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Understanding Animal Rights, Veganism and the Animal Movement

Here are some simple thoughts that embody the abolitionist approach and philosophy. They may be useful to you in your own thinking about things as well as in your discussion with others:

1. Speciesism is morally objectionable because, like racism, sexism, and heterosexism, it links personhood with an irrelevant criterion.

Explanation: We do not object to speciesism in a vacuum. We reject it because it is like other forms of discrimination. What all forms of discrimination share in common is the use of an irrelevant criterion to exclude people from full membership in the moral community. Racists devalue those of different races based solely on skin color; sexists devalue women solely because of sex and gender; heterosexists deny full membership in the moral community to gays, lesbians, transgenders, etc. simply on the basis of sexual orientation. Speciesists deny full membership in the moral community based solely on species.

All of these forms of discrimination are morally unjustifiable. We reject speciesism because it is indistinguishable from these other forms of discrimination.

(Please note: Although Peter Singer ostensibly rejects speciesism, he maintains that because nonhumans do not have the same sort of minds as do humans, they do not have an interest in continuing to live and we do not harm them if we use and kill them “humanely.” I find this a form of speciesism. Click here.)

2. Those who reject speciesism are committed to rejecting racism, sexism, heterosexism, and other forms of discrimination as well.

Explanation: Some animal advocates maintain that the “animal movement” does not take a position on other forms of discrimination. That is not correct. Those of us who want justice for nonhumans are necessarily committed to justice for humans and for an end to human discrimination as well as discrimination against nonhumans.

The animal movement should not, for example, be perpetuating sexism as a means to the end of animal rights. Sexism involves the commodification of women. Commodification is the problem, and not the solution.

And yes, women can be sexist just as people of color can be racist. But this sexism and racism are necessarily different because, in our racist and patriarchal society, these forms of discrimination do not and cannot have the same effect. I reject all discrimination but we should never think that there are not important differences here.

And yes, women can choose to self-commodify just as people of color can participate in and perpetuate racist stereotypes. But that does not mean that self-commodification is “empowerment.” Quite the contrary. The notion that self-commodification is empowerment is a reactionary idea that perpetuates sexism.

3. Veganism is Ahimsa or nonviolence; veganism recognizes that nonviolence starts with what you put in and on your body. Ahimsa is the principle that we should not act violently toward others in our thoughts, speech, or action. But Ahimsa should not be thought of as an abstract principle. If it does not affect our daily lives, it is of no use.

Ethical veganism represents the notion that nonviolence begins with what we put in our mouths and what we put on our bodies. If we go to a peace rally after having eaten a breakfast of bacon and eggs and wearing our wool sweaters and leather shoes, we have, I would suggest, missed the point.

4. Veganism is the application of the principle of abolition in your own life; it represents your recognition that animals are not things. The abolitionist approach to animal rights, as I have developed it over the past two decades, is that we cannot justify any animal use–however “humane.” We must abolish and not regulate the exploitation of nonhuman animals. Regulation fails for both theoretical and practical reasons.

Regulating animal exploitation through welfare reform is like regulating torture by adding padding to the water board. If the conduct is wrong, we should advocate its cessation, not propose that we impose harm in a “better” way.

And welfare reform does not work as a practical matter. Animals are chattel property; they are economic commodities. Given that status and given the reality of markets, including global markets, the protection afforded by animal welfare laws and regulations will rarely, if ever, rise above the level of protection necessary to exploit animals in an economically efficient way. To put the matter another way: we do not protect animal interests unless we derive an economic benefit from doing so. We have had animal welfare for more than 200 years now and we are exploiting more animals in more horrific ways than at any time in human history.

If a person advocated the abolition of human slavery but continued to own slaves, we would find that action did not accord with their thoughts or words. Similarly, if someone advocates abolition but continues to consume and use animal products, there is a disconnect, a dissonance.

To be an abolitionist is to be an ethical vegan and to abjure the consumption of flesh, dairy, honey, animal derivatives, etc. and the wearing of wool, leather, fur, and silk.

5. We should use creative, nonviolent means to educate others about abolition.
Violence is the problem; it is not any part of the solution. Those who advocate violence against institutional users of animals fail to recognize the simple fact that these users are only responding to a demand created by others. The real exploiters are those who create the demand. Therefore, violence against institutional users makes no sense. And no sane person would advocate violence against the 99.9999% of the population that regards animal use as natural as breathing and drinking water.

We need to shift the paradigm; we need to have a revolution–of the heart. We will never change the way humans think about nonhumans through violence and intimidation. We will do so only when we convince others that animal exploitation cannot be justified morally. We will do so only when we can share with them the peace that comes into our lives by rejecting violence. And it makes no sense to say that we can share that peace in a violent way!

Judging others is a form of violence. We should always avoid making assessments about the moral integrity of individuals. We ought to confine our attention to actions. I make no personal judgments about welfarists. I just think that they are wrong and I offer reasons for my position. We should always educate in a nonviolent way. That does not mean that we collapse into moral relativism or avoid taking principled positions; on the contrary. But we must be willing to engage all who want to engage us in good faith and we should always educate in a nonviolent way.

6. Veganism is the recognition of the moral personhood of nonhuman animals.
We live in a binary moral universe. There are persons and there are things. The former have inherent value and are members of the moral community. The latter have only extrinsic or external value and are outside the moral community. Although many humans regard some animals (their companions) as nonhuman persons with moral value, animals are, as a matter of our law, regarded as chattel property, as things with only the value that we give to them.

Veganism is an act of nonviolent defiance. It is our statement that we reject the notion that animal are things and that we regard sentient nonhumans as moral persons with the fundamental moral right not to be treated as the property or resources of humans.

If you are not vegan, go vegan. It’s easy. It’s better for your health. It’s better for the planet. But, most importantly, it is the morally right thing to do. You can become an abolitionist today. Right now. Right this second. You do not need a big organization or expensive campaign. You do not need to sit naked in a cage. You do not need any leaders to tell you what to do. You just need to say no to violence and let that refusal to cooperate with oppression start with what you put in and on your body.

Gary L. Francione
©2009 Gary L. Francione

Related posts:

  1. Human Rights and Animal Rights: Perfect Together
  2. Some Thoughts on Vegan Education
  3. Another Terrible California Proposition
  4. A “Very New Approach” or Just More New Welfarism?
  5. Some Thoughts on the Meaning of “Vegan”


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