Many animal advocates assume that we need an organization–some organization–in order to advocate for nonhuman animals; that we need a leader–some leader–to show us the way.
I suggest that this is the wrong way to look at things.
Unfortunately, in a world in which everything is commodified, social justice has, not unsurprisingly, itself become a commodity and it is sold, in various flavors, by corporations that compete for shares in the market for compassion. These companies have done a marvelous job in convincing us that participation in all moral struggles, including and particularly the struggle for animals, means writing a check–to them.
In a world in which we accept a thousand different hierarchies without even noticing that we do so, and without even questioning the very concept of hierarchy, we assume that we need leaders to show us the way. These leaders are generally the executives of the compassion companies. And merely to disagree with their pronouncements is to be branded as “purist,” “elitist,” divisive,” as a “basher” or one who “vilifies,” or as one who “does not care about animal suffering,” etc., etc., etc.
I suggest that this way of thinking stands in the way of achieving the goal that we seek.
We are not going to get anywhere by tinkering at the edges. We are not going to get anywhere by promoting cage-free eggs, “happy” meat, or organic milk. We are not going to get anywhere by sitting naked in cages and proclaiming that we are pandering to the sexism that insidiously corrodes our culture “for the animals.” That whole approach merely reinforces the notion that we can consume our way out of injustice; that we can trade one form of exploitation for another; that we can buy compassion. We can’t.
In a world in which women, people of color, children, the elderly, the mentally disabled, the poor, and other humans are treated as second class citizens (at best) by the select patriarchy that runs the show, nonhuman animals are, in many ways, the most vulnerable among us. We can not only torture and kill them with complete impunity, we are expected to do so. Although violence against another human may incur some form of social criticism or even a criminal sanction, violence against nonhumans is generally considered as a virtue, particularly when it is declared to be “humane.” Those who refuse to participate in the carnage are regarded as abnormal and antisocial–even by, and particularly by, the large animal organizations that proclaim that to eschew all animal products and promote veganism as a moral baseline is “extreme.”
It is wrong to characterize the farmers or vivisectors or furriers as our “enemies.” They are simply fulfilling a demand–from us. They are simply doing what we want them to do. They are not the problem–we are.
The abolition of animal exploitation requires a paradigm shift. It requires that we reject violence at its most fundamental level. It requires a recognition that violence is inherently wrong.
The abolition of animal exploitation requires a nonviolent revolution–a revolution of the heart.
That revolution is not going to occur as the result of any leader. It can only occur within each and every one of us. And it can if we want it to. We do not need leaders. We need to recognize that each of us can–and must–become a leader if we have any hope of sorting out this mess that we call our world. That starts with our own veganism–not as some sort of “flexitarian lifestyle” issue–but as a basic, fundamental, and non-negotiable commitment to nonviolence. Ethical veganism represents our commitment to the notion that we have no moral justification for using animals–however “humanely”–for our purposes. It continues with our daily efforts to educate others in creative, positive, and nonviolent ways about veganism–something that each of us can do if we want to. Every day, we have opportunities to educate family, friends, colleagues at work, and people that we encounter in a store or on a bus. Is it easier to write a check to someone else than do the work ourselves? Of course it is. But it won’t work.
To achieve justice, we do not need large animal organizations. Indeed, the more that we rely on them, the further we will stray from our goal. The large animal groups are businesses. They are selling “happy exploitation.” We need a grassroots movement that demands peace–including peace between humans and nonhumans–in a peaceful way.
Unfortunately, animal organizations have become modern sellers of indulgences similar to the medieval Catholic Church. Many–perhaps most–people have some concern about the matter of animal exploitation. Many have nagging guilt about continuing to consume animals products. Many love their nonhuman companions and treat them as family members, but stick forks into other animals and, on some level, recognize the moral disconnect. But not to worry. Make a donation and these groups will make it all better. They will “minimize” animal suffering; they will “abolish” the worst abuses.
I suggest that just as buying an indulgence from the Church would not keep you out of hell if hell exists, buying a few shares of cage-free egg compassion from some organization is not going to keep animals out of the hell that most certainly exists for them and in which they suffer and die every day. We need to change the way in which humans think about nonhumans; we need to change the way that humans think about violence. Whether it’s wars to achieve peace, or sexism to achieve gender equality, or more “humane” animal torture to achieve greater consciousness about animals, we need to challenge the very notion that violence can be used as a means to some laudable end.
Please understand that I am not saying that those involved in the welfare or new welfare groups are insincere. For so long, we have all been told that it’s the only way. That it is welfare reform or nothing. I am not making any moral judgment about them as individuals and I hope that they are not making any moral judgment about me even though they reject the abolitionist approach to animal rights that I have developed and defend. I just disagree with them, and I point to the present state of affairs as compelling proof that their approach to the problem simply is not working.
If anyone regards these comments as “bashing” or “vilifying” anyone, please know that certainly was not my intention.
Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione
P.S. This came out in the Huffington Post today. Anyone who thinks that this is helping animals is, I respectfully suggest, deluded. We will never stop animal exploitation by promoting the exploitation of women.