Many welfarist vegans and intersectional vegans do not seem to understand the ideas behind the idea that “THE WORLD IS VEGAN! If we want it.”
It’s really quite simple. There are three central ideas here.
First, this expression denotes that veganism is a moral choice and that it is one we can make today—right now—if we believe that animals matter morally. Moreover, it is a choice that we must make if we believe that animals matter morally. If we are not vegan, we are participating directly in animal exploitation. There is no way around that.
Welfarist vegans and intersectional vegans are into “journeys” and “reducetarianism,” and emphasize the difficulty of going vegan. They promote the idea of “compassionate” exploitation. They talk about veganism in a relativist way as a matter of the “who you are space.” For them, going vegan is a “sacrifice.” For abolitionist vegans, it is a joy. It is our way of saying “no” to the continued participation in the institutionalized violence against nonhumans.
When, in December 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono had a billboard erected at Times Square in New York City that read, “WAR IS OVER! If you want it,” they were expressing simple ideas: The Vietnam War could be over immediately if one man—Richard Nixon—decided to end it. And all war could be over forever if we made a collective decision that war was never an acceptable option and that we valued peace.
“THE WORLD IS VEGAN! If we want it” similarly reflects that ending animal exploitation is something that we can choose to do both on an individual and a collective level right now. It’s just a matter of wanting to make that choice.
It makes no sense to have words of justice and nonviolence coming out of our mouths as the products of injustice and violence go into our mouths (and we otherwise consume those products).
There are, of course, “desert island” situations involving true compulsion in which a choice not to harm nonhumans is simply not possible. But such situations are very rare and, even in such situations, harming nonhumans is not morally right—it remains morally wrong just as it would be if a situation of compulsion required us to harm another innocent human. Humans have been known to kill and eat other humans in “desert island” situations. The harm may be excusable in light of the compulsion in both cases. It’s still morally wrong but the moral culpability is mitigated because of the compulsion.
In over 30 years of answering questions about choices when one is stranded on a desert island, we have yet to ever meet anyone who was stranded on a desert island. We have met many people who simply don’t want to give up cheese. So shall we deal with the real questions, please?
There may be circumstances short of true compulsion in which people have very great difficulty in getting access to vegan food. Their conduct may be less immoral than the conduct of others, but it is still immoral. Abolitionists should apply themselves to addressing the social and other circumstances that place people in these situations but the moral framework is not to be compromised.
Second, many people already accept that harming nonhuman animals in the absence of compulsion is morally wrong. Indeed, most people believe that harming an animal requires a moral justification and that pleasure, amusement, or convenience cannot constitute a moral justification.
That is why many people—including nonvegans—react so strongly to “animal cruelty” cases such as those involving Michael Vick and Mitt Romney: they already accept that pleasure, amusement, or convenience cannot justify harming animals.
Abolitionist vegans urge people to recognize that what they already believe commits them to stop eating, wearing, or using animals when their only justification is palate pleasure or fashion sense.
Third, if every person who is vegan and who believes that veganism is a moral imperative convinced one other person to go vegan in the coming year, and this pattern repeated itself over a period of years, the world would, indeed, be vegan in a relatively brief period of time. For example, a low estimate of vegans in the United Kingdom is 150,000 and the total population is approximately 65 million. If each one of those 150,000 people convinced one other person to go vegan in the next year, there would be 300,00 vegans next year and if this pattern repeated itself for an additional eight years (600,000, 1.2 million, 2.4 million, 4.8 million, 9.6 million, 19.2 million, 38.4 million, 76.8 million), the United Kingdom would be vegan.
That, of course, is not going to happen but it does show how much more effective vegan education and advocacy can be if we choose to promote it rather than to pursue the welfarist campaigns and single-issue campaigns that promote continued animal exploitation.
In sum, THE WORLD IS VEGAN! If you want it.
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.
Embracing veganism as a moral imperative and advocating for veganism as a moral imperative are, along with caring for nonhuman refugees, the most important acts of activism you can undertake.
Groups that promote “happy exploitation” of any sort are part of the problem and not part of the solution.
Learn more about veganism at www.HowDoIGoVegan.com.
Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Distinguished Professor
Katzenbach Scholar of Law and Philosophy
Rutgers University School of Law
Adjunct Professor, Rutgers University School of Law
©2016 Gary L. Francione and Anna Charlton