June 2008

Lead-Free Gun Violence

In a press release today, the Center for Biological Diversity proclaimed, "Non-toxic Bullets Will Help Prevent Condor, Eagle, and Human Poisonings." According to the release:

New state hunting regulations requiring the use of non-lead ammunition for most hunting activities in the range of the California condor in central and southern California go into effect tomorrow, July 1st. The regulations are designed to reduce the incidents of lead poisonings of the iconic and extremely endangered California condor. Condors, eagles, and other scavengers can consume lead-bullet fragments and lead-shot pellets from carcasses of animals shot by hunters.

The immediate question that comes to mind is: "What about those 'animals shot by hunters'?"

Challenging the Structure of Nonhuman Oppression

Oppression exists when one social group, whether knowingly or unconsciously, exploits another social group for its own benefit. Social oppression is distinct from situation of simple brute force in that it is an interlocking system that involves ideological control as well as domination and control of the social institutions and resources of the society, resulting in a condition of privilege for the agent group relative to the disenfranchisement and exploitation of the target group. – Rita Hardiman and Bailey W. Jackson, "Conceptual Foundations for Social Justice Courses"

The same sort of oppressive dynamic is behind human supremacy and the oppression of other animals. (Read more...)

Speciesism: It's Only Human

As humans in a human-supremacist society we're all privileged and socialized by those aspects of society that attribute value to humans and humanness and devalue nonhuman animals. We're all privileged by the systemic, institutional, and individual practices that exploit nonhuman animals. This is speciesism, and we're all speciesists. (Read more...)

Recalling Missed Connections

About six years ago I co-organized a panel discussion on the connections between domestic violence, child abuse, and animal cruelty. The panel featured a professor of psychology distinguished for his work on the subject; an executive director of an ecofeminist and animal defense organization who founded a program addressing the issue being discussed; and a staff member of the area YWCA (where the discussion was held) who worked on domestic violence issues.

At the time I thought this panel discussion was "progressive" in addressing the interconnections of violence against women, children, and other animals. In hindsight, I realize the panel lacked a real commitment to anti-oppression, social change, or a true intersectional approach. There are many things that are problematic with the discussion's framework. (Read more...)

Veganism, Privilege and Liberation

In 1947, at the 11th IVU World Vegetarian Congress, Donald Watson, representing the Vegan Society, gave a speech on veganism where he said "that the vegan believed that if they were to be true emancipators of animals they must renounce absolutely their traditional and conceited attitude that they had the right to use them to serve their needs. They must supply those needs by other means."

This is an argument for liberation, as opposed to an argument for rights or equality. As a liberation-oriented approach, veganism addresses the structure of the oppression of nonhuman animals. (Read more...)

Making Veganism Whole Again

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, veganism was undermined by the breakdown of its important relationship between theory and action. We can actually trace this by looking at the publications of the Vegan Society (UK) and the American Vegan Society (US). (Read more...)

Veganism, Allyship and Solidarity

I oppose seeing ourselves as saviors (or even the "voices") of other animals. I think that leads to the protection problem I've been posting about. Human (even vegans) benefit from the exploitation of other animals, which is central to their oppression. We are all part of this system of speciesism and human supremacy, and that's what I believe veganism is meant to challenge. (Read more...)

Reclaiming Veganism from the Margins

Alternative knowledge claims in and of themselves are rarely threatening to the conventional knowledge. Such claims are routinely ignored, discredited, or simply absorbed and marginalized in existing paradigms. – Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought

Like other forms of alternative knowledge, veganism is "routinely ignored, discredited, or simply absorbed and marginalized in existing paradigms." This is the case with how veganism is often treated by utilitarian and rights theorists.

In response to yesterday's post, a friend sent me this recent quote from rights theorist Gary Francione: "Veganism is the principle of abolition applied to the life of the individual." This shows how veganism can be absorbed and marginalized in existing paradigms.

Treating "veganism" merely in terms of the individual marginalizes its promise and possibilities; it takes what was created as a social change movement, a philosophy/theory, and a way of life and reduces it to a mere individual action.

While the work referenced by the above quote demonstrates veganism being absorbed and made marginal, earlier works by the same theorist simply ignore veganism altogether. Neither does Francione talk about veganism as a movement, philosophy or way of life in either Rain without Thunder or Introduction to Animal Rights.

The former book is written as a critical analysis of the animal advocacy movement, yet all it has to say about veganism is a footnote wrongly stating, "Veganism is a diet that excludes all animal products, including eggs and dairy products." The latter book explores how animal rights "mean that we could no longer justify our institutional exploitation of animals for food, clothing, amusement, or experiments" and how "the institutional exploitation of animals must be abolished." Yet, he fails to acknowledge that this has been the basic principle of the vegan movement for more than 56 years at the time he published his book.

Veganism will continue to be marginalized as long as theorists and organizations continue to use it as a dietary or consumer supplement to their external theories. I'd like to see veganism affirmed as the autonomous praxis of a movement.

Veganism: Theory and Practice

"Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement" means that a revolution is achieved with neither verbalism nor activism, but rather with praxis, that is with reflection and action directed at the structure to be transformed. – Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Veganism is a revolutionary praxis. It is the reflective-action of non-exploitation. Freire writes that, "if action is emphasized exclusively, to the detriment of reflection, the word is converted into activism" – that is, "action for action's sake." When some use the term "veganism" to denote a diet or consumer activity they are converting the word into action for action's sake.

I believe the reason that veganism is so often stripped of its theory is because it is revolutionary. That is, "without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement." Veganism, as an anti-oppression framework that view the abolition of animal exploitation as part of a wider struggle for social justice, is in conflict with (neo)liberal theories. Yet, once disassociated from its theory, "veganism" becomes a hot commodity as a form of activism. A utilitarian will say, "veganism is best viewed as a tool for reducing suffering," and a rights theorist will say, "veganism is the principle of animal rights in action."

I think the appropriation of veganism as activism in service of these theories reflection on their limitations. Freire writes, "When a word is deprived of its dimension of action, reflection automatically suffers as well; and word is changed into idle chatter, into verbalism, into an alienated and alienating 'blah.'" If these theories were more than verbalism they wouldn't need to appropriate veganism to fill in for a lack of action.

Animal Protection and Capitalism

Under capitalist class relations, animals can be worked, sold, killed, and consumed, all for profit. --Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought

Expanding on what I wrote previously, Orientalism and nationalism are not the only oppressive ideologies that rely on protectionism. Capitalism is another oppressive system that is shored up by the appeals of protectionism. (Read more...)