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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