There is a common misconception about what’s known collectively by the public as “The Animal Rights Movement”; that it’s one huge group of many thousands or millions of people who are each sharing a common philosophy and goal.
In reality, there are many smaller factions that each have their own ideas about what “Animal Rights” even means, as well as what their goals should be and how to go about obtaining them. Not all of these factions are actually even Animal Rights people (or truly understand what it is they’re doing in terms of advocacy, to be honest).
For instance, the 3 main factions that style themselves as “Animal People” are:
1. Animal Welfarists; these people believe that exploiting nonhuman animals is ok, but we should be “nice” about it. In other words, they believe that humans are morally justified in enslaving, raping, and slaughtering nonhuman animals, as long as we don’t “torture” them first. This is, obviously, a morally incoherent position.
Welfarists in general use Single Issue Campaigns such as protests and petitions to attempt to reform or eliminate specific instances of harm being done to nonhuman animals by human animals.
Some notable Animal Welfarists are Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and Peter Singer, among others. The governments of most countries, the large animal orgs such as the ASPCA, RSPCA, HSUS etc. also take a Welfare approach.
2. “New Welfarists” – These are people who believe that Welfarism will get us to Abolition, or the complete elimination of exploitation, and they usually focus on the idea that the reduction of suffering is the goal of Veganism, both of which are completely erroneous. The goal of Veganism is to eliminate speciesism in humans in general, and along with it, the intentional exploitation of nonhumans as much as is possible. Welfarism is not going to get us to that.
New Welfarists may do such things as occasionally eat some animal substances, wear animal substances, ride horses, use “service animals”, go to animal theme parks, etc. etc. ad nauseam. Many of them don’t even believe that such things are exploitation at all, because those individuals believe that how you use animals determines whether it’s exploitation, not that you use them. In addition, New Welfarists also use Single Issue Campaigns to attempt to bring light to the problems of our interactions with animals.
Many of the people who create or run the large non-governmental animal orgs are “New Welfarists,” (although most do not consider themselves such) such as Ingrid Newkirk, Bruce Friedrich and Matt Ball (Tom Regan falls into this category as well).
Here’s some more clear thinking about the problems with Welfarism and New Welfarism.
3. actual Animal Rightists; these are people who make the claim that in general, nonhuman animals should not be intentionally exploited by human animals at all.
We can further break down the Animal Rights faction into 2 smaller factions:
3a. Non-Vegans – people who believe animals have rights but continue to exploit them unnecessarily for reasons of their own pleasure, amusement, or convenience. Many Vegetarians also fall under this term. These people do not have a rationally coherent or consistent moral framework as far as how they determine what actions they should take in their day-to-day lives. They simply mistakenly believe that they can work towards getting animals rights while simultaneously exploiting them.
3b. Vegans – members of a social justice movement that is concerned with not intentionally exploiting nonhumans for any reason, and who choose to do the most they can to not harm any animal, whenever possible and practical.
We can further break down “Vegans” into 2 main categories, but this is really only due to the misguidedness of the people in question more than anything else:
3b1. “Plant-Based Dieters” – These people are not actually Vegans per se, but may erroneously consider themselves so. They consume a 100% plants-only diet (or close to that) because they care about various things like human health and the environment for their own reasons, but may not care about nonhuman animals that much or at all. Unfortunately, the public at large often fails to see the difference, and considers anyone who eats a PBD to be the same as a Vegan (who is in it for Animal Rights reasons first and foremost). PBDers may do such things as occasionally eat some animal substances, wear animal substances, ride horses, use “service animals”, go to animal theme parks, etc. etc. ad nauseam.
There are many PBDers, including almost all of the celebrities that the public thinks are Vegans. Many of them claim to be in it for the animals, but their actions often belie their words. Often, the list of celebrities who do this changes in a major way, as some of them go back to consuming animal substances, and some learn about the health benefits of a plants-only diet, so I won’t be listing them here. Some other people who fall into this category are Durian Rider, Freelee, and many of the other “Youtube Vegans” who post popular videos about combinations of plant-based nutrition and exercise. Almost all the doctors and scientists who post about PBDs also fall into this category.
3b2. Abolitionist Vegans – This faction of the “A.R.M.” understands that we need to completely eliminate all intentional exploitation of nonhuman animals by human animals. They understand that we need to abolish the property status of “animals” and accord them a minimum of one basic “negative right”; the right to not be used by humans merely as a resource for human amusement, pleasure or convenience. They understand that this is the only morally coherent position due to 3 main, unassailable, rationally provable facts:
a) Human animals are not morally superior to nonhuman animals.
b) There is no actual necessity for 99.99% or more of the human population of the world to intentionally exploit nonhuman animals for any reason.
c) Nonhuman animals in general have an interest in not being harmed and otherwise exploited.
Abolitionist Vegans further understand that Veganism is first and foremost about the nonhumans, and that if we are not in it for them, we are not really Vegan. Abolitionist Vegans also do not use any Single-Issue Campaigns or otherwise believe in Welfarism, because they understand why those actions are counter-productive to Animal Rights and so cause even more nonhumans to be harmed than if we never engaged in those actions at all.
I will make a note here that I belong in the Abolitionist Vegan category. I believe that The Abolitionist Approach is the only logically and morally coherent position we can take in our interactions with nonhuman animals.
However, there has recently been an increasing number of “New Welfarists” and other people (including people who consider themselves “Vegan” but still engage in speciesism and exploitative behaviors) who have been co-opting the term “Abolitionist” for their own purposes. In addition, there are some people who consider themselves Vegans, but also believe in using violence and other non-Vegan tactics to protect animals. There are also people lately who have been abandoning the meaning of Veganism in order to use the term to promote human rights issues while marginalizing the rights of nonhumans. For instance, they claim that because of the racism or sexism of some people who claim to be Vegans, that it’s morally acceptable for “vegans” to use animals at some point, as long as those “vegans” are doing really good human rights advocacy. These people often work under the term “Intersectional vegans.”
Hopefully, this post will continue to be accurate and dispel many of the common misconceptions that people have regarding Animal Rights advocates. So now, when you’re wondering which “faction” you belong to, all you have to do is ask yourself, what do I really think is logically and morally valid concerning the way we interact with nonhumans? Then you can base your decision on how to label yourself from that and respond accordingly, whether that be “friending” like-minded people or simply reading more about that category.
If you’re not already Vegan, and you think animals matter morally, then please go Vegan. It’s easy and great for you, incredible for the animals, and wonderful for the planet. If you’re already Vegan, please educate non-Vegans about why they should go Vegan. Please rescue, volunteer, adopt, foster, spay, and neuter the nonhuman refugees of domestication whenever you can. Please feed your nonhuman family Vegan where you can. These things are the most important, morally responsible things to do and are desperately needed by everyone.
To learn more about Abolitionist Veganism and the issues I’ve outlined in this post, check out The Master List Of Vegan Info:
Disclaimer: My only goal with this list is to produce as comprehensive a resource for Vegan information as possible. I am 100% Abolitionist Vegan and 100% against exploitation of nonhuman or human animals, any type of violence against human or nonhuman persons or property, welfare regulation, any form of speciesism, ethnic bigotry, genderism, ableism, heterosexism, etc., any of the large governmental or non-governmental nonhuman animal organizations, “happy meat,” vegetarianism, veg*nism, Meat-Free Mondays, or other forms of reductionism and anything else that makes it seem like any form of violence or exploitation of animals is ok. If any of those positions are endorsed on any site in this list, or any language is used to imply that, it’s not that I included that link because I agree, but simply because I don’t control every bit of information on all of these sites.