I recently came across the following article after it was shared by someone in a Facebook group for Vegans and non-Vegans:
This article will do worse than nothing for animals. Why do I say worse than nothing? Because of this line in the article:
“So here’s a personal note for everyone out there who isn’t prepared to give up all meat, cheese, and dairy: Taking reducetarian steps makes a beautiful contribution, too.”
We live Vegan because we understand why we need to observe the right of nonhumans not to be used merely as chattel property of humans. Just as we reject human slavery or the rape, torture or murder of humans for any reason, so too do we reject all of those same things when it comes to nonhumans. The basis for our rejection of the idea that nonhumans should be used as property is exactly the same as it is with humans: the fact that, just as we know that humans are capable of feeling pain and other sensations, we also know that nonhumans are capable of this; this makes them -if we value moral consistency- part of the same moral sphere as humans. This also means that they inherently have the same basic, most important pre-legal negative moral right that humans have: the right to not be used as the property of humans.
There is one other problematic point in the article that I’d like to touch on before I get to the main point though. It’s that the wording “who isn’t prepared to give up all meat, cheese, and dairy” makes it seem as though only “meat” (a term we need to stop using as in reality it’s the flesh of a nonhuman and the term “meat” is just a euphemism that was fabricated specifically to divert our attention from this fact) cheese and dairy (cheese is dairy by the way) are the only things that we need to reject if we care about animals’ rights.
If we are committed to moral consistency, as we all need to be, then we should recognize that all use of nonhumans is morally wrong: there is no moral distinction between inflicting unnecessary suffering and death on nonhumans for the purpose of eating their flesh or dairy and inflicting unnecessary suffering and death on them for the purpose of eating their eggs, their honey, using their skins as clothing, using them for entertainment, or any other use that is unnecessary.
Now the main point of my concern: let’s say that in this day and age that we’re talking about the idea of humans being used as slaves -as we actually did allow legally in the US before 1863- and we already understand that slavery is morally wrong, as (hopefully) you and I already do. In other words, we already take the moral stance personally that it’s wrong to use humans as slaves at all. We have this idea that we may be able to get people to stop hurting humans unnecessarily through their use as slaves by talking to them about how we see the issue, so we decide to mount a campaign to educate them about it.
Within the context of this campaign, let’s say that we said to all the people who buy slave-made goods that “we know you’re not interested in eliminating the amount of those goods you buy completely” and so -instead of abolishing human slavery- it’s morally acceptable to “just partially reduce the amount of slavery-based products you buy;” or perhaps we would tell slave-owners that instead of owning 50 slaves they should only own 15 slaves. Would that sound like a rational response to the fact that we knew that slavery was morally wrong?
Of course not. Advocating for only owning 15 human slaves is still advocating for owning human slaves. If we human animals think that using other human animals merely as chattel property is wrong, we have a moral obligation to not tell people that there is a moral distinction between only using *some* humans as slaves and using some other higher number of humans as slaves. There may be a quantitative distinction in the utilitarian calculation of amounts of suffering, but that does not mean that there is a qualitative distinction regarding the morality of slavery. In other words, we have a moral obligation -if we think that it’s wrong to use humans as slaves- to only tell people that we think that all slavery is morally wrong. And that is what was called “Abolitionism” prior to 1863 and that is exactly what was advocated for by any morally consistent humans at that time.
After all, if we think that we’re doing something morally wrong in taking away the lives and freedoms of humans by taking their mere existence out of the realm of “someone who has moral value” and placing them into the category of “property of a human,” then what sense does it make to argue that we should merely “cut down on the number of property that we use” instead of being direct and telling someone that they are doing something wrong by using humans as property? If we care about the individual humans who we want people to stop using when they reduce their use of humans, then what about the individual humans who they are still going to be using? Does that mean that we don’t take a moral stance against the taking away of the lives and freedoms of those humans? Do we think that those humans -who are ceaselessly having their lives and freedoms taken from them and being subjected to enormous amounts of unending suffering- feel good about the fact that we advocated for a mere partial reduction in the number of humans being used? Because that is how it would look to anyone observing our campaign.
Moreover, if anyone who had never heard the idea that there was anything wrong with slavery was observing us say that we should merely “reduce the number of slave goods that we buy,” one of the obvious thoughts that would occur to them would be that we actually don’t care about whether people used humans as slaves in general, because we’re not clearly and unequivocally advocating for all humans to be free; they wouldn’t think that someone who is merely concerned with the partial reduction of the number of slaves who exist is morally against the institution of slavery at all.
They would automatically think that we were merely concerned about humans as some sort of aggregate of suffering (and most likely that we thought that the people being used as slaves should have about the same moral status that we currently accord nonhumans, as that is exactly what did happen in the past) rather than the idea that each human is an individual who we believe has a right to their own lives and freedoms; they would probably think that we merely thought that the overall treatment of the human slaves was not up to some arbitrary level of “kindness” that each individual campaigner had created in our own heads. And this makes it exceedingly easy for pro-slavery campaigners to argue unceasingly about whose arbitrary level of kindness should be the standard, which is exactly what they are doing regarding the slavery of nonhumans right now.
Contrary to what many people believe, the humans who use slaves are not so stupid that the majority of them won’t immediately realize that if someone is morally against slavery, that the most logical thing that person could do is immediately make the statement that all slavery needs to end immediately. Conversely, those same people will recognize that if someone is unwilling to make that claim, then they don’t actually believe that slavery is a moral wrong.
Both of these problems are exactly what we are seeing right now in regards to the nonhuman animals who we currently use as slaves in our society. Just as it happened before 1863, there are some people arguing that we don’t need to live Vegan, but just “reduce the number of others that we harm” -by using them as slaves- by an undefined but always arbitrary number. It’s no coincidence that these people are almost always the ones who argue that merely changing the way we treat the animals who we use as slaves eliminates the need to observe their actual rights as well. Those people who argued for better treatment of human slaves also often argued against the abolition of human slavery. In the context of human slavery they were arguing merely for the “welfare” of the slaves, as opposed to “the abolition of slavery.” That’s why we now have the terms “welfarist” and “Abolitionist Vegan” regarding the slavery of nonhumans in our current society.
There are also people in our current society who try to argue that we can make a claim for better welfare of slaves while still calling for slavery to end. These people have been dubbed “new welfarists” by some. However, the very fact that a person argues that we need to treat slaves better while we’re using them necessitates the position that using them is not a morally reprehensible crime that needs to end immediately. We can’t argue on moral grounds that something needs to immediately end if we’re arguing that it should be improved in some way. It just doesn’t work, from a moral standpoint or a tactical one. New welfarism and Abolitionist Veganism are by necessity contradictory positions.
It’s a major problem in our society that some people -who should understand that it would make no sense for those morally opposed to human slavery to argue that we should just reduce the number of human-slave-made goods that we buy- tend to make that exact argument when they talk about what we should do when deciding whether to buy the products of nonhuman slavery. When we change our moral argument from a categorical rejection of slavery to the idea that it’s morally acceptable to us to merely reduce the amount of slavery we engage in, solely because we have replaced the species membership of the human victims with “nonhuman,” that indicates an arbitrary moral double-standard that’s been dubbed “speciesism.” Speciesism is a product of a myth that we’re indoctrinated in since birth called “human supremacy.” Speciesism is every bit as much of a problem as racism, sexism, homophobia, or any other moral double-standard based on any other physical characteristic; in fact it’s even more of a problem, since it’s the root cause of all of the others.
Speciesism is the real threat from human animals to nonhuman animals in this world. When we make a speciesist argument like “we should reduce our consumption of meat or dairy” -rather than saying that we should end all of our participation in all forms of slavery- that has the unfortunate consequence of reinforcing the speciesism that is already saturated into every part of our society. The more speciesism in society, the more people will inflict completely unnecessary suffering and death on nonhumans. That is the main reason why I said the article will do more harm than good.
The article starts out ok by making the point that we should have moral concern for the nonhumans who are being killed, but it’s the conclusion they come to in the end that is counter-productive to the stated goal. If we truly want people to stop inflicting unnecessary suffering and death on nonhumans, the only thing we really need is for the highest number of people to reject speciesism. That is the only way that we can put an end to the root cause of the problem that is illustrated here, and keep things like these pointless deaths from happening over and over again for the rest of time.
Some people have criticized the idea that we need to verbally take a clear, strong and unequivocal moral stand that it’s wrong to use nonhumans as slaves by saying that “attacking people” for taking “reducetarian steps” will cause them to hate Vegans, or at the very least become defensive and choose to not make any changes in their consumption of nonhumans at all. There are several problems with this position however. Number one, criticizing the idea that as “animal advocates” that we should not be telling people that reducetarianism is morally unjustifiable is not “an attack,” any more than -if we are against human slavery- telling people that it’s wrong to engage in human trafficking -or rape, or murder- in this day and age is “an attack.”
When someone is doing something wrong to a human, then it’s our moral responsibility to speak out and explain why what they’re doing is wrong. Changing the species of the victim from human to nonhuman doesn’t change this. Claiming that it does is purely due to speciesism. And there is a difference between saying that an action is morally wrong and saying that someone is a bad person. If we’re doing our jobs as Vegan Educators in the only morally justifiable and effective way that we can, then we’re criticizing the moral action, not attacking the character of the moral actor.
Number two, no one is making the moral claim that the act of reducing one’s consumption of animal flesh, dairy or any other form of animal use based on their moral concern for animals is a bad thing in and of itself. It’s very easy to praise someone for “taking steps in the reduction of their consumption of animal products” due to their moral concern, without implying that they don’t need to go all the way and live Vegan. It’s not the “taking steps” that are at issue, it’s the idea that we should merely say that taking steps is a good thing, and say nothing else. The idea that taking steps is a good thing does not mean that it’s morally justifiable for us as Vegans to be telling people that the way to express their moral concern for nonhumans is to merely “take some steps.”
Also of note is that when we verbally take a clear, strong and unequivocal moral stand against all animal use, those who are observing are most likely to understand why we think that they need to live Vegan. The highest number of those people will positively consider the idea of living Vegan out of any results from any different kind of advocacy that we can do. Out of those who don’t start living Vegan soon after, some will merely choose to reduce the amount of animal products they consume, and some will choose to do absolutely nothing at all; but that does not say anything positive about the idea that as Vegans we should be pushing for mere partial reduction of animal use as a tactical matter.
As I just said, when we advocate for unequivocal Veganism as the moral baseline, we get at least some portion of people going Vegan immediately or soon thereafter. But in contrast, if we advocate for mere reduction and don’t take a stand for Veganism, we don’t even get anyone to go Vegan at all. The most we get in that case is reduction, and in many cases, nothing at all. So we can see that even as purely a tactical matter, advocating for reducetarianism makes no sense. It also makes no sense that someone observing our advocacy for reducetarianism -or indeed, any single-issue campaign- will somehow magically discover their moral obligation to live Vegan by some sort of weird osmosis, as is being claimed by quite a few new welfarists.
The rejection of speciesism as a moral wrong is the real meaning of living Vegan. If we reject speciesism by living Vegan, then we need to understand that we must also reject the idea that it’s morally justifiable to claim that “Taking reducetarian steps makes a beautiful contribution, too.” If we think that nonhumans matter morally and that they are entitled to their lives and freedoms, then it rationally follows that we have a moral obligation to -if we’re going to say anything to anyone on the subject of nonhuman slavery- explain to them why they already agree that they need to live Vegan, although they don’t yet know it. This means that we need to be exclusively engaging in creative Vegan education, as that is the only way to get people to reject speciesism.
Please live Vegan friends, and educate others about why they also need to live Vegan.
More reading on the problems of reducetarianism:
The most effective way to educate non-Vegans on why Veganism is our moral obligation to animals:
If you’re not already Vegan, and you think animals matter morally, then please live 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:
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, cis-sexism, 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.