I. The Problem of Essentialism
Racism and sexism represent moral evil. Racism and sexism involve a societal acceptance of essentialism, or the idea that biology or some other personal characteristic alone determines moral value. A good definition of essentialism appears here:
Essentialism is the idea that there exists some detectible and objective core quality of particular groups of people that is inherent, eternal, and unalterable; groupings can be categorized according to these qualities of essence, which are based on such problematic criteria as gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, and class.
Racism says that white people have greater moral worth than people of color because white people are white. Sexism says that men have greater moral worth than women just because they are men. Because this essentialism is the dominant paradigm, those in the favored groups acquire institutional power to adversely affect the lives of those in the disfavored groups.
All forms of discrimination involve essentialism. Heterosexism says that those who identify as heterosexuals are morally more worthy than others just because they are heterosexual. Ableism says that those who are conventionally-abled have greater value than those who are not, based simply on ability alone. In all cases of discrimination, some characteristic is said to describe a person’s “essence” and it is this essence—and not what they say or do—that determines their moral worth.
Speciesism involves essentialism. Speciesism is the belief that it is essence—in this case species—that alone determines moral value. Humans are morally valuable because they are human.
There is no doubt that the welfarist/new welfarist movement, which consists of the large corporate charities, has historically been sexist and racist (as well as discriminatory in other ways). Corporate charities are businesses and, in a patriarchal, racist, and otherwise unjust world, injustice sells.
Indeed, because injustice sells and because speciesism is the most pervasive injustice in the world—it is a prejudice shared by humans irrespective of race, sex, gender, sexual orientation/preference, ability, class, etc.—speciesism sells very well. And the welfarists/new welfarists have cashed in on it handsomely as they promote various forms of “happy exploitation,” that make people feel more comfortable about continuing to exploit animals as long as they donate to animal charities.
I have consistently opposed the speciesism—as well as the racism, sexism, and other forms of human discrimination—that I have encountered not only in the larger society, but in the welfarist/new welfarist movement, for the 30 years I have been involved in doing animal ethics and law. For many years, I have maintained that the “animal movement” is underinclusive. For example, in 1993, I wrote, with my co-authors Anna Charlton and Sue Coe, an essay which noted that:
The animal rights movement is seen as the quintessential bourgeois movement, comprised of white, middle-class people who are often apolitical, or, even worse, conservative, and who place animal interests above human interests, often to the detriment of underprivileged people.
We discussed the coalition between advocates for women’s suffrage and working class people that formed in the 19th century. We argued that animal advocates had to reach out to all oppressed groups to build a coalition for justice that would include all—including nonhuman animals.
The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights, which is simply what I now call the theory that I’ve been developing for three decades (given that “animal rights” alone is now a meaningless phrase), requires an explicit and emphatic rejection of positions that promote oppression and violence—whether against humans or nonhumans.
The Abolitionist Approach promotes veganism as a moral imperative. Veganism is not a matter of opinion, lifestyle, or particular circumstances. It is a moral obligation that binds us—all of us—just as do moral obligations that involve the fundamental rights of humans. To treat the fundamental rights of nonhumans in a different way from the way in which we treat the fundamental rights of humans is speciesism. The Abolitionist Approach maintains that if you are not vegan, you are participating directly in animal exploitation and that you cannot justify doing that.
The Abolitionist Approach is clear that to be an abolitionist vegan requires an explicit and emphatic rejection of positions that promote oppression and violence—whether against humans or nonhumans. Along with almost all strands of feminism, anti-racism, and other social movements, the Abolitionist Approach rejects essentialism—all forms of the idea that moral value is determined by personal characteristics such as race, sex, gender, ability, etc.
The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights is an idea. It is not an organization. There is no “donate” button. There are no requests for crowd funding so that people can be professional “activists.” There are no employees. There are no t-shirts, buttons, or bumper stickers. We recognize that the moment we look to make a living from advocacy, our advocacy falls prey to perverse incentives that pressure us to compromise our message in order to increase donations.
Instead, we have a growing grassroots movement of people all over the world—a diverse group in all respects—who volunteer their time in order to educate others and whose daily lives are an example of the peace they want to see in the world.
What unites us as a community is a belief that all sentient beings have the right not to be used as property; a belief in veganism as the moral baseline of the animal rights movement; a rejection of the idea of “humane” or “happy” exploitation, and a complete rejection of all discrimination and violence. There are Six Principles of the Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights:
Principle Three states: Abolitionists maintain that veganism is a moral baseline and that creative, nonviolent vegan education must be the cornerstone of rational animal rights advocacy.
Principle Five states: “Abolitionists reject all forms of human discrimination, including racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, and classism—just as they reject speciesism.”
Principle Six states: “Abolitionists recognize the principle of nonviolence as a core principle of the animal rights movement.”
We ought—all of us—who enjoy race and sex privileges to be constantly mindful of those privileges. Those of us who are in the middle class (and that includes many of those who identify as “intersectional vegans”) ought to be concerned about the privilege that we get from being a member of the middle class. We ought—all of us—to strive to ensure that we do not promote or defend morally wrong positions because those positions reinforce privilege.
If a particular position is immoral, the race, sex, or gender identity of the speaker does not make it better. If a particular position is a good and moral position, then it does not lose its moral force because of the race, sex, or gender identity of the speaker. To maintain otherwise would be to embrace essentialism.
II. “Intersectionality” or Essentialism?
There are some animal advocates who claim that the “mainstream vegan community” has failed to incorporate concerns about human rights, and has been racist and sexist. As I have discussed above, I agree strongly with this observation although I would not describe the welfarist/new welfarist movement as involving a “vegan community” at all. Indeed, one of the problems with the “mainstream” animal movement is that it has not promoted veganism as any sort of moral principle. Further, many mainstream animal groups embrace nonvegans as members, volunteers, and donors while actively denouncing veganism as extreme and unnecessary.
In any event, these animal advocates are promoting what they claim is a progressive alternative to what they label as the “mainstream” movement, by which they mean the traditional welfarist/new welfarist charities and the Abolitionist Approach. Indeed, a number of these advocates have claimed that the Abolitionist Approach does not go far enough. These advocates identify themselves as “intersectional vegans.” As part of their claim to leadership and authority as animal advocates, they claim that intersectional veganism provides justice for nonhumans and eliminates the racism, sexism, and other discrimination that has characterized the “mainstream” movement.
Unfortunately, many of those who base their claims to leadership or authority as “intersectional vegans” are pursuing an approach to animal ethics that is every bit as reactionary as, and largely indistinguishable from, the welfarist/new welfarist position.
As I will now show, these so-called “intersectional vegans” embrace speciesism in that, like the welfarists/new welfarists, they reject veganism as a moral baseline.
Instead of being unequivocal in support of the rights of all, they equivocate and negotiate on the rights and well-being of everybody, replacing a firm commitment to social justice with “journeys” and “spaces,” in which violence and oppression are excused rather than excoriated.
And instead of eliminating the essentialism of discrimination, they substitute a new essentialism that says that the rightness or wrongness of a position is dependent on who the speaker is and not what the speaker says.
Most figurehead advocates who claim to be intersectional in their approach to veganism and animal rights present nothing more than a variant of the traditional welfarist/new welfarist position with a new cast of characters.
Abolitionist vegans agree completely with pro-intersectionality, which is the idea that we need to recognize that certain humans are subject to multiple forms of discrimination. For example, a woman of color is discriminated against both as a woman and as a person of color. To focus on the racial discrimination she suffers alone is to neglect the sexism that she also suffers.
Abolitionists reject all discrimination and they apply it in the context of animal advocacy in several ways.
First, as part of their rejection of all discrimination, they necessarily reject discrimination that involves multiple sources. For example, in 2010 People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) had a fundraising ad that I criticized in which a woman of color stripped “for the animals.” This ad involved both racism and sexism (and the sexism itself involved not only the objectification of the woman but the idea that only certain sorts of female bodies are sexually attractive).
Second, Abolitionists seek to apply this intersectional analysis in the context of nonhuman animals. For example, I have long emphasized that although all animals are exploited, female animals have their reproductive processes and their relationship with their babies commodified. I am not suggesting that this involves the intersection of speciesism and sexism as that latter term is normally understood. But I am suggesting that the treatment of female animals is informed by a deep misogyny that pervades society and results in female animals being subjected to exploitation that reflects that misogyny. This is why, when I encounter a feminist who is a vegetarian but not a vegan, I focus immediately on how dairy and eggs trigger concerns that any feminist should share.
In criticizing “intersectional vegans,” I am not criticizing intersectionality as a concept. I reiterate: the Abolitionist Approach is pro-intersection (the use of the prefix attempts to avoid appropriating a theory that was devised by Kimberlé W. Crenshaw to discuss the oppression specific to women of color). I am criticizing a group of bloggers who claim to apply the concept to animal ethics and who end up misusing it to justify speciesism, moral relativism, and other forms of essentialism. The diverse and growing grassroots movement that is informed by the Abolitionist Approach is pro-intersectional. It rejects essentialism in all respects. It rejects speciesism. It rejects all human discrimination. As we will see, the non-Abolitionist “intersectional vegan” movement fails in both these respects.
Given that, as I will show, the “intersectional vegans” discussed in this essay are not intersectional at all precisely because they embrace the essentialism—including speciesism—the rejection of which is core to intersectionality analysis, I shall not refer to them as “intersectional vegans.” Rather, I shall use a term that incorporates the positions that they articulate and refer to them as “essentialist vegans.”
III. Essentialist Veganism: The Rejection of Veganism as a Moral Baseline
If we reject speciesism, we are committed to veganism as a matter of moral principle. We can no more justify killing a sentient nonhuman incidental to our institutionalized exploitation of nonhumans than can we justify killing a human.
But some prominent “intersectionalist vegans” or, as I refer to them, essentialist vegans, don’t see it that way.
For example, Amie Breeze Harper, who edited a collection of essays called Sistah Vegan, which is considered a defining text of intersectional veganism, tells us that her book is not about “preaching veganism or vegan fundamentalism.”
Here is a screenshot from the Introduction to Sistah Vegan:
Click to enlarge.
“Vegan fundamentalism” is the buzz expression used by those who reject veganism as a moral baseline to describe the position that is at the core of the Abolitionist Approach. To say that one rejects “vegan fundamentalism” is to say that one rejects the idea of veganism as a moral baseline.
And that is exactly what Harper does. I watched this lecture by Harper and she says very clearly, among other things:
1. “I don’t think any diet is the right diet.”
2. No diet is “universal.” “Your diet and what you need as food changes with the ‘who you are space.’”
3. As an example of the “who you are space,” Harper says that she stopped being vegan when she got pregnant because she “just couldn’t do it” and “ate a few eggs per month.”
4. Being vegan is “difficult” in certain places (and so veganism can’t be a “universal” obligation).
Putting aside that veganism is more than just a diet, this is nothing more than the “veganism is a sort of an okay default but it is subject to convenience, individual idiosyncrasy, personal journey, etc.” position. Such a position explicitly rejects veganism as a universal or generally applicable moral baseline and makes veganism a matter of the particular situation—the “who you are space.”
Is veganism a matter of the “who you are space”? If animals matter morally, it is most certainly not, any more than observing the fundamental rights of humans is a matter of the “who you are space.” Is the morality of rape or child molestation a matter of the “who you are space”? Of course not.
Maintaining that veganism is a moral imperative is not a matter of “preaching veganism or vegan fundamentalism.” It is a matter of fundamental justice.
Are food deserts and places where grain is fed to animals for export rather than to humans a problem? Absolutely. But does that mean that veganism is not a moral imperative such that we have an obligation to increase availability? Of course not. Are there problems in migrant detention centers if the choice is to starve or consume animal products? Of course. There may be situations in which the violation of fundamental rights may be excusable. But such violations are never justifiable. They never serve to modify or weaken the moral baseline. There have been cases when people adrift at sea have killed and consumed other humans. No one has ever said that is morally justifiable although, on occasion, punishment has been mitigated. But such mitigation never translates into a modification of the moral principle that taking the life of another human, with the possible exception of self-defense or defense of others (under very limited circumstances) is always morally wrong.
I made these observations about Harper as part of a reply to another essentialist vegan, Ruby Hamad (whom I will discuss further in the next section), who had mentioned Harper, and Harper commented on my reply to Hamad. She did not address any of my concerns about the substance of her position. But she certainly affirmed that she does not see veganism as a moral baseline.
For example, she claimed that when I pointed out that she ate eggs during pregnancy I was illustrating the use of a pregnant body as a “site of ‘moral baseline.’” But all bodies are “site[s] of moral baseline” as far as veganism is concerned. That’s the point. What we put in and on our bodies involves a matter of justice—as least as far as the Abolitionist Approach is concerned. That is what is meant when we talk about moral baselines or imperatives.
Harper expressed interest in how “individuals can be so confident that their ‘way’ is the moral baseline (whether vegan or not).” I am glad to share with her the basis of my confidence. I have provided arguments for why, if animals matter morally, veganism must be the moral baseline or the very minimum that we owe animals if we are to respect their moral personhood. Harper does not accept those arguments. In fact, she claims to reject the concept of baselines altogether, advising against being “fundamentalist” and claiming that her “personal ‘moral baseline’” is on a continuum. But moral baselines in this context are not a matter of personal preferences or views; they are universalizable moral rules that respect and protect the moral personhood of nonhuman animals. And if animals are moral persons, veganism is not a matter of a “personal” choice—it is a moral imperative that obligates or binds us all.
In other words, Harper repeated her claim that the morality of veganism is a matter of the “who you are space” in slightly different but equally morally unsatisfying terms.
Harper obviously does not see issues of fundamental human interests in this way. She couldn’t. No one could. She could not say that the morality of rape, or murder, or child molestation was a matter of one’s “personal” position involving a “continuum” and concerning which we should not have “fundamentalist” moral principles that were generally applicable and that obligate us to not exploit humans in particular ways at all.
But where animals are concerned, there’s no problem with taking the position that it’s all a matter of some variant of the “who you are space.”
Harper’s position here is reminiscent of some ecofeminist writers, such as Carol Adams, who claimed that universalizable moral principles were patriarchal and, thereby, objectionable. But no ecofeminist (or anyone else) would reject the universalizable moral principle that no woman should be subjected to sexual contact without her consent. It’s only when we talk about animals that we have a problem with drawing clear lines that rule out all exploitation where nonhumans are involved.
Another example of so-called “intersectionalist vegans” not promoting veganism as a moral baseline is found in the position of Black Vegans Rock (“BVR”), a group that includes Harper and others. BVR, a new group, will feature the efforts and enterprises of Black vegans.
In their Mission Statement, BVR states:
We aim to bring the Black vegan community together by focusing on our diversity, rather than our differences.
While we might all be vegan for different reasons, and while we might each be at different phases in our activist/vegan journey, we aim to highlight just how powerful we can be when we unify and celebrate our brilliance.
Here’s a screenshot of that:
Click to enlarge.
People can have vegan diets for all sorts of reasons but can still participate in animal exploitation depending on where they are in their “journey.” The expression “vegan journey” is, of course, right up there with “vegan fundamentalism” as the expression we see most often used by the corporate animal charities to trash the idea of veganism as a moral baseline. Where one is on one’s “vegan journey” depends on, in Harper’s words, the “who you are space.” Is someone who eats a vegan diet for health reasons but who takes off Saturday night to, in Peter Singer’s words, “allow themselves the luxury of not being vegan that evening” a “vegan” as far as BVR is concerned? What if that is what that person’s “who you are space” is?
In any event, it is clear that this Mission Statement is clear right up front: BVR does not promote veganism as a moral imperative.
In the FAQ section, they state that they are willing to discuss featuring vegetarians if the organization requesting to be featured “caters to both vegetarians and vegans, or deals with Black vegans in any way.”
Here is a screenshot of that:
Click to enlarge.
Vegetarianism is not a coherent moral position. One cannot distinguish morally between meat and other animal products, such as dairy, eggs, etc. To feature an organization that promotes vegetarianism is explicitly to promote animal exploitation. Would we think it appropriate to promote an organization that ostensibly opposes violence against children but “caters to both those who reject violence against children and those who don’t”? No, of course not.
BVR founder Aph Ko has another website on which she has an essay, “#BlackVegansRock: 100 Black Vegans to Check Out.” Many of the Black “vegans” on this list appear to be vegan only in a dietary sense and only for health. These entries also discuss that people went from vegetarian to vegan, or discuss how long they were vegetarian before going vegan, as though that has some relevance to veganism.
I note that one of the Black vegans that we are advised to check out is Robin Quivers. Ko states that “Robin Quivers is known for being the side-kick to Howard Stern on his radio program. What many people don’t know about her is that she has been vegan since 2007 because of several health ailments.” As far as I am concerned, Howard Stern’s program is one of the most reactionary in modern media and Quivers is an apologist for the misogyny and racism on that show.
Click to enlarge.
I am surprised that Ko apparently fails to see the problem here. The fact that she has added a disclaimer to the list that she “personally” does not think that the people on her list are necessarily “political activist[s], her inclusion of people like Quivers makes it difficult to understand her claim that veganism is a social justice issue. And it difficult to understand claims by essentialist vegans that Ko and BVR are providing a more progressive alternative to the Abolitionist Approach.
Syl Ko, another member of the Board of BVR, expresses the moral relativism of essentialist vegans and their rejection of veganism as a moral baseline when she says that people of color or other marginalized groups do not want white vegans to “dictate to us what we should care about and why and how.” Sound familiar? That’s exactly what welfarists/new welfarists say: vegans can’t take the position that veganism is a moral imperative because we can’t dictate to people. But if animal exploitation is morally wrong, then it’s not a matter of anyone dictating to anyone else. It is a matter of promoting a sound moral principle that the moral personhood of nonhuman animals requires veganism as a minimum.
Pax Ahimsa Gethen, also a BVR Board member, is a prominent activist in a group called DxE, which explicitly rejects veganism as a moral baseline and whose leader maintains that vegan advocacy is “harmful to the animal rights movement.” DxE seeks alliances with the large welfarist/new welfarist corporate charities. (Note added 1/13/2016: Gethen claims to no longer be active with DxE. But as Gethen makes clear here, this has to do with allegations of misconduct within DxE and other matters, and has nothing to do with any objection they (Gethen’s preferred pronoun) have to DxE’s status as a new welfarist organization that rejects the idea of veganism as a moral baseline. Indeed, in their explanation, Gethen reaffirms that they became involved with DxE when DxE leader Wayne Hsiung was disinvited from speaking at the 2015 World Vegan Summit. Summit organizer Bob Linden disinvited Hsiung after becoming aware of Hsiung’s statements critical of vegan advocacy and his comments endorsing the the large new welfarist corporate charities and seeking to work with them. Gethen objected to the disinvitation. Gethen has posted other objections to my position critical of those who support or promote welfarist corporate charities that promote “happy exploitation,” such as the groups that expressed “appreciation and support” for the Whole Foods “happy exploitation” program.)
Essentialist vegans have a position on veganism that is no different from the welfarist/new welfarist position.
Both reject veganism as a moral baseline.
Both reject the idea that veganism is something we are required to do in order to recognize and respect the moral status of nonhuman animals.
Both label veganism as a moral baseline as “vegan fundamentalism.”
Both talk about veganism as a matter of “journeys.” Essentialist vegans stand shoulder-to-shoulder with welfarists/new welfarists.
And that is precisely why one of the sponsors of the upcoming Intersectional Justice Conference that will feature BVR founder Aph Ko, Syl Ko, and other members of the BVR Board, and other essentialist vegans is none other than The Humane Society of the United States.
Here is a screenshot from the Intersectional Justice Conference page:
Click to enlarge.
[NOTE: Please see Addendum below: HSUS is now gone!]
As I explain and document here, HSUS promotes “happy exploitation,” sponsors events at which meat and other animal foods are served, employs a pig farmer as Political Director of the HSUS Legislative Fund, and has a President and CEO, Wayne Pacelle, who is on the Board of the Global Animal Partnership, the organization that formulates standards for the “5-Step Animal Welfare Ratings” program used by Whole Foods, which grades the level of animal suffering that the consumer wishes to purchase.
The Conference is also being supported by the Northwest Animal Rights Network, which promotes welfare reform and which links to HSUS, Farm Sanctuary, the Farm Animal Rights Movement, and just about every welfarist/new welfarist corporate charity out there, as well as to a person who continually and explicitly advocates violence against persons.
BVR founder Aph Ko complains that “veganism as a social justice movement has been corporatized by white people.”
But she speaks at a conference funded by HSUS, which is about as white and about as corporate as it gets—and about as pro-animal-exploitation as it gets. If these essentialist vegans were really opposed to animal exploitation and promoted veganism as a moral baseline, would they accept funding from and publicly acknowledge HSUS and others who promote “happy” exploitation” and welfare reform?
Think about this question in a human context. Would those absolutely opposed to racism accept funding from and promote organizations that advocated racism? Would those opposed to child molestation accept the sponsorship of an organization that promoted sexual relations with children? Would those absolutely opposed to all violence against women accept sponsorship from an organization that promoted violence against women?
No, of course not.
But these essentialist vegans see no problem with doing exactly that in the nonhuman context.
I note that one of the white males speaking at the Intersectional Justice Conference, Will Tuttle, is one of the people who rebuked me for speaking out against the very clear anti-Semitism of the Kapparos campaign. Oh, how very selective is this supposed “intersectional justice”!
In any event, where animals are concerned, essentialist vegans don’t have any baselines or moral imperatives. As Harper says, it’s all a matter of the “who you are space.” To maintain that it’s a matter of moral principles that rule out the moral justification of any animal exploitation is, as Harper calls it, “vegan fundamentalism.” HSUS and all the other welfarist/new welfarist groups are fine with that; that is exactly their position.
And I don’t care whether it’s Breeze Harper or Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of HSUS, who rejects veganism as a moral baseline or refers to it as “fundamentalism.” That position is wrong irrespective of who says it.
Whatever else we can say, the specific brand of “intersectional justice” discussed above does not mean justice for nonhuman animals.
IV. Essentialist veganism: Only Some Humans Count
Essentialist vegans not only embrace essentialism in the form of speciesism in that they accord less moral value to animals than they do to humans solely on the grounds of species. They embrace it where humans are involved and accord greater moral value to certain humans based on characteristics that are morally irrelevant.
According to these essentialist vegans, only some humans can speak about issues of social justice and the question of who can speak is determined not by what they say but by who they are. As we will see, these essentialist vegans claim that the only legitimate speakers are women, people of color, or those from other marginalized groups who agree with their position, whereas women, people of color, or those from other minorities who disagree with their essentialist position are themselves “tokens” and not legitimate speakers.
For example, Australian journalist and essentialist vegan Ruby Hamad recently wrote an essay in which she excoriated the “mainstream vegan community” as not seeing the connections between human oppression and animal exploitation. I am with her there and have been saying just that since 1990.
Hamad then identified several men who are supposedly vegan but who promote misogyny and violence. One of these men is someone whom I have criticized for years for making misogynistic and otherwise violent statements, including bigoted statements about Palestinians. The other man she referenced was someone whom I had never heard of before the incident about which she was writing. But I was with Hamad 100% to that point.
I was, however, very surprised that Hamad then stated:
I am disenchanted that a movement that is comprised mostly of women nonetheless elevates white men to most leadership positions. Men such as Professor Gary Francione who thinks it is his place to lecture women on whether or not they can call themselves feminists.
And how was I “lectu[ing] women? It was this statement:
If you are a feminist and are not a vegan, you are ignoring the exploitation of female nonhumans and the commodification of their reproductive processes, as well as the destruction of their relationship with their babies.
So we won’t look at what I am saying. We won’t discuss my position that someone who is a feminist but is not a vegan is arbitrarily ignoring the commodification of female nonhumans. We won’t discuss whether intersectionality analysis militates in favor recognizing the particular ways in which misogyny as a general matter informs the use of female animals. We can just dismiss my position because I am a white male.
But how is that any different from the essentialism to which the essentialist vegans object because it has resulted in their not having a voice in the “mainstream vegan movement”? The essentialists rightly complain that the “mainstream” animal movement has excluded their voices because of who they are and not what they say. How does this represent any advance on that position? How does this vision of “intersectional justice” do anything apart from substitute one group of oppressive voices for another?
And, once again, we see that this essentialism results in a vision of “intersectional justice” that throws animals under the bus.
Hamad is unhappy that many women use the Abolitionist Approach to inform their advocacy. So what’s the alternative? Hamad tells us that Breeze Harper is an alternative. But, as we saw above, Harper very clearly and explicitly rejects veganism as a moral baseline and I very clearly and explicitly promote veganism as a moral imperative. I could understand if Hamad argued that both positions need to be examined. But to dismiss my position because I am a white male is essentialism that leads to rejecting the position that is more protective of animals because of the race and sex of the speaker.
And this results in promoting justice for animals how?
Hamad suggests ecofeminist Carol Adams as another alternative. I would suggest (as have others) that Adams’ work over the years has not been a model of clarity in terms of providing actual normative guidance as to what our moral obligations to animals are. For example, as I have written about in the past, Adams has rejected the idea of moral rights and universalizable moral rules in favor of a nebulous “ethic of care” and this has led her to promote positions that accommodate animal exploitation. I note that although Adams promotes veganism more than she used to, she also describes vegetarianism—and not just veganism—as a normatively desirable position.
As I mentioned above, consuming animal products other than meat involves animal exploitation that is qualitatively no different from the exploitation inherent in eating meat. Being a vegetarian is no more morally justifiable a position than is being an omnivore. Those who regard animals as having moral value simply cannot maintain that vegetarianism is anything but a manifestation of direct participation in the exploitation of the vulnerable.
Again, Hamad is not suggesting that we should examine Adams’ acceptance of vegetarianism and my rejection of it and discuss the differences. She is not suggesting that we examine Adams’ views on the nature of ethics and my views in order to determine which view best provides justice for animals. She is claiming that we can dispense with my view altogether and embrace Adams’ because she is a woman and I am a man.
There appear to be some differences between Adams’ position and Harper’s position. Hamad does not tell us how to resolve any differences from the standpoint of justice for animals between them for purposes of guiding our own moral position and for informing our advocacy. Perhaps we are to assign more essentialism points to Harper because she is both a woman and person of color. Adams is a white woman. The resolution can’t be based on principle because Hamad has made clear that principle is irrelevant—only identity is relevant.
But the essentialist vegan position as represented by Hamad is even more troubling. Hamad talks about how a predominantly female movement “elevates” a white male like me to a position of leadership. I am not sure what she means. I don’t “lead” anything. I am an academic. For many years, I was a practicing lawyer in addition to being an academic and I represented animal advocates on a pro bono basis. But I don’t have any organization. I don’t have any employees. Unlike some of the essentialist vegans, I do not seek or accept donations or ask for crowd funding. No one has “elevated” me to any position of “leadership.”
There are many women and people of color who think that the Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights represents a sound position and who promote it in their own advocacy. They embrace its radical egalitarianism. Hamad is “disenchanted” by that? And why is that? Do the voices of women and people of color who support the Abolitionist Approach not count? Are they not allowed to choose to have their advocacy framed by ideas that I have developed?
The answer is no. For Hamad, and for other essentialist vegans, the only voices of women and people of color who matter are the ones who, like Hamad, dismiss what I am saying because I am a white male and without any regard for the content of what I am saying. If they do not choose to have their advocacy guided by whatever it is that Harper or Adams proposes, then they simply do not count. They are dismissed as mindless automatons who, by virtue of a considered judgment that they believe the Abolitionist Approach is the most sensible theory to inform their advocacy, have “disenchanted” essentialist vegans.
Hamad, to whom I replied here, is not alone among essentialist vegans in taking the position that only some women and some people of color matter. Other essentialist vegans have similarly dismissed women who identify as feminists and who embrace the Abolitionist Approach, and have characterized as “tokens” people of color who use the Abolitionist Approach to guide their advocacy.
Black Vegans Rock Board member Pax Ahimsa Gethen characterized the diverse grassroots community that makes up the Abolitionist Approach as a “white boys club.” Gethen said this in the context of defending two other essentialist vegans who were engaged in overt, explicit, and documented bigotry. Here is a poster that appeared on several pages of essentialist vegans:
Click to enlarge.
I quite agree that everyone ought to be mindful of the privileges they enjoy, including the privilege of class. What I do not agree with is the idea, espoused by all too many essentialist vegans, that only some people of color get to weigh in on issues of racism; only some women get to weigh in on issues of sexism. And those who get to weigh in are not determined by the substance of what they express but only by whether they agree with the essentialism that allows for characterizations of the Abolitionist Approach as a “white boys [sic] club” simply because I am the person who developed the theory over the past 30 years and I am a white male. Those women and people of color who are involved in the Abolitionist Approach community are simply “tokens” to be treated with contempt and rendered invisible in the same way that essentialist vegans rightly claim has happened to women and people of color in the “mainstream” welfarist/new welfarist movement. There is no respect shown for the fact that those women and people of color have rationally chosen to use the Abolitionist Approach to frame their advocacy. It is very disappointing—and says a great deal—that BVR has someone who espouses such views on its Board.
All too often, any disagreement with essentialist vegans results in a charge of racism, sexism, or some other sort of accusation. This is particularly disconcerting when those accused of promoting racism, sexism, or other objectionable positions are people of color, women, or other members of vulnerable minorities who simply won’t embrace the essentialism of the essentialist vegans.
A gay-identified transsexual male who had lived as a female for more than thirty years and who embraces the Abolitionist Approach took issue with various statements on the page of an essentialist vegan. Rather than discuss the substance of what he was saying, he was dismissed for “mansplaining” and expressing his “straight, white, male privilege.” When he protested the dismissal and prejudicial behavior he experienced, and explained his sexual and gender identity, he received a half-hearted apology but then the entire post was deleted.
I fully expect that some essentialist vegans will say that I am claiming reverse discrimination on the part of essentialist vegans. Any such claim would clearly be false but some essentialist vegans have no problem with deliberately misrepresenting my position. In any event, I do not believe that people of color can be racist in a white racist society. I do not believe that women can be sexist in a patriarchal society.
As I stated at the very beginning of this essay, racism and sexism are about institutional allocations of power based on race or sex. Racism and sexism involve institutional power to adversely affect others. The problem is that in a racist and sexist society, people of color and women are largely without institutional power. So Black people cannot be racist in this society; women cannot be sexist in this society. They cannot engage in reverse discrimination because they have no institutional power to discriminate.
But people of color and women can hold unfair and unjust prejudices. They can be bigoted. And dismissing the views of people based solely on their race or sex or gender, or claiming that the only women or people of color or trans persons whose views matter are those who are willing to support the idea that anything a white male says is wrong irrespective of substance is nothing but prejudice and bigotry. It is disappointing that, apart from endorsing speciesism, so many of the essentialist vegans, engage in outright bigotry.
Linking value with personal characteristics alone, without a reference to class or the content of individual character has resulted in an identity politics that has led us to some obviously wrong conclusions. It leads us to believe that reactionary figures such as Barack Obama, Condoleezza Rice, Clarence Thomas, Ted Cruz, and Margaret Thatcher have a greater insight into oppression as a system and how to fight it—as well as a greater commitment to fighting it—than do activists such as Noam Chomsky or Chris Hedges.
This does not mean that Obama, Rice, Thomas, Cruz, and Thatcher have not experienced violence because of who they are. Nor does it mean that their individual experiences of that violence are not relevant. It simply means that justice—how we think about it, our commitment to acting upon it, and our plan to secure it—cannot be resolved down into recognizing the authority of speakers based on a “biological, therefore experiential, therefore moral” checklist.
Although identity politics arose from good intentions, essentialists have become every bit as reactionary as those they criticize in that they do not reject the fixed, limiting identities, such as “white, straight woman” or “black, gay man” constructed by the dominant oppressive system and reflecting existing social structures of power, but simply invert them to create new hierarchies and new forms of objectification and otherization based on superficial physical characteristics. So that now, for example, a person who is a “straight, white male” becomes the “other,” the “enemy,” totally defined by that category, regardless of whether he supports racism, sexism or heterosexism. Even if he strongly opposes racism, sexism and heterosexism in his values and the way he lives, he is guilty merely by virtue of being a heterosexual, white male and anything he says can be dismissed or construed as “racist” and “sexist.”
This essentialist position is not liberating anyone.
It is a trap and a dead end—a variant on the oppressive system which they claim to reject. In the same way, in the sphere of animal ethics, essentialist vegans do nothing more than produce a variant of the welfarist/new welfarist position that not only excludes nonhumans from full membership in the moral community but evaluates the positions of others based not on their substance but on their identity.
If we want justice, we must have: (1) ways to synthesize individual experiences into broader theories of justice and how we should respond to injustice, as feminists such as bell hooks attempt to do, as well as (2) a commitment to acting on those theories in an effort to end violence and oppression. This is why the Abolitionist Approach requires veganism. Theory and experience are means, not ends. Theory, experience, and good intentions without action are not enough. We must be committed to doing the right things to foster justice in practice.
Essentialist vegans talk about the privilege that comes from race, sex, gender, etc., but they largely ignore the privilege of class. Many of the essentialist vegans are solidly middle class people. Many have a great deal of higher education. But they embrace a politics of identity divorced from any concept of substantive economic fairness and the inherent unfairness and inequality that results from a grotesquely unfair distribution of resources. Linking value with personal characteristics alone and without a reference to class leads us to believe that a middle-class person of color with a PhD has more to say about oppression than a poor person—Black or white.
Interestingly, essentialist vegans have no problem with white people who embrace their essentialism and will join with them in promoting identity politics. There is simply no principled position that articulates a theory of justice for nonhumans or humans. In the end, it appears as though essentialist veganism is about nothing more than a group of people seeking to create career, entrepreneurial, and other opportunities for themselves. It has nothing to do with justice for animals, or with assuring that all women and people of color—as opposed to only those who embrace essentialism and its resulting identity politics—participate in a social justice movement for animals.
Essentialist vegans throw animals under the bus and simply rearrange the seating in the bus. Women and people of color who don’t buy into the identity politics of essentialism sit in the back with all the white males. The essentialist vegans drive the bus and sit in the front as they travel to their conferences funded by HSUS and at which Howard Stern and Robin Quivers will provide after-dinner entertainment.
The Abolitionist Approach maintains that nonhumans get to sit in the bus with humans. Justice for nonhumans is not a matter of some sort of relativist “who you are space” nonsense. It is a matter of moral principles that make all animal exploitation unjustifiable. And there is no hierarchy of seating in the Abolitionist bus. We have a radically egalitarian seating policy and it’s all a matter of what is in your heart and not any irrelevant physical characteristic.
V. Essentialist Veganism and the Slavery/Rape Analogies
Ever since the early 1990s, I have been arguing that the regulation of animal exploitation is not only immoral (if it is morally wrong to exploit animals, it is wrong to promote the supposedly “humane” exploitation of animals), but is, as a practical matter, doomed to failure because the property status of animals means that animal interests can never prevail over the interests of human owners. I have argued that the regulation of animal exploitation fails for the same reason that the regulation of slavery failed.
Some essentialist vegans seem to think that discourse of this sort presents a problem of “appropriation” because only Black people can properly talk about slavery. Again, we see essentialism raise its ugly head. We can’t look at what is being said, we can only look at who is saying it. White people can’t talk about slavery. Only Black people can.
But the position that Black people have some sort of proprietary interest in discourse about slavery ignores that the race-based slavery that existed in the United States (or the West generally) in the 1600s-1800s was not the only slavery that has ever existed. Chattel slavery existed before that time and it exists now. And most of that chattel slavery has not been along lines of race but along lines of tribe and religion.
Moreover, even in the case of race-based slavery in the United States, I make it clear that it is the legal, political, and social mechanisms of slavery that are analogous to the use of animals as chattel property. It is that discussion that reveals the requirements of abolition rather than welfare reform. The analogy is most sharply focused on the mechanisms of oppression—not just the resulting suffering. That focuses on the analogy with animal rights rather than animal welfare. The essentialist vegans think the slavery analogy is all about the suffering of the slaves. That is incorrect.
I have always been critical of welfarist/new welfarist groups that juxtapose images of lynched Black people with pictures or other depictions of animals hanging in slaughterhouses in the same way that I object to comparing animal exploitation to the Holocaust. Comparing evils in this way does nothing to advance understanding and has a great potential for misunderstanding and offense. But the fact—and it is a fact—remains that there are important parallels between the regulation of chattel slavery and the regulation of animal exploitation.
African-Americans have experienced-based expertise in the legacy of slavery, but we must all understand the mechanisms and supporting principles of slavery—human and nonhuman—if we are going to rid the world of this evil.
The regulation of animal exploitation fails for the exact same reasons that the regulation of chattel slavery failed. If a sentient being is chattel property, the interests of that being will always count for less than the interests of the owners of that property. In substantially all of the conflict situations, the property must lose and the owner must prevail or else there is no institution of property in beings of that sort (whether human or nonhuman). In both chattel slavery and animal exploitation, beings are treated as having only an extrinsic or external value; they have no inherent or intrinsic value. They are merely things. Chattel slavery (race- based and non-race-based) and animals as property are completely analogous in legal and economic ways.
If there is any dis-analogy as a conceptual matter, it is not between chattel slavery and animal exploitation. There, the analogical fit is perfect and inescapable. Many welfarists/new welfarists compare the regulation of animal exploitation, which they promote, to the struggle for civil rights in the United States. The latter involved—and continues to involve because equality is a very long ways away—the issue of how to treat persons fairly. Animals are still chattel property. They do not have moral personhood. We cannot talk about how to treat things in a “fair” way.
When I talk about “abolition,” I am not using that term to refer to the experience of slaves. I am talking about the mechanism that has been used in the past and must be used now to dismantle any institution of property that establishes and perpetuates the status of sentient beings used exclusively as resources for others.
In any event, to say that such an analysis “appropriates” discourse that is properly that of Black people alone is, I am afraid, transparently absurd. I am not using the slavery analogy to denigrate the experience of slaves. I am using it because the analogy helps us to understand the legal, jurisprudential, and economic reasons why the regulation of sentient beings who are considered as property cannot work.
Even those essentialist vegans who take a more moderate position and acknowledge that it might be acceptable for white people to talk about slavery assume that discussions about slavery primarily “center whiteness” and represent expressions of “white fragility.” The problem is that in a racist society, any topic can be used to do that. In any event, that is certainly not how chattel slavery is or ever has been used in the Abolitionist paradigm over the past 25 years. Chattel slavery and the exploitation of nonhuman animals share important features that make their regulation impossible as a practical matter and require their abolition (and claims making in favor of rights recognition and abolition) as a moral matter.
I should point out here in connection with my previous remark about class being as important—perhaps more important—than any other factor, that the Western slave trade was made possible by a pervasive indigenous African slave trade that had Black people enslaving other Black people and then selling those slaves to white Western Europeans and making a great deal of money doing so.
Other essentialist vegans declare that men cannot discuss rape in the context of talking about animal exploitation. That is, they cannot draw an analogy between the violation of fundamental rights that occurs in the context of rape and the violation of fundamental rights that occurs when we kill and eat animals.
As in the case of slavery, when I use rape as an analogical concept, I am not using it to denigrate the experience of rape victims. I am using the analogy because I believe it fits and it can help us to understand the deep structure of animal exploitation.
In my view, the use of words and concepts in contexts like this is a matter of analogy. Our experiences shape how we understand things but, in the end, the only relevant question is whether the analogy fits. Having been on dairy farms and seen the way that cows are impregnated and the way that they have to be secured because they don’t like what’s happening, I believe that it is analogous to rape as do many women I know who have actually seen what goes on in dairy farms, including women who have been rape victims. It is a sexual battery; the cows do not consent.
Rape is a violation of a fundamental human right. It is different from non-fundamental rights violations. It is analogous to the violations of fundamental rights that constitute domesticated animal use. The analogy holds. If someone is offended by the analogy and objects to its use, we need to know why the analogy does not hold and in many years of doing this work, I have yet to hear anything other than some version of “human women matter more morally.”
I was recently at an academic conference at which animal ethics were discussed but only as a part of the event. I argued that talking about “happy” exploitation was analogous to talking about “happy” rape or “happy” child molestation. A woman who identified herself as a feminist objected to my analogy. I asked her why. All she could say was that she did not think that exploiting animals was as “serious” as rape. I am not sure what she meant by that and she had no reply when I asked her what she meant. There is no non-speciesist response to that question.
And if we cannot talk about matters even as relevant analogies if we have not experienced them, then none of us can talk about the exploitation of nonhuman animals.
Any difference between the essentialist vegan position as it is promoted by the people discussed in this essay and the welfarist/new welfarist model is superficial.
The result is the same.
We end up substituting one group—the “leaders” of the large corporate charities who reject veganism as a moral baseline—for another group of “leaders”—the essentialist vegans. Both groups reject veganism as a moral baseline.
When you criticize the speciesism and other essentialism of the welfarist/new welfarists, you are called “purist,” “fundamentalist,” and “divisive.”
When you criticize the speciesism or other essentialism of the essentialist vegans, you are accused of “preaching veganism or vegan fundamentalism.” But you are also called “racist,” “sexist,” or some other name. If you are a woman, person of color, or person from another marginalized group who criticizes essentialist vegans, you are ignored, or dismissed as a “token,” or also labeled as a “racist” or “sexist.” Any attempt to engage essentialist vegans on a substantive basis or, heaven forbid, to respond to the baseless attacks, is dismissed as an expression of “white fragility,” “mansplaining,” “gaslighting,” or “harassment.”
I certainly admit that the essentialist vegans have a broader range of insults than do the welfarists/new welfarists. But as far as promoting speciesism and other forms of essentialism are concerned, the essentialist vegans stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the welfarists/new welfarists.
And that is precisely why HSUS and other welfarists/new welfarists are sponsoring essentialist vegan events.
Those of us whose advocacy on behalf of nonhuman animals and the relationship between human rights and nonhuman rights is informed and framed by the Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights will continue to criticize and reject speciesism and other form of essentialism irrespective of who calls us names or what names they call us.
I respectfully suggest that if we want to achieve justice for humans and non-humans alike, we forego identity politics and instead focus on what is being said and not who is saying it. We ought always to be aware of the privileges we have—including the privilege of class—and be on guard to ensure that our privileges do not result in our taking or defending positions that are unjust.
But, in the end, the justice of the position we advocate must be the central concern of anyone who believes in a morality of principles.
And, on the “what” of promoting justice—for humans or nonhumans—essentialist vegans have nothing new to offer and have just introduced a new cast of characters to promote the same old reactionary, speciesist, and otherwise essentialist nonsense that the Abolitionist Approach rejects.
The essentialist vegans are not the first—and they certainly won’t be the last—to try to sell some non-abolitionist, non-veganism-as-a-moral-baseline message in a new bottle. But those who agree that veganism is a moral imperative and see all forms of otherization involving nonhumans and humans as morally unjustifiable will see those efforts for exactly what they are.
In closing, I want to thank my most excellent group of Facebook moderators, who, although many are “tokens,” gave me excellent feedback on an earlier draft of this essay. Marianna C. Gonzalez, Vincent Guihan, and Linda McKenzie read and commented on the later draft as well, as did Frances McCormack and my partner since the beginning of it all, Anna Charlton.
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 that you can undertake.
Learn more about veganism at www.HowDoIGoVegan.com.
Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Distinguished Professor, Rutgers University
©2016 Gary L. Francione
ADDENDUM, January 16, 2016
Note: This Addendum, which concerned a response to the essay above by Amanda Baker, Senior Advocacy and Policy Officer Unfortunately, to the effect that my argument that veganism is a moral baseline involves white privilege and male privilege, and agreement with this position by Black Vegans Rock Board Member, Christopher-Sebastian McJetters, has been published as a separate blog post and can be read here.
ADDENDUM, January 18, 2016
Black Vegans Rock founder Aph Ko not only rejects veganism as a moral baseline. She mocks the concept.
The background: Another essentialist vegan (a cisgendered white female whose views, like those of white female Amanda Baker, count, unlike those of the cisgendered white females whose advocacy is framed by the Abolitionist Approach) wrote an essay in which she argues that food deserts—urban areas in which fresh food is not readily available or affordable—are similar to the “desert island” scenario I have presented as involving a situation in which killing and eating an animal may be excusable.
The idea here is that in the “desert island” situation, one is compelled to kill and eat another being (nonhuman or human) or die. In such a situation, I have argued that it may be excusable but not justifiable to kill and eat the nonhuman (or human). That is, it is still morally wrong and not justifiable to kill another sentient being (in the absence of a legitimate claim of self-defense), but the wrongness of the act is mitigated or partially excused by the presence of the compulsion.
This analysis simply does not apply to food deserts and, in any event, it does not mean that, in food deserts, veganism is not a moral imperative. Food deserts are horribly unjust and they involve people consuming a great deal of unhealthy food. But even in a food desert, people can get vegan food, such as rice and beans, or canned vegetables, and usually more cheaply than they can get the animal foods that are available to them. Whatever else one can say about the injustice of food deserts, one cannot analogize them to a desert island situation where one will starve to death if one does not kill and eat another (nonhuman or human).
And, again, even if that compulsion were present in the food desert situation, it would not make eating animal products (or killing and eating other humans, or killing other humans to get their food, etc.) morally justifiable. At best, it would make it morally wrong but partially excusable based on the circumstances.
But veganism would still be a moral imperative just as would be the observance of the fundamental rights of humans.
In any event, this essay was posted on Facebook and someone named Louie Brie posted a comment:
“But veganism is the moral ba-”
“Shut up, Gary.”
Here’s a screenshot of that comment:
Click to enlarge.
It was liked by three people, one of whom was Aph Ko. Here’s a screenshot of her “like”:
Click to enlarge.
Aph also added a separate comment:
This should be a book title. lol.
Aph Ko, founder of Black Vegans Rock, not only rejects veganism as a moral baseline. She mocks it.
Gary L. Francione
Addendum, January 21, 2016
I see that HSUS is now gone. I am providing a “before my essay” screenshot and an “after my essay” screenshot.
Before I wrote my essay:
Click to enlarge.
After I wrote my essay:
Click to enlarge.
I do not know if that means that they’re still getting support from HSUS but they are understandably embarrassed to acknowledge that publicly, or if they have decided that having HSUS sponsor the event merely highlights their rejection of veganism as a moral baseline and their otherwise speciesist views. It’s certainly difficult to posture as “radical” when you’re involved with HSUS.
They still have the Northwest Animal Rights Alliance (NARN) as a sponsor. NARN is an explicitly new welfarist group that promotes the following welfarist charities on its “Related Websites” page:
Click to enlarge.
NARN also promotes a proponent of violence.
Frankly, the lack of intellectual integrity of these proponents of “intersectional justice” is matched only by the immorality of their explicitly speciesist position.
Gary L. Francione
Addendum, February 2, 2016
Christopher-Sebastian McJetters, Board Member of Black Vegans Rock, who supported the statement of Amanda Baker, Senior Advocacy and Policy Officer of The Vegan Society, that veganism as a moral baseline is racist and sexist, has written an essay. Sebastian states that promoting veganism as a moral baseline is racist, classist, and ableist. Unlike Amanda Baker, Sebastian has provided an argument for his position.
And it’s transparently speciesist.
Sebastian argues that people who live in poverty find it difficult to be vegan so maintaining that veganism is a moral baseline is classist and ableist, and since many poor people are people of color, it is racist. (He does not address the accusation that veganism as a moral imperative is sexist so that still remains a complete mystery.)
In order to see how Sebastian’s position is transparently speciesist, imagine making his argument in contexts involving humans and human interests.
When a poor person (whether or not a person of color) harms a human innocent, do we say that it is classist, ableist, or racist to say that what the person did is morally wrong?
Of course not.
We may (and I hope would) understand why people who suffer the injustice of poverty might act in certain ways. We may (and I hope would) want to eliminate the economic inequality that causes poverty. We may (and I hope would) want to take the circumstances into account when we punish in such circumstances although the legal system generally does not.
But we would all agree that any violence against innocents is morally wrong. The rule that we cannot justify inflicting harm on innocents is a baseline irrespective of who you are or your circumstances.
However, where the innocents are nonhumans, it’s racist, classist, and ableist to insist on moral baselines.
That’s transparently speciesist.
Even in situations of true compulsion—the “desert island” or “lifeboat” situation—, harming an innocent is always morally wrong. We may excuse it in part because of the compulsion but it is always wrong.
Making reference to Breeze Harper’s position that veganism is a matter of the “who you are space,” Sebastian says:
Frank and open admission of your who you are space doesn’t negate your veganism.
It most certainly does if, like Harper, you say that having veganism as a moral baseline is a matter of “vegan fundamentalism.”
That’s transparently speciesist.
Sebastian says that the question of whether veganism is a moral baseline:
puts veganism into a very small box when it is so much more.
Veganism is a tool to mitigate our privilege in a human-centered society. Veganism is a context to decolonize black and brown bodies. Veganism is a radical socio-political statement that rejects violence. Veganism is a gift we give to our children who deserve clean water and fresh air. Specifically, veganism is living action!
If veganism is not a moral baseline, then all of those aspirations are meaningless. If veganism is not a moral baseline, then what sense does it make to say that “veganism is living action!”? Sebastian is saying, in essence, that veganism is not the moral baseline, social justice is, and human social justice concerns can trump animal interests.
That’s transparently speciesist.
Sebastian ends his essay:
The bottom line is that until we promote meaningful and significant justice that crosses between communities, veganism is just another single-issue campaign.
You could say the same thing about campaigns against domestic violence, rape, or pedophilia. That is, you could say that they are all single-issue campaigns because we have not achieved the justice of which he speaks. But Sebastian would never say that about those human-focused campaigns.
Indeed, I am sure Sebastian would say that all campaigns that affect human rights are part of the effort to “promote meaningful and significant justice that crosses between communities.” I would certainly agree with that.
The difference is that I would include veganism as part of that effort as well and I would say that it is every bit as essential as any other effort to promote justice. Sebastian wouldn’t agree. He thinks that for me to maintain that principle is classist, abelist, and racist.
That’s transparently speciesist.
We humans have a lot of work to do to radically reform all aspects of our society. That is not the animals’ problem, and we are not justified in violating their fundamental rights while we work out our problems.
Gary L. Francione