Feedback on “Path” and “A Meaningful Life”
For the most part, the feedback we received concerning “Veganism: The Path to Animal Liberation” [now titled “Activism and Veganism Reconsidered”] was positive. However, there were several comments / questions we want to address.
To repeat: we wanted to emphasize that tactical and strategic decisions must be made in our approach(es) to bringing about a fundamental respect for animals. Certain tactics are more effective than others, and some things we choose to do, as a movement and/or as individuals, ultimately hurt our progression towards animal liberation.
Related to this is the most common feedback we received in our survey – namely, that instead of focusing on either the suppliers or demanders, or choosing one tactic over another, we need to do everything. This is a noble sentiment and, on the surface, appears to be self-evident: how can we not do everything to help all those suffering? However, it is impossible.
Every time we choose to do one activity, we are choosing not to do another. No one has the ability to go to every protest, leaflet every college, write every letter, give every lecture, volunteer at every shelter, get arrested at every lab, etc. Every day, we prioritize our actions: we choose to spend our energies on one thing over another.
In our experience, it is often the “we must do everything” people who burn out and do nothing. Meanwhile, the overall number of animals bred and butchered increases by hundreds of millions each year.
If we were the animal exploiters, our ultimate plan would be to keep caring, compassionate people focused only on the immediate and short term: rescuing individual animals and protesting relatively small-scale cases of abuse. Since animal advocates have very limited resources compared to the industries they protest, compassionate people will never be a threat to the status quo as long as they fail to address society’s fundamental attitude toward animals – namely, that animals exist for humans to use.
Understandably, our big-picture and long-term view of the issue has brought charges of callousness. People cannot believe that we would “reduce animal suffering to a numbers game,” and “turn our backs on dogs in Taiwan (mice in P&G’s labs, etc.).” Stating that we should focus on the relatively abstract and remote (promoting veganism) explicitly at the expense of the apparent and immediate does seem cold. Yet the fact remains that every time we choose to work on something specific, we are “turning our backs” on other issues – other animals who will suffer and die due to our inattention.
If a vegan society is required for animal liberation (and there seems to be no debate on this point), then not pursuing the most expedient means of bringing about widespread veganism is creating more suffering. Until we decide it is more important to bring about animal liberation than to focus on individual animals, there will be a never-ending and ever-increasing deluge of suffering. We must (and do, every day) make a choice: we can use our resources to help a few animals now, or hundreds of billions over time, with no more to follow.
There were three main areas of disagreement with “A Meaningful Life” – the health argument, building bridges, and the “trickle-up” theory of advocacy.
There will always be an example of someone coming to veg from the health side, or the progressive / environmentalist side, or the trickle-up side. Of course, though, the question isn’t “Has this ever worked?” but rather, “Is this the best use of our limited time and resources?” For all the work that has been put into the health, progressive, and trickle-up angles, you would certainly expect more of a payoff to be visible. But instead, we keep losing ground.
On the other hand, there hasn’t been any systematic, widespread effort to present the case against animal cruelty to our target audience. In 2004, of the tens of millions of dollars to be spent in animal advocacy, almost certainly less than $500,000 will be focused on this approach. It is hard to imagine that any other half-mil will lead to greater results for the animals. In our collective decades of activism, there seems to be no evidence or logical reason to contend that our time and money is better spent elsewhere.
As for environmentalists and progressives – from what I’ve seen, animal advocates have wasted nearly immeasurable resources pursuing “shoulds” – “This audience should be a great ally to the animals!” In general, though, progressives / activists for other causes have proven to be less receptive audiences than students in general. Again, there are exceptions, but I’ve never seen any logical analysis that shows time and resources are better spent somewhere other than presenting animal cruelty to students.