Dear Erik, or should we call you The Terminator now? An open letter welcoming you to the moral community

Dear Erik,

It's true that I haven't always been that supportive of you, but I hope we can put that in the past. But i wanted to write a letter to say that I think it's terrific that you finally spit your candy coated thumb out long enough to be one of the last people in the animal advocacy community to jump on the "PeTA has serious problems" bandwagon. Welcome to the moral community!

I also think it's fabulous that there's absolutely nothing about your recent article back-handedly praising PITA that makes it sound like you'd go naked to be PITA's new Vice President and Chief Terminating Officer. I'm not even going to wonder aloud about a guy who clearly fantasizes about himself as a younger, veg*n Arnold Schwarzenegger and the sexist and heterosexist connotations thereto. I'm not.

The Terminator. I shake my head.

I know a lot of people will probably criticize this blog, but that's okay. I'm willing to take the abuse. Maybe you thought it was cute of you to refer to nonvegan commenters at Digg as "some of the stupidest people on the Internet." I'm not sure how much that helps spread veganism. But the way you almost fell all over yourself to defend PITA through the first part of the piece made me wonder a bit at first. You seem to have quite a few harsher things to say about HuffPo. Still, I'm prepared to be open-minded.

More important, though, Bruce Friedrich has said some interesting things about PITA lately. My take? Over the next 12-24 months, PITA will be retooling its brand to be less confrontational, to line up better with HSUS and that Friedrich is pushing them internally to head in that direction already. Considering who Friedrich is, it makes your piece look cautious to the point of timidity, but don't let that stop you: baby steps.

But your first order of business (and I do mean business) as The Terminator? Changing the name of PITA's blog. Really? That's what you thought was most pressing? I'm going to have to go ahead and point out that as far as baby steps go, that's some serious neonate action (no offense to neonates). PITA is still killing thousands of animals. If you couldn't start there, maybe you could have picked something a little less trivial.

In short, we get it. We're glad if you're finally getting it.Who in the animal advocacy community doesn't get it at this point that PITA has very serious problems? But there's more to being a vegan advocate than throwing PITA under the bus for trivial reasons. If you want to criticize PITA, I think it's overdue, but you might want to think about what's most important. Hell, why not criticize your own apologist attitude toward agribusiness and your counterproductive hostility toward nonveg*ns and abolitionists vegans alike while you're at it?

But still, what's most surprising to me is that, in your entire article, you didn't bother to mention that PITA is killing thousands of other animals every year. Surely, those nonhuman persons all deserved at least a passing mention in your first article, and seriously, not even your first priority as self-appointed head of the PITA police? But now I'm digressing. Don't let me discourage your new found enthusiasm.

If you do really believe that PITA does have serious problems, I want to introduce you to the work of a new and amazing writer: Gary L. Francione. You had him on your show once. The link for those who are interested in that discussion:

Well worth listening. Francione has been talking about PITA's problems for more than 15 years now. I realize you probably still haven't read Francione's books. However, I will personally buy and send you copies if you swear by Burger King or Chipotle (or whatever large agribusiness you think of as holy these days) that you'll read them. Not sure what I mean here? Read my previous blog entry: Erik Marcus: Bullying others is sexy! No, not really.

But the real question is: what took you so long? I'm not asking that to be mean. I seriously want to know whether your break with reality up until this point was sincere false consciousness about PITA, their antics, their animal killings, their campaigns laced with racist, sexist, ableist and classist overtones... Or if you're as opportunistic as other figureheads in the animal welfare advocacy community and see a plum opportunity for yourself here.

I'm sure a LOT of people believe that your latest article reflects the thinly-vieled opportunism of a guy looking for a job (whether it's from a new, kinder, gentler PITA as they try to remake their brand or from HSUS as they become all singing, all dancing). But I'm going to cross my fingers and hope you're sincere even if you're misguided about what the most pressing problems at PITA are (hint: it's more than just crass and offensive marketing).

And, look, I know a lot of people have been confused by PITA in the past, and that many still are. But I'm afraid I can't let your years and years of apology off the hook just yet. You're a self-appointed leader in our community. You took it upon yourself to write three books about animal advocacy.

Did you really not know?

Now, it's true that your career is flagging. I'm not insensitive to that (really). Squeezed between Vegan Freak v2 (an excellent book), Gary L. Francione's Animals as Persons (another excellent book) and Bruce Friedrich's/Matt Ball's latest "activism as marketing" missive, I understand that your old books are looking pretty old and your recent book is not doing very well. What's it called again? I doubt many of my readers even know (hint, it's the inaptly tittled: The Ultimate Vegan Guide). It must be hard to watch Will Tuttle's book The World Peace Diet go to #1 at recently.

But buck up! It's never too late for you to stop promoting happy meat and to do work that will seriously help other animals (and that's promoting abolitionist veganism and adoption, shelter and sanctuary work). I believe in you.

Vincent J. Guihan

PS: if you're not vegan yet, you should all go vegan today! If you're not an abolitionist, you can read through my articles.

I'm for justice, no matter who it's for or against; activists shouldn't hit people with pies

"I'm for justice, no matter who it's for or against." Malcolm X

I haven't read Lierre Kieth's book in its entirety and I can't say that I care that much about it. I know that she is an ex-vegan, and I wish it were otherwise. But someone hit Keith in the face with pies (allegedly) laced with cayenne pepper at a recent speaking engagement.

To be clear, I am against ecoprimitivism(s) (and most expressions of non-vegan ideologies) for dozens of reasons, none of which I'll be belabor here. I am also regularly reminded of the serious inadequacy of animal welfare activism by all of the ex-vegans rising to the surface these days. Others have criticized her for transphobia, which I also find deeply, deeply objectionable. So, it would be an understatement to say that I think Keith's views are misguided.

I also have little doubt that her book will be much more than another in an endless stream of paeans that justify violence against vulnerable nonhuman animals for a number of unfounded pretexts. I have even less doubt that it will convince some misguided "vegans" to stop being vegan; it will also provide rationale for those who are not vegan in the anarchist community (and some outside of it) to keep right on being not vegan.

But at a time when the public is beginning to understand and warm to veganism, this was neither the right nor the effective thing to do. "As Keith stood at a lectern," writes Demian Bulwa at the SF Gate:
at the Hall of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, three people in masks and black hooded sweatshirts ran from backstage, shouted, "Go vegan!" and threw pies in her face. While they fled, some in the audience cheered or handed out leaflets. [...] Keith said her values are similar in most ways to those of her attackers. She believes in militant action, even property destruction, if it can lead to change. In her book, she said, she railed against factory farming and promoted the restoration of prairies and forests.
My views on this are fairly straightforward: there's more than enough violence in general and there's more than enough sexism, heterosexism, racism, speciesism, ableism and other wrong kinds of isms (far too few of the right kinds of isms) in the animal welfare community and its "militant" wing to go around. This was the wrong thing to do. It was also the ineffective thing to do. What did this do to help other animals? Absolutely nothing (unless you count enriching the owner of the store where they bought the ingredients).

I have written elsewhere that violence is a river and that violence on the part of animal advocates is a matter of pissing into that river. There's no need for any vegan (or anyone else for that matter) to piss in that river and call it a dam.

Although I wouldn't describe Keith's values as similar to my own, clearly she shares at least some values with her attackers. Is she going to change her opinion as a result of this attack? Almost certainly not. Will anyone in the public change their minds? If so, it will almost certainly be in the wrong direction.

What the public will take away from this bit of "work" is that those who promote violence toward nonhuman animals are the victims of vegans. This only provokes the repressive apparatus of the state. That only provokes the hostility and the defensiveness of the public. This only pushes the faces of those already living and dying in slavery further down into the mud of their status as human property as well as the cultural prejudice and fear that underlies that status.

Had neo-Nazis done this to a vegan, the advocacy community would be outraged. A justice predicated solely on an affinity with the victim is hollow and hypocritical. Like Malcolm, I am for a real justice no matter who it is for or who it is against, regardless of what I may think of the victim. And yet she and her attackers (for that is the appropriate word) will remain under the impression that violence can wring change; they remain mired in a similar if not identically dogmatic and imaginative worldview in which these acts will achieve something positive. It can't and they won't.

Instead, what this will provoke is a rehardening of the already fossilized power relations in which many human and all nonhuman animals are varying degrees of vulnerable and some select human beings hold a knife to their throats deciding when and who it cuts. It will summon dismissal. It will provide the opponents and detractors of veganism one more in a series of outstanding examples that link veganism with violence toward human beings in ways that make all advocates look as far from reality as they are from adulthood.

But more than anything else, this underscores the creaking irrelevance of what is incorrectly dubbed "militancy" in North America. Left to praise antics that mimic PeTA's, the bored, confused and bourgeois apologists and provocateurs in the advocacy community who cheer this kind of rubbish only further remind us all that those who preen for the cameras and draw themselves the limelight by announcing and extolling the violence of others don't just misunderstand veganism or the rights of animals, they misunderstand militancy and militant social struggle.

I condemn these actions in no uncertain terms, as a vegan, as an animal rights advocate and as someone with a long personal history of broader social justice work, as someone who grew up poor, as someone who grew up white, as someone who grew up with a disabled parent, as someone who grew up male, as someone with a mother, as someone who went to university, and as someone who used to work as a janitor cleaning apartments. Activism is always a matter of doing what's right most effectively. Harming another person (human or non) to gratify the emotional needs of "advocates" is neither.

It is now easier than it ever has been to go vegan, it is more and more a matter of public discussion, and why some advocates feel the need to push the public from it in an effort to emotionally gratify themselves at the expense of other animals, I'll never be able to guess.

Simon the Sadist vs. Christine: Ideological non-violence, veganism and solidarity as social transformation

Let’s imagine that we encounter Simon, who is torturing a dog by burning the dog with a blowtorch. Simon’s only reason for torturing the dog is that he derives pleasure from this sort of activity. […] Simon is violating a moral and legal rule that just about everyone agrees with—that it is wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering or death on animals. And what do we mean by “unnecessary”? We mean that it is wrong to inflict suffering or death on animals merely because it gives us pleasure or we find it amusing. Simon is inflicting unnecessary suffering and death on the dog; he is torturing an animal for no reason other than his pleasure and amusement.

Gary L. Francione

Simon the Sadist is a powerful metaphor, one that Francione introduces primarily in Introduction to Animal Rights, but now is a recurring figure in Francione’s work (with this particular sample taken from a piece about Michael Vick, whose violence has inspired a tremendous amount of anger in response). Although it is a recurring metaphor, it is not one that has been extensively explored.

Considering Francione's work more as a kind of moral theatre rather than purely as what is literally being proposed, I think Simon the Sadist reflects this double motion: to imagine the dog he blowtorches as a 'rights-holder', we start with a common idea of liberalism, but then we are already beginning a discussion of the dog's personhood and the moral value of that personhood.

Once we have started this dialogue, then we have already taken several important steps along a journey that leads us well past many of the signposts of the way that world is organized today, even if we're not entirely sure where it will lead us or all of what we'll discover about ourselves and others along the way. What Simon teaches us about non-violence is, I think, worth considering in detail.

Often, we may be unsure and unclear about what violence is, even if we often know it when we see it. But I do not think this prevents us from understanding clearly what non-violence is; and in this piece, I explore some of my own views (as they are informed by Francione's work). I argue that non-violence (as an ideology) is a refraining from, but it is also a drawing closer to and a belonging with. Of the three, we are most accustomed to thinking of it as embodied in the first. If I am using the word in an unusual way, perhaps I may be forgiven if I am, nevertheless saying something true, right or, if nothing else, novel.

Non-violence as a refraining from
Most are familiar with non-violence as a refraining from. That is, most of us would understand our duty to be non-violent toward others as 'not harming them', or for non-violent utilitarians, as not causing others suffering in undue ways. Pacifism, as one expression of non-violence, is a refraining from harm. This is not the same as simply “not harming.”

Only in a very basic, non-ideological sense could I refer to myself as “non-violent” when I am sleeping and not harming others. Instead, non-violence as a refraining from is an active behaviour. Non-violence as a refraining from expresses itself as an active practice of justice that calls us to avoid harming others, even when there are rational reasons to do so (personal gain, emotional gratification, utility, among others). Non-violence as a refraining from is a rational limit of the will.

Non-violence as a drawing closer to
Ideologically speaking, non-violence, in my view is more than a simple refraining from. I say that it is also a “drawing closer”. It will not be immediately clear what I am proposing with this, but perhaps an example can show what I mean more clearly.

Let us say that I wish to act non-violently in a broader ideological sense. Let us say that I already practice non-violence as a literal refraining from violence. But let us say that I hold all others at a distance. Let us say that I apply the same sense of 'not harming' to all beings identically. Let us say that while I always refrain from direct harm, I never help. Is that all that is required for me to say, “yes, I am non-violent”? Or does this show us that understanding non-violence as solely a refraining from is lacking? If an elderly woman slips on the ice, it may not be violent to leave her there, but I would not say this is non-violent in the way that I mean it.

Intuitively, I find non-violence as a refraining from to be required but insufficient when I consider non-violence as a broader ideology. I believe that in some ways, non-violence requires that we also draw closer to others and to help them to draw closer to us. This is meaningfully different from “keeping handy” or “chasing down” others, both of which tend toward violence, both of which tend toward or embody the organization of other animals as objects for our use. A drawing closer is a movement made by one person toward another person. It involves acknowledgement of the other person as a someone rather than as a something to whom we owe something, but also as a person we would like to know better so that we might act better in relation to them.

If it is a form of violence to use others as our instruments (and I believe that it is), then we might also say that those who excel at violent behaviour know how to use their tools well, are good at chasing them down or careful to keep them handy when they need them. Further, we might say that those who promote violence study their victims (whether it is the bank robber, the serial murderer). It seems reasonable to suggest that those who are non-violent must draw closer to those with whom they wish to act non-violently; indeed, that they must study those they would wish to make the subjects of their non-violence.

So, if we wish to take non-violence seriously, although I do not think drawing closer to others is all that is required, nevertheless, I think it is best to cultivate an understanding of how our actions as individuals, as well as how they build the broader social relations or our societies harm those who are not just like us (and even those who are).

To be non-violent toward others, I would say, is at least to refrain from harming them unjustifiably, but that this also involves a drawing closer to them in both our thoughts and actions in order to cultivate a deeper understanding of what non-violence is in relation to them as other persons. This drawing closer reflects a kind of empathy.

Non-violence as a belonging with
But even if we agree that non-violence is a refraining from and a drawing closer, it is not immediately clear why these are intuitively appealing to me or how I understand them as adding up to something I describe as 'non-violence'. What does the intuitive impulse toward non-violence already assume about the world and about ourselves as agents within it? Following the stoics, I often describe my relationship with other animals (particularly those in my care) as a “belonging with.”

I say, for example, that Julius (one of the cats who lives with me) does not belong to me, he belongs with me. I know him and he knows me, but more important, he is a person who needs my care and for whom I have agreed to care. If he did not know me and were a complete stranger, he would still belong with me. I do not know many of my neighbors, and yet, we each make any number of decisions throughout the day to make one another's lives better (e.g, not blaring New Kids on the Block at 2am, making sure our smoke detectors work and so on).

And so, although I do not think merely thinking of others as belonging with us means all of our actions with respect to them are non-violent, I think perhaps that non-violence must involve some sense of belonging with in some way or another. Perhaps this may seem less clear than it ought.

Belonging with is an older idea, and although we often think of ourselves as belonging with others who are already close to us (friends, family, classmates, neighbors), the transformation of the world through modern information technology has had its effects on a traditional understanding of belonging with. Many of us in the West understand our relationship to others as a matter of individuals relating to individuals; that we are each discrete and separate, but I believe this to be problematic.

Whether or not we consider our inescapable relationship to others to be ontological in nature, certainly, the ecosystem makes this a matter of reality and not merely ideas. We cannot cut down a tree without dispossessing someone. To be non-violent, I would say, is to understand what this action means in grave detail, not simply as a set of words but as a knowledge of how this affects the world and the others who belong with us.

This is very far from the too-frequent projection of emotional needs hidden behind calls for justice for others; it involves cultivating a deeper sense that we belong with one another. The former calls us to use others as props in a personal theatre. But the latter draws us closer and causes us to refrain from harming others, even when it does not gratify us to do so. This belonging with is an acknowledgement of our togetherness in the world with others.

Returning to Simon
So, what does Simon the Sadist propose to us as a metaphor? As “violent”, Simon does three things: first, he refuses to 'refrain from' harming the dog. Second, he also refuses a 'drawing closer to' in the sense that the dog is not a subject with whom he feels any affinity, but rather an object he “keeps handy” so that he may use the dog for his own pleasure. Finally, he understands his relationship to the dog as a “belonging to” rather than a “belonging with”. S/he is a tool for his use.

But there are important questions that our focus on Simon as the villain leaves out: what is the dog's name? Let us call her Christine. What does Christine like to eat? What is Christine's favorite toy? Who were Christine's mother and father? It does not interest me as much to know who Simon is, or what he wants, as it would to know who Christine is and what it is she wants, what is good for her, and so on. Certainly, I have little desire to draw closer to Simon, but nevertheless, I do not feel as though I can say he does not belong with me.

As another animal, in some sense he does belong with me, but then, so does Christine. In fact, he is lucky in the sense that, in acknowledging what I owe Christine, I cannot avoid acknowledging what I also owe him for similar reasons. The dilemma that Simon poses is not a matter of regulating Simon's use of Christine; it is a matter of resolving a dispute between two persons to each of whom I owe something similar.

Posed with choosing between them, I have a greater emotional experience of owing something to Christine (even if I am not sure what it is I owe or why I owe it); indeed, I think if we are properly non-violent, we should all have that experience. But this also draws us to an understanding that the choice is not just between Simon or Christine, but between violence and non-violence as ideologies. Neither should we fail to speak in Christine's defense, nor can we use Simon as the instrument of our own emotional gratification.

In fact, looking at the length of human history, there is nothing novel in hating Simon; emotional retribution is as old as human history. Looking at contemporary social relations, as the constant of all oppression, there is nothing unique or transformative about violence; instead, the system relies on violence in order to sustain itself. To take non-violence seriously as an ideology is to understand this and to work toward a meaningfully different future by rejecting a continuous (and continuously violent) history for ourselves and for Christine. It is our solidarity that binds us to Christine, calls us to act radically and non-violently on her behalf rather than in respect to our own gratification.

Non-violence, veganism and animal solidarity
As Francione proposes, Simon is breaking a rule we almost all agree is wrong, but why do we have this rule? In my view, our belonging with others, our empathy toward and our limiting ourselves with respect to other animals do not constitute an ideology; the first is only a statement that describes the world. The second is an emotional state, and the last is only a behavior.

Instead, I would suggest that solidarity with other animals is the ideology that adds up our belonging with other animals as a kind of togetherness in the world, our drawing closer to help them when we can and our refraining from harming them in a way that makes sense to us. Indeed, solidarity seems to me to be the word that best describes our togetherness with other animals (including human beings) as we all try to live in the world. If our actions and words do not stem from a sincere sense of solidarity, then I do not think we are properly non-violent.

It is our sense of solidarity with Christine that makes it clearer to us that what Simon is doing is wrong: we understand that other animals belong with us, we wish to draw closer to them, and this turns us (no matter how minimally) in the direction of refraining from harming them. Many people already have this sense deep within them. The task of vegan education is to blow upon the embers of this solidarity.

I do not think that we can be fully non-violent without understanding ourselves to be in a relationship of solidarity with other animals. It is this solidarity that it is most important to cultivate in ourselves and others. A limit of the will, empathy, and an understanding that we are together with other animals are the parts of the sum of this solidarity, but the sum is also more than the parts.

From education to transformation
Personal change is not necessarily political change, although it seems to me that the latter is impossible without the former. Theory is the brush that helps us to paint a metaphor of 'the world' on the sky, but love is the fire that transforms it. The former we make; the latter makes us. So, when I propose that non-violence is a refraining from, a drawing closer to and a belonging with, I am at once proposing both a sketch of the world, a vision of its transformation, and finally, a set of tactics by which we might do more than merely imagine that transformation, we might realize it instead.

When we consider our relationship to all other sentient animals, when we really consider fully the contours of what non-violence poses to us, we know, if only intuitively, that non-violence presents us with, and calls us to, more than just a refraining from. It draws us to a transformation of social relations that is unrivalled in human history. My liberation is not their liberation (or vice versa). Our states of liberation from and our modes of resistance to Capital, Empire, Patriarchy and other regimes of power that oppress us all may be very different.

Nevertheless, our respective liberations are unmistakably bound up together. Veganism is a baseline and emancipation a milestone. Veganism is the least we do to act non-violently with respect to other animals, and once nonhuman animals are emancipated, the struggle toward justice does not end; it merely takes on new shape and possibility. For those would prefer a simpler explanation, I think this blog is an excellent example:

The importance of adoption; there are so many Christines

Abolitionist veganism proposes to us a basis for personal and broad political change, as well as a clear strategy and set of tactics to help other animals, the ecosystem on which we all depend, and ourselves. If you're not vegan, did you know that it has never been easier to go vegan? If you are not an abolitionist, you can learn more about the approach at

The World Peace Diet hits #1. Can we all please promote veganism now?

Will Tuttle’s The World Peace Diet hit number 1 yesterday on Today, it’s number 11 (Amazon updates hourly), but still, this was a serious feat. I like to research questions to inform my views (and I like data as a general matter). So, I did some quick key word search at Amazon and at Google.

As I understand "best-seller", what that means is that for part of the day yesterday, Will’s book was the best-selling book in Amazon’s catalog. That means his book was more popular (briefly) than Karl Rove’s book, more popular (briefly) than Michael Pollan’s book, Alicia Silverstone’s book The Kind Diet (which has also done very well) and about 10,000,000 other books that Amazon sells according to Internet Retailer in terms of sales.

There are 2,621 books that turn up with the search term ‘vegan’ at That may not seem exorbitant but there only 16,998 that return for "feminism" and only 936 return for "transgender". Not all of these books are about veganism or necessarily pro-vegan (key word searches aren't that reliable). But there are a wide variety of books about veganism available to the market today. The more important question is: who’s making these books financially successful? Who's taking the financial gamble to decide that these books are ready for public purchase?

I don't think it's an enormous but strangely undiscovered continent of vegans. It’s far more likely to be a generally non-vegan public who are curious about these issues and non-vegan publishers who see a clear opportunity to sell books to them. And it’s not just books and people who buy books.

Veganism, animal use, animal rights, and animal liberation figure prominently in North American popular culture. I’m not talking about C-SPAN. I’m talking about prime-time television shows such as Family Guy, The OC, and Bones (among others) on FOX (hardly a network known for its progressive values).

Google returns 14,500,000 returns for the word “vegan”. Not all of those returns will be pro-vegan, but it is obviously a matter of public discussion. For comparison “buffy the vampire slayer” returns 3,370,000 and “everybody loves Raymond” (a show whose popularity I could never figure out) returns 85,000. “Olympics” returns 78,100,000. I wouldn't say there is anything scientific here, but clearly, veganism is in the public sphere.

The truth is, we don't need to keep veganism in the closet, and we don't need antics and sensationalism to draw public attention to veganism. Public attention is already increasingly on us and on the important questions of the ethical nature of our relationship to other animals, the role that animal agriculture plays in environmental destruction and the role that animal foods play in human health.

The public gets it (and if they don't, all the more reason to educate them clearly and consistently). But this raises a serious question about what value antics and sensationalism have, except to draw attention to specific animal welfare brands like HSUS and PeTA to distinguish them in a quickly overcrowding market.

If the public’s ready to hear about veganism, why aren’t animal advocacy groups talking about veganism?

Although not books that promote veganism, the popularity of Michael Pollan’s books and the popularity of Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals, points to the public desire to think more about their food and their relationship with nonhuman animals generally.

And yet, prominent animal advocacy groups regularly insist that the public is not ready to hear about veganism and doesn’t want to discuss its food choices in ethical terms. Clearly that isn’t the case. The rise of "humane" labeling schemes and “happy” meat makes it quite clear that people are willing not just to have a dialogue about these issues, not just to change their behaviours, but are willing to pay extra to feel better about their choices.

Of course, it doesn’t necessarily follow from this that there are millions and millions of people who are just waiting to go vegan. But surely, they’ll never go vegan unless we ask them to do so, make it clear to them why we think they should and, most important, help them to do so. Education is more than just handing someone a flier or dressing up in a chicken suit.

More important, that’s what makes consistent, non-confrontational and supportive education more necessary than ever. If people don’t understand veganism or abolition, that last thing anyone should do is respond to their questions either with hostility, defensiveness, violent posturing, or with lukewarm indications that "veganism is really difficult but donations are easy!" or that veganism is a personal choice like choosing between Coke and Pepsi.

We can educate clearly and consistently without making people feel bad about themselves. In fact, veganism is terrifically good news for people who want to change their lives for the better, for other animals, for themselves and other human beings (as animals) and for the environment (as the place where animals, including human beings, live). Why not talk to others about it?

Clearly, the public is hungry to learn more about these issues, which raises a serious question: when are animal advocacy organizations going to come out of the single-issue/better treatment closet and promote veganism and abolition? Even with their curiosity, many people are still hesitant to accept that animal use is unnecessary to be healthy, happy, for the environment or other reasons. It’s time (indeed, it is well past time) that every animal advocate start to educate the public that animal use is unnecessary and unjustifiable.

If you’re not vegan yet, did you know it has never been easier to go vegan? There are alternatives in virtually every grocery store in North America, Web sites, discussion forums, books, magazines, videos and more all available to help you make the transition. If you’re not abolitionist, you can learn more about the approach at or from my previous articles.

Only promoting veganism promotes veganism; some notes on single-issue campaigns

Jo (hi, Jo!) and I are often asked why AnimalEmancipation does not support single issue campaigns. With that in mind, we have written some notes on the various problems we see with SICs, some of which are political and some of which are practical. We hope that other advocates will find them useful as they think about how best they can help other animals and organize their work accordingly. As always, we do not want anyone to stop working. However, we do encourage people to focus their work on abolitionist veganism and shelter/sanctuary/adoption work that makes it unequivocal, unambiguous and explicit to the public that all sentient animals are moral persons.

SICs are defended by advocates in various ways, and rather than write a 5,000 word essay elaborating each (the first draft of this blog was actually a 5,000 word essay), we've chopped it down to dealing with those arguments in defense of SICs that are most problematic. I know people are mad at me for not just promoting veganism but also encouraging advocates to educate themselves. But I hope this blog won't offend too many people!

“SICs raise awareness.” This may be true, but not all education is the right kind of education. For example, welfare organizations have historically miseducated the public about what we owe other animals in terms of abolition of their property status and the moral necessity of veganism. It does not follow that a campaign that raises awareness raises the right awareness, and in a speciesist society, SICs tend to further entrench speciesist paradigms. Most people assume that animal use is perfectly fine. If we tell them fur is not fine, they are very unlikely to connect that to veganism. The best way to avoid this problem is to address all use from an abolitionist vegan standpoint up-front. We can always address specific uses once the primary 'animals have a right not to be used as property; go vegan!' message has been imparted.

As a corollary, “advocates shouldn't criticize other advocates.” This is a standard chestnut that gets floated every time someone disagrees with someone else in the advocacy community; it is an effort to dismiss substantive criticism. I read it often in defense of SICs. It does not follow that any campaign, even a campaign that is strongly abolitionist and vegan in nature, of necessity raises the right awareness. We should always critically evaluate all education activity to ensure that it is both morally correct (in terms of our intents as the educators) and understood by the audience (even if they do not agree with the message). I am not proposing we should spend hours debating what color to paint the bike shed. I am saying that no animal advocate should ever consider his/her/zir work to be above criticism.

“SICs help animals in the here and now.” This is also problematic. First, not all SICs are successful. Attempts to ban fur are among the longest running failures in SIC history. Second, if they are successful, many are skirted. Chicago's very short-lived ban on foie gras didn't free geese; it encouraged businesses to sell foie gras illegally or to give it away. The resulting press and giveaways introduced foie gras to a whole new customer base that probably would have never tried foie gras if it had not been for the ban. Third, even if they are successful and not skirted, they are often local and they do not necessarily free any animals. Animals will simply be repurposed or sold for other uses or to different geographies were particular uses are permitted.

If we wish to help animals in the here and now, vegan education is the best way to do so (c.f., my previous blog); shelter, rescue and adoption work are also excellent ways to help other animals. I am not saying there are no moral complexities to nonhuman animal solidarity work of this kind; I am saying that if you want to help a nonhuman animal in the here and now, don't waste time with an SIC. Head down to your local shelter and save someone's life. No balaclava or bucket of red paint is required.

“People will make up any old excuse not to go vegan.” Many people do rationalize their nonveganism in various ways. However, this is not an effective defense of single issue campaigns. In fact, SICs, like other forms of regulating animal use, are likely to send the message that the moral problem that animal use poses can be solved by regulating or modifying that use rather than ending use. Many people will not 'go feminist' overnight. It often takes a lot of education to explain sexism, racism and other forms of violence. So it is with speciesism. Because work is difficult, it does not follow that we should not undertake it.

“SICs promote vegan values without mentioning veganism.” This is very problematic (and so, a longer discussion is required). Although an advocate's veganism may encourage him/her/zir to promote an end to specific uses, the fact is that the public is not vegan. It's not about advocates' values; our task is to educate the public. “Not not promoting veganism” is not the same as promoting veganism clearly and unequivocally. More important, as Roger Yates argues, speciesism is an ideology (because I'm a Gramsciist, I would say it is a set of social relations motivated by different ideologies, but as per my last post, abolitionists often disagree). Regardless, if speciesism is a coherent ideology (or a coherent set of relations that involve similar ideologies), then the best way to fight speciesism is with a coherent anti-speciesist ideology, not with confusing piece-meal approaches that may actually reinforce speciesism socially.

For example, let's say I think it's a moral imperative to promote atheism. Should I start a single issue campaign to ban Communion (a particular ritual in a body of rituals in one particular subgroup of a particular faith in a world of many faiths) or should I focus on explaining atheism to people? Obviously, the latter is going to be both the right and the more effective thing to do, and so it is with veganism. Most people only have one religion; they use nonhuman animals in hundreds of ways daily. As an advocate, I may have a specific conversation with a specific person about cheese, eggs, leather, circuses or other animal products or uses, but as an advocate, I always make it clear that veganism is what is most important to nonhuman animals as moral persons with the right not to be used as property. That is substantially different from creating a campaign around a singe issue.

"SICs that don't negotiate treatment necessarily make it clear that we are opposed to use.” This is simply untrue. In a deeply speciesist society like ours, the general take away from an SIC (at best) will be that it is wrong to use/treat that animal in that particular way not that it is wrong to use other animals and that we should all go vegan. Moreover, if we want people to go vegan, we should just ask them to do so upfront and help them to do so. When we are educating others, there is no value to miseducating them first (with an unclear SIC) and then “properly” educating them second (by educating them about veganism after a while). Abolitionist groups should make it explicitly clear that they oppose animal use because nonhuman animals are moral persons.

“SICs end the property status of nonhuman animals." This is also untrue. A given SIC could call for an end to property status of particular animals or particular species (this would still be problematic from a speciesist standpoint). However, the vast majority do not. Instead, they almost all focus on bans on a particular use/treatment. Even if these types of bans are wildly successful, they do not free any particular nonhuman animals. For example, if I were a slave, "banning" my use for dishwashing would not free me (it would not end my status as property). A ban on my washing dishes would not end my use, it would just regulate my use. I could still be used as a slave for other purposes. Campaigns that regulate use, regulate use; they don't end it. By definition, abolitionists focus on campaigns that promote an end to animal use in light of the moral personhood and rights of animals, not campaigns that regulate that use in light of human prejudices. It's certainly possible that some incremental changes may 'erode property status', but it is not clear why there is an advantage to invest time and resources into dicey campaigns that may not erode property status (and that's if they are successful, which they may not be).

“SICs help bring people into the movement.” HSUS has a large campaign around 'taking action' that leads people to believe that doing anything other than going vegan means they are helping nonhuman animals. SICs may bring new people into the movement, but so does vegan education. Moreover, given that SICs often miseducate the public, what this results in are new advocates who miseducate the public further. Tricking people into the movement in this way does not provide a sound social basis for change based on a coalition approach. It lays the groundwork for future fragmentation when the 'coalitions' that were improperly formed split apart because there is no common ideology that opposes animal use, supports animal rights, supports abolition and sees veganism as the moral baseline for that movement. Reaching out to people is very important, but in honest and effective ways based on truly shared values.

"Without SICs most animals will be wiped out." Almost a direct quote from a long-standing but very misguided advocate in defense of an anti-fur campaign (without even a glimmer of understanding that 'most animals' are actually arthropods). This is problematic for a few reasons. First, many animal species face extinction generally as a natural process, and many more face it as a direct result of animal agriculture/animal use. The notion that we could always stop all of the former is simply wrong. The notion that we could stop many of the latter extinctions without stopping animal agriculture is very unlikely.

Second, these kinds of campaigns, intentionally or not, suggest that the lives of cuddly, intelligent or otherwise 'human like' mammals who face a highly publicly visible extinction have more value that the lives of individual animals who are in no danger of extinction, who are not like us and/or about whom the public doesn't really care (e.g., many arthropods). That's specieist on its face. Third, we will not stop anthropocentric use of the ecosystem until human beings see other animals as moral persons and rights-holders. If we take the extinction of species and our shared habitats seriously, the answer is not SICs, but abolitionist vegan education.

“The Endangered Speciest Act gives nonhuman animals rights.” This is also untrue. ESA regulates the use of nonhuman animals as state property. The treatment as free-living state property and in a vivisector's lab is different, but property is property. Defending campaigns that regulate the use of state property are as problematic in terms of speciesism as happy meat campaigns are, if we take nonhuman animals to be moral persons. ESA protects some animals – as resources – for various reasons. It does not confer anything like legal or moral personhood upon nonhuman animals. Even if it did, it would still be problematic and speciesist insofar as it focuses on animals only in terms of their importance to the state and human beings more generally. Francione has a great Tweet on this here.

“Talking about specific uses is an effective gateway to vegan education.” This is a bit problematic, although the least problematic of all of the objections to SICs. It assumes (to a certain degree) that we have to ease people into a discussion of veganism. In some cases, this may make sense, and others not. However a sustained focus on SICs is unnecessary to introduce people to veganism in North America. Veganism and animal use are all over the place in popular culture these days. Animal use and liberation has figured prominently on two prime-time Fox television programs (The O.C. and Family Guy), as well as in the New York Times, the Guardian and other highly public vehicles. Talking about a specific use may be effective in certain specific social circumstances (c.f., the previous paragraph). However, a mass campaign that focuses on a specific use is more likely to be confusing, the available evidence suggests that is is completely unnecessary and finally, we're going to have to educate people about veganism, why not just do it up-front?

“SICs encourage advocates to get active locally.” This may be true, but it is a 20 year-old solution to a problem, the scope of which has been significantly reshaped by two things: economic globalization and the Internet. SICs may make sense in very, very specific, imaginable contexts, but SICs are not intuitive to younger advocates for a lot of good reasons. Younger advocates know that the real battle today is not with the local Mom and Pop Meats and Furs, but between international cartels: huge and sprawling agribusinesses with global supply chains, agribusinesses like HSUS that sell certification schemes for "humane" animal products as well as indulgences to a nonvegan public (as well as their various, increasingly international, partners), and abolitionist vegan advocates collaborating internationally. The boom in "humane" animal products makes it clear that people are already trying to come to grips with the moral problem of animal use big picture. In that context, it is little surprise that SICs don't resonate with younger activists who can write a pamphlet and ask a vegan friend in Guatemala to translate it and hand it out there. Besides, people can be just as active locally by promoting veganism.

So, with all of these problems to SICs, it remains a serious question why organizations still engage in them except insofar as they find it beneficial to them. I will not speculate that it is entirely an attempt to remain relevant in an industry in which HSUS and its growing cartel of humane brands is rapidly sucking up donors and volunteers. That kind of opportunism assumes a coherent strategy that not all animal advocacy businesses clearly have. It may also be confusion, an imaginative misunderstanding of how SICs actually work, or a misunderstanding of the struggle on the ground today or other reasons. But none of this would be substantive enough for AE to back an SIC, and we do not think it is sufficient justification for any abolitionist.

If a campaign does not support the rights of nonhuman animals not to be used as resources and does not support veganism, Jo and I do not support it. If an organization does not engage in explicitly abolitionist work, then we do not support that organization. That doesn't mean we cannot have a meaningful (if critical) dialogue with other advocates who do support these kinds of campaigns and organizations. In fact, we often do. But we make it clear where we stand, both to the public and to other advocates that we only support what is clearly abolitionist vegan.

If you are not vegan, you should go vegan today! If you are not an abolitionist but want to learn more about the approach, you can do so at

When it comes to the truth, I am a broken record; the song is: "you should go vegan!"

“I am for the truth, no matter who tells it” –Malcolm X
I am often surprised by the lack of sincerity and the underhandedness of many of the 'would-be figureheads' in the animal advocacy community. Misrepresentation has become a business model. But in spite of their protestations about “understanding the differences between welfare and abolition”, so many of them seem to get it so very wrong. If people disagree with our views, that's one thing. There are serious and important differences between a regulationist approach that many figureheads and businesses take in our community and an abolitionist approach. But when they simply fabricate things, that's intellectually and morally irresponsible.

I understand, for example, that Mylène Oullet is now being personally attacked for her blog on vegetarianism over at My Face is On Fire. Of course, I am in favor of critical discussion, but when advocates of vegetarianism put forward criticisms that are deeply misguided, it is difficult to take that too seriously; when they put forward things they know to be patently untrue, it’s disingenuous. It’s also sad for me to see some 'would-be figureheads' take an inventive approach to criticism in an effort to resuscitate what are obviously failed academic careers (not naming any names…).

More to the point, some common untruths:

'Abolitionists do not care about helping nonhuman animals in the here and now.' This is untrue on its face. First, abolitionist vegan education helps nonhuman animals in the here and now both by helping people to transition to veganism and by laying the groundwork for abolition. If someone were beating me to death with a pipe and someone spoke in my defense to try to get them to stop doing so, s/h/ze would certainly be helping me in the ‘here and now’.

Second, Joanne and I live with several rescued cats, and many of my colleagues personally engage in shelter, sanctuary and other kinds of adoption work. If I were left for dead on the side of the road, and someone picked me up, took me and cared for me, s/h/ze would certainly be helping me in the here and now. There are, of course very substantive and very important differences between what regulationists and what abolitionists believe we owe other animals and how best to help other animals. These essays provides some ideas on those differences.

In the interests of full-disclosure, I only wrote the second one.

'Abolitionists just repeat uncritically whatever Gary L. Francione says.' On its face, this is both untrue and it is disingenuous. First, there is serious and often difficult debate (over fine details) in the abolitionist community over the nature of our work, what exactly we owe other animals, how best to achieve abolition tactically and other topics. Indeed, some of my colleagues are “vegan abolitionists” and some of them are “abolitionist vegans”. There are a couple of discussion forums that focus on discussing abolitionist ideas with dozens of members.

Second, there are often tactical differences. Some might put a greater emphasis on economic activity (e.g., by starting coops that reduce the cost of plant-based foods or by starting a business that provides plant-based alternatives), some might focus on starting sanctuaries of their own or just working with established rescues and shelters. Many other advocates focus on podcasts, blogs, on in-person outreach, potlucks, street theatre, youtube videos and other expressions of creative and nonviolent activism. Joanne (hi, Joanne!) and I run a forum, create posters and other education materials, but we’re a vibrant and diverse community, no matter what our opponents claim.

It varies. A lot.

But what if we all repeated the exact same thing? So what? If 1,000,000 people spoke clearly and with one voice to say that: “Animals have a right not to be used as property. Did you know that going vegan is easer than ever and that it is the right thing to do for nonhuman animals?” how would that be a bad thing? I’m sincerely puzzled by this constant and strange “criticism”. In fact, this kind of criticism is just a way for our opponents to try to draw us off message, and to silence us. Don’t be silenced! Activism isn't just a matter of being original: it's about doing what's right most effectively.

'Abolitionists eviscerate activism.' I’m not even sure what exactly this claim means, but again, I think it’s also untrue on its face. Abolitionists engage in critical discussion in order to encourage other advocates to engage in the best work that they can. That means, first, understanding what it is we owe other animals morally (and that’s veganism and respecting their rights not to be used as if they were our resources, etc.), and second how we may act virtuously on the behalf of other animals as the moral persons that they are (e.g., promoting veganism and abolition, conducting and encouraging shelter, adoption and rescue work).

Because we disagree, it does not follow that we want others to stop working. As an abolitionist advocate, I simply encourage people to do the most meaningful work they can for nonhuman animals. That means focusing on abolishing (rather than regulating) their use as our slaves, promoting abolitionist vegan education and with personal adoption, rescue and sanctuary work (in AE’s literature, we often refer to this as solidarity work).

'BUTOMGYOUMENTIONGARYLFRANCIONEINEVERYBLOG!!!!11111' Sure, but as a matter of intellectual honesty, it’s required ethically and professionally for me to do so. I should actually cite him more and the citations I provide should be more careful and specific, but I take my blog to be a work of journalism and not an academic piece. Still, we should always give credit to others for their ideas.

But let’s examine the argument in terms of its logical consequences a little further: if someone else comes up with a really good idea (e.g., the wheel, sliced bread), am I supposed to pretend like I came up with it myself? Should I pursue bad or impractical ideas (e.g., the rectangular wheel, shredded bread) just so that I can feel like I’m being different? In fact, what our opponents propose as their “deep and critical thinkings” are often the kind of mystical and misguided proposals that we should all agree have no place in any justice movement, let alone the struggle to end the last great legal slavery.

I don’t understand why our opponents feel the need to try to belittle abolitionist advocates personally for their work, but I know that it coincides surprisingly often with an inability to engage substantively with our views. I guess if someone can't knock my dress, they insult my shoes. As misguided as they may be, it would be a huge step forward if other figures simply stopped lying and engaged in the discussion in a principled and thoughtful way.

If you are not yet vegan, try not to let mystical, self-appointed figureheads and the opportunism of welfare business put you off. As Francione suggests, veganism is the most important thing we can do with respect to other animals. If you are not an abolitionist, you can learn more about the approach from my earlier articles or at
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