Thursday, June 12, 2008

Abolitionist Vegan Education: The Vehicle of Progress

Where We Are versus How We Arrived There

Vegans who support new welfarism [1] and the growing profitable market for happy meat sometimes claim that they arrived at veganism through choosing more “humane” animal products (i.e. “happy meat”), and therefore, based on personal experience, they see welfare reform and happy meat as a way of getting others to arrive at veganism. On the surface, this sounds plausible, but closer inspection uncovers a fallacy lurking in this line of thought. The fallacy is in confusing where we are with how we arrived there, and there is a simple intuition pump which should make the difference clearer.

Imagine that we want to go from the City of Omnivoria to the Town of Veganville, and that the Town of Happy Meatberg, a suburb of Omnivoria, happens to be on the road between Omnivoria and Veganville. Omnivoria and Happy Meatberg overlap boundaries and the distance between their outer borders to each other is short enough for most of us to walk, but Veganville is far enough away that we will want to use a vehicle – a car or bicycle, or vegan education – to cover the distance. Note that we may pass Happy Meatberg on the way to Veganville, and we may even stop there for a while; however, it is our vehicle (car, bicycle, vegan education), not Happy Meatberg, that will get us from Omnivoria to Veganville. In fact, if Happy Meatberg did not exist, it would not affect our trip from Omnivoria to Veganville at all. If anything, Happy Meatberg is a noxious distraction on our journey to Veganville. Any given town or location between Omnivoria and Veganville is where we are and the vehicle (e.g. car, vegan education, bicycle) is how we arrived there.

Adequate vegan education will show us that there is a vast amount of horrendous cruelty and exploitation between Happy Meatberg and Veganville, and that Veganville is not only the necessary moral destination, but it’s also a healthy, tasty, and environmentally responsible destination. Essentially, vegans need to help provide the motivation and the map to get to Veganville instead of acting as the Mayor, Director of Tourism, and Chief of Police for Happy Meatberg, which is not only a suburb of the City of Omnivoria, but is also in the process of being annexed by Omnivoria and is nowhere near Veganville.

The Cruelty Inherent in Happy Meat

Another grossly mistaken view held by some new welfarists is that abolitionists are limited to giving philosophical arguments against the justification of animal use and, since we don’t support welfarism as a solution to the problem of cruelty, we cannot or should not disclose cruelty to the public as part of our vegan education. To directly quote a new welfarist vegan in a recent Internet discussion forum, a quote which subsequently received significant praise by a few other new welfarists in the forum,

“To truly avoid supporting welfarism is to limit one's advocacy to philosophical arguments about whether use of animals is ethically justifiable - no undercover video showing how cruel slaughterhouses are; no talking about how male dairy calves are sold to veal farms, no distributing information about the particularities of how animals are treated in laboratories, no photographs of pigs in gestation crates. If welfare doesn't matter, then welfare doesn't matter. Period”

This is nonsense. First, the writer confuses 1) disclosing evidence of cruelty with 2) supporting welfarism, which are two entirely different activities that have nothing to do with each other, despite the tendency of some new welfarists to conflate them. Displaying cruelty, both traditional and more importantly, happy meat cruelty, is NOT supporting welfarism at all, but providing additional reasons as to why veganism is the only answer to the problem.

Second, instead of limiting the display of cruelty, etc to the most severe cases (which is precisely what welfarism does), the abolitionist approach broadens the display to include not only the most hideous cases which are profitable for industry to eliminate anyway, but the inherent, inevitable and severe cruelty in organic, “free range”, and cage-free special marketing labels, too. On top of that, abolitionists do have excellent philosophical arguments based in long-established, well-reasoned, and widely accepted theories of justice and deontology to say that there is no justification for any exploitation or cruelty, and therefore veganism, NOT happy meat, is the only solution to the problem.

By focusing on only the most hideous cases which are profitable for industry to eliminate anyway and ignoring the inherent severe cruelty and exploitation in happy meat, new welfarist vegans assist society in making happy meat, instead of veganism, the default moral baseline, and then complain when books like The Compassionate Carnivore are published.

The Vehicle of Progress

Vegan education, including a display of the full spectrum of the inherent cruelty in animal exploitation, especially in “free-range”, grass-fed, organic, and cage-free animal agriculture, along with all of the delicious and nutritious vegan alternatives, is our vehicle of progress toward a morally respectable human-nonhuman relationship in our society. We can and should skip the completely extraneous and immoral stop at Happy Meatberg and go straight to Veganville via the vehicle of unequivocal vegan education.


[1] New welfarism is defined as using welfare reform and the promotion of more so-called “humane” animal products in an attempt to bring about the eventual abolition of animal exploitation. The abolitionist approach rejects new welfarism and holds that it is impossible for welfare reform and related efforts to ever bring about the abolition of animal exploitation. Further, the abolitionist approach maintains that efforts at welfare reform not only drain resources from genuine abolitionist efforts, but also strengthens the economic commodity and property status of animals and the exploitation paradigm by failing to challenge exploitation, per se, and by adding more rules and regulations which further legitimize and entrench the institution of animal exploitation.