Veganism as a Theory of Anti-Oppression

According to the "theory of oppression," there are three basic factors of oppression: 1) economic exploitation/competition; 2) unequal power, largely vested in the state; and 3) ideological control. In terms of the oppression of other animals these three factors are: 1) the exploitation of other animals; 2) human supremacy; and 3) speciesism. Given these factors, veganism offers the basis for a theory of anti-oppression. (Read more...)

There's No Time Like the Present (for Veganism)

One argument we often get justifying the marginalization of veganism in favor of promoting alternative methods for exploiting nonhuman animals is that the world isn't going to go vegan anytime soon, at least not in our lifetime, and something needs to be done for other animals "here and now." We hear that other animals are suffering now and that alternative means of breeding, enslaving, or killing promise to reduce this suffering. We're told that the vegan ideal of nonexploitation is the ultimate goal, but for today we need to focus on supporting alternative means of exploitation.

However, as the saying goes, "Justice delayed is justice denied." (Read more...)

Animal Exploitation is No Joke

I suspect most of us understand on a gut level that any "joke" that devalues others because of their race, sex and/or gender, nationality, sexuality, class, disability etc. contributes to their oppression. Speaking up when we hear these so-called "jokes" works to disrupt oppression. In fact, being an ally depends on us intervening when we witness a situation in which oppression and exploitation is taking place. But if we remain silent in these situations we allow oppression to continue. Not only are those targeted by the "joke" harmed, but so are we by the damage done to our own integrity.

Often when we intervene in these situations we can expect some kind of defensive reaction or backlash from those making the "joke." They may use denial by claiming that the "joke" doesn't devalue, exploit, or oppress others. Or they may try to minimize it by saying, "It's only a joke." They may blame the target, perhaps saying, "Well, if those people weren't so... ." They might attempt to redefine the situation by claiming that some people in the target group make the same "jokes" and therefore it's not oppressive. Or they might claim it was unintentional, that nothing oppressive was meant by it. They could claim that all that is in the past or that it's over now, as if oppression is no longer an issue. They could claim that oppression is an issue of only a few people and we should be concerned about the "real" oppressors. Or they might just counterattack and suggest a competing victimization by claiming everyone oppresses someone so why should they have to change.*

If we intervene we're likely to be seen as being "extreme," "radical," or "difficult." So we're told "it's only a joke" and that we should just "lighten up." We're asked to be complicit in the oppression of others, if not willing collaborators. Our adherence to anti-oppression principles is being tested when we're asked to compromise our personal integrity and ignore oppression.

While "jokes" that devalue other animals are common, for vegans, our adherence to anti-speciesism is more often tested with the products of nonhuman exploitation. We're often offered something that contains ingredients derived from nonhuman animals and told that these ingredients are only "trace" or "insignificant." Most of the defensive tactics listed above are used against us. For instance, saying that the ingredients are "insignificant" is a form of minimization, and claiming that the ingredients are "humane" or "cruelty-free" is a form of redefinition.

We may also experience counterattacks, this can include attacking our personal integrity by calling it "personal purity" or a "holier-than-thou attitude" that turns people off of veganism. This last tactic suggests that our integrity is something we should be ashamed of. It's very odd, because usually integrity is attacked when we fail to stick by our principles, but here our integrity is attacked for adhering to anti-oppresive practices. In each of these situations where backlash tactics are used against our veganism we are being pressured be complicit with the oppression of other animals, and often to become collaborators with that oppression.

Just as no "joke" devaluing others is "insignificant," neither is any amount of exploitation of nonhuman animals that goes into food, products, or events. As with "jokes" that devalue other people, we can intervene in the oppression of other animals by asking about ingredients and refusing to accept anything derived wholly or in part from the exploitation of other animals.

* See the chapter on "Retaining Benefits, Avoiding Responsiblity" in Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice, by Paul Kivel, for more on the backlash tactics listed here.

Boca Burgers are to Veganism as Virginia Slims are to Feminism

OK, beyond the fact that both of these products are manufactured by the Altria Group, Inc. (formerly Philip Morris Companies Inc.), both represent attempts to transform social movements into consumer markets. And just like smoking a Virginia Slim isn't going to challenge sexism or patriarchy, eating a Boca Burger isn't going to challenge speciesism or human supremacy. Consumer marketing is not a pathway to liberation, yet many organizations are pushing "veganism" as a niche market. (Read more...)

The Green Party and Nonhuman Animals

Nonhuman animal advocacy has always been a part of Green Party platforms. However, this year the US Greens made an important change in the draft of the Green Party of the United States platform by moving the section concerning nonhuman animals from the ecology chapter of the platform to the social justice chapter, aptly reasoning:

The Section on Ethical Treatment of Animals is currently under Chapter III Ecological Sustainability. While there are many ecological repercussions caused by our treatment of animals, the Planks within this Section regarding the ethical treatment of animals are predominantly social justice issues.

The section concerning social justice and nonhuman animals reads:

Cruelty to animals is unnecessary and immoral. The mark of a humane and civilized society lies in how we treat the least protected among us. To extend rights to other sentient living beings is our responsibility and a mark of our place among all of nature. We call for an intelligent, compassionate approach to the treatment of all animals.

We reject the belief that our species is the center of the world, and that other life forms exist only for our use and enjoyment. Our species does not have the right to exploit and inflict violence on other animals simply because we have the desire and power to do so. Our ethic upholds not only the value of biological diversity and the integrity and continuity of species, but also the value of individual lives and the interest of individual animals.

The Green Party advocates humane treatment of animals with the following policies:

1. Redirect the funds that are disbursed annually by the National Institutes of Health away from animal experiments and more towards direct health care, preventive medicine, and biomedical research using non-animal procedures such as clinical, epidemiological, and cell culture research. Any federal testing programs proposing animal tests must undergo a vigorous audit to assess their relevance and identify applicable non-animal testing strategies.

2. Phase-out the use of animals for consumer product testing, tobacco and alcohol testing, psychological testing, classroom demonstrations and dissections, weapons development and other military programs.

3. Mandate clear labeling of products to tell whether or not they have been tested on animals and if they contain any animal products or by-products.

4. Establish procedures to develop greater public scrutiny of all animal research. These should include the welfare of laboratory animals, including those currently excluded under the Animal Welfare Act, and a halt to wasteful public funding of unnecessary research such as duplicative experiments.

5. End the abuse of animals, including farm animals, and strengthen our enforcement of existing laws. This should include amending the Humane Slaughter Act to cover all animals slaughtered for agricultural purposes, including religious (ritual) slaughter practices.

6. Ban the use of goods produced from exotic or endangered animals.

7. Prohibit large scale commercial breeding facilities, such as "puppy mills," because of the massive suffering, overpopulation, and ill health such facilities produce.

8. Subsidize spay and neuter clinics to combat the ever-worsening pet overpopulation problem that results in the killing of millions of animals every year. Where unwanted companion animals are being killed in shelters, we advocate mandatory spay and neuter laws.

9. Ban the practice of "pound seizure" whereby shelters are permitted or required to surrender impounded animals to laboratories upon request. Prohibit Class B dealers from selling animals from random sources to research facilities.

10. Ban canned hunts. This should include prohibiting the importation of indigenous and non-native animals and the sale of animals from zoos and other commercial "entertainment" industries for the purpose of canned hunts.

11. Ban the exploitation of animals in entertainment, gambling, and sports.

I emphasized the second paragraph in the above excerpt because I think it speaks strongly against speciesism and human supremacy and for the vegan ideal. This strong anti-speciesist language, which is a carry over from the 2004 platform, was the basis of more vegan-oriented amendments to the platform. While not all of these amendments were incorporated into the proposed 2008 platform many where, such as removing pro-ranching language from the agricultural section of the ecology chapter. Unfortunately, the following amendment wasn't adapted to the agricultural section the platform:

In the interests of the environment, health and non-violence, we encourage individuals to adopt a vegetarian or strict vegetarian (vegan) lifestyle. We acknowledge that it is not possible to practice animal farming in an ethical way since the end result is to send animals to slaughter. Accordingly, we support a ban on all animal farming. Until we eliminate all animal farming, we support rapidly phasing out confined animal feeding operations.

The above emphasized portion notes the contradiction in the following, which it would have replaced: "Animal farming must be practiced in ethically and environmentally sustainable ways. We support a rapid phase out of confined animal feeding operations and factory farms."

However, the following was adapted in the agriculture section:

According to a U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization report, the livestock industry is "one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems at every scale." We call for the progressive elimination of federal and state-funded corporate subsidies to animal-based agricultural interests and the redirection of funds to plant-based practices that produce food for direct human consumption.

This is exactly why it is so important that nonhuman animal oppression is recognized as a social justice issue instead of an "ecological" one. Both the above proposed amendments call for a shift from animal-based agriculture to plant-based agriculture, yet the amendment addressing the speciesist roots of using animals didn't make it in to the draft, while the one concerning global warming (ecology) did. This is why I caution against overemphasizing global warming in the absence of a strong anti-speciesist position.

The Assimilationist Appropriation of 'Liberation'

Debates between the movements doing nonhuman animal advocacy often revolve around "welfare" and "rights." (I say "movements" because there are many different ideologies driving several divergent social movements.) I'm increasingly less interested in the welfare-rights debate. I think both welfare and rights are limited, although the former is more conservative than the latter.

One of the things I'm very interested in communicating with this blog is the difference between assimilation and liberation, and where veganism fits in.

This is a Vegan Issue

On Feministe, Latoya Peterson wrote an inspired post about feminism in the context of other issues and intersectional oppressions. She also talks about running an anti-racist blog in the same context.

When Latoya writes, "I don't think there is any kind of shit that pisses me off more than 'Is this really a feminist issue?'" you could replace "feminism" with "veganism" and that is exactly how I feel. In fact, I'd say that everything Latoya wrote about feminism and anti-racism applies to veganism. (Read more...)

Why Veganism and Firebombs Don't Mix

In a recent post on her La Chola blog, brownfemipower uses her experience and knowledge of feminism and other social justice movements to explain "why fire bombing will not work." She touches on many of the reasons I don't support the firebombing in particular, and the ALF in general.

Like bfp, I believe that what is needed is cultural and social change, and I agree that this requires a mass movement.

PETA Appropriates 'Vegan' for White Supremacy

Far from promoting the principles of veganism, PETA over and over again promotes oppression and exploitation of human and nonhuman animals. In the past week PETA has appropriated the term "vegan" in support of anti-immigration violence.

Liberation and Vegan Revival

Unfortunately, I haven't had much time to post. But people like Royce Drake at Vegans of Color have been posting some great stuff. His post on "Rights or Liberation" makes an important distinction between liberation and rights discourse.

liberation encompasses the tactics used in rights-based discourses but isn’t limited to them. One can write to a politician or corporation and whether or not something is done a that level, change will be sought anyway. I also feel that liberation struggles are linked in a way rights are not. When fighting for liberation one is actively engaged with dismantling the system(s) of oppression, and if oppressions are linked (which a lot of us seem to think they are), then one can fight several battles with the same action. I think that liberation is more full, where as animal rights creates legal change that forces people to treat animals differently, animal liberation is a fight for a paradigm shift, for political, legal, social, psychic, an material changes in how we all interact with animals.

Drake has another post on Vegans of Color where he talks about veganism feeling a little confining. I also struggle with this, because the way veganism is popularly (mis)used is extremely confining and co-opted. But this is not really veganism; as originally envisioned, veganism is about liberation. So, for me, dealing with the confining (mis)interpretation of veganism means contributing to a revitalization of veganism as a revolutionary praxis of liberation.