Single-Issue Campaigns in Human & Nonhuman Contexts

Dear Colleagues:

Last evening, I received the following email in response to my blog posts about single-issue campaigns:

Prof. Francione:

If single issue campaigns are not good, then does that mean that we should not support efforts to assist the suffering in Haiti because we’re not assisting the suffering everywhere else? Doesn’t that lead to doing nothing?


This is a good question. I have addressed it before but in light of my recent postings, it’s a good thing to address again.

When we assist the efforts to help in Haiti, we are not making any statement that the suffering somewhere else is good. We all recognize that the suffering of innocent humans is a bad thing wherever it occurs. The fact that we choose to help in Haiti does not mean that we think that the suffering of humans in, say, Darfur, is good or that those in Darfur matter less. Similarly, the fact that we choose to work on issues of child abuse does not mean that we think rape is acceptable or is morally less objectionable.

In sum, if X, Y, and Z are all viewed as morally undesirable, the choice to work on X does not convey the message that Y and Z are morally acceptable.

When it comes to animals, the analysis is different. Most people think that eating meat, dairy, and all other animal products, or wearing or using animal products, is as natural as drinking water or breathing air. So when we single out one form of animal exploitation, we necessarily distinguish it for moral purposes.

That is, if most people think that eating meat and dairy and eggs is “natural” and raises no moral problem, focusing on meat necessarily conveys the idea that dairy and eggs are different and that their use is morally acceptable or, at least, morally distinguishable.

In sum, if X, Y, and Z are all viewed as morally acceptable and you single out X as morally problematic, you implicitly say to the public that Y and Z are different from X and that they are not morally unacceptable, or are at least morally distinguishable from X.

We see this problem every day: people think that fur is morally different from leather, wool, or silk; they think that meat is morally different from other animal products.

This is the problem of single-issue campaigns in the context of animal exploitation. The same problem does not exist where human issues are concerned.

And we do not need single-issue campaigns in order to engage in incremental activism. There is something that each of us can do every day: be vegan and engage in creative, nonviolent vegan education.

Let me be very clear: I think that single-issue campaigns are problematic and that they risk perpetuating confusion under the most ideal circumstances. I think that advocates are well advised to stay away from single-issue campaigns. If you insist on engaging in single-issue campaigning, please at least make sure to try to mitigate confusion by making sure that the message of “no exploitation” is crystal clear and explicit. For example, if a circus comes to town and you want to protest that event, at least be sure (in addition to being peaceful and nonviolent in your protest) to be explicit in including in your literature and in all of your discussions with people that circuses are merely representative of the problem of animal exploitation as a general matter and that we ought to stop eating, wearing, and using animals altogether. Use the circus as a “discussion point” but do not portray it as morally distinguishable from other forms of animal exploitation.

THE WORLD IS VEGAN! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
©2010 Gary L. Francione