Part 1 of this essay is here.
Our social discourse is peppered with a great many words that reflect various aspects of woke culture. Let’s consider three that appear frequently in discussions about animal ethics and consider examples from that context.
“Mansplaining”: There is no doubt we live in a patriarchal world that is replete with sexism and misogyny. One (of many) manifestations of this is when men simply ignore the perspectives of women or attempt to tell them what their experiences or thoughts are or should be. Another manifestation of this is that a man and woman can say the exact same thing; what the man says is listened to and is often praised. What the woman says may be completely ignored.
For example, if a woman says that she feels that talking about emotion in addition to reason is an important part of animal ethics, and that we miss out on an important aspect of our relationship with nonhumans by thinking of that relationship only as a matter of rules or principles that ignore the kinship we need to feel to make those rules have meaning, and a man dismisses this and says that emotion is irrelevant and only logic is important, that is properly described as “mansplaining.”
But if a man says that feminists who are not vegan fail to appreciate how we commodify the reproductive processes of female animals and the relationships female animals have with their offspring, this is not “mansplaining.” It is pointing out an inconsistency in the approach to moral issues of the feminist. If a non-vegan feminist disagrees, that person needs to be able to present a non-speciesist/non-anthropocentric distinction between female humans and female nonhumans that would justify the violation of the fundamental interests of nonhumans. To call this “mansplaining” is nothing more than an attempt to shut down discussion by focusing on the speaker and not on the idea being expressed in an effort to avoid addressing the vegan argument.
“Privilege”: We live in a racist and classist society. That is clear to anyone who is paying attention. White people as a general matter, and white people with economic means, enjoy benefits that others do not have. One of a zillion examples: think about the number of white, well-off people who get away with engaging in what is clearly and often serious criminal behavior, such as recreational drug use, as opposed to the many Blacks and other people of color, or poor people generally, who end up serving prison terms for being caught with a small amount of marijuana. If you are White, how many times have you been pulled over by the police for doing nothing at all other than driving? Ask a Black person, and particularly a Black man, the same question and I can guarantee the answers will differ.
If a white person says that all human beings, irrespective of their race or economic status, have an obligation not to violate the fundamental rights of innocent others and that “others” includes nonhumans as well as humans, and a person of color responds that this is true with respect to other innocent humans but that it is “privileged” to extend this protection to nonhumans, that is nothing more than an anthropocentric assertion that innocent nonhumans have no moral value. That assertion says nothing about the person promoting veganism; it says something about the speciesism of the person opposing it. Labeling the position of the former as “privileged” is nothing more than an attempt to shut down discussion.
“White fragility”: It is certainly the case that many White people feel uncomfortable about discussing race issues and, quite remarkably, deny that we live in a racist society. In response to a well-documented claim about discrimination based on race, these people will downplay or deny the facts of racism. That is properly labeled as “White fragility.”
But let’s consider the preceding example involving “privilege.” If a White person makes the argument about veganism as a moral baseline and the only response to this is that it is “racist” to say that veganism is a moral baseline, then a response by the White person that the claim of “racism” ignores the argument in favor of veganism is not an instance of “White fragility.” It is a request for a reason; it is a request to engage ideas rather than to use a strategy — a label — as a bigoted way of shutting down the discussion.
Part 1 of this essay is here.
Originally published on Medium.