Category Archives: vegan education

On Advocacy Media Preferences

Absent any comprehensive studies on what media are most effective for persuading people to go and stay vegan, we are left with searching for reasons why one medium of advocacy might be more effective than another. Further, any reasons we do come up with for preferring one medium over another would likely be speculative (i.e. empirically untested) and depend more on personal preferences and learning styles than any obvious or universal advantage.

Of books, magazine articles, scholarly journals, blogs, forums, emails, street stalls, leaflets, event tables, speeches, presentations, casual discussion, and whatever other forms of communication might be effective, it seems to me that what is communicated and how it is communicated is far more important than where or through what media a message is communicated.

We have reason to believe that, all other factors equal, books — to the extent that they are read — are the most effective media simply because of the time it takes to read a book compared to other media. Other than time spent, however, there is no reason to believe that, word for word, books would be any more effective than any other mode of written communication.

It is likely true that our individual learning styles vary in many ways. For example, Alice might respond best to a well-reasoned argument supported by verified facts, while Bob might respond best to a video and a plea for empathy. Alice might be interested in reading a 250 page book written for academics, while Bob might not get past page 2 of such a book. Alice may cross the street to avoid the vegan education table at the summer festival, while Bob may be drawn to a long chit chat session at the vegan education table.

The reason I’m writing about advocacy media is that I’ve seen many opinions, seemingly unsupported with facts or reason, that we “need to get out in the streets” or engage in some specific mode of communication, rather than another mode, if we are to move things along. This seems misguided.

We very much need to 1) get our message right, 2) deliver our message in a palatable manner, and 3) target the appropriate audience (i.e. non-vegans), but it really doesn’t matter whether we choose popular non-vegan forums on the Internet or the library or the table at the summer festival to communicate our message. Chances are excellent that vegans are a proportionate cross-section of those non-vegans we wish to educate. As individuals, if we focus on the media in which we are most comfortable communicating, and the media to which we would personally be most receptive, chances are that, collectively, we will have all bases covered regarding the non-vegan public in proper proportion to their preferred media.

In other words, focus on the modes of communication in which you prefer to communicate, and to which you would be most receptive, and let others focus on the modes they prefer and to which they are receptive. If you like spending time educating on Internet forums, then educate on Internet forums! If you like to chat with random people in the city or at the festival, do that! Both? Fine. Just don’t make unsupported statements that either one or another is ineffective or that your preferred mode of communication ought to be the preferred mode for everyone.

Most important is that we should get the message right. Very briefly, 99.999…% of nonhuman animal exploitation and harm is unnecessary. Unnecessary nonhuman animal exploitation and harm is wrong. Therefore, 99.999…% of nonhuman animal exploitation and harm is wrong. Therefore, avoid it by going vegan and encouraging others to go vegan. Being vegan is far from the most we can do; it is the least we can do.

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On Indoctrination and Education (Part 2 of 2)

Part 1 of this essay defined indoctrination, contrasted it with education, and briefly described the indoctrination process from early childhood through our teenaged years. Part 2 continues with the on-going indoctrination we receive as adults and concludes with vegan education as the antidote to indoctrination at any age.

Indoctrination as Adults

As we enter our adult years, the indoctrination and pressure to conform continues relentlessly throughout our lives. From working and business relationships to friendships to family and romantic relationships, most of us have far more contact with people who have never questioned the speciesist indoctrination of animals-as-things than people who have rejected speciesism in favor of animals-as-persons [1] to be respected. Not only have most people not questioned it, but the indoctrination is so entrenched that they are likely to find our rejection of speciesism odd and even personally threatening. As such, depending on the relationship, we will usually find reactions to our sane, nonviolent views ranging from evasive to defensive to passive-aggressive to hostile.

Indoctrination also continues heavily in entertainment, news media, and advertising. Virtually everywhere we look in our commercial society, we are constantly bombarded with the speciesist assumption that animals are things with only instrumental value, and no more intrinsic value than dirt.

Indoctrination is even strong in religious and other groups known for promoting nonviolence, justice, and compassion “for all sentient beings”, such as Buddhists. Animal exploitation, animal product consumption and the adamant “defense” of them are almost as common within such groups as in the general public.

Can we look to large animal “protection” groups, such as PETA and HSUS, to challenge our indoctrination in any meaningful way? No. Instead, they send us a mixed message: “animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use or entertainment” mixed with “animals are ours to eat, wear, experiment on, and use for entertainment, if we win this welfare campaign or single issue campaign. So send us your donation today, and then it’ll be okay.”

The speciesist indoctrination is a self-perpetuating vicious circle, similar to when child abuse continues to occur across generations, in which formerly abused parents become child abusers themselves, perpetuating the cycle indefinitely until some strong, educating agent breaks one or two generations free of it.

As individuals, can we overcome such indoctrination? Many of us who have overcome speciesist indoctrination provide conclusive evidence that it is possible through vegan education.

Vegan Education

Vegan education seeks to inform people about why and how to avoid animal products and use as far as is reasonably possible, and does so without the use of undue influence, power, coercion, or appeals to authority or tradition. It is generally one-sided because the opposing side is already overwhelmingly present in speciesist indoctrination. It is also “one-sided” in the same way that racial tolerance education is one-sided: racial tolerance education does not promote racism or unjustified and unnecessary harm and killing of people of other races or it would not be racial tolerance education.

The reasons to avoid animal products and use include the fact that more than 99.999% of nonhuman animals we exploit have the same morally relevant characteristic (sentience) as we do when it comes to a fair assessment of inherent value, as opposed to instrumental value. Just like certain abilities – such as abstract reasoning – do not count when it comes to assessing the inherent value of a human being, such abilities do not count when assessing the inherent value of a sentient nonhuman being. Another way of saying it is that if sentient nonhumans do not have inherent value, then neither do any humans have inherent value. To think any other way is pure prejudice: it is no different from denying a sufficiently-abled human a university education or vote based on her sex or race. Speciesism is the same underlying wrong of favoring morally irrelevant characteristics over morally relevant characteristics that is found in sexism, racism, and heterosexism.

The way to avoid animal products and uses is to learn all you can about animal ingredients and vegan alternatives to your food, drink, clothing, personal care products, and entertainment choices, and act accordingly.

A well-planned diet free of animal products is very healthy. Also, like any other kind of diet, planning should include both the nutritional profile of various foods and an individual’s particular needs. Fortunately, there are plenty of vegan cooking, baking, and nutritional resources available in books and on the Internet (see the side bar of this blog for links). Also, consider seeking out other vegans, either on the Internet (forums and social networking sites), and/or, if you live in an urban area, vegan social groups. It is much easier, especially as a new vegan, to socially identify with others who have rejected the violence and injustice of speciesism.

Finally, as a new vegan, constantly remind yourself why you are vegan to offset the incessant speciesism that you will encounter in your everyday life. Remind yourself that, as a vegan, you are one of the strong, independently-minded people who has made their own choice — despite being heavily indoctrinated otherwise for years or decades — to reject the blatant injustice and unnecessary violence of speciesism and animal exploitation, and embrace veganism as a minimum standard of decency.
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Note:

 [1] Many people get confused when they hear or read animals referred to as “persons”. This confusion stems from two misunderstandings. First, in a speciesist society, animals are defined, referred to, and thought of, literally as things, both legally and in common language use. Second, people get confused between the words “people” and “persons”, which have very different meanings. “People” is a synonym for “humans”, plain and simple. Animals are not people. “Person” has a much broader meaning, both legally and in common language use, but especially in law. A person is an entity due moral or legal consideration, and can be a human; a legal entity, such as a corporation, foundation, or trust; or a nonhuman animal. Animals are persons.

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On Indoctrination and Education (Part 1 of 2)

Introduction

Indoctrination and education are similar processes except for two differences: one conditional difference, and one crucial difference. The conditional difference is that indoctrination is one-sided and uncritical, while education is multifaceted, allowing for free and critical evaluation of at least two perspectives, either intentionally or by default. This difference is “conditional” (a difference depending on circumstances) because education can be entirely one-sided in an environment of indoctrination and still be education, since the existing indoctrination serves as the strong presentation of the other side of the issue.

The crucial difference is that indoctrination necessarily involves some sort of influence, power, coercion, or appeals to authority or tradition to maintain a monopoly or similar control over information, and thereby control agreement or consensus; while education shuns influence, power, coercion, and appeals to authority or tradition of any kind as a method of controlling agreement or consensus. It is this difference that essentially distinguishes indoctrination from education.

The influence, power, coercion, or appeals to authority or tradition that defines indoctrination can come in many forms, and does not necessarily use any kind of violence or threats to maintain agreement and consensus. For example, the power inherent in financial or economic control over mass media and what information mass media presents is the kind of power that does not involve any violence or threats whatsoever against the public, but it is extremely effective in maintaining control over public opinion. Similarly, parents’ sheltering of their child from information and reasoning that encourages the nonviolence of veganism can be entirely free of any violence or threats of violence. Even the momentum of mass market economics and widespread cultural prejudice itself is a form of domination, undue influence, and power over belief that qualifies it as a strong – and perhaps the strongest – mechanism of indoctrination.

Our Speciesist Indoctrination

We live in a society that heavily indoctrinates us, throughout our entire lives, to accept the widely shared dogma that animals are things, property, and commodities here for us to use, consume, and exploit in virtually any way we desire, as long as we do it “humanely”. (“Humanely”, as used in this context, is so inaccurate and misleading from a practical point of view as to be close in meaning to its antonym. See Note [1] at the end of the essay for an important elaboration on this point.)

The remainder of this two-part essay will focus on how, and how much, we are indoctrinated, in the hope that seeing the power-based, one-sided, and uncritical nature of such indoctrination, along with vegan education as an antidote to indoctrination, will help in overcoming it.

Indoctrination in Early Childhood

Our indoctrination begins when we are, as infants, fed certain foods before we have any idea what (or whom) we are eating. When we find out as children that we are eating the bodies of dead animals, many of us are uneasy about our new-found knowledge. Our parents or guardians, heavily indoctrinated for decades themselves, try to assure us that some animals are “meant” for us to eat, and that we “need” to eat animals to be healthy. Many of us continue to question such assurances, but even the most precocious of us will generally get no more of a “reason” from the adults in our lives than some form of “that’s just the way it is” (e.g. the Bible says so; God put them here for us; they had bad karma in previous lives; they’re not rational like us) or false statements to ease our consciences (e.g. they don’t mind being our food; they couldn’t live comfortable lives if we didn’t eat them, and so on). Either way, the vast majority of us are forced – whether by threats of punishment for not eating our meat, or by duress in wanting to please our parents and siblings – to accept that animal products will be what we eat, whether we like it or not. Note the influence and power differential involved in, and uncritical nature of, our “learning” about animals-as-food, and how our concerns are almost always dismissed out of hand by the vast majority of non-vegan parents.

Indoctrination in Youth and at School

From pre-school to high school, the indoctrinated beliefs formed in our early childhood are further reinforced by teachers, other students, the school lunch menu, the “food pyramid” and nutritional “education” (formed by a political process heavily involving animal agribusiness interests), and a constant bombardment of advertising by industry on television, radio, billboards, and in newspapers. For the vast majority of us, there are no alternative perspectives. Our society and the institutions of which it consists have an extremely powerful monopoly on the information and perspectives we receive. Not only that, but almost without exception, the influential people in those institutions have been heavily indoctrinated themselves, whether or not they are aware of it.

We are to uncritically accept the claim that dairy, eggs, and meat are “necessary” for our health. We are to uncritically accept that there are no satisfactory alternatives to animal products. We are to uncritically accept that killing, enslavement, and exploitation is “humane”, necessary, and morally acceptable.

Most of us, if we critically challenge or reject animal products in our diet and life as school-aged youth, are swimming upstream against an overwhelming current of parents, teachers, other students, the school lunch menu, and relentless advertising. Critical challenges of society’s dogma regarding animal product consumption and animal use are often met with hostility and even ridicule. The exception is when we have parents who either are vegan or strongly support our decision to be vegan. Even then, however, indoctrination and hostility from non-parental sources is strong, and our sense of independence must be equal to the task. Again, the power differential is strong, and the nature of the reinforcement of the paradigm of animals-as-things is almost always blind and uncritical.

Indoctrination as Teenagers

As we enter our teens, the same indoctrination continues from the same sources as when we were younger, but there is perhaps a shift from parents and teachers to advertisers and our peers being the most influential on us. Most of us start attempting to create an identity for ourselves, and often choose role models to assist in this process. Our peers and potential role models will rarely, if ever, be vegans who have rejected the cultural prejudice of speciesism. In fact, as victims of powerful and heavy indoctrination themselves, they are just as likely to be as deeply prejudiced regarding species membership as anyone else.

Even if we are exposed to a positive vegan role model as a teenager, indoctrination from other sources continues, powerful and uncritical, and again, our sense of personal independence from those speciesist sources must be equally strong.

This concludes Part 1 of this two-part essay. Part 2 will continue with the on-going indoctrination we receive as adults and will conclude with vegan education as the antidote to indoctrination at any age.

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Note:

[1] “Humane”, under the law, means no more pain, suffering, and torture than is approximately deemed “necessary” by the owner of property to achieve the instrumental goal in question; therefore, enslavement, solitary confinement, burning, torturing, beating, rape, stabbing, shooting, bone-breaking, electrocuting, inducing psychosis, inducing drug addiction, inducing severe mental illness, severe psychological torment, electrical shocking, and just about any other form of torture you can think of is perfectly legal, as long as it achieves legally established industry-specified or owner-specified instrumental goals set by animal experimenters, hunters, trappers, family farmers, dog owners, or any other industry or adult human. Even when the torture can be shown to be “gratuitous” or “unnecessary” for achieving the owner’s goal, and violates a welfare law, the animal is still property, and therefore the legal consequences are trivial enough to almost never act as a deterrent to the cruel behavior. Consider reading Animals, Property, and Law (see recommended books on the side bar for a link) by Professor Gary Francione for more details on why legal welfarism protects, and will always protect, almost every kind of torture imaginable.

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The Classical Circular Farce of Welfarism

The (vast?) majority of donors to PETA, HSUS, and similar groups are not vegans. They are the same people who literally create the problems that these big welfarist groups feebly attempt to ameliorate.

So, the donors create the problem through the extreme speciesism of consuming animal products, which leads to the breeding, confining, torturing, and intentional killing of the innocent. Then the donors send their money – tens of millions of dollars of it annually – to PETA and HSUS to attempt the absurdly impossible: regulate a perpetual holocaust of billions of victims annually. These big groups are beholden to the very donors who are creating the problem that needs to be fixed.

It is a classic circular farce and would be a knee-slapping hilarious example of human stupidity if it were not so tragic.

We cannot regulate the holocaust. We need to stop it by going vegan and encouraging others to do the same.

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Just Being Vegan

Three of the last several essays on this blog have been about vegan education. Based on what I’ve written in those essays, one might get the impression that I believe that everyone who goes vegan ought, as a moral imperative, to engage in a significant personal effort to educate others about why and how to go vegan; but that is not the case, and the purpose of this essay is to elaborate on and/or clarify what I see as a behavioral moral baseline – that is, being vegan – as contrasted with behavior that is highly desirable and strongly encouraged, but not morally imperative – that is, being active in vegan advocacy beyond merely being vegan.

When discussing animal rights, people sometimes object that there are too many problems in the world involving humans, and that once we get our global or national house in order regarding humans, then we can worry about nonhumans. Ignoring the embedded speciesism and “othering” in this line of thought, even if one prefers assisting humans prior to assisting nonhumans (which, just like the reverse, is fine), there is no reason for contributing to the intentional harm and exploitation inflicted on nonhuman beings. In other words, other than changing habits, merely being vegan requires no significant time or effort that would take away from one’s time or energy available to help humans. Being vegan does not entail becoming an animal rights activist any more than avoiding cannibalism entails becoming a human rights activist or avoiding a career as a pimp entails becoming an outspoken feminist. One simply refuses to engage in exploiting nonhumans (or humans or women) and goes on with life as usual.

Another problem with the objection that we need to “take care of humans before we go vegan” is that so many human problems are directly rooted in our consumption of animal products and the deplorable animal agriculture industry that supplies this consumption. One of those human problems is world hunger. A large portion of total demand for grains is made up of the animal agriculture industry’s demand for animal feed. Animals always consume significantly more calories, nutrition, and protein in plant-based food than they provide in animal products (meat, eggs, and dairy). This artificially high demand makes the price of those grains – which could instead be allocated to feed starving human populations – rise to a significantly higher level. In addition, more large populations of humans in places like China that used to be almost vegan are being introduced to larger quantities of animal products, artificially increasing demand and price for grains even more. Sadly, perhaps even potentially catastrophically, the world demand for animal products is expected to double over the next couple of decades, putting enormous upward pressure on the price and supply of grains, and causing even more human starvation for the have-nots. Another human problem solved by veganism is the animal waste and digestive gas, particularly from pigs and cattle, released into our air and water which has a devastating effect on our environment by polluting our water and air and contributing to global warming. A third human problem that is significantly reduced by veganism is the health problems brought on by moderate to heavy milk, cheese, egg, and meat consumption, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity. So do we really want to help humans, ourselves included? If so, then we should go vegan.

Once we go vegan, we are no longer directly contributing to various human problems and the problem of animal exploitation, and as long as we are “just vegan” and don’t do anything to promote so-called “humane” animal products, we are blameless for what goes on regarding our society’s exploitation of nonhuman beings. As vegans, we have met a minimum standard of moral behavior with respect to nonhumans. At this point, as vegans, if we believe that there are other areas we would prefer to spend our time on other than animal advocacy, such as working at the homeless shelter, then that’s fine. Active animal advocacy, while highly desirable, is no more a moral duty than getting involved in any other cause or movement. There is nothing wrong with spending our volunteer time engaging in what interests us most (e.g. the human rights cause), but we should not contribute to a major problem like animal exploitation and all of its extremely negative external costs to humans and nonhumans and use the failed excuse that “there are more important things to do” than going vegan (or refraining from violence in general).

A Caveat

So, being vegan, by itself, achieves the moral baseline of avoiding the exploitation of others, and vegan or abolitionist advocacy beyond merely being vegan is very desirable and strongly encouraged, but it is ultimately supererogatory. There are, however, as I discussed in the three recent essays on vegan education, certain activities and types of supposed “animal advocacy” that are counterproductive and that vegans ought to steer clear of: namely, getting involved in efforts to regulate animal exploitation and promoting supposedly more “humane” eggs and dairy.

As vegans, we ought to either promote vegan living (including, for example, vegan food-only blogs and promotion) or decline to get involved in advocacy. Joining with those who promote exploitation, even if described and marketed as “humane”, is inconsistent with our behavior and beliefs as vegans, and in the long run promotes and reinforces animal exploitation instead of eroding it. Also, while it is true that, as vegans, we would like to see less suffering of those exploited than more suffering, there are two additional interrelated reasons why we ought to refrain. One reason is that we have limited time, money, and energy for advocacy, which makes our decision in what to invest them a zero-sum game. Every quantity of time, money, and energy spent on promoting so-called “humane” animal products is necessarily diverted from vegan education. The other reason is that abolitionist vegans are outnumbered by consumers and advocates of “happy eggs” and “happy milk” by several orders of magnitude. The movement for “happy” animal products, which is ultimately a boon for the industry and its long-term profitability, is going very strong and only shows signs of growing stronger at this time. However, there is no evidence whatsoever that welfare reform efforts lead people to go vegan. People may become interested in reform efforts and then eventually go vegan, but what gets people to go vegan is vegan education: people go vegan when it is understood why we are not morally justified in killing animals for food and other trivial purposes and when it is understood how delicious and nutritious vegan food is.

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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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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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Vegan Education: A Background (Part 1 of 2)

This is the first essay in a two-part series on vegan education. This essay will provide some background on vegan education and specifically explain some of the differences between welfarist and abolitionist education, with some good examples of abolitionist vegan education at the end. The second essay will discuss the incremental abolitionist approach in more detail.The abolitionist approach envisions the abolition of the property status of sentient nonhuman beings. But before we can consider the abolition of the property status of nonhumans, we must get rid of the economic perspective that sees nonhumans as nothing more than consumption commodities on the same level of moral consideration as things like apples, oranges, grapes, broccoli, and coconuts. But before we can eliminate this consumption commodity status of nonhumans, we must be vegan. Therefore, vegan education is at the core of, as well as the first stage of, the abolition approach.We might be tempted to object that there are animal welfare laws protecting “food” animals, and therefore live animals are treated on a higher level of moral consideration than insentient fruits and vegetables. As tempting as it might be to view “welfare” laws in animal agriculture as there “for the animals”, this view is incorrect. There are only four purposes for our current animal welfare laws, and none of them have anything to do with the animals’ genuine interests: 1) to protect the animal property, as economic property, of the businesses that own the animals; 2) to protect slaughterhouse workers in the case of large animals who thrash around dangerously if not handled “properly”; 3) to protect consumers against diseases like mad cow in the case of “downers”; 4) to give the consuming public the pretense that animals are “treated well” in feeding operations, transportation, and slaughter.

The reality is that literally billions of animals annually are treated in ways that would shock most consumers of animal products. Animal welfare laws as they pertain to animal agriculture have no connection to the common public conception of “animal welfare” as it applies to e.g. dogs and cats. Rather, welfare laws covering animals exploited for food, experimentation, and entertainment are intentionally designed to support “customary and accepted practices” through categorical exemptions of treatment, most of which would normally be considered felony cruelty if inflicted on, say, a Golden Retriever.

We might be tempted then, as welfarist organizations like HSUS and Animal Legal Defense Fund do, to suggest that we tighten up and enforce these welfare laws to “really” protect animals. There are several reasons why enforcing stronger welfare laws cannot work. The biggest reason such laws cannot work is strong economic consumer demand combined with the fact that it is economically, practically, and logistically impossible to breed, raise, feed, transport, and slaughter 10 billion animals annually without confining these beings to live in their waste; debeaking chickens; de-horning and castrating bulls (without expensive anesthetic); using electric prods on large animals; using brute force on chickens; transporting animals in extreme weather conditions that not only cause misery, but are enough to kill some animals before they get to slaughter; and running slaughterhouse lines at high rates of speed causing millions of chicken to miss the neck blade and end up in the boiler alive and many cows to end up alive at the hide-ripping machine. To eliminate these cruel “customary and accepted practices” would be so costly that the prices of animal products would necessarily rise to several multiples of the current prices, and only the very wealthy could afford to purchase the products. Combine the economic impossibility of such major reforms with the sweeping and devastating effect such reforms would have on one of the biggest, wealthiest, and most powerful collective of industries in the world (Big Food: ConAgra, Tyson Foods, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, KFC, and suburban corporate chain restaurants, just to name a few of dozens of big businesses), and it is easy to see that attempting to legislate such reforms through welfare laws is plainly absurd.

So admittedly, the situation for animals, particularly any significant improvement in welfare laws, is as bleak as can be imagined. However, the sole driving force of this virtually absolute economic and political power that animal agriculture and Big Food have over animals is consumers, individually and collectively, who support, demand, drive, and are ultimately responsible for the existence of the animal agriculture industry and all of its power. If we are to tackle the problem of the institutional torture of animals, we must directly educate consumers of animal products and challenge the cultural acceptability of animal product consumption. Decent people will have serious moral qualms about the “customary and accepted practices” and the categorical exemptions in animal agriculture if they are exposed to these practices. One significant hurdle to exposing the general public to these practices is the culturally accepted attitude of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the refusal of many people to allow themselves to be exposed even when film footage of the horrific treatment is readily available. Combine this with the industry’s legal right to keep people, including the media (which is biased in favor of industry in the first place), off of their property – a right which they reserve and enforce at least to the full extent of the law – and you can see that educating consumers is a time-consuming and sometimes difficult task. However, educating consumers is the ONLY conceivable way to erode the industry’s immense power and the animals’ only chance for relief from the misfortune of being born into an existence of unimaginable hell.

With that preface, let’s look at an overview of vegan education, both as it is generally practiced now (i.e. welfarist vegan education practiced by large welfarist organizations) and as it ought to be practiced if animals are to have any hope in coming years or decades (i.e. abolitionist vegan education).

Welfarist “Vegan” Education

Not all “vegan” education qualifies as “the core and first stage of the abolitionist approach” mentioned in the last sentence of the first paragraph of this essay. Welfarist “vegan” education – that is, “vegan” education provided by the predominant “animal protection” organizations – is antithetical to the abolitionist approach. Let‘s examine the difference, starting with welfarist “vegan” education:

People exposed to welfarist vegan education may decide to go vegan, but the reasons they give for going vegan are tenuous and conditional. Welfarist vegans believe and say things like “veganism is just a tool to reduce suffering”; or “even if you like meat, you can still help the animals by reducing your meat consumption”, or “it’s a step in the right direction”, and “veganism is a boycott of cruelty.” These statements see veganism merely as a “tool” to “reduce” suffering and perhaps also to persuade animal agribusiness to treat animals better and to go along with welfarist attempts at legislative reforms. Because the abolitionist approach sees the folly in attempting to reform industry, and sees the use and killing of animals as the fundamental problem and the poor treatment as merely an unavoidable symptom of the fundamental use problem, every one of these statements is antithetical to genuine animal rights advocacy and the abolitionist approach. Again, all of these statements see the treatment of animals as the core problem, not the exploitation or killing per se. Indeed, the leading philosopher of the welfarist camp, Peter Singer – also known as the “father of the animal rights movement” – has said that we can be “conscientious omnivores”. But if 300 million of us in America can be “conscientious omnivores”, can animals have any rights or protection by any coherent definition of the word “rights” or “protection”? Of course not. Not only is it practically ridiculous from a welfarist standpoint of a vague claim to “decent treatment” in slaughter, but from a genuine animal rights standpoint, it makes no sense to talk about the right to anything if one has no right to one’s life.

For welfarists, there is nothing wrong with being a “conscientious omnivore” or “demi-vegetarian” (like many welfarists are) and allowing oneself the “luxury” of a little meat or cheese occasionally. This is perfectly consistent with welfarist philosophy and why veganism is looked at by welfarists as some heroic or ascetic thing rather than a moral baseline. If you’re a welfarist, there really is no compelling reason to be vegan; veganism really is nothing more than an optional “tool to reduce suffering.” Since the inception of the welfarist approach in the mid-1970s, per capita meat consumption has risen steadily and the treatment of animals has gotten progressively worse. Additionally, huge populations in other parts of the world that have so far consumed primarily a vegetarian diet are now being introduced to moderate to large quantities of animal products by the gigantic animal agriculture industry, and worldwide per capita meat consumption is expected to at least double during the next few decades. After 30 years of the welfarist approach, the meat industry is stronger than ever and there is no hope on the horizon that anything will change in this regard. Again, the situation and prognosis for animals could not be worse, but if there is any hope, it is only through the abolitionist approach.

Abolitionist Vegan Education: Moral Considerations

In addition to the practical considerations of veganism as the only way of eliminating unnecessary animal cruelty, there are significant moral differences between the abolitionist approach and the welfarist approach. When we consider the genuine meaning and implications of animal rights, as set forth in Gary Francione’s Introduction to Animal Rights, the moral baseline of veganism becomes strikingly clear. Nonhuman beings have inherent value derived from the morally relevant characteristic of their sentience and are therefore deserving of equal consideration. [1] In recognizing their sentience, inherent value, and equal consideration, we realize that it is a moral imperative to not consume them or exploit them by using them solely as a means to our ends. Animals have important interests beyond merely avoiding pain and suffering. Being vegan is no longer merely a “tool to reduce suffering” or a “boycott of cruelty”, it becomes an internalized moral issue on par with the prohibition of intentionally killing innocent humans or exploiting them solely as a means to our ends. This is why the issue of what message we are sending in vegan education isn’t merely a matter of “tactics”; it has moral and philosophical roots that go much deeper than practical considerations and quibbles over tactics.

Abolitionist Vegan Education: Practical Considerations

Let’s consider slavery 150 years ago: If slave welfare – which was primarily concerned with the treatment rather than the use of slaves – was the dominant philosophy in our society from then until now, virtually nothing would have changed by now because the economic, property, and moral status of slaves would not have changed significantly. However, because abolition of slavery was the dominant philosophy in our society after the Civil War and still is today, much has changed and the descendants of slaves are free of bondage and property status. The same is true of the welfare versus abolition situation with regard to nonhuman beings. The predominant philosophy, welfarism or abolitionism, will entirely determine whether we live in a vegan society in years or decades to come or whether worldwide per capital meat consumption will be at an all-time high in years or decades to come.

This is partly why the reasons people are vegan are so important, and not just that people are vegan for “tool” reasons. As a practical matter, welfarist veganism is completely unnecessary in welfarist philosophy and therefore tenuous. Abolitionist veganism is a moral imperative in animal rights philosophy and therefore rock-solid.

In the next essay of this two-part topic, we’ll examine the abolitionist incremental approach to animal rights and vegan education, specifically looking at Gary Francione’s Five Criteria of an incremental approach to forwarding animal rights in society.

In the meantime, the following links provide good examples of abolitionist educational material:

Six Principles of the Animal Rights Position

What YOU Can Do To Help Achieve Abolition

Animal Rights FAQ

Time To Get Serious

Thinking Critically About Animal Rights

Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary’s literature

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Notes:

[1] See Sentience: The Morally Relevant Characteristic Justifying Basic Rights

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