Manifesto (definition): a written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of its issuer.
I started writing this piece after I received my April 2011 VegNews magazine. #98 in the article, “The Vegan Bucket List” is “Pen your own vegan manifesto.” My vegan manifesto is long and rather academic but here it is…
“ANIMALS, PROPERTY, SPECIESISM & VEGANISM”
Animals deserve, at minimum, one basic right: the right to exercise control over their own lives. Every living being is owner of their own body. Human and non-human animals are cohabitants of planet Earth. Every living being deserves to be treated justly. Just as we want to live, we should extend the same courtesy to others– of same and different species– who also seek comfort and who withdraw from threats to survival. Regrettably, humans have overwhelmingly chosen domination over harmonious coexistence. It’s now time to discuss the underlying problems which cause our collective human psyche to believe it is acceptable to exploit living beings. It’s now time to implement the practical solutions to these problems.
Part 1: Problem Identification
1a) The Property Status of Animals
Animals of all kinds on planet Earth are considered the property of humans. Humans breed, use, commodify, exploit, buy/sell, neglect, abuse, kill, and consume animals as a direct result of the property status applied to animals. When considered as property, animals have value only in their ability to provide something that humans want. Humans want animal-derived food, clothing, and consumer goods; Humans want to be entertained by animals; Humans want to use animals in myriad scientific applications and want to benefit from them.
The property status of animals is obvious and upfront in the following cases:
- “Livestock”- pigs, chickens, cows, goats, ducks, rabbits
- “Seafood”- the oceans and everyone in them
- “Aquaculture”- farmed fish
- “Domestic animals”- cats, dogs, birds, rodents, horses
- “Research animals”- rodents, rabbits, cats, dogs, primates
- “Fur/Skin animals”- mink, rabbits, cats, dogs, cows, sheep
- “Entertainment animals”- animals in zoos, circuses, rodeos, races (i.e. horse/dog) and marine parks, and animals in hunting and recreational fishing
The property status of animals also applies to those who would otherwise be “wild.” Humans seem to consider all of planet Earth their property. When human wants conflict with the interests of “wild” animals, humans exert control over them to render the outcome self-serving. Clearly, no animal is safe from human domination. All animals are potential subjects of limitless manipulation. Here are a few examples of “wild” animals who find themselves, in practical terms, the property of humans:
- Coyotes, wild horses- when they interfere with the interests of ranchers and livestock owners
- Sea lions, seals- when they compete with humans for fish
- Cougars, bears- when they enter human residential developments
- Beavers- when they alter habitat in ways that humans find disagreeable
- Deer- when their population numbers are deemed excessive by humans
- Birds, insects- when they eat crops intended for humans
1b) Speciesism & The Property Paradigm
The property paradigm is rooted in speciesism. Speciesism is defined as “the assigning of different values or rights to beings on the basis of their species membership” (from Wikipedia). Speciesism explains why humans consider animals property instead of recognizing that they are individuals belonging to themselves. All forms of animal use are wrongly justified on the basis of speciesism.
While humans frequently discriminate based on race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, religion, etc, no “ism” is more completely entrenched in human conditioning than speciesism. It is so ubiquitous in our human-centric world that the phenomenon is invisible to nearly all. Humans have been so conditioned by the speciesist mentality that we believe as truth that humans are superior to all other life forms. For humans to arbitrarily judge humans to be the superior species is the definition of speciesism. We take our position for granted, so animal exploitation dominates everything we do in everyday life.
The word speciesism is not in our collective vocabulary, perhaps because to name it would be to question it. We don’t question what we consider to be truth. That much is logical. Speciesism, however, identifies that the human-originated concept of human supremacy is a false truth. We need to critically analyze false truths. Speciesism needs to be challenged on principle.
These are common speciesist statements:
- “Humans are at the top of the food chain.”
- “Animals have been put on Earth to be used by humans.”
- “Humans are the most intelligent species.”
- “It’s just an animal.” (Use of the words “it” and “just”)
Speciesism is responsible for:
- Categorizing animals based on different types of use. For example, in the U.S, a cow is considered “food,” a dog a “pet,” and a whale “scenic wildlife.” Different human cultures have different categories, but speciesism is a worldwide phenomenon. A cow in India is sacred. A dog in China is food. A whale in Japan is hunted.
- Ranking of animals in a “more deserving of welfare regulation/less deserving of welfare regulation” hierarchy. Each culture protects certain animals more than others. When examined further, it becomes obvious that often reasons for protection tend to be self-serving for humans, however, as a general matter, all animals are not equally protected nor equally exploited.
- Establishing socially acceptable use and socially unacceptable use (“abuse”) within categories and across categories. For example, it is socially acceptable for a U.S. farmer to slit the throat of his own cow to kill her for food, but if he kills his neighbor’s cow for food without permission it is considered theft and a “wrong” against the neighbor. It is not considered a “wrong” against the cow. If, however, the farmer throws gasoline and a match on either live cow simply for amusement, it is called “egregious abuse” against the cow. Objectively, in each case a cow is dead. Subjectively, society interprets each death through a speciesist lens.
Part 2: Solutions
2a) Rejection of Speciesism
Humans are one species among billions on Earth. We are not separate from other animal species. A human animal is just another species of animal. We share similar genetic material, nervous systems, and anatomical structures. Different does not mean better or worse. Ranking based on arbitrary characteristics is wrong. Humans and animals are not things. We are all living beings, not property. Each living being is the owner of his/her body. All beings have inherent value.
Humans have no right to take away animals’ freedom or their lives. We have no right to exploit them. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. Just because we have done so in the past, doesn’t mean we should continue to do so. Just because we think we need to, doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because our society has been built upon the broken bodies of animals doesn’t mean we can’t show our innovation and create items and technologies without relying on animals.
2b) Abolition of Animal Use
Regulating the exploitation of animals perpetuates speciesism by perpetuating the property status of animals. “Welfare regulation,” when used as the primary animal protection strategy, can be harmful to animals because it assigns “acceptable” and “unacceptable” parameters of “use” without rejecting “use” itself. Furthermore, regulation generally helps people feel better about exploiting animals. Welfare regulation, in general, is the wrong approach to the problem. Animals require the abolition of their use, not the regulation of their use.
The primary action to achieve the abolition of animal use is to become vegan. Being vegan is a moral obligation, not a choice. Veganism is an action-oriented daily protest of animal use. By not purchasing, and thus not consuming, animal-derived products, the demand for animal-derived products is eliminated. This is not simply limited to products directly made from animals. It includes products resulting from animal research and testing, and it includes attendance at venues where animals are on display, coerced to entertain, or made to engage in competition.
Animals are unique among oppressed groups in that they require humans to be their advocates. We must use our voices to defend their right not to be property. The perpetuation of speciesism depends on and thrives on silence. To be an advocate means speaking up and taking action.
When we speak up for animals, we become a target of ridicule. We are labeled preachy, radical, militant, self-righteous, overly sentimental, utopian, etc. Name-calling is common because there is no moral defense for exploiting animals. Name-calling is an attempt to marginalize vegans and to silence our message.
Animal exploiters strive mightily to keep the truth hidden, so that they may continue to profit from animals’ bodies. Similarly, many consumers of animal products prefer to deny, minimize, or justify the ugly truths about animal exploitation so that they may continue to consume these products unquestioningly.
Speciesism is the status quo. Veganism challenges the status quo. Being an animal advocate requires that we remain undeterred by various attempts to silence us. “Everyone’s doing it” doesn’t make it ethical. It matters not what others think of me when I speak up for the animals. I stand up for animals because I know it’s the right thing to do.
I care about the health of humans, non-humans, and our shared planet. Vegan advocacy should center itself on a non-violent approach, striving to apply Ahimsa in thoughts, words and actions, toward fellow humans and animals. Justice, empathy and compassion are at the core of Veganism. We must treat people with fairness, communicating assertively and truthfully, without being rude.
Witnessing the scale of animal exploitation in the world is horribly distressing to those of us who have allowed ourselves to see it fully and who no longer participate. I am human, and therefore subject to impatience, frustration, and anger. Sometimes I let my frustration get the best of me, but I am continuing to evolve. I strive to do better.
2e) Open Rescue
Those who are subjected to painful procedures, kept captive in dirty cages, denied the ability to exercise control over their own lives, exploited and killed for profit deserve to be rescued and cared for. Yet, in a speciesist society, animal abuse is institutionalized and legal. I know the difference between right and wrong. Legality does not always equal morality. Recognizing that certain immoral acts are legal and certain moral acts illegal, I align myself with morality. I support people who act in the service of justice and compassion. If I were an exploited animal, I would want nothing more than to be rescued. Animal rescuers are heroes, not criminals.
Part 3: Further Clarification
Every individual– human and non-human– has an interest in his or her own survival. This is universal. True carnivores require the killing of another for survival. Humans do not require animal flesh or secretions (eggs, milk) to survive. Humans use animals for pleasure/taste, convenience, or habit.
Humans should not breed animals for any purpose. This includes the breeding of domestic animals for pets. There is no such thing as a “responsible breeder.”
Recognizing that millions of domestic animals currently do not have homes and are killed by the millions every year in shelters, I think that humans may act as guardians for existing domestic animals. Recognizing that domestic pet “overpopulation” is a consequence of human interference in the lives of animals, spaying & neutering existing domestic animals is the “lesser evil” option. Yes, it means taking away animals’ reproductive freedom, but I believe the alternative is much worse.
3c) Fur, Dogfighting, Trophy Hunting
People who wear fur or participate in dog fighting or trophy hunting, etc, are no different than any other “group” of non-vegans. They are no different than meat-eaters and leather-purchasers. No better, no worse. All acts of exploitation against animals are unjust. I do not rank groups in a “better or worse” hierarchy. To do so involves an insidious form of speciesism. To vilify one group above another sends the message that one animal is more deserving of rights, more deserving of advocacy than another. To be against speciesism means that all animals deserve equal protection against exploitation. A fox or a dog is no better, no worse, than a deer or a pig or a tuna.
3d) “Happy” Meat, “Free-Range” Chickens and Organic Milk
So-called “humane” animal products are products of animal exploitation and domination. The animals are still commodities and exist only to serve human purposes. The animals are bred for the purpose of being killed. These are not ethical alternatives. I can think of no worse breach of trust than to be suddenly killed by the “caring” hands of the guardians who fed me.
“Do no harm” is pretty self-explanatory. However, I don’t need a religious text to distinguish just from unjust. The spiritual ideals of compassion and mercy cannot coexist with selfishness, domination, and violence. That’s only common sense. The meaning of dominion has been corrupted.
When people try to justify their consumption of animals with “God put the animals on Earth for us,” what I see is an attempt to absolve personal responsibility and guilt. How convenient to direct accountability away from oneself and onto a 3rd party authority figure. Indeed, there is no “greater” authority figure than God!
Part 4: Conclusion
Vegans are no “better” than any other humans. Veganism is simply the rational, moral baseline for extending to animals the basic right: the ability to exercise control over their own lives.
We are products of our culture. I don’t think that most non-vegans intend to be cruel when they consume and use animals. Most are simply indoctrinated from birth to think that it is acceptable, normal, and necessary to use animals in so many ways. We grow up not thinking about the issue, which is exactly how speciesism is perpetuated generation after generation.
It takes really thinking in order to shift the paradigm. We must do that. It’s time. We must empathize deeply with other living beings. We must recognize the fallacies of using animals for personal gain. It’s time to take personal responsibility for our role in the problem. It’s time to choose to be part of the solution. We must choose to live vegan. The time for widespread Veganism is NOW.