June 23rd, 2012 by Gary Smith
I purposefully chose a provocative title, so before you spend time formulating the hate mail in your head that you intend to send me, be patient and listen to my argument.
animal liberation: (noun) the freeing of animals from exploitation and cruel treatment by humans.
The main mission in the animal rights movement at present is towards creating more vegans. Sadly, this obsession has caused us to subordinate animal liberation. It has also created a mentality of “do whatever it takes” to make more vegans. This mentality has moved us away from the ethical/animal argument and more toward health, consumer lifestyle and environmentalism. This has created enormous compromises in the both the message and the outreach.
For instance, there is an inordinate amount of attention paid to celebrities who have gone “vegan” – meaning celebrities who have made a self-serving choice to eat plants. Very few of them ever mention their shift was due to animals or ethics. Not only are we countering a shallow culture with a shallow argument for why people need to support animal liberation, but we are bastardizing the philosophy of veganism. It is shocking to me how many vegans get upset when you point out that veganism encompasses food, clothing, entertainment, and vivisection – and that it is not a diet. What is so radical about using the term for the philosophy properly?
There is so much effort made to express what veganism is going to do for the person being reached out to, rather than what using animals actually does to animals. I see so much outreach about weight loss, reversing or preventing diabetes, heart disease, cancers, clearing up your skin, silkier hair, vegan cupcakes, how delicious the food is. What does any of that have to do with animal liberation? Veganism is not concerned with your health or your skin. Veganism is concerned with the rights of animals to be viewed as persons and members of the moral community, not as objects to be used for greed, taste and entertainment. The meaning has not changed since 1944, when Vegan Society co-founder Donald Watson coined the term “vegan” to mean “a way of living which excludes all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, the animal kingdom,” as well as stating it is “not so much about welfare [of animals] as liberation.”
Then there’s the outreach focused around “humane” meat, dairy and eggs. Well, if we can’t get them to go vegan, we might as well get them to buy cage-free, free range, grass-fed, organic, enriched-caged, gestation crate-free, vegetarian-fed, five-point-animal-welfared animals. Why in the world would vegan activists promote the use of any animals under any circumstances? This does not move us towards animal liberation. It only serves to placate the public into thinking that there is an ethical way to oppress and exploit other animals. Asking people nicely to reduce their consumption of animals is still giving them your ethical blessing to continue exploiting animals.
I get it. We want people to stop eating animals because the large majority of animals murdered are done so for food. I also get that if we can convince people to stop eating animals and their secretions, the possibility of them hearing the animal liberation picture increases. I also appreciate it when people choose to eat plants, but I question whether our tactics are speeding us towards animal liberation or moving us farther away. I see us moving farther away. At what point do we start to articulate animal liberation, the ethical argument for veganism? At what point do we start to articulate the animal rights message? At what point do we tell people that veganism is a social justice movement, not a lifestyle club filled with vegan cupcakes, potlucks and recipe books (not that those don’t rule)?
I don’t live in some fantasy world where I believe that if each and every person is given the ethical/animal argument (or if slaughterhouses had glass walls or if people had to kill their own animals), they would wake up to their role in the exploitation industries and go vegan on the spot. Yet I have enough faith in people that to know that when they are treated like adults, told the truth, and supported, potential future vegans are and will be made. The outreach we are currently focused on is disingenuous and misleading, and backfires if it takes longer for people to understand the ethical message of liberation.
One of the statements that depresses me most is when vegans who were long-time vegetarians say, “I just didn’t know.” As animal liberationists, it is our duty to make sure people know. It is our duty to speak the truth, confront injustice, creatively work together to end the animal holocaust. Let’s bring the focus back to where it needs to be, on the animals.