One of the key ideas I derive from veganism is its stance of conscientious objection to all war: human-on-human, and human-on-nonhuman. I think it’s important to develop this principle because it speaks to how vegans show up in the world.
Militant vegan advocacy strikes me as an oxymoron. I’m not a vegan because we are fighting. I am vegan because we are cultivating. This is not passivity. I think of cultivating as an active, creative, sustainable and strong approach to advocacy.
The thoughts below are asymmetrical and partially stream-of-consciousness. Your comments, including pushback, are welcome, and will inform my thoughts. Thank you for reading, for thinking, and for commenting as and when you’re so moved.
The Gender Factor Has to Be Checked
Let me say there is nothing essential about maleness, in my opinion. My approach is feminist, but I do not subscribe to the notion that gender is a firm binary. Gender is fluid; it’s contextual; it’s a performance by which we, to the extent our society allows freedom of expression, define ourselves. I am not assuming anyone has a set personality or advocacy style related to a set gender.
If we wanted to perpetuate a movement in which male activists controlled most situations (and I’m talking about my culture’s traditionally conceptualized “manliness”), then we should do a militant movement. We should do everything we can to promote vigilante justice, take on the system, and overcome it by force.
Non-male human beings and nonhuman beings tend to lose out when force is the way goals are met. We should stop glorifying forceful heroics and start crediting the cultivation, the nourishing, the collaborative work, and the mutual aid.
The Capitalists Control the Weapons
Here’s an example of an online claim that our movement must be militant:
The capitalist sytem is the enemy. We’ll never get justice for animals without toppling the corporate-run society. Millions of companies exploit animals. They’ll never accept an abolitionist movement. Justice must be done by force. I’m trying to start a revolution here and free farm animals. People need to stop being so [ableist word].
We’re going to topple the government and industries? So, we burst into the boardroom of X-Ploiter & Co. and tell them we stand for animal liberation and we’re calling the shots.
Even if the board members wanted to cut off their corporation’s connection with animal use, they can’t. What will the activists do? Shoot them all?
Allow ourselves to be provoked into choosing militancy, and we feed State violence. Police and the military provoke dissidents to violence, because that’s where they have an advantage over dissidents. Then, the police state grows stronger and broader and incapacitates more activism.
The Importance of Knowing Our Goals
Even in some alternate world where militants could overpower the police, what’s the next society supposed to look like? We can destroy the economy and have our veganism in a torn-down culture, where we haven’t laid the new groundwork for fair modes of provision and exchange. What could possibly go wrong?
And to “free” commerically bred animals isn’t the vegan goal. Commerically bred animals can’t achieve freedom from human keepers. Freedom for animals raised in confinement would be abandonment. And it’s the kind of thing that wreaks havoc on biocommunities.
In short, freedom for domesticated animals is a contradiction in terms. In a vegan scenario, human-dependent animals would stop being bred into dependency.
The vegan ideal promotes and defends untamed, naturally evolving animal communities.
This point is not pedantry. Using force for a goal that doesn’t make sense makes the use of force more wasteful still.
The Importance of Not Getting Sidelined
As Donald Watson’s cohort did, vegans can work on creative vegan projects and keep putting our diverse talents to work as a positive force.
If we’re sidelined by the State, our cultivation is sidelined as well. When asked in an interview about direct action, Watson spoke to this point:
To use an analogy, I sometimes see, when on my walks, people climbing up vertical cliffs with their ropes and I sometimes think, there is an alternative way of getting to the top and getting the view, by just going a few hundred yards sideways, and walking up a valley.
…if people want challenges, there is no shortage of sensible, humane, safe, challenges to get engaged in. I would never take up rock-climbing, and dangle on the end of a rope, that might be weak in one spot. The strength of a chain is its weakest link, and so is the strength of a rope, and if that rope breaks, as inevitably, I think it will, sooner or later, I would probably get killed. And then I wouldn’t be able to proceed with whatever peaceful work I’m on earth to do.
There’s something to be said for being able to proceed with whatever peaceful work we’re on earth to do.
When Militancy Ascends, Principle Is Drowned Out
When members of any group engage in their worst conduct when they act for their cause, there are others left frustrated, unheard, and concerned that what’s drawing the most negative attention is being mistaken for the ethic.
I’m not talking about people who sabotage blood sports. I’m not talking about people who hold signs up to disrupt a circus or rodeo. Most of these activists are engaged in acts of public education or actually interrupting an act of violence.
I’m talking about people who want to convince me that society can be scared or forced into ending their own habits of terror and force.
Transgressions meant to scare or harm others are wrongs, even if the end goal is righteous. Why be intimidating? Why promote the ability to exert force as the way to righteousness?
We have finite energy and time, and we can use it to create messages that shift mindsets. Because yes, we can get allies to go vegan. There are plenty of opportunities to create. Marches. Art. Talks. Writings and educational activism. Start by getting everyone who is forward-thinking on board.
This is not a battle to fight. This is a human identity to cultivate. Because veganism works. Over the course of four decades, I’ve witnessed it daily. Veganism inspires people. Veganism transforms lives. Veganism is direct action.
Time Is Short and the Vegan Message Needs Cultivation
It’s not a controversial ask: Be vegan and act with respect because it’s better than oppressive relationships, poor nourishment, and ecological degradation. It’ll be good for everyone.
Vegans will undermine human supremacy person by person, in a way intimidation by its very makeup can never do. One day we’ll wake up and products made in connection with our dominion over animals and nature will be the rarity, not the norm. Then government will lose excuses to subsidize them.
Extinctions, mass exploitation and killing, and the immediate dangers to individual beings are URGENT. I understand, and I feel this sense of URGENCY every day, every hour I’m alive. I’m not arguing for a slow pace. I’m saying progress will happen faster if we offer a message others can understand.
I’m saying other people’s decision to relinquish their master role will not come from shame or intimidation. It will involve a change of heart, a shift in our collective psychology.
In that vital sense, there is no enemy. We’re all in this ethical question together: Is Homo sapiens entitled to dominate and use the rest of the planet’s inhabitants?
Vegans will prevail if humanity survives. Domination of nature will fall away if humanity cultivates an identity that can thrive in harmony with Earth’s web of life.
If you have made it down to this point, thank you so much for spending your valuable time reading these thoughts. I might add another part later to explore the legal elements of the tactics question. But at the moment I need to concentrate on slides to present at the Vegan Climate Summit!
Love and liberation,
I agree with your thesis, changing society by force does not work, history has proven that, and it is antithetical to the vegan vision.
However I am not as optimistic as you are, that change will occur, at least not in a timeframe that will allow us to see it. There are billions of people in the world with billions of ideas, most barely surviving. We have an economy intrenched in the exploitation of animals and the environment in general. We cannot stop that even in the face of the disaster of climate disasters.
I admire those such as yourself who continue to fight on, and hope that in the end you do achieve the society that you envision. As for myself the best I can do is to be the change I want to see in the world, cliché though that is. We need folks like you Lee, to keep the fires of hope burning. You are an inspiration.