Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism
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Q: Can single issue campaigns (SICS) or wedge issues related to animal rights be used as a way to reach people who reject our vegan message outright? If we succeed in having others believe that supporting the circus or rodeo is wrong on ethical grounds, can we not expect some of these people to progress to veganism?
I have long been against single-issue campaigns because they encourage the false belief that some forms of exploitation are worse than others. I am not saying that you should not engage in peaceful demonstrations at a circus or whatever; I am just saying that you ought to be distributing literature and educating people about why ALL animal use is unjustifiable. Using an event like a circus as a focal point for vegan education is not necessarily a bad idea. As a general matter, however, I see single-issue campaigns as problematic, whether they are regulatory (making practice X more "humane") or whether they purport to be "bans" or prohibitions. They convey the impression that some forms of exploitation are worse than others and confuses people.
I think much of the criticism of "single-issue campaigns" assumes that we (as people involved in any particular advocacy) overestimate our own influence and underestimate the ability of individual people to think on their own. I will try to explain.
Suppose that a person witnesses a SIC and thinks to themselves "Those people were protesting the terrible treatment of dogs at that shelter, but they weren't saying anything about all the animals people eat. I bet they're having steak for dinner. Hypocrites!" The logic goes that such a person would be therefore "let off the hook" or somehow “allowed” by the advocates to ignore the issue, and worse, they would be more convinced that they too should eat other animals. This takes for granted that, if only the advocates had presented the campaign within the context of a vegan message, more people would “make the connection” and then go vegan.
Now suppose that a person were to witness a campaign framed in a vegan context protesting the terrible treatment of dogs at a shelter. Isn’t it a real possibility that that person would say something like "Vegans? That's crazy! How dogs are treated at shelters has nothing to do with what I eat, those people are extremists!" It is a very real possibility. Indeed, in the Ban Live Exports campaigns in Australia, from what I have been told that is exactly what people were saying to the people who wanted to frame that campaign in terms of veganism. So, even though advocates might think it makes sense to frame every issue in terms of anti-speciesism and veganism, it’s quite possible that targeted audience would be less inclined to think favorably about veganism as a result.
But here is where the underestimation of people's ability to think comes in. Remember the first person I mentioned - who might say "Those people were protesting the terrible treatment of dogs at that shelter…I bet they're having steak for dinner. Hypocrites!" - isn't it at least possible that a person thinking this might then also think to themselves, "Wait a second, I think it's wrong to be cruel to dogs, but I eat steak too, and that means I'm a hypocrite too. I don't want to be a hypocrite, so I've got to do something differently from now on." Isn't that at least a possibility? I think it is a very real possibility.
Wait!! you may say, how can people know that they have to go vegan if we don’t tell them? To which I would respond, the vast majority of people don’t go vegan just because we tell them to (obviously) so there must be something more to it than just telling them. If people are going to “make the connection” that we have made, they are going to have to be ready to do it, and they aren’t going to do it just because someone tells them they should. If people just did what they’re told to do, then every person who’s ever heard Gary Yourofsky speak, or who has ever gotten a good leaflet would be vegan. We know that very few people who have heard Yourofsky speak or who have gotten a good leaflet go vegan, so simply telling people what to do, using just the right words, isn’t enough to get most people to go vegan. (Some people will object and say that Yourofsky isn’t using the right words, and that’s why his approach isn’t as good as it good be, but that just points out the problem again – who knows what are the exact right words? I say that no one does.)
I think the whole supposed problem with single-issue campaigns is overstated, based on a misunderstanding of how human beings make decisions, especially about things that are central to their world view, and an overestimation of our ability to influence others. I think advocates for other animals who being doing those animals a better service by spending less time thinking about how other advocates are “getting it wrong” and instead just doing what they think is right.
I agree with you.
I agree, Pauline, that each should be judged on it's own merit. Perhaps it depends on what the campaign calls for, for example the Ban Live Export campaign simply called for a change of slaughter venue. I believe people like 'meat eater and proud of it' (or whatever her t-shirt said!) went home and discussed over a steak dinner just how proud she was to be an animal activist, and that there is such a thing as 'happy meat' because the campaign was backed by Animals Australia.
Nice one Tim! I can vouch for the 'possibility' you refer to in your fourth paragraph... because that's what happened to me. I knew no vegans, never even had heard the word vegan. My eureka moment came while watching a happy meat campaign and was blown away by all the double standards. It motivated me to get on the internet to find out more about how I could live a life with more moral clarity, in line with my personal beliefs. I decided to be vegan right away, & didn't do the vegetarian thing at all.
I think they could certainly make a solid case for the fact that killing is wrong, because killing is wrong.
I don't think anyone here is suggesting that we ignore what is happening every single day to millions of other individuals all over the world. I was suggesting that striking at the low hanging branches of a problem is never going to end the problem. I believe that we must strike at the root of the problem to have any chance at all of eliminating that problem.
I agree with the original quote here, in that single issue events may be useful, if they are organised and take place with a strong vegan message. Unfortunately, I've not been witness to any events like that here in Brisbane, as yet.
Richard McMahan said:
A couple of friends of mine (a lawyer and private investigator, vegans both!), take on Capitol cases (death penalty) continually. They always focus on the particulars of each case. Perhaps they should instead, on each occasion, suggest to court that killing is wrong, and let it go at that.
This might work, but many, many will die in his untested effort.
Yes, abolitionists are suggesting that what happens to individual animals, until nirvana, is nothing more than collateral damage. Yet those who are human, whose prospects are a bit brighter (people on death row, ... imagine!), ask only for a lesser detail to afford them continual life.
But we are to bully forward with abolitionism.
It was not in my thinking that a non violent world was even in the offering, thats why I gave my example.
Hi Richard, as I said, I don't think anyone is suggesting that we ignore what is happening every single day to millions of individuals all over the world. We may have different opinions on which methodology is the most likely to lead to the end of exploitation sooner though.
This is an ARZone Thought for the Day from Dr. Roger Yates that I agree with and think explains a rights based position quite well:
There is no better thing ~EVER~ than getting someone to live as a vegan for animal rights reasons because vegans fight animal persecution 24/7. They don’t eat animals or drink their juices or watch them perform or buy them as pets. If we are looking to do something NOW, what better than to talk to people about veganism for the animals’ sake? ~ Dr. Roger Yates
I can't imagine anyone saying that the lives of individuals who are suffering every second of every day are "collateral damage", I certainly don't think that to be the case. I think, as Tom Regan does, that if an injustice is absolute, we must oppose it absolutely.
I don't think a nonviolent world is possible. I think that anyone who calls for an end to all violence may not understand what they're asking for, or fully understand the definition of "violence".