Political Correctness, Political Expediency, and Veganism

The following is was written for and originally published on the Living Opposed to Violence and Exploitation (L.O.V.E.) blog.

While L.O.V.E. takes an anti-oppression approach based on the vegan ideal of nonexploitation, there are many nonhuman animal activists who fear that as long as veganism takes into account the oppression of human animals, it will take away from opposing cruelty to nonhuman animals. The argument goes as follows: if we advocate against oppression as it targets human animals whilst advocating against oppression as it targets nonhuman animals, then people – having a finite amount of resources – will refuse to oppose the exploitation of nonhuman animals since it would include the "baggage" of being "packaged" with also opposing the exploitation of human animals, something, it is assumed, potential nonhuman animal activists are likely to be disinterested in.

One nonhuman animal activist who professed little interest in the exploitation of human animals or the Earth recently commented on L.O.V.E. saying that he is focusing exclusively "on living opposed to exploitation of the non-human [animal] species," regardless of the effect it has on humans or the planet. The rationale for this single-mindedness was subsequently presented on another blog.

Such rationalization of ignoring the exploitation of human animals and the planet isn't unique. In fact, even the use of metaphorical language like "baggage" and "package" to dismiss the issues concerning oppressed groups of humans or the destruction of the planet's life-sustaining systems is the same language used for the same purpose as that in two separate mandates on how to effectively promoting "veganism." Furthermore, those two advocacy directives represent the official policy and positions of two U.S. national nonhuman animal advocacy corporations.

Political Expediency

The argument for exclusively concerning ourselves with nonhuman animals rests on doing what is most politically expedient. Expediency is about attaining an end by emphasizing what is convenient and practical in terms of narrow nonhuman animal advocacy goals. And with this comes a strong willingness to ignore when something is oppressive and exploitative in ways outside of our area of concern.

Political expediency privileges those of us who benefit most from the existing social structure at the expense of those of us who are the targets of oppression. For instance, a White, male(-identified), able-bodied, cissexual, heterosexual, upper/middle-class, Christian, citizen can easily afford to be disinterested in how others are the targets of oppression. Yet the same is not true for those of us who are people of color, female(-identified) people, disabled people, trans people, queers, working-class/poor people, non-Christians, and/or a non-citizens who are currently the targets of that oppression.

As Royce notes in a post at Vegans of Color, framing vegan advocacy in this way leads to the erasure of those of us who can't, don't, or won't fit ourselves into the neat little box of White, male(-identified), able-bodied, cissexual, heterosexual, upper/middle-class, Christian, citizen that is taken for granted as the "mainstream." As such, the very acknowledgment of issues concerning people of color, female(-identified) people, disabled people, trans people, queers, working-class/poor people, non-Christians, and/or a non-citizens is seen as competing with vegan advocacy.

I find it hard to see how exactly such an advocacy framework actually liberates nonhuman animals – although, I do see how it obviously benefits the most privileged of humans. Of course when we focus exclusively on narrow nonhuman animal advocacy aims, the argument for expediency is persuasive simply because we aren't concerned with how it affects others.

Basically, what we end up with is an unacknowledged endorsement of the continued exploitation of other humans and the planet's systems. That is to say, we end up advocating for a political positions and policies that are strongly pro-exploitation and thus pro-oppression.

While claiming to be in defense of what is most efficacious, I believe these statements on advocacy can better be understood as a backlash (or counter response) to advocacy that seeks to be more inclusive and just overall. As such, advocacy based on political efficacy is a form of counter-advocacy. That is, it becomes less about promoting the liberation of nonhuman animals than a reactionary response to advocacy that seeks transformational social and political change.

Political Correctness

In many ways, political expediency is a reaction and rejection of political correctness. Correctness is concerned with exactly that which expediency is least concerned about – that is, what is exploitative and oppressive in any way.

Unfortunately, while it is a deeply positive concept, political correctness has been co-opted as part of a reactionary counter-advocacy against social transformation. Pundits like Rush Limbaugh sought to associate being "politically correct" with something bad at the same time they coined terms like "feminazi" and "ecoterrorist." The advocacy of policies and positions that discourage us from taking into account the oppression of other humans and the destruction of our planet fit within this larger pattern of conservative backlash.

I think a great distinction between political expediency and political correctness is offered in the Combahee River Collective's "A Black Feminist Statement":

In the practice of our politics we do not believe that the ends always justify the means. Many reactionary and destructive acts have been done in the name of achieving "correct" political goals. As feminists we do not want to mess over people in the name of politics. We believe in collective process.

While I don't want to speak for the collective, I think political correctness is reflected in the work of L.O.V.E. As Jenna said in her response to comment mentioned above, "Personally, if I don't have the capacity to be directly involved in the different anti-oppression struggles around the world, I at least strive to be respectful of them."

While political expediency assumes addressing multiple forms of oppression would result in a competition of oppressions, politically correctness recognizes how expediency itself needlessly constructs oppressions as competing. Instead, political correctness involves an understanding of how addressing multiple forms of oppression is in reality complementary.

Just as political expediency isn't exactly new, the same is true for political correctness. In fact, political correctness was present during the founding of the vegan movement in the mid-1940s. The following is from a statement of the movement's founding members:

The Vegan Society seeks to abolish man's dependence on animals, with its inevitable cruelty and slaughter, and to create instead a more reasonable and humane order of society. Whilst honouring the efforts of all who are striving to achieve the emancipation of man and of animals, The Vegan Society suggests that the results must remain limited so long as the exploitation in food and clothing production is ignored.

Obviously the originators of the vegan movement explicitly framed the emancipation of human and nonhuman animals as a complementary necessity – failure to account for and respect all anti-oppression struggles is understood as being limited and unacceptable. It's in this spirit of political correctness – of respect for others' oppression – that veganism was envisioned and to which political expediency becomes a form of counter-advocacy.

Re: Political Correctness, Political Expediency, and Veganism

I recently made a similar comment on another blog, but I will repeat the main idea here. I think what people sometimes forget is that the animal agriculture industry is not only cruel to nonhuman animals. In fact, many slaughterhouse workers, unable to find other employment, are forced to quickly, and therefore unsafely, torture and murder animals, regardless of their personal beliefs. They are frequently left not only with debilitating physical problems, both from acute and chronic work-related injuries, but struggling with feelings of anxiety and depression, as well. In short, although advocating for the abolition of animal agribusiness (let's not forget the business...) may not focus exclusively on upholding the rights of human animals, it mostly certainly contributes to reducing their exploitation as well.