If many people said, “I did not reject racism overnight; it took me a long time to stop being a racist,” would we say that rejecting racism is a matter of a personal “journey”? Would we say that we should not take the position that racism is unequivocally and absolutely wrong? Would we say that our continuing to be racists–but more “compassionate” racists–is morally acceptable?
Of course not. To say that it is a matter of a personal “journey” is to say that there is no moral truth about racism.
It is the exact same situation when it comes to animals. To say that veganism is a matter of a personal “journey” is to say that there is no moral truth about speciesism.
It is to deny the idea that we cannot justify animal exploitation–however supposedly “humane.”
It is to say that various sorts of supposedly “happy” exploitation are morally acceptable and should be promoted.
We would not take such a position where human rights are concerned. We should not do so where animal rights are concerned.
Many people did not go vegan overnight. That is no big surprise, particularly given that not one of the large animal charities promotes veganism as a moral baseline, and many explicitly support various sorts of “happy” exploitation.
But how any one person–or most people–went vegan is completely beside the point. The point is what position a social movement for animal rights takes. Then, as slavery abolitionist William Wilberforce (1759-1833) said: “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”
The animal rights position must be that we cannot morally justify animal exploitation and, if we agree that animals have moral significance, we are committed to veganism. There is veganism and there is continuing to participate in exploitation that cannot be morally justified. There is no third choice.
It’s not a matter of condemning or criticizing anyone; it is a matter of being clear about moral principles and educating in a clear, coherent, and nonviolent manner others who care about animals but who are not vegan.
If people who care about animals choose to do less, that should be their choice and not what a social movement for nonhuman justice promotes.
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.
Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University
©2014 Gary L. Francione