November 2008

Stupidity as a Quality or Condition of Oppression

Labeled "learning disabled" from the time I entered kindergarden, I've struggled with the label "stupid" for most of my life. Stupidity is used to identify some of us as belonging on the bottom of the social hierarchy. If we're "stupid" then we must naturally deserve whatever exploitation we experience. Of course, if we were "smart" then we supposedly wouldn't let ourselves be exploited. It's therefore assumed to be our own fault for being so "stupid."

In order to understand stupidity, it helps to understand the ableism that it is primarily based on. In 1976, the Union of Physically Impaired Against Segregation developed an anti-oppressive definition of the term "disability." That definition, as quoted in Eli Clare's book Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation (South End Press, 1999), states that disability is "the disadvantage or restriction of activity caused by a contemporary social organisation which takes no or little account of people who have physical [and/or cognitive/developmental/mental] impairments and thus excludes them from the mainstream of society." This definition of disability addresses the ableism from which it arises. (Read more...)

The Intertwined Exploitation of Turkeys and Humans

Tomorrow, when family gather all across the United States at dinner tables with a roasted carcasses as the centerpiece it's not just the turkeys whose exploitation they'll be benefiting from. After all, these birds don't just fall out of the sky wrapped in plastic with their heads, feet, feathers, and guts removed – the latter, of course, being placed in a small bag and shoved back inside – it takes the labor of some of the most exploited humans in the U.S. to make all that happen.

Oppression in the Background

On sunday, brownfemipower made a very insightful comment on the Vegans of Color blog. In her comment, BFP makes two major points: 1) there is no shortage of insensitivity in our society towards the oppression of people of color; and 2) exposure to extremely violent images of others being oppressed does not translate into respect for those who are being oppressed. These are both important points that deserve further consideration by vegans and other nonhuman animal advocates.

Taking Power and Making Power

Realize that the vegan ideal of non-exploitation requires both taking power and making power. In fact, the necessity to both make power and take power has always been an inherent part of the vegan movement. For instance, when vegan movement cofounders defined veganism and started to develop the organizing model for the original Vegan Society, they used a dual strategy based on working simultaneously to abolish existing exploitation while also working to establish an alternative order of society based on non-exploitation. This dual strategy of the working to abolish exploitation and establish non-exploitation fits easily with the Sista II Sista duel strategy of "taking power" and "making power." (Read more...)

Dietary Speciesism: Putting Oppression on the Menu

The exploitation of other animals for the human diet works to structure a human-supremacist society that is bolstered by dietary speciesism. Since other animals are exploited in large part by humans for diet, dietary speciesism plays a central role in promoting human supremacy in general. That is, as long as we're eating other animals we're benefiting materially and psychologically from their exploitation. As a result of these material and psychological gains we're less likely to challenge the system of human supremacy.

Animal Rights and the Humane Treatment Principle

Gary L. Francione's theory of nonhuman animal rights, or "the rights position," is based on the "humane treatment principle," in combination with the "principle of equal consideration." The humane-treatment principle is, according to Francione, the moral principle that it is wrong to impose unnecessary suffering on other animals. (Read More...)

Veganism: Not to be Confused with Animal Rights

Veganism is based on the vegan ideal of nonexploitation. Vegan theory and practice follows from this principle that we should not exploit others. In "Veganism Defined," a 1951 statement to "clarify the goal towards which the movement aspires," vegan movement co-founder Leslie Cross explains:

The effect of this development is to make veganism unique among movements concerned with animal welfare. For it has crystallised as a whole and not, as are all other such movements, as an abstraction. Where every other movement deals with a segment – and therefore deals directly with practices rather than with principles – veganism is itself a principle, from which certain practices logically flow.

If, for example, the vegan principle is applied to diet, it can at once be seen why it must be vegetarian in the strictest sense and why it cannot contain any foods derived from animals. One may become a vegetarian for a variety of reasons – humanitarian, health, or mere preference for such a diet; The principle is a matter of personal feeling, and varies accordingly. Veganism, however, is a principle – that [humans have] no right to exploit creatures for [our] own ends – and no variation occurs.

In his three books, Animals, Property, and the Law, Rain without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement, and Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child Or the Dog?, Gary L. Francione lays out his theory of nonhuman animal rights. However, none of these books discuss veganism as a principle itself. Of these three book veganism is only mentioned once; relegating veganism to a footnote in Rain without Thunder, Francione simply stating: "Veganism is a diet that excludes all animal products, including eggs and dairy products."

Yet, in his most recent book, Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation, Francione does discuss veganism. In the "Introduction," he states:

On the individual level, the rights position prescribes incremental change in the form of veganism. Veganism means not eating meat, dairy, eggs, honey, and other animal products, or wearing or using animal products or products tested on animals. Veganism, which results in a decreased demand for animal products, is much more than a matter of diet, lifestyle, or consumer choice; it is a personal commitment to nonviolence and the abolition of exploitation.

Veganism is discussed at greater length in the chapter, "Reflections on Animals, Property, and the Law and Rain without Thunder," where Francione states that veganism "is a moral and political commitment to abolition on the individual level and extends not only to matters of food, but to clothing and other products."

So while in Rain without Thunder he wrote that veganism is "a diet," in his latest book Francione writes that veganism "is much more than a matter of diet" and that it "extends ... to clothing and other products." However, this is only a minor improvement, since Francione is still treating veganism as an individualized, (non)consumptive practice, which marginalizes veganism. That is, simply extending veganism from "a diet" (Rain without Thunder) to include "clothing and other products" (Animals as Persons) does not adequately describe veganism as a philosophy and way of life. As Leslie Cross made clear in "Veganism Defined," "veganism is itself a principle, from which certain practices logically flow" (emphasis in original). Instead of acknowledging that certain practices are what logically flows from the principle of veganism, Francione states that veganism means practice and replaces veganism as the reason for these practices with what he calls "the rights position."

Now this doesn't mean that veganism and the rights position cannot both logically lead to "not eating meat, dairy, eggs, honey, and other animal products, or wearing or using animal products or products tested on animals." In Rain without Thunder, and without the need to appropriate "veganism," Francione writes, "if animal rights means anything, it means that as a society and as individuals we can no longer countenance the institutionalized killing of animals for food, any more than we can justify performing experiments ourselves, or wearing clothing made from animal skins or pelts."

But as Cross said, "One may become a vegetarian for a variety of reasons," and this is also true when not using other animals extends to clothing and other products. However, the principles themselves, that is the reasons for not using other animals, are fundamentally different depending on whether we're discussing veganism or the rights position. Stated briefly, veganism is based on liberation and the vegan ideal of avoiding exploitation, and Francione's rights position is based on equality and the humane-treatment principle of avoiding unnecessary suffering. As I'll discuss at greater length in a future post, this contributes to two significantly different frameworks for nonhuman animal advocacy.

The Humane Myth Busters

Nonhuman animal advocacy means more than filling in the gaps in our knowledge about how other animals are exploited, it also requires us to address how a lack of knowledge is produced and sustained for the purpose of human supremacy and the exploitation of other animals. With the website HumaneMyth.org, James Laveck and Jenny Stein, co-founders of Tribe of Heart, are taking on the myth that the exploitation of other animals can be "humane."

Obscurantism: Animal Exploitation and the Epistemology of Ignorance

Vegan education is usually understood as addressing a gap in knowledge regarding the exploitation of other animals. Therefore, all that is required is to produce and distribute information about the exploitation of nonhuman animals in order to fill in these gaps. However, there is a problem with seeing this as the only form of ignorance.

Obscurantism is one of the ways a lack of knowledge is produced and sustained. In terms of nonhuman animals' exploitation, obscurantism is a deliberate opposition to our knowledge of the oppression of other animals. It is used as a strategy for sustaining the structure of human supremacy.

'Food for People, Not for Profit'

The slogan "Food for People, Not for Profit" sums up the philosophy behind a movement for food justice where the production of food is done ethically and its consumption is considered a collective right. In the late 1960s and 1970s, a number of vegetarian, natural, and whole foods cooperatives and collectives where founded on this principle. (Read more...)