Tag Archives: Non-Profit Industrial Complex

The Social Psychology of Veganism – Scripting

Effective persuasion necessitates that activists carefully direct desired behavior change. For vegans, what this means is that telling people to “Go Vegan!” is not sufficient, because it is not self-evident what going vegan entails. Veganism still appears a daunting task to most.

There are many reasons for this. First, veganism is still deviant and statistically uncommon in the West, and mainstream media represents it negatively (Cole and Morgan 2011). Second, professionalized animal welfare organizations (such as Vegan Outreach) dedicate a significant portion of their efforts painting veganism as difficult and unrealistic. As a result, individuals are getting negative messages about veganism from both sides, making the transition to veganism a confusing one and persuasion unlikely.

Simply demanding people go vegan is not enough, but scripting veganism can definitely improve results. According to social psychological research, the critical moves of behavior change should be clearly laid out and unambiguous (Heath and Heath 2010). The many changes necessitated to go vegan should be broken down into small changes so that it does not appear daunting and undermine motivation.

Meatless Mondays and vegetarianism are not recommended for inclusion in vegan scripts. The key is to script one big change into smaller changes, and this does not necessitate compromising ethics. It is common for professionalized nonprofits to employ flexitarian models with the justification that small steps are necessary, however, these organizations rarely promote veganism as an end goal. Their decision to promote small changes is based on their requirement to secure large grants and donations from elites, many of whom are threatened by veganism or anti-speciesism.

Activists can employ scripting to promote veganism without having to compromise. Consider the following script, which assumes moderate levels of accessibility. This would need to be tailored to low-income communities, cultural enclaves, or communities living in food deserts. Scripting should be tailored to suit the socioeconomic status and structural opportunities available to a given audience.

  1. State clearly to your family and friends you that you will be going vegan. Making a clear commitment will motivate and sustain your decision. It will also alert your support system, encouraging them to be respectful and helpful.
  2. Buy or borrow a few books on vegan ethics, vegan health, and vegan cooking.
  3. Locate a list of common animal ingredients to avoid and keep it handy.
  4. If you have a smartphone, download vegan apps to help with ingredient checking.
  5. Remove all nonvegan food items (flesh, milk, eggs, cheese, butter, honey, and all processed foods that contain these ingredients or other ingredients like gelatin, whey, datum, etc.) from your home and workstation.
  6. Create a grocery list and replace pantry with staples (use beginner’s vegan cookbooks to guide this process). Consider buying vegan analogs like veggie burgers to ease the transition. They are especially useful for busy lifestyles or for people with limited cooking skills.
  7. Get familiar with vegan fast food options in your area for times when you don’t have time to cook (websites and smartphone apps are available to help with this). While you’re at it, look up vegan-catering restaurants and natural grocers in your area. Keep your pantry stocked with vegan snacks for times when you’re in a rush.
  8. Devise a plan for parties, holiday dinners, and other social gatherings that are not likely to have vegan options (bring your own food or make a special request ahead of time, the same goes for air travel).
  9. Purchase new shoes, belts, jackets, and wallets to replace any nonvegan items you may have that are made of leather, wool, silk, fur, down, or suede (hard to find items can be found in online vegan shops).
  10. Replace your soap, shampoo, toothpaste, laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, and other bath and body products with vegan alternatives.
  11. Join a local vegan group and/or an online community for support.
  12. Subscribe to some vegan food blogs for inspiration.
  13. Try one new vegan recipe each week.
  14. Purchase a vegan multivitamin (with B12), vegan Vitamin D3, and vegan Omega-3s (all available from natural grocers, online vegan stores, or online discount vitamin suppliers)
  15. Donate or trash any remaining products made from nonhuman animal products.

For those with the means to do so, this list can be tackled in a few days. For others who might be overwhelmed with the transition or who may have limited income, this script can be staggered over a few weeks or months.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Provide very clear steps for going vegan
  • Make sure steps towards veganism are manageable
  • Tailor script for each community

References

Cole, M. and K. Morgan. 2011. “Vegaphobia: Derogatory Discourses of Veganism and the Reproduction of Speciesism in UK National Newspapers.” The British Journal of Sociology 62 (1): 134-153.

Heath, C. and D. Heath. 2010. Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. New York, NY: Broadway Books.

 

This essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.


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Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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The Social Psychology of Veganism – Free-riding

When people support the need for social change but abstain from helping or participating to avoid the perceived costs and risks involved, this is known as free-riding. As rational actors, non-participants suppose that they will eventually reap the benefits achieved by others who participate and incur those costs and risks without having to contribute themselves.

The civil rights movement exemplifies this conundrum. Images of protesters being sprayed with high powered water hoses and attacked by police dogs permeated the news. This certainly discouraged a number of would-be participants from signing up. Likewise, those who come out in support of gay rights face discrimination, and some have even lost their jobs as a result (Taylor and Raeburn 1995). Participation can be scary, and it is easy to rationalize that it would be safer to stay at home and let others do the dirty work.

When protest can be so dangerous, how do movements motivate participation?

The problem for movements is that, if everyone free-rides, the common good cannot be achieved. If many participate, on the other hand, the costs and risks are more widely distributed and social change is more easily achieved. There are several ways that free-riding can be overcome, but I will specifically mention three: appealing to altruistic norms, making individual participation visible, and building a group identity.

Appealing to Altruism

As was discussed in earlier essays, there are several social norms that facilitate pro-social behavior. The norm of reciprocity suggests that individuals can be expected to return favors (so activists giving small gifts might expect recipients to be more easily persuaded). However, the norm of social responsibility finds that people will often help with no expectation of return at all. Clear appeals to would-be free-riders may help overcome the desire to stay back.

Highlighting Individual Participation

Recognizing each contributor is also vital. When individuals are made accountable for their contributions, they are more likely to continue participating. When people are made to feel invisible or are unwelcomed, it isn’t likely that they will be sticking around. Voting is a great example of how this can go wrong. The rational actor recognizes that their individual vote is not likely to sway the outcome of the election, and therefore may feel little incentive to go out of their way to participate. Political campaigns try to remedy this with personalized appeals through post and text.

Social movements have historically overcome this problem with good communication and the deployment of smaller groups. In the 21st century, however, most social movements have adopted a larger, more bureaucratic organizational structure to maximize resource mobilization. This model reduces opportunities for individual-level communication and makes it difficult for participants to feel as though their contributions are noticed and meaningful.

Donating $20 to PETA for an annual membership seems like a drop in a large, anonymous bucket, but donating an hour of time with a grassroots organization has a more tangible impact. The communication, feedback, and community experienced at the grassroots level are far more motivating than generic donation requests and online petitions.

Nurturing Group Identity

Likewise, group identity can be a powerful motivator (Armstrong 2002). Identity creates a sense of belonging and a sense of responsibility to the group. Indeed, researchers have pointed to group identity as essential for sustaining veganism in a world that is otherwise hostile to the practice (Cherry 2006). For movements, there is an imperative to overcome individualistic approaches to social change, as isolation and alienation discourage participation.

Read more about free-riding in the context of Nonhuman Animal rights here.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Foster networks and communities
  • Emphasize why individual contributions matter
  • Acknowledge individual contributions
  • Reduce unnecessary costs, risks, or dangers associated with participation
  • Emphasize rewards to participation

References

Armstrong, E. 2002. Forging Gay Identities: Organizing in San Francisco, 1950-1994. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Cherry, E. 2006. “Veganism as a Cultural Movement: A Relational Approach.” Social Movement Studies 5 (2): 155-170.

Taylor, V. and N. Raeburn. 1995. “Identity Politics as High-Risk Activism: Career Consequences for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Sociologists.” Social Problems 42 (2): 252-273.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.


This essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.

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Are Vegans too Open to Free-Riders?

In an interview with The Atlantic, I present the compelling findings from my publication, “Free-Riders in the Nonprofit Industrial Complex: The Problem of Flexitarianism.” In a meta-analysis of over 40 peer-reviewed journal articles on vegan motivation and consumer persuasion, I find that the pragmatic “reducitarian” approach to veganism and animal liberation that is promoted by nonprofits in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement lacks empirical support.

The Atlantic also interviewed Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary to gauge the nonprofit perspective on the utility of flexitarian campaigning. Baur insists that incrementalism works, yet, typical of animal charities, offers no compelling evidence to support such a claim. Given the overall increase in “meat” consumption and persistent stagnancy in vegan numbers, his claim is especially suspect. Indeed, Baur points to the 2008 dip in “meat” consumption as an example of successful incrementalism, making the unscientific leap that this temporary decline was due to a Farm Sanctuary campaign and not the historic economic recession. “Meat” consumption in 2018, incidentally, hit a record high in 2018.

Other vegan activists interviewed in the article insist that flexitarianism remains an important tool for reaching a public uninterested in animal liberation who may be swayed instead by appeals to health and environmental sustainability. However, as I emphasize in my research, this “common sense” perspective lacks evidence. Most vegans go vegan out of altruistic concern for other animals, not health or environmental concerns. And more importantly, for those who are not interested in veganism at all, the research indicates that flexitarians, in general, do not substantially cut back on their consumption of animal products. Some even consume more animal products than someone who does not identify as a flexitarian.

In other words, folks are being encouraged by the Nonhuman Animal rights movement (Farm Sanctuary included) to adopt the flexitarian identity, even though this approach has not been proven to convert new vegans or significantly reduce consumption of animal products.

I emphasize that this free-riding (adopting the prosocial identity without changing behavior) is intentionally cultivated by movement elites such as Baur. This is because disinvested pseudo-members provide an illusion of mass support without charities having to share movement power democratically. Why do nonprofits do this? They are beholden to the state and elite-run foundations, both of which have a vested interest in the maintenance of speciesism.

 

Read my interview with The Atlantic here.
Read the original article, “Free-Riders in the Nonprofit Industrial Complex,” here.
Read a summary of the article here.


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Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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Can Flexitarianism Facilitate a Vegan World? Research Suggests Another Agenda

Can flexitarianism build a vegan world? In a meta-analysis of dozens of articles on vegan motivation, flexitarian dietary patterns, and consumer psychology, I conclude that the ideology of semi-vegetarianism promoted by the vegan/Nonhuman Animal rights movement is not supported by evidence.

Research does not support that flexitarianism facilitates meaningful change, but it does support a conservative movement culture that is conducive to industry, state, and elite interests. Activists frequently default to “common sense” mantras of “pragmatism” promoted by movement elites when deliberating strategy, but movement success will ultimately rely on objective analysis of social change processes independent of bureaucratic, institutional, ideological, or celebrity hearsay.

Research supports that most people who go vegan and stay vegan do so out of concern for Nonhuman Animals. Nonprofits, however, often focus on the health benefits of veganism. This is not supported by the research as a major motivator for behavior change. Nonprofits focus on health because it is less political and threatening than the idea of animal liberation.

Nonprofits mask this rationale by claiming that folks operate on self-interest and are more likely to be swayed by appeals to their own health. Research does not support this. Humans are more likely to be motivated by compassion and altruism when it comes to relations with other animals. Therefore, by promoting veganism as a moral obligation, nonprofits would be far more likely to affect change.

The Free-Rider Problem

In my body of research, I have suggested that nonprofits intentionally engage strategic blunders because nonprofit goals are generally distinct from radical social change goals. Could the vegan/Nonhuman Animal rights movement also be intentionally alienating the public from veganism even though veganism is an unavoidable necessity to end speciesism? I think so.

Historically, social movements have had to grapple with the problem of motivating people to participate. This is a problem because, theoretically, a rationally acting individual is more likely to want to sit on the sidelines and let someone else do the risky and costly work of activism. Activism can entail social stigma, risk of arrest, and career damage. It could even simply turn off folks who do not want to be bothered with crowds, bad weather, walking, calling up politicians, etc. If someone else is willing to do that work, why not just leave it up to them?

As one means of overcoming free-riding, collectives have begun to professionalize to ensure a dedicated cadre of activists working full time on a given social problem. Since the late 20th century, movements have taken on a bureaucratic, corporate form which allows them more stability and state support at the cost of their radical politics. Industries working in tandem with the state now funnel money into nonprofits as a means of soft control. Radical politics, as a result, are simply starved while moderates are glutted. What I suspect is that social movements today are actually encouraging free-riding in order to maintain control over movement organizations and the social movement arena itself. In effect, they are helping industries and the state to neutralize and deradicalize politics.

If a movement can facilitate a public that supports its cause but is not encouraged to actually participate beyond donating intermittently, this manufactured free-riding strips the democratic essence of a movement and ultimately weakens it. Movement organizations that use this strategy can expect institutional longevity, but the ability to create meaningful social change with power centralized in this way is stifled.

Why Unstructured Incrementalism is Less Effective 

These structural influences shape a social movement’s claimsmaking. The Nonhuman Animal rights movement’s leading nonprofits mask their allegiance to conservative cash flow by making appeals to common sense notions of behavior change. Rather than asking someone to make the big leap to veganism, nonprofits insist, ask them instead to make a few changes and ease their way into it. However, social psychological research has demonstrated time and time again that “common sense” explanations are frequently misleading. Humans are far less rational than we think we are.

Although the United States is a country with major economic, political, and social ties to exploiting Nonhuman Animals, values of freedom, fairness, and compassion mean that few Americans want to see themselves as someone who is cruel to other animals. Flexitarianism, then, is a form of incrementalism that allows people to keep participating in exploitative behaviors as the system encourages them to do, while also enacting deeply held values about compassion. America is a country of animal lovers who want to keep eating animals—charities can appeal to this cognitive dissonance by promising folks that they can identify as an animal lover without having to make any real behavior changes. This is the very definition of a free-rider.

In “Free-Riders in the Nonprofit Industrial Complex: The Problem of Flexitarianism” published in Society & Animals, I have explored dozens of studies on vegan motivation and consumption change. In many cases, those eating flexitarian are not really eating any less animal products and they are less committed, more likely to exhibit characteristics of eating disorders, and sometimes actually eat more animals than people who did not identify as flexitarian.

Other research finds that participants asked to eat prescribed diets of omnivorism, flexitarianism, and veganism experienced similar levels of satisfaction and adherence to the diet—so why not go for the gold and ask folks to go vegan? After all, veganism has a bigger impact on the well-being of both Nonhuman Animals and humans.

The research, in short, does not support that asking folks to go vegan repels them, but the movement repeatedly assures activists that it will. Something else is fueling this rationalization since the evidence explored in my meta-analysis is not lining up.

Evidence to the Utility of Vegan Campaigning

Some research from tobacco cessation programs supports the importance of being straightforward and honest about the desired change. Participants in some studies, for instance, who were asked to quit immediately were more successful than those asked only to cut back. Furthermore, participants who were given a scheduled means of reducing toward cessation were successful, too, since behavior change can be cognitively straining. Vegan organizations, however, are more likely to promote vague ideas about cutting back and never mention the word veganism.

Tobacco cessation research supports that either asking folks to quit altogether or providing them a clear plan towards a clear goal is effective, but Nonhuman Animal charities do neither. The reason for this is that nonprofits—as businesses–are ultimately more interested in financial stability and institutional survival than they are interested in actual social change. This is a basic sociological observation found across many industry sectors.

So long as nonprofits are beholden to foundations and the state for support, it is unlikely that vegan programming will ever be designed according to evidence-based scientific research. This is because the nonprofit goal is to promote generic, promotable social services for the purpose of ensuring its survival, not to promote radical social change which would threaten the elite-run foundations, the state, and the nonprofits themselves. Promoting flexitarianism allows the charity to appear to be doing good works without really mobilizing any radical change.

The Imperative of Critical Thinking and Scientific Accountability

Nonprofits with a genuine interest in creating a vegan world will need to reconsider the role of the public in pushing for change. Relying on foundations and the state for financial support creates an inherent conflict of interest. These organizations will also need to engage with scientific evidence to support their proscription for social change.

This research must be objective. Increasingly, nonprofits produce their own in-house research to draw on the legitimacy of science to lend credibility to tactics and strategies that, when studied objectively by outside parties, would not demonstrate effectiveness. In other words, nonprofits recognize that science helps sell their strategy as effective, but, since science cannot support their ineffective tactics, they simply create their own science.

A new movement culture that genuinely wishes to address the crisis of speciesism should, therefore, nurture unbiased, replicable research that is designed to benefit effective Nonhuman Animal liberation. Research manufactured by nonprofit staff with little to no scientific training with aims of improving the institution’s appeal to elite-run foundations is not the sort of research that will achieve a vegan world.

Ultimately, nonprofits present a serious conundrum for effective activism. Nonprofits have essentially become an extension of the state, making their long-term utility to the movement questionable. Large sums of money are too frequently thought necessary to enact social change, but this economic logic of growth has protected the nonprofit industry from necessary scrutiny. Sociological theory has demonstrated that capitalist structures both create and aggravate inequality. Grassroots mobilization that challenges hierarchical movement structures, the hegemony of capitalist interests, and concentrated decision-making could allow for an openness to strategies supported by the science.

 

Readers can access the entire article here.
A condensed version of this research in the context of wider vegan movement studies was covered by The Atlantic.

 


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Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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Can Veganism Save the World? This is Hope

Although human relationships with the environment grow increasingly of interest to the scientific community, this same community resists a serious consideration of the role that Nonhuman Animals play in human ecology. In the green discourse, Nonhuman Animals are either objectified or ignored altogether.

As such, the critical exploration of human-nonhuman relationships in the context of climate change and environmental justice is largely relegated to activist scholars. One such researcher is Will Anderson, who’s This Is Hope: Green Vegans and the New Human Ecology presents the first comprehensive book in which Nonhuman Animals are included in the discussion as meaningful agents. Arguably, Anderson’s work acts an environmentally-focused version of Singer’s Animal Liberation. Its central thesis is that environmentalism makes no sense so long as humans persist in their systematic violence against Nonhuman Animals.

“Managing” Nature and Other Animals

The bulk of environmental literature speaks of Nonhuman Animals, not as individuals, but as abstract species categories. When individuals are lost from consideration, any number of injustices can be enacted upon them in the name of “conservation.” This includes “hunting” and lethal “wildlife management.”

In This Is Hope, readers learn how “hunters” artificially remove individuals from the environment to the effect of tampering with evolution. “Hunting” ensures that genes are systematically eliminated from populations in ways that would not otherwise occur naturally. This surely occurs when “hunters” target males, specifically those with larger bodies or more impressive antlers.

Subsequently, humans intentionally create fragile ecosystems that will require human management. The projects of “humane washing” and “green washing” are leveraged by animal exploiters and apologists to justify this forced management. As a result, continued exploitation is abetted while the more ethical (and logical) vegan solution goes ignored.

Environmental Injustice for Other Animals

Anderson’s book offers an extensive overview of how Nonhuman Animals, both domesticated and free-living, are impacted by human activity. This predominately occurs through a process of otherization. The division currently existent between humans and other animals is, as he indicates, socially constructed by humans.

His approach to this thesis is personal. Anderson shares many of his own interactions with various Nonhuman Animal communities and environmental groups to support his claims. Readers learn how Nonhuman Animals matter to the environmental discourse through case studies, research reviews, scientific evaluations of sentience, and the emotional power of anecdotal stories.

There is a discussion of the complexities involved in human and nonhuman oppression. Poverty, ecocide, misogyny, speciesism and other oppressions, he insists, are all interrelated. He also touches on the complexities involved with navigating violence against Nonhuman Animals among indigenous populations.

A fundamental issue of environmental justice for other animals is what Anderson refers to as “neo-predation.” Human predation on Nonhuman Animals is exacerbated because it is based on the increasing human population and its increasing consumption. In simply taking up space, creating noise pollution, laying roads and structural barriers, and introducing invasive species (like cows and crops), humans inflict wide-reaching damage.

A Vegan Ecology

Many significant obstacles to creating a vegan ecology exist. For one, environmentalists are wary to adopt veganism for fear of appearing too sentimental. This problem is one that is faced by many feminized social movements. The nonprofit industrial complex also seems to be at work, since so many professionalized, funding-dependent NGOs dominate the arena of conservation. They are evidenced to stifle radical discourse.

According to Anderson, differing cultural beliefs regarding the environment and Nonhuman Animals means that change-makers have no agreed upon goals. This, in turn, makes collaboration difficult. The nonprofit industry’s hyperfocus on membership and financial support is another complicating factor. “Hunters,” being important funders, enjoy the protection of their interests and a silencing of anti-speciesist ideas. Likewise, professionalized groups generally skirt association with veganism to avoid seeming unreasonable. Finally, the wealth of counter-claimsmaking promulgated by “fur,” “fishing,” and “wildlife management” industries also inhibits progress.

Points to Consider

Empathy

Anderson’s thesis is predicated on his case for the critical importance of “empathy.” However, “empathy” strategies could overshadow the material strategies necessary to truly protect and respect other animals. I would suggest that the logic of social justice and rights may be more effective or should at least be incorporated.

Empathy, while foundational to social justice efforts, could actually maintain human superiority if not buttressed. For instance, feminists do not argue that women deserve recognition and protection only because men should empathize with them. Instead, most feminists insist that women matter because they are sentient beings in their own right who deserve to be free of violence. For some two hundred years, women have rallied to codify this recognition in law and culture. Empathy is important in motivating concern, but I would hesitate to build a theory of social justice on wavering emotional states.

Carnism

Second, Anderson liberally draws on the language of “carnism “coined by Dr. Melanie Joy to describe neo-predation and anthropocentric human ecology. As I have argued elsewhere, “carnism” is a corruption of the more inclusive accurate term “speciesism.” Carnism refers specifically to consuming Nonhuman Animals for food, but a truly vegan approach would recognize that violence against animals entails much more than what humans eat. Animal liberation also extends to what humans wear, how they entertain themselves, and how they exploit other animals for labor, science, and so forth.

Overpopulation

Third, Anderson runs into problems with his focus on human population. He mostly discusses human population growth in the abstract sense, yet it is developing countries where this growth is specifically occurring. Population has largely stagnated or even declined in the West, where individuals have greater wealth and access to social services. Thus, those who politicize human population should be careful to consider just which groups of people are under scrutiny. It is usually the world’s poor and disadvantaged.

People of the Third World bear little responsibility for the destruction and occupation of nature. That responsibility is placed squarely with privileged Western populations. Anderson acknowledges global social inequalities throughout the text, but he, unfortunately, fails to do so in the context of population discussion. Population growth needs to be stopped and reversed, he insists, but exactly how this plan will be implemented goes unexamined. In reality, anti-population growth initiatives violently target poor brown peoples, specifically vulnerable women.

Privilege of Place and Movement

Anderson also suggests that people living in areas in which food must be transported at high cost or in areas that require large amounts of energy for heating and cooling should consider moving. Yet, this is an option generally only available to the socially privileged.

Indeed, a similar shortcoming arises when Anderson suggests that all populations of the world are “uniquely responsible” for the environmental crisis: “There are no exceptions” (303):

Rich and poor, indefensible over-consumers and low-scale consumers, all are drawn into the fray because we each have our varying degrees of impact that require responses. (304)

However, the majority of the world’s human population is so incredibly impoverished that its most pressing responsibility lies in basic survival. Furthermore, Anderson’s narrative of shared responsibility overlooks centuries of Western domination that has manifested this dramatic inequality. Anderson calls for change-makers to adopt “humanity” as their primary identity over nationality, ethnicity, or tribal identification. But, this position overlooks serious social and global hierarchies.

Hope

Although This is Hope repeats many problematic tropes endemic to the vegan movement’s failure to think intersectionally, its merit lies in its faith in change. Veganism, Anderson insists, is the most important means to diminish social inequality and suffering in human and nonhuman societies. For this reason, it remains a vital text in climate change resistance strategies.

A version of this essay was originally published in 2013 on The Academic Activist Vegan.


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Readers can learn more about the politics of overpopulation in vegan rhetoric in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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Dr. Corey Wrenn on Animal Concerns Texas Radio

 

Dr. Corey L. Wrenn was featured on the December 10, 2017 episode of Animal Concerns Texas on KTEP Radio, El Paso Texas. You can visit the website here and download the interview here. Additional audio interviews can be found here.

This episode discusses the socio-cultural problems with lab-grown “meat,” the social psychology of social change, and the political economy of the American animal rights movement.

 


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Readers can learn more about these topics in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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Peter Singer and the Charity of Western Imperialism

Covert Capitalism and Western Benevolence

A current fad in social justice strategy is the concept of “effective altruism,” made popular in vegan circles by wealthy Princeton University professor and “father” of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, Peter Singer. Singer is involved in a number of outreach efforts designed to rationalize charity, notably “The Life You Can Save” giving project. Effective altruists (who tend to be monied, Western whites) first choose what they believe to be the best and most effective charities in collaboration with nonprofit strategists, and then encourage others to rationally share their wealth by donating to them. By “taking the pledge” to donate a certain percentage of income to charity, those with the means to do so can supposedly alleviate the world’s woes.

This essay argues that, while important, aid is not the answer to injustice.  This position is primarily based on the fact that aid has had a long sordid history in third world countries. Western elites usually only give aid to countries if there is an expectation of a return on their investment, such as creating a dependency on Western products, locking them under Western control with debt, and pressuring them to “free” their markets to Western capital. Some of the disastrous results have included forced sterilization projects, the spread of Western diseases of affluence, the infiltration of polluting and unsustainable industries, the destruction of traditional foodways, and a dependence on the West in general.  In short, aid has been a project of Western imperialism.

Effective For Who?

The fundamental problem with the concept of effective altruism is that it is predicated on elite-designed algorithms and the preferences of capitalists. In other words, how problems are identified, defined, and solved is left up to the very class of persons who benefit from the problems. Inevitably, some of the most vulnerable groups will be overlooked. For instance, Singer’s choice charities are problematic in that none, as of this writing, target Nonhuman Animals. If rational impact maximization truly shapes effective altruism, this omission is suspect. Not only do Nonhuman Animals lead in number of individuals impacted, but their suffering is directly linked to the suffering of humans and the environment.  Targeting the consumption of Nonhuman Animals (an activity that is especially linked to Western culture) would be the most utilitarian solution.

Singer does, however, support Project Healthy Children, a charity that pushes Western-approved foods on African children.  This includes cows’ milk, even though most Africans are lactose intolerant, milk is directly linked to a litany of deadly human diseases, milk production is notoriously destructive to the environment, and milk causes immense suffering for the cows and goats forced to produce it (see Greta Gaard’s research).

Effective altruism also overlooks serious structural problems that impede equality. Instead of demanding justice and disrupting the exploitative practices of corporations and the elites that manage them, it solicits a modest redistribution from a sympathetic few. Consider that Big Pharma could easily relieve victims of malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, and other diseases ravaging the third world that effective altruists target.  Instead, the Western-led pharmaceutical industry inflates the prices of the drugs to many times the actual cost in regions where disease congregates.  It also heavily lobbies to protect “intellectual property” and prevent affordable generic alternatives from hitting the market. Introducing checks and balances into the structure of health and medicine could have monumentally positive impacts on the world’s poor, an impact that would far exceed the impact of donations.

Also suspect is Singer’s support for Population Services International, a charity designed to decrease the world’s population, or, more specifically, the population of third world countries. Anti-population groups are often responsible for forced and coerced sterilization projects on vulnerable women in poor regions of the world. Because poor people are a burden to the capitalist system,  “population control” in third world regions has become a top priority of Western governments and aid projects. Millions of women have been psychologically devastated, socially ostracized, violated, hurt, maimed, and killed due to these policies.

Most fundamentally, it is important to recognize that these large populations of poor and vulnerable persons do not emerge from happenstance; they are products of an exploitative global economic system. What Singer’s project overlooks is that the underlying problem here is not a lack of funds, it is the capitalist system that originates social inequalities and chronic destitution.  So long as this system remains in tact, there will always be need for charities and donations. And it will never be enough.

 

The NonProfit Industrial Complex

Lubricating this capitalist/charity system is the manifestation of the nonprofit regime. The nonprofitization of social change has positioned the state and the industries it serves in control over justice efforts, effectively nullifying radical liberatory politics. Notably, the public imagination for protest has been framed as deviant and replaced with the more rational, effective strategy of donating. This is decidedly a very pro-capitalist, neoliberal solution, but neoliberal capitalism has been identified as the root originator of inequality.


“Helping others” is just that: help, not structural change.  Nonprofits, unfortunately, cannot prioritize radical restructuring because such an agenda is off-putting to the conservative foundations that issue their grant money (these foundations were created by wealthy elites who profit from the exploitation of the very oppressed persons nonprofits purport to help). Corporations and the state benefit from radical disempowerment, because radical claimsmaking is a threat to the capitalist agenda.  It disrupts the status-quo that benefits the elite and naturalizes the suffering of the oppressed.

Instead, nonprofits are in the business of social services, doing the work that is made necessary by the capitalist exploitation that the state facilitates but does not “pay” for itself.  Big industries become big by exploiting the poor and benefiting from state allocations. It becomes the responsibility of well-to-do altruists to relieve those damages when the state will not (or cannot). Of course, not everyone can afford to participate in this variation of social change work. As such, with the public convinced that financial participation is the only legitimate means of helping others, they become disempowered. Nonprofits find little use for the time, services, creativity, organizational skills, or leadership that public volunteers can offer. Primarily, they simply desire regular donations.

Furthermore, nonprofits are disproportionately staffed by wealthy, white educated men who invariably harbor privileged worldviews, and this will shape how they frame social problems and their solutions. By allocating charity work to nonprofits, the public forfeits control over social change to elites. This situation is likely to foster considerable bias.

 

Radicalize Your Giving

Donation is not completely useless, as some money does reach communities that can benefit considerably from it. However, for those who are determined to donate (and have the means to do so), it may be advisable to donate to grassroots efforts in areas of need. In doing so, money is placed directly into the hands of those who need it, not nonprofits that must accommodate the interests of elites.

Social change requires the collective effort of thousands, even millions of people. Not all will have the means to donate financially.  When social change is reduced to a series of financial transactions, its tie to social change weakens, but its tie to capitalist expansion is emboldened. Capitalism is full of holes that are regularly plugged with charity and other bailouts. As such, effective altruism is actually rather irrational in sustaining an economic system that necessitates inequality.

 

An earlier version of this essay first appeared on the Academic Activist Vegan on December 20, 2013.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the capitalist politics of Nonhuman Animal rights movement in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

 

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The Politics of the Pure Vegan Myth

Veganism as a Symbol

Social movements are not only concerned with identifying a social problem and prescribing solutions, but also with maintaining boundaries. Movements must delineate themselves from the mainstream that has been identified as problematic, but they must avoid constructing boundaries that are so rigid that they deter potential recruits and allies. Social movement theorist James Jasper refers to this balancing act as the “Janus Dilemma” as movements must be simultaneously inwardly and outwardly oriented. As a movement grows, differences inevitably arise in how problems should be defined and how best to solve them. Factions emerge as a result, and bring with them a new set of boundaries that activists must negotiate.

In my research of factionalism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, I have identified a number of symbols that are heavily politicized and contested in the social movement space. Symbols are ammunition in the crossfire between competing groups as they seek to define, protect, and breach boundaries. Veganism is one of the most vulnerable concepts in this intramovement battle for jurisdiction. What does it mean to be vegan? How important is veganism? Who is really a vegan, and who is not?

“Pure” Veganism

What I have found is that professionalized organizations expend considerable effort in denouncing veganism, what they generally refer to as a practice of “purity.” Oftentimes, they will frame this in individualist and ableist terms, describing “pure vegans” as “obsessive,” “angry,” or “self-absorbed.” Out of tune with reality, these “pure vegans” are alien from the more “practical” activist majority. As an alternative, large nonprofits advocate a variety of carnivorous diets that arbitrarily omit various animal bodies or products (vegeterianism, pescatarianism, veg*anism, plant-based, veggie, etc.).

Radical collectives are thus portrayed as unrealistic and self-righteous by contrast. Their relative powerlessness in the social movement space inhibits their ability to challenge the denigration of veganism or to defend their continued promotion of it.

Sociological thought acknowledges that social meanings do not necessarily correlate with objective reality. Instead, meaning is political in that it is constructed to serve particular interests. In this particular case, “vegan purity” is a a myth. It is not grounded in the daily reality of vegan life. The Vegan Society defines veganism as:

A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—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.

Notice that this definition emphasizes exclusion of animal products as far as is possible and practicable. No practicing vegan actually believes that purity is achievable. Most vegans take medicine, drive cars, use computers, eat vegetables grown in animal waste, or shop in nonvegan grocery stores. Because speciesism is systemic, a human cannot exist in this society without indirectly benefiting from nonhuman oppression (this is the same reason why all whites who live in a white supremacy are “racist” even if they actively reject racism).

Nonprofit and Radical Applications

If real-world vegans recognize these common sense limitations, then where does the pure vegan myth come from? My research supports that the myth is constructed to invisibilize radical discourse that threatens hegemonic power structures in the movement. As an organization abandons the grassroots model in favor of professionalization, it turns on veganism by reframing it as impractical. In short, veganism interferes with access to grants. Even organizations that avidly touted the importance of veganism as a grassroots group would come to view it as a matter of “personal purity” after incorporating as a nonprofit and becoming dependent on fundraising.

Nonprofits are not the only players. I have sometimes observed radical activists feign an adherence to impossibly pure veganism. Among radicals, the pure vegan myth is employed most frequently to advance one’s own status or to undermine that of others. Purity is employed not to advocate for the interests of animals, but to protect boundaries and subdue contenders.

For instance, an American vegan society not long ago recommended Kellogg’s Corn Flakes in its vegan starter guide, innocently unaware that most commercial cereal products are fortified with vitamins sourced from animal bodies. A fact of vegan life is that “going vegan” is a lifelong process. Nonhuman oppression is so thoroughly saturated in our social worlds, we must be diligent in checking ingredients and challenging habitual consumer trust. It was an honest mistake and a real a shame, too, since corn flakes were invented in the 19th century to transition flesh-eaters into vegetarianism. The offending organization was roundly criticized for the accident by other radical collectives, but the assault had nothing to do with Nonhuman Animals, and everything to do with destroying the organization’s legitimacy as a contender in the radical space.

Veganism is not just a strategy for the emancipation of other animals, but a means of protecting jurisdiction. Professionalized organizations engage myths of vegan purity with hopes of appealing to elite-run foundations that are obviously less likely to award grants to nonprofits determined to undermine elite-run speciesist industries. Nonprofits thus distance themselves from radical collectives and their vegan agenda. As nonprofits trade ideals for resources, their power grows and reduces resources available for others. As a result, radicals disingenuously double down on the vegan myth in their struggle for survival in a movement that is increasingly dominated by large nonprofits.

 


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the politics of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

 

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A Month of Vegan Research: The History and Legacy of Animal Rights

victorian-women-and-animal-activism

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


Diane Beers.  2006.  For the Prevention of Cruelty:  The History and Legacy of Animal Rights Activism in the United States.  Athens, OH:  Ohio University Press.

animal-rights-historyThere are several historical accounts of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement available, but this is perhaps the book I cite most frequently.  Beers’ exploration begins with the pre-World War II era where advocate organizations were (not unlike today) “predominantly white, male, urban elites led groups, while a middle- and upper-class constituency dominated by women supplied the rank and file” (8).  Before 1945, she reports, “most women asserted their voice through their impressive financial support and extensive volunteerism as members, not leaders” (9).

Many advocates were simultaneously involved in other social justice causes, with many from the ranks of abolitionists and suffragists.  Beers reports that England was several decades ahead of the United States in spearheading anti-speciesist efforts.  She cites America’s growing pains as one reason for the slow growth, but the abolitionist mobilization around the Civil War era did inspire an anti-slavery imagination.  Indeed, early  Nonhuman Animal activists relied heavily on slavery analogies.  “Back to the land” movements of the same era also inspired vegan ethics.

Humanitarian efforts of the Progressive era pushed for animal issues alongside other reform efforts.  Gender stereotypes and elitism continued to plague the movement, however, typing women as natural caregivers gave them the leverage to become active outside the home.  At this time, organizations were also under fire for their preference for conservative agendas.  Critics called these organizations a serious barrier to anti-speciesist progress.  Beers explains:

In part, evidence supported their charges.  As the national organization’s reputation and influence as apolitical insider spread, its policies increasingly reflected the interests of the opponents, and conventions increasingly ousted radical delegations.  Furthermore, industrialists generously funded the association, and that patronage created inherent limitations for campaign strategies and reforms.  More radical groups might simultaneously publish explicit exposés, prosecute companies for violations, admonish consumers for eating cruelly produced meat, and even endorse vegetarianism, but the AHA carefully avoided any tactics that would antagonize its proindustry beneficiaries.  (71)

Predictably, organizations defended this compromise as both a pragmatic necessity given political and economic realities and a benefit to the movement overall.   They also charged that abolitionist goals were utopian and only served to make the movement look fanatical, thus alienating the public. Sound familiar? Following World War II, the welfare movement and the animal rights movement had, for all intents and purposes, split ways.

This era also saw the rise in humane education, with activists hoping to reach young people with messages of social justice and compassion before they could be indoctrinated with the oppressive ideologies of the state. All was quiet on the animal rights front in the strained years surrounding World War I, but the movement grew alongside the growth of Nonhuman Animal exploitation following the war.  Post-war consumption practices made advocating concern for Nonhuman Animals especially difficult. Though successes were marginal, this period did pave the way for the radical activism of the post-1975 period.

Of course, the wave of social justice activism of the 1960s breathed new life into the movement:

Just as the abolition and suffrage movements of the nineteenth century created precedents for the ethical consideration of all creatures, the civil rights and feminist struggles of the late twentieth century blazed a trail of liberation ideology that animal defenders inevitably walked. (149)

A history of moderate tactics in tandem with anti-communist sentiment would stifle radical advocacy to some extent, although key publications in anti-speciesism in the late 20th century would popularize the goal for liberating other animals.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about the history of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and its consequences for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 16, 2013.

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A Month of Vegan Research: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation

pet-overpopulation

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


 

Nathan Winograd.  2007.  Redemption:  The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America.  Almaden Books.

winograd

I first learned of Nathan Winograd’s work from a Vegan Freaks Radio interview many years ago.  Like most, I had been indoctrinated with the “common sense” of “euthanasia.”  Too many dogs and cats, not enough homes, what else can be done?

Well, a lot, actually.  Redemption demonstrates that “overpopulation” is a misnomer.  The problem is not a lack of homes, the problem is shelter management.  Bureaucracy and out-dated procedures have created a pathway dependency. There is an ethos of, “This is how it has always been done; this is how it will continue to be done.” Change is perceived as “risky” or otherwise unattractive.

Winograd outlines a practical solution to “overpopulation,” including working to make shelters more inviting to the public (instead of sad houses of death that we all avoid because we don’t want to feel sad and guilty), lengthening hours of operation, emphasizing adoption, and coming up with creative solutions to overcrowding.

My own personal experiences with shelters exemplify this irrationality. One of my cats once went missing in Fort Collins, Colorado (one of the biggest cities in the state).  The shelter would not allow citizens to phone in to check to see if their companion was there and its online records were not kept up to date.  I had to get up very early before work and drive 30 minutes into the prairie to the outskirts of town, only to find out that the shelter didn’t open until 11 A.M. I had to drive 30 minutes back home, then repeat the procedure after work.

Having previously volunteered at the shelter, I also knew that unclaimed animals were put on the kill list after five days.

Redemption asks readers to consider how these structural issues could be altered for efficiency. Lives would be saved if this shelter was located where people could easily access it, accepted phone calls about missing animals, had an updated online listing, was open during regular hours, and housed animals long enough to give them a legitimate chance for rescue or adoption.

Redemption is an “Ah ha!” book the challenges speciesist ideologies that we’ve taken for granted as true and necessary.  For that matter, PETA can’t stand him, often labeling him a radical–so you know he must be on to something!  You can also sign up for his newsletter and follow him on Twitter and Facebook for more information.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about the Nonhuman Animal rights industrial complex and its consequences for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 25, 2013.

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