Veganism, and "so long as we accept violence in any form, we accept violence in every form"

As I've explained elsewhere, pretty much everyone is taught how to systematically devalue the equal needs of some. By the time we reach adulthood, this 'skill', and the meritocratic moral logic that undergirds it, are deeply rooted, though people differ in how broadly they apply it. As a consequence, hardly any of us manage to ignore the many distractions (skin color, nationality, ethnicity, intellectual ability, wealth, mannerisms, religious affiliation) we are taught to focus on, and to embody the kind of inclusiveness, egalitarianism and solidarity that, abstractly, nearly all of us know is appropriate (and required). The question I want to talk about here is how this relates to our stance on the use and killing of other animals by humans, and how our thinking about the other animals as 'inferior' feeds back into our treatment of other humans.

As Marshall Rosenberg has explained, one of the most dangerous notions is that of anyone 'deserving' anything -- either because they have or lack certain characteristics, or because we (dis)like their behavior or beliefs. Very often, when we tell ourselves that someone 'deserves' something, what we mean is 'we are comfortable with the fact some benefit or harm came to them' (that we wouldn't wish on or grant others), even as other people will consider the opposite to be the case. The fact that we can come to opposed conclusions is usually taken to suggest that some (or most) of us are insufficiently rigorous or intelligent to make judgments. Following Marshall Rosenberg (who follows Kaufmann), I would take the opposite position, and point out that since there is no democratic way of stopping people from making subjective judgments, and since judgments and feedback are necessary skills for people who live together, what we need to do instead is to become aware of the work this word 'deserving' performs in our heads -- namely, blinding us to violence and injustice.

Such injustice and violence can take many different forms, ranging from talking over people because we see them as 'brats' or 'wrong', to prejudicially focusing on or ignoring requests and contributions, to marginalizing and segregating folks, to outright use of force against those who are devalued or marginalized; up to and including via imprisonment, enslavement and death.***

Let's consider the most extreme and common case of othering, namely the way even the most considerate and gentle of us talk about and treat those we have been taught to view as the least of us, namely the other animals. Even though just about everyone who's ever seen or interacted with another animal knows that they also experience and value their own lives, enjoy freedom and play, will nurture their children, and will do just about anything to stay alive; nonvegans consider it okay to use and kill them for food, clothing and entertainment. What gives?

Briefly put, it's because we've been taught to dismiss the harms we inflict on them, 1. by pointing to the 'fact' that the victims are 'just' animals; 2., by suggesting we 'can't know' that they suffer and dislike it when we harm them; or 3., by declaring that animals 'don't mind being used and killed' so long as they 'don't see it coming' and don't suffer 'too much' (in our -- the perpetrator-owner's -- estimation); and so on. All of these claims are circular, in that they presuppose and then use the (imagined) differences we point to, to justify the violence and unequal treatment, and they distract from the much more important similarities, starting with the fact that they value their lives just like we do ours.

As such, these differences are complete distractions. While other animals certainly do experience their lives differently, have different bodies and skills, and so on, what matters is not how (differently) they experience and live their lives, bodies and surroundings, but that they experience, and that they have the same basic needs (to live, play, socialize, rest, etc.) that we do. Given that this is a sufficient reason to not treat other human animals as things or as property, it should also mean we don't treat the other animals in such a way.

As such, anyone who embraces egalitarianism or nonviolence, or who considers discrimination to be wrong, should also stop using and harming other animals, go vegan, and start to unlearn the speciesism that a., makes us dismiss the experience of those 'below' us as irrelevant, and b., encourages us to see some animals as categorically 'lesser' in the first place. And this not just for the sake of the other animals, but also because until we consciously reject the meritocratic logic in all of its forms, we're highly likely to relapse into other forms of chauvinism, including othering other humans, for instance by calling them 'rats', 'cockroaches,' 'rabbits,' and so on. Because as you will find, unlearning speciesism will teach you a great deal about how this logic operates generally.

If you want to further explore the question why we should stop treating and thinking of other animals as property, I'd highly recommend watching the embedded video, and reading Francione and Charlton's Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach. They've developed the most lucid and powerful case for equal consideration of equal needs that I know of; and their six principles have greatly helped me in clarifying my thinking about moral issues, and my commitment to egalitarianism.

Other works I'd recommend on this topic are Eat Like You Care and Advocate for Animals, and Sherry Colb's Mind if I Order the Cheeseburger? (these works are especially useful if you want to engage in vegan advocacy). Francione's other academic works, especially Animals as Persons, and Introduction to Animal Rights, Gary Steiner's Animals and the Moral Community. 

David Nibert's Animal Oppression and Human Violence, and Bob Torres's Making a Killing are both very helpful in helping me understand more about the institutional aspects of animal use, and the ties between animals and human exploitation and devaluation.

For practical information about how to live without using animals, I'd recommend having a look at this or this page. This book contains a lot of useful information about how to live healthily. And as always, please feel free to ask any questions, provide feedback, and so on. :)


*** Of course, I'm not arguing the use of force can never be justified, or that every request must be honored. I simply wish to point out the role that character judgments play in our own behavior, especially when it comes to 'justifying' not just those beliefs about superiority and inferiority, but also that it's legitimate to use violence, and to treat the claims and needs of those who you value less as mattering less than our own.

Permalink - Category: lecture - Group: Introductory Essays - Tags: veganism, egalitarianism, education

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