On Making Others Do Disgraceful Work

My friend Lois Baum recently gave an invited sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rochester, NY. In the sermon, Lois quoted a statement attributed to an animal liberation summit, circa 2010: 

Veganism is a moral and ethical way of living; the practice of non-cooperation and non-participation in anything that exploits nonhuman animals, humans, or the environment. It is a moral baseline for our conduct and how we are revealed to the world.

A spot-on description, I think, of the connected ethic of a vegan life.

Making Others Do Disgraceful Work 

And it leads me to think again about the humans who do the disgraceful work of killing living animals and turning their bodies into commodities for human consumption. 

I do not believe vegans should invest in undercover investigations of these employees’ actions. Some people disagree. Here is my logic.

Time and time again, the “successful” undercover investigation means:

  • Workers get caught, punished, and driven out (and many if not all of them are leading the most exhausted, marginal, and fragmented of lives already).
  • The company increases surveillance of the workers who remain.
  • If regulators do suspend the company’s business, the business usually tidies up and reopens.
  • The case against the company involves employees’ failure to follow regulations. It is never about real caring, real fairness, and it’s definitely never about justice. (Injustice is heaped on, as workers’ precarious lives slide into worse ruin.) 
  • Arguments resume on whether “ag gag” laws should tighten up to prevent undercover investigations, as the company swears up and down that it is now adequately self-monitored.

One of the points made by early vegans is that we shouldn’t expect other human beings to do disgraceful work for us, work which we’d avoid doing ourselves.

That, I think, invokes an empathy and fairness principle. It does not assume that we should blame these employees for doing what they do…badly.

Animal agribusiness is all unfair, and so many humans are implicated. Only a few people are vulnerable enough to be cast out of society for the way they do it.