Friday, 30 November 2012

Misanthropy And Its Effect On Our Vegan Advocacy (with Addendum)

In my last blog post, Abolitionism and Discrimination, I wrote:

As animal advocates, to retain any form of discriminatory attitude towards other humans indicates that we really don't understand the basis for rejecting speciesism and we're only likely to be a liability to the cause of abolitionist animal rights because we will undoubtedly, and correctly, be perceived as misanthropes, further entrenching negative stereotypes about "animal people".

Apart from discriminatory attitudes, there is another way that misanthropy can manifest for us as vegan advocates. It appears that it's not uncommon, after having the life-changing realisation of our complicity in animal exploitation and becoming vegan, that we begin to view darkly the rest of the human population who haven't yet understood what we understand and continue to support exploitation. Becoming aware of the sheer enormity of the scale and intensity of the crimes of human beings against non-human beings -- 56 billion land animals and approximately one trillion fish unnecessarily killed each year for food alone -- can be overwhelming and leave us feeling ashamed of belonging to the human species. And even though we've gone vegan, we may not entirely spare ourselves from the shame due to having previously been complacent about acknowledging our own participation in exploitation and giving the issue of animal rights any serious thought.

Most difficult of all is when, after "getting it" ourselves, we expect our friends and family to likewise get it and become vegan once provided with the facts of animal exploitation and the logical argument for veganism, we often encounter a brick wall of indifference and resistance to the message. People who we previously considered to be kind and decent may now appear to us to be coldly callous and lacking in a basic sense of justice. If we weren't misanthropes before, we may find ourselves drifting in that direction. 

Indeed, I've encountered a number of vegans who appear to have a decidedly misanthropic view. It's impossible to know whether they were this way inclined prior to becoming vegan or not. Statements like "I love animals but I can't stand people", or "Animals are innocent but humans are evil" are not unfamiliar. We sometimes hear sentiments expressed by vegans (and others) along the lines of humans being nothing but a "cancer upon the earth" and that "it would be better if the human species became extinct". This quote from a vegan on the internet is somewhat typical:

I feel very angry whenever I witness something horrific, unnecessary and cruel. I feel sad and upset. I admit that at times I have hated humans, including myself and everyone I know and wish they would vanish from this planet. I believe this feeling comes from hopelessness. Sometimes it seems that we humans are just a force of destruction, pain and misery.

While feelings of sadness and disillusionment regarding the human species as a whole or certain people in particular, in relation to animal exploitation, may be very understandable, I feel that we need to be aware of and carefully guard against moving in a misanthropic direction of despising other humans for their failures towards animals. A misanthropic attitude, like any persistent negative attitude, hurts us. It's also, obviously, likely to hurt others. But, most importantly in terms of our animal advocacy, we need to be clear that it hurts animals, in that it will most definitely be an impediment to advocating on their behalf. 

In short, misanthropic animal people are mistaken if they think they can be effective animal rights advocates. It just doesn't work that way. Our only hope for abolishing animal use is our ability to educate other people, and that requires establishing trust and rapport. No matter how well we think we might be able to hide it, our basic attitudes towards our fellow humans broadcast themselves through our verbal inflections, facial expressions, eye movements  and gestures and are picked up loud and clear by others. Research has suggested that between 60 and 70 percent of all meaning in human interaction is derived from non-verbal behaviour. The best logical argument for veganism is likely to fail if what people are registering, no matter how subtly, is a fundamentally misanthropic attitude of contempt, disrespect, impatience or cynicism, whatever the source of these feelings. All this will generally succeed in creating is defensiveness and resistance, no matter how brilliant our animal rights argument and its verbal delivery. 

Helping people to get in touch with their moral concern about animals and to be receptive to the rational argument for veganism can only be enhanced by our ability to communicate a positive attitude towards them. This doesn't mean faking that we care about people more than we do, or being effusive. Rather, it means letting go of any false distinctions that contribute to a sense of separateness or "otherness" and acknowledging our essential commonality and interdependence. It means allowing our natural awareness to arise, to the extent that we can, of people as beings worthy of respect who are, as I believe, fundamentally good, fundamentally wanting to be happy and, on the whole, wanting others to be happy, despite the many misguided, destructive and self-defeating ways we as humans often go about trying to achieve this. And as we well know, most people do care about animals to some degree. Almost all agree that it's wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering on them, but, in a deeply speciesist world, are terribly confused and in the grip of moral schizophrenia in terms of knowing how to act on this in a coherent and meaningful way. Professor Gary Francione has described moral schizophrenia as: 

the delusional and confused way that we think about animals as a social/moral matter. That confusion can include conflicting or inconsistent ways of looking at animals (some are family members; others are dinner).

In a nutshell, what I'm talking about is not essentially a cerebral matter, but an opening of our hearts towards the people with whom we engage in our vegan advocacy. I agree with  Francione that what we need is a "revolution of the heart" in relation to animals. I think that's more likely to be achieved if we can also open our hearts to other humans. If people sense that we respect and care about them, and are willing to genuinely listen to them and their concerns, they're more likely to care about what we have to say on behalf of animals. 

Not only is it necessary to have basic caring about other humans in our vegan advocacy, but I would even suggest that, if we really don't care about other humans, or hate them, or consider them a lost cause, our caring about non-humans is unlikely to be authentically about them, and more likely to be about us. Our focus on animals may be a reaction to feeling hurt and disappointed by other humans, justifying and reinforcing misanthropic cynicism or resentment; or projecting our own identification with victimhood and other aspects of a narcissistic disposition upon suffering animals, rather than facing these and dealing with them in constructive ways. In a subtle and unacknowledged way, this is just another form of exploitation -- using the suffering of the animals for our own agenda, while on the surface engaging in activities "for the animals". No matter what flurry of activity we engage in "for the animals" we're not likely to be very effective if our motives are muddied. This may be a harsh truth to face, but if we have serious issues with other people such that it affects our ability to interact with them in positive ways, we would do well to acknowledge and address these directly rather than attempting to escape from them and displacing the problem via animal advocacy. I consider, however, that a need or desire to gain personal fulfilment through doing something worthwhile with our lives is a healthy motive for engaging in animal advocacy and does not fall into the problematic category I've been discussing here.

If we really can't relinquish our misanthropic attitudes, or don't want to, then as misanthropes, I repeat what I said in my previous post -- we're only likely to be a liability to the animal rights movement. I'm certainly not suggesting that this describes most animal rights advocates. I think some feelings of negativity towards humans in general or certain people in particular, in their lack of overwhelming enthusiasm for our vegan message, is something that some of us go through as a phase in the early stages of vegan advocacy (I certainly had my own version of this), but that we "snap out of it" when we realise that it's disempowering to us personally and as advocates -- and the sooner the better.  

While we can't make people care about animals if they don't, people who don't care are not our concern and we need not waste one iota of time or energy focusing on them once it's apparent that they don't care. Our concern is the huge number of people who do genuinely care about animals and are, if they only knew it, just waiting for an abolitionist animal rights advocate to come along and educate them about how to translate that into meaningful and effective action by going vegan. These are the people we need to find and on whom we need to focus. How many of these people will one day say, as we do, "If only someone had told me about this sooner!" and "Becoming vegan was the best decision I ever made in my life!"?


Although my focus in this essay has been the effect of misanthropy on our vegan advocacy and the necessity of establishing positive interpersonal connections with people we talk to about abolitionist animal rights, it's certainly not a case of "love is all you need"! 

We need to educate clearly and efficiently. Education is primary. (My essay assumed that those who are already abolitionists are aware of this, but for those who aren't, it's worth stating explicitly). 

By education, I mean the logical argument for abolition of animal use as presented in Francione's book, Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog, and throughout his work generally, including other books  and a large body of essays and podcasts.  (Blogs, podcasts and educational materials by other abolitionists are also useful).This argument essentially states that, if we regard animals as members of the moral community, if we take their interests seriously, then we cannot morally justify eating, wearing or using them in any way as resources. In practical terms, this means veganism as the moral baseline. As a corollary, we need to be able to clearly explain to people why single issue welfarist campaigns and so-called humane or "happy" meat, eggs and dairy are not the solution to animal exploitation.

We also need to be able to provide practical education on veganism and to refer people to the appropriate resources (such as this and this) for making the transition to a healthy vegan diet and a vegan lifestyle generally. If people are interested in going vegan but don't don't want to do so immediately, we should provide practical steps they can take (such as the "Vegan 1-2-3" Plan, as described in this essay). 

So although our role as abolitionist vegan advocates is primarily as educators, our education will be more or less effective depending on the affective component of our interactions. Logical argument and information are central and powerful, but can be undermined by misanthropic or generally negative attitudes to others. We need to be vigilantly self-aware in this respect and not underestimate the interpersonal and non-verbal component in our advocacy. 

Also, I do not regard challenging people to be incompatible with caring, empathy and respect. As abolitionist vegan advocates, challenging the dominant speciesist paradigm of  animal use is the essence of what we do! We certainly should not shy away from respectful debate and disagreement. Being "willing to genuinely listen to (people) and their concerns" does not imply passivity and collusion with speciesist attitudes or excuses for continuing to consume animal products. Rather, listening carefully helps us in personalising our message in order to address any specific points of confusion or anxiety, and in removing any obstacles to becoming vegan.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Abolitionism and Discrimination

I'm reposting here, with some minor modifications, a response I made a few months ago to a comment on The Abolitionist Approach Facebook Page. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of that comment, which has now been deleted. However, the gist of it was that the person concerned felt that abolitionist animal rights has no business taking a position on other forms of discrimination other than speciesism. He stated that he did not think that abolitionism should include a "whole package of other liberal values", since "animal rights is neither liberal not reactionary". 

This person also commented that "Now we have a debate and fracturing within the movement over theism", referring to the promotion of discriminatory ideas arising from the influence of New Atheism in relation to animal rights by some people within the abolitionist movement and a series of essays and a podcast by Francione as a response to this. These discuss the incompatibility of New Atheism with abolitionism and make clear the folly of trying to meld the two. New Atheism refers to the 

name given to the ideas promoted by a collection of modern atheist writers who have advocated the view that "religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticised, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises". (Simon Hooper, 2006)

The New Atheist movement is based around the work of writers such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens. 

My response:

As Professor Gary L. Francione has often pointed out, speciesism is morally wrong for the same reason that all forms of discrimination are wrong. They all rely on excluding sentient beings as members of the moral community, deserving of equal consideration, based on irrelevant moral criteria -- whether of species, race, gender, class, age, sexual preference, religion or other. If we accept the general principle that it's wrong to exclude anyone on the basis of irrelevant moral criteria, and that this is the basis of speciesism, then a rejection of speciesism must necessarily involve a rejection of racism, sexism, classism, ageism, homophobia, ableism and every other form of discrimination. As animal advocates, to retain any form of discriminatory attitude towards other humans indicates that we really don't understand the basis for rejecting speciesism and we're only likely to be a liability to the cause of abolitionist animal rights because we will undoubtedly, and correctly, be perceived as misanthropes, further entrenching negative stereotypes about "animal people".

This doesn't mean that, as abolitionists, we're obligated to actively and explicitly include other social justice concerns in our vegan advocacy, or indeed, to pursue them at all. It does mean, however, that our vegan advocacy, and our behaviour generally, should be entirely free of all forms of discrimination, including any form of collusion with discrimination by others. And in order to achieve this, we need to have a clear position on other forms of discrimination, and on human rights, in the first place. If we haven't examined and rejected our own tendencies towards racism, sexism, ageism, etc. (which I would argue none of us are free from) there's every probability that these will intrude into our vegan advocacy. Quite apart from the harm of discrimination towards target groups, and the barriers created in establishing the necessary rapport with individuals within them, this can only undermine our vegan advocacy because it presents a confused and inconsistent message. An example is "animal people" who think there's nothing wrong with the sexist and misogynistic antics of a group like PETA. Clearly, it's absurd to think that exploiting women can achieve anything towards ending the exploitation of animals.

With regard to whether animal rights should include a "whole package of other liberal values" -- as stated, presenting a rational argument for veganism doesn't necessitate explicitly promoting liberal values or related causes, and indeed, the argument should be kept clear, simple and focused on animal rights. However, abolitionist animal rights is an unapologetically progressive movement and as such, is implicitly allied with other liberal, social justice movements, including struggles for economic justice, gender equality, racial equality and sexual preference equality. It entails rejection of the institutions that maintain these forms of inequality. There's also a recognition that genuine social justice is not possible without justice for all, including non-humans. As animal advocates, we may or may not choose to actively involve ourselves in other authentic social justice movements, but our animal advocacy should at least not be inconsistent with the underlying ethos that drives them all.

So I disagree with you that "animal rights is neither liberal nor reactionary". Reactionary values are totally at odds with the progressive values of abolitionist animal rights in that they explicitly involve hierarchies of power involving oppression of the powerless in vulnerable and marginalised groups, based on discriminatory characterisations of them. This is exactly what abolitionist animal rights opposes in its stance against use of animals -- the most vulnerable and oppressed of all. It's to be expected that different abolitionists will have varying social and political positions based on their interpretation of what constitutes justice. Nevertheless, any positions that involve perpetuating discrimination and exploitation are fundamentally at odds with abolitionism.

Your comment regarding theism links directly to the issue of discrimination and the need to understand that no form of discrimination is compatible with abolitionism. It's quite incorrect to say that "Now we have a debate and fracturing within the movement over theism". Francione has never argued that theism has anything to do with animal rights, or that any particular spiritual or religious belief is necessary in order to have the moral concern about animals that's necessary to accept the rational argument for ethical veganism. Indeed, he has gone to great lengths in essays and a podcast and to point out that it doesn't matter why someone has moral concern for animals, only that they do, and that moral concern can arise from a variety of sources, both spiritual and non-spiritual. Discussion regarding New Atheism has only arisen as a necessary response to a small group of abolitionists behaving in a way that is consistently discriminatory towards those who are theists or who otherwise have some spiritual orientation, including non-theistic ones. This kind of discrimination, centred on religious belief, is deeply antithetical to abolitionism, based as it is on the principle of non-discrimination, and hence any significant thrust in that direction among those who call themselves abolitionists must be countered unequivocally. 

The nature of the discrimination engaged in by New Atheist animal advocates is aggressive promotion of the the notion that it's necessary to be an atheist in order to be an abolitionist. It involves peddling the bizarre and insulting idea that people who subscribe to religious or spiritual beliefs are incapable of the kind of rational thought that's required to understand and accept the logical argument for abolitionist veganism. This is as absurd and harmful as claiming that members of certain racial groups lack the intelligence to understand abolitionism. Those aligned with the New Atheist group have engaged in antics displaying profound prejudice, such as posting a vile graphic on the internet that compared Krishna, Buddha and Jesus to Charles Manson and Jim Jones. Arguments by Francione and other abolitionists against this kind of scurrilous behaviour arising from a distorted worldview are entirely necessary in order to keep abolitionism free of the harmful and destructive "otherisation" that is at the heart of speciesism and all forms of discrimination. Far from advocating any particular religious position, theistic or otherwise, as a prerequisite for being an abolitionist, as your comment suggests, these arguments have been required precisely in order to defend abolitionism against claims that it involves any particular stance on religion, including a rejection of religion. Abolitionist animal rights transcends religious affiliations. We welcome all people to join us in our struggle against animal exploitation, as long as they subscribe to the principle of non-violence.

It's also worth mentioning that New Atheist thought is right-wing and reactionary in character and therefore completely at odds with the progressive values of abolitionism. Your comment regarding "fracturing of the movement" is in error in that it greatly overstates the situation. The militant atheist group, although rather vocal, is very small, very confused, and is dwindling, not growing. 

This concludes my reposting of my response to a comment on the Abolitionist Approach Facebook page. I hope I have made clear why it is important for abolitionists to reject not just speciesism but all forms of discrimination.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Vegan Society Follow-Up, Part 4: Selling Out the Animals

When the controversy first erupted, in February 2011, regarding The Vegan Society's advertising policy in its magazine, The Vegan, it was assumed by me and others that The Vegan drew the line at advertising establishments which serve dairy and eggs, like Lancrigg, but not flesh. This was concerning enough, considering that Donald Watson coined the word, "vegan" specifically in order to erase the arbitrary line between meat and other animal products. In the first edition of The Vegan News, in 1944, he said:

The recent articles and letters in "The Vegetarian Messenger" on the question of the use of dairy produce have revealed very strong evidence to show that the production of these foods involves much cruel exploitation and slaughter of highly sentient life. The excuse that it is not necessary to kill in order to obtain dairy produce is untenable for those with a knowledge of livestock farming methods and of the competition which even humanitarian farmers must face if they are to remain in business.
For years many of us accepted, as lacto-vegetarians, that the flesh-food industry and the dairy produce industry were related, and that in some ways they subsidised one another. We accepted, therefore, that the case on ethical grounds for the disuse of these foods was exceptionally strong, and we hoped that sooner or later a crisis in our conscience would set us free.
That freedom has now come to us. Having followed a diet free from all animal food for periods varying from a few weeks in some cases, to many years in others, we believe our ideas and experiences are sufficiently mature to be recorded. The unquestionable cruelty associated with the production of dairy produce has made it clear that lacto-vegetarianism is but a half-way house between flesh-eating and a truly humane, civilised diet, and we think, therefore, that during our life on earth we should try to evolve sufficiently to make the 'full journey'. 

As it turns out, it was a false assumption that The Vegan magazine limits itself to advertising non-vegan establishments selling only eggs and dairy, as is evident from the list compiled in Part 2 of this series, which showed that The Vegan advertises a hotel -- Paskins Town House --  serving a range of flesh products. I suspect we made this assumption because there is such a pervasive notion that meat is worse, morally, than dairy and eggs, and we viewed The Vegan's advertising policy as misguidedly reflecting this notion. Indeed, one of Francione's major objections to the Lancrigg advertisement was that it reinforced the fallacy, or fantasy, that there is a morally relevant distinction between flesh and other animal products. Also, despite our disappointing experience with The Vegan Society over the issue of their advertising policy, we simply could not imagine that The Vegan Society, any vegan society, would advertise a hotel serving meat! 

Unsurprisingly, my reaction to discovering only recently that The Vegan carries advertisements for an establishment serving meat and fish was one of shock. Aside from the sheer incongruity of it, and the reasons given above, the shock was primarily because this was so at odds with the perception that The Vegan Society themselves had fostered. They did this by using as one of their justifications for advertising Lancrigg, and in response to Francione's question as to how they would draw a line between that and advertising an establishment serving meat, that what they were doing was consistent with what Donald Watson himself had done in 1946. An email to Francione from Head of Information stated:

[W]hen Donald Watson was editor of The Vegan he did accept adverts for vegetarian establishments which also cater for vegans  for example:  issue 2, Autumn 1946, includes 6 such adverts on p.20 (including guesthouses and a school).  Other issues from this period (under DW's editorship) contain many more. 

Using the above justification, The Vegan Society implied that they were, like Watson, willing to advertise establishments serving ovo-lacto vegetarian food, but not those serving flesh. They were happy to keep Francione and everyone else who was concerned about the issue in the dark by not admitting to the fact that they were, in fact, accepting ads for an establishment serving meat. Indeed, the very issue of Spring 2011 containing the ad for Lancrigg which first sparked the controversy also contained an ad for Paskins Town House. Francione was obviously aware of this ad, since he mentions it in this essay. What he was not aware of was that they serve meat, and The Vegan Society did not volunteer that information. Even when Francione communicated, on a number of occasions, with The Vegan Society regarding his concerns about the Lancrigg ad reinforcing a false moral distinction between flesh and other animal products, assuming that Paskins was in the same category, they failed to inform him that they do not make such a distinction in their advertising policy and are happy to take ads from establishments serving any kind of animal product. 

Based on the implicit message that The Vegan Society conveyed through their stance of following Watson's example in accepting ads for vegetarian but not meat-oriented establishments, it was logical to assume that they were doing just this. This assumption also relied on another assumption that those we were dealing with in The Vegan Society were conducting themselves with a basic level of honesty and openness. Perhaps it was naive to assume anything about The Vegan Society considering our previous experience. However, the notion that a vegan society would obfuscate regarding such a fundamentally important matter as whether it was willing  to advertise non-vegan establishments serving, among other animal products, meat and fish, was, again, unimaginable, even, I would suggest, to the most cynical. 

No wonder they had nothing to say in response to criticism of their ads policy and and still remain silent! How could a vegan society possibly justify such a betrayal of veganism, or more accurately, the animals to whom we owe it to be vegan? On the other hand, to deceive by omission and implication, as they did in dealing with Francione and others, is remarkably bizarre and self-defeating behaviour, considering that the truth is easily discoverable by simply opening their magazine and making some basic enquiries! 

I imagine that if The Vegan Society had informed Francione of what they were really up to with their advertising, he might have saved himself the time and trouble of writing his long and thoughtful memo, proposing a solution, because it would have been obvious that The Vegan Society was categorically no longer The Vegan Society and was beyond help.

However misguided Watson was in his policy of allowing ads for vegetarian establishments, which was inconsistent with his own position -- the very basis of founding The Vegan Society in 1944 -- that dairy and eggs are just as morally reprehensible as meat, it's inconceivable that he would have approved of advertising for places serving meat! (Francione discusses here the psychological and sociological reasons for Watson allowing advertising of vegetarian, non-vegan establishments, pertaining to his belief that vegetarianism is a necessary stepping stone to veganism for most people, and why this may have been relevant in 1946, but is not relevant or valid now). What The Vegan Society are doing now has no basis whatsoever in anything of which Watson would have approved. It constitutes a radical departure from his policy. This makes a mockery of the spurious claim regarding Francione by The Vegan Society that: 
It was because of your offensive reference to Watson spinning in his grave (he still has surviving relatives), that the decision was taken to terminate your connection to the Society's Facebook page (apology given and comment now removed by Francione from his blog).

I suggest this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. It's difficult to imagine anything more offensive than using Donald Watson's name to justify an advertising policy that includes the promotion of a hotel serving meat.

As for the other justification given by The Vegan Society: 

The acceptance of advertisements (including inserts) to The Vegan magazine does not imply endorsement.
In the magazine we have the following disclaimer:
"The views expressed in The Vegan do not necessarily reflect those of the Editor or the Vegan Society Council. Nothing printed should be construed to be Vegan Society policy unless so stated". 

Francione's response to this in his memo that:

The disclaimer point is not sufficient as it has no limiting principle and would literally allow adverts for slaughterhouses, meat products, dairy products, eggs, etc. to be accepted by the Society. In other words, a disclaimer that nothing advertised in The Vegan is endorsed is tantamount to saying that everything, including establishments and products that are inconsistent with any interpretation of the core mission of the institution, may be advertised therein.

has proved to be only too prescient. We now see that there is no bar to The Vegan advertising eating places that serve meat dishes. What's the difference between this and advertising individual meat products or dairy products? Why not advertise a butcher shop if it sells one or two items that vegetarians or vegans can eat? After all, we're only talking about the difference between advertising those who trade in cooked meat and those who trade in raw meat: the exploitation involved is the same. If The Vegan Society believe that they can distance themselves morally from their decisions by denying endorsement, then what obstacle is there to advertising any kind of animal product sold by any kind of business, and indeed, any product involving any kind of exploitation of humans as well as non-humans?

The posture of The Vegan Society in abjuring all responsibility for the ethical dimension of their advertising policy by claiming that their disclaimer effectively lets them off the hook can be appreciated for the absurdity that it is by imagining the kind of equivalent scenarios that were mentioned in Part 1. What would we think of a children's advocacy group using a similar disclaimer to distance themselves from advertising a paedophile support network? How would we react to a feminist group working to oppose violence to women saying that ads in their magazine for a violent pornography outlet shouldn't be construed as meaning that they support violent pornography? What about a socialist newspaper running ads for Goldman Sachs telling us, "It's all OK. Acceptance of ads does not imply endorsement. The fact that we're promoting a blood-sucking capitalist outfit says nothing about our politics". We would hardly be reassured. Such limp and disingenuous excuse-making would be seen as buffoonish and insulting to the intelligence of readers. It would universally be considered a sign that the group in question had "lost the plot" in terms of their commitment to their core mission and that they had degenerated into being merely a business -- one that might maintain a veneer of concern about issues of social justice, but is primarily focused on self perpetuation at any cost. To view The Vegan Society any differently just because the context is animal advocacy would be nothing but an expression of speciesism.

Veganism is a form of social and political protest against exploitation of the vulnerable, not a lifestyle choice. A publication produced by a social justice advocacy group is not the same as a publication intended for entertainment; the decision to publicise a business or organisation necessarily implies endorsement of the core activity and philosophy of that business or organisation, or at least that the publicised entity is morally neutral and not in conflict with the aims of the group. The Vegan Society can say whatever it likes about acceptance not implying endorsement; that is simply transparent nonsense.

About the only thing that can be said in The Vegan Society's favour in relation to this whole sorry affair is that one thing they are not guilty of is inconsistency. Contrary to our former criticism of them, they are not reinforcing a false moral distinction between flesh and dairy/eggs. Clearly, they are willing to promote any eating place that is willing to pay them, without discriminating on the basis of the type of morally equivalent exploitation in which they are engaged. So any steak house which can supply a baked potato and a salad can qualify, as long as they are willing to portray themselves as having a vegan option. There really is no limiting principle in operation here. Astounding! 

I think we can conclude that, while the "Vegan" Society, as a shopfront, still functions to provide education and support for veganism, and that many vegans and aspiring vegans no doubt benefit from this, whatever good work they are doing in this respect is seriously undermined by the fact that their promotion of animal exploitation businesses in The Vegan means that the organisation has jettisoned a commitment to unequivocal veganism, and consequently cannot legitimately be called a "vegan" society at all. They can't even be called a veganish society, or a veg*n society given their promotion of Paskins. They're willing to sell out the animals for a price, and that's deeply tragic. This sends a confusing message to their members and other readers of The Vegan about what it means to be vegan, and reinforces the idea that exploitation of non-humans is morally acceptable. 

In a ruthless neoliberal capitalist world, where virtually nothing and no-one escapes commodification and needs of sentient beings are relentlessly subjugated to the drive for profit, it's dispiriting, to say the least, that one organisation that we would have hoped would resist this insidious trend has succumbed to the cold and cynical ideology of the marketplace. The Vegan Society, established with such clarity of vision in 1944, as a beacon of hope for the most vulnerable and exploited of all -- nonhuman animals -- has made the decision to swim with the tide and sacrifice principles for the sake of money, with the animals being the losers. I simply refuse to believe that this is the only option for The Vegan Society. It's a choice based on the organisation losing its moral compass. Donald Watson, in whatever mode he currently exists, must be, if not spinning in his grave, weeping buckets of tears to see that The Vegan Society is now defunct as a vegan society in all but name. Following in the footsteps of other animal welfare charities, The Vegan Society has debased itself to become yet another venal, self-serving business  -- a fate which is perhaps inevitable for all organisations once they grow beyond a certain size. 

Happily, none of this affects our ongoing abolitionist efforts as a grassroots movement in advocating unequivocal veganism as the moral baseline via creative vegan education. We don't need a lot of money or a formal organisation to do this, and we don't need to water down or toss out our principles in order to pay the bills, maintain membership and keep donations flowing in. I have no illusions that The Vegan Society has the slightest interest in reforming itself, but I hope that if we ever establish an alternative vegan society, we will learn from the mistakes of The Vegan Society and not repeat them. The lamentable situation of The Vegan Society's selling out of the animals who so desperately need us to advocate for them is one which should serve as a poignant reminder of how important it is that we stay true to the original values of Donald Watson, and firm in our commitment to our abolitionist approach involving veganism as the non-negotiable moral baseline.

Vegan Society Follow-up, Part 3: No Haven for the Innocent

This essay continues a follow up on the matter of The Vegan Society's policy of accepting paid advertisements for non-vegan businesses and organisations in its quarterly magazine, The Vegan. Please see my first essay on this subject -- Banned By The Vegan Society For Saying That Vegan Society Should Be Vegan for the necessary background.

As already stated, the controversy began with Professor Gary Francione challenging this policy and subsequently being banned from The Vegan Society Facebook page, as a result. He quite appropriately criticised The Vegan carrying an ad for Lancrigg Vegetarian Country House Hotel.

We might recall that this establishment is described in The Vegan ad as being a "haven of peace and inspiration". The Lancrigg web site states that it is "noted for its friendly relaxed ambiance", "perfect for romantic getaways" and "the perfect place to unwind and restore body and soul".

When one considers the truly horrific lives of deprivation and torture, both physical and emotional, culminating in a painful and terrifying death, of the non-human animals whose bodies provide the eggs and dairy products that Lancrigg sells, these claims become ghoulish and obscene. There is nothing peaceful, inspirational, friendly, relaxed, romantic or restorative about the foul non-human slavery and exploitation required to produce dairy products and eggs. Every single animal who was exploited for their secretions sold by Lancrigg lived a life of intense misery and was, or will be, murdered long before the end of their natural lifespan. 

And let's not forget the infant casualties who never even enter that particular stream of abuse -- the male chicks who, soon after birth, were ground up alive or suffocated due to being of no use to the egg industry; and the male offspring of cows in the dairy industry who were separated from their mothers in the first couple of days of their lives and sent to veal crates to endure a harshly deprived existence, to extract some profit from their sad, short and lonely lives, catering to the desire of humans to consume their anaemic flesh. This, despite that fact that their flesh, like all flesh and all animal products, is unnecessary for health but consumed merely to titillate the palate. Indeed, the consensus among health professionals knowledgeable in nutrition is that animal products are deleterious to health and that a healthy, vegan wholefoods diet is the best diet for humans.

The notion that Lancrigg's patrons can enjoy a "haven of peace and inspiration" while simply turning a blind eye to the immoral and hellish exploitation that is inherent in Lancrigg's business; the idea that they can blithely indulge their escapist and hedonistic urges, while participating in that very exploitation, if they are not vegan, is one that should be loudly and unambiguously decried. It is not one which should be actively promoted by The Vegan Society! 

If anyone reading this is in any doubt about the torture and murder involved in the production of eggs and dairy; if anyone thinks this is simply sentimental, "bleeding heart" exaggeration, I invite you to do your own research. There is a plethora of information on the internet now about this reality. Everyone consuming these products has a responsibility to inform themselves. 
Ovo-lacto vegetarianism is is morally indistinguishable from meat-eating. There is almost certainly more suffering in a glass of milk than there is in a steak, since animals in the dairy industry live longer than their meat counterparts, are arguably treated even worse and end up in the same slaughterhouse before being turned into meat. If forced to make a choice between consuming either a steak or a glass of milk or a piece of cheese, on the basis of the suffering involved alone, I would choose the steak, without any doubt.

And if anyone thinks that the answer is to consume "free range", "barn laid", "organic", "humanely raised" or any other kind of "happy" animal products, they need to understand that all animal products involve torture and murder. The idea that there could ever be "humane" exploitation and murder is simply a lie. There is no way to ethically own sentient beings as property and to exploit them for their flesh and bodily secretions. Moreover, the problem is not the way that animals in the flesh and secretions industries are treated, it is that they are used at all, as the property of humans -- mere resources, with no inherent value. 

The fundamental factor driving the ongoing use of animals is consumer demand. Putting an end to animal slavery and exploitation requires that each one of us make the ethical decision to cease our own contribution to this abomination by refusing to consume animal products. That is, by going vegan. If we want to do more to help animals, that's our choice, but if we take animal interests seriously, if we believe that it's wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering on animals, then veganism is the moral baseline, the very least we should do. For further discussion on the abolitionist approach to animal rights please see this this website. I suggest starting with the videos on this page.

I think it's manifestly obvious that The Vegan Society is seriously failing in its mission to be a voice for animal advocacy through veganism, by taking money in exchange for advertising businesses that are directly involved in profiting from the exploitation of animals. Nevertheless, I've found by reading comments online that this is not obvious to everyone, including other vegans. Those who think The Vegan ads policy is acceptable, or who aren't sure, tend have the following perspectives, and I acknowledge comments by Francione and others on the Abolitionist Approach Facebook page in helping to identify these groups and in formulating my responses to them:

1. Vegans need information about where they can eat. The Vegan is performing a necessary and valuable service by informing them of this via their advertising.

2. The Vegan Society needs the money it generates from these ads. Without this money The Vegan may not be able to survive, financially.

3. Advertising vegetarian establishments is a step in the right direction. This perspective is based on the "vegetarianism as a stepping stone (or gateway) to veganism" notion. 

My responses to these perspectives:

1. As referred to in Francione's memo, I believe it would be quite acceptable and, indeed, a valuable service for The Vegan to publish a list of non-vegan restaurants, cafes, hotels etc. that cater for vegans. They should accept no payment for this and state that they do not endorse these establishments and cannot accept responsibility for the reliability of the food served being vegan. This is quite different to taking paid ads to actively promote places profiting from animal exploitation, thereby providing endorsement.

There is also a significant difference between advertising a vegan product that may be produced by a non-vegan business, or a vegan business that has a non-vegan parent or subsidiary business, and directly promoting a non-vegan business, like Lancrigg. In a non-vegan world, it's not possible to avoid buying products produced by non-vegan businesses, but we should promote the vegan product and not the business that is profiting from animal exploitation via their other products. This is a fundamental moral distinction, in my view. In promoting Lancrigg as a business, The Vegan Society is endorsing their entire operation, and is therefore endorsing animal exploitation. They claim that their ads do not imply endorsement. I disagree, and I'll come back to this later.

2. The end does not justify the means. Keeping The Vegan financially afloat does not justify colluding in the very exploitation that veganism explicitly rejects, thereby undermining the whole reason for existence of The Vegan Society and engaging in moral failure. If The Vegan as a hard copy publication needs to sell advertising space to animal exploitation businesses in order to survive, then the time has surely come for it to convert to an online format in order to cut costs. 

As Francione points out, there is no limiting principle if we accept this justification; effectively it would allow advertising any kind of product involving any kind of exploitation of non-humans or humans to prevail.

3. The notion that vegetarianism is a stepping stone, or gateway, to veganism is totally erroneous. There is no evidence that vegetarianism leads to veganism. Many people remain vegetarian for years, or even decades, without progressing to veganism. Conversely, many people become vegan without any interim "step" of vegetarianism. It's entirely possible and practical to go vegan incrementally, if that's what's desired, without resorting to vegetarianism. By substituting dairy and eggs for meat, vegetarians often engage in even more exploitation than when they were omnivores. There is no morally relevant distinction between meat and other animal products -- all involve torture and killing.

For a fuller understanding of these issues please read these essays by Francione (the first of which was published in The Vegan!):

 Vegetarianism First? The Conventional Wisdom -- And Why It's Wrong

"Gateway" Arguments

Some Comments on Vegetarianism as a "Gateway" to Veganism

You may also want to listen to these podcast commentaries:

Commentary #1: Vegetarianism as a Gateway to Veganism?

Commentary #6: Aspects of the Vegetarian/Vegan Debate 

It's disturbing that The Vegan is advertising two vegetarian organisations:

Christian Vegetarian Association (CVUAK) focuses only on vegetarianism, not mentioning veganism at all. From their website:
CVAUK believe that: 
  • a meat-free diet has distinct advantages for human health, enables a more just use of environmental resources, and eliminates the suffering of animals bred, raised and killed for food;
  • vegetarianism is a contemporary response to Christ's command to 'go and make disciples of all nations' (Matt 28:19) by giving active witness to the call of a compassionate God;
  • the adoption of a caring, healthy, violence-free vegetarian diet can be a means of creating a more peaceful society. 
As an empirical matter it is patently fallacious and misleading to claim that a vegetarian diet, which involves the consumption of eggs and dairy, "eliminates the suffering of animals bred, raised and killed for food" and that such a diet is "violence-free".

The other vegetarian organisation advertised, Vegetarian for Life, makes a mere mention of veganism but seemingly only for the purpose of conflating it with vegetarianism. It claims that its vision is "To improve the quality of life of the UK's older vegetarians and vegans". The focus of the organisation, as represented by their website, is overwhelmingly on lifestyle support and not ethics. 

VfL list as their values:

  • We believe a vegetarian lifestyle is compassionate, healthy and 'green'
  • We are business-like and ethical and use resources effectively
  • We are caring and operate with integrity
  • We believe best results come through positive cooperation with others
VfL has links to vegetarian recipe sites.

Aspirations towards compassion, caring, ethics and integrity are completely at odds with a vegetarian diet, involving as it does support for the torture and murder of animals in order to appropriate their bodily secretions for human consumption.

The downloadable booklet on the VfL site, Vegetarian Livingin addition to health and environmental reasons, gives as a good reason for being vegetarian or vegan:
Respect for animals and concern about their welfare -- intensive farming methods can be very cruel.
and as its final statement on this:
There are lots of very good reasons for the vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. But, in summary, it's kinder: kinder to animals, kinder to the planet and kinder to ourselves.
It's plainly evident that VfL is an organisation primarily espousing a vegetarian lifestyle, and  one that views vegetarianism and veganism as being morally equivalent. Like CAUK, it  conveys the message that we need to be "kind" and "compassionate" to animals, rather than that we owe them the fundamental justice of not using them as resources. Also like CAUK, it  clearly implies that our moral obligations to animals can be discharged through ovo-lacto vegetarianism and "happy" animal products. 

Why is The Vegan Society advertising vegetarian organisations? This is a truly retrograde practice. If our moral obligations to animals can be fulfilled by being ovo-lacto vegetarian, then what is the need for a Vegan Society at all? Why not just merge with The Vegetarian Society? And if our moral obligations can't be discharged by being vegetarian, then why is The Vegan promoting organisations which support the use of products involving immoral practices towards animals? The whole basis of veganism is a rejection of the notion that dairy and eggs are less morally reprehensible than meat and fish. It appears that The Vegan Society is deeply confused about what it stands for and is complicit in blurring the line, morally, between vegetarianism and veganism, thereby supporting the exploitation involved in vegetarianism.  

It's remarkable to me that The Vegan Society, which should be soundly rejecting the moral equivalence of veganism and vegetarianism and the false distinction between flesh and non-flesh animal products, is reinforcing these very notions via its advertising policy.The confusion that this policy must engender among non-vegan, aspiring vegan and new vegan readers is a matter for concern. However, for a "vegan" organisation that promotes a hotel serving meat in its magazine, this is probably a moot point.  

Promoting welfarist oriented vegetarian organisations also constitutes support for the idea of reducing suffering as the primary goal (despite the fact that vegetarianism does nothing to reduce suffering) rather than unambiguously advocating for the only measure that will end all animal use -- veganism.

This discussion continues in Part 4.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Vegan Society Follow-Up, Part 2: Strange Bedfellows

My survey of The Vegan, a quarterly magazine published by The Vegan Society (past issues online and current issue in print), reveals that The Vegan Society has not changed its advertising policy with respect to accepting paid ads from businesses that sell products obtained through animal exploitation. I doubt that there are any surprises in this for anyone who has read my previous two blog posts on the subject or who has otherwise been following this sorry saga of betrayal of non-human animals by The Vegan Society.

The Classifieds page in every edition of The Vegan displays this statement:
Conditions of Acceptance:
Advertisements are accepted subject to their satisfying the condition that the products advertised are entirely free from ingredients derived from animals; that neither products not ingredients have been tested on animals; and that the content of of such ads does not promote, or appear to promote, the use of non-vegan commodities. Books, records, tapes, etc. mentioned in advertisements should not contain any material contrary to vegan principles. Advertisements may be accepted from catering establishments that are not run on exclusively vegan lines, provided that vegan meals are available and that the wording of such ads reflects this.

It's strikes me as contradictory that The Vegan insists on products being strictly vegan in order to be accepted for advertising, and yet it is willing to accept non-vegan businesses serving animal products. A society for the promotion of veganism and businesses profiting from animal exploitation -- very strange bedfellows indeed! 

Let's review the non-vegan businesses and organisations that have been advertised in The Vegan Magazine, including both Classifieds and 'display' advertisements, since the Spring 2011 issue, when the subject of The Vegan Society's advertisements policy was first challenged by Professor Gary Francione, until the current issue, Autumn 2012, inclusive (past issues of The Vegan Magazine can be viewed here):

Firstly, there is, still, the establishment that started the furore:

Lancrigg Vegetarian Country House Hotel

The Green Valley Restaurant at Lancrigg shows their breakfast as including poached eggs and Danish pastries with local cheese, just as it did in February 2011.

Looking at the Sample Menu for the Green Valley Vegetarian Restaurant  we see that it includes tzatziki (contains yogurt), pesto (typically contains Parmesan cheese), pastry (typically contains butter), goat's cheese tart, red cheese, creamy cheese, cream, ice cream, cheesecake and a cheese board, indicating a variety of cheeses.

Manna -- heavenly vegetarian, vegan and kosher gifts 

supplying a range of hampers.

Michael House 

describes itself as a "Vegetarian and Vegan Guest House".

The Food page shows a list of starters, main courses and desserts which are not specified as being vegan or vegetarian.

Fern Tor Vegetarian and Vegan Guest House

Their web page, Our Food, states:
At Fern Tor we aim to provide gourmet vegetarian and vegan meals using home-grown organic produce when available.
The page lists a range of available dishes. It is not possible to identify which of these is vegan or vegetarian from this list, but an email response to my enquiry to the owners informed me that:
For our vegetarian guests, we provide eggs and cow's milk. A few of our main courses have a cheese topping, and dairy cheese is available for our vegetarian and omnivore guests. Dairy ice cream is also available.
The Breakfast menu includes "eggs from our rescued hens", "scrambled eggs" and "yogurt". 

The site states, rather oddly, given the inclusion of animal products, that "All of our food is suitable for vegetarians and vegans." 

Animal Compassionate Expeditions

Ace Outdoors state that they are:
a leading provider of outdoor adventurous activities, mountain skills training and adventure travel
FAQ Question no.12 informs us that they provide "vegetarian and vegan meals" on their residential courses. Not being clear about whether their meals were possibly all vegan and therefore also suitable for vegetarians, I sent an email enquiry and received this response:
We cater for both vegans and vegetarians, our main meals are vegan but we provide cow's milk, diary/eggs for lacto-ovo vegetarians and also can work around other dietary requirements. We try to offer a wide range of options to suit everyone's tastes and preferences.
The Old Post Office, Llanigon, Bed and Breakfast

No information is given on the website other than that there is an "excellent choice of vegetarian food served for breakfast". There is no mention of catering for vegans. In response to a phone enquiry, the proprietor told me that she caters for vegans, if they request it, only between April and October. Pity the poor reader of The Vegan who goes there between November and March expecting to get a vegan breakfast!

Paskins Town House

Paskins describes itself as "green" and "famous for being environmentally friendly" and that this

is highlighted by the selection of 13 different freshly cooked breakfasts that are prepared with mainly organic or local produce including imaginative vegetarian and vegan dishes.

 Vegan dishes aside, Paskins is proud to inform us on About Our Food that:

Our bacon is the real thing, bought from Old Spot Farm in Uckfield, pickled in brine for up to four weeks, and then smoked over oak and hardwood. The sausages are always an adventure as we experiment aiming to try at least fifty different varieties in a year.

I'm sure that readers of The Vegan will be ecstatic to know this.

The Our Menu page lists, among other things, sausage, hen's eggs, duck's eggs, vegetarian sausages made with cheese, butter, cream cheese and croissants (contain butter).

Chef's specials contain eggs, anchovies, rabbit, cheese, honey and ham.

Paskins make the rather curious boast on their site that they are "
The best Vegetarian Hotel Brighton and Vegan Hotel Brighton".

For all their vaunted "green" and "environmentally friendly" status, Paskins are obviously unaware that it's impossible to be either of these things while serving or consuming animal products, considering that in a recent authoritative report published by the World Watch institute, authors Goodland and Anhang concluded that over 51% of greenhouse gases (GHGs) emissions come from Livestock. Animal agriculture is a disaster for the environment in numerous ways, including soil erosion, water pollution and deforestation.

Non-vegan organisations advertised in The Vegan:

Vegetarian for Life

Details regarding these organisations will be discussed in Part 3.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Vegan Society Follow-Up, Part 1: A Resounding Silence

My intention in writing this 4-part essay is to follow up on the issue raised in my first blog essay last month, Banned by the Vegan Society for Saying That the Vegan Society Should Be Vegan. I suggest reading that essay to gain the necessary background in order to understand the important matters being addressed in this discussion. 

To briefly re-cap, that essay discussed the fact of Professor Gary L. Francione having been banned in February 2011 from the Vegan Society Facebook page following his challenging of the practice by The Vegan magazine, published by The Vegan Society, UK, of taking paid advertisements for Lancrigg, a "vegetarian country house hotel"  that includes a restaurant which serves animal products in the form of eggs and various dairy products. Also discussed was the failure of the Vegan Society to substantively respond to why Francione had been banned, especially in light of the fact that The Vegan Society was shown to be contravening its own rules, as set out on its Facebook Discussion Policy page, which forbid comments that "promote non-vegan products, services, recipes, etc."; and more importantly, their failure to take seriously and address the moral issue of a "vegan" society accepting financial payment from a business that is directly involved in making a profit from the secretions of exploited non-human animals. An important corollary to this central issue was that The Vegan Society appeared to be making a moral distinction between non-flesh and flesh animal products. It seemed that they were engaged in reinforcing the pervasive fallacy that there is something more morally problematic with consuming meat and fish than with consuming eggs and dairy products. In other words, that they were reinforcing the fantasy that vegetarianism is morally better than omnivorism, thereby blurring the line, ethically, between veganism and vegetarianism. 

After having been treated disgracefully by The Vegan Society Facebook representatives, and having received an insulting email from the Chair of their Council of Management telling him to go away because he had already wasted enough of their time, 
they were too busy to deal with the issue and they had "other important matters to be getting on with", Francione submitted a memo to the Society on March 2, 2011, and requested that it be considered. He was told that his proposal would be considered after the time passed for making proposals for the Annual General Meeting, which was to be held in December, 2011 and that it would be considered at the Council Meeting on September 29, 2012. 

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Eating Animal Products: Children Having Children

Today, Gary Francione, abolitionist animal rights philosopher, posted this article, Eating meat/dairy products linked to early puberty on his Facebook page concerning animal products and early puberty/health problems:
My comment:

The China Study (2006), by Dr. T. Colin Campbell (the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University) and his son, Thomas M. Campbell, a physician, examines the relationship between diet and a range of chronic diseases responsible for most of the morbidity and mortality in the Western world, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and autoimmune diseases. According to Campbell, The China Study is:
the most comprehensive study of diet, lifestyle and disease ever done with humans in the history of biomedical research. It was a massive undertaking jointly arranged through  Cornell University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine. The New York Times called it "The Grand Prix of Epidemiology." This project surveyed a vast range of diseases and diet and lifestyle factors in rural China and more recently, in Taiwan. This project eventually produced more than 8,000 statistically significant associations between various dietary factors and disease.
What made this project especially remarkable is that, among the many associations that are relevant to diet and disease, so many pointed to the same finding: people who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease. Even relatively small intakes of animal-based food were associated with adverse effects. People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest and tended to avoid chronic disease. These results could not be ignored. The health implications of consuming animal or plant-based nutrients were remarkably different.
The findings of the China Study were also backed up by extensive laboratory research conducted by Dr. Campbell and others.

The China Study concurs with the results of the Journal of Nutrition study and many other studies in finding an association between consumption of animal products and the incidence of breast cancer. According to Campbell, other factors which also increase the risk for breast cancer are:
  • Early age of menarche (age of first menstruation)
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Late menopause
  • High exposure to female hormones
The China Study also found that there is a relationship between consumption of animal products and all of the above risk factors. Concerning menarche, the Study found a dramatic difference between age of menarche comparing China with the US. The average age of menarche in 130 Chinese villages was found to be 17 years; in the US the average age is 11 years! Menarche is triggered by growth rate and girls who grow at an abnormally fast rate  due to consumption of animal products experience menarche earlier. Early age of menarche leads to higher levels of blood hormones such as oestrogen and if the diet remains high in animal products, these higher hormonal levels persist throughout the reproductive life, exposing women to a higher risk of breast cancer. 

In Western countries where the standard diet is high in animal products, early puberty caused by animal products is also a significant problem in terms of teen pregnancies, which are a major cause of poverty and disadvantage for girls and women and their children. Often, teen pregnancy is part of an intergenerational cycle of poverty and disadvantage which adds up to a social disaster.