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Do vegans care about animals more than people?

February 17, 2017

I saw a video the other day where a man was showed slaughterhouse footage. His response was odd: “I don’t see you all fighting for people, so….” Translation: I’m a victim, so it’s OK for me to victimise others.

I’ve never understood that point. If you notice that a group of people aren’t supporting others as much as they should, why would you emulate them by yourself refusing to help others? The animals had done nothing to offend him. They hadn’t taken pictures of their own slaughter and mistreatment out onto the street to show the world.

If the had, if they could, it would have been grotesque for him to say: “I don’t see you all fighting for people, so…” Here’s what the animal could reply: We don’t have the liberty. We don’t have the liberty to fight for you, and only once we do could we even consider it. And by your logic, we have no reason to consider it, unless you fight for us first. Yours is the first step to take, so take it.

But of course, this man couldn’t think in those terms. He wasn’t thinking “What would the animals say to me, if they could campaign for themselves?” He only saw annoying vegans, telling him what to do. To me, this whole attitude is a classic example of the denial mentality – to be shown cold hard fact, and object to it by getting sniffy about the type of people showing it to you.

It’s a common misconception of vegans that they don’t care about people. To be fair, this isn’t helped by the fact that vegans will often say things like “Urgh, I HATE human beings!”

What you have to understand is that these are words spoken in anger and disgust. These are usually to be discounted, as they don’t represent thoughtful or useful sentiment. They never reflect anyone in the best light.

You may, for example, have heard people who were recently dumped say: “Urgh, I HATE men!” or something similar. What’s amusing about this is that even gay people will say it. Obviously, they don’t mean it quite like it sounds. When you’re accidentally talking about yourself in your attempt to insult others for their misdeeds, you’re not making any real attempt to put forward a rational sociopolitical point.

Having drawn a line under that, is it true that vegans hate humans because they love animals? I would say not. This would suggest there is nothing humanitarian in caring about animals, because it hurts humans.

Increasingly, the evidence says otherwise; that it would be a better use of resources to use land to create more plant matter, in order to feed more people; that these products would be cheaper and healthier, particularly helping people on low income; and that animal agriculture itself is not humane.

Some of the most traumatising and uncomfortable jobs fall under that banner, from the shrimping industry where a man stands in stinky fish water all day getting bitten by shrimp, to the actual slaughter process which your average meat eater admits they can’t stomach seeing, let alone doing.

These are not people with free choice. These are people who are desperate for a job. Take away animal agriculture, and the niche will be filled with other industries with jobs that hopefully do not require constant exposure to flying blood and guts.

This could all be incidental to the point; you could notice that animal agriculture is not good for humans without caring much about humans. But I believe that vegans do usually care deeply for human issues, because I have noticed that the vegans who have a tendency to attend marches and rallies do so on a number of issues – mostly human, because most of our causes are human by necessity.

My mum often complains about the amount of Trump stuff on her Facebook page. She has a vegan-dedicated page and is mainly friends with vegans and vegan-sympathisers. If vegans were so turned off from human politics, there should be barely anything about Trump appearing anywhere on her newsfeed.

But of course, these vegans attended the women’s march, went to occupy movements, supported Black Lives Matter – the whole shebang. Our most politically active vegan friend is also a pro-lifer. Whatever else you might say about the pro-life movement, it is definitely a human issue of wholly human concern. Many vegans make the point that more humans on earth is hardly good for the world’s many animals.

Again, this comment makes non-vegans think vegans are antinatalist. Although it’s perfectly true to say that human existence has done nature no favours, we should take the strength of that assertion with a pinch of salt; it’s only there to remind us that we’re not superior. It’s not there to indicate that we would all be better off dead and commit seppuku for the good of the animals.

Indeed, most vegans recognise that humans are animals, more than non-vegans recognise it – hence why we often describe them as non-human animals, as opposed to just animals. This means we have the right to life as much as any animal, even if we have no greater right to it than they.

In fact, humans, in their varying state of vulnerability, relate to vegan concerns; veganism is entirely about speaking for beings who can’t speak for themselves. This could very much include unborn children and people with profound learning difficulties.

I have repeatedly said that mercy, tolerance, acceptance and respect for one group of people fosters the same attitude for the next. The more types of person you accept, the easier it is to accept others. When I say accept, I mean accept-as-people, with whatever rights that brings; mainly, freedom from harm and distress inflicted by knowing beings.

If you include animals in that mix, you are making the bold statement: all those who look nothing like us, cannot speak to us and cannot think like us still have the right to life and freedom from harm. Once you have fostered a culture like that, how is racism, xenophobia or any other kind of prejudice logically possible?

Vegans are, if anything, extra engaged in political causes. I believe that this is because engagement, like so many states of mind, is like a muscle to be exercised. It is easy to be lazy and nihilistic and say that nothing you do makes a difference. It is altogether harder to decide to try.

Once you have tried, you learn that your life it richer for it; that you are less trapped by guilt and better armed with understanding to help you navigate this complicated world, be critical of its past and present, and optimistic about its future.

Being involved in veganism teaches you points about equality, humanity and history that non-vegans have no reason to know, just as being involved in feminism teaches you thinks about relationships and society that indifferent people will never learn.

Many of the most staunch anti-vegans are, frankly, selfish. This is not merely my opinion, as informed by my vegan bias; it is a clear and tangible quality that stretches across many facets. We all know someone who tends to do what they like, and wider concerns be damned – people who chuck garbage any-old-where with no thought to the environment, then sneer at people who make an effort, calling them sanctimonious.

It suits these determinedly selfish people to say that anyone who makes any effort to improve the world in one distinct way is automatically neglecting the world in another. Their philosophy seems to be that if it’s impossible to do everything, you should do nothing; that it is impossible to really care about more than one thing; and that anyone who feels or behaves otherwise is hypocritical.

They think in this way because they have no experience. Anyone who is politically engaged knows it’s perfectly possible to care about more than one unrelated political issue. If you are disengaged, or engaged only to the extent of reading the headline of a controversial news item on social media, you reason that it takes an extraordinary effort to care deeply about something, so obviously each person must have only One True Thing.

Presumably, such people are switched off more often than they are switched on. They don’t feel that they have time to care about all the things, because there are huge swathes of times when they are not thinking about any of them.

What lucky creatures. I can’t switch off the caring mechanism. The reality of this world’s remaining injustices is a practical issue for me every day; when I can’t buy lunch anywhere, when I hear people bemoaning anti-animal agriculture “propaganda” while standing right next to a KFC advert, or when I overhear people directly diss my beliefs among themselves and I know full well they don’t know the first thing about it.

Perhaps when a movement no longer has these issues, it has achieved what it set out to do. Veganism is not there yet, so I think it’s fair to say that the animal rights time has come. Animals are among the few remaining oppressed groups who cannot freely speak for themselves, which makes their defence by humans imperative.

It’s ironic to me that people freely express the opinion that they are so oppressed and therefore don’t have the time to care about anything else. If one was so very oppressed, one wouldn’t be able to freely express that opinion. If you can, that’s the point where it makes sense to turn your attention outwards, to avoid privileging your own interests beyond any reasonable level.

We like thinking that what suits us is morally better, because it allows us to stay focussed on pushing for privileges for ourselves. At some point we must admit that we are not the most needy group and that it is the turn of others to be defended by us.

The man at the beginning of the article, who said that vegans don’t fight for humans, was probably referring to racial inequalities, because he was black; in the same way that if a woman had said it, she would probably have been referring to gender inequality, and so on and so forth.

One problem with this is that it is insulting to members of your own group. I would like to see that man come into 222 – a vegan restaurant in West Kensington, the clientele of which are mainly black – and suggest that vegans don’t care about the rights of black people.

Veganism is also disproportionally common in the LGBT community, so presumably gay people find time to care about animals in between battling homophobia on the street and shaking an angry fist at Mike Pence. Indeed, they find even more time for it than straight people, which I take as evidence of my theory that caring about something makes it easier for you to care about other things, not harder.

Veganism isn’t a symptom white privilege, it isn’t only for the middle classes, it isn’t excused by differences in culture, it isn’t to be expected impossible for a certain gender. Anyone can care about it and anyone can do it, however differently they may have to go about it, depending on those circumstances. When you hear excuses, remember that people in exactly the same boat as that person still somehow managed.

No one has any real excuse, because the issue itself is fundamental, and everything else is just detail. The depths of human tenacity is immense; people make time and energy for what they think is absolutely right. You only assume that you have no energy reserves left when you have never seen the necessity of trying to find those resources. In the case of veganism, you only have no time if you have decided not to care.

That, I think, is what really incenses people about veganism; not that they have every reason to fail to do it, but because they have no reason.

An important point to remember of all is that vegans aren’t asking for privilege of themselves, but are asking for the liberty of a different group entirely. Therefore, it never makes sense to use your feeling about vegans as a justification for not acting of the facts of animal agriculture – the ones who really suffer are the animals, who have done nothing to deserve it.

The repeating slogan of veganism is “For the humans, for the animals, for the planet.” Our health, our morals and our happiness are all affected by animal agriculture. Veganism is humanitarian.


From → Animal Rights

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