August 22, 2021
From Activist Journeys
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The argument I’m going to be making in this essay is that… if boycotts can be an important element to political movement building and I think boycotts are in the case of the legal animal rights movement; then The Vegan Society were irresponsible for trying to come up with various sectarian definitions for a way of life which people already had a colloquial definition for, in that these are people who participate in ‘an animal products boycott’, and some of them go further with other tactics in being ‘legal animal rights advocates’.

Like the word libertarian, the positive original vision has been obscured or run away with entirely. As libertarian used to stand for the democratization of the means of production, so enlightenment liberalism or left-anarchism. 

I don’t know if it’s productive to push for my preferred explanation of veganism as the most universally useful one going forward, but here are my thoughts on all the ones that I know of.

Finally, I’ll keep updating this post with more information, so feel free to suggest any edits you’d make.

Colloquial Veganism 

“A person who does not eat any food derived from animals and who typically does not use other animal products.”

Ethical Foundation: First & foremost a practice, like how ‘heroism’ means to ‘act bravely’, so the principle reason why someone is colloquially a vegan would be contained within a separate identity like what it necessarily means to be a ‘legal animal rights advocate’.

Pros: Clear & simple implications and fairly historically accurate to why the vegan society came about. Has broader appeal for other liberation causes like anti-racism and anti-sexism to see it as a strategy of action which is useful for their struggles also.

Cons: I would prefer the word boycott be mentioned, to make explicit it’s a campaign tactic and to leave room for combination practices like freeganism.

Originalist Vegan Society Veganism

“the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals”

Ethical Foundation: Deontological principle.

Pros: 

Cons: Unclear & complicated implications, as it immediately brings to mind the plenty of ways we can pragmatically rescue animals and improve their circumstances while still less obviously exploitative-ly keeping them captive, e.g. rescuing dogs, chickens or horses. And excludes all other ethical systems.

Plus not historically accurate to why the vegan society came about as it didn’t represent all the members’ reasons for creating the society 7 years earlier, and neither did it represent the 100 year old anarchist history that founded the very vegetarian society in London which the vegan society grew out of, and finally neither did it represent the diversity of philosophies over the 1000 or more year old history going all the way back to ancient India for why people desired to live that way of life.

The debates that lead up to the creation of the vegan society were about the dairy industry. They were raised equally from a concern about well-being and about rights:

Dr. Anna Bonus Kingsford, a member of the Vegetarian Society in 1944 argued for a total boycott of animal products, saying “[the dairy industry] must involve some slaughter I think and some suffering to the cows and calves.”

Modern Vegan Society Veganism

“Veganism is 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 animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.” 

Ethical foundation: Treats veganism as a principle to advocate for with potentially maximalist behavioural commitment & sectarian philosophy.

Pros:    

Cons: It creates a hodge-podge of the two main ethical systems, consequentialism and deontology which is far too convoluted and open to misinterpretation. You get into debates about what does “as far as is possible and practicable” mean, when you could just say veganism is a boycott. If you aren’t capable of participating for being eating disordered for example, that’s ok, you can be ethically on par with or more ethical than a vegan in your own way, but you just aren’t able to participate in the boycott.

Rewilding Veganism

“A personal duty to respect the dignity of animals & a desire to build a social movement to, among other things, lobby government for a higher percentage territory of managed wildlife habitat.”

Ethical foundation: A virtue ethics principle.

Pros: Simply explains a basic strategy for winning over enough passionate people who are dedicated enough to take on the personal principle of avoiding animal products, as a basis for finding each other and organizing to make changes to our communities and institutions.

Cons: Duty & dignity aren’t going to be strong motivators for consequentialists to take on the lifestyle who we need to put in the work of transforming their communities by starting vegan cafes, etc. So a sectarian philosophy which would be better contained in the explanation of a type of rewilding concerned legal animal rights advocate.

Further reading: Response Video to ‘Veganism vs. Animal Liberation’

Animal Liberation Veganism

“the principle of the emancipation of non-human animals from human animals; animal liberation”

Ethical foundation: Universal principle.

Pros: 

Cons: Sectarian to people who consider themselves part of reformist & revolutionary political movements fighting for the constitutionally protected legal rights or welfare of animals.

Anti-Natalist Veganism

‘The absence of suffering is more important than the presence of pleasure, so we ought to reduce or avoid causing suffering where practicable. Which includes a way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals.’

Ethical Foundation: Often negative utilitarian, but sometimes universal by other definitions. People advocate the sectarian philosophy & behaviour of anti-natalism, then advocate veganism as a subset of that sectarian philosophy & behaviour.

Pros: n/a

Cons: False to the extent this is an empirical claim about developmental psychology & a sectarian philosophy which simply harms the abillity to recruit people to either boycott animal products or engage in any other tacticts for securing legal animal rights.

Further Reading: Benatar, Imendham, etc.

‘Simplistic’ Veganism

“Veganism is an ethical way of living that excludes using animals as merely instruments to our ends.”

Ethical foundation: Universal principle.

Pros:

Cons: It immediately brings to mind the plenty of ways we can pragmatically rescue animals and improve their circumstances while still less obviously exploitative-ly keeping them captive, e.g. rescuing dogs, chickens or horses. Although those actions could be argued to be not exploitative, it’s an unnecessary argument to have.

Also how did the term come about? Why is the syllable ‘veg’ like vegetable being attached to an ‘-ism’ to mean an ideology, wouldn’t it make more sense for the ethical principle to be contained in what it means to be a ‘legal animal rights advocate’.

‘Accurate’ Veganism

“Veganism is a way of life that seeks to place the value of animal life, health and liberty above the value of substitutable classes of goods, services and uses derived from animals” 

Ethical foundation: Universal principle.

Pros: Simplicity.

Cons: What it would mean to be vegan under this definition is anyone who would ‘substitute meat in their shopping trolley for vegetables’, but I disagree that it has to be because you’re strictly valuing a hypothetical animal that got a chance to live, higher than the one that died to make the animal product which you’re substituting for vegetable products.

I desire to grant guardianship laws to animals to collectively be able to seek refuge in a specific area of wildlife habitat because I can recognize they desire to express their capabilities, having land they can call their territory helps them fulfil this need, and I can recognize if I was born into the world as an animal or severely disabled human I would want access to resources to fulfil my needs.

Another way of saying this could be I place the value of getting to see wildlife in dense wildlife habitat above the value of strip malls, business parks and open cast coal mines.

I don’t think I ought to place the value of animal life, health and liberty above the value of substitutable classes of goods, services and uses derived from animals.

So an exception to the rule would be that I don’t think I’m viewing the value for the animal to live in the wild as being higher than the value a sheep would find on a semi-wild farm protected from predators and then turned into a substitutable class of meat towards the end of its life. (Even though I think a fully wild habitat would offer more life for more animals and not slaughtering would offer a more virtuous life for the human).

My argument is simply that we ought to engineer a set of circumstances in which a much higher number of animals are getting to express their capabilities in wildlife habitat. But I don’t think that necessarily has to be hashed out to ‘doing it for the animals’ or ‘because I’m viewing their life in the wild as universally of higher value to ways you could individually treat them as means to an end substitutable classes of goods or services.’ Because I wouldn’t necessarily.

‘Pragmatic’ Veganism

“A way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as possible, practical, and effective, all exploitation of animals.”

Ethical Foundation: Reducetarian advocate which is a behavioural commitment, then plant based advocate which is a behavioural commitment to be at least 99% abstaining.

Pros: 

Cons: ‘Reducing suffering’ is too big, too abstract, too idealistic, beyond the capacity of one person to ever achieve, laudable but doomed to failure. Whereas ‘boycotting animal products’ is not. ‘Reducing suffering’ creates the impression of the martyr, the need to live a ridiculously puritan lifestyle, like Jain monks sweeping the floor everywhere they walk. And excludes all other ethical systems.

Further Reading: Vegans, We Gotta Break Through This 100% Perfect Sh*t

And finally my own preferred definition:

Veganism As A Boycott Campaign

“An animal products boycott”

Ethical Foundation: First & foremost a practice, like how ‘heroism’ means to ‘act bravely’, so the principle reason why someone is colloquially a vegan would be contained within a separate identity like what it necessarily means to be a ‘legal animal rights advocate’.

Pros: Clear & simple implications and historically accurate to why the vegan society came about. Has broader appeal for other liberation causes like anti-racism and anti-sexism to see it as a strategy of action which is useful for their struggles also. Makes explicit it’s a campaign tactic and leaves room for combination behaviours like freeganism.

Cons: Sometimes less useful definitions still win the day for becoming the most often used, so it may be a useless exercise attempting to convince other people & organisations to use this explanation.

Further Reading: 

As for my preferred definition of legal animal rights advocate, it’s…

A person who seeks to gain collective legal rights for non-human animals to have a refuge in dense wildlife habitat where they aren’t subject to human cruelty. With the few exceptions where the law is overridden by right to self-defence or special dispensation, for example to practice some scientific testing, as well as breed and keep guide dogs for the blind.




Source: Activistjourneys.wordpress.com