Vegan Education: An Incremental Abolitionist Approach (Part 2 of 2)

In the last essay, I provided some background on the difference between welfarist and abolition advocacy and very briefly explained why welfarist advocacy hasn’t been and cannot be effective to bring about any significant changes for nonhuman beings. If there is any hope at all for significant improvement in the treatment of nonhumans, it will be due to a viable vegan abolitionist movement effectively educating a sufficient percentage of the human population within a nation, and thereby growing into a strong political movement that seeks to completely eradicate rather than regulate animal agriculture. Animal agriculture, including “free-range”, “organic”, and “cage-free”, is inherentlycruel by the very nature of what must be done to convert living beings into bodily fluids and small pieces of flesh. Even if animal raising, transportation, and killing technology could improve to the point of the billions of nonhumans who are killed annually having a reasonably decent life free of torture (a delusional pipe-dream, at best), there is still no moral justification for such speciesism. Would we painlessly slaughter certain humans because they failed to live a life sufficiently profound or happy (stick whatever arbitrary criteria of sufficiency you want here) by our subjective standards? No. And it is speciesist to torturously or painlessly slaughter nonhumans because of the arbitrary criterion of species. Sentience is the sufficient and morally relevant criterion for the right not to be someone else’s property, tool, or meal.In Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement, (see link on the sidebar) Professor Gary Francione sets forth five criteria to distinguish abolitionist reforms from welfarist reforms; the former deteriorating the property status of animals, the latter reinforcing the property status of animals. The five criteria are as follows: 1) the proposed change must constitute a prohibition; 2) the prohibition must be constitutive of the exploitive institution (that is, a significant class of activity); 3) the prohibition must recognize and respect a noninstitutional animal interest (that is, animal interests that are NOT also in the exploiters’ interests); 4) animal interests cannot be tradable (that is, the animal interest will be enforceable and override any human “benefit” or property rights); and 5) the prohibition shall not substitute an alternative, and supposedly more “humane,” form of exploitation (for example, it must not substitute an activity like “free-range” for battery cages or “controlled atmosphere killing” for electrical stunning and throat-cutting, but must eliminate the activity entirely without substitute).As Professor Francione clearly and explicitly recognizes in Rain Without Thunder, the five criteria limit attempted changes to industry practice that would be so devastating to industry (i.e. resulting in the elimination of something essential, for example: “killing animals for food”) that such changes would not have a chance of being accepted in our current, speciesist society. Only a society with a politically viable vegan population would accept such revolutionary changes. Welfarist reforms, of course, merely reinforce property status by synergizing reforms with the profitability and growth interests of industry, making consumers feel better about exploiting animals, and move us further away from animal rights. This, of course, leaves us with incremental vegan education as the only activity that currently moves us closer to animal rights.A Survey of the ProblemWe live in a society that dedicates billions of dollars annually to pushing people-killing, artery-clogging meat, egg, and dairy products in mainstream media while the delicious and healthy vegan alternatives are generally only advertised by animal and health advocates in specialized publications, pod casts, and on web sites and blogs. Henry Thoreau wrote something in the 19th century that happens to be very relevant to our modern efforts at animal advocacy: “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” The modern diet of animal products makes up over 99% of all animal abuse and cruelty in the world – it is the root of animal cruelty and exploitation. Fur coats, wool and leather products, animal experimentation, hunting, circuses, and zoos are all peripheral. In our metaphor, they are the branches (and at 1% of the number of animals exploited, they are more like the leaves) on the tree of animal cruelty and exploitation. For about 200 years, animal advocates have been plucking at the leaves of our society’s animal abuse problem and have watched those leaves grow back faster than they can pluck them. The animal abuse tree is thriving and bigger than ever.

We also live at a time in history when speciesism is so entrenched in tradition and upbringing, that asking people to forgo animal products is roughly equivalent, in many social circles, to suggesting that they live solely on a diet of carrots, cucumbers, and iceberg lettuce. Thanks to 30 years of movement stagnation through “new welfarism” (defined as applying welfarist means in the (futile) hope of attaining abolitionist ends), the ignorance and misconceptions of what vegans eat, let alone why anyone might be vegan – even among many young and otherwise reasonably educated people where I live – is astounding. Fortunately, the ignorance and misconception offers significant explanation for why many people either are not already vegan, or at least do not already choose more vegan alternatives. And as much as ignorance and misconception offers explanation for the current behavior, it offers hope that such ignorance and misconception can be overcome by the patient and persistent effort of abolitionist vegan education.

As I’ve written in this blog before, we are responsible, as individual consumers, for animal agriculture’s existence and its billions of dollars in revenues and profits; however, animal agriculture, including its large, corporate retail outlets of supermarkets and restaurants, is big and powerful enough to generate considerably more demand in our society – through its multi-billion dollar advertising budget and its political control over government (including programs like the school lunch program) – than would otherwise exist. The animal agriculture industry, including its “free-range” and “cage-free” components, is indeed a gigantic and powerful monstrosity. Fortunately, however, it does have an Achilles heel: it is also the most vile and morally repugnant legalized industry in the world. It is responsible for widespread early human death, disease, and suffering (via heart disease, obesity, strokes, diabetes, and cancer); inherent and vicious animal cruelty on a scale that is qualitatively and quantitatively beyond our conceptual abilities; and environmental pollution that rivals the coal, oil, and automobile industries. Shining the spotlight on these disastrous consequences and moral imbecility while educating people about delightful, healthy, and environmentally responsible vegan alternatives can provide the leverage needed to eventually bring this deplorable, destructive, and unimaginably violent industry to its knees.

Creative and Effective Vegan Education

Effective vegan education can be accomplished through many different venues and types of activities to fulfill many different talents and ambitions. Due to scarce resources, it is important to achieve a combination of low cost and high effectiveness at this point in the history of advocacy. We can put in thousands of hours, but if we’re toiling in the wrong area, it will be for naught. Working smart, effectively, and inexpensively is what we should strive for.
Working smart means, first and foremost, avoiding welfarist advocacy of any kind. Welfarism and attempts at reforming industry is marching down the “happy meat” trail that stays in the stagnant moral lowlands of Status Quo Valley. Abolitionist vegan education is marching up the abolitionist trail that leads to fresh mountain air and the glorious moral highlands of the Abolition Range. You can work as hard as you want at welfarism, and at the end of the day, month, or year, you might as well have stayed home and slept in. If you’re not attempting to educate people on why and/or how to go vegan, you’re not working smart.

Blogging and Cyberactivism

One very cost effective way of educating people about veganism and abolitionist animal rights is to start a blog. A blog’s topics can span a wide range of vegan and animal-related topics or stick to one theme, such as vegan cooking. As an exploration of the vegan and animal advocacy blogosphere will indicate, the potential topics are sufficiently numerous – even within one theme of veganism or animals rights – that it is difficult to run out of raw material. The potential topical areas are numerous: health, nutrition, and vegan athletic training diets; environmental issues regarding animal agriculture versus plant agriculture; social change and justice; cooking and baking; moral philosophy and psychology; stories of rescued animals; book reviews; and bearing witness to the endless atrocities inflicted on the innocent.

Joining vegan forums and on-line communities are a good way to educate also. In addition, they provide a like-minded place for vegans to discuss common concerns.

Overall, the Internet is a good resource for education and enables advocates to reach people we would otherwise never communicate with. It will be interesting to see what effects the Internet will have on changing social values during the next 20 to 50 years.

See the links in the side bar for examples of effective vegan blogs and websites.

Arts and Humanities

A more difficult and specialized, but nevertheless very effective, way of educating people about veganism and abolitionist animal rights is in the traditional forms of the arts and humanities. Writing a fiction novel, screen play, satire, and even poetry can bring out a strong message while entertaining readers and viewers at the same time. The same is true for other art, such as cartoons, painting, and production of film, radio programs, theatre, documentaries, and music. Many of these traditional art forms are expensive to produce, but if so much money weren’t going into useless industry welfare reform campaigns, there would be much more money available for grants in abolitionist vegan art projects.

Tribe of Heart, a producer of film documentaries concerning animal use, has recently (since around 2006) published several articles rejecting the welfarist approach, and it will be interesting to see to what extent the abolitionist approach will be promoted by Tribe of Heart in their upcoming documentary.

Grassroots Vegan Clubs and Associations

If you’re planning to be living in a geographic area for several years and are committed to forming and building a social group, starting a vegan club or association is an excellent form of advocacy. If you’re not sure how long you’ll live in an area, and there’s an existing vegan or vegetarian association, joining and educating about the abolitionist approach is a good form of advocacy. There are still many well-intended people who are vegan or close, but are unfamiliar with the abolitionist approach, who may be good candidates for learning more.

Abolitionist Sanctuaries and Vegan Education Organizations

An abolitionist sanctuary, such as Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary, (NOT to be confused with new welfarist sanctuaries, such as Farm Sanctuary) is a very powerful resource for abolitionist education. Nonhuman beings in person convey our message better than any blog or pamphlet does. Seeing a sanctuary animal in person, as a subjective, feeling being can do more to destroy cultural prejudices in some people than reading any book on ethology or animal rights.
In addition, a sanctuary provides unique expertise and education in the emotional and physical needs of other species which exceed that of any other group in society. Nobody knows the daily lives and needs of chickens, pigs, cows, goats, sheep and other beings as well as the full-time operators of a sanctuary.

Employees in animal agriculture see these beings as commodity units to convert to marketable products, and their so-called “experience with animals” is grossly distorted by this built-in commoditization prejudice, making their opinions on animals’ emotional and physical needs unreliable at best, and more likely, downright deceptive, even self-deceptive.

Scientists are generally far too caught up in ‘objective’ or purely behaviorist signs of subjectivity, which, even when such ‘objective’ criteria are applied to humans (especially humans who can’t answer our questions in language), tell us little or nothing about human subjectivity. The best guide to the subjective experience of another, whether human or nonhuman, is to live with the other on a daily basis and apply holistic common sense. While the methods of science tell us many things about the objective workings of our world, the methods of science are in an epistemological straightjacket when it comes to assessing or describing the subjectivity and subjective experience of anyone, human or nonhuman. All I can do is laugh out loud when scientists publish a study “confirming” the common sense of people who have dogs at home and the study makes a newspaper: “Scientists confirm [once again] that animals subjectively experience emotion!” What a bold conjecture to confirm! They might as well also publish such obvious treats of scientific progress as: “Scientists confirm that solipsism is false; others do indeed exist!”

An abolitionist sanctuary is where our societal expertise and experience of the lives and personalities of nonhumans are at their apex because sanctuary operators live with nonhumans on a daily basis and apply holistic common sense to gain evidence of their subjective experience. The daily and yearly evidence of sanctuary workers living with animals strongly confirms – with the same certainty that daily evidence of living with humans confirms with respect to humans – that typical “food” animals experience a wide range of pleasures and pains, both physical and emotional, have a strong sense of self, and have very unique personalities of their own. This makes what we do to them in exploitive industries an unimaginable atrocity and one of the most severe moral blind spots to which humanity has fallen prey.

Clearly, an abolitionist sanctuary plays an indispensible role in animal advocacy, and starting and running a sanctuary, even a small one, can be effective and rewarding, but it is a very serious commitment and undertaking. Before even considering this idea, you must be willing to literally commit your life to it in the form of 40 to 60 hours per week (depending on the number of animals and how much volunteer help you have) as long as the sanctuary stays open, not including whatever work you may need to do to pay for life’s essentials. It is time-consuming and physically and emotionally exhausting. Sanctuaries adopt some of the most abused animals in the world who need very close personal attention and often die young due to either abuse in their previous lives or genetic defects caused by industrial genetic manipulation practiced to maximize rapid and excessive animal growth and industry profits. The physical work is hard and the emotional toll of hearing and experiencing a constant stream of horror stories is too much for most people. That said, volunteering and becoming involved in sanctuary work as an outside helper is something many people can do, and it is very rewarding. Picnics, tabling at festivals, film screening, leafleting, vegan food tastings, teaching vegan cooking classes, and other social gatherings are typical of what vegan education organizations do. Also, if funds permit, billboards and newspaper and magazine advertisements are also sponsored by vegan education organizations.

Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary is an excellent example of an abolitionist sanctuary, and the only abolitionist sanctuary of which I am aware. Compassionate Cooks is an excellent example of a vegan educational organization which includes vegan cooking classes in their education.

Opening a Vegan Restaurant or Catering Company

Opening a vegan restaurant can be rewarding, but it is also a large commitment, and plenty of former experience is very helpful, if not essential. Also, it is better to open a restaurant because you have restaurant operations experience and a strong desire to open a restaurant rather than that you think it is an effective way to engage in vegan advocacy (it is effective, but it probably won’t work for those who don’t love running a restaurant). A lesser commitment financially, but still a significant commitment in time if one is to be successful, is to start a vegan catering company.

Everyday Advocacy

Merely being vegan and leading by example is a form of advocacy. Leading by example is the best form of advocacy toward those non-vegan family, co-workers, and acquaintances with whom we deal every day. As most vegans are well aware, a regular vegan lecture probably does more to annoy those in regular contact with us than educate them, but there is a balance to aim for between saying too much and saying too little.

There are some vegans who are in a unique position as formal educators, magazine and newspaper writers, and news reporters who have opportunities to possibly reach more people than most of us do. Obviously it is a judgment call on how much vegan and abolitionist education can be done given various constraints on topic selection, etc, while keeping one’s job in good standing, but a good balance in this regard is part of everyday advocacy.

Keep It Abolitionist

As I’ve said in the past, going vegan is a personal manifestation of a commitment to abolition and nonviolence, and vegan and abolitionist education is a public manifestation of a commitment to abolition and nonviolence. Welfarist reform is a meat-eater’s cause. Property status abolition is a vegan’s cause. If you are not vegan, then go vegan. If you are vegan, then be consistent and advocate going vegan. Over time, we will incrementally change attitudes, beliefs, and paradigms, but only if we are in a vegan paradigm to begin with.

Well Said on the Peaceful Prairie Blog

Finally, Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary’s blog has an excellent new Letter from a Vegan World about the disturbing betrayal and deception in new welfarism and the promotion of “happy” meat. It’s worth reading more than once.

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