All moral codes held by individuals have a minimum standard that the individual must adhere to in order to claim that the specified code is morally coherent or consistent. This is what is known as a “baseline” in regards to a moral code.
Almost all humans claim that intentionally harming another sentient being unnecessarily is immoral. In other words, the basis of all moral codes is that if we don’t need to cause others to suffer, then it would be wrong to do so. This is what is known as “The Golden Rule” which is presented as “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
Anyone who does not follow this code is either following an inconsistent moral code (this is easily proven by logic) or no moral code at all (the second would be a case of “Might Makes Right” which is what led to things like “The Old West” before law and governance was installed, all dictatorships, and such things as post-apocalyptic scenarios).
Just to refresh our memories, let’s re-visit the meaning of Veganism:
Veganism as coined by Donald Watson in England in 1944 ~ “A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practical – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
Veganism is essentially an attempt to eliminate speciesism.
Speciesism is defined as “The assignment of different values, rights, or special consideration to individuals solely on the basis of their species membership. Speciesism is a prejudice similar to racism or sexism, in that the treatment of individuals is predicated on group membership and morally irrelevant physical differences.”
The primary mandate of Veganism can be expressed this way – “Do the most you can to not harm any animal at all, while not unnecessarily allowing yourself to be harmed.”
Add to this the fact that according to all logic and objective fact, human animals are not morally superior to nonhuman animals, and we can see that we now have a 100% rational and coherent moral stance.
As we can see, Veganism is nothing but an attempt to (rightfully) include nonhuman animals in the circle of “others” for whom we have moral concern as presented by the adherence to The Golden Rule. Now let’s see how this relates to the idea of “A Moral Baseline.”
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that there is a scale of how much intentional harmful or helpful actions you are doing to other sentient beings. On one end, at negative 100, we have the maximum amount of suffering you could possibly inflict on everyone else, regardless of (and including) what you are doing that is helpful, and at the other end, at positive 100, there is the most help you could give to everyone, regardless of (and including) any harm you are committing. Zero is when you are doing nothing harmful at all, and also nothing helpful. Zero is moral neutrality.
So, we draw a representation of this concept thusly:
The idea that “Veganism is the non-negotiable moral baseline” means that if we are Vegan, we would be positioned at Zero. We are not intentionally doing anything morally positive by simply being Vegan… we are merely not intentionally doing anything negative, aka harmful. Veganism is a morally neutral position. Being Vegan is not a positive action on behalf of animals. It’s simply acting in a decent manner and refraining from immorally committing harm to them, just like not molesting or beating or starving or killing children is the LEAST you can do regarding your moral responsibilities to children.
There are many things we can do to help sentient nonhuman beings that ARE morally positive; things such as adopting nonhuman refugees of domestication, TNR, running sanctuaries, volunteering at shelters, and the biggest one – educating non-Vegans about why Veganism is the non-negotiable moral baseline. But those are all things that must be done in addition to living Vegan; if you’re not already Vegan, then whatever other measures you’re taking to help sentient beings are being undermined and negated by the intentional harm you’re doing.
This is why any form of “activism” that does not explicitly explain why Veganism is the non-negotiable moral baseline (such as single-issue campaigns and other Welfarist objectives) is counter-productive to Animal Rights (meaning that it will cause people to harm more animals than it can help). If we are advocating for anything less than a 100% coherent moral stance (as all single-issue campaigns do) we are both confusing the issue and implying to observers that they can discharge their absolute moral responsibility to do the least harm possible (which you may remember is the definition of Veganism) by doing something less than causing the least harm they can (i.e. Veganism).
“But if most people claim that it’s wrong to unnecessarily harm others, why aren’t they already Vegan?”
The answer to this is simple. Although most people claim that it’s wrong, they also have never been told that all nonhuman animals should be included in the category of “others,” meaning other sentient beings like themselves. Most humans, once they are properly educated about this issue, will either go Vegan immediately, or give serious consideration to going Vegan.
Why Vegan Education Is Not As Hard As They’re Trying To Make It:
“If they won’t go Vegan immediately, then what good does it do to even bother educating them?”
There is no imposition involved at all in educating people about Veganism as the non-negotiable moral baseline. Almost every single human on the planet agrees with the phrase “It’s wrong to make animals suffer unnecessarily.” They already agree with the moral baseline “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Educating someone properly is actually easy, once you know the secret. It has nothing to do with forcing them to agree to a notion of morality that is at odds with their own, it’s merely getting them to recognize that they already believe in the basic concepts behind Veganism, they just haven’t been informed about the fact that: a) we don’t have any real NECESSITY to exploit nonhumans, b) nonhumans have a right not to be exploited, and c) why.
We can’t force people to go Vegan; the only thing we can do is educate them and allow them to choose what they think are the morally correct actions to commit from then on. Because of this, logically it doesn’t make sense to actually do anything other than educate them about Veganism in the most clear, compassionate and non-speciesist way possible. This is, rationally speaking, the only thing that can eliminate speciesism, which is the one thing we have to do to end the atrocities that humans have been committing on nonhumans for all of these millennia.
Regardless of whether they’ll go Vegan immediately or not, what WE do is morally important to US as well as to others. If we are not doing something we think is important, according to our own moral code, then we have a moral obligation to ourselves and other sentient beings to do that thing. Likewise, if we are doing something that is inconsistent with our own moral code, such as attempting to use speciesism to eliminate speciesism, then we have a moral obligation to stop doing that thing.
Often we don’t even realize we’re doing something that is inconsistent while we’re doing it… it may be brought to our attention by someone else, just like when we first learn about Veganism as the non-negotiable moral baseline. But, when we find that we are doing something wrong, we have a decision to make; either we continue to commit that wrong-action (often while vocally defending it), or we can admit that we were wrong, cease engaging in that behavior, and take whatever steps we need to take to get right with ourselves and those who may have been harmed by our actions.
That last part, incidentally, is how our moral commitment is measured. In other words, how committed we are to being “morally just” individuals.
The reason it’s called “non-negotiable” is because it’s irrational to think that we can try to hedge our moral bets. Claiming that we could do something to help animals while still inflicting unnecessary suffering on them by intentionally exploiting them and thereby form a coherent moral code is just not logical. If we care about humans, and we think it’s wrong to say, hurt children unnecessarily, then it would be wrong to beat some children while simultaneously giving money to a charity designed to help starving children. If we care about children morally, then the absolute minimum moral stance we must take is to not harm children intentionally in any instance that we could harm them, completely aside from any positive actions we might take to help children. This idea applies in an identical manner to the way we interact with nonhumans. The idea that this issue changes when we change the species membership of the victims is a biased, irrational double standard based on morally irrelevant criteria, which is known as speciesism. This is why all the non-Vegans (as well as those people who self-identify as Vegan) who claim they are doing good for animals by engaging in protests, signing petitions, and various other single-issue campaigns, which are invariably speciesist and always counter-productive, are obviously severely morally confused.
Which is why, unless our form of activism explicitly includes the idea that Veganism is the non-negotiable moral baseline, then that activism is based on an incoherent chain of logic. Unless we explicitly advocate Veganism as the moral baseline, we are still, knowing or unknowingly, implying that inflicting *some* amount of unnecessary suffering and death to nonhumans is morally justifiable, when it’s not. And doing that results in reinforcing the observer’s speciesism, which is why it’s actually counter-productive and harms more nonhumans instead of helping them, as Vegan Education does.
People who claim that persuading people to go Vegan is difficult just don’t understand all of this. That’s understandable when you’re new to a concept: both Veganism as the non-negotiable moral baseline; and that Vegan education can be easy; that it doesn’t have to be the same “drag-me-to-the-dentist-with-a-tractor” problem that people who haven’t discovered the secrets to doing it have always thought it would be.
“But what about those people who don’t see The Golden Rule as their moral baseline?”
Of course there are those who think that it’s perfectly fine to inflict unnecessary suffering and death. These people range from thinking that killing nonhumans so we can eat them is great, even if it causes massive suffering and we have no necessity, to the worst mass-murderers and participants in atrocities against humans in history. What of it? Those people make up the tiny minority of humans. If we think that those are the type of people we should be focusing on persuading to go Vegan, then there is something seriously wrong with our logic.
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.