Monthly Archives: February 2010

Why I Am a Vegan and Why Hope and Fear Are Irrelevant

Note: For various reasons, I was not satisfied with my previous essay on this topic posted on February 17, 2010. I am therefore replacing it with this one. If you read the previous essay, I hope you find this one more useful.

Why I Am a Vegan and an Advocate

I am a vegan because it is the minimum standard of moral belief, behavior, and attitude regarding nonhuman animals. Speciesism is the same underlying wrong as racism, sexism, and heterosexism, only in a different form. The speciesism of our society is extreme, and that is the only reason veganism is not widely considered a minimum standard of decency. I am not a vegan to “boycott” animal suffering, exploitation, cruelty, or killing. A boycott implies a temporary suspension of support until certain conditions are satisfied. Animal welfare proponents “boycott” animal products until they perceive that “cruelty” is reduced to an “acceptable” level. For me, on the other hand, all animal exploitation is unacceptable and there are no ordinary conditions under which I would agree to use animals or animal products in any way (i.e. under extreme duress, I might use or consume human or nonhuman animal products, but it would take extreme duress to force me to do so). In other words, I am a vegan for precisely the same set of reasons that I am not a cannibal.

I am a vegan advocate and educator because it is the morally right thing to do, and my motivation for advocacy and education is moral principle alone, without regard to hope or fear.

Why Hope and Fear Are Irrelevant and Often Harmful

Hope and fear are two sides of the same coin. They are both future-directed and rely on uncertain speculation about what mighthappen. Where there is hope, there is necessarily a complementary degree of fear. If our hope does not materialize, then what we fear will materialize. We can unwittingly (or dishonestly) ignore our fear and focus on our hope, but if we are thinking clearly and honestly, we cannot have one without the other.If we are thinking clearly, our confidence in predictions of the future ought to wane exponentially with an increase in how far in the future we are considering. Social change, like changes in the weather and many other phenomena, is best described by chaos theory. The further out we go, the less certain we can be. With billions of people in the world and the complexity of global politics and social change among even thousands of people (much less billions), we could get radically more violent and destroy ourselves just as easily as we could get radically less violent and civilize ourselves. More probable, however, is that we will not see radical swings in either direction, at least not over a short-term period of a few decades. This is not pessimistic musing, but clear thinking based in the reality of history and experience.Hope and fear are irrelevant because they tell us absolutely nothing reliable about the future and have no bearing on what is right or wrong or our choices regarding right and wrong. Hope and fear can be harmful because they lead so many people into unnecessary worry, frustration, or despair and therefore away from doing the right thing.We ought to keep in mind that we control our own thoughts, speech, attitudes, and behavior. Other people may influence us based on sound reasoning and providing new facts and perspectives, but nobody controls us. We are responsible for our thoughts, speech, attitudes, and behavior.

Implications for the Abolition of Animal Exploitation

The rights-based abolitionist movement is literally only three years old, and while still small, it is growing rapidly. Where it goes from here, I’ll be the last to opine on, since I have the strongest confidence that I have no idea.

What I do know, however, is that my hopes and fears about where it goes are utterly irrelevant. What matters is that I separate my irrelevant hopes, fears, and feelings from my relevant thoughts, speech, and actions. What matters is that I don’t drink the Kool-Aid of welfarist and single-issue “victories” to “keep my hopes up” only to have them slammed one year or ten years later when fur or seal slaughter (or whatever of the thousands of symptoms-of-speciesism that provoke the single-issues-of-the-day) comes back with a roaring, laughing vengeance. Why? Because the disease of speciesism and the cure of veganism was not addressed; only the superficial symptom of fur, gestation crates, seal “hunts”, battery cages, and thousands of other symptoms of the disease.

What matters is that I speak out on how speciesism is racism is sexism is heterosexism – all the same underlying irrational prejudice sporting different Halloween costumes. What matters is that I educate people about the why (1, 2, 3) and how of veganism. What matters is that I think, say, and do the right thing here and now.

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Single Issue Campaigns, Speciesism, and Compartmentalization

Speciesist Compartmentalization

Compartmentalization is the separation of persons (including nonhuman persons), things, ideas, attitudes, or behavior into categories or compartments. Sometimes it is epistemically rational to compartmentalize (e.g. biology); other times it is epistemically irrational to compartmentalize (e.g. race or species prejudice).

Speciesism (like racism, sexism, and heterosexism) is the epistemically irrational prejudice of favoring one or more species over other species without a morally relevant characteristic providing justification. From the standpoint of irrational, unjustified prejudice, ignoring the morally relevant characteristic of intelligence in preventing certain classes of humans from obtaining an education is the same as ignoring the morally relevant characteristic of sentience in exploiting and killing nonhuman animals for food, clothing, research, and entertainment (all of which are unnecessary).

Speciesism is one form of irrational, prejudiced compartmentalization. An example of speciesist compartmentalization is when we pet and love a dog while a pig’s full body and head rotate over a fire pit. Why isn’t it the other way around? Better yet, why don’t we pet and love both the dog and the pig?

Other examples of speciesist compartmentalization are single issue campaigns. Why do we protest and publish “open letters” about fur, but ignore leather? Why do we have high-profile protests against seal “hunts”, aerial “hunts”, and canned “hunts”, but quiet down significantly about fishing and so many other “hunts” (all of which are unjust, one-sided, and cowardly)?

Since single issue campaigns are cases of speciesist compartmentalization themselves, such campaigns obviously reinforce prejudiced compartmentalization. Because of this alone, we should avoid them. If we insist on protesting an animal circus or a fur shop, we should make unequivocal vegan education front and center of the protest. If we publish an “open letter” to Johnny Weir, it should be an open letter to go vegan and reject the exploitation of all animals, not just cute furry ones.

Diseases and Symptoms

In addition to single issue campaigns being counterproductive by strongly reinforcing speciesist compartmentalization and confusing the public (most of “the public” sees the inconsistency better than the activists do), they are useless in that they address the symptoms of speciesism without addressing the disease  of speciesism itself. As such, single issue campaigns, when they are at their “most effective” (a pathetic scene to be sure), act as temporary relief from one of the many symptoms of speciesism. As soon as the campaign is over, things go back to “normal” because there was never any treatment of the underlying disease of speciesism.

The only way to address speciesism as a disease is through vegan education. When people take animal interests seriously enough to embrace veganism, speciesism has been at least mostly eliminated in their case, and they no longer contribute to the thousands of varieties of symptoms. To use a metaphor I used in a far more comprehensive essay on single issue campaigns, Picking the Low Hanging Fruit: What’s Wrong with Single Issue Campaigns?, the tree of speciesism has been cut down for vegans and it no longer produces the “low hanging fruit” that single issue campaigns address: fur, foie gras, animal circus attendance, zoo attendance, and on and on.

Two Paradigm Shifts

There are two paradigm shifts people experience, each one reducing speciesism: first, embracing personal veganism; second, embracing abolitionist principles. Embracing veganism means rejecting speciesism in attitude, thoughts, speech, and behavior. At a minimum, it is avoiding the exploitation of animals and use of animal products in one’s life. Embracing abolitionist principles means rejecting single issue campaigns and welfarism and engaging in vegan education instead. Veganism is the personal manifestation of a commitment to eliminate speciesist prejudice and take animals’ interests seriously. Abolitionism is the public and political manifestation of a commitment to eliminate speciesist prejudice and take animals’ interests seriously.

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