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

As I've talked about elsewhere, just about everyone has been raised to systematically value some people's equal needs more highly than those of others. By the time we're adults, this notion and moral logic are deeply rooted, though people obviously differ in how broadly they apply it. Sadly, most of us apply this logic to our thinking about non-nationals, and people with a different ethnic background. Elites think this way about non-elites (esp. the unemployed, the indigent and the "less educated"). Most of us tend to shrug off violence towards sex workers or marginalized -- and especially poor and/or uncredentialed -- people as 'to be expected' or as 'coming with the territory'. And so on.

As Marshall Rosenberg has explained, one of the most dangerous (and least coherent) notions in any language is that of 'deserving' something. As soon as we allow ourselves to believe that some people's needs* do not deserve equal weight, or that some don't deserve inclusion in the moral sphere -- either because they have (or lack) certain characteristics, or because we dislike their behavior or beliefs -- we've opened the door to discrimination and (institutionalized) violence.** This can range from partly ignoring their needs, to societal exclusion, to outright use of force, up to and including imprisonment, enslavement and death.***

To illustrate how this works, and how deep this goes, consider the most dramatic example: how even the most considerate and caring of us can talk about and treat the supposed least of us, namely the other (nonhuman) animals. Even though pretty much everyone who's ever seen or interacted with another animal knows that nonhumans also experience and value their own lives, enjoy freedom and play, and work hard to stay alive, nearly everyone thinks it's okay to use and kill other animals for food, clothing and entertainment (or any other purpose). Most of us, most of the time, consider this completely unobjectionable, and dismiss these facts, telling ourselves that they are irrelevant or 'speculative', or that they know animals 'don't mind' being used and killed so long as they don't 'see it coming' (or we stun them), and so long as we don't harm them 'too much' (in our estimation). Because they're certain that only we humans care (in a way that matters morally) about such things as our own lives, about being killed, or about being used as a milk or incubator.

Needless to say, I believe the above to be completely and indefensibly wrong, because circular. And I think that anyone who embraces egalitarianism and nonviolence, and who recognizes that there is something fishy about the meritocratic moral logic employed here, should stop discounting the equal needs of nonhumans to not be harmed and killed. Given that every animal experiences and cares about their life, and given that with respect to humans, we see our inherent value as following from the fact that we care about our lives, we should treat their desire to live as an equally sufficient reason not to treat them as property. And that means no longer using and killing nonhumans by going vegan, and secondarily working to replace any habits of mind related to our seeing and treating them as our moral inferiors (i.e., unlearning speciesism).

For further clarification of why we should stop treating the other animals as property, I highly recommend watching the embedded talk, 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 are espially 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 also very helpful. In addition to helping me reconsider my view of animals and animal-human relations, the latter works have also helped me to see how our thinking about animals is mirrored in and intertwined with other forms of oppression and violence (which is illustrated most starkly by our tendency to dehumanize others.

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


* Those equal needs include food, shelter, security, autonomy, play, rest; "comfort food", "apartments", or "beds" are devices with which you can meet those needs, but aren't needs themselves.

** If we want to allow for the use of (institutional) violence at all, it should be used only as a last resort, and not as our go-to response, as it is currently being treated (due to our having next to no faith in others good intentions).

*** 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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