This is a guest post by my friend, Damon McDonald. Damon, for those of you who don’t know him, is an incredibly effective and dedicated advocate who tables regularly and who never misses an opportunity to talk to people about veganism. I’m honoured to be able to host this insightful and useful essay here.
Part 1 – The First Indoctrination
Vegans take the ethical position of avoiding causing harm to nonhuman sentient beings. That is, to the extent practicable, vegans do not use animals for food, clothing, entertainment or other reasons. Vegans avoid participating directly in the exploitation of sentient beings; it’s really quite a simple position to take. It’s both a logical and ethical stance that rejects the social norm—the exploitation of animals to use them as resources for humans.
In particular, our use of animals as a food resource is a problem so large that the numbers are really quite horribly unimaginable. We enslave, exploit and slaughter more than 64 billion land animals and over a trillion aquatic animals every single year. There is absolutely no good reason for doing this. As every vegan will attest, consuming a vegan suitable diet is not only equal to (in taste and variety) but most would say much better on every level than a diet which includes animal products. Of course veganism is not a diet; it’s a rejection of the violence and exploitation involved in commodifying and using these other sentient beings.
Every current vegan, by simply being vegan, proves that such harm to nonhuman sentient beings is not necessary. Most vegans will say that they wish they had seen or known about the problem sooner and had gone vegan sooner. Unfortunately, for most people we’re all born into societies which revolve around using sentient nonhuman beings as resources. It’s so pervasive you just can’t escape all uses of nonhumans. We put their body parts into things like roads, car tires and computers.
It’s not industry that is to blame for our continued use of animals as property. In fact, it’s us as consumers who vote for it to happen every single time we buy an animal product. The good news there, though, is that as individuals we can also stop the demand and thereby change the supply, by going vegan.
Our society indoctrinates us from the time we are born, into the paradigm of using animals as resources. When we are young, most of us are told lies about where our food comes from, because the truth would usually stop a young child cold from participating in the death and harm of any animal. We are taught that it’s okay to exploit some certain animals while we love certain others, although which ones will vary depending on what part of the world you are from. And love of property doesn’t necessarily translate into respect.
Vegans know that all sentient beings are equal when it comes to moral consideration. All sentient animals are individuals who experience fear, feel pain and have an interest in living.
Our school systems and governments buy into and support the marketing sleight-of-hand by industry. “Milk is good for us!” Well most vegans would strongly dispute that, but the one thing we do know is that it’s not good for the cow. It is just as much, if not more, a product of suffering and death as is meat. Eggs are the same; we’re told they have protein (which almost no one lacks unless they lack calories) but we forget about the tremendous amount of cholesterol. Again, what about the sentient being, the chicken who we reduce to nothing more than a thing, a resource for human use and who is inevitably killed (no one gets out alive) simply because of our taste habits?
All vegans know that eating a vegan-suitable diet is perfectly adequate for humans to thrive on. In fact it can be much healthier. All of the major dietetic associations throughout the world agree that a healthy vegan diet is suitable for humans at all stages of life.
There’s no doubt that, from a moral perspective, being vegan and avoiding all use of other sentient beings as resources is certainly much better for our spirit. It’s a real change of thinking when someone goes vegan; they start to see that what they’ve been told about using animals is not necessarily the truth and in some cases the truth has been hidden (out of sight out of mind) or we have been told outright lies.
We were indoctrinated into a paradigm of animal use by every aspect of society: you must conform, and you must do this because everyone does. The excuses for continued participation in harming other sentient beings are almost endless. However none of them even come close to being legitimate reasons why someone can’t reject the social norm and go vegan.
For someone to go vegan usually requires that they re-educate themselves and reassess their current way of thinking: that they begin to consider things objectively and use critical thinking to break through the mindless messages which support a position of violent exploitation. But most people if not all, agree that causing unnecessary suffering and death of any sentient being is wrong and we should not participate in it, especially if we can avoid it. And we can avoid it. This is a light bulb moment for most people—an eye-opening revelation which causes them to break free from the indoctrinated social norm and stand up for justice for vulnerable members of our moral community.
Part 2 – The Second Indoctrination
What sometimes happens next though—after people escape the first indoctrination and go vegan—can be viewed as a large step backwards and an instant betrayal of justice for animals. Many vegans seem to fall into the trap of indoctrinating themselves into the “animal movement” this is a movement lead by large organisations whose primary focus is on donations from anyone. These groups claim to represent the interests of nonhumans but unfortunately the truth is that not only do they let these vulnerable beings down, they also participate in their harm.
For some reason, these vegans stop thinking again at this point, they refuse to see or even consider the paradigm of speciesist corporate self-interest. We see vegans cling on to these organisations with blind faith, repeating the mantras, which they don’t realise are there to garner donations from anyone and everyone. “It’s not a black and white issue”, “we must do something”, “choose compassion”, “the world won’t go vegan overnight”, “animals are suffering now”. These mantras and plenty of others reinforce a defeatist position of compromise from a vegan perspective, but they also allow nonvegans the opportunity to avoid addressing or even knowing about what is really a simple, clear moral position.
These usually well-meaning vegans follow along and believe virtually without question that people can’t be educated about veganism. It’s quite strange really; a person who was educated about veganism and became vegan, then takes the position that others cannot be educated. Thinking about it, this is really quite an obnoxious position to take, that individually we are more special or that we are just more “compassionate” than others, that others lack “compassion”. This is not about us, or our “compassion”, this is not an issue of “compassion” at all, this is about justice for animals. It’s about doing the right thing, not accepting right ways to do the wrong thing.
If we reject the exploitation of other sentient beings then the last thing we should ever do is suggest on any level that any form of participation in exploitation is okay for anyone. It’s not; it’s always wrong; it is black and white. Vegans know this: we draw the line at not using nonhuman sentient beings as our property and for virtually everyone it’s very easy to do.
The very least we can and must do for animals is stop using them, by taking action and going vegan. This should be the clear message front and centre by anyone who claims to represent the interests of animals. I certainly wouldn’t want anyone representing my interests if they promoted and accepted eating me on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday but not Monday and by default suggesting that eating products of exploitation which result in the suffering and death of my other friends instead on Monday is okay. I wouldn’t want anyone promoting my going to slaughter by road transport as a better alternative to me being exported by sea to be killed in another country. Obviously I wouldn’t want to be killed at all, or to be bred into enslavement for use as a resource in the first place. I wouldn’t want anyone representing my interests who told people that they should try and simply reduce their exploitation of me. I wouldn’t want to be exploited as it would be wrong; I’d want people to ask it to stop.
And that’s exactly what vegans need to be doing; it’s pretty logical: *vegans educating others about veganism*. It doesn’t cost any money. It’s a consistent, uncompromising message of justice, in that it truly represents the genuine interests of nonhumans not to be used at all. We’re missing, and in most cases deliberately forgo, the opportunity to educate people and fully inform them about the significant difference they can make by going vegan.
Now for many this requires a bit of critical thinking, a bit of education, some insight into how to engage people in conversations about veganism as a moral imperative. So what is stopping vegans from doing this? Is it the time or effort here that causes vegans to outright reject even contemplating this basic and logical approach? Is it their own bad experiences with people because they focused on treatment and single issues and graphic images, as led by the large animal donation organisations? Is it because the animal donation groups don’t want people doing it in place of their “successful” fundraising single issue campaigns?
We should remember that these organisations have tactics that focus and rely on soliciting more donations. They don’t take a position of justice; they conflate veganism (when they don’t outright reject it) with vegetarianism and other morally compromised positions. Vegetarianism is certainly not a morally coherent position: it still involves death, suffering and the use of nonhumans as a resource; it is just a diet. It’s only a “gateway” to continued participation in the exploitation of the vulnerable. We are not vegetarians, we are vegans and there’s reason for that.
These large animal charities through their conflation of positions of exploitation, with claims of representing animals have created a massive confusion movement. A movement that now partners with animal exploiters and does one thing well:it takes money from vegans and nonvegans alike. It creates coalitions of vegans and nonvegans who claim to care about animals, but mainly targets nominal use single issues that nonvegans can get onboard with supporting. These many and varied speciesist, single issue focused, fundraising campaigns, will just go on and on forever, $$.
This speciesist “animal movement” puts time and resources into anything but changing the paradigm for animals. What the animals need is a clear consistent, upfront and uncompromising message of justice. The animals need a *vegan movement* and as vegans, promoting anything less than that message is incoherent. Anything less than a message which clearly states that if you truly care about animals then veganism is a moral imperative is a message which compromises the very position that we as vegans claim to believe in and live by.
Reject the second indoctrination; reject anyone, any group or any position, which involves sending any message of continued exploitation of nonhumans. Reject speciesism. The only message we need, the only message that covers all of the issues, the unjust use of nonhumans, is a message that states clearly that veganism is the only way there can be justice for animals.
This is a social justice issue and we need to change the paradigm; to do this we have to change the conversation. As vegans we must lead the way and be consistent and uncompromising in our message for justice. Educate yourself and then educate others. This is a black and white issue; the only grey area is the donation zone. Veganism is the moral baseline.