On Trivializing the Causes of Other Groups

A few weeks ago, there was much hubbub on Grist.org when Bruce Friedrich of PETA wrote as a guest on the benefits of vegetarianism for the environment. Indeed, there are very significant benefits which a vegan diet bestows on the environment which I will not go into here. However, there was much unwarranted hostility [1] toward vegans who were posting in the comment section and much ignorant trivializing of veganism both as a benefit to the environment and as an imperative for justice to nonhuman beings.

Also occurring a few weeks ago was PETA’s publicized photo of Hollywood vegan Alicia Silverstone posing nude. Might this kind of sexism have a causal connection to the severe oppression, violence, and exploitation endured by economically, educationally, and socially disadvantaged women? It certainly isn’t helping the fight against such exploitation. And if groups seeking to protect the innocent are engaging in sexism at all, what does that say to society and to groups that don’t care about protecting the innocent? Where do we draw the line on hypocrisy? Do we perform some utilitarian calculus? No. Instead, if we are serious about opposing exploitation, we do what we can to avoid any and all exploitation, including the promotion of sexploitation. In the process, we avoid hypocrisy and maintain moral consistency and credibility. We don’t make publicity a priority over principles.

Other Examples of Hypocrisy

I brought up the environmental hostility toward vegans and PETA’s sexism to give some recent examples of what goes on regularly by groups and individuals who like to fashion themselves as “progressive” and against oppression, violence, exploitation, and greed; but fail to live up to their professed beliefs and self-image when they trivialize other forms of oppression, violence, exploitation, and greed.

Another example is feminists trivializing the exploitation, violence, and death of nonhuman beings because of the arbitrary claim that they are “only animals” and besides, they taste good. What about male chauvinists who trivialize sexism and sexploitation for similar reasons of personal advantage, pleasure, and habit?

Another example is people who defend civil rights trivializing very basic rights for nonhuman beings based on their crucial interests in not being tortured and killed, presumably because “might-makes-right”, they’re “only animals”, and they taste good. How is that different from violations of equal opportunity based on privilege and prejudice? How is it different from white, propertied males excluding other groups from opportunity out of greed? How is it different from “in-group” majorities refusing to treat “out-group” minorities who have similar relevant characteristics similarly (think religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender group, ethnic group, or race)? It’s no different. Racism, sexism, and speciesism are all from the same source of arbitrary “in-group” selection.

Of course, the examples I’ve provided are only a few examples, not a complete list of the hypocrisy of the various causes, movements, groups, and individuals claiming to be fighting for justice and against oppression, violence, exploitation, arbitrary exclusion, and greed; and all of the various combinations of who is trivializing whose cause. It is really quite a spectacle of human folly when we stop and give it some thought.

The Common Enemy

There is a common enemy underlying all true social justice movements which can be called “might-makes-right.” Injustice is injustice. Oppression is oppression. Exploitation is exploitation. Arbitrary exclusion is arbitrary exclusion. Greed is greed. Sure, they all admit of degrees. But seeing our own fight against these underlying conditions applied to our own unique cause as trumping all other causes to the point where we are fine with trivializing other causes is myopic and hypocritical.

There’s nothing wrong with believing our own unique cause is very important, and even more important than another cause if we have good reasons for believing so. There is also nothing wrong with dedicating ourselves to one single injustice issue or even opposing another movement because it is an obstacle to justice in our movement. [2] But there is no excuse for trivializing another movement’s battle against injustice which is fighting the same underlying enemy merely because the subject of the other issue is one that we have failed to carefully consider or we have some personal prejudice or intellectual dishonesty of our own which we probably ought to address, and this is usually the case when individuals or groups trivialize other causes.

People and groups who are fighting injustice ought to look at all injustice, actual or potential, as likely to be interrelated with their own cause and look to work with other movements instead of against them. With some notable exceptions [2], social justice movements are usually complementary to each other rather than opposed. And if it is asking too much to cooperate with a group that is not a barrier or obstacle to our cause, then we should at least do no harm, get out of the way, or be quiet.

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Notes:

[1] The hostility toward vegans likely arose out of a fear of the unknown, including ignorance about what to eat, commitment to veganism, and how others might react to such a perceived “bold step” as going vegan. As is true of most “fears of the unknown,” however, the only thing to fear is fear itself (as FDR once said) and, of course, ignorance about the topic in general. I find it interesting and amusing how some non-vegans seem to think that they know more about being vegan than long-time vegans know. Contrary to the inexperienced and untutored opinions of some non-vegans, going and staying vegan is easy, the food is delicious, and the reactions we get are generally positive, as long as people aren’t threatened by our behavior. If going and staying vegan was perceived by environmentalists to be as easy as purchasing a fuel-efficient car instead of a Hummer, a very large percentage of environmentalists would be vegan. While it’s not that easy, it is much easier than the average environmentalist thinks it is, and if you are a non-vegan environmentalist, you really should do some research and try going vegan for a year or two. (Unlike buying a hybrid car, veganism takes from about 6 months to a year or more of honest effort and application to learn enough about the options available, pick personal preferences, and change old habits. Once those habits are changed though, you’re on auto-pilot and it is effortless.)

There was also ignorance from environmentalists in the Grist blog about the benefits of a vegan diet on the environment. Now I’ll admit that just as buying and driving a Prius instead of a Hummer will not “save the environment” by itself, going vegan instead of consuming significant amounts of animal products will not “save the environment” by itself either. Both are merely excellent steps to take to reduce one’s “footprint.” What makes veganism a moral imperative is not utilitarian considerations about the environment, however, but justice and the moral right of nonhuman beings to their life and bodily integrity against moral agents.

[2] It is possible for socially progressive movements to conflict. One example goes back to the voting rights of African Americans in the passage of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1870. Fredrick Douglass wanted to exclude women from the 15th Amendment because he thought that while it was important for all to vote, it was more important that freed male slaves obtain suffrage at that time. Douglass reasonably feared that if women were included in the 15th Amendment, it was considerably less likely to pass at all. This conflict fueled the women’s movement to eventually get the 19th Amendment passed and ratified by the states 50 years later in 1920.

A second example of conflict between progressive movements concerns the current abolition movement versus the “happy” meat movement (also known as the “new welfarist” movement, the “industry-welfarist partnership” movement, and the “animal husbandry” movement). The abolition movement correctly sees the new welfarist movement and their partnering and consulting relationship with industry as a barrier to any significant progress in combating the severe and violent exploitation of billions of nonhuman beings annually for food, research, and entertainment. As long as veganism as a moral imperative is rejected or ignored by society and so-called “animal rights” groups (like PETA, HSUS, and “Vegan” Outreach), nonhuman beings will always be property under the law, always treated as economic commodities, and violently exploited by the billions in ways which most people cannot bear to watch.

As long as so many vegans assist the new welfarist movement in cooperating with and attempting to reform industry instead of engaging in creative vegan education and outreach, including films and photos of the inevitably cruel treatment of nonhumans, societal acceptance of veganism will be delayed unnecessarily and perhaps indefinitely. Due to this obvious barrier and threat to justice, abolitionist vegans are attempting to educate new welfarist vegans about the existence and consequences of this barrier and are often very critical of the new welfarist movement. This unpopular criticism, however, is a necessary part of educating people about what justice for nonhuman beings is, and justice is about abolition and going vegan, not about reforming industry.

 

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