Friday, September 18, 2009

I Am An Abolitionist Vegan

I have been vegan for roughly four months now and it's been amazing. Great food, great communities — especially the Vegan Freaks — and great fun, with intellectual discussions that I wish I had at university. The only downside is the amount of ridicule I've received, some that's bordered on harassment, mostly from my friends and even from someone I love dearly. I wasn't expecting that, but I know now that it's quite common and something we have to endure as a vegan.

But when it came down to the question of animal welfarism, I was lost and confused. The argument that, if people are going to eat animals we should at least treat them better, made some sense to me. Reduce suffering, since it's going to happen anyway. But at the same time, I didn't like that. We were still killing animals in the end, and no living creature wants to die. It goes against our very beings, down to the genetic level. It didn't make sense.

Then the Vegan Freaks interview Gary L. Francione, of Abolitionist Approach. He talked about abolition, with ending the exploitation of animals. The mission statement of the website made so much sense to me:

"The mission of this website is to provide a clear statement of an approach to animal rights that (1) requires the abolition of animal exploitation and rejects the regulation of animal exploitation; (2) is based only on animal sentience and no other cognitive characteristic, (3) regards veganism as the moral baseline of the animal rights position; and (4) rejects all violence and promotes activism in the form of creative, non-violent vegan education."

I stared reading and listening to more Professor Francione's work, along with Roger Yates and others. I found myself agreeing with that the idea that the answer was to stop animal exploitation and teach people that veganism is a morally right. Francione argued these tactics didn't do anything but strengthen the industry and confused "compassionate" omnivores. His logic was well thought out, far more than PETA's when they said, "We want to reduce suffering now with our campaigns," which yes, reduced suffering, but didn't solve the main problem.

But part of me still felt like I had to agree with the welfarist point of view: reduce suffering in the meantime. Was I bad person if I didn't support it? I was torn.

It didn't become clear to me until I saw the poster for the Responsible Fishkeeping Initiative (RFI). This has nothing to do with animal rights, but fishkeeping, like in aquariums. It wasn't the same as animals murdered for food, but as "pets." According to the RFI:

"Red-tailed catfish, pacus and iridescent sharks may be sold as juveniles to hobbyists who don’t realize how large these fish may eventually become; all can grow to over 3 feet in length. People who find themselves with huge specimens they can no longer care for may not always be able to find a home for them and as a last resort hobbyists may release these fish into local waters. This is not only illegal, but it is wrong, dangerous, and very bad for the aquarium hobby and industry.

The Responsible Fishkeeping Initiative (RFI) ... is an effort on the part of concerned people and companies to put a stop to the release of anything from an aquarium into the wild. Retail fish stores participating in the RFI agree to two things: 1) not to sell these species, and 2) to accept large specimens of any species from people who can no longer care for them. The stores will attempt to place the fish in new homes, and if they cannot do so the fish will be humanely euthanized."

I read it and thought, "Well, this wouldn't be an issue if we didn't sell the animals in the first place. Why does a fish have to be "humanely euthanized" (most likely frozen to death, if its a pet store), aka die, because an irresponsible store, probably the same one who's taking in the fish, sold a fish in the first place?"

And then it hit me. Suddenly, it all made sense. "Why should we campaign to reduce suffering/exploitation instead of just stopping the exploitation itself?" I thought. The arguments from various groups: Peta, Francione, Yates, etc, welfarism vs. abolition, were laid before me and I knew where I was going. That day, I became an abolitionist.

It's always good to do less harm, but it doesn't solve the root of the problem, which is exploitation. Instead we should be teaching people about veganism and that using animals is wrong. That is the message I want to convey when talking to people about veganism.

I am an abolitionist vegan.