Why We Need Less Compassion In The Animal Rights Movement And Why Decreasing Cruelty And Suffering Is Not The Point Of Veganism

Out With The Old 01

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard “I’m Vegan because I have compassion for animals,” “We should be Vegan to stop cruelty to animals,” or “I’m Vegan because it’s the right thing to do for people, animals and the planet.”

All three of these statements are counter-productive to the cause of Animal Rights, and hence will cause the amount of suffering we inflict on both nonhuman animals and human animals to increase.

Both “compassion” and “cruelty” are concepts related to kindness. All three terms are about what kind of emotional responses we have and are related more to our own perception of our need to feel a certain way than whether we are meeting our moral obligations. Kindness is also essentially an act of charity from a position of advantage. Animal Rights and Veganism are not about being kind to someone who needs our charity. Animal Rights is about justice, which is born from a basic notion of decency, fairness, and respect. It’s a “Social Justice Movement,” not a “Social Kindness Movement.”

Living Vegan is not an act of kindness that we grant to nonhumans, it’s a moral baseline, a moral responsibility that we must observe if we want to claim to be morally consistent or to deserve to not have our claims of our rights dismissed without due consideration.  Veganism is, by definition, the attempt to refrain from intentionally engaging in any act that would inflict unnecessary harm on other animals. That is why Veganism is the absolute minimum standard of decency we need to enact to call ourselves morally consistent. It’s not about granting someone rights that they don’t already have; they already had those rights. We’ve simply been violating them all this time.

Veganism is about ceasing to violate those rights; it’s about a commitment to nonviolence in order to withdraw our participation in the massive, systemic, intentional violence that we are already constantly perpetrating on all sentient beings. Not just “other people” have a responsibility to cease committing these wrongs, but each one of us. Nonhuman animals don’t need primarily for us to have compassion for them, they need for us to be just and stop committing these massive and ongoing violations of their rights.

Using the term compassion to drive a theory of Animal Rights is seriously flawed. Promoting the idea that anything except justice for animals is the driving force behind nonhuman rights diverts attention from the truth. Using terms like compassion as the basis for animal rights also causes most people to believe that the problem with animal use is that we need to reform our treatment of animals in some way, because it’s our “cruel” treatment of animals that’s morally wrong, and not that any *use* of animals at all is fundamentally morally wrong. It causes people to believe that there is some sort of “compassionate” way to use animals.

This is not an accident; indeed, the idea of compassion as a basis for animal rights is in and of itself a tool that our welfarist society uses both intentionally and also subconsciously to perpetuate our speciesism and hence, the welfarist paradigm that we’ve been slaves to for hundreds of years. Let’s be perfectly clear about this: There is no compassionate way to inflict unnecessary suffering and death on animals, as all use of animals involves unnecessary violations of their right to not be used. And it’s not our treatment of them that needs to be reformed; we need to stop using them, period.

Compassion also can be seen as a way to achieve forgiveness for a rights violation someone has committed. Since we are the ones committing the violations on them, nonhumans don’t need our compassion anywhere near as much as they need our empathy, our reason, our fairness, respect, and justice. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have any compassion at all, or that cruelty is a good thing. Indeed, having compassion towards humans -who can understand human moral codes and still commonly break those codes- for their transgressions is a very important way of setting an example for people who would otherwise have no reason to believe that they should have compassion nor forgiveness for anyone, human or nonhuman.

As most non-Vegans will tell you, anyone can feel compassion for someone and still inflict suffering and death on nonhumans merely for their own selfish interests. They will argue ’til they’re blue in the face that they don’t lack compassion, merely because they strive to give nonhumans a good life before “humanely” slaughtering them for “food.” In fact, the very notion that they lack compassion is insulting to most people. This is because they irrationally see themselves as the ones who should decide whether the “inferior beings” that they exploit should get to live or die at all in the first place.

The reason it makes more sense to use the idea of justice to drive Animal Rights is because you can’t have justice and still inflict unnecessary suffering and death. It can’t be coherently argued that it’s *just* to inflict suffering on nonhumans when there is no necessity. The non-Vegans who you may think lack compassion -and who are insulted by that claim- will often become Vegan when presented with the idea that although we recognize that they do have compassion, that it’s rather their sense of justice that dictates how they need to consider animal interests.

Another aspect of this issue is that when we say we’re Vegan to decrease or avoid “cruelty” then non-Vegans will argue that it’s not cruel to exploit nonhuman animals, as long as you do it “nicely.” They will argue that breeding animals is not cruel because the animals “have a good life” and “get to have a family” and other such nonsense. It’s much harder to argue against this than arguing that we have a moral responsibility to not exploit anyone, whether human or nonhuman, because humans are not morally superior to nonhumans. Another word that is implicitly tied to “cruelty” is the word “abuse.” Animals rights, at its core, is not about the immorality of abuse, it’s about the immorality of use. The treatment of nonhumans is not what we need to focus on, what we need to focus on is educating people on why it’s wrong to use nonhumans as replaceable resources for human interests in the first place.

Indeed, Veganism is not merely about a reduction in cruelty, abuse or even in overall suffering. It’s about not intentionally causing any suffering at all through exploitation, but that is really only a result of the fact that Veganism is a fundamental rejection of speciesism, which is an irrational, harmful moral double-standard that stems from the Myth Of Human Supremacy. Living Vegan does reduce the overall suffering in the world, but the reason we live Vegan is because it’s the only morally justifiable way to live.

If Utilitarian concerns of suffering were the main issue, we could justify harming some number of sentient beings, as long as it helped a greater number of sentient beings, or even just reduced a greater amount of suffering. But Veganism is about Rights, not Utilitarian concerns. In order to call yourself Vegan you must, as a Rights matter, reject the very idea that any being who can feel pain should be considered the chattel property of a human being, or used for human interests. Fortunately for everyone, when it comes to the issue of the infliction of unnecessary suffering, Utilitarian concerns are already addressed through Rights solutions.

Basically, if we always keep in mind that it’s a notion of justice that must include both nonhuman animals and human animals if for no other reason than to be sure that it’s rationally and morally consistent, then we can see that arguing about compassion and cruelty are counter-productive to a truly coherent dialogue on the idea of Animal Rights. Making such claims are speciesist, since we don’t argue that we’re being compassionate by not violating humans rights, and speciesism reinforces and perpetuates speciesism, which ensures that even more sentient beings will be harmed.

If we convince enough people of the moral argument for Veganism we won’t have to worry about systemic human cruelty, systemic human-caused suffering or widespread human compassion. A decrease in systemic cruelty and a general increase in compassion among the masses are natural results of Veganism, just like a decrease in the sum total of nonhuman suffering is a natural result of humans observing nonhumans rights. But only by arguing for justice can we convince people to be *just*.

Also, Veganism is not about humans first. Veganism is a human rights issue as well as a nonhuman rights issue, since it’s true that human animals are sentient beings just as nonhuman animals are sentient beings, and thus it makes no sense at all to say that it’s wrong to oppress nonhumans through speciesism but ok to oppress humans through racism, sexism, etc. But the facts are that the exploitation of nonhumans by humans is, by a gigantic margin, the most massive and at the same time the most ignored social justice issue in existence.

Also, the myth that humans are morally superior to nonhumans is fundamentally ingrained into the worldview of almost every human practically from birth. It causes the majority of humans to believe that some sort of physical or circumstantial trait is the criteria by which we should determine who we can dismiss from our moral consideration, which is why it’s the root of all human rights violations as well. we can never get to a world free from systemic nonhuman rights violations or human rights violations merely by observing -and educating others on- human rights, but we can get to a world free from systemic human rights violations by observing -and educating others on- Animal Rights.


Update – On the terms we use to describe how we unjustly use nonhumans: The term “meat” is really a euphemism, created by our speciesist society, that’s meant to divert attention from the real issue, which is that we’re talking about the flesh of an innocent being who could feel pain, fear and other sensations, just as much as humans can. A being who had an interest in their own survival and freedoms just as much as humans do. The reality is that it’s impossible to obtain the flesh of those beings without inflicting unnecessary suffering and death on them. Every nonhuman whose flesh we consume was immorally slaughtered using violence, and it was completely unnecessary. Let’s call it what it really is: animal flesh. Let’s point out with every sentence we utter that we’re talking about actual animals, not some morally neutral “product” that was somehow obtained in a “compassionate” way.

Using nonhuman animals for their flesh is also morally not distinguishable from using any sentient being merely as a replaceable resource for any other human purpose either. All forms of exploitation of any animal, nonhuman or human, are morally equal. Furthermore, to distinguish between different kinds of exploitation ensures that the people observing our arguments will inflict even more unnecessary suffering and death on nonhumans (and humans) than before.

Non-Vegans 01

If you’re not already Vegan, and you think animals matter morally, then please go Vegan. It’s incredible for the animals, easy and great for you, 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:


18 thoughts on “Why We Need Less Compassion In The Animal Rights Movement And Why Decreasing Cruelty And Suffering Is Not The Point Of Veganism

  1. Pingback: “Fifth Column Veganism” Is A Sham | The Legacy Of Pythagoras

  2. Regarding comments on this page: I agree with being able to express ourselves freely. However, if anyone is going to defend animal exploitation under the guise of benevolence or concern, instead of dissecting your comments and spending hours discussing your irrational remarks, your comments will be summarily deleted.

    There is NO rational justification for rape, torture, mutilation, slavery, murder, kidnapping, or any other human rights abomination. Even though there may be excuses for some of those, they do NOT include defending the rights of those victims. This is why there are no justifications for doing those things to nonhumans in the name of defending their rights.

  3. Hello,
    Thank you for this interesting article. A preliminary read leads me to the following thoughts. You are saying that justice is unequivocal and therefore not open to interpretation as are kindness and compassion. We lead with justice and kindness and compassion will follow.

    • Yes, precisely. The latter terms are concepts that mean too many different things to too many people to be a solid foundation for rights arguments. Justice, respect, rights, etc. each have a minimum basis that must be adhered to, or the term becomes meaningless, so from a rhetorical perspective, they are much more powerful as a basis for our arguments.

      The thing is, one needs to possess empathy in the first place for any normal appeal to rights to make sense to them. And most people do. So a combination of empathy and logic is the basis for more theories of morality. But empathy is much different than compassion. Also, even if one does not possess much empathy, there is an ironclad logical argument that can be made for not violating the rights of others based purely on self-interest:


      However, if someone actively enjoys harming others unnecessarily, the chances that they will listen to *any* argument are small, although there is still *some* chance. The only way there is *no* chance is if they both enjoy harming others and don’t care if they’re harmed in any way: but the number of people in the world of whom that’s true is very small.

      Thanks for the kind words!

  4. Your article expands my thinking. Thank you. In your subheading, however, I think you have a typo: “if you think animals have moral value, your only rational and just response is to go Vegan.” I think you mean “rationale” and not “rational.” Thanks again for your thoughtful article.

  5. I have a question, but you (legacyofpythagoras)
    I am vegetarian and planning on being vegan when I’m 18, but I have a question.
    You said: “the myth that humans are morally superior to nonhumans”. I got into an argument with my mother about animal rights, and she said: If we are not morally superior to other animals, why is it not wrong of us to rip animals to shreds while we are alive? I disagree because I think we have a moral obligation not to cause suffering, because we have stepped beyond the cycle of life.

    Do you have a good answer for her? Because you said we are actually not different.


    • Hi. Thanks for your question :^)

      Is your going Vegan at 18 because your parents won’t let you go Vegan sooner?

      When you say “because we have stepped beyond the cycle of life” I understand what you mean. You’re absolutely right in that we have no necessity to intentionally kill to thrive. The answer to your question as to what you can tell her is in this essay:


      specifically this passage:

      “The idea that we should be able to do these things because say, a lion eats a zebra is ridiculous in the extreme. A male lion often will kill a rival male and their offspring before copulating, in public no less, with the mother. If a mother lioness gives birth to a severely ill or deformed baby, she will usually cannibalize them. When applied to human contexts, do we think these are morally justifiable ways to behave?

      This is where the Human Supremacist says “Either we are morally superior to animals, in which case exploiting them is fine, or we aren’t morally superior to them, in which case we can kill them merely because we want to consume them, just like any other animal does.”

      However, this completely fails to recognize that claiming one is “morally superior” means that one adheres to a code of fairness and justice more than the other does, not that one can merely understand human concepts of morality. If a human can understand the concept of the injustice of slavery, rape, torture or murder, but does not refuse to engage in such behaviors, where is the moral superiority in that?”

      In other words, we believe it’s wrong to hurt human animals unnecessarily because they don’t want us to hurt them. But then, when nonhuman animals don’t want us to hurt them, we still hurt them for our mere pleasure, amusement or convenience, not for necessity. Morality isn’t calling for us to be super-human or anything, merely consistent in our behavior between one being who can feel pain and another.

      By saying we are not different, it means that we aren’t morally superior or inferior in that we don’t have any traits that make it morally acceptable to harm them for unnecessary reasons. The only way in which we are different from them is that we are capable of understanding a moral code that ensures that we understand that we are capable of refraining from harming others unnecessarily. Which means we have a moral responsibility to act on that code, which they don’t.

      It’s a good idea to read the entire essay before using the argument. You could even have her read the essay so she can see the full argument.

      Hoping it goes well.

      • There’s only one reason nonvegans use the “lions” excuse to eat sentient beings: VANITY. Humans’ closest genetic relatives are chimpanzees; no one wants to look or act like a chimpanzee. But lions are glamorous, the king of the jungle. Just plain human conceit.

        • There are many reasons why humans may live non-Vegan, and it’s usually a combination of them. Ignorance (which is only a way of saying they are lacking information about Veganism), selfishness, greed, apathy, etc. etc. ad nauseam. I don’t pretend to be able to narrow it down for each non-Vegan I encounter. But one thing I do know is that the majority of the non-Vegans I talk to about Veganism 1-1 are interested in learning how they can live Vegan. This is because the majority of humans have moral concern for other animals. So the best thing we can do is not express negative feelings towards non-Vegans before we even talk to them at all. And I am really not big at all on denigrating random non-Vegans who I’ve never talked to in discussion with other Vegans.

          If we think we should be trying to help nonhumans, first we have to find out if a non-Vegan is interested in learning about Veganism, and if they are, educate them about it. If they’re not, simply ignore them and go on to some other non-Vegan who is. This is the only way we are going to actually make any difference in the lives and suffering of the nonhumans who we should be so intent on helping.

          Not sure if you’ve seen this, but I’ve created a somewhat useful guide on the gist of how to educate people:

          I can speak from personal experience and say that it works wonders.

  6. It’s great that as a vegan you are thinking deeply about the issue of justice/fairness when it comes to your food choices.

  7. Pingback: “Vague-an” Outreach? Never. Abolitionism? Always. | The Turbulence of Dreaming | South Florida Vegan Education Group Blog

  8. This is a great post! It’s very good actually, I was wondering if I could narrate this into a YouTube video for my channel Animal Liberation? I’d credit you of course.

  9. Are you familiar with Jonathan Haidts‘ Moral Foundations Theory? All over the world progressives care about justice most, yet if we want to change a broader range of people and not only confirm who we are we have to appeal to their worldview. And what is wrong with going vegan for compassion?
    According to Carol Adams, rights approaches are a male thing and she pleads for an ethics of care along the feminist tradition. By so narrowly focusing on a rights frame we shut ourselves in the a very small corner on the political left and are not even united with feminism. This is why veganism has been confined a very tiny minority

    • “According to Carol Adams, rights approaches are a male thing”

      Rights are logic thing. By saying that they are a male thing, someone is saying that females are inherently not capable of understanding simple logic. I happen to disagree with that. But not every female will demonstrate evidence that I’m correct. Unfortunately.

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