I was raised in an environment where I was encouraged to be inquisitive. If I didn’t question everything and learn from the responses I received, then my parents would be disappointed in me.
As I grew into a teenager, I questioned the world around me more and more. It will come as little surprise that I became vegetarian at the age of 14 after learning where my food came from and what happened to get it onto my plate. Viva was instrumental in this change in lifestyle and pushed me towards vegetarianism, more than my own mother could have. At 17 I became vegan, but living in a vegetarian household with lots of hassle from my parents and no support from anywhere else, I abandoned veganism. Then over the next few years my political opinions started forming and I became an avid lefty. At 20 I went vegan for good and joined the animal rights movement. My inquisitive and questioning nature always remained.
I took part in demonstrations, marches and information stalls. I had many friends in the movement and I was having a great time socially. One of the highlights of these years for me was hooking up with the Liverpool animal rights group and going to an underground anarchist punk gig with vegan food. I really felt like I was part of something and that I belonged. Nothing could ever tear me away from these people.
Meanwhile my political ideals were developing further. I became more and more left wing, flirting with socialism and anarchy. However I began to question those movements along with my new found passion for feminism. It seemed like the approach to achieving their goals was watered down. They were picking away at a problem one small piece at a time. The issue with this is that by the time they solved one problem, if at all, another would spring up in its place leading to a never ending cycle where they couldn’t reach their end goal. People question these types of social activism all the time, so I was not alone in finding others with similar views.
One day I was walking back from a particularly eventful demonstration outside a well-known animal tester in Huntingdon, when it dawned on me. I’d been in the movement for five years. In that time we were no closer to a vegan world or total animal liberation. Were we no different from the other justice movements? Were we just picking the low hanging fruit for easy victories that would soon be eclipsed by a larger and viler threat? YES!
That was my journey to abolitionism.
Most of the people who write about this subject are highly qualified intellectuals and express views in the language that is more familiar to that group. I am not one of those people and neither are a majority of animal rights activists who are failing to understand the message. This is obvious in the defensive and sometimes vocally violent reactions other activists have had towards me since I started airing abolitionist theory.
I hope to put abolitionism in a simpler and brighter light so we can really start to end the property status of animals once and for all.
What is veganism to me?
“Vegan lifestyles exclude – as far as possible and practical – all forms of exploitation of animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. Vegans – enjoy foods made from fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, peas, lentils, grains and mushrooms, including all plant based herbs and spices.”
The Vegan Society 2012.
All forms of discrimination are connected. Racism, sexism, homophobia, speciesism, ageism etc. all incite violence and hatred. By rejecting all forms of discrimination, you become non-violent. Veganism = non-violence.
There are three main benefits to becoming vegan:
1) You are rejecting violence towards other sentient beings.
2) Through wholefood, plant based eating your health will improve.
3) You will have a lower environmental impact.
I’m not going to go into detail about these aspects as that is not my intention with this piece. (I would recommend reading up on these at a later date. They will help you construct detailed and positive arguments for veganism.
Welfarism: The Basics
Around two hundred years ago, a movement started to increase the welfare of animals used by humans. This initially stemmed from the use of animals in vivisection. (Animal experiments.)
Welfarism focuses on a single issue at a time, for example a reduction or termination of the use of primates in medical research. This is said to be, “baby steps” towards creating a world where animals are not abused by humans.
The main ideology is that it is ok to use animals as long as you are nice about it. For example, it is ok to raise and then slaughter a cow if she has had a nice life.
Many vegans and animal rights activists subscribe to this way of thinking because it has been the main way of campaigning since humans started to become concerned about other animals. Big charity organisations also use single issue campaigns and ask for donations in the process.
The Problems with Welfarism
Welfarism poses a number of ethical problems.
- It assumes that it is ok to do anything you like to a sentient being as long as it done nicely. For example, it is ok to keep a pig in a big outdoor pen with high quality food, and then slaughter her for food. (As if slaughter is ever nice or pleasant.) This enforces the property status of animals and thus inhibits a transition to a vegan world and total animal liberation.
- Welfarism has been around for about 200 years. That that time we haven’t come any closer to a non-violent world. In fact, animal use in all areas has increased, rather than decreased as the welfarist paradigm suggests that it should.
- Single issue campaigns enforce speciesism for two reasons:
1) They place the importance of one animal over another. A protest at a fur far places the importance of minks over the importance of the dairy cow, by association and subconsciously in the human mind. If you ask a lot of animal rights activists, they are often focused on fur and vivisection because they see them as worse forms of suffering, when in fact all suffering is wrong.
2) They enforce the property paradigm. Cheale meats are a pig slaughterhouse that recently underwent an investigation that found that the workers were abusing the pigs before slaughter. Animal rights activists turn up and start protesting, shouting from the rooftops about how barbaric and disgusting the whole thing is. A non-vegan sees or reads about this protest and thinks, “how horrible!? I don’t take part in this sort of thing so therefore I am not as bad as them.” They then carry on as normal. Once again you are left with the thought that it is ok to use animals as long as you treat them nicely. This is speciesism.
- Big charities such as PETA make money from welfarism and single issue campaigns. They call for more humane methods of slaughter (oxymoron) such as controlled atmosphere killing (CAK) saying that it will greatly increase the welfare of chickens for example. They get their un-knowing volunteers onto the streets to educate people about this campaign and then ask for donations. In the meantime, they are in discussions with the likes of KFC telling them how much more of a profit they will make because people will feel better about eating their product and their efficiency will be up. Once KFC agrees to this, PETA hail, “victory” and people feel like they have made a difference for animals. In reality all they done is make animal agribusiness more profitable and moved further away from animal liberation,, whilst filling the charity coffers.
Abolitionism: The Basics
The theory of abolition has been around since the time of endorsed human slavery. The people who campaigned for an end to slavery were called abolitionists. They did not want people to be slaves with certain freedoms; they wanted people to be free, full stop! It wasn’t until about 20 years ago that this was applied to animal rights. Many books and essays were written, but word failed to spread quickly in a welfare orientated animal rights movement until the prolific spread of the internet. Now you can see and hear many debates and discussions about abolitionism and many more vegan outreach events taking place across the country.
Abolitionists believe that animals are not our property and we should not enforce this paradigm with our activism. Veganism is the moral baseline for all activism because it is the absolute minimum required to bring about animal liberation. It is also believed that promoting vegetarianism as a step towards veganism stalls the transition, because people begin to believe veganism is hard and that vegetarianism is enough to end animal exploitation.
Rescuing animals and supporting sanctuaries is also an essential belief. They cannot help that they are in the situation they are in and need all the help we can offer.
The Problems with Abolitionism
The main problem with the abolitionist movement is that it alienates the people it wants to target as I outlined in my introduction. I believe Gary Francione and other abolitionists put forward a very good argument, however sometimes it can be difficult to read and understand.
The second problem is that it basically says that traditional activism supports non-human slavery rather than helping to end it. Whilst I believe this is the truth and have said so many times, it does cause heated debate. I am a strong minded and capable person in all debating situations, whether it is on the internet or in person. Not everyone is, however and this is how welfarism makes its easy wins and keeps people enshrined in its ideology.
On the whole I feel that abolitionism is the only way we can overcome the property status of animals and gain a vegan world. You cannot make the two approaches work together because they are polar opposites. Both are fighting for what they perceive as social justice, but that perception is starkly different.
For more abolitionist FAQs please visit: http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/faqs