[I am republishing this essay in the wake of the horrific tragedy in Las Vegas on 10/1/2017 that has claimed nearly 60 lives, injured over 500 others and will have repercussions far beyond those numbers.]
I am deeply saddened by all the recent loss of life our society has experienced this year and, like so many others, am struggling to find answers to very difficult questions. I want to share my thoughts on one concept that has me puzzled.
I’m trying to understand how this “everyone should carry a gun so we’ll all be safe from people with guns” thing works or, specifically, might have worked in the horrendously tragic Orlando incident on 6/12/16 (or similar incidents) and it simply doesn’t make sense to me. Here’s how I think it could have played out had the majority of patrons at the Pulse Nightclub been armed:
Mass murderer walks into a nightclub with a Sig Sauer MCX rifle (apparently it wasn’t an AR-15, as originally reported), hellbent on doing as much lethal damage as possible.
People are dancing, clubbing, whatevering – safe to assume lots of alcohol and other drugs on board, flashing lights, possible smoke in the air and loud music (not an environment conducive to making quick, clear, life-and-death decisions) – but certainly not standing around with guns drawn anticipating the arrival of a mass murderer they’ll have to heroically stop with a perfectly placed kill shot.
Mass murderer starts shooting. Panic ensues. Lights and music continue for a time.
Those with guns (at least the ones who aren’t already wounded, in a blind panic, running for their lives or being pushed and trampled by others running for their lives) draw guns and see, guess what, lots of other people with guns frantically looking around, ducking and covering, trying to figure out who’s shooting and who to shoot.
At this point in the scenario, ANYONE with a gun is a potential target for anyone else with a gun, because nothing is clear and obvious (murderers don’t conveniently wear Kiss the Shooter aprons or black hats like bad cowboys used to, and this isn’t the movies where the lights and camera focus on the shooter so we can all identify him or her) and just carrying a gun does not automatically imbue someone with the skill set of James Bond, John McClane or a Navy SEAL. You’re still you, the person who does office work at a desk 8 hours a day or bags groceries or drives for Uber – like it or not, that’s your primary skill set – only with a lethal weapon on your person. Those paper targets you shoot at don’t move or shoot back, and you’re probably not sweating and shaking from adrenaline in fear for your life out there on the gun range. In this scenario, people with guns are gonna shoot other people with guns (right after shitting their pants and pissing down their legs – that’s how false bravado leaves the body, by the way), which is going to start a chain reaction of people shooting at those who are shooting at those who are shooting, not to mention those scurrying in all directions who will be caught in the crossfire… it’ll quite literally be a shit show, and the murderer will most likely target those with guns first as a means of damage control and self-preservation, because he’s in control of the situation and knows where to look.
I don’t see this scenario ending well or even much better than the actual terrible event.
Now, some who read this may think, “Oh, great… here we go. Another peace-loving, tree-hugging, bleeding-heart liberal hippie who’s never even fired a gun in his life. He just doesn’t know how the world works, and now he wants all our guns taken away!” Please allow me to offer some perspective:
Since 2004, I have been living vegan and doing the best I can to carry the vegan message of nonviolence and justice, but that wasn’t always the case. As a child, adolescent and young adult, I was OBSESSEDwith guns and collected other weapons with which I became proficient due to my perception of the world as a dangerous and hostile place: knives, bows and arrows, nunchakus and various homemade weapons. But it was always guns that were the most alluring and seemed to have the most power. I owned countless toy guns of all varieties, then graduated to BB and pellet guns. I would read gun magazines, collect shell casings, draw pictures of guns, fantasize about guns, warfare, sniping and sleep with actual weapons next to my bed and under my pillow. At various times, I’ve handled and fired shotguns, rifles and handguns. I was an excellent marksman back when I was shooting and once, on a dare, took the life of an innocent non-human individual, an action of which I am not proud and one which I am glad I never repeated. Killing once is horrible enough, and I will always regret that awful choice and live with the sadness it brings.
I’ve also had loaded guns pointed at my face twice in my life, once as a young child and again as an adult, and could easily have died either time had things gone differently – one move from me or the potential shooter and I’m not here. I have been on both ends of the barrel of a gun, and I am uncomfortable on either end.
The last time I fired a gun (and the last time I will ever willingly handle or fire a gun) was, outwardly, quite a neutral experience. I was at a shooting range with a gun owner who let me shoot targets with their Taurus 9mm pistol. I shot well and followed all the necessary safety precautions… but at some point, I realized I felt incredibly uneasy holding that gun in my hand. I could feel the power it seemed to exude – to me, it was all but glowing – and knew it had the potential to turn life to death in an instant. To me, it felt like it wanted to do things – dangerous, deadly things – all by itself. I placed it safely on the stand, walked away and I was done with guns. To reiterate, I was a gun fanatic, so this revelation or awakening or whatever it was came as a complete surprise to me… but that’s what happened and here I am.
As for the other points in the imaginary argument I’m having with the imaginary gun-loving readers:
Am I peace-loving? Absolutely. Am I a tree-hugger? Nope. I’m a tree-humper, ‘cos trees are SEXY! Am I liberal? I guess so, though the more appropriate term is probably progressive. Am I a hippie? Technically no, however I’m the child of the most awesome hippie I know (that’s you, JoniRay!). If loving peace is wrong, I don’t wanna be right. Today I exercise the choice to live from love rather than fear.
I may not have an elegant solution to offer (other than to create peace right where each of us stands by choosing to live a non-violent vegan life), but I just don’t believe the answer to gun violence is to arm everyone and just hope society doesn’t devolve into Deadwood or a Tarantino film.
[I encourage all readers to click the bluelinksembedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites. Also, please read our Disclaimerregarding external sites, organizations, individuals, etc.]
Overheard: “How about taking a stand against the murder of unborn children through abortion? When I see you joining that cause perhaps I will listen to the rest of your moral outrage and the weeping for sheep…”
The above is an actual quote I saw recently from a pastor in response to a conversation about veganism. [Please note that this essay does not attempt to make a correlation between abortion and animal rights. The example used by the pastor might well have involved any human rights issue or plight – natural disaster, genocide, famine, etc. – involving humans]
Yes, people say things like this. It’s a version of one of the archetypical arguments against veganism that usually goes like this: “Humans come first. Once we get human problems sorted out, then I’ll worry about non-humans “.
Let’s apply a bit of critical thinking to these ideas by putting them in the Reality Machine.
Aside from being a blatantly speciesistposition (simply substitute the words “non-human” and “human” with different human races or genders and the unjust bias is immediately clear), this justification for continuing to engage in the exploitation of vulnerable individuals hasn’t a leg to stand on, and here’s why:
Livingvegan (eschewing the use of all products and forms of animal exploitation wherever possible and practicable) takes zero energy, resources, time or effort away from advocating for any other cause, whether human rights-related or otherwise. One can live vegan and still engage in any activity one chooses, probably with even more energythan when living non-vegan!
To further examine the fallaciousness of the argument, the idea that there will come a day when humanity’s myriad problems are finally put to rest is, in a word, preposterous. Therefore, to claim that one will gladly engage in working for animal rights once all human rights have been permanently secured is nothing more than a lie based on an impossible premise designed to derail the animal rights conversation and justify one’s continued use of products of animal exploitation. It is a disingenuous position designed to obfuscate the underlying selfishness motivating the argument, and it by no means presupposes that one is spending one’s days and nights engaged in any form of advocacy or activism whatsoever. It’s a bluff that is easily called and checkmate is soon to follow.
In and of itself, veganism is passive – it doesn’t require one to do anything but rather to not do certain things (i.e., not eat, wear or otherwise use and/or objectify non-human animals for one’s personal benefit). From there, if one chooses to spend one’s time, energy and resources engaging in animal rights advocacy through clear, consistent vegan education, that is one’s choice (and one we highly recommend) but again not a requirement.
Armed with the knowledge that one can live vegan and continue to participate passionately in whatever activities or advocacy one feels compelled to participate in, why – other than for purely selfish reasons of pleasure, comfort and convenience – would anyone not choose to do so?
[I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites. Also, please read our Disclaimerregarding external sites, organizations, individuals, etc.]
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What could possibly follow “but” in any of the above statements that would morally justify making an exception to the ideas as presented? The answer is simple: nothing.
Imagine hearing someone say, “I agree that racism is wrong, but the Ku Klux Klan is having a bake sale fundraiser this weekend and they make delicious cupcakes, so I’ll be buying some!” The moral inconsistency in such a situation would be glaring, and yet people routinely say they disagree with specific injustices while participating in and supporting, sometimes without realizing it, those same injustices.
Speciesism can be defined as a double standard created by humans placing higher moral value on some individual animals over other individual animals, based solely on the morally irrelevant criterion of species membership. To disagree with speciesism is to agree with veganism, which is defined as “a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.” – Vegan Society 1979
I’ve had countless conversations with people who said they agreed it’s wrong to hurt and kill animals unnecessarily… and then the “but”s came – “But I love eating my meat/chicken/fish/steak/bacon”, “But I could never give up my dairy/eggs/cheese/honey”, “But I need my protein”, “But my leather shoes are so comfortable”, “But I don’t eat much red meat” and on and on. It should be noted that referring to “my meat”, “my dairy”, “my leather”, etc. (which seems to happen more often than not) overlooks and negates the fact that these “products” were once the bodies, skins and secretions of autonomous individuals and are therefore stolen property. It exposes the underlying selfishness that drives speciesist behavior. When framed in this way, might those same people counter with, “I agree that stealing is wrong, but…”?
Interestingly, the problem in examples like this doesn’t lie after the “but”.
In all of the example statements above, the reality is that everything before the “but” is an untruth. Here is what’s really being said:
“I agree that [fill-in-the-blank form of oppression] is wrong, but since I’m personally benefitting from it in some way, I’ll just look the other way and pretend nothing’s happening and that I’m not participating in something I say I find morally reprehensible even though my actions tell an entirely different story.”
When one truly agrees that a form of oppression is fundamentally wrong, one does not equivocate or make exceptions in order to satisfy one’s desires for personal pleasure, comfort and convenience. Being morally consistent means not engaging in, supporting and/or promoting racism, sexism, heterosexism, speciesism or other forms of oppression because one finds it inconvenient not to. One simply stands in one’s truth and follows where one’s moral compass points, making course corrections along the way wherever necessary.
Since most people believe it’s wrong to hurt and kill vulnerable sentient beings for no justifiable reason, living vegan gives every individual the opportunity to be true to themselves, to live honestly and to live in congruence with their moral values and in harmony with their fellow travelers on this planet we all share.
One final statement to consider:
I agree that the simplest and most immediate action one can take to stop the violent oppression and exploitation of the most vulnerable members of our global society – non-human individuals – is to start living vegan. There are no valid reasons not to; there are only morally unjustifiable excuses to hide behind.
There is no “but” here. There is only truth.
[I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites. Also, please read our Disclaimer regarding external sites, organizations, individuals, etc.]
Speciesism, analogous with racism and sexism, can be defined as an unjust double standard created by humans placing higher moral value on some individual animals over other individual animals, based solely on the morally irrelevant criterion of species membership.
Speciesist Comment of the Day
Here’s a statement from one of the “superstars” of the animal welfare movement in an article promoting, among other welfarist strategies, MeatlessMeaningless Monday:
“It’s not about being perfect, it’s about moving in the right direction,” Nick Cooney, Executive Vice President of the non-profit animal advocacy organization Mercy for Animals and co-founderThe Good Food Institute, tellsBustle. “Keep in mind no one is perfect and change takes time. If you don’t think you can resist the craving [to eat animal flesh and secretions] right now, it’s much better to have a burger once a week than to give up entirely on your desire to move toward plant-based eating.”
[It should be noted that while MFA – and other large animal welfare corporations – lack moral consistency by promoting speciesism on a daily basis, they do maintain consistency in their messaging as versions of Mr. Cooney’s statement can be found in other MFA publications. This striking similarity in strategy to certain political organizations and individual politicians should not go unnoticed.]
Consider how such a statement would sound if the victims of injustice were human rather than non-human. For example, what if the issue at hand (no pun intended) were spousal abuse? It would sound like this:
“If you don’t think you can r̶e̶s̶i̶s̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶c̶r̶a̶v̶i̶n̶g̶ resist the urge to beat your spouse right now, it’s much better to h̶a̶v̶e̶ ̶a̶ ̶b̶u̶r̶g̶e̶r̶ beat your spouse once a week than to give up entirely on your desire to move toward p̶l̶a̶n̶t̶-̶b̶a̶s̶e̶d̶ ̶e̶a̶t̶i̶n̶g̶ not beating your spouse altogether.”
When the innocent, vulnerable victims of violent injustices are human, advocates call for an immediate end to said injustices, rather than a gradual shift in a nonviolent direction. When the victims are non-human, advocates often take a much more relaxed, “take your time” approach.
Using one set of standards for human victims of injustice and another for non-human victims of injustice is an inherently speciesist position and is fundamentally unjust itself, as it would be if the sets of victims were not of different species but of different races, gender identities, sexual orientations, classes, etc. One cannot hope to effectively advocate against injustice while participating in injustice.
[I encourage all readers to click theblue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites. Also, please read our Disclaimer regarding external sites.]
The problem is not how we exploit animals – the problem is thatwe exploit animals in the first place, so the solution is not to reduce animal abuse; it’s to eliminate animal use… and that solution lies in educating people to live vegan.
If you’re a bank robber and one day realize that robbing banks is morally wrong, you don’t seek better ways to rob banks – you just stop robbing them (unless you’re determined to be a criminal and are willing to pay the consequences if caught, or a sociopath and can’t determine right from wrong). To paraphrase the Roman philosopher Seneca’s wise words, there’s no point in trying to find the right way to do a wrong thing.
Meatless Monday – A Toothless Campaign
According to my research, the idea of Meatless Monday began nearly 100 years in the United States as a way to ration food to help with the war effort. It was revived in 2003, according to www.meatlessmonday.com, as a “public health awareness campaign” in order to address “…the prevalence of preventable illnesses associated with excessive meat consumption.” On their “Why Meatless?” page, in 11 paragraphs and 796 words, there is nothing that speaks about the suffering, confinement, enslavement and slaughter of the non-human animals the campaign is suggesting people abstain from eating one day a week. This campaign is clearly not part of any social justice movement intended to help abolish the property status of animals, nor to help any animal in any way – unless that animal is of the human variety and wants to optimize her/his health, as its stated aim is to help humans lower their risk of contracting preventable chronic diseases linked with the consumption of animal products (heart disease, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease, to name a few). In short, Meatless Monday is rooted in the same self-centered egotism, speciesism and myth of human supremacythat allows humans the self-proclaimed “right” to destroy the lives of non-human animals wantonly and with no regard for their well-being, feelings or right to live autonomous lives without human interference.
Even though it’s clear that the Meatless Monday campaign has nothing to do with helping to bring an end to the exploitation of non-human animals (even though some people claim every meatless meal “saves” X-number of animals, as if skipping a hamburger results in, somewhere, a cow being magically transported from a slaughterhouse to a sanctuary), many vegans – including high-profile celebrity “vegans” – lend their names to and continue to support this campaign, rationalizing that it is “part of a journey” toward veganism –even though it promotes a version of vegetarianism rather than veganism. Some seem to believe it’s necessary to encourage non-vegans to take “baby steps” and that “every little bit helps”.
It’s my contention that one does not encourage people to practice ethical behavior only when personally convenient or in accordance with some arbitrary set of rules. Coddling those who continue to exploit others when they are well aware that their choices and behaviors condemn individuals to miserable lives and horrific, unnecessary deaths is simply unacceptable. We would never suggest that serial killers take “baby steps” and observe Murder-Free Mondays, would we? Of course not. We would explain to them why their behavior is wrong (assuming they didn’t already know) and demand they stop at once or face dire consequences. What consequences do we impose on those who pay others to do their killing for them so they can dine on the carcasses of vulnerable animals? None… but Nature does (see preventable chronic diseases listed above).
“Meatless” Does More Harm Than Good – From the Industry’s Own Mouth
Further, asking non-vegans to go “meat-free” may do more harm than good as it has been shown that people who give up meat for a short time tend to increase their consumption of animal secretions such as dairy and eggs to offset their deprivation of meat through that time period. Here is a quote connecting “meatless” campaigns and rises in egg demand and consumption from a 2015 interview on the Diane Rehm show (the specific audio clip comes at about 43:23, a courtesy for those who don’t want to sit through listening to rationalizations and justifications abouteggs and “welfare”):
“Just back to that other question about the ‘Meatless’. One of the reasons why the egg industry and demand is (sic) going up is because a lot of the families, like one day a week, are having meatless dinners and they’re substituting eggs for that meatless meal, so that’s another good reason why the egg consumption is going up in this country.” – Paul Sauder, president of Sauder Eggs, chairman of the American Egg Board and a board member of United Egg Producers
Interestingly, if that’s the effect of only one meatless meal per week, the net effect of an entire meatless day (3-5 meals?) such as on Meatless Monday or an entire meatless week would be to cause an even greater increase in egg consumption.
By encouraging non-vegans to take just one day off per week from a particular form of animal use, tacit permission and support are given for them to continue their use unabated the rest of the week. Is that really the message we want to give, whether directly or indirectly? Supporting animal exploitation 6 days a week instead of 7 is like supporting spousal abuse 85% of the time instead of 100%. Who does that?? Answer:
Perpetrators who want to get away with what they can whenever they can, that’s who.
There are those who support the baby-step “journeys” of non-vegans to become vegan – some of which take 2-3 decades or longer – and suggest we should “give them a break, they will eventually arrive”. While I understand that not every person will go vegan overnight (though many of us have), we vegans must remain clear that this is their choice and not our suggestion, remaining unequivocal that anything less than embracing veganism as the moral baseline for our treatment of individuals of other species is to continue being complicit in animal exploitation and needless death. For the billions of non-human animals who suffer and die waiting for “eventually” to happen, “eventually” is unacceptable and arrives much too late. If we see a woman being raped, we don’t go help her “eventually”, nor do we wait for the rapist to complete his “journey” to living a rape-free life, asking him to maybe rape a little less every day and applauding him when he goes a whole day without raping anyone.
What drives some people to accept such an unacceptable double-standard when the victims are non-human animals? The answer is speciesism, the most egregious and deadly form of oppression in existence on our planet today.
Veganism should be the starting point on a journey to live as ethically as possible, not some future goal to attain when one is finally ready to live nonviolently.
Some ask why this same debate repeats every “Meatless” Monday, so here’s why:
Every Monday, some people take a mere 16 hours off from participating in an endless worldwide animal holocaust and actually seem to believe this is somehow commendable and effective. During the Holocaust, I’m sure all the Nazis took naps now and then. That didn’t help their victims at all because, after nap time was over, the terrorism and killing continued. The sad reality of this ineffectual campaign is that every Meatless Meaningless Monday is immediately followed by Return to Terrorism Tuesday and We Keep Killing Wednesday (and on through the week). Imagine if there were campaigns for Rape-Free Fridays or Child Abuse-Free Thursdays – would we applaud those well-intentioned baby steps too? Isn’t it a better use of our limited time, energy and resources to work on creating Exploitation-Free EveryDay by consistently promoting veganism?
If we as vegans refuse to commit to a 100% effort toward clear, consistent, unequivocal vegan education, how can we expect non-vegans to commit to a 100% vegan life when, by engaging in and promoting speciesist single-issue campaigns, we’re essentially giving them permission to exploit animals most, but not all, of the time?
Baby steps are for babies. I challenge my fellow vegans to be the adults we are and stop promoting reduction over abolition, which only makes the unacceptable seem acceptable and maintains the speciesist status quo. This behavior is known as enabling and, the sooner it stops, the sooner real change begins.
If you’re already vegan, please stop making it OK for others to continue destroying the lives of non-human animals by lending your support to half-measures like Meatless Meaningless Monday and the other useless, ineffective and counter-productive single-issue campaigns promoted by animal welfare organizations that treat “vegan” like a dirty word. Instead, let’s focus our efforts on clear, consistent vegan education wherever and whenever we can, being unequivocal about the idea of veganism as the moral baseline for our treatment of the animals with whom we share this small planet.
[I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites. Also, please read our Disclaimer regarding external sites.]
I frequently hear some version of the question, “Since you’re vegan, don’t you miss meat/cheese/eggs/milk/honey/leather/wool (or other products of animal exploitation)?”
No, I don’t. Once I knew how those products were obtained and what my part was in making that happen, my decision to cease my complicity in that violent and deadly system was immediate and unwavering. My only choice was to start living vegan.
The way I understand it, there’s nothing to “miss” about causing unnecessary harm and death to innocent, vulnerable individuals.
It was recently suggested to me, once again, that vegans ought to “encourage and support incremental changes made by non-vegans on their journey to becoming vegan”. In something of a new slant on the idea, this individual likened the situation to alcoholics becoming and hopefully remaining sober in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and finding support from other AA members during that process. They said, “AA has Twelve Steps and that’s ok, so why should it be different with non-vegans?”
It was immediately clear that this individual had little if any understanding of how 12-Step support groups function, nor much understanding of just how far short their “non-veganism-is-like-alcoholism” analogy fell.
[This essay briefly discusses correlations between defense mechanisms used by addicts to protect their maladaptive behaviors and those used by non-vegans to protect their use of products of animal exploitation. From that perspective, non-veganism can be compared with alcoholism.]
Having had over two decades of experience both professionally and personally with many facets of substance abuse recovery, I have come to understand that the 12-Step process in AA and similar recovery fellowships doesn’t lead to sobriety as an end goal to be achieved, but rather presents sobriety (or at least abstinence from addictive mood-and-mind altering chemicals) as a starting point on a path of recovery that will hopefully last a lifetime. In order to fully benefit from and move through the Steps, one must cease the maladaptive, self-destructive behavior of substance abuse at the onset of the 12-Step journey of honest introspection, internal moral inventory, spiritual housecleaning and daily behavior maintenance. Otherwise, if one continues their chemical use, one’s chances of growing, healing and recovering from the damage done by one’s addiction(s) diminish by the day. As it says in the Alcoholics Anonymous basic text (commonly known as the Big Book), “Half measures availed us nothing.”
I’m not opposed to encouraging and supporting any individual who wishes to stop abusing themselves no matter how quickly or slowly they cease their self-destructive behaviors nor how many times they relapse and resume damaging themselves. I’m firmly in support of self-improvement. However, here is a key distinction between alcoholism (and other manifestations of addiction) and the consumption of animal products – alcoholics who drink (and addicts who use) primarily victimize themselves* through engaging in active addiction while non-vegans primarily victimize innocent, vulnerable individuals through the consumption and use of products of animal exploitation to satisfy their pleasure, comfort and convenience. Of course, mountains of scientific evidence make it abundantly clear that non-vegans also compromise their own health by consuming animal flesh and secretions, so they can also be counted among their own victims.
[*it should not be discounted that alcoholics and other addicts do harm others, including but not limited to family members, loved ones, employers/employees, co-workers and friends, both directly and indirectly through their self-destructive behaviors, however those others, in many cases, have choices as to how much abuse they are willing to take and have the ability to set boundaries to limit their exposure to the damaging behaviors of the alcoholic/addict in their lives. Conversely, the animals who are unnecessarily harmed and killed for use by non-vegans have absolutely no choice nor ability to take action to seek safety on their own behalf. They are, in the purest sense, defenseless innocent victims who are powerless over our relentless oppression.]
Encouraging and supporting people as they strive to stop hurting themselves and become physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy is appropriate and acceptable. Encouraging and supporting people to take their time (sometimes for decades) in ceasing their complicity in the morally unjustifiable exploitation, enslavement and execution of the most vulnerable members of our global society – non-human individuals – is inappropriate and unacceptable. The transition timeline for anyone to embrace veganism is up to each individual who moves in that direction (for many of us, the transition was instantaneousonce we understood the fundamental injustices in which we were participating and knew immediately we had to stop). What is up to us, as vegan advocates, is to present a clear and morally consistent message that anything less than veganism means a person is still engaging in violent, unacceptable, oppressive exploitation of the vulnerable and to encourage the fastest transition possible. To think and behave otherwise is to engage in and reinforce the current cultural paradigm of speciesism, as one would never take such a laissez-faire position if the victims of any oppressive situation were human.
Is Veganism “Difficult”?
When we clearly define an idea or concept, especially one that is routinely misunderstood, misinterpreted and mischaracterized, it becomes easier to understand and identify whether it is something with which one resonates ethically. Veganism is:
“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.” – Vegan Society 1979
There is a difference between something being “difficult” and something being “inconvenient”. To many, the prospect of living vegan can seem daunting at first, as it is a way of living that goes far beyond mere dietary choices and extends into most aspects of life and the choices we make on a daily basis (clothing, cosmetics, body care products, home cleaning products, furniture, automobile upholstery, etc.). I have found, as have many other vegans with whom I’ve spoken, that the changes I once may have thought of as “difficulties” turned out to be “inconveniences”. For example, it was never actually “difficult” to reach ten inches past the cow’s milk to pick up the almond milk – it was merely inconvenient. In reality, any perceived inconveniences I have ever faced in living vegan pale in comparison to the actual difficulties (which is far too weak a word to adequately describe a lifetime of horrific and perverse agonies) suffered by every animal used to satisfy human pleasure.
Hi. My Name is Keith, I’m a Recovering Non-Vegan
Does making the commitment to live vegan require a Twelve Step process? No. The only Twelve Steps I know that relate to veganism are the twelve steps it takes to walk past the meat/dairy department to the produce department in my local supermarket, and I find those are twelve incredibly easy steps to take!
Here are the Two Steps we suggest when it comes to veganism:
Why waste time – and continue causing unnecessary suffering and death to others – by intentionally putting roadblocks in our own way? Perhaps it’s better to heed AA’s popular slogan, “Keep It Simple”.
If you are already vegan, please educate others about veganism. If you are not vegan and believe that animals matter morally at all, please consider living vegan as it is the choice that matches your morals.
[Author’s note – I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites. The podcasts and essays connected to those links will help to expand on the ideas presented here.]
Imagine you’re on a crowded bus and it’s your stop. As you exit, you pass the driver whom you know from previous trips and, as usual, wish him a nice day. As he replies, you clearly smell alcohol on his breath and notice his eyes are red and glassy. What do you do?
Do you leave the bus and go about your day, hoping the driver won’t crash the bus and injure or kill himself, the other passengers and possibly some pedestrians and other drivers? Or do you exit and say a little prayer for them all, sending positive energy their way (“Nama-stay-in-your-lane, Mr. Bus Driver!”)? Do you dive into denial and tell yourself you didn’t see what you saw or smell what you smelled, convincing yourself that it’s just your imagination because, after all, you respect this bus driver and he’s a professional? Do you leave the bus and call the bus company to report the driver? Or do you confront him, alert the other passengers to the situation and call 911?
I hope I’m never in such a situation but, if I am, I hope I’d take the kind of action airport security screeners took in Miami on July 1, 2002 when they smelled alcohol on two America West pilots’ breath – they took a stand and did the right thing by calling TSA, who then called the police and (barely) stopped the plane from taking off for Phoenix with 127 passengers and 3 other crew members on board.
What’s this got to do with veganism?
Imagine you’re vegan and you become aware, as I and many others have, that the animal welfare/protection groups you and others trust to carry an anti-speciesist vegan message and work for animal rights are actually doing quite the opposite. What do you do?
Do you continue to support such organizations, either financially or otherwise, and promote them because “at least they’re doing some good work, right?” while ignoring the moral inconsistency of their campaignsthat a) ask for an end or, more often, only a reduction to some forms of violent oppression toward non-human individuals while doing nothing to stop other forms, all of which are equally unjust and morally unacceptable, b) engage in blatant speciesism by advocating for specific favored species rather than working to end all animal use by promoting veganism through vegan education and c) help animal exploiters streamline their productivity and become more profitable? [the list of ways such organizations betray and fail the animals they purport to help is quite long – these were the first three that came to mind]
Do you “hope” that through the promotion of such ideas as vegetarianism, reducetarianism, “ditching meat”, “ditching fur”, eating “cage-free”, “humanely-raised” or “local” animals and their secretions and the myriad other non-vegan dietary and fashion options offered by these organizations, consumers of animal products will somehow “make the connection” – a common phrase among those who promote welfare – stumble into the decision to live vegan (hopefully within a decade or three…) and embrace the ethical stance that lies at the heart of veganism – despite the intentional absence of a clear, consistent vegan message coming from these organizations (I will provide an example of one such organization’s current campaign below)?
Or do you take a stand for justice by removing your support from such organizations and making public their betrayal of animals while focusing your limited time, energy and other resources on engaging in clear, consistent grassroots vegan education that truly addresses the underlying cause of animal exploitation – the fallacy of human supremacy that has created and fostered a paradigm of globalspeciesism claiming the lives of billions of vulnerable individuals every year?
Here’s an example of one such organization and their unwillingness to provide a vegan message at the risk of losing donations and other funding:
I watched a recent video by The Humane League advertising their new chicken-specific 88% Campaign aimed to “reduce their immense suffering” by campaigning “for companies to make meaningful changes”, “address health issues” of birds who will still be killed, “improve living conditions” of birds who will still be killed and “replace slaughter methods”. They purport that “things are starting to change” (this alleged “start” comes after 200+ years of similar animal welfare campaigns – after a solid two centuries, are we to believe that The Humane League has finally cracked the code and is making substantive change with their repackaging of the same methods that have yet to achieve such change? That’s called branding and marketing) and trumpet “some major victories for chickens”, showing a Huffington Post headline stating “There’s A Major New Effort To Help The Billions Of Chickens We Eat Every Year” and “New protections for farm animals in 2017” from the San Francisco Chronicle. Those are feel-good ideas, but the truth behind them is that the so-called “protections” don’t protect these individuals from being killed nor “help” them in any significant way considering they are still destined to be eaten by the billions every year by a largely non-vegan human population. THL goes on to ask that donors “support the movement to reduce the suffering of billions of chickens” (a focus on abuse rather than use, which is at the core of the welfare movement) and that “Together, we can create the change” (accompanied by footage of a chicken gasping for her last breaths). There is, of course, no definition of what “the change” is, so that is left open to interpretation by the viewer who has now seen images of animals being neglected and abused and will likely take away the idea that animal abuse, rather than use, is the problem that needs addressing. When The Humane League’s logo appears seconds later, the deal is sealed – here the viewer is (mis)led to believe THL is diligently working to make “the change”, whatever that is. With three seconds to go in this one minute and forty-one second video, a tiny message appears:
I’ll enlarge the intentionally minuscule message here:
REMEMBER: THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY TO REDUCE THE SUFFERING OF FARM ANIMAL IS TO ELIMINATE MEAT, DAIRY AND EGGS FROM YOUR DIET.
How is the viewer supposed to “remember” information that has at no point previously been provided to them? Up until that moment, there is no imagery or verbiage in the video to support or even hint at the information in that statement – it’s all about the suffering of chickens. Moreover, that statement would be easily missed as it appears in tiny font at the bottom of the screen after The Humane League’s logo has disappeared and the screen has faded to black. As the video boasts high production values, it isn’t a stretch to say that this sizing, placement and timing is quite intentional. It’s also not a vegan message by any definition, as it excludes any mention of the myriad non-food-related uses of animals and, interestingly, overlooks honey in its menu of dietary items.
In reading the 88% Campaign White Paper, I was not surprised to find the following passages lamenting how the quality of modern chicken meat has been reduced, discussing how to “improve” slaughter conditions and explaining how the implementation of THL’s recommendations for chicken welfare would help the animal agriculture corporations and the consumers of animal products simultaneously:
“The quality of chicken meat is also substantially affected too (sic), with white striping and wooden breast impacting the texture, fat content and nutritional value”. “Meat that comes from birds suffering from woody breast or from those with both conditions are found to have a harder texture, impaired ability to hold water, and poorer nutritional value… White striping by itself also impacts the general appearance of the breast meat… These conditions are forcing the downgrading of meat due to the lack of aesthetic appeal… There is an alternative; breeds exist that can alleviate many of the negative predispositions we see with the current typical fast-growing breeds. By utilising these higher welfare breeds and giving birds more space, enriching the environment, and improving slaughtering conditions using CAK or LAPS, the industry would see an improvement in meat quality [italics added] and, most importantly, an improved level of welfare for the billions of chickens farmed for meat production every year.”
“Slaughter conditions are improved by the use of controlled atmosphere stunning or killing (CAK) which involves transferring the birds to a controlled atmosphere chamber with gases or gas mixtures (gases permitted are carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and inert gases such as argon and nitrogen)… Low atmospheric stunning may also provide a more humane method of slaughter… The birds are thus stunned or killed, depending on the length of exposure to the gases or low pressure. Both methods eliminate the need for live handling, shackling and inversion of conscious chickens, and should ensure chickens are fully unconscious at neck cutting and dead by the time they reach the scald tank.”
This is from a corporation claiming to help animals, yet it sounds eerily like something one would expect to read in an animal agriculture insider publication.
From the SF Chronicle article comes a disturbing quote from THL’s executive director, David Coman-Hidy: “We’re [italics added] looking to raise birds that are not just bred to suffer, that are bred with some consideration to the quality of their lives”. “We’re”?? Does this indicate that The Humane League is now in the business of raising chickens? One has to wonder whether Mr. Coman-Hidy has lost sight of the blurry boundary where his multi-million-dollar corporation and the multi-million-dollar animal agriculture corporations begin and end, or whether he’s simply acknowledging that the two are truly partners in profit. Either way, the quote could just as easily have come from the mouth of any duplicitous farmer seeking to placate animal welfare proponents. I shudder to hear the head of an organization that purports to have the best interests of animals in mind make such a statement.
Sadly, campaigns like this from The Humane League don’t aim to end the use of chickens (or other non-human individuals) for food and other purposes. They simply aim to alter or, to use their marketing terminology, “improve” conditions for chickens that will still be killed for human consumption (their slaughter method improvement recommendations take a page out of PeTA’s book) and, in so doing, increase THL donations, create better and more profitable conditions for the animal suppliers and assure consumers that they can have “higher-welfare” animal products. The one group that loses every time and pays with their lives is the chickens. If this is a “victory”, then it is a victory under some new definition of which I am not aware.
Playing nicely in the sandbox
More often than not, those of us who make the choice to live vegan upon coming to understand, abhor and eschew participation in the injustices being done to non-human individuals tend to speak out against those and other injustices. We carry the message that living vegan is the clearest path toward dismantling speciesism and creating a world in which all sentient beings are given the right to live autonomous lives free from being used without their consent to satisfy the pleasures and conveniences of more powerful others.
When one engages in critical thinking, which is different than being critical and which I believe every social justice advocate ought to do, one can quickly see past the marketing propaganda of the animal welfare corporations (which is similar in form and function to the marketing techniques of the animal exploiters they purport to oppose) and begin to understand just how dishonest they truly are.
I find it interesting and disturbing that, when some of us challenge and call attention to individuals and groups when we see them engaging in intentional deception and manipulation to further their own ends (said deceptions and manipulations resulting in the continued exploitation and needless deaths of animals and increased profits for themselves and animal exploiters), we are told we’re being “divisive” and are rebuked for “not playing well with others”. It’s important to remember that being vegan doesn’t mean one is above reproach nor that one is incapable of being as dishonest, calculating, manipulative and lacking in integrity as any other person, vegan or not. I have observed some of the most “highly regarded” animal advocates engaging in blatantly disingenuous efforts, claiming to be working in the best interests of animals while in reality fostering speciesism and working to advance their careers and make a profit. Examples of this abound in animal welfare corporations and I seem to see more of them by the day. I can think of no reason why I would want to “play” or work with anyone who would choose to behave in such a way, either in vegan advocacy or anywhere else. Boundaries keep individuals and organizations healthy; engaging with toxic individuals and organizations is damaging on many levels.
I recently had the privilege of having a conversation with a paid employee of a multi-million dollar animal welfare organization, though I will not identify that individual or their organization here as I did not ask their permission to do so (it wasn’t my intention to do an interview and exposé) and respect their right to anonymity. Here are the salient points from that discussion:
Despite our obvious philosophical differences when it comes to animal advocacy methodologies (abolitionism vs. utilitarian welfarism), we both agreed that animal exploiters are not the problem and that the real solution lies with educating animal product consumers about veganism. They stated their organization “targets” animal suppliers “but always talks about going veg in our presentations”, and I asked that “veg” be defined, as I found it unclear. They told me “It means vegan”, so I asked why they don’t just say “vegan” if that’s truly what they mean and if it’s because it’s not a “marketable” word, and I was informed that “studies show people respond better to words like veg and vegetarian” (I personally find that approach dishonest – say what you mean and mean what you say – and believe that an organization that asks for one thing when they mean another lacks integrity. I also believe the studies cited are inherently biased and flawed). I asked whether they would agree that, since we as individuals and groups have “limited resources” (their term with which I wholeheartedly agree), a better use of those resources might be to engage the public in clear, consistent vegan education to strike at the root of the problem rather than flailing at the branches that only grow back stronger once they’re pruned. Their answer was a simple “No”.
It was brought to my attention later that this is the only answer one could give to such a question when one’s career depends on a steady stream of income through a steady stream of donations brought in by a steady stream of single-issue campaigns that avoid a clear vegan message in order not to disrupt the status quo of animal use in any meaningful way. After all, the reality is that if animal welfare corporations truly focused their efforts and resources (and hundreds of millions of combined dollars) on getting people to live vegan and brought an end to animal exploitation, they would have to shutter up their businesses and go find other work… and that’s just not something careerists are interested in doing when they’ve carved out a comfortable niche for themselves.
With the current animal welfare movement heading in no discernible direction (backward seems to be the most likely choice), abolitionist vegans face an uphill battle that’s twofold – 1) educate the non-vegan public about veganism and 2) educate fellow vegans about the inherent and systemic hypocrisy of the animal welfare corporations and the single-issue marketing campaigns they frequently design and implement (and recycle and repeat) in order to keep the donor dollars rolling in. If we truly want to create “the change” – changing the animals-as-property paradigm that that allows for and demands the morally unjustifiable enslavement, exploitation and execution of billions of non-human individuals every year for no better reason than to satisfy the fleeting pleasures, comforts and conveniences of humans – this is how we do it:
Live vegan. Educate others. Start now, here’s how:
A wise person once said, “It is what it is… and it’s not what it’s not.” In the interest of dispelling some common myths and misconceptions, let’s begin with what veganism is not.
Veganism is not:
a vague concept open to a vast array of interpretations that has “as many definitions as there are vegans”.
It is not a “diet”, a “lifestyle”, a “fad” or a “phase”.
It is not a lofty, seemingly unattainable goal at the end of a long and arduous “journey” (if veganism is any part of a journey, it’s the first step on the path toward living a life where justice is a priority and morals matter, not the last step).
It is not some “moral high ground” or a (faux) ivory tower from which one claims superiority over those who are non-vegan.
It is not a game where one makes up one’s own rules and “cheats” when the mood strikes.
It is not a “menu choice” or cuisine option.
Veganism is not the same as vegetarianism, which is the arbitrary exclusion of one or more animal products from one’s diet while continuing to consume other animal products and/or secretions (thereby promoting some animal exploitation rather than all animal exploitation) and there is no such creature as a “vegan-vegetarian” or “vegetarian-vegan”. To refer to oneself (or someone else, or a diet) as such would be like saying, “I flew here in an airplane-helicopter” or “Look at that beautiful elephant-walrus!”. The fact that the two may have similarities does not make them synonymous or interchangeable. Just ask any walrus who’s had an unwanted encounter with an overstimulated elephant…
To treat veganism as anything other than the definition that follows is to confuse some very important matters and is a tremendous disservice to the non-human individuals whose lives depend on presenting and maintaining a clear, consistent vegan message.
“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.” – Vegan Society 1979
Please note that, in the definition, the dietary aspect of veganism is mentioned secondary to the ethicalaspect. This is not an accident or an oversight. It is intentional and for good reason. While there is an obvious and important dietary component to living vegan, it goes much deeper than mere food choices.
If we are to educate others about veganism, it’s incumbent upon us to not only have a clear understanding of what veganism is, but to make sure we’re able to convey that message clearly and consistently by not intentionally or tactily promoting what veganism is not. We need to say what we mean and mean what we say (and not say it mean!) if people are to understand the information we’re trying to give them because, again, billions of innocent lives are at stake.
The simplest and most immediate action one can take to stop the violent oppression of the most vulnerable members of our global society – non-human individuals – is to start living vegan, as this is the primary means of dismantling speciesism and moves us toward achieving the abolition of animal enslavement and exploitation for human pleasure, tradition and convenience. If you are already vegan, please educate others about veganism. If you are not vegan and believe that animals matter morally, please consider living vegan as it is the choice that matches your morals.
I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites.
Live vegan. Educate others. Start now, here’s how: