Tag Archives: Speciesism

Solving Moral Conflicts in a Non-Vegan World

In “How to Help When It Hurts?” my friend and colleague Cheryl Abbate considers an ethical conundrum often facing vegan activists, advocates, and rescuers who feel responsible for the well-being of Nonhuman Animals in adverse conditions with conflicting needs. In cases of genuine moral conflict, she suggests an application of the guardianship principle to assist with decisionmaking.

By way of an example, obligate carnivores like lions who are rescued from circuses and zoos deserve a chance to thrive in sanctuaries, but their ability to thrive is predicated upon harm inflicted against other animals who must be killed for their food. Rather than support systematic violence against cows, chickens, pigs, and other animals whose bodies are purchased as food for sanctuary inmates, Abbate suggests that sanctuaries, as guardians, might take up “hunting” (a euphemism for the killing of free-living animals).

There are a number of key flaws with this application of the guardianship principle. First, although Abbate frames a sanctuary’s decision to “hunt” as a case-by-case decision, that free-living animals (specifically deers) are considered a tappable resource indicates that their status is not much higher than that of traditionally farmed animals. Abbate counters that deers, unlike rescued carnivores and farmed animals, have a higher quality of life having lived free from human oppression. Their being slated for death suggests otherwise. Worse, they are being made to pay the dearest price for humanity’s moral wrongs. If humans are responsible for the injustice suffered by carnivorous refugees, why would human flesh not be offered in retribution?

Deer communities, incidentally, are regularly harmed by humans, too. Humans “manage” their populations, constrict their movements and migrations with boundaries and barriers, and terrorize them with automobiles and pollution. Although this life is pitted as superior given the relative freedom that deers experience, Abbate contradictorily banks on the difficulties of life in the wild (poor weather, hunger, disease, and overpopulation) as justification for sacrificing deers. This justification, however, brings up some troubling assumptions about right-to-life for ill or disabled bodies. It also harkens on a colonialist politic in assuming that demographics coded as inferior must be “managed” by “guardians.”

Obviously, solving moral conflicts such as these is no easy task, but complicating the issue is the tendency for advocates, philosophers, and consumers to constrain themselves to individual-level thinking. Sociology recognizes that oppression stems from a society’s economic mode of production. In this case, it is capitalism’s reliance on animal bodies that has created the oppressive behaviors and attitudes facing circus refugees, farmed animals, and free-living species. The problem, in other words, is much bigger than unethical or irresponsible individual choices. Only through a vegan restructuring of society will painful moral conflicts be eliminated. Whether or not sanctuaries rely on farmed animals as foodstuffs is beside the point; as long as human society is built on speciesism, farmed animals will continue to be killed en masse.

The assumption that consumers control the path of production is a misleading, if predominant, belief that has its roots in the nonprofit logic of the animal rights movement. It is actually industry and the state which control production such that sanctuaries turning to hunting are not likely to reduce the number of animals killed in slaughterhouses. Great quantities of animal products are now produced, and these quantities only increase by the year as markets deepen and expand. Consumer boycott has not been shown to be an effective means of reducing animal fatalities given state and industry control. Veganism’s political power lies in its ability to shift public consciousness and challenge the legitimacy of industries and the state, not in actually reducing the number of individuals killed in production. There must be cultural support for veganism and a political reconfiguring before the numbers begin to drop.

Little Tyke

So how to manage the conflict in lieu of a vegan world? Given the limited capability of consumer boycott in a society in which consumers have very little control, using the bodies of farmed animals who are being killed at high volumes regardless of vegan protest may be an acceptable short-term solution. The vast quantity of edible animal products which go to waste might be repurposed for sanctuaries as well. Universities, for instance, often host food recovery programs to systematize the redistribution of leftover food to the needy. Sanctuaries might also develop such a program.

That said, efforts should be invested in obtaining (or even developing) healthful and tasty plant-based or at least partially-plant based menus for carnivorous refugees. Indeed, veterinary research supports that large cats (such as the hypothetical lion used in Abbate’s thought experiment) can survive healthfully on a vegan diet. There is also the famous case of Little Tyke, a lioness raised on a farm who refused to eat flesh. She lived the whole of her life on a plant-based diet by her own choosing.

Whatever the short-term solution, it is necessary that change-makers begin to conceptualize social problems as systemic. This will entail a move away from individualized solutions that wrongfully pit sanctuaries and consumers as responsible for violence against animals. Individualistic thinking renders invisible the state, industries, and the structures the two have created to normalize and reproduce speciesism.

My full response was published with the Animal Studies Journal and may be read here.

 


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

Readers can learn more about vegan economies and the politics of consumption 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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What is Post-Speciesism?

Goat in a grassy meadow, "Atlantic Happy Hogs" brand

Photo from Atlantic Hogs, a “free range” institution in Ireland

 

Speciesism  is institutional discrimination and, to a lesser extent, individual prejudice against Nonhuman Animals based on their species. Speciesism is violence against Nonhuman Animals that is perpetuated by the privileged human species,1 usually for the benefit of humans. It is conducted based on the belief that nonhuman species are lesser in some way. Speciesism relies on the understanding that there is an “us” and a “them,” that humans are at the top, and other animals are below.2

Post-speciesism is an ideology which suggests that species does not matter and/or that speciesism is either a thing of the past or that it is currently being adequately attended to. Post-speciesism relies on the belief that we are “all one” and that we all have an equal place on earth or in the “circle of life.” Violence against other animals continues on to the benefit of humans, but this is no longer interpreted as a form of oppression or domination. In other words, differences in life opportunity that are based on species identification are erased from the narrative.

This erasure is essential to upholding oppression in a society where social justice ideology has been gaining momentum. For instance, Ireland’s commitment to a “green” economy commodifies humanity’s concern with speciesism, rebrands speciesist institutions, and sells essentially the same products for a much higher price because humans are paying for the symbolic value that has been attributed by post-speciesism. “Humane” labeling is the Nike swoosh that differentiates one t-shirt or tennis shoe from the next and justifies the higher price. These labels denote quality and rely on consumer trust to extort the higher price. Post-speciesist ideology facilitates this trust.

Top image shows a skewered pig's corpse charred and sliced, while bottom image shows a happy piglet in clover. Reads, "Atlantic Spit: Amazing Taste for Exciting Part. Our mission is to breed and produce happy animals that will be mouth watering, when they reach they table..."

Atlantic Hogs advertisement in Galway, Ireland

 

Post-speciesism obscures systems of oppression and relationships of domination. It makes human supremacy invisible. It allows a smiling piglet like the one above to be juxtaposed with a burned and bloodied dismembered corpse dripping body fluids and then interpreted as “mouth watering” for an “exciting party.” Species doesn’t matter here: we’re all happy. This isn’t like the old days of speciesism where violence was out, open, and celebrated. In the post-speciesist world, hurting other animals is a thing of the past because these are “happy animals” and the party is exciting.3

This post-speciesist rebranding helps speciesist industries to stand out in a heavily competitive marketplace. As with all capitalist endeavors, ideologies are necessary to obscure exploitation, to make consumption pleasurable, and to encourage the fetishization of the product.

This fetishization process is especially poignant in LUSH Cosmetic’s consumer base. While the company relies heavily on the exploitation of Nonhuman Animals in its mostly non-vegan product line, it appeals to post-speciesist ideology to stand out among the thousands of bath & body chains and create a strong customer loyalty. For instance, LUSH enjoys a faithful following from the majority of the vegan community and even funds some advocacy projects, despite its continued commitment to violence against animals. Post-speciesism thus becomes a diversion.

Screen capture of LUSH's online statement about their "Fresh Organic Free Range Eggs"

 

Consider Lush’s ingredient description for eggs:

Our organic free range eggs come from a farm that’s around 50 miles away from Lush headquarters in Poole. The farmers adhere to strict organic animal welfare standards, so the chickens are well looked after and are given plenty of space to roam outside. They eat quality organic food and are happy and stress-free in their sheds. These are the high standards of care that we expect, and demand, when animals are making such an important contribution to our products.

Notice that the inherent violence of domestication is obscured from the narrative, as is the fate of male chicks who will be killed as part of the process of egg production. The hens are also framed as consenting workers who “make contributions” to the corporation. Everyone is happy and has their place. No one is being hurt. Differences based on species identification are not relevant.

But we know that they are.

As with post-racism and post-feminism, post-speciesism is an ideology that obscures differences in experience based on identity and the very real and very violent consequences of those differences. In doing so, systems of oppression are also obscured to the benefit of society’s most privileged. Post-speciesism, as with many ideologies, is also integral to the smooth operation of the capitalist system, the system from which all oppression originates.

 

This essay was originally published on July 29th, 2015 on The Academic Activist Vegan.

 


Notes

1. Violence here is used interchangeably with oppression. Practically all human uses of other animals involve violence. Importantly, domestication itself is an act of violence. This violence can also be indirect, such as human-created pollution and ecological destruction that threaten free-living species.

2. Just as women can engage sexism against other women, Nonhuman Animals can engage speciesism against other Nonhuman Animals. Importantly, this discrimination must take place within the context of a human institution for the ultimate benefit of anthroparchy. For instance, horses and dogs are often used by humans to hurt or kill other animals and women are sometimes used by men to traffic prostituted girls and women or to produce or cast pornography. Otherwise, violence engaged by Nonhuman Animals exists as a strategy of survival. Nonhuman Animals that are biologically carnivorous would not be said to engage speciesism, as this is relegated to survival. The actions of lions, wolves, dolphins, etc. do not occur within institutions of speciesism as that of humans do. Nonhuman Animals that harm humans are not engaging speciesism for this same reason. 

3. Atlantic Hogs further facilitates this non-violent idyll by informing customers that veterinarians are present in the abattoir. Of course, veterinarians are associated with healing, nurturing, and life, which obscures the reality of suffering and violence that is taking place for human benefit.
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Review in Between the Species

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My review of David Nibert’s Animal Oppression & Human Violence: Domesecration, Capitalism, and Global Conflict (Columbia University Press) has been published in Between the Species 18 (1): 112-115.

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