Animal Rights Zone

Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

Why does Matt Ball keep picking on me? Promoting stereotypes about activists is unjustifiably mean ~ Vincent Guihan

I'm not sure why Matt Ball
is picking on me. He has written that “animal rights and veganism
attracts some people who are very angry and unable to get past their
anger." Maybe a small minority, but most vegans? Certainly not proper
animal rights advocates. "The movement also attracts many with an
extremist / fanatical personality – people who obsess over purity,
personal aggrandizement, intellectual and moral superiority, and / or
the latest extreme health fads / scams […] who spend their time
attacking others who don’t believe exactly the way they do.” I couldn't
agree more, although, thank heavens, these people are a very small if
overly vocal minority.

But then he writes that “We serve the animals better if we realize this and get past it – focus on the work,
not the disagreements.” and the agenda becomes too transparent: it's
not just about antisocial behaviour, which is a legitimate thing to
criticize, it's really about silencing legitimate criticism and
disagreement and it turns what could be a thoughtful critique of the
behaviour of others into an encouragement to silence disagreement

After all, he's not talking about animal regulationist groups that engage in the euthanasia of healthy adoptable companion animals or promote controlled atmosphere
killing for chickens the way PeTA does, or the moral acceptability of
animal use and veganism as a "personal choice", not as a moral
imperative, the way “Vegan” Outreach does.

Both strike me as deeply odd and the criticism rings even more hollow in light of it. Ball's actually talking about people like me, who take
veganism and animal rights seriously enough to encourage other
advocates to focus on work that really stands to achieve something for
nonhuman animals, who openly criticize both welfare reform and violence
and aren't willing to shove certain disagreements to the side.

But in all seriousness, I know he's not personally picking on me. I know he's trying to advance his organization and a civil discussion about
animal welfare. I strongly disagree with his and "Vegan" Outreach's
views, but on the substance of his arguments, not on his
characteristics as a person. Still, these kind of comments that seek to
portray other advocates unrealistically and to tar everyone with the
same brush are not only unhelpful, they're just untrue (at least of
me), and I can prove it.

Exhibit A: a recent photo of from a kayaking trip with my partner. That's actually her and not me, but the kayak was VEGAN!!!11 So was the water. And the
air. How's that for personal purity?

Exhibit B: my very handsome roommate, Julius. He's the kind of nonhuman animal who some regulationist groups would euthanize in order to “reduce
suffering”. If I'm fiery and unequivocal in his defense, and in the
interests of full disclosure, there are times when I am, it's only
because I love him. Shame on me, eh?

Exhibit C: I made this wonderfully plant-based ice cream as part of a project of self-aggrandizement and proselytizing. I even shared it with other
people -- nonvegan people. Thankfully, it wasn't at a town hall
meeting. How sinister and elitist of me!!

Exhibit D: I also made this poster. Witness the self-righteous fury and my need to make others feel inferior! There are others at

But in all seriousness again, I don't consider reasoning well to be
fanatical. I don't see how advocates who are simply standing up for
rationally-driven tactics and the rights of nonhuman animals are being
divisive,. And I'm also baffled by the argument that it's somehow a
matter of personal purity to avoid contributing to the exploitation and
suffering of nonhuman animals when it's trivial to do so.

I think of it as just 'being vegan'. I guess what some people really have a problem with is veganism.

More important, I think it's problematic to propose that veganism is a way
to reduce suffering the way many regulationist groups do. The logical
implication of the argument that "we're just trying to reduce
suffering" is not necessarily that anyone should go vegan at all, but
that they should do whatever involves reducing animal suffering.
Following this reasoning, it's fine to eat meat, drink dairy, etc., if
an animal doesn't suffer during its production, and in fact, that we
should eat animal products that involve less suffering. That's not
vegan in the slightest.

In fact, one other logical implication of that view is that we should produce pain-free animals with no emotional life, or as Gary Francione critically commented recently, it implies that we should create
nonhuman animals that enjoy pain. It doesn't matter how we use them or
how much they suffer, nonhuman animal use is wrong. Taking their rights
not to be used as property, and veganism as the baseline for taking
that right seriously, is right. But what does this kind of
name-calling, call to self-censorship and undermining of veganism
really suggest and how does it function? It's easy to get worn
out when people actively misrepresent abolition, veganism, our work and
our ideas. But nonhuman animals need us to be firm in their defense.
That's the way industry want us to feel: ambivalent, second-guessing,
worn out, afraid of our own shadows, depressed and pessimistic — in
short, to be ashamed of our values, to be ashamed of taking nonhuman
animals seriously, and to be too ashamed to insist on their collective
freedom as quickly as possible, not a gentler form of slavery. It's
strange that there seems to be an overlap here between industry
rhetoric and the rhetoric of regulationist groups, but I'm not going to
speculate on that too much (but I will say it's unholy).
Agribusinesses want us to pursue reforms, which don't cost them much,
if anything, that do nothing meaningful to help nonhuman animals, and
that's even if those reforms are passed into law, which they rarely
are. They want us to be so bent-over backwards to do anything that
we'll donate to groups that conduct studies around controlled
atmosphere killing in order to kill chickens more cost-effectively and
“more humanely.” They want us to be so desperate that we'll engage in
antics in order to get the slightest bit of attention (I wonder if that
has anything to do with donations for regulationist groups who are so
often their partners?). And they want us to be so pessimistic about
change that we'll promote violence and confrontation in order to rile
the public enough to pass even more restrictive legislation.
The best response is not to do our best to make matters worse and crank
up the propaganda machine for everyone to see just how crazy some
segments of the animal advocacy movement are willing to be in order to
provoke a conflict or to promote meaningless reforms. Neither will
achieve anything for nonhuman animals. Instead, what is to be done is
the same, day-in, day-out hard work that at least some advocates have
focused on to promote the rights of all animals not to be used as
property, veganism as the moral baseline of taking that right
seriously, and the unequivocal abolition of the property status of
nonhuman animals.
Confrontational comments on blog posts, tweets and other media from regulationist advocates, name calling, mud
slinging, and other forms of personalizing disagreements are intended
to intimidate other advocates. Innocuous seeming enough out of context.
But when it reflects a pattern of repetitive behaviour, it equally
often reflects a subtle and not so subtle harassment of other
advocates. Add to that pattern the fact that a number of advocates are
doing the same thing. Multiply it over several years of propagandizing,
and so on. I'm really not sure how that has anything to do with helping
nonhuman animals.

Instead, it seems meant to distract and intimidate us as well as to confuse the public about what abolition and
veganism are. But the truth of the matter is that it seems more likely
that other advocates engage in this kind of behaviour because those who
do wrong are always looking over their shoulders in the hopes that the
truth doesn't come out. It's a shame (and a scandal) that abolitionists
are persecuted by other members of the advocacy community, but the
answer is not to shrink, but to be firm.Attempts to portray us
all as angry, fanatical, obsessed with personal purity, or as weak,
ineffectual, and ivory tower theorists, and so on, reflect a tremendous
amount of bluster mounted to silence people who are just interested in
proposing and making change for nonhuman animals. But it's also an
attempt to appropriate abolition's critique of welfare in an attempt to
neuter the radical proposal that all nonhuman animals should be freed
immediately and that nonviolence is a moral imperative in a nonviolent
movement. It's an attempt to turn abolition into anything but
abolition: a little welfare reform, some gum chewing, some
cheerleading, some sloganeering, but not veganism, not the promotion of
veganism, and not the promotion of abolition.

In the end, though, it's all propaganda. It seems meant to wear abolitionists down
before we even get started and to forestall our mass movement building.
It seems like a game that's intended to intimidate us, to provoke us,
to alienate us from the public, and so on, but most of all to turn
abolition into a personal difference between supposed “figureheads”
rather than a political difference between ideologies. It's not; the
difference between abolition and "everything else" is the difference
between ideologies: one that seeks to end the system of animal slavery
out-right with a nonviolent, anti-capitalist mass movement (abolition),
and others that seek to “lay the ground work for change” someday in a
far off fabled future while advocates sell their books, further their
careers, high-five one another and collect donations today. The
difference seems pretty clear.
It's unfortunate, but when you boil it down, this kind of petty harassment of abolitionist
advocates also reflects an uncertainty about what nonhuman animals face
on the part of these other advocates. There's a lack of urgency and
real firmness in favor of an iron-clad and repetitive commitment to the
status quo and tiny reimaginings of it that involve a broken window
here and an extra 1/4" of cage space there and a whole lot of furtive
posting to the Internet, as well as an attempt to debase anyone who
thinks and acts differently. In large part, this kind of directionless
carnival of whateverism can only reflect a serious distance from the

While that is what it is, these kinds of games do nothing to help nonhuman animals. I'm not blaming anyone: a habit of
understanding nonhuman animals as persons, as well as what that means
and how to act best on it takes a long time to cultivate. But animal
advocacy is not playtime on the Internet running down other advocates.
Rational critique is vitally important, but that's meaningfully
different from the personal attacks so often waged against the
abolitionist community. As a stoic, I believe that everything
ends in fire one way or another. But so long as there is only one
abolitionist who is not afraid to push for an end to the system, all
these talkers are scared. They want silence, but nonhuman animals need
us to say no on their behalf, to go vegan, to stay vegan and to say
vegan on their behalf. All socially transformative work starts with us
believing in our own values: that veganism is right, unequivocally;
that ending animal slavery is right, unequivocally. I don't believe
change is necessarily on our doorstep, but I do believe it's down the
street and just around the corner. But until we believe in our own
capability to change the world, we'll be forever standing still
standing on the porch killing time and talking. If you're not
vegan already, today is the best day in history for anyone who wants
change to take the rights of animals seriously and go vegan. If you're
not an abolitionist today, and you want to learn more about it, today's
a great day to change your mind and your work.

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