt guns, by the butcher knives, by the yoke of the horse, or by the harness of the seeing eye dog. Yet, many advocates are deeply, deeply confused about what the system owes us as well. It is not a right to act violently on behalf of nonhuman animals: it is our right not to use others as property.

Truthfully, it shames and lowers each of us even to walk on sidewalks made with animal products. It's morally excusable in light of the work we must do if we hope to help nonhuman animals, but it also lessens each of us in tiny ways. But to love properly is often to sacrifice. Our sacrifice is compromise, to remain humble as we patiently and diligently make change. Some advocates shout a lot about our 'right to free speech' without ever shouting about our right to hold and express a well-informed and educated moral view. We bristle when someone tries to correct us, even when it's for our own benefit and to the benefit of the cause. It's not because we're 'being anti-authoritarian', 'true to ourselves', or worse, 'true to nonhuman animals'. Thinking like this may provide a rich fantasy life, but in the end, we behave this way because we are emotionally broken people and we're not sure what else to do.

We are often so stunned by the enormity of the system that we cannot think clearly about how we can best act in response to it. We lack a vision of own authority, our own ability to make change, our own inability to see the social transformation that is already underway in each and every new abolitionist vegan and every adopted nonhuman animal. I'm not blaming anyone. This is one of the many ways in which we all remain in the grip of speciesism as a broader cultural phenomenon. Even our thinking in response to speciesism tends toward emotional reaction, but that's exactly what we must avoid.

The system is a house, and like all houses, we can change it brick by brick, wall by wall. As advocates, we should concentrate on changes that affect the weight-bearing walls, which are the property status of nonhuman animals, nonveganism, plain ignorance of nonhuman animals, and the cultural speciesism that expresses itself in all of these ways. As advocates, we must avoid focusing on the wallpaper that is the extra 1/4” of cage space, the lighter whip and the other 'changes' that are wholly meaningless to victims who will be either sent to premature deaths to be our luxuries or forced into life-long slavery to labour on our behalf.

As advocates, our work is not a matter of reaction; it is a matter of transformation. We have to struggle to avoid confusing the wallpaper for the walls. We have to struggle to avoid confusing our work pulling down the walls of the house of slavery and violence with building those walls back up again through violent and confrontational behaviour of our own. We can only “tear the house down” by convincing its other builders to join us, not with threats and idiocy, but creative and nonviolent education that calls them to join us in a life that respects the rights of other persons to be free from violence and slavery.

What we'll find in the end may surprise us all. What we may find is not that we tore the house down, but rather that we rebuilt it. We may find that we replaced the slave quarters with new rooms for nonhuman animals who cannot care for themselves and that we let the rest go free. We may find that we've taken the prison house, each of us in separate cells, some nicer than others, and built in its place a house of justice and equality that protects and binds us all in a shared home with a room for each of us. If we do, then we'll also find that it is a house that would have been impossible to build without one another, and that nonviolence is and always was the strong foundation of that house.

It is not a matter of burning or sinking the Ark; it is a matter of making sure the Ark makes it to Ararat and that when it gets there, we all get out and go free. Together. If you want that future, and you're not vegan already, the only thing I can tell you is that today is probably the best day in history for you to take the rights of animals not to be used as property seriously, as well as your own right not to use them as property seriously, and to go vegan.

WOARadio #3: “The Pseudo-Zen of Regulated Animal Use Activism, Now with Even More OMMMM!

In this podcast, I address the finer points of some of the logic behind animal advocacy that promotes regulated animal use rather than the abolition of animal use. Learn helpful things like: the “indirect approach” is really a cop out; evidence matters; people who promote regulated use, promote regulated use, and not abolition; the lives of nonhuman animals are not a matter of mathematics; and the best way to promote veganism is to promote veganism. Remember, if you’re not vegan, take the rights of nonhuman animals seriously and go vegan today!

Listen or download now!

Che t-shirts won't change the world: What James Yettaw can teach animal advocates about adventurism

For those who don't know James Yettaw's name, he recently embarked on a self-appointed adventure to protect Aung San Suu Kyi, as CNN reports it:

Yettaw, 53, a former military serviceman from Falcon, Missouri, was sentenced last week for a May 3 incident when he swam across a lake to the house of Suu Kyi and stayed, uninvited, for two days. Myanmar's government said Yettaw's presence at Suu Kyi's compound violated the terms of the house arrest she was under at the time. Yettaw testified in court that God had sent him to Myanmar to protect the opposition leader because he dreamed that a terrorist group would assassinate her.

Fully story is here.

Lucky for him, the US government went to bat and he's not spending the next 7 years in a Myanmar jail. To be clear, I don't believe he belongs in jail, although he probably should see a therapist of some sort. Was this really a good idea? Most of us can look at this story and say no. Why? Because we're not emotionally wound up in it. Myanmar (formerly Burma) is a place that most of us don't know much about and have little emotional investment in. The social justice movement in Burma doesn't provide us with anything we need and so we can look at what James Yettaw has done and agree that this was a generally bad idea.

Were the justifications for his actions clear? No. Were they even in vague touch with reality? Not really. If he had said it was a message from Yaweh that the Myanmar government was going to execute Suu Kyi, that might be marginally more plausible, but terrorists? Were the tactics he chose even closely aligned with whatever his strategy was? The guy swam across a lake, apparently unarmed, in the middle of a military dictatorship, and snuck into a major political figure's house while she was under house arrest. I'd say that's a no.

To be clear, I'm not personally attacking him. He seems well-intended if misguided. I'm grateful that he won't spend the next 7 years in a Myanmar jail. He's older. He has diabetes. I hope he's home, safe and well very soon. But was his action in any way helpful to the opposition in Myamar? They say no. We should seriously listen.

One of the most common, if somewhat overly facile, arguments made in the various attempts to shut down criticism of certain direct actions is: would you say the same thing if it were a human being? This question is meant to be rhetorical. It's meant to provoke some sort of really thoughtful soul searching, some sort of head scratching perhaps, but what this kind of question is really intended to provoke is moral shame and silence. It is a kind of thinly veiled paternalism that implies that anyone who's not willing to cheerlead moronically every action of every kind for the animals (from chicken suits to assassinations) is somehow being a speciesist by pointing out someone else's strategic and tactical errors.

For me, it's never had this affect. What it tells me immediately is that someone has never actually been involved in a militant organization and doesn't know much about them. I also don't have a soul to search, and my head is more of a paperweight. But I've also worked in social justice, in militant groups, and in adult social struggle for going on 20 years now. I wasn't palling around with my friends, breaking windows to show The Man, having a high five-fest, and then going to a Burger King to see how many burgers I could cram down. As someone who has been engaged in militant work, I know how valuable criticism and self-criticism are to that work.

So, my answer to this question is always and unquestionably: yes. I would absolutely pursue the exact same course of action for a human animal as a nonhuman animal: whatever was most maximal to rendering justice unto their rights within the broader context of furthering the rights of all animals not to be used as property. Even if militancy were the solution to the problem of the property status of nonhuman animals, and it cannot be, adventurism has absolutely no place in a militant organization, period.

The romantic notion that we should go with our intuition and appoint ourselves vigilantes for the animals may sound noble, but it's deeply problematic. It proposes we violate the rights of some in order to further the rights of others. Perhaps it's a coincidence, but that's also exactly how the Brown Shirts saw themselves. Further, it proposes that we consider what we emotionally need over what we should do to help those with whom we should be in solidarity. It leads us into rights conflicts with others that cannot be justified. It promotes disorganization and a lack of clarity as to what animal rights advocates should be doing. Perhaps worst of all, it often hurts those we are seeking to help. Their lives depend on us taking their needs more seriously than our emotional needs to break stuff, to fulfil our emotional needs to feel like we're making a difference, our emotional need for media attention, our emotional need to feel heroic, our emotional need to see our names in the papers. I hope the pattern is clear here.

It's not about what the oppressed owe us; real solidarity work is rationally understood, organized, motivated and carried out with the discipline, good faith, and dedication required to deliver the justice that we owe them.

The best thing anyone can do for the Myanmar opposition is to engage in creative nonviolent education about the situation in Myanmar and to lay the groundwork for mass movements that insist on change. Similarly, if we take nonhuman animals seriouly, the best thing any of us can do is to take the rights of nonhuman animals as property seriously, and to go, stay and say vegan as a baseline for taking those rights seriously. Should we wish to do more, then that is equally clear: we should promote the abolition, and not the regulation, of the property status of nonhuman animals, engage in creative, nonviolent education, and work to promote the adoption of the millions and millions of nonhuman animals whose lives can be saved through perfectly legal means.

You're all Michael Vick; I was born perfect

I've been keeping the real circumstances of my birth and my mother's virginity a secret. No, but seriously, there's a lot of discussion in the blogosphere (vegan and nonvegan) about Michael Vick. I want to draw your attention to Gary L. Francione's piece in the Philadelphia Daily News, both because of the quality of the writing and the message: all animals have a right not to be used as property. Like many of my blog post titles, this one is tongue in cheek. Edited to add: Also be sure to read the piece on Vick over at My Face is on Fire.

Truth is, like many of you, I was raised to believe that I shouldn't harm (at least some) nonhuman animals. I was scolded if I chased the cats around too much. I was told to leave insects and other nonhumans alone if I was too curious about their doings. And although I don't recall with absolute certainly, I'd be surprised if I hadn't been spanked at least once for some idiotic childhood cruelty to a family companion animal. I was confused about what I owed nonhuman animals and I didn't have anyone to set me straight. Most of us don't.

But at breakfast, lunch and dinner, those rules were off. I could eat whatever I wanted, and it didn't matter how cruelly the nonhumans involved in our meals were treated, and it didn't matter how much they were individuals, who were sentient, who had a right not to be used as property, who called me to be vegan, etc. My family, like so many others, applied an irrational double standard: treat some nonhumans as persons, indeed, some as family, use others as resources; and don't really think about why that's the case.

Today, I live with six cats. Their names are Fred Hampton, Harriet Tubman, Julius Martov, Jasmine, Thor and Zella. Harriet bats at her own tail. Fred lost the tips of his ears to frostbite because someone let him out in a Montreal winter. Zella only lets me pet her when she's eating. Jasmine likes to bite my leg when I record podcasts. Thor likes to cuddle up with my shoes. Julius bites my toes in the kitchen every day when I make coffee

Each one of them in unique and the value of their lives is not a matter of calculating their worth as property. What rational person would disagree? But there is no meaningful moral difference between any of them and a pig, a cow, a dog, a sheep, a chicken, a fish, or other animals. If what Michael Vick has done troubles you, you can start by looking at your own dinner plate.

In that sense, as Francione says, we're all Michael Vick. Why does the comparison bother us so much? First, it's based on a misconception of who Vick is. I hate to impugn others, but I have to call it like I see it. As an African American, people read Vick's behaviour as not just violent or wrong, but as intentionally cruel, as 'savage', because he fits a stereotype. I'm not saying everyone who has expressed any outrage about Michael Vick is a racist. I'm saying it would be a mistake to misunderstand the thinly veiled racism and fear that is being channeled into a lot of the hatred for Michael Vick for anything like appropriate moral outrage. He was doing what most people do everyday: he was using animals for his own pleasure. In this case, he was being entertained by a bloodsport that, although very, very, very wrong, was not more or less wrong than all the hamburgers I ate growing up in the corn belt.

But it's different, isn't it? How can we strain reality until it gives and figure out a way for Michael Vick to be our villain so that we don't have to look at our own behaviour? Let's get nuanced for a second. What Vick was doing with dogfighting was not the norm. But is that really all anyone has to argue for singling him out? He was doing something deplorable in a way that's slightly different from all of the deplorable things we do to nonhuman animals, all of which are just fine with us because we do them, and we're the majority? Of course the way Vick was using nonhuman animals was different from the norm, but what significant difference does that make in terms of our moral censure? Sad. Irrational. Morally bankrupt.

For the record, I'm not a lawyer, and what I know about the law is best expressed as “I watched a lot of L .A. Law!” However, if I murder someone for spare change, or if I murder someone out of passion, or if I murder someone out of a cold calculation for revenge, murder's still murder. There are minor legal differences between these actions (usually shorthanded on TV as Murder 1 and Murder 2). There are a lot of other different ways of understanding 'killing' under the law, including manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter, self-defense and so on. But murder's still murder. We all pretty much know murder when we see it. As a society, we define ourselves as being close-minded about who was murdered and why insofar as we believe that all human beings have a right not to be murdered.

Regardless of the type of murder, the exact circumstances of the crime, it's motivations, etc., we know that each and every murder poses us with a very serious moral problem and we have to decide how as a society we'll respond to that harm. But whether I murder someone with a blow torch or I euthanize them makes no significant moral difference. Whether I laughed the whole time or if I felt really terrible while I did it makes no significant moral difference. Whether the victim was a stranger or a friend makes no significant moral difference. And whether I killed an African American or a Caucasian makes no real moral difference. Murder is still murder.

Depending on the exact nature of the act, the responses may be very slightly different. We may issue very slightly different punishments in terms of the length or nature of the sentence. We may take different actions in terms of how to rehabilitate the perpetrator, with counseling, anger management, job training, education or other programs. But the fact remains, we still respond morally, and always generally in the same way: with a trial, and assuming a guilty verdict, with correction. That's what makes us a society of laws, governed by justice and mercy (when we're on our good behaviour), not a clique governed by a cult of personality with a fetish for retribution.

As as a society, if we fail to respond morally in similar ways to every murder, regardless of who the victim is, regardless of who the perpetrator is, then we fail morally. To be clear, I believe that what Michael Vick was wrong. Not because it was dog fighting, but because all animals have a right not to be used as property. All animals are sentient. They all have an interest in continuing their lives. They all have a right not to be used as property. They all can experience and respond to the world. They are all individuals. We fail morally when we give ourselves a pass and condemn Michael Vick with outrage that is equal parts shrill, irrational and hypcritical.

You can be pissed off by the comparison all you like, but when the swelling goes down, I hope you'll think about your own behaviour with respect to nonhuman animals and how you have a unique opportunity to change it. Do we need that cheeseburger, that milk shake, that honey on our toast, that leather jacket, that trip to the zoo? If we don't, then what's the difference between one morally unjustified use of a nonhuman animal and another? There is no difference. Michael Vick wanted some entertainment; we wanted some new boots. Michael Vick wanted to show off with his friends and act tough; we have to go stuff ourselves full of sliders and high-five each other because of how many we can cram down. Nonhuman animals die for all of those things or they live in slavery until they die.

Whether we kill them horribly or "peacefully" makes no difference. Whether we know them or we are strangers, whether we use them because they taste good, look good or it just entertains us to do so makes no meaningful moral difference. Whether we pay someone to kill them for us or we do it ourselves, it makes no meaningful moral difference. Whether we enjoy the process of their harm as we watch them, ride them or otherwise use their labor for slavery, or we merely enjoy the result or their slavery in our boots, our burgers or perfurmes, it makes no difference. Their species makes no meaningful moral difference. Each and every animal use presents us with a moral problem, a victim and a perpetrator. And the facts of the matter are that we all need to get our own houses in order with respect to our relationship with nonhuman animals. Most of all, we should treat similar cases similarly, and to do otherwise is a moral failure on our part.

Michael Vick troubles us all so deeply because we all know that, deep down as a society, the way we use nonhuman animals is morally wrong. We know that it doesn't matter how nicely we treat them. We know they all want their lives to continue on their own terms. We know that there are ready alternatives available to us, and we still don't choose them. We feel bad that we deliberately take their lives away from them, even if we can't admit it to ourselves or others. We should. Vick made the mistake of reminding us too much of what we don't like about our own behaviours. He cuts too close to home. He reminds us of something uncanny that we don't want to have to face about our own personal histories: our own morally indefensible use of nonhuman animals.

We're ashamed.

We should be.

I'm not here to look solemn, shake my head wistfully, pat you on the back, forgive you and then have a kumbaya jamfest while we toke a little doobie. I am far from being in any position to forgive or to be outraged, but I can help you to change. I am here to tell you that if you're troubled by what Michael Vick has done, then you should think about why you're troubled. And if you want to take nonhuman animals seriously, cast off your past, and pay nonhuman animals what you owe them, then you'll stop making excuses, stop trying to see difference where there is none, put the stone back in your pocket and, most important, go forth and sin no more (and that includes you, Michael, on the infinitesimally small chance that you read my blog). In each of us there is vice and virtue, and I believe that there is not one among us who cannot choose virtue.

You all have a unique opportunity to change yourselves and to make today the day that you begin to take the rights of animals not to be used as property seriously. Not some animals, all animals; not some of the time, all of the time. Today is the day you can go from being passive, irrational, subjective and amoral in your relationship to nonhuman animals to being rational, active, objective and moral. If you're not vegan already, go vegan today. I believe in you.

WOARadio Podcast #2: "What the eff is a veg*n? Go vegan, stay vegan and say vegan!"

Once again, I battle the poor audio quality of my headset and my inability to enunciate properly to wonder 'what the eff is a veg*n?' in order to promote animal rights, veganism, the abolition, not the regulation, of the property status of nonhuman animals, as well as an understanding of our relationship to nonhuman animal slavery, not as a matter of consumer choices, but as a matter of solidarity with other nonhuman animal people.

Have a listen now!

New podcast: I would throw 1000 ancient redwoods out of a lifeboat to save one kitten!

New (first) podcast: "I would throw 1000 ancient redwoods out of the lifeboat to save one kitten!" In this podcast, I take on non-vegan green primitivism, ecofascism and more. Since it's the first podcast, I'm still debating whether to ever do another, but hopefully at least some of you will find it useful even though I mumble a lot!

Listen now!

Regulationism by any other name still stinks like poo: taking critical and self-critical dialogue seriously as abolitionists

When a welfarist group does something antic-based, sexist, racist or otherwise deeply misduied, typically, I'm the first in to rush to the Internet, login to a forum or my blog and post: "OH MY GOSH THIS IS DUMB!" But that doesn't necessarily help anyone to understand why a campaign is problematic or how it could be fixed. There is a clear oligarchy that dominates animal advocacy today that concerns itself primarily with sustaining their own organizations. This is hardly an uncommon aspect of NGOs. Once there's money on the table, salaries to be paid, new donations to be won, and so on, this unavoidably affects policy and activism. That is, once an animal advocacy organization becomes a business, it functions like any other business and accumulating donations for their own sake becomes the primary basis by which everything is decided. In part, this is why regulationist organizations promote regulated animal use and propose that we try to solve the problem by any means but directly by encouraging others to go vegan.

However, many of their members, donors, affiliates and others, as well as many local activist groups that are not affiliated with but are concerned sincerely with how best to help animals. They may be inspired and supported by the oligarchy, but what they are not yet wedded to driving donations by any means necessary. This blog post is for them. I imagine that all over North America and EMEA there are campaigns that, although misguided, are sincere, passionate and well intentioned. By examining some of these campaigns and thinking about how we could fix them (if they can be fixed), we may yet draw the contours of effective and creative vegan outreach for an abolitionist movement, and as important, cultivate a habit of thinking critically and self-critically about how we might best help nonhumans.

This post attempts to lay out a critical method (questions that we can ask about each campaign) in order to evaluate campaigns, but also to encourage abolitionists to focus their work exclusively on abolition and to engage in a critical dialogue that acknowledges self-identification as a matter of 'good intentions' (“doo00dz, Im a abol*st 2!”) but favors effective abolitionist work on behalf of nonhuman animals as the basis for identifying other organizations as abolitionist in nature. Obviously, the most important criteria are whether or not a campaign furthers the rights of animals not to be used as property in a meaningful way (embodied in the promotion of veganism and the abolition, not the regulation, of the propertys status of nonhuman animals) even if a campaign falls short in other regards, does not articulate its values clearly enough, etc.. When I was young, I had more energy than training and mistake were made.

To that end, I'm reproducing the Six Principles of the Animal Rights Position and phrasing some questions and thoughts around them:

The Six Principles of the Animal Rights Position

  1. The animal rights position maintains that all sentient beings, humans or nonhuman, have one right: the basic right not to be treated as the property of others.

  2. Our recognition of the one basic right means that we must abolish, and not merely regulate, institutionalized animal exploitation–because it assumes that animals are the property of humans.

  3. Just as we reject racism, sexism, ageism, and homophobia, we reject speciesism. The species of a sentient being is no more reason to deny the protection of this basic right than race, sex, age, or sexual orientation is a reason to deny membership in the human moral community to other humans.

  4. We recognize that we will not abolish overnight the property status of nonhumans, but we will support only those campaigns and positions that explicitly promote the abolitionist agenda. We will not support positions that call for supposedly “improved” regulation of animal exploitation. We reject any campaign that promotes sexism, racism, homophobia or other forms of discrimination against humans.

  5. We recognize that the most important step that any of us can take toward abolition is to adopt the vegan lifestyle and to educate others about veganism. Veganism is the principle of abolition applied to one’s personal life and the consumption of any meat, fowl, fish, or dairy product, or the wearing or use of animal products, is inconsistent with the abolitionist perspective.

  6. We recognize the principle of nonviolence as the guiding principle of the animal rights movement.


In light of these criteria, we can aks questions that helps us to evaluate campaigns at a basic level, as well as to to provide guidance that helps us to avoid common errors. But the most important criterion for any would-be abolitionist to understand is that if a campaign is not clearly and unequivocally abolitionist, then it is not abolitionist.

  1. Does a campaign cause us to use animals as though they were our property and not ends in themselves? This can be a very difficult and confusing matter. Certainly, we should always avoid the use live or dead nonhuman animals in campaigns meant to promote veganism or drive donations. Not only does this draw us into a rights conflict with other animals, it causes us to use them as tools, and it may confuse the public. Adoption campaigns may be different in that representing the animal in this way is part of a strategy aimed at restoring his or her personhood. But as a matter of general guidance, we shouldn't use live or dead animals as props in our political theatre. It's a moral problem and in the case of using deceased nonhuman animals, it's a “hello, crazy!” moment for the public.

    But we often use images of nonhuman animals in our propaganda, and this is poses us with somewhat different moral questions. If photographs, where do these photographs come from (e.g., are they public domain)? If they are photographs, do they tell a visual story of terrible treatment of a cute animal whos suffering tugs at our heartstrings and our checkbooks (always the case in welfare propaganda) or do they depict the prospect that all animal use is wrong? How does the visuals and the messages complement one another?

    There is a very fine line between representing a being as having a right not to be used as property and appropriating the suffering of nonhuman animals in order to drive donations. The regulationist oligarchy does the latter. When in doubt, the simplest way to avoid this issue is not to use photographs of animals in propaganda at all and simply go forward with a thoughtful, articulate argument based on rational principles as to why animals have a right not to be used as property and veganism is the moral baseline of taking that right seriously.

  2. Does a campaign further the view that we owe nonhumans equal consideration on a rational basis, or does it further a speciesist view? Speciesism is often misunderstood. In its simplest understanding, speciesism reflects an irrational prejudice towards any species, most often a benevolent specieism toward humn beings at the expense of other animals. Often, when a campaign is speciesist, it is indirectly so. For example, if we used nonhuman animals as resources to drive donations, that' often involves speciesism. When we engage in single issue campaigns, that also often involves speciesism since they tend to focus on the treatment of single species rather than opposing speciesism per se.

    Campaigns that focus on treatment and not use also tend to be speciesist, insofar as the change they propose for nonhumans (better treatment) is not what we owe them in terms of their rights and not what we would propose for human beings in a similar position with similar interests. Speciesism is very easily misunderstood and it can be difficult to understand why a given campaign is speciesist.. The simplest way to avoid speciesism in campaigns is to stick to promoting the rights of animals generally not to be used as property, the abolition of their proeprty status and veganism as the baseline of that view.

  3. Does a campaign further irrational prejudice against other sentient beings (even human beings)? Many, many regulationist campaigns rely on sexism and racism. The problem with eliminating sexism and racism from our campaign work is that we must understand these things fairly well. As a general matter, racism and sexism are either obvious: naked activists, commodified women, appropriation of slavery and Holocaust metaphors, etc., to drive donations are obvious examples. Less obvious examples are often expressed as a desire to “go after low hanging fruit.”

    What does that really mean? It means targeting a group of animal users that activists believe are more vulnerable to harassment, often violence, because they are vulnerable socially: because they're women, because their skin is brown, because people already hold irrational prejudices against them. Fur, dog fighting, seal hunting and other opportunist campaigns that target communities that are subject to social discrimination are good examples. The best way to avoid obvious and not obvious prejudice in our campaigns is ot avoid single issue campaigns, to stick to promote abolition, animal rights and veganism, and to avoid discriminating opportunistically between one kind of animal user and any other.

  4. Does a campaign propose regulation or abolition, since these are completely and mutually exclusive strategies for our social relations with nonhumans? This one should be obvious . Even if the campaign says: “We support the abolition, not the regulation, of the property status of animals,” but follows that wording up with single issue campaigns, treatment-based campaigns, sexist, racist or anti-based activism, etc., it is not abolition in nature. It is not a matter of the campaign being “mostly abolitionist with a little grey area”. It is either an abolitionist campaign or it is not. It either meets the six principles, or it does not, just as I am either 5' 10” or I am 6' 11”.

    If a campaign is not abolitionist in word and deed, clearly, unequivocally, so much so that the typical member of the public can understand that what's being proposed is the abolition, not the regulation, of animal use as well as an encouragement for them to go vegan because nonhuman animals have a right not to be used as property then the campaign is not properly abolitionist.

    Of course, some campaigns may be easier to fix than others in this regard, but the best way to ensure that our campaigns are abolitionist in this regard is to focus on the prospect that nonhuman animals have the right not to be used as property, that we should go vegan as a matter of taking those rights seriously, that we should educate others about veganism, and that we should work to end the property status of nonhuman animals. That's pretty straightforward, no?

  5. Does a campaign promote veganism, and not just an apolitical veganism for any old reason, but a veganism that is clearly a consequences of taking a strong animal rights position? A plant-based died is often promoted for reasons of human health, the environment, to reduce animal suffering, etc. None of these provided sustainable rational arguments for veganism. At bottom, they are poorly reasoned, and so, ineffective at promoting life-long veganism based on an understanding of what we owe nonhuman animals. Ethical reasons are the only sustainable basis for promoting veganism, and they are the only properly morally defensible basis for promoting it.

    As one of my colleagues says, focusing feminist outreach on an argument that rapists should we condoms to avoid STDs for their own health would be problematic. As another has put it, arguing that the Holocaust was morally problematic because it was environmentally unfriendly would also be problematic from a human rights perspective. "Vegan" outreach that focuses on human health or environmentalism to the exclusion of of moral arguments that address what we owe nonhuman animals misses entirely what is important about veganism: it proposes to use a clear set of behaviours (and rules to understand behaviour) that helps avoid insofar as its pratical and possible our contribution to nonhuman animals harm, suffering or exploitation. Although it is fine to point out that humans do not need animal foods or animal labor for health or environmental reasons, and there are at least some benefits to some plant-based diets for both human health and the environment, ethical arguments are the most appropriate to vegan outreach.

    With that in mind, there are other moral framworks to justify veganism, but for abolitionists, there is only one: the rights of nonhuman animals not to be used as property. It is important for abolitionist activists to promote the rights of nonhuman animals not to be used as property and veganism as the lived daily practice of taking that view seriously. Many advocates are encouraged not to make the moral case as to why someone should be vegan. Understandably, the public takes away the view that veganism is a lifestyle choice that doesn't involve moral considerations. It's not. Veganism is a moral imperative and a duty that we owe nonhuman animals in light of their rights not to be used as property. This is an error that is easy to avoid. Just promote veganism on the basis that animals have a right not to be used as property.

  1. Finally, does a campaign promote violence, harassment and other activites that would draw us into rights conflicts or cause us to promote the rights of some at the expense of others? Definitions of violence are like sphincters. Everyone has one and the least interesting people keep them perpetually clenched. Most of them are conceived to suit the emotional needs and moral inclinations of the holder. There are moral arguments against violence, and there are moral arguments to be made in favor of justified, minimal and nonviolent force. But as a practical matter, abolitionists (insofar as their appoint themselves public representatives of the movement) should focus their efforts on maximal work on behalf of nonhuman animals. That means nonviolence as a guiding principle.

    Speaking personally for a moment, the efforts to justify violence and harassment by advocates very often resemble the arguments put forward to justify other kinds of animal use. Often very poorly reasoned, they assume by default that violence is normatively acceptable, and that other abolitionists should have to put forward convincing arguments that violence should be off the table. In their most misguided expression, they are sometimes phrased as "we have to let the oppressor know that we can be violent, too." This is to misapprehend veganism, nonhuman animal rights, abolition, and all that these things stand for.

    Indeed, it is to misunderstand the very principle of justice. The use of force may be justified from a rights-based framework, but violence (as an unjustified vigilantism) almost always reflects a kind of utilitarian, patriarchal thuggery. To those who would be just and virtuous (and we all should be), means and ends are important. Violence always conserves, or more often, steals power from others, exercises that power arbitrarily, refuses to allow it to circulate freely and that draws us to using others as means to our ends, as instruments, as tools, as property; violence does its best to hide the underlying equality of all animals and our duty to act accordingly in all of our social relations. Violence and justice are opposites.

    In short, just as it misguided to demand arguments from another vegan as to why I shouldn't ride horses, it is misguided to demand arguments from another abolitionist vegan as to why I shouldn't engage in violence. Like all animal use, the use of any sort of force against a human being to achieve the political ends of the movement must be justified for it even to be considered from a moral perspective. Once the moral questions have been satisfied, if they can be satisfied, it still does not address the practical problems that violence poses for a movement predicated on promoting nonviolence.

    That doesn't mean abolitionists should never use nonviolent force to prevent immanent harm to nonhuman animals. If someone is beating a dog in front of you, although you have no duty to interfere, if you do try to restrain the other person using the least possible force, this is probably justifiable. However, it does mean that a directionless carnival of whateverism, glued locks, spray-painted slogans, smash windows, idiotic epithets and illegal activities to drive donations are the hallmark of militant welfarist/regulationist/protectionist activism, and we would do well to avoid repeating it.

These are some baseline questions and there would obviously be related questions under each. But this is one way we begin to ask objective questions about all campaigns, including our own. As abolitionists, we should focus on creating our own campaigns (and our own shelters), but when it comes to animal adoption, there are times when creating our own shelters locally just isn't feasible. It doesn't follow from that that abolitionists should engage in campaigns that are welfarist, sexist, etc. What it means is that insofar as they are able, they should continue to do the very important work of helping to restore the personhood of nonhuman animals with shelter work while avoiding insofar as possible the compromises attending to the campaigns of the broader organization.

But as abolitionists, the vast majority of our animal advocacy involves primarily volunteer campaigns, handing out pamphlets, leaflets, tabling, given presentations, etc. We should not confuse Francione's encouragement to creative, nonviolent vegan outreach with an encouragement to be involved in undisciplined, violent or veg*n outreach even some of the time. After all, what's the meaningful difference between any other new welfarist organization and an organization that claims to be abolitionist but engages in not just one but all of the following?

  • Uses animals as resources in order to drive donations nominally 'to help animals' but primarily to sustain its own bureaucracy in contravention of the first principle;

  • Focuses its rhetorical claims on treatment as the moral problem, not use, or its work on treatment not use, or both, in contraventino of the second principle;

  • Engages in sexist campaigning (naked activism) in contravention of the third principle;

  • Engages in single-issue, treatment-focussed campaigns (e.g., fur protests and anti-vivisection work) in contravention of the fourth principle;

  • Engages in adventurist or violent action in contravention of the sixth principle;

Even if they get the fifth principle mostly correct, what about the other five out of six?

If a nominally 'abolitionist' organization promotes abolition but engages in regulationist activism or a mix of regulationist activism and vegan outreach, there is no substantial difference between this organizational and any other new welfarist organization. This is not to say that there is no difference at all, but when the seemingly endless list of regulationist groups that identify as “abolitionist”, as a community, abolitionists are critical (and we should be) of the appropriation of the term. But we are often less critical when someone we like, who we believe is sincerely trying, or who we deem to be 'close enough' engages in regulationist activism.

That doesn't mean we should nitpick tiny details about word choices, where the logo should go and that kind of thing. Nor does it mean we should spend all day arguing with the ineducable. Nor is criticism a kind of excommunication. Abolitionist criticism should reflect a meaningful dialogue that corrects susbstantial misunderstandings of what we owe nonhuman animals with those who are open to that correction, who take the rights of nonhumans seriously and are simply misguided or confused about how best to do that, regardless of how they self-identify. A refusal to critically engage other abolitionists because they are "abolitionists" poses us with the same moral issue that a refusal to critically engage welfarist activity does, but leaving aside moral issues for a moment, this is a practical mistake for two reasons.

First, I think this is a non-maximal use of criticism. The best use of criticism is to correct those who are most amenable to correction and whose work is already closest to being properly abolitionist. What should separate us from regulationist criticism is a cultish refusal to engage in an open and critical dialogue about our work.

Second, if abolitionists cannot tell the difference between an abolitionist campaign and a new welfarist campaign, it poses a serious problem to our praxis. So long as we fail to differentiate the abolitionist position from being more than "not purely regulationism" and properly train activists to engage in abolitionist work, there will never be an abolitionist movement.

Of course, our work may meaningfully limit how we can aggressively we can promote abolition around the water cooler, but what we should do with our free time is cut and dried. We should take the rights of nonhuman animals not to be used as property seriously, and focus our efforts maximally on educating people about those rights, the moral necessity of veganism as the baseline of taking those rights seriously, and the moral and practical necessity of ending the property status of nonhuman animals as the first milestone in our struggle on behalf of nonhuman animals.

Most of all, we should only engage in campaigns that meet these criteria. If we're not sure whether a campaign meets these criteria or why these criteria are important, the best thing we can do is act by educating ourselves further about what abolition is, what it entails and how it helps us to help life nonhuman animals out of their slavery.

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