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. Acknowledging that human supremacy is held in place by human privilege, which is perpetuated by systemic speciesism, helps us focus on the structure of oppression. If we don't focus on this structure we'll not only fail to contribute to the liberation of nonhuman animals, but, far worse, we'll end up supporting their oppression.

In failing to address the structure of oppression, nonhuman animal protection activists focus the "horrors" of "abuse" and "cruelty." Abuse and cruelty operate under a logic of human supremacy. Previously, I on my own failing to challenge the speciesist logic of a cruelty-based approach. Like focusing on cruelty, talking about abuse, which denotes "abnormal use," works to normalize human supremacy. Under the twin emphases of cruelty and abuse, speciesism is acceptable as long as the agent of exploitation targets the right animals and in the right way.

In 1951, Leslie Cross, writing on behalf of the Vegan Society, said, "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." Thus, with the goal to "end the exploitation of animals" by humans, the vegan movement works to abolish the structure of nonhuman oppression by challenging the material and psychological gains that come to us as humans. Whereas focusing on cruelty and abuse fails because these approaches deal with practices already deemed inappropriate under the ideological support system of speciesism – veganism works because it directly challenges the human supremacy and exploitation that the speciesist system is designed to support.