neoliberalism

Η εξουσία στις εταιρείες; Η Νεοφιλελευθεροποίηση των Κοινωνικών Κινημάτων

Μια παγιωμένη παρανόηση είναι ότι ο veganism σημαίνει απλά την αλλαγή των ατομικών καταναλωτικών συνήθειων και ότι αυτό θα οδηγήσει στη κοινωνική αλλαγή. Ωστόσο, αυτή η σύγχυση του veganism με τον καταναλωτισμό ως στρατηγική για την αλλαγή, είναι μια αρκετά πρόσφατη εξέλιξη που έχει τις ρίζες της στα τέλη της δεκαετίας του '70 με την άνοδο της νεοφιλελεύθερης ιδεολογίας· και προέρχεται εκτός του veganism. (Διαβάστε περισσότερα ...)

Power to the Corporations?: The Neoliberalization of Social Movements

A dominant misconception is that veganism simply means changing individual consumer habits and that this will lead to social change. However, this confusion of veganism with consumerism as a strategy for change is a fairly recent development that has its roots in the late 1970s with rise of neoliberal ideology; coming from outside of veganism. (Read more...)

Veganism is a Collective Process

Veganism needs to be viewed as not simply individual change, but as a collective political process. Unfortunately, Speciesism and other forms of ideological controls often prevent us from seeing veganism as a collective process. (Read more...)

Class Bias and Nonhuman Animal Advocacy

The following is from "A Discussion with Tom Regan" in Ahimsa Oct/Dec 1987; I think it illustrates the class bias inherent in well-resourced nonhuman animal advocacy:

Tom Regan: People think of activists as antagonists in confrontation, and so on. I think of activists in terms of people with a dollar bill in the wallet; that's the way I think of the real activists.

An activist is anyone who goes into the marketplace with a dollar in hand, who says "I'm going to buy this rather than that because it has something to do with the way that animals are treated."

This would mean that the more disposable income a person has the more potential that person has of being a "real activist." (Read more...)

Veganism: It's No Accident

As a social movement that seeks to radically transform the structure of society, veganism requires forethought, reflection, and critical thinking. When "accidental" or "accidentally" is added to "vegan" it misrepresents veganism as a mindless act; it disregards the moral, social, and political substance of veganism.

In her cookbook, The Accidental Vegan, Devra Gartenstein writes, "Over time I drew a considerable vegan clientele and saw that the more dairy-free choices I offered, the more food I sold." She openly admits that her decision to prepare only animal-free food was "mercenary" – that is, motivated by a desire for monetary gain – as opposed to being based on vegan principles.

I'm sure this seems unproblematic to many people. After all, she's not using animal-derived ingredients in her recipes, right? Well, if she just called it "animal-free" cooking I might feel the same, but I think it's careless to label something "vegan" just because it's animal-free, especially if it's only "accidental." The problem has to do with how veganism is reduced from an active social movement working to produce social change to a passive consumer base that is dependent on markets.

This is more explicit with PETA's "accidentally vegan" website. It starts with an introduction that argues how vegans can easily assimilate into existing consumer patterns and includes this a disclaimer:

Items listed may contain trace amounts of animal-derived ingredients. While PETA supports a strict adherence to veganism, we put the task of vigorously reducing animal suffering ahead of personal purity. Boycotting products that are 99.9 percent vegan sends the message to manufacturers that there is no market for this food, which ends up hurting more animals.

This site is yet another example of the neoliberal assault on veganism. We're told that unless we assimilate to the marketplace and become careless consumers who don't read labels, ask questions, or make a fuss, we'll "end up hurting more animals." Ironically, PETA blames individual vegans who refuse to cooperate with the systemic exploitation of nonhuman animals for "hurting" those animals. Implicit in their claim is that the multinational corporations listed on their website, all of which are major exploiters of nonhuman (and human) animals, are the saviors of those same animals.

PETA's entire premise is completely absurd. It is silly to claim that not purchasing "accidentally vegan" products (which in fact are not even really animal-free) "sends the message to manufacturers that there is no market for this food." First, how can not buying products not even intentionally marketed as animal-free send the message that there isn't a market for animal-free products? And second, if we did buy these products when they aren't even 100 percent animal-free, wouldn't that just send the message that we don't really desire products that are 100 percent animal-free?

Of course, my problem is that I'm interested in the vegan ideal of non-exploitation, and PETA is obviously more concerned about the capitalist ideal of "free" markets. So we're talking about two different things. Rather than promoting social change, PETA wants us to conform and assimilate to the existing social order.

The vegan ideal is not going to be realized by accident or by the "invisible hand" of "free" markets. Eliminating exploitation is going to require us to consciously challenge and transform the structure of our society. Capitalism is part of the problem, not the solution.

More On Neoliberal Appropriation

A key element of neoliberalism that I didn't mention in my previous post is "personal responsibility." The focus on personal responsibility by neoliberals leads to over-personalization and ignores the structure of oppression. Neoliberals (re)define veganism and other social movements "as more a matter of personal responsibility – a private, primarily economic matter," to quote Lisa Duggan. We see this in Bruce Friedrich's essay on "Effective Advocacy."

Instead of challenging the structure of human privilege and nonhuman exploitation, Friedrich focuses purely on personalization and guilt-laden accusations. He defines veganism not as challenging human supremacy and speciesism, but as a diet to be assimilated and mainstreamed into the dominant social order. As he explains thing, what matters is how vegans dress and interact with others, as if this is what really "helps" or "hurts" nonhuman animals.

Personal responsibility is used to blame those who are most oppressed for oppression. For instance, Friedrich claims, "If you are frequently sick, drop dead from a heart attack, or end up in the chemotherapy ward, you're making veganism look bad, and you're no longer able to help animals!" This statement suggests that you can't be vegan if you're disabled or suffer from chronic illness.

Friedrich claims in the first line of his essay, "I've been involved in social justice advocacy for more than 20 years." However, later in the essay he calls social justice advocacy a "mistake" that "ultimately hurts animals." He writes, "If we make veganism and animal rights a package deal that includes other issues, it will be easier for others to dismiss us." By "others" read: straight white middle/upper-class able-bodied male citizens. (Friedrich claims "the best advocates for animals" are reactionary politicians like Bob Dornan, who, while campaigning against a female opponent, proudly proclaimed, "Every lesbian spear-chucker in this country is hoping I get defeated.")

As the tag line for the Vegans of Color blog makes clear, not everyone has the luxury of being single-issue. In claiming that we shouldn't link veganism with other social justice issues, Friedrich is excluding all oppressed people from being a part of the vegan movement. He perpetuates their oppression and privileges of the dominant groups. Oppressed people can't be full participants in a movement where they are expected to view their own liberation as competing with the liberation of nonhuman animals.

Of course, Friedrich's essay is not really about effective vegan advocacy at all, rather, it's about effective neoliberal advocacy. From the start, as explained in the founding statement of the Vegan Society, the aims of the vegan movement include honoring the efforts of all who are striving to achieve liberation for human and nonhuman animals.

Other social justice issues don't distract or compete with veganism, but, rather, strengthen the vegan movement. As Suzanne Phar points out:

It is virtually impossible to view one oppression ... in isolation because they are all connected. ... They are linked by a common origin – economic power and control – and by common methods of limiting, controlling and destroying lives. There is not hierarchy of oppressions. Each is terrible and destructive. To eliminate one oppression successfully, a movement has to include work to eliminate them all or else success will be limited and incomplete.

The Neoliberal Appropriation of Veganism

In Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights, Bob Torres claims, "Veganism can be deeply political and meaningful, but as an historical and social practice, it has failed to live up to the political possibilities it offers." The problem with this statement is that Torres takes veganism out of the historical and social context. As such, he fails to realize that veganism hasn't failed, but, rather, it has been appropriated and misrepresented.

Unfortunately, Torres does more to obscure this appropriation and misrepresentation than to challenge it. He makes no reference to the theory and history of veganism as a social movement. So how can he meaningfully say veganism has "failed" without first recognizing the theory and history of veganism and considering that theory and history in the current historical context?

I think a significant problems is the misunderstanding of veganism as some sort of consumer- or market-based concept. The idea that veganism is "voting with your dollars" is a classic example of "economic imperialism." That is, applying economics to non-economic (e.g., moral, social, or political) aspects of life. In the current historical context, this economic imperialism is epitomized by the neoliberal appropriation of veganism.

A transparent example of this neoliberal appropriation is "Effective Advocacy: Stealing from the Corporate Playbook," an essay by Bruce Friedrich, a vice-president for a nonprofit corporation. This essay uses the received wisdom that what is "effective" in business terms is also effective in terms of "advocacy."

We need to work as hard—and, more important, as smart—as the people on Wall Street work to sell stocks and as hard as advertisers work to sell the latest SUV. Although our goals are different, the mechanisms of reaching other people and selling the message (in our case, of animal liberation) are well established.

Neoliberalism is a historically specific form of liberal (capitalist) ideology where markets are seen as the framework for all political, social, and economic decisions. Thus, when Friedrich makes the stock market and marketing the "mechanisms," and standard of, advocacy effectiveness he is invoking neolibralism.

Since about 1975, neoliberalism has risen to dominance in Western society. Not so incidentally, the emergence of neoliberalism coincides with the publication of Animal Liberation, by Peter Singer, and what is termed "the birth of the modern animal rights movement." Singer is in fact a neoliberal philosopher who enthusiastically promotes "free" markets and pro-business activism. These events add context to the undermining of veganism starting in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

It is only in the last decade, however, that the neoliberal appropriation of veganism has really managed to solidify itself. Over the last few years neoliberals have succeeded in promoting their ideology to the point that many people don't know anything about the history, politics, or philosophy of veganism. One of the most prominent events in this solidification of the neoliberal assault on veganism took place in 2002 with the promotion of Burger King's BK VEGGIE© as a "vegan" product. (Subtle reference to the significance of this event is made in Friedrich's essay when he writes about vegans refusing to eat "a veggie burger because of the bun.")

This neoliberal appropriation is why veganism is increasingly misidentified with the consumer-based lifestyle promoted in VegNews magazine. And why, in Making a Killing, Torres uncritical refers to John Mackey's "latter-day conversion to veganism." In fact, the promotion of Mackey, the CEO and president of Whole Foods Market, as a "vegan" is yet another key example of the appropriation of veganism for a neoliberal agenda. By repeating this misrepresentation of Mackey as a "vegan," and ignoring the historical roots of veganism as a liberation movement, Torres obscures the assault on veganism and helps to perpetuate its appropriation.

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.