Vegan outreach: how not to do it

There are mixed opinions on how best to conduct vegan outreach: are shocking images of animal use helpful to represent the violence animals endure, or are they just a weird torture porn that ingratiates advocates but turns off viewers? Should advocates participate in more online or offline dialogue? Are stunts an effective way to draw public attention? Should advocates lead with a rights argument and then explain veganism as the practice or the other way around?

I don't answer these questions in this particular blog, although I have views on each. In one of my earlier (now almost retro) podcasts, I discuss how to answer a question about veganism (for those who want to think about that particular question). In this blog, I give some ideas on how not to conduct outreach, since often it's the case that advocates engage unknowingly and unintentionally in actions that will make their work less effective.

Nonviolence is just the "L" in love

Beyond silly, other-worldly hypotheticals, it seems strange to me when advocates (some vegan) claim that the use of animals for human ends does not harm those who are used (not only do I believe it harms those who are used, I believe it also harms those who do the using). What these kinds of claims (that we can use animals as our resources without harming them) seem to suggest is that it may be harmful to nonhumans, at least in some instances, if we don't use them as our resources for our own ends. This sounds even stranger to my ear.

If it is right to concern ourselves with the well-being of nonhuman animals (and it is), then it is right to take the most basic step in their interests: a duty of nonviolence (and that starts with veganism); taking that interest seriously continues with promoting and working toward the abolition of their status as our property clearly and unequivocally; it flowers in a relationship of solidarity with and beneficence toward other sentient beings on a social scale. And when we think carefully about this, if we consider nonhumans as moral persons, rather than as things we shouldn't use, then we find we have and should have a rich social relationship to them.

Lots of people have been asking for a plan for social transformation in the last couple of months.  Fair enough, here's my proposal. My sense is that our relationship with other animals (human and non) should reflect a reversal and a rupture with the status quo. For every factory and family farm, we should imagine and work to create in its place a rescue and adoption center and (properly) protected habitats.

For every military, for every corporation, we should imagine and work to create a university populated by students who want to understand other animals (human and non) so that they can act well toward others and social organizations directed toward the promotion of nonviolence and beneficence toward all at every turn at a systemic and structural level.

All social transformations begin in the present moment when someone chooses right over wrong. You can get from where we stand today to the result above through nonviolent, creative education (and here I mean education, not just raising awareness), by 1) conducting outreach with the public, 2) effectively training advocates, 3) creating alternative economic structures (e.g., buying co-ops, co-op groceries, etc.) and 4) by establishing shelters and rescues that promote veganism, abolition and the moral personhood of nonhuman animals.

If you're not vegan yet, today is an absolutely wonderful day to start. If you're already vegan, try to talk to someone about veganism and the importance of not harming other animals.  Or, rescue someone from a shelter.  Or, teach someone how to cook a plant-only feast and why veganism is important to you. Or look into creating a buying co-op.  Or, write a play about veganism. Or hand out leaflets about veganism and abolition.  Or educate yourself about the abolitionist approach to animal rights. Be brave. Be creative.  Think carefully.  Act well.

Nonviolence is just the "L" in love. Today is the best day in history for all advocates to start writing the whole word by promoting veganism, abolition and animal solidarity. The problem is not the lack of a plan; it's fear that we will be unsuccessful, worry about what other people are doing, and an uncertainty about what to do.  We're all scared of failure, but nonhuman animals require our courage. It is up to each of us to be the organization of change.

To Dr. Roger Yates, Doctor of Philosophy

Dear Roger,

I have decided to withdraw my challenge to debate you, as well as the post that proposed it.  I hope at some point you'll change your mind about a handful of things I consider to be important to taking a strong, uncluttered abolitionist position. Nevertheless, I wanted to wish you all the best and to apologize for what were, I gather, some comments that were deeply hurtful to you personally in the original challenge. I'll do my best to treat you (among other advocates), more charitably in the future.

Always my best,

Animal advocacy and the principle of charity

Going forward, I have decided to use strictly the principle of charity (for at least one year) in my dealings with other animals advocates where it is practicable to do so (except where abiding by the principle of charity would draw me into greater harms, issues of sincerity or other misguided positions with respect to other advocates). 

Of course, charity is not a panacea to fix the broader problems in the advocacy community.  It cannot paper over substantive ideological differences nor will it solve some of the more endemic social problems to the movement. Nor will it inure me from the less than charitable attacks directed toward Gary L. Francione or toward other abolitionist colleagues. Indeed, it is impossible to read some of the most recent and historical attacks charitably.

But neither will charitable reading of substantive and sincere discussion inhibit my criticism (which will remain continuous, involved and, let's say, hands-on). Further, I believe without question that abolitionist and vegan ideas are well-reasoned enough that disagreement with them easily withstands a charitable reading of disagreements with abolition as an ideology or veganism as a practice. Nonviolence in discourse starts with engaging what people have actually written rather than misrepresenting their views as a rhetorical tactic.

I have no doubt that there will be occasional lapses, but no one's perfect. I am deeply ambivalent about any sort of leadership role in our community. But in the end, my work is about me and my relationship to other animals, and that's what I want to keep uppermost in my mind.  My sense is that discipline, practical knowledge and a commitment to what we owe others (whether we consider them lovable) are all important parts of a good moral character. Fidelity is important, even with our opponents.

I don't consider much of my interaction with the advocacy community to be particularly uncharitable.  Nevertheless, virtue calls us to be models when we can be, and I am daily reminded of just how sorely the advocacy needs good role models.

May peace be upon us all.
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