Monthly Archives: June 2008

Abolitionist Vegan Education: The Vehicle of Progress

Where We Are versus How We Arrived There

Vegans who support new welfarism [1] and the growing profitable market for happy meat sometimes claim that they arrived at veganism through choosing more “humane” animal products (i.e. “happy meat”), and therefore, based on personal experience, they see welfare reform and happy meat as a way of getting others to arrive at veganism. On the surface, this sounds plausible, but closer inspection uncovers a fallacy lurking in this line of thought. The fallacy is in confusing where we are with how we arrived there, and there is a simple intuition pump which should make the difference clearer.

Imagine that we want to go from the City of Omnivoria to the Town of Veganville, and that the Town of Happy Meatberg, a suburb of Omnivoria, happens to be on the road between Omnivoria and Veganville. Omnivoria and Happy Meatberg overlap boundaries and the distance between their outer borders to each other is short enough for most of us to walk, but Veganville is far enough away that we will want to use a vehicle – a car or bicycle, or vegan education – to cover the distance. Note that we may pass Happy Meatberg on the way to Veganville, and we may even stop there for a while; however, it is our vehicle (car, bicycle, vegan education), not Happy Meatberg, that will get us from Omnivoria to Veganville. In fact, if Happy Meatberg did not exist, it would not affect our trip from Omnivoria to Veganville at all. If anything, Happy Meatberg is a noxious distraction on our journey to Veganville. Any given town or location between Omnivoria and Veganville is where we are and the vehicle (e.g. car, vegan education, bicycle) is how we arrived there.

Adequate vegan education will show us that there is a vast amount of horrendous cruelty and exploitation between Happy Meatberg and Veganville, and that Veganville is not only the necessary moral destination, but it’s also a healthy, tasty, and environmentally responsible destination. Essentially, vegans need to help provide the motivation and the map to get to Veganville instead of acting as the Mayor, Director of Tourism, and Chief of Police for Happy Meatberg, which is not only a suburb of the City of Omnivoria, but is also in the process of being annexed by Omnivoria and is nowhere near Veganville.

The Cruelty Inherent in Happy Meat

Another grossly mistaken view held by some new welfarists is that abolitionists are limited to giving philosophical arguments against the justification of animal use and, since we don’t support welfarism as a solution to the problem of cruelty, we cannot or should not disclose cruelty to the public as part of our vegan education. To directly quote a new welfarist vegan in a recent Internet discussion forum, a quote which subsequently received significant praise by a few other new welfarists in the forum,

“To truly avoid supporting welfarism is to limit one’s advocacy to philosophical arguments about whether use of animals is ethically justifiable – no undercover video showing how cruel slaughterhouses are; no talking about how male dairy calves are sold to veal farms, no distributing information about the particularities of how animals are treated in laboratories, no photographs of pigs in gestation crates. If welfare doesn’t matter, then welfare doesn’t matter. Period”

This is nonsense. First, the writer confuses 1) disclosing evidence of cruelty with 2) supporting welfarism, which are two entirely different activities that have nothing to do with each other, despite the tendency of some new welfarists to conflate them. Displaying cruelty, both traditional and more importantly, happy meat cruelty, is NOT supporting welfarism at all, but providing additional reasons as to why veganism is the only answer to the problem.

Second, instead of limiting the display of cruelty, etc to the most severe cases (which is precisely what welfarism does), the abolitionist approach broadens the display to include not only the most hideous cases which are profitable for industry to eliminate anyway, but the inherent, inevitable and severe cruelty in organic, “free range”, and cage-free special marketing labels, too. On top of that, abolitionists do have excellent philosophical arguments based in long-established, well-reasoned, and widely accepted theories of justice and deontology to say that there is no justification for any exploitation or cruelty, and therefore veganism, NOT happy meat, is the only solution to the problem.

By focusing on only the most hideous cases which are profitable for industry to eliminate anyway and ignoring the inherent severe cruelty and exploitation in happy meat, new welfarist vegans assist society in making happy meat, instead of veganism, the default moral baseline, and then complain when books like The Compassionate Carnivore are published.

The Vehicle of Progress

Vegan education, including a display of the full spectrum of the inherent cruelty in animal exploitation, especially in “free-range”, grass-fed, organic, and cage-free animal agriculture, along with all of the delicious and nutritious vegan alternatives, is our vehicle of progress toward a morally respectable human-nonhuman relationship in our society. We can and should skip the completely extraneous and immoral stop at Happy Meatberg and go straight to Veganville via the vehicle of unequivocal vegan education.

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[1] New welfarism is defined as using welfare reform and the promotion of more so-called “humane” animal products in an attempt to bring about the eventual abolition of animal exploitation. The abolitionist approach rejects new welfarism and holds that it is impossible for welfare reform and related efforts to ever bring about the abolition of animal exploitation. Further, the abolitionist approach maintains that efforts at welfare reform not only drain resources from genuine abolitionist efforts, but also strengthens the economic commodity and property status of animals and the exploitation paradigm by failing to challenge exploitation, per se, and by adding more rules and regulations which further legitimize and entrench the institution of animal exploitation.

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The Compassionate Carnivore

Recently, there has been a stream of authors writing about how wonderful it is to be a “compassionate carnivore” and be “shameless” (in the non-pejorative sense) about consuming animal products.

First, let’s look at the term “compassionate carnivore.” The first error that jumps out from that expression when applied to humans is that humans are not carnivores; not even remotely close. Consumption of animal products in the percentage of total caloric intake that carnivores consume gives us serious diseases and sends us to our grave very early. The second mistake that jumps out is that even if humans were carnivores, carnivores aren’t compassionate. Real carnivores who are living in the wild need to kill and eat flesh to survive. Carnivores are neither compassionate nor uncompassionate; they are merely doing what they need to do to get through the day or week. If they don’t kill, they die. It is that simple. The case of domestic carnivores, such as cats, the situation is more complex due to the possibility of finding adequately nutritious plant-based and/or synthetic alternatives to flesh. We humans, however, are a clear-cut case of a species that can live optimally and find all the gustatory entertainment we want on a well-balanced vegan diet.

So why have some of these authors chosen such a nonsensical term as “compassionate carnivore” with which to describe themselves? For one thing, by using the word “carnivore”, it seems that they want to imply, and perhaps even self-deceptively believe, that their consumption of animal products is a necessity, if not physically or nutritionally, then at least psychologically. In fact, however, from a nutritional standpoint, the reverse is true: animal products are detrimental to health in direct proportion to the quantity as a percentage of caloric intake as soon as that percentage reaches 3 to 5%. From a psychological standpoint, going vegan is just a matter of changing habits. Once the habit is broken, being vegan takes no psychological effort; only an effort to avoid food items with animal products. The longer we’re vegan, the less we’re tempted by the flesh and bodily fluids that we used to think we couldn’t live without. Indeed, many vegans, me included, are nearly as disgusted by the thought of consuming animal products as we would be with cannibalism, including breast milk and menstrual fluids (equal, of course, to the chicken’s menstrual fluid: the egg).

The other reason for choosing terms like “compassionate carnivore” is to camouflage the not-so-pleasant reality that is an essential part of consuming animal products: cruelty and unnecessary, intentional killing. Unfortunately for the self-styled “compassionate carnivore”, however, such qualifying terms have the same effect as dousing an unpleasant odor with perfume: you can smell both the cover up and the underlying stench equally well, and the combination smells worse than the bad smell alone. The self-deception is transparent, and the more convinced the “compassionate and shameless carnivore” is that he or she has accomplished a respectable cover-up with the “compassionate” or “shameless” labels – just like the perfumed fetor – the more of a spectacle it is.

For about six months to a year prior to going vegan, I remember that I experienced cognitive dissonance, mostly trying not to think too much about the ramifications of my diet for the sentient and innocent (in particular: What, exactly, was the difference between my beloved dogs and a pig or chicken?), and wondering if I could ever pull off becoming a permanent vegan. The compassion was there to a small degree, as evidenced by the cognitive dissonance, but it obviously wasn’t there to the degree that I could label myself “compassionate” with respect to the animals and their flesh and bodily fluids that I was consuming. I could have legitimately called myself “compassionate” with respect to my dogs or to humans in general, but with respect to those animals whose parts and fluids I was purchasing at the store? No way. My speciesism was still quite strong at that time and never subsided until I went vegan. For even a few months after I went vegan, some speciesism remained with me until I realized that it is also justice – treating similar cases similarly, and not merely compassion, which nonhuman beings deserve from rational, moral beings as much as any other sentient being born innocently into this world deserves it.

Perhaps some of those people who fashion themselves “compassionate carnivores” or “shameless carnivores” might soon take the compassion, conscientious, and discerning parts seriously and go vegan. In that case, there will be no need for swanky words like “compassionate” and “shameless” as a façade to dress up uncompassionate and ignoble behavior, because actions speak much louder than words. If phrases like “compassionate carnivore” and “shameless carnivore” are oxymoronic, then phrases like “compassionate vegan” and “shameless vegan” are redundant.

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