On why ‘veganism‘ is flawed

Januar 30, 2011

Get back on your seat: I do not hold by any means that veganism as a theory is necessarily ‘flawed’. 😉

However I came to notice some inconsistencies in different meanings of the word vegan that I would like to share and discuss:[1]

As I would observe it, there are those who define ‘veganism’ as…

  1. rejecting consumption of any ‘animal products’ (excluding self defence)
  2. rejecting the property status of beings with property ‚X‘, meaning practically at least to refuse taking any personal advantage from it. (excluding self defence)
    Here ‚X‘ is element of P:={‘sentience’, ‘subject of a life’, ‘ability to suffer’}.
  3. new welfarist versions of (1) or (2) that is supposedly rejecting consumption or the property status in principle, but allowing exceptions to that rule even if there is no claim to self defence.

Suppose for the sake of the further argument that this list is valid and complete. (Though I am of course very interested in why you would find that it is imprecise or not complete.)

Then I think I can give Examples of moral issues, each being condemned/accepted under one and only one of those vegan theories.

  • (1 or 2 yes, 3 no) I assume you are familiar with why (3) falls very short of (1) and (2). @GLF discussed the differences par excellence, so I wont go into them.
  • (3 yes, 2 and 1 no ?) Some who identify themselves as ‚vegan’ advocates of (3) hold the position that morally everyone (including ‘vegans’ subscribing to (1) or (2)) ought to support certain welfare reforms that would be rejected by (1) and (2) in order to reach ‘abolition’
  • (1 no, 2 yes) Using animal sponges is wrong under (1) but probably acceptable under (2) and certainly acceptable under (3). (At least, I think we can agree that it remains to be proven, that sponges suffice any of the conditions in P. If you do not regard a sponge as an ‘animal’, try to think of a being that you regard as an ‘animal’, but of which you think that none of P is provable or proven. If you feel, there is no such being I’d be very interested in your definition of ‘animal’ and a proof that any such ‘animal’ satisfies one (same) element in P.)
    Same applies for ‘animal products’ that ‘come out naturally’; that means that the relevant person from whom the product is ‘taken’ has never been subjected to any violation of her basic rights. (Examples: some ‘Pets’, human hair for wigs, some animal excrement as fertiliser, learning about scientific issues by observing (non-)humans without interfering in their life, some genetic engineering…)
  • (2 no, 1 yes) Though I would hold the position that (1) always implies (2), some others do not: I have encountered some ‘vegan’ people subscribing to (1) with a Marxist, anti-capitalist or anarchist perspective. They understand (1) with the emphasis of (1)’s wording lying on ‘consumption’. Though I feel that I never fully understood any of their arguments in depth, those people challenge my position (which is (2)) as reproducing an inherently ‘hierarchical’ (sometimes also called ‘paternalistic’, ‘bourgeois’ or ‘western’) belief-system; They reject the idea, that (any?) human ideas about justice or ethics could be generalised and demanded universally, most commonly using post-modern arguments. (Amazingly those people appear to reject ‘animal exploitation’ for the same reason that they reject (2)!)

So, summing up the above, I think I can safely conclude, that the concepts which ‘veganism’ can refer to, can be completely different.
If I consider further that usage of the term ‘animal rights‘ can be confusing due to the similar inconsistencies between different meanings of it, I then ask the following:

Should we continue to use the term ‘veganism’ in our advocacy? 

I am not quite sure on how to answer that.
One obvious reply to that would be: “(1) and (3) cannot be justified let us educate people about veganism meaning (2) and hope the other 2 meanings will ‘die out’ as we do so”.
But then I think: Wont a person advocating (1) or (3) do just the same thing? Suppose I wouldnt care. Suppose even for a moment I would be justified to ‘overdefine’ that person (because I’m right and they are wrong! 😉 ) and that I was able to actually dominate them, won’t my advocacy necessarily be misinterpreted in light of their paradigms?!

To be quite honest, I feel the answer is likely to be be “yes”.

Maybe I am just too afraid, that if I was to give up the key-word of abolitionist advocacy, which ‘veganism’ certainly is, I might end up lacking any language for advocacy altogether… (A very fearsome thought indeed)
Maybe I should try not to include the term ‘veganism’ in my advocacy (unless of course it is raised by somebody) for the next couple of months and just see how that feels …
[1] Two thoughts inspired me to reflect about this: One being Franciones „Som=e Thoughts on the Meaning of “Vegan”“ and the other being risen in Steven Wise’s critique of RWT (Animal Law 3:45.) Though would I reject Wise’s main point of the paper, I still find he has a point when saying that @GLF’s usage of the term ‘(nonhuman) animal’ is at times ambivalent: That is refering to members of animalia on some occasions and to ‘sentient beings’ on some other occasions. As will also state further on, I find the transition of moral arguments about the one class of beings to the other is never easy and sometimes impossible. That argument taught me to attend much more carefully to the usage of language in AR-philosophy.

(Previously posted on the abolitionist approach forum in December 2010. I’m Reposting it here, because the access there has been restricted to members.)


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