Below are words written by someone whom i respect – on a number of levels. It covers a topic i have wanted to put some words together about for some time and is reproduced here in the interest of promoting critical discussion and reflection… i hope you enjoy, are challenged by it, and give it due consideration (thanks vf).
Veganfreak | the odd logic of welfarism
If a man abuses his wife, do we ask him to stop, or do we throw our hands up in exasperation, saying that if he’s going to do it, he should at least not hit so damn hard?
Similarly, if a person is going to eat meat, do we ask him to stop, or do we throw our hands up in exasperation, saying that if you’re going to eat meat, at least eat free range?
My comparison will probably offends and anger some of you, but I assure you, that’s not my intent. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking seriously about the question of animal welfare activism versus a more abolitionist activism, and I’ve been torn. Just recently, I helped a few students at my school with the HSUS campaign to switch dining services to battery-cage free eggs. I was secretly torn from the start, but I helped despite my reservations. The real moment of cognitive dissonance for me came when I was actually in the position of relaying information about egg producers to the school, talking about extended shelf life and shipping time.
As I sent an email to one of the people in charge of dining services at my school with some of this information, I had a sinking feeling: here I was, actually facilitating the exploitation of hens by encouraging egg consumption. It made me think: I’ve committed myself to the abolition of animal exploitation and to veganism, and I was actually in the position of helping facilitate the consumption of eggs. I assuaged my conscience by telling myself that this was better for the hens, and that perhaps this was a step in the right direction of animal consciousness for people at our school. I also thought it important to back the students at my school who were taking tentative steps into activism. As I gave it more thought, though, I realized that this was exactly the wrong tactic, and that I wasn’t being true to what I believed.
Welfarism is accepting defeat before we’ve even begun the battle.
To me, welfarism accepts as a premise that our other activism and outreach—genuine vegan and abolitionist outreach—can’t be effective enough, and so trades this for measures which (though they may decrease suffering) actually reify the condition of animals as beings that we can exploit. In a twisted sense, then, welfarism encourages the consumption of animal products. It does nothing to challenge the notion that animals are ours to do with as we please, and it makes for odd bedfellows. We end up with groups that have stated abolitionist ideological positions teaming up with companies, firms, and producers who are in the business of exploitation. It makes us as a movement look contradictory when we’re calling for the abolition of animal exploitation and at the same time, encouraging the exploitation of animals. It is justifying slavery by asking for longer chains; it is asking the abuser to abuse more gently; it is not true to what we profess to believe.
Critics, of course, will accuse me of the comfort of putting my ideological purity ahead of the near-term interests of animals to be free of suffering. This, however, isn’t the case. If we’re to have a movement that means anything at all, we need to make the movement look like the end that we hope to achieve. We can’t simultaneously be anti-racist and hope to end racism by telling slightly less offensive racist jokes, just like we can’t hope to be effective anti-speciesists by simultaneously promoting nicer speciesism. The means to the end of abolition matter. If our means don’t look like our ends, we’re only helping to incrementally re-create a world that’s speciesist.
I know that the world won’t go vegan tomorrow, and I know that the welfare argument depends on incrementalism: for example, that we need to take small steps towards helping people see that animals shouldn’t be exploited. Incrementalism is a natural response to the overwhelming speciesism in our world now, and I understand it. But our incrementalism should be that of reduction of meat, eggs, dairy, honey, and other products of animal exploitation from our diets. Effective vegan activism could potentially mean more lives saved and greater strides for animals than measures which confine animals to slightly bigger cages, or more airy barns. Welfarism stalls incremental movement towards veganism, however. How many of us have met people that respond to our veganism with the hollow “Well, I eat free range…” argument? How many people actually get stuck there? And can we assume that welfarism actually works to limit the consumption and exploitation of animals? The evidence would seem to indicate that it doesn’t. Welfarism has formed the backbone of animal advocacy for at least the last two decades in the US, yet we’ve seen the numbers of animals consumed in that time rise by billions. If welfarism worked as promised to limit consumption of animals and spurn people into awareness, wouldn’t we see that number actually go down? If free-range and cage-free and all the other welfarist measures actually decreased the consumption of animal products, why would markets like Whole Foods base so much of their business on these lucrative niche markets?
In one of those odd moments of synchronicity, I also found myself this week preparing a book proposal and reading a variety of sources for that proposal. In reading the book Speciesism, I came across an argument that hits at the very heart of what I’m discussing here, and it helped me to clarify my thinking on this topic tremendously (I also spent an afternoon re-reading Gary Francione’s Rain Without Thunder which does an incredible job of examining the same dynamics). This quote caught my attention in the chapter about “old speciesist advocacy”:
“Some activists who consider themselves advocates of veganism condone eating honey or applaud people for limiting their egg consumption to “free-range eggs” and their cow-flesh consumption to “grass-fed beef.” Eating honey, eggs, or cow flesh isn’t vegan, so endorsing their consumption isn’t veganism advocacy. Veganism advocates urge people not to eat any honey, eggs, or flesh. Nonvegans need to phase out or immediately eliminate animal-derived foods, not substitute some for others. It’s easy to avoid eating honey, eggs, and flesh, including as ingredients. Suggesting otherwise impedes, rather than advances, veganism.”
She continues on to talk about how only one group—Friends of Animals—urged Whole Foods to phase out or end its sale of animal products after the CEO John Mackey announced that he became vegan. She wondered whether other groups thought the request too unlikely to succeed, or if others weren’t willing to speak against the welfarist standards instituted by Whole Foods and its suppliers. Dunayer emphasizes that “Such standards don’t advance veganism or nonhuman emancipation. They legitimize enslavement and slaughter. Only veganism respects nonhuman rights and rejects nonhuman enslavement.” (emphasis mine)
It is that last point that I agree with most heartily—veganism is the way to live abolition in your daily life. Veganism is a political act illustrating how the consumption and abuse of animals is not acceptable. Unlike welfarist measures, veganism is not at conflict with the ends of our movement: it is living what we want our world to be. On the flip side, welfarism turns us into advocates for people who would abuse and torture animals for profit, with the exception that these particular abusers are a bit nicer. Nice enslavement is still enslavement, and for all that welfarism has promised, we have little to show but more and more animals being consumed.
It seems time that we reconsider the odd logic of welfarism.
http://www.veganfreaks.org/index.php?id=131 (dead link)
Apr 23, 12:50 pm