For World Vegan Day held today, we wish to refer to Peter Singer’s disappointment, expressed in Animal Liberation Now: The Definitive Classic Renewed, published earlier this year, that his “call for a boycott of meat has been a dismal failure“.
“If avoiding factory farm products is a form of boycott, then what do we do if the boycott isn’t working? That question has to be asked, because since I called on readers to boycott meat in the first edition of this book, worldwide consumption of meat has increased from 112 million tons to more than 300 million tons, with virtually all of the additional meat coming from factory farms. A large part of that increase is due to the world’s population having doubled in size during that period, and most of the rest is the result of an otherwise welcome reduction in poverty, especially in Asia. Meat is expensive, and so people consume it only when they can afford to do so.
China’s per capita meat consumption tripled between 1990 and 2021, and Vietnam’s quadrupled over the same period, while there were also sharp increases in Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, and South Africa. Countries that were already affluent in 1990 did not have such a clear trend, with moderate increases in Australia, Israel, Norway, and Japan, more modest increases in the United Kingdom and United States, and decreases in Canada, New Zealand, and Switzerland.”
Singer’s question is painful but necessary. It’s very difficult for us activists to acknowledge that the movement we are part of, all the effort that was put in, the life work of so many, is failing. It’s painful to admit that activists rely on small achievements missing the bigger picture and fail to recognize the mechanism.
Obviously we are not arguing that Animal Liberation didn’t positively affect the scale of suffering in the world. Of course it did. But undoubtedly the world since Animal Liberation is one in which there are many more suffering sentient beings who suffer even more.
Since 1975 new exploitation practices have been formed, joining the ones that already existed and constantly expand. Many countries have added more species to the list of “exploitable animals” (ones who weren’t subjected to commercial exploitation in these regions before), and further intensify their exploitation all the time. The prices got cheaper and cheaper and a greater variety of available products was introduced to the market.
Singer mentions some positive changes as well, such as the EU regulations in the egg, veal calves and pig’s flesh industries. However, as we elaborated in the articles about the Egg industry, the veal calves industry, and the pig’s flesh industry, these regulations are actually far from the titles and statements of ending some of the cruelest practices common in these industries, and it is certainly far from what activists hoped for, and it is most certainly extremely far from what the victims want and need.
Singer also mentions the European Citizens Initiative called “End the Cage Age” which was eventually dropped as we detailed in our former post.
Every year, additional tens of millions of sentient beings are born into a life of suffering. Every day is worse than the one before. Our website is full of facts and figures about suffering in the world, but the worst ones are the mentioned acute per capita increase, and that every second 5 more human babies are born. This world is so horrible that one of the greatest suffering factors is the human birth rate.
Apathy not ignorance
Singer decided to update and revision the two more informative chapters of the book, the one about animal experiments and the one about factory farming.
One immediate terrible thing about these chapters is that all the horrors that were practiced in 1975 are still common nowadays. The other depressing thing about it is the false belief that people keep supporting animal abuse because they are unaware of the details.
While it’s true that still most people aren’t exposed to what the animals go through in factory farms, they are aware of the basic facts. Humans don’t have to know every detail about the cruelest exploitation system ever in history, it is enough to generally know that factory farms exist to be morally accountable.
And it is even more basic than that, humans know that meat is animals’ flesh. Even the least informed humans are at least aware that meat is made of animals who were murdered specifically to make the meat they eat. They are aware of at least that, and still freely choose to participate. They know that animals are born to be killed for their flesh. Meat is never made of animals who died of diseases, accidents, by other nonhuman animals, or of old age, but only of animals that other humans murdered. So humans are not only fully aware of animals being murdered for their meat, murder is an obligatory condition for a corpse to be considered as meat. Humans know meat is murder. Knowing that they participate in hurting nonhumans is sufficient for them to stop. Humans consume animal products because they want to, not because they don’t know better.
The only thing that at least some humans can honestly say is that they didn’t know the extent of how horrible animals’ lives actually are. But the basic fact that meat is a piece of carcass, should definitely be sufficient to at least ignite basic curiosity and motivation to look for more information, if humans cared. However, humans don’t even try to figure out what happens to nonhumans before they become their meat. Extensive information is available for everyone nowadays, and activists are more than willing to explain to everyone what is going on and what they can do about it. So even saying that they didn’t know how horrible animals are treated, is less a case of lack of knowledge, and more a case of lack of caring.
Humans know enough to at least start asking questions. But they don’t want to know more, or know but don’t want to think about it. And when someone knows but doesn’t want to know more or doesn’t want to think about it, s/he doesn’t care. The problem is not ignorance, but apathy.
The argument that ‘the problem is that people don’t know what is going on’ is quite popular among activists since the counter assumption is deeply depressing. It is very discouraging to internalize that humans know but don’t care enough to stop, or that humans choose to eat meat fully aware of the fact that it is made of animals (and maybe even because it is made of animals). Clearly it is more empowering for activists to believe that humans are basically and naturally compassionate, and they are doing horrible things as a result of deceit and manipulations, as it is the hardest thing to make others care about something they don’t really care about. Raising awareness and informing humans is the relatively easy task, making others care about something to the point of changing their beloved habits, is a whole different story. So of course believing that humans are not doing the bad things they do because they want to, but because they don’t know better, is a much more comforting position than that they know what’s going on and do it anyway.
Humans know meat is a corpse of an animal that was raised and murdered for them. They see animals in all kinds of situations during their lives, in farms when driving outside the city, inside crowded trucks when driving on highways, dead but in a relatively whole and unprocessed state in markets, alive in the case of fish and crustaceans in markets and even restaurants, and of course in the last couple of decades in the movement’s publications, on TV, and online. People know what’s going on. They just don’t care enough to do something about it.
Nowadays, more and more humans, in more and more places are exposed to more and more of the violence from factory farms by activists who face them with the truth. But the reaction of most is not a moral repugnance, but mainly avoidance from any ethical consideration. Most don’t want to watch violence towards animals, but to keep enjoying the “products” of it.
If slaughterhouses had glass walls, almost everyone would look away from the violent sight and keep eating animals flesh.
Rise to the challenge
“I am often asked if, when I first wrote Animal Liberation, I expected it to have the success that it has had. The truth is that I didn’t know what to expect. On the one hand, the core argument I was putting forward seemed so irrefutable, so undeniably right, that I thought everyone who read it would surely be convinced by it and would tell their friends to read it, and therefore everyone would stop eating meat and demand changes to our treatment of animals. On the other hand, in the 1970s, few people took issues concerning animals seriously. That speciesist attitude could have meant that the book would be ignored. If I succeeded in getting some attention, I was aware that the huge industries that exploit animals would fight against ideas that threatened their existence. Could rational and ethical arguments make headway against such powerful opposition? Alas, I thought, probably not.
What happened falls between these two opposing scenarios. Yes, there are more vegetarians and vegans than there were in 1975, and some of the reforms mentioned in this chapter have improved the lives of hundreds of millions of animals. On the other hand, there are now more animals suffering in laboratories and factory farms than ever before. We need much more radical changes than we have seen so far.
The animals themselves are incapable of demanding their own liberation, of protesting against their condition with rallies, votes, civil disobedience, or boycotts, or even of thanking those who advocate on their behalf. We humans have the power to continue to oppress other species forever, or until we make ourselves extinct. Will our tyranny continue, proving that morality counts for nothing when it clashes with self-interest, as many cynics have always said? Or will we rise to the challenge and prove our capacity for genuine altruism by ending our ruthless exploitation of the species over which we have power, not because we are forced to do so by rebels or terrorists, but because we recognize that our position is morally indefensible? I believe that this recognition will come, eventually, because over the past millennium we have made progress in expanding the sphere of those to whom we extend equal consideration. I do not know how long it will take for us to include nonhuman animals within this sphere, nor how many trillions of animals will continue to suffer until that happens. The way in which you and other readers respond to this book can shorten that time, and reduce that number.”
It’s time to open our eyes and admit that human society is irrevocably speciesist. So far there is every reason to believe that even within the human race, selfishness and discrimination will never be overcome. Anthropologists have never discovered a human society free of violence, and social psychology findings indicate that elements such as group patriotism, selfishness, obedience, conformism, tendency to discriminate, as well as biases, irrational and irrelevant factors when it comes to moral thinking, are all innate to a great extent.
Conventional advocacy, or, asking the torturers if they are willing to stop torturing, is basically and principally speciesist in itself.
Despite that theoretically activists absolutely oppose humans’ dominance, they practically accept it by asking humans to change their violent ways. They all know what happens every time they fail to convince them.
Among themselves, activists point out that the animal holocaust is much worse than any human holocaust in history, however, the partisan fighters in the second world war didn’t organize leafleting events to stop the massacre.
Animal liberation activists’ natural tendency and the first and last plan of action, is to explain to humans that their daily torturing of the weaker for their own minor benefits, habits and pleasures is wrong, and that in itself is wrong, violent and speciesist. It indicates how human oriented the moral scope is, and how inherently limited the discussion is.
Advocacy, today’s go-to option, must be realized for what it is – an extreme compromise at animals’ expense . Advocacy shouldn’t be the obvious starting point. You start by aiming for the best, most radical option and only if it turns out to be irrelevant should you turn to such a desperate compromise as working towards a world with as many vegans as possible.
And even if many consider going vegan, and even if all go vegan, the absolutely delusional option of a vegan world can be reversed at some point in the future. And even if it won’t, this world would still be a very violent one. The chances that the animal liberation movement would stop all the suffering are zero, not only because of the current consumption trends and the extremely depressing forecasts of the future, but because there are so many suffering factors that the movement doesn’t address, and so many suffering factors that the movement probably can’t even theoretically address.
The solution the AR movement is offering – veganism, the one that even in the more progressive parts of the world many activists believe it’s strategically unwise to ask for, is actually a systematic global oppression operation, abusing countless numbers of animals.
The main reason activists hardly ever address this massive black hole is because everything pales in comparison to factory farming, and also because most automatically go on the defensive when meat eaters cynically make this point.
But we are not meat eaters, we are vegans too. We are vegans because it is the least horrible option. But more than we are vegans, we are activists, and as such we are looking for a truly moral solution. Veganism isn’t.
The long list of vegan options you gladly offer those you’re trying to convince to consider stopping their personal part in the torture, is substituting extremely horrible things with much less horrible things. But they are not at all cruelty free options. Plant based diet is cruel. The fact that there are diets that are much crueler doesn’t make it moral.
Apart from the agricultural stage, the manufacture of products that are considered basic vegan food such as soy milk, flour, tofu, bread, oil, tea and etc. can include dozens of harmful sub-processes like: Cleaning and removing unwanted parts such as the outer layers (for example, separating the beans from the pod), extracting the interior (such as seeds), mixing and macerating (as in preserved fruits and vegetables), liquefaction and pressing (as in fruit juices and plant milk production), fermentation (like in soy sauces and tempeh), baking, boiling, broiling, frying, steaming, shipping of a number of ingredients from different distances, wrapping, labeling, packing, transportation of waste, and of course the transportation to the stores. All these stages are invisible as the finished product lies on the shelf.
And don’t get this criticism wrong, it is not about activists’ diets, it is about activists’ activism. We are not criticizing activists for being hypocrite because they cause suffering. We know it is inevitable and that’s the whole point. Even the most caring and compassionate, non-speciesist humans on this planet are bound to participate in a violent system, systematically hurting creatures they wholeheartedly believe they mustn’t. There is no nonviolent option in this world.
Most humans haven’t even made much more basic ethical decisions. There is no magic formula to educate most humans to solve conflicts without violence, to not objectify each other, to not discriminate each other on the basis of race, gender, ethnical orientation, class, weight, height, looks and etc., so what are the odds of convincing them all to become vegans?
Humans prove again and again that their profits, taste preference, convenience, entertainment and etc., are much more important to them than morality. Most of them are not even willing to hear the facts and listen to the arguments, not to mention stop financing animal abuse.
Even when the animal rights movement gives up on the idea of developing care towards nonhuman animals, and turns to anthropocentric and egoistic advocacy – such as trying to appeal to humans’ selfish concerns like care for their children’s future by using “the environmental argument”, or care for their own kind by using “the hunger argument”, or care for themselves by using “the health argument” (the hopelessness summit) – it doesn’t really change humans, as they are too egoistic and self-centered. Even the most anthropocentric and self-involved arguments are failing.
Even when activists consider humans’ self-centered character and their ethical frailty and promote initiatives such as Meatless Mondays or Veganurary, corporate outreach, and further development of various flesh “alternatives” – all indications of how activists gave up on humans’ care for animals – it doesn’t lead to any real change.
Even when the animal rights movement reaches the lowest point it is not enough.
The animal rights arguments are so simple and right. They are based on solid facts and evidences. Nobody can confront them rationally. The fact that the arguments are so strong and so well-based but still fail again and again, is the exact thing that should wake you all. Animal rights activists shouldn’t draw strength from their strong arguments but the other way around. When arguments that are so strong and so obvious don’t work there is something wrong with the addressees.
If you act to change humans the maximum you can theoretically achieve is more vegans. But if you act to annihilate humanity, the maximum you can achieve is the termination of the incomparably most oppressive, violent, and harmful species in the history of this planet. Isn’t that goal worth devoting your life for? Can you think of anything better to do with the one life that you have than trying to do everything you can so that if you succeed human tyranny would end for good?
We are not delusional activists. We are well aware of how little the chances to stop all the suffering are. However morally that’s what we aspire for and what we think every activist should aspire for. As long as there is a theoretical chance to stop all the suffering we mustn’t compromise. We must search for ways to do it as hard and complicated as it is, and as long as it takes. Especially since the conventional movement’s chances are not an option even theoretically.
The more activists join this ambitious effort, the greater the chances of the suffering to end. Rise to the challenge.