I want to thank everyone for the overwhelmingly positive response to my previous blog (as well as to the blog before the last one). I was surprised and very touched by some of the comments of complete strangers.
After I clicked 'publish post' yesterday, I started the clock to see how long it would take for another animal "advocate" to attack me personally for promoting veganism consistently. It took about 7 hours. The comments were the typical silly sarcasm that denote an inability to respond substantively to the issues that my blog raised. I would have preferred to be wrong, but it is what it is, and it was a tiny trickle compared with the otherwise remarkably positive response.
But I do want to take a second to underscore what vegan means: veganism is not just about food animals and it never has been. I don't know why some advocates keep repeating the argument (over and over and over) that veganism is just about food animals. I am not trying to offend anyone, but this reflects a serious misunderstanding of what veganism means.
But this argument also reflects a serious misunderstanding of how animals are used: in many cases, the same species is used for labor, for food, sometimes for entertainment, and so on. Geese are a good example. They're used for food, for clothing and often for entertainment. The argument that we should just address "only food animals" with veganism is misguided. We should speak for all sentient species as much as we possibly can at every turn and veganism does that.
Veganism refers, and always has referred, to animals as a whole. Donald Watson and the Vegan Society didn't sit down and write out a million-species long list of nonhumans to whose suffering and exploitation we shouldn't contribute. All animals meant all animals. All animals means all animals today. Promoting veganism and abolition is the best way to speak for all kinds of animals at once, regardless of why they are used or whether they live and die in factory farms, family farms, in circuses, in laboratories, in the wild or other places. Single issues campaigns probably do a great deal of harm to animals by confusing the public about veganism and what we owe others (and to which other animals we owe something, and so on).
If we take all animals seriously (we all should), then abolition, veganism and adoption are the meaningful ways to help them as a group and as individuals. No matter how silly the slogans, no matter how attention-grabbing the antics, if a group denigrates veganism and denigrates other advocates for promoting veganism, we should start asking: why? If we take what we owe other animals seriously, there is absolutely no reason not to promote veganism in every campaign, poster and press release. If it's easy to go vegan, surely, it's even easier to type "everyone should go vegan" and add it to the press release before it goes out.
In any case, I find the argument that veganism only refers to food animals to be as strange as the argument that veganism only refers to other animals used in entertainment or only other animals used for fashion would be. Veganism means considering all of our actions in a way that contributes the least possible to animal suffering and exploitation, whether it's for food, clothing or entertainment, and abolition (as an ideology) calls us to understand other animals as moral persons and to do what we can to make real and substantive social change for nonhuman animals in positive ways. I'm very disappointed to see people try to discourage advocates from promoting veganism in general; done in this way in particular, it strikes me as very misinformed. Furthermore, anyone who wants to save the life of a nonhuman animal can go right now today to any animal shelter and do so. Please adopt.
Of course, I could have spent hours criticizing the critics of criticization, but I know there is a growing body of advocates who understands clearly that what we owe other animals is veganism and wants to educate others about veganism. The public clearly understands this more and more. Moreover, The abolitionist vegan community is coming together and increasingly, ours will be the voice that the public hears. The goal of our opponents is always to keep us responding to them and not speaking to the public to promote veganism. Do not let your voices be silenced!
So, instead, I decided to express myself in a poster so awesome, so controversial, so hard-hitting that I know that all of my opponents will tremble at the mere sight of it. I've also included a previous poster that Joanne and I created that makes it clear what veganism means. I'm sure people will also complain because I'll give credit to another advocate where credit is due: I got some of the ideas for this post from someone else. I am neither ashamed of thinking for myself, nor about being intellectually honest when I use someone else's ideas.
I don't know how long it will take before the petty personal attacks for this blog start to surface. But I do seriously hope that animal advocates will start getting their poop in a group. I never want anyone to stop working, I want them to start doing work that will seriously help nonhuman animals. Other animals deserve our most thoughtful, our most careful, our most honest, and our most creative work.
Disagreement, discussion and moral dialogue that help to educate other advocates is wonderful and important work. Denigrating other advocates personally is a very petty thing. We should expect better from our opponents, and I even hope for better for them. Lurking around social media like Twitter and Facebook fuming passive-aggressively about the fact that I am right and they are wrong is no way to conduct advocacy and it's no way to go through life.
If you're not vegan yet, you should go vegan. If you are not an abolitionist, but want to learn more about the approach you can do so from my other articles or by visiting www.abolitionistapproach.com.
Honestly, I don't start off all of my articles like this (with a call for an apology and an encouragement to go vegan). But your agent has said in the Huffington Post that you were contacted by a number of animal advocacy groups, including PeTA, Friends of Animals, and others. Gary L. Francione and Mylène Ouelett have already blogged about this, and I don't like to feel left out.
It's also worth noting that Francione has invited just about anyone who wants to do so to discuss this issue on his podcast. It might be worthwhile for you (or anyone else) to take him up on the offer. I was on his podcast last week, and I can say that both he and Roger Yates are very nice people.
Your agent has also claimed that you received threats, and I am sorry if that has been the case. But it sounds now like you (or someone in your organization) was not being completely forthcoming about your being threatened. I am certainly not saying that you are lying. I am not saying that anyone in question is lying.
Certainly, individuals act of their own accord regardless of what groups or leaders may want them to do on all sides. What I am saying is that falsehoods and half-truths have absolutely no place in public discourse, and that nowhere is that more true that in the advocacy for other animals. I believe that when anyone misleads the public that s/h/ze should apologize for doing so. That goes for everyone, and I'll get back to that in a bit.
But getting back to the story, rather than simply say no, or yes, or can you explain to me why? You said:
“Every skater is wearing skates made out of cow,” Weir said.
“Maybe I’m wearing a cute little fox while everyone else is wearing cow, but we’re all still wearing animals.”
Sure, but what follows out of that is not that you should feel free to use fur but that you shouldn't use leather or fur (or dairy, or eggs or other animal products or labor). I know the groups in question probably didn't explain this very well to you, and it's wonderful that you saw the obvious contradiction. I'm just saying that you should keep going. Pursue that to its logical conclusion: take the rights of all other animals seriously and go vegan.
Now, I'm not going to agave-coat it. And other advocates may boo me or demand apologies or harangue me on Twitter and Facebook all they like, but I am not going to be silenced: I think these campaigns (regardless of the group doing it) were misguided. It's nothing personal. But I think just asking you not to wear fur asked you to do less than you should; I am always opposed to that. I think single issues campaigns confuse the public about what they owe other animals (veganism, abolition and in those cases where it is appropriate, care).
I also think that single issues campaigns often have speciesist overtones insofar as they actively suggest or passively lead people to believe that some species are more important than others, or that some kinds of treatment are worse than others, and so on. But more important, I believe that the only substantial 'victory' for nonhuman animals is the social, legal and personal acknowledgement of their personhood and all of the changes to human life that that entails.
Bans on particular types of treatment and use do not remove animals from the property system and magically make them into legal or moral persons; so, I do not support organizations or campaigns (regardless of their labels or claims) that focus on that kind of work. Again, it's nothing personal. I just believe that you (and everyone else) should take the rights of other animals seriously, and abolitionist veganism, as one of my colleagues likes to say, is the starting point.
As an advocate, I keep it simple. I am a proponent of three simple sentences: Other animals are moral persons who have at least one basic right not to be used as property and I think you should go vegan. Did you know that going vegan is simple and straightforward and the most important thing you can do to help other animals? How can I help you with the transition? In the interests of full disclosure, I got the idea for these three sentences from the work of someone else.
So, how can I help you with your transition? I want you to not only not use fur, I want you also to not use leather. I think you should eat an entirely plant-based diet. I want you to replace all the cleaners you have (vinegar works wonders!), your personal deodorant, your hair gel – everything you possibly can, with alternatives that contribute the absolute least possible to animal suffering and exploitation. That includes products tested on other animals and products manufactured with animal processes.
I want you to stop going to the circus if you do (I don't know you personally – you may not be a fan) and I think you should stop patronizing films, TV and other entertainment produced with animal "actors". I think you should also think carefully and arrange your other behaviours in such as way to contribute as little as possible to the suffering and exploitation of other animals.
To be clear, I am not asking you to do anything beyond the pale. I am not asking you to stop taking life-saving medication. I am not asking you to sacrifice your grandmother to a hungry tiger if the three of you are trapped in a lifeboat. I am not asking you to stop walking on sidewalks. I am not asking you to support the rights of sheep to vote.
Nor am I asking you to martyr yourself. I am asking you to pick up some alternatives at the local grocery, maybe do some Internet shopping, to buy some new clothes, to read a book and, more important, to start thinking about and living your life more fully and completely in a way that contributes the least possible to the harm and suffering of other animals.
I'm asking you to fill your life with all of the overwhelming number of alternatives that justice, virtue and most of all, love allow. That's what vegan means.
Abolitionists propose to end the property status of nonhuman animals and restoring their personhood. We believe that other animals are persons who are sentient, have interests (e.g., an interest in not feeling pain, in continuing their lives), and so, they have a right not to be used as property. Abolitionists believe that in light of that right, everyone should go vegan, that prejudices against other animals are irrational (we refer to this as 'speciesism' and we think of it as being as objectionable as racism or sexism), and that we should all work toward the abolition of the property status of nonhuman animals.
Whether we call them free living, domesticated, whether they are "state" property (e.g., some species in controlled habitats), "personal" property (e.g., a rescued pit bull), "institutional" property (e.g., cows in family or factory farms) or property "waiting to be claimed" (e.g., foxes in nature), animals have a right not to be used as property. There may be minor legal differences between types of property, but property is still property.
All animals are property or 'property waiting to be claimed' through labor (e.g., through hunting). That includes honey bees, zebras, cats, dogs, elephants, otters, cuttlefish and a world full of millions and millions of species whose name you and I will probably never know. They are moral persons just by being sentient, and they should all be treated as moral persons. None of them is properly safe (even the ones we love and care for personally in our own homes) until the property status of animals is abolished. Working to end the property status of animals means working to end the property status of all animals, wherever they live.
But I can't entirely blame you if you were confused, There's been a lot of (very) silly talk on the Internet about veganism lately. Some people have suggested that veganism only applies only to food animals, and I'm telling you that that's not the case. Some people have suggested that eating free range veal makes you a level one vegan. That is also not the case.
In addition to avoiding animals use for food, clothing and entertainment, vegans also try to avoid the suffering and exploitation we cause to other animals whether by actively destroying their habitats whether they are orang-utans or neighborhood squirrels, or with the passive apathy involved with leaving an injured person alone on a roadside. In short, abolitionist vegans take animals seriously as moral persons in the widest possible sense of "seriously". I also think you should also consider lending your personal time, if possible, to promoting veganism, animal adoption/care and abolition.
If I can do it, so can you. In about ten minutes, I am going to eat the tofu salad I made with shiitake mushrooms, wakame, onions (and tofu!). It's going to be delicious. Then I'm going to go thrifting for some suit trousers (no wool or silk). Then I'm probably going to do yoga. When I'm done, I might play scrabble, pet my cats, work on my dissertation, design a flier or any of the other countless things I do to fill my life that don't involve unjustified and inexcusable animal use.
I've said it before, but it bears repeating: abolitionist veganism is a life that goes well. I'm writing this letter not because I want donations or because I expect anyone to thank me for it. Actually, I'll probably be personally attacked by other advocates for writing it (the downside to our community is that there is a lot of scene drama). I'm writing it because I believe in you as an agent of change. I believe that veganism is what we other animals, and that it's also better for the ecosystem (and the other animals who live in it) and for ourselves (as animals to whom we also owe a duty of care and nonviolence). Most of all, though, I'm writing this letter because I believe in you.
Getting back to the apology, if you or anyone else in your organization misled the public (which sounds like it may be the case) I think you should think hard and long about a public apology. The work of animal advocates is often very misguided, but the overwhelming majority of animal advocates care very seriously and sincerely about nonviolence, about the rights of other persons (human and non), and about changing the world for the better. Having apologized myself a lot over the years, I can say that apologizing is very often the right thing to do when we do the wrong thing. But even if you don't apologize, you should definitely go vegan.
Even if you're not Johnny Weir, you should go vegan today. If you're not an abolitionist, you can learn more about the approach at www.abolitionistapproach.com or by reading my previous articles.
One of the things I addressed in a recent podcast with Roger Yates and Gary L. Francione was how the community is shaping and reshaping itself. Definitely worth a listen if you haven’t already heard the podcast.
In this article, I wanted to follow-up and expand on my comments. As I said during the podcast, In my view, the advocacy community is shaping up into three basic factions: a sphere of influence led by HSUS (and that includes groups and figureheads like PeTA, “Vegan” Outreach, Erik Marcus, COK and others). They are shaping into a coalition of interests that takes a “happy meat, indirect, let’s improve animal welfare not end use” position.
The second faction are welfare groups (some militant, some nonmilitant, some traditional who say they’re not in favor, some new welfare groups who say they’re in favor of abolition someday, but for now, want to focus on treatment issues). These groups don’t want to come under HSUS’ sphere of influence for whatever reasons. Further, some advocates in this faction have already declared that HSUS is hegemonic, but this misguided. It reflects either an ivory tower view distant from the struggle on the ground, or a desire to misrepresent the situation.
The third faction are abolitionists. Unlike welfare groups that typically focus on wild animals or domesticated animals, or food animals, or fashion animals, and so on, abolitionists focus on the rights of other animals generally. Opposing the property status of all animals means opposing the property status of all animals, and taking their rights seriously, including their space within the ecosystem we all share. We’re small in number, but we’re obviously growing. The uptick in personal attacks on abolitionist advocates through social media like Facebook and Twitter make it increasingly clear that these groups are afraid of us. But clear analysis suggests that the political situation is very much up for grabs.
There’s little convincing evidence that HSUS has attained hegemony yet, although they’re certainly working toward it. I'll address this first. As a hundred million dollar/year organization, it’s likely to happen. But saying HSUS has achieved hegemony, even among welfare groups, ignores key facts. For example, it leaves out SPCA factions and other smaller groups who are not interested in coming in under HSUS’s sphere of influence, as well as grassroots abolitionist groups (since we’re obviously very critical of HSUS, welfare, and new welfare no matter the label).
The ASPCA is also another 100-million dollar a year animal welfare organization. Even within the SPCA circle of influence, things are not settled. There was also a serious spat just last year between two rival SPCA groups in the UK between the RSPCA and the Scottish SPCA over whether the former should advertise in Scotland. Even if HSUS is working toward hegemony, there's a huge political differences between having hegemony and fighting to get it.
Everything points to HSUS as being in the position of working quickly to consolidate a strong foot-hold in the advocacy movement, but things are far from decided. Moreover, the Internet as an organizing basis allows for counterhegemonic work and activity that is historically unparalleled. Many advocates have positioned HSUS and now PeTA as straw figures to establish their own “abolitionist” creds. Advocates shouldn’t confuse scene posturing and donation diving with the serious critique of welfare groups involved with abolitionist work.
If an "animal advocacy" organization is not spending the vast majority of its time and budget on promoting veganism or with hands-on animal rescue, we have to start asking: why not? The room for businesses in the industry is shrinking, but the room for serious advocates is expanding. HSUS’s movement toward hegemony leaves a lot of welfare groups scrambling to show how they are different to volunteers, donors and fans. Welfare groups who are reluctant to align themselves with HSUS/PeTA/VO will remain viable only insofar as they can convince the public that they are meaningfully different from the HSUS/PeTA/VO, and they are starting to do so by trying to position themselves as abolitionists. These other groups typically sell adventurism or meaningless bans on particular types of treatment to advocates who recognize that traditional welfare like HSUS doesn’t work, object to PeTA’s antics and oppressive tendencies and so on.
In some cases, these groups promote veganism (which is good, so long at this promotion of veganism is clear and abolitionist in nature). To sustain their donation flow, these groups typically sell the same single-issue, high optics, low-value welfare victories that HSUS sells. They are ambivalent (or even critical) about the prospect that HSUS may start to promote veganism entirely because that will eclipse almost all differences between HSUS and them as far as donors are concerned.
In other cases, these groups promote violence and adventurism, along with single issues campaigns and veganism. Again, to sustain their donation flow, these groups drive donations, not with reform of the system, but promises of individual lives saved through confrontational work. Sometimes they claim it’s to fight speciesism, but these campaigns are practically poster-children for a focus on the treatment of mammals insofar as they tend to focus on fur and farm animals.
In some cases, the differences with the HSUS faction may be ideological with some financial consideration. In some cases, it might be mostly financial with minor ideological difference. I tend to think of social phenomena as being economic in nature, regardless of how people imagine it, and so, I tend to see it as largely a battle over the size of the slices of the donation pie. But it’s always possible that even the leaders of these groups are sincerely convinced that they are doing abolitionist work even as they promote what amounts to a position that is inimical or counterproductive to abolition.
What unites them is their opportunism, their focus on shortcuts and their fear. They know that there are only so many dollars and volunteers to go around. They know that to remain relevant, they have to try to make inroads somehow. These groups are trying to convince advocates who reject welfare that they represent an abolitionist alternative, and that’s not the case. If an organization focuses on addressing specific types of animal treatment, not on all animal use, if they engage in violence or adventurism, and so on, then they're not doing abolitionist work. Just promoting veganism or just rejecting happy meat here and there or just talking about anti-speciesism are not enough to make a group abolitionist in nature.
But most of all, if these groups are serious about abolition, then they must stop conflating what is in their interests with what is in the interests of nonhuman animals and focus their work exclusively on the latter. Advocates who work in these groups shouldn't settle for half-measures and opportunism; instead; they should form their own abolitionist groups.
That's not a personal condemnation of any advocate: it's a political critique of organizations driven by opportunism and a personal statement of my faith in everyone who takes other animals seriously to do the hard but desperately necessary work that will lead to their freedom. If I disagree with anyone, it's only because I take them seriously enough to have a dialogue with them.
Abolitionist veganism, the rising force. There are certainly grass roots abolitionist organizations. I run one with my colleague. Joanne (hi, Joanne!) and I always encourage advocates to work with those groups or start their own abolitionist groups. We don't have donors, nor do we need them. We're both firm believers in Francione’s view that we all have to become leaders.
What Schonfeld’s program and his piece in The Guardian, and Gary Steiner’s piece in the NY Times have done is to make it clear that that hiding veganism is unnecessary. None of this would have been possible without Gary L. Francione's pioneering work. We can all speak for ourselves. We can say go vegan. We can say that we should abolish the slavery of nonhuman animals as soon as possible. The public isn’t going shriek in terror and run away. Worst case, they’ll ask for some well-reasoned arguments, and some evidence to show why veganism is important and they’ll ask for some alternatives.
We can fight for all nonhuman animals with three sentences: animals have a basic right not to be used as property and you should go vegan. Did you know that veganism is easy and the most important change any of us can make? How can I help you to make the transition?
We do not need these national organizations and figureheads to do our work. In fact, I never ask advocates to stop working; I want them to start working consistently on things that will make a serious different to nonhuman animals and that’s promoting and educating people about veganism and working toward abolition in meaningful ways with vegan education. When we miseducate the public about what we owe other animals, we are harming their interests. Racist and sexist campaigns are bad, but so are speciesist campaigns. So are ambiguous campaigns. So are confusing campaigns. It’s always best to be clear and unequivocal in our education efforts. That puts veganism, abolition and anti-speciesism front and center to our work.
What these businesses and figureheads are afraid of is a public dialogue about these issues. They don’t want the public to know all sides of the argument. They know the public can make up their own minds, as can advocates, and they’re afraid. Don’t allow them (or other advocates) to silence you). If you agree with another advocate or have ideas of your own, don’t be afraid to express yourself and don’t be afraid to engage in a sincere dialogue with anyone in our community.
Of course, if you’re not a vegan already but take animals seriously, you should go vegan today. If you’re not an abolitionist, you can learn more about the approach at www.abolitionistapproach.com or by reading some of my earlier articles.
Why not just criticize every little thing PeTA does? One of the ways PeTA manipulates the public and the advocacy community is to keep critical attention focused on them. For any of you unfamiliar with the term, PeTA's marketing and communications strategy is driven by what's called guerrilla marketing in the industry. As much as I dislike Wikipedia, you can learn more about it here:
This should help you understand the tactic and how it fits into an outreach strategy. In short, though, the purpose of PeTA's campaigns are to draw attention to PeTA (shocking, I know). But the premise of guerilla marketing is that
- Most people cannot take-in or remember highly detailed discussions of substantive issues, but they can easily remember brand names and
- Antics and stunts provoke discussion of those antics and stunts (and their perpetrators) in the public sphere for what amounts to free media coverage and free marketing.
That's very important to marketing and donations activity when you want to get your message out in a way that is not "obviously marketing" and to keep as many donations for yourself as you can. So, when we respond to PeTA, even when we do so critically, we are engaged (if only partially) in helping them to market themselves.
To be clear, I am definitely not saying we shouldn't criticize PeTA. We should. I am saying that animal advocates should be careful to use PeTA's marketing, their notoriety, their brand awareness to the advantage of nonhuman animals as much as we can and to let them use us for their advantage as little as possible.
So, when we respond to PeTA, we must be careful to always lead with the clearest, most urgent and mostly publicly understandable criticism (e.g., PeTA has killed animals by the tens of thousands according to Newsweek, PeTA engages in offensive campaigns with racist and sexist overtones that alienate people potentially interested in animal rights and veganism). What’s important is to tell people what’s important for them to know as clearly as possible.
Stick to the facts and rely on credible sources and strong rational arguments. For example, this Newsweek article claims that PeTA killed 17,000 animals since 1998. More than 85% of the nonhuman animals they took in. Moreover, PeTA often uses racism and sexism in its campaigns, and that alienates interested people from taking nonhuman animal rights seriously. Further, PeTA engages in campaigns that do not meaningfully help nonhuman animals, as Gary L. Francione explains better than I can in The Four Problems of Animal Welfare in a Nutshell. Definitely worth reading for any advocate. Finally, PeTA rarely promotes veganism, which is the most meaningful way any of us can help nonhuman animals (and that includes animal advocates going vegans themselves).
Do not be afraid to repeat the facts. You may read another advocate's post or comment and think, I'll just add this point since s/h/ze has already covered X, Y and Z. Or you may think, some petapologist will jump out of an Interweb corner and call me a minion if I agree with another advocate. But
- This kind criticism reflects a strategy aimed at getting advocates to go 'off message' ourselves by 'trying to be original' in our criticism and/or, even better from their perspective, getting us to self-censor. It's meant to either splinter or silence our voices and to create a vacuum in which only national organizations like PeTA and similar figureheads can be heard.
- Remember, welfare figureheads and national groups are the same people who promote form letter campaigns, write for-profit guides to nanny advocates while enriching themselves and other kinds of cookie-cutter outreach when it suits them.
- Anyone in the public grappling with weighty moral questions like veganism cares more about the facts than who tells them the facts. If you know the facts, don’t be afraid to tell someone the same facts and arguments, even if another advocate already has. Education sometimes takes more than one try to take.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about veganism and why it is morally necessary. Get your abolitionist animal rights message out in front of the public. They’re ready to hear about veganism, as Victor Schonfeld’s recent piece in The Guardian and Gary Steiner’s piece in the New York Times make clear.
- Finally, people do not read everything presented to them in detail. They skim. Your blog article or your comment may be the only comment they read. Make it count.
What nonhuman animals need is more discussion, not less. What they need is more leadership, not less. Groups like PeTA don’t want to share the spotlight with you. Advocacy is not about scoring hipster points by coming up with the most original criticism in order to impress people in the scene or being silent to make Nanny happy. It's about making a difference for nonhuman animals with effective outreach to the public (that's original, that's authentic, and that's powerful). Just think for yourself and express yourself based on the facts.
As a community, animal advocates must remind the public that the smears against our community are unfounded. It is difficult to think of a community more vibrant, more thoughtful, more creative, more progressive or more passionate about nonhuman animals than the abolitionist community. PeTA (and not just PeTA but their cronies in HSUS, “Vegan Outreach” and other groups) do their best to silence our community, to shame us for having our own idea and our own views.
As the only meaningful political force that stands a chance to life animal up out of slavery, we must resist. Criticism is one important part of that. We must also continue to build our own campaigns, our own outreach and our own creativity in coordinated ways, not with dehumanizing antics but with work that uplifts, inspires, and draws positive attention to what everyone owes other animals. I believe in you. As your colleague, I am not asking anyone to stand behind me, just beside me, and to make your own voices heard.
If you take animal seriously, but are confused by a confusing message from animal welfare groups, don’t feel bad. They don’t want you to make change. They want you to donate change. You can help nonhuman animals best by going vegan. Go vegan today if you aren’t. If you’re not an abolitionist, you can learn more about the approach at www.abolitionistapproach.com or by reading my previous articles.
What’s unfortunate is that many would-be academics and salonists misuse the term, hegemony, a term loaded with political meaning by Antonio Gramsci. For those who don’t know Gramsci’s work, he was a communist. He wrote his prison notebooks while in prison for being a communist and having hegemonic tendencies himself because he was a communist. Mussolini, who also had hegemonic tendencies, put him there in the mid 1920s.
Gramsci has had an enormous, if not immediately obvious effect, on left politics in the post-WWII era in North America (along with Chomsky, Zinn, Foucault and Wallerstein). Like many great theorists, he tends to be most popular with other theorists. My blog is based on some of his most important ideas. I don’t agree with Gramsci on every tiny detail, but Gramsci doesn’t require that. Many people use 'hegemony' as a synonym for authoritarianism, fascism and other specific politics, but that is not how Gramsci means it.
When a group attains hegemony, Gramsci merely means that they are in a position of sufficient social power in order order social relations mostly (although not totally) to their advantage. A hegemonic group organizes those social relations based on a coalition of friendly groups through a combination of leadership and coercion. That is, they provide hope to their allies, and they strike fear into the hearts of their opponents.
The Republicans attained hegemony in the United States in 2000 when Little W led a coalition of religious, fiscal and social conservatives to power. As the Republican coalition was whittled away over the next 8 years, we all witnessed how the specific interests of those groups were often in competition with one another, even if they agree substantially on supporting Bush's administration. The coalition a hegemonic group forms is sometimes referred to as ruling relations by Gramsciists, and the individual groups often have competing interests. Change happens when group allegiances change, power shifts, new coalitions emerge and social relations shift.
What Grasmci proposes is not that communists and other leftists should oppose hegemony per se, but that they do their best to attain their own cultural hegemony against right wing and reactionary groups and their hegemony. This is sometimes referred to as ‘counter-hegemonic practice’ by Gramsciists, since most hegemonies tend to be right-wing. But that doesn't make hegemony itself reactionary; it depends on the politics involved.
Lord knows, I’m trying my best to bring my hegemonic tendencies to fruition. And I don’t believe in hegemonic tendencies just for myself. I also believe that other abolitionist vegans should have hegemonic tendencies as well. I would love nothing better than to see to the world reorganized based on veganism and the rights of other animals. I am not a utilitarian liberal in a poncho and no deodorant who believes that any criticism is a form of hierarchy; and I am not afraid to criticize others if they require criticism.
If other would-be leaders of our movement do not have hegemonic tendencies, are not willing to stand alone in the field of cultural struggle, that is their prerogative. I am prepared to struggle by myself. I agree, without reservation, with the view that:
“[the animal advocacy movement has] ceded the authority to these leaders of these national organizations, and activism has become, “Let me write a check to this group or to that group.” And that’s never gonna work. We need to see ourselves as moral centers for change—each of us.” (Gary L. Francione).
If there were 1,000 abolitionist vegan groups, each with petty demagogues like myself, refusing cheques, refusing half-measures, refusing violence, insisting on education and change, where would the struggle for the rights of other animals be today?
If there were only 10 abolitionist vegan groups each creating their own literature, writing their own pamphlets, performing their own plays, holding their own knit ins, holding their own bake sales, running their own shelters, building their own sanctuaries, we would show our opponents a kind of power and tenacity that the proponents of an adolescent adventurism can only barely begin to understand.
A revolution of the heart, as Francione puts it, is not something that can be undone. Solidarity with the oppressed, properly understood, cannot be stopped by petty inconveniences. An insurance check can’t cover it. Industry can’t lower prices fast enough to strangle it. It cannot be hushed up or papered over with a stangnant and recycled propaganda. It is a social transformation embodied in each agent of change; so long as there is one abolitionist vegan, the system will always have to answer to someone.
Each of us should be prepared to be that someone.
If we want to strike at the walls of oppression, to shake its foundations, rather than merely contenting ourselves with complaining vacuously about the wallpaper, then advocates should put down the petty antics and pick up some truly revolutionary work. And that’s education. Not raising awareness, but serious, hands-on, “read the book, think about the ideas, make the changes required to pay what you owe others” education.
Someone who has been ‘educated’ about gravity but still walks off of cliffs has not been educated about gravity. Someone who has been ‘educated’ about veganism but still persists in the use of other animals has not been educated about veganism. Advocates need to stop saying education won’t work and start understanding that they have misunderstood education at a fundamental level.
If being handed a pamphlet is education, I’d have a dozen PhDs by now.
In closing, dear colleagues, you are either with me or against me. By that, I mean that you either support immediate, unconditional and unequivocal abolition, veganism and animal adoption, or you are not clearly and unequivocally in favor of these things. If you are against me, then you should be prepared to read a never ending set of poorly designed pamphlets, poorly proof-read blogs, and a mountain of tweets until you change your mind. My talents may be meager, but my sincerity is unrivaled and my will is a force of nature.
I am simply the kind of advocate who will not stop until everyone has been educated, no matter how intransigent. It is not because I am hopeful. It is because when we experience real solidarity with other animals (whether human or non), we know that the only victory is their absolute emancipation and the restoration of their personhood by the wholesale transformation of society.
We cannot experience real solidarity and coddle ourselves with fantasizes about our defeat. We cannot pursue real solidarity work and pursue "shortcuts" that will never bring us to the future to which we all aspire. There is simply too much at stake in the life of one nonhuman animal in slavery for the movement to continue the way that it is has. Trying to turn back the clock is reactionary. Inviting defeat with a carnival of tactics that don't work is reactionary.
We must change course and devote all energies to abolition, veganism and adoption. Not because I say so, but because reason and empirical evidence say that we must change and because change is what justice and virtue demand of us. I am for the hegemony of justice, virtue, but most of all, love. I will not apologize for it and neither should anyone else.
If you are not vegan, you should go vegan today. If you are not an abolitionist, you can learn more about the approach at www.abolitionistapproach .com.