Some Thoughts on the Abolitionist Approach

Dear Colleagues:

Here are some simple thoughts that embody the abolitionist approach and philosophy. They may be useful to you in your own thinking about things as well as in your discussion with others:

1. Speciesism is morally objectionable because, like racism, sexism, and heterosexism, it links personhood with an irrelevant criterion.

Explanation: We do not object to speciesism in a vacuum. We reject it because it is like other forms of discrimination. What all forms of discrimination share in common is the use of an irrelevant criterion to exclude people from full membership in the moral community. Racists devalue those of different races based solely on skin color; sexists devalue women solely because of sex and gender; heterosexists deny full membership in the moral community to gays, lesbians, transgenders, etc. simply on the basis of sexual orientation. Speciesists deny full membership in the moral community based solely on species.

All of these forms of discrimination are morally unjustifiable. We reject speciesism because it is indistinguishable from these other forms of discrimination.

(Please note: Although Peter Singer ostensibly rejects speciesism, he maintains that because nonhumans do not have the same sort of minds as do humans, they do not have an interest in continuing to live and we do not harm them if we use and kill them “humanely.” I find this a form of speciesism. Click here.)

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Source Materials on Donald Watson

Dear Colleagues:

Donald Watson (1910-2005), co-founder of the Vegan Society in the U.K. and the person who coined the term “vegan” in response to the consumption and use of dairy and other animal products by “vegetarians,” was a remarkable person who was very far ahead of his time.

In 2002, George D. Rodger of the Vegan Society did a four-hour interview of Watson. He has graciously provided the unabridged transcript (various abridged forms have been published/posted), which was approved by Watson. Please feel free to pass this on but only in its complete form.

We also have available the first issue of The Vegan News, which inaugurated the Vegan Society in 1944.

For those interested in the history of veganism, these are invaluable materials.

Go vegan. It’s easy. It’s better for you and for the planet, and, most importantly, it’s the morally right thing to do.

Gary L. Francione
©2009 Gary L. Francione

PLEASE NOTE: I no longer support The Vegan Society as I believe it has abandoned the progressive vision of Donald Watson and no longer promotes veganism as a moral imperative.

Commentary #9: Using Sexism to Promote Animal Rights

Dear Colleagues:

Would Martin Luther King have had an “I’d Rather Go Naked than Sit in the Back of the Bus” campaign?

Of course not.

He would have recognized that such a campaign would trivialize the important message of civil rights.

Why don’t animal advocates recognize that sexist campaigns similarly trivialize the issue of animal rights and give people yet another reason to dismiss the animal rights issue?

That is the topic of our ninth Commentary.

Gary L. Francione
©2009 Gary L. Francione

Some Thoughts on the Meaning of “Vegan”

There is a great deal of discussion about what “vegan” means.

“Veganism” means at the very least not eating any flesh, dairy, or other animal products. In this sense, “vegan” means “vegan diet.” Donald Watson, who originally coined the term “vegan” used the word in this way when he made statements such as: “Wherever Man lives, he can have a vegan diet.”

Different people may have different reasons–ethical/spiritual, health, environmental–for eating a vegan diet. Those who pursue a vegan diet may also, and for various reasons, eschew the use of other animal products in contexts beyond diet. For example, someone who pursues a vegan diet may also not wear animal products on her skin for health reasons–products applied to the skin get into the body. Someone who pursues a vegan diet for environmental reasons may also not wear a particular animal product because of the effect on the environment of the production of the product.

Those who adopt a vegan diet for ethical/spiritual reasons may also fall into different groups. Some see their vegan diet as a way of reducing animal suffering. That is, they do not think that it is wrong in and of itself to kill animals for human use but that it is wrong to inflict suffering on animals and so they avoid eating or using animal products. If there were a painless way to raise and slaughter animals for human use, these ethical vegans would not object to animal use. These people are not necessarily–and usually are not–committed to the abolition of animal exploitation and pursue regulatory reform that they believe, mistakenly in my view, will reduce animal suffering.

“Ethical veganism,” which I use interchangeably with “abolitionist veganism,” goes beyond a vegan diet and rejects direct animal consumption or use of any kind. An ethical vegan has a vegan diet and rejects consuming animal products but also does not wear or use any animal products. An ethical vegan rejects the commodification of nonhumans as property. An ethical vegan is committed to the abolition of animal exploitation. Moreover, ethical vegans recognize that an animal-based agriculture harms other humans as well as non-humans and sees the connection between human rights and animal rights. Ethical veganism is the moral baseline of the animal rights movement. Ethical veganism represents a commitment to non-violence in one’s daily living.

In my experience, ethical veganism is the only sort of approach that results in consistent behavior. Vegans for health reasons alone often “cheat” just as those who are on any diet for heath reasons often do. Vegans for environmental reasons may not only lapse but may decide that an animal product has fewer adverse environmental consequences than non-animal products. Someone who sees veganism only as a way of reducing animal suffering may eat or use an animal product if she thinks that more suffering will be caused if she does not. For example, some, such as Peter Singer and others, maintain that we ought to eat animal products if our not doing so will cause others to think that veganism is too difficult and thereby be dissuaded from thinking about veganism. These vegans then become “flexible” vegans which, in my view, means that they are not really vegans. An ethical vegan sees veganism as a general approach to life–a philosophy of living–and not as merely a matter of lifestyle.

A final (for now) comment: health and environmental concerns may have a moral aspect. For example, those who pursue a vegan diet may do so because they believe that inflicting physical damage on their bodies by consuming animal products is a form of violence (harm to the self) and is immoral. Those who pursue a vegan diet or who eschew the use of animal products for environmental reasons may do so not because of a utilitarian concern to preserve the environment but because they believe that the environmental consequences directly affect humans and nonhumans and violate the rights of these sentient beings. An ethical or abolitionist vegan, who sees any consumption or use of animal products as violative of animal rights, may also shun animal products for reasons of health and environment.

In sum, people may be vegans for different reasons. In my view, ethical or abolitionist veganism is the only approach that results in consistent behavior. We should, however, be clear that no form of veganism is consistent with eating any animal products. That is, following a “vegan diet” is the minimal meaning of “vegan.” In my view, a “vegan” is someone who does not eat, use, or wear any animal products. But it is also accurate to say that a person who eats no animal products follows a “vegan diet.” The absence of animal products is explicitly being limited to diet. As a said above, I do not regard “flexible” vegans as vegans and, by definition, they do not even follow a vegan diet.

I will be writing at greater length about this topic soon.

If you are not vegan, go vegan. It is incredibly easy to be vegan. It is better for your health and for the planet. But, most importantly, it is the morally right thing to do.

Gary L. Francione
©2009 Gary L. Francione