We Need to Talk About Yulin

This essay was originally published on Ecorazzi.com.

Look, I get it: you hate the fact that dogs are killed so that people can eat their flesh. I’m with you; I hate it too.

But I also hate the fact that so many other animals are forced into existence so that we can wear their skins, eat their flesh, conduct experiments on them, consume their reproductive secretions, watch them perform for us ,or use them in any other way. I know you hate this too; that’s why we’re vegan, right? Because we recognise that all animals are more than just things that we can exploit and use, and then kill them and consume or discard their bodies.

And yet I see so many nonvegans morally outraged by Yulin, compartmentalizing this thing that they call “animal cruelty” and condemning those who participate in it. After all, it’s easier to condemn something when you can detach from it: not our nationality, not our class, not the animals we eat or wear back home.

I’ve been there. I signed petitions on a variety of single-issues; I objected to things that people in other countries did to animals that I thought we didn’t routinely exploit here. And in the evening, after sharing a petition on Facebook and feeling like I’d done something to make a difference for animals, I’d kick off my leather shoes, cook myself up some animal flesh, and wash it all down with a glass of dairy milk.

I wish someone had pointed out to me, then, that there was no moral difference between the forms of use I was opposing and what I was participating in myself. That would have saved me at least some of the years of being nonvegan that I regret so deeply.

If you’re a vegan who’s caught up in campaigning against Yulin and you’re not being clear that all forms of animal exploitation are equally morally wrong, I’ve put together a handy FAQ based on comments I’ve seen on a range of threads on the topic.

1. Isn’t the Yulin Dog-Meat Festival morally worse because of the way the dogs are treated before they’re killed?

No. We can’t say that we’re opposed to what happens in Yulin because of the way the animals suffer; because if we do we’re saying that some kinds of suffering and harm are okay. These qualitative judgements are not ours to make, because we’re not the ones enduring it, no more than we can deem mugging okay because we reckon murder is worse. What we really have to do is ask ourselves if it’s ever okay to treat another sentient being exclusively as a means to our ends. I hope we’ll always find that the answer is no.

2. Well, what about the fact that many of these dogs are someone’s companions?

You think that makes a difference to the dogs when they’re being killed? Do you think that a companion animal’s interests are morally more valuable than those of a stray? We assign greater moral worth to companion animals, not for their own sake but for the sake of the humans to whom they matter, and that’s speciesism.

3. How can campaigning against Yulin be a bad thing? Surely every little step helps.

Campaigning against Yulin achieves a number of ends that you probably didn’t plan for and wouldn’t want:

  1. It implies that there’s a moral difference between these dogs and the other nonhumans we routinely use.
  2. It implies that there is a moral distinction between animal use abroad and at home.
  3. As a result of point 2, this and similar campaigns often become platforms for xenophobia, ethnocentrism, and racism.
  4. Because if the festival were to end (and this is highly unlikely, since people have been campaigning against it for years), the people participating in it would merely consume other animals instead. Banning dog meat doesn’t lead to veganism; only vegan education does that.
  5. Because it’s wasted effort. There are so few vegans, and we have limited time and energy. When we campaign for less than veganism, we throw away valuable advocacy opportunities.

4. So, what do I do instead?

Talk to your nonvegan friends about the outrage they feel, and make them see how that leads them to veganism. Talk to other vegans about why campaigns like those against Yulin are counterproductive and why they promote xenophobia and speciesism. And use your precious time and resources wisely by promoting veganism and an end to all animal use instead.

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