These words, written by philosopher George Santayana, seem to resonate with particular relevance these days, as we see a world engulfed in violence.
But Santayana also has something important to say to the animal movement.
Most of the large new welfarist animal organizations, both in the United States and Great Britain, claim to endorse veganism but will not promote it as the baseline of the movement because of the concern that veganism will appear to be too “radical” for the general public. So, these organizations promote “happy” meat and animal products that carry the Certified Humane Raised and Handled label or the Freedom Food label, or comply with the Farm Animal Compassionate Standards of Whole Foods, now on both sides of the Atlantic. And Peter Singer reminds us that being a consistent vegan is “fanatical” and that we may actually be obligated not to be vegans if to do so will upset others.
Those of us who maintain that veganism should be the clear and unequivocal moral baseline of the movement are told sternly by the new welfarists that society is not yet ready to hear the vegan message. We should focus on “cage-free” eggs and “free-range” meats instead.
And how does Santayana’s message apply in this context?
In 1944, Donald Watson founded The Vegan Society in the U.K. He coined the word “vegan” to describe someone who consumed no animal products. In the very first issue of the The Vegan News—63 years ago—Watson wrote:
A common criticism is that the time is not yet ripe for our reform. Can time ever be ripe for any reform unless it is ripened by human determination?
Watson pointed out how the opponents of slavery did not wait for the time to be “ripe” and that the proponents of clean water and sanitation met fierce opposition and did not wait for the “non-existent moment” when the time was “ripe.”
There is an obvious danger in leaving the fulfilment of our ideals to posterity, for posterity may not have our ideals. Evolution can be retrogressive as well as progressive, indeed there seems always to be a strong gravitation the wrong way unless existing standards are guarded and new visions honoured.
The problem faced by those concerned about our exploitation of nonhuman animals is that the large new welfarist organizations that dominate the scene do not regard veganism as a new vision to be honored, but as a “fanatical” position to be marginalized in favor of making the continued consumption of animal products—supposedly “humanely” produced—the default position. By promoting “happy” meats and animal products, the new welfarists merely reinforce the paradigm that animal consumption is morally acceptable if we are “kind” to our victims. This approach will not and cannot lead in the direction of veganism; it can only serve to make veganism appear to be a “radical” or “fanatical” position.
As Watson noted, “evolution can be retrogressive as well as progressive.” We cannot wait for the “non-existent” moment when the time is “ripe.” We must make that moment happen through our own determination. That determination, expressed through our own consistent veganism and our dedication to clear, unequivocal, and nonviolent vegan education—and our rejection of counterproductive welfarist campaigns—is the foundation of the abolitionist movement.
Gary L. Francione
© 2007 Gary L. Francione