The “animal movement” attracts many people who are emotionally sensitive. Indeed, it is this very emotional sensitivity that provides the moral impulse for many people to care about the animal issue in the first place.
Unfortunately, there is a machine represented by the large groups that preys on those emotions. So those concerned about animal suffering are drowned in a sea of hideous images, animal torture porn, and “undercover investigations” and told that we must do “something.” And that “something” is to promote welfare reform and “humane” or “compassionate” exploitation. Veganism is never presented as a moral imperative. The fundamental right of animals not to be used as resources–however supposedly “humanely”–is never even discussed.
Everyone is told that it’s all about their “journey.” Indeed, one welfarist group talks about the “post-traumatic stress” and “trauma” suffered by animal advocates who have been exposed to the violence inherent in animal exploitation.
So we focus away from the animals and on to ourselves. That has created a “movement” of relentless narcissism that rejects any sort of clear moral principle as “telling people what to do.” So if Ricky Gervais promotes himself as an animal advocate who criticizes nonvegans but consumes animal products himself, that’s just fine. After all, it’s not about justice for animals; it’s about Ricky’s “journey.”
And all of the welfarist groups are clear: there is to be no critical, principled analysis of the ideology that facilitates and normalizes animal exploitation in the first place: the animal welfare ideology. It is this ideology, which says that any supposed reduction of suffering is good and should be promoted as morally desirable that allows everyone to continue to exploit animals while they are on the “journey” and recovering from all of the “trauma” they have suffered.
The welfarists tell us that the ideology of animal exploitation is “invisible.” Nonsense. The welfarist ideology is anything but “invisible.” It is explicit and it is promoted by all of the welfarist groups. The welfarist ideology, which is itself speciesist, normalizes our speciesism. And the welfarists claim that pursuing welfare reform is just a matter of strategy, not ideology. That is absurd. If animal exploitation is not morally justifiable, promoting supposedly “humane” exploitation is not a matter of “strategy.”
I am always asked about how it is that I don’t “burn out” given that I have been doing this now for more than 30 years.
The world is a horrible place for all but a small fraction of nonhuman animals. And the world is a horrible place for the vast majority of humans, who live in poverty or who are mistreated as a result of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., or who are imprisoned or harmed for their political views, etc. I could understand if all of these real victims “gave up.” Frankly, I think it must be horrible to be a person of color in a racist society or to be a woman in a patriarchal society, which is just about everywhere, or to be animal anywhere. Interestingly, many of the real victims don’t give up. They keep struggling. And think of the animals, who are treated horribly but who still often interact with humans with trust and hope.
In any event, I am not one of these victims. I am honored to be able to what little I can do to contribute to a shifting of the paradigm away from the default position of violence and exploitation of the vulnerable. I am not an animal in a laboratory or in a feedlot or in a slaughterhouse or one of the farms that are praised by welfarists as being “compassionate” or trapped in a snare. I am not a woman who is being subjected to physical or emotional abuse.
Bottom line: Why would I “burn out”? That are a zillion more beings–human and non–who have a much better reason to do that than I do!
So I just avoid ever thinking of myself as the victim here. I am not one. I have met many “animal people” over the years who think a lot about their sensitivity and their suffering. I understand where they are coming from. I just do not participate in that way of thinking.
If we are ever going to make any progress, we must reject the welfarist ideology and focus on what a social justice movement for animals should focus on: the animals.
If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.
If animals matter morally, veganism is not an option–it is a necessity. Anything that claims to be an animal rights movement must make clear that veganism is a moral imperative.
The World is Vegan! If you want it.
Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Distinguished Professor, Rutgers University
©2015 Gary L. Francione