“I think that in terms of emotion, our culture allows men to be angry. The animal rights movement gives men a legitimate reason to be angry. … [it] should not be the place to give men more reasons to be angry. That is not what we need in the world.” (Carol Adams)
Warning: This just may be my Dylan Goes Electric moment.
I’ve been vegan since 1995 and an animal liberation activist—in one form or another—for just as long. It’s been gratifying to see awareness increase and our ranks grow but even so, the vegan/animal rights (AR) crowd is typically relegated to the fringes of the activist world. This understandably leads to an “us against them” vibe as vegans often seek solace and approval in each other’s company.
As much as anyone, I’ve appreciated this insular sense of shared purpose. So much so that I’ve possibly slowed my own activist evolution by becoming too complacent within the movement. One thing is certain: I’ve definitely missed some ominous warning signs.
Thus, in the name of personal honesty and collective liberation, it’s time to be more true to my holistic vision. It’s time to evolve…
Single White Male Seeks Followers
The popular white male vegan guru, Gary Francione, has convinced a wide range of his minions that single issue campaigns = bad, very bad. Here’s a sample of how he explains why such campaigns are perfectly fine for human issues but not so for animal issues:
“We all recognize that the suffering of innocent humans is a bad thing wherever it occurs. The fact that we choose to help in Haiti does not mean that we think that the suffering of humans in, say, Darfur, is good or that those in Darfur matter less. Similarly, the fact that we choose to work on issues of child abuse does not mean that we think rape is acceptable or is morally less objectionable. In sum, if X, Y, and Z are all viewed as morally undesirable, the choice to work on X does not convey the message that Y and Z are morally acceptable.
“When it comes to animals, the analysis is different. Most people think that eating meat, dairy, and all other animal products, or wearing or using animal products, is as natural as drinking water or breathing air. So when we single out one form of animal exploitation, we necessarily distinguish it for moral purposes.”
To buy Francione’s logic, one has to first accept a premise so patently false as to be laughable: that “we all recognize” all forms of human suffering— “wherever it occurs”—as “morally undesirable.” In addition, does he (or anyone) actually believe that the average human would perceive, say, an anti-fur protest as a statement on the relative morality of eating meat?
Francione’s disdain for single-issueism is obviously both counterproductive and self-serving but, don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to critique about this activist approach.
Regardless of purpose, what we call “single issue campaigns”—by definition—fragment movements by separating concerns from their larger context and thus potentially reduce opportunities for essential coalition building across the activist spectrum. They also legitimize power by having us beg representatives of an abusive system for minor reforms.
Even so, this doesn’t mean we should totally abandon single-issueism.”Every campaign for animals provides an opportunity to promote the vegan message and the goal of animal liberation,” writes long time AR activist, Karen Davis.
As always, diversity of tactics rules in a culture that limits debate while crushing dissent with ease and impunity. The long-term vision of activism cannot be based on single-issueism, but a few victories here and there would sure be helpful for morale and momentum.
Sadly and ironically, AR activism—even the Francione branch—epitomizes single-issueism as the vast majority of the movement is white, middle class, and virtually agnostic when it comes to challenging human-to-human forms of oppression.
Such narrow-mindedness is typically cultivated in an inherently top-down hierarchy with men like Francione ruling by decree. Sadly, he’s far from the only one.
The Joke’s on Us
In late 2013, another white male vegan celebrity, Gary Yourofsky, declared: “I care about animals, who are the only oppressed, enslaved, and tormented beings on this planet. Human suffering is a joke.”
(There goes Francione’s premise that “we all recognize” all forms of human suffering— “wherever it occurs”—as “morally undesirable.”)
Here are a couple more pearls of compassionate wisdom from Yourofsky, the architect of “the best speech you will ever hear”:
“Rapists, murderers and child molesters should be vivisected, executed, and dissected, allowing researchers the opportunity to gather useful information that would actually benefit human health for a change.”
“Every woman ensconced in fur should endure a rape so vicious that it scars them forever.”
Hence, I must ask my vegan/AR comrades:
- What does it say about the movement when this guy is a revered and sought-after global animal rights superstar?
- Do you feel he “represents” you in any way?
- Do you agree on any of the points I posted above?
- Would you be willing to publicly denounce such stances?
Side note: Yourofsky was a paid employee of PETA for several years.
Oceans of Denial
Yet another major white male vegan icon is Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The famously brusque Watson is apparently not shy about embracing racist stereotypes in the misguided belief it’ll help save marine mammals.
“The brutal killing of whales has become an icon for the Japanese identity,” Watson declares. “This is not unusual. Japan has always closely identified with blood and slaughter. From the decapitations by the Samurai upon innocent peasants to the suicidal insanity of the Kamikaze, violence and self destruction have been a part of Japanese culture.”
Yeah, those darn Japanese are so enamored with “blood and slaughter,” they nearly exterminated an entire continent of humans, enslaved another continent’s worth of humans, and the “greatest generation” of them went on to slaughter 672,000 humans via coordinated firebombing before willfully targeting “innocent peasants” with atomic weapons.
Wait…oops, my bad. That wasn’t “part of Japanese culture;” it was god’s country—you know, the Home of the Brave™…and the victims in the last two examples were (wait for it) Japanese.
“I … don’t believe that racism is relative to the ecocentric world. There is only one race that I recognize and that is the human race and racism is a form of behavior caused by abstract and nonsensical prejudices among members of the same species. No intelligent person can be a racist because it makes no ecological or biological sense. I have found it interesting that when I maintain that all humans are equal and all members of one species that some find this statement racist because I refuse to see any distinctions between people based on skin color or features.”
How cliché: A famous white man finds it “interesting” to be called on his racism yet still refuses to see “any distinctions between people based on skin color or features.” (Maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised that Sea Shepherd named one its ships after convicted racist, Bridgette Bardot.)
Through it all, however, Watson is revered like a vegan rock star.
And speaking of vegan rock stars, there’s John Joseph—vegan icon and lead singer of the infamous Cro-Mags. When Joseph decided he wanted to share his tough guy approach to veganism, he wrote a book named (wait for it) Meat is for Pussies.
Just in case you don’t have a problem with Joseph’s book title choice or feel the urge to “explain” why he’s justified in using it, please allow me to introduce a simple thought experiment:
How would you feel about a pro-vegan book called Meat is for N*ggers or Meat is for F*gs or Meat is for R*tards or Meat is for Tr*nnies?
Need I go on? I certainly hope not.
“There is nothing hardcore about reclaiming traditional patriarchal language and behavior in the name of an ethical movement,” explains Jamie J. Hagen. “And remember: If you aren’t sure how to do better, please ask a vegan feminist. We would love to help!”
Evolve or Perish
Individuals like those mentioned above have more in common than their skill at exploiting both vegan exceptionalism and white male privilege. They’re also the embodiment of single-issueism and have subsequently helped shape a movement often as myopic, marginal, and misanthropic.
In person, on social media, everywhere…I witness AR activists hating on humans, calling for population control (or even human extinction), and never crossing over into human rights activism. I even encounter AR activists literally mocking those who engage in actions against human oppression (again, contrary to Francione’s flawed premise).
Such behavior virtually guarantees that AR will never be taken seriously nor will it reach beyond its current homogenous and negligible demographic. If you’d like to win over a few more humans to any given cause, it usually helps to demonstrate to them that you care—even a tiny bit—about the issues that impact them. (FYI: That means more than declaring you don’t see skin color or gender because “we are all one.”)
Let’s ask ourselves: Why would any oppressed person feel welcome within our movement? Why would any woman feel safe around activists who think this approach from PETA is acceptable or perhaps even “clever”?
Let’s remind ourselves: Without such growth and diversity, we are doomed, the animals are doomed, the ecosystem is doomed.
So, how about we start exhibiting some of that compassion we never stop talking about? How about we stop allowing the dominant paradigms of privilege to define us—even in the realm of dissent? It’s high time we reject smug complacency and instead seek out new challenges in the name of revolutionary progress.
Angela Davis—a high-profile vegan who most definitely breaks the patriarchal mode—has said that being a vegan is “part of a revolutionary perspective—how we not only discover more compassionate relations with human beings but how we develop compassionate relations with the other creatures with whom we share this planet.”
This is the kind of message vegans should be conveying and representing: inclusive, holistic, accessible, uncompromisingly revolutionary, and not dripping with privilege.
(Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism can be ordered here.)