I am going to try to tackle in a preliminary way a subject that generates a fair amount of controversy and about which I get quite a bit of email. The subject, broadly speaking, is how vegans should relate to omnivores given that ethical vegans regard the use of animals as involving serious violations of their rights not to be treated as human resources. Do ethical vegans have an obligation to be confrontational with omnivores and to relate to them the way in which we would relate to those who engage in serious crimes against humans?
In one sense, you can anticipate my answer to this question given that I argue that the primary obligation of animal advocates is to engage in creative, nonviolent vegan education.
For many years, I have been making the point that we cannot morally distinguish speciesism from other forms of discrimination, such as racism, sexism, and heterosexism. I am always on the lookout for explicit connections and one came across my desk this week.
According to an article called Playing Chicken, Jason Atkins, a former Marine and insurance fraud investigator, has started a website that will transmit broadcasts of cockfighting, which is now illegal in all of the states, from a ring in Puerto Rico. If you click on the site, there is a promotional trailer showing scenes of fighting cocks and scantily clad women introducing the events. And Atkins has another site that features “broadcasts of bare knuckles, no rules Brazilian jujitsu matches dubbed ‘Rio Heroes,’ and what Atkins says is a sport made for America, ‘Girls and Guns,’ in which women wearing bikinis accessorized with double-thigh holsters and high-healed [sic] combat boots compete in a shoot-off of weapons that could easily outfit an American combat platoon in Iraq—everything from M-249 SAWs to Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifles.”
Sometimes, just when you think that it can’t get worse, it does.
Gary L. Francione
© 2007 Gary L. Francione
These words, written by philosopher George Santayana, seem to resonate with particular relevance these days, as we see a world engulfed in violence.
But Santayana also has something important to say to the animal movement.
Most of the large new welfarist animal organizations, both in the United States and Great Britain, claim to endorse veganism but will not promote it as the baseline of the movement because of the concern that veganism will appear to be too “radical” for the general public. So, these organizations promote “happy” meat and animal products that carry the Certified Humane Raised and Handled label or the Freedom Food label, or comply with the Farm Animal Compassionate Standards of Whole Foods, now on both sides of the Atlantic. And Peter Singer reminds us that being a consistent vegan is “fanatical” and that we may actually be obligated not to be vegans if to do so will upset others.
Those of us who maintain that veganism should be the clear and unequivocal moral baseline of the movement are told sternly by the new welfarists that society is not yet ready to hear the vegan message. We should focus on “cage-free” eggs and “free-range” meats instead.
And how does Santayana’s message apply in this context?
In 1944, Donald Watson founded The Vegan Society in the U.K. He coined the word “vegan” to describe someone who consumed no animal products. In the very first issue of the The Vegan News—63 years ago—Watson wrote:
A common criticism is that the time is not yet ripe for our reform. Can time ever be ripe for any reform unless it is ripened by human determination?
Watson pointed out how the opponents of slavery did not wait for the time to be “ripe” and that the proponents of clean water and sanitation met fierce opposition and did not wait for the “non-existent moment” when the time was “ripe.”