Veganism: A Cure for Apathy

Why are people so apathetic when it comes to the oppression of other animals or any other oppression, including their own? I think this apathy is largely rooted the structure of oppression. In a way, apathy is a form of learned helplessness; that is, apathy is actively produced through ideological control for the purpose of domination and exploitation. It's certainly more than simple ignorance, because even if people are knowledgeable of the existing oppressive situation they are unlikely to act if they believe the situation is unchangeable.

The Greek root for apathy means "without feeling" and comes from "apathos" meaning "without suffering." If we are taught that things aren't going to change then it's makes perfect sense for us to become numb to our feelings and the suffering of others. Basically, apathy becomes a survival technique for coping with the systemic oppression that surrounds us on a daily basis.

So we can't say that those of us who are apathetic are simply immoral or lack compassion. The very structure of oppression can lead the most moral and compassionate of us to become apathetic. After all, the Latin root of "compassion" means to "suffer with," including a desire to help. Systemic oppression turns our feelings of compassion against us. For the truly compassionate, our ability to feel the suffering of others can become unbearable once we have "learned" that things are unchangeable. That is, our compassion is turned against us by an ideology that frustrates our desire to help others by producing a belief that change is futile.

So how do we cure each other of our apathy? Well, if apathy is a symptom of systemic oppression, then the cure can be found in anti-oppression work. We can start by empowering each other to take part in real, concrete change and seeing ourselves as part of the solution. Veganism is a type of anti-oppression that can lead to learned helpfulness. That is, veganism gives us a means of using our daily lives to challenge and work against the oppression of other animals that is all around us. Through veganism we are practicing nonviolent direct action that challenges the system of oppression. Veganism as anti-oppression praxis takes the same compassion that can become poisoned under the structure of oppression and uses anti-oppression to free that compassion as an energizing forces for change. Through veganism we can cultivate a belief in the power of radical change that challenges exploitation, human supremacy, and speciesism.

Unfortunately, the non-profit-industrial complex, or NPIC, is largely "profiting" by co-opting our compassion. As described above with apathy, the NPIC use speciesism to teach us that thing are unchangeable and to bolster the structure of oppression. For instance, campaigns pushing for modified forms of exploitation are a perfect examples of this co-option. The key justification for these campaigns often rest on some form of speciesism while the campaigns themselves work to perpetuate the structure of oppression.

We are taught through these campaigns that veganism, while laudable, is a ineffective cause. We are assured by those who run these campaigns under the NPIC that since the entire world isn't going to go vegan in our lifetime that the only alternative is to support the existing structure of oppression in the form of the government bodies and capitalist industries that are responsible for the exploitation of other animals. The reasoning being that only these institutions can make things less painful.

This is part of the logic of speciesism that is used to convince us that promoting alternative exploitation is "humane" when what we really want is an end to exploitation. However, convinced by speciesism that veganism is impractical, we accept the new form of exploitation as what we assume is the only practical option. Like apathy, this is a cruel abuse of our compassion used in support of systematic oppression.

The very structure of oppression works in the interest of the non-profit-industrial complex, government, and industry. If we didn't defer our power to these institutions then the very power structure that supports the exploitation of other animals would cease to exist. This is why the practice of veganism as anti-oppression has so much potential; as it doesn't rely on the existing power structure. If we could only break free of our speciesist indoctrination that tells us veganism is impractical and learn of the power we have to make change through veganism it could spark what vegan movement co-founder Donald Watson said "would be greatest peaceful revolution ever known."

Re: Veganism: A Cure for Apathy

Hmm... Unfortunately, I don't at the moment have time to do a full-scale analysis of my own, but I just read this article:
http://www.vgt.at/publikationen/texte/artikel/20080325Abolitionism/20080...
It argues that individual change is negligible, that yes, we can challenge the system through anti-oppression (i.e. veganism), but that this may take forever. By contrast, it argues that policy change has shown clear results and that reform can lead to abolition simply by raising prices. He cites Austria in all of his examples. The problem with his argument which I realize after reading your post is that his examples show that strictly anti-oppression policy leads to abolition, but in Austria the change to free-range chickens has not yet resulted in abolition. He assumes that it will simply by raising the price since this is what he considers to be a factor in abolitionism, but your argument seems to be missing from his: that alternative oppression is a counter-force.

What do you think? I am trying to figure out what to do for my campaign, and I want to make sure I'm not contributing to oppression, whatever I do!



Re: Veganism: A Cure for Apathy

"It argues that individual change is negligible, that yes, we can challenge the system through anti-oppression (i.e. veganism), but that this may take forever."

The same could be said about so many other things: racism, sexism, murder, rape, theft... Any one of us choosing not to engage in those things produces a "negligible" difference in the overall statistics. And we'll probably NEVER see the end of those things. But, thankfully, most people wouldn't say, "Well, I know rape is wrong, but it's not going away in my lifetime and it's not going to make a big difference either way, so I might as well do it."

No, we avoid doing things because we believe they are wrong -- unless we don't actually think something is wrong, or wrong enough to outweigh our selfishness.

The problem with free-range eggs and other "humane" sources of animal products, is that it basically tells people, "You're 'ethical shoppers' and 'good' people for choosing 'humane' eggs and 'happy' meat". In other words, animal exploitation isn't wrong, according to the promoters of these things, but rather only certain kinds of animal exploitation.

This will never lead to abolition because it *promotes* animal exploitation and makes people feel better about their animal exploitation. And, morally, it's somewhat like telling people, "Be an ethical slave holder! Give your slaves plenty of room to walk around in!" instead of saying, "Slavery is wrong. You don't have to enslave other people, so just don't do it."

Moreover, "humane" animal products can be elitist in practice because the more expensive options are portrayed as morally superior and not everyone can afford those options. So, it encourages people with more money feel morally superior to those with fewer choices. (Veganism, for all the claims of elitism, is a lot more accessible than "humane" animal products in most places.)

If cheaper options aren't available, it may eventually lead to fewer animal products being used by the poor, as is common in some parts of the world, but what we see there is that animal products are seen as luxury items -- something people aspire to have, not avoid. There will be plenty of wealthier people engaging in animal exploitation and plenty more people trying to find a way to make it more affordable for those less well off. History repeats itself again and again. So no, this does nothing to change the mindset that animal products are not only acceptable, but good.

The only path to abolition is telling people that animal exploitation is wrong and that they should avoid contributing to it. That's veganism.