In the 5th century, St. Augustine wrote the phrase “Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum,” which means “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.” This became popularized by Gandhi as “Hate the sin, love the sinner.”
This is good advice. We should not judge another person because we can’t really see into her or his heart. But we can judge conduct as right or wrong. And when conduct involves imposing suffering and death on others, we not only should judge that conduct, we must judge it. That is what it means to take morality seriously.
Applying this to the animal context, we can say, for example, that we are not going to judge those who engage in animal exploitation but we are going to be clear that animal exploitation is morally wrong.
This is how I think about animal ethics. I am not really interested in judging individuals; I am, however, most interested in presenting the case for why all animal exploitation is morally wrong and that if animals matter morally, we cannot justify eating, wearing, or using them. I am most interested in making clear that if animals really do matter morally, veganism is the only rational response.
Welfarists seem to have a big problem with this.
They think that we should not only not judge the individual, but they think it’s wrong to say that the conduct of animal exploitation is morally wrong. The welfarist says that we should not only not judge the person who is, for example, consuming cage-free eggs, but also that we should not reject “cage-free” eggs as involving animal exploitation because that would not be “compassionate” toward the person who is consuming the “happy” eggs.
The welfarists say that we should not only not judge the “vegetarian” who consumes dairy and eggs, but also that we should not say that continuing to consume dairy and eggs constitutes animal exploitation because that is to behave without compassion and empathy toward the non-vegan.
Whenever I say something about veganism being the unequivocal moral baseline and I reject any “happy exploitation,” I get the chorus of welfarists chanting the mantra that to criticize non-veganism and “happy exploitation” is to act without compassion and empathy for those who are engaged in animal exploitation.
If you think about this, it’s absurd. The welfarist renders Gandhi’s (and Augustine’s) good advice to be meaningless: “Love the sin and love the sinner.” The welfarists want us to say that animal exploitation should not be condemned because it might offend those who are doing it and discourage them from stopping.
That is nothing more than a rejection of the moral value of animals. And that is the fundamental problem with welfarism. It rejects the notion of moral equality between humans and nonhumans and reinforces the anthropocentrism that has justified animal exploitation for thousands of years. That is why Peter Singer, the so-called “father of the animal rights” movement can, on one hand, talk about all animals–human and nonhuman–being equal at the same time he characterizes consistent principled veganism as “fanatical” and talks about the “luxury” of eating “humane” animal products.
Welfarists have appropriated a wonderful word–compassion–and they have turned it into a stamp of approval for conduct that harms. We should not only not judge the actor but we should not judge the conduct.
Not judging conduct, or not judging it soon enough, is what has accounted for most of the moral disasters we have had throughout history. It is what is at the root cause of the problem of animal exploitation and why the dominant response to that problem is the absurd and unjust “happy exploitation” movement.
None of this has anything to do with compassion. It has to do with putting a stamp of approval on harm. It has to do with declaring injustice to be acceptable for the sake of compassion.
And that is deeply twisted thinking.
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.
And never, ever buy into the nonsensical notion that we need to promote “happy exploitation” in order to get people to go vegan. It’s the opposite: the entire “happy exploitation” industry has one goal: to make the public more comfortable about animal exploitation.
Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University
©2013 Gary L. Francione