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.

Re: More On Neoliberal Appropriation

Well, you know, in fairness, maybe part of the reason why Friedrich doesn't see the importance of linking veganism with other social justice issues is because he thinks they've all been fixed:

We held slaves for most of our existence as a species; we treated women and children as property, and so on, but of course, that didn't make it right.

Not long ago—in just the blink of an eye, historically speaking—society believed, with complete certainty, that slavery was natural, that women and children were property, and so many other things that are the opposite of what we believe today.

I can't decided which quote is worse. The word "opposite" in the second one is chilling, but the first one is what you're supposed to tell other people--the narrative of "progress"--now it's the animals' turn (since we solved all those other problems…).

I also think it's ironic that here's this whole big essay on "effective advocacy," and the menu at the end leads to "Fight KFC cruelty!"

Because for animals whose lives are worse than we can ever imagine, our activism truly is the difference between unmitigated horror and liberation!

Or really just the difference between unmitigated horror ending with getting your throat slit vs. unmitigated horror ending (hopefully...soon...but it's been seven years of trying...) in a PETA-certified gas chamber.