Monday, October 1, 2012

No, I won't sign your petition.

This post is directed at nobody in particular.  I don't want anyone who reads this to think this is in response to them or their recent solicitation of me.  If you recently sent me something on Facebook, Twitter or email then know that it just happens to be the latest in a steady stream of solicitations that I have been receiving for the better part of the past three years asking me to sign my name to protest this or that, relating to animal use or torture.  You know what I'm talking about.  I'm sure you get the barrage of them, too:

"Sign this petition and let the Governor know that horse slaughter isn't okay."

"Sign the petition to stop the annual Canadian seal hunt."

"Say no to Fur!" 

"Ban the sale of dog meat in China!"

There are so many I just can't go on.  These petitions are usually forwarded on to me from friends in the animal rights and vegan community.  These are passionate people who live by their principles of compassion, justice and kindness.  I adore and respect these people.  These are my people.  

Nonetheless, it irks me to no end that we promote these specific instances of animal abuse in these, as Professor Gary Francione would say, "single issue campaigns." Why?  Well, because history has shown that, while they are (sometimes) successful in promoting animal welfaresingle issue campaigns do very little to stop animal use.  Now, of course I'm concerned with animal welfare.  In fact, I'm quite concerned with the welfare of all Earthlings.  

Now, I don't want to rehash the Singer vs. Francione historic argument of New Welfarism vs. Abolition because it's been done a thousand times.  I could never do it the justice that Professor Francione, in my opinion, does.  Frankly, I want to make a different point about it. 

My problem with single issue welfare campaigns is that they indirectly promote a notion of acceptable use.  How so? Well,  for example, when we promote a campaign to ban the use of Fur, we are saying that "fur is bad." Indirectly, this creates a misconception that "leather is okay" or, at least, "leather is not as bad as fur." Otherwise, why not speak about leather, too?  How about wool or silk?  How is the death of a cow not as bad as that of a mink? It isn't, of course.   Now, I know what you're thinking;  'C'mon.  There is NO vegan out there who will think that.'  Right?  

Well, not so.  As we can see from the fact that many vegans still wear leather, there are many who actually still subscribe to these very confused beliefs.  I've even had some terribly misguided (though incredibly well intentioned) vegans tell me, "Well, at least with leather, some people eat the meat.  With fur, it's just a total waste."  And that's the problem, right there in a nutshell.  We send confusing messages with these campaigns- even to those in our own community- an we set up for a belief that there are varying degrees of acceptable use.  Let's be honest;  The only way that "fur is worse than leather" is if you're speciesist.  The core of an ethical vegan's belief is a rejection of speciesism.

So then, what's the answer?  I propose that a specific "single-issue campaign" can be used to promote a broader perspective.  One that unites the animal rights and ethical vegan community once an for all.  If we as ethical vegans have a "single-campaign issue" it should be this:  


Pretty simple.  Very straight forward.  Let's be honest; as ethical vegans, most of us believe this.  This is our core truth.  We reject speciesism because we know that there is no moral distinction between our beloved cat who is a part of our family and the turkey who is destined to become someone's Thanksgiving dinner.  

What if, instead of saying "Sign this petition to ban the sale of horse meat at restaurants..."  we would say, "Just as you are disgusted and would agree to ban the sale of horse meat in restaurants, I find the sale of chicken, fish, cow and pig meat as equally disgusting and immoral because there's no moral distinction between a horse, a cow, a pig, a chicken or  a fish and the dog that sleeps in your bed." 

To promote the notion that all sentient beings deserve to live a life free of property status and use is to really challenge the underlying belief and core issue regarding animal use in our culture;  Speciesism.  When we promote an awareness of speciesism, we can get people to understand the issue better.  Suddenly it's not just "Stop clubbing baby seals" but "stop beating to death any and all animals, whether it's for their fur or their meat."  It's no longer "ban the sale of dog meat in China" but "Ban the sale of all flesh from all animals everywhere."  If we focus on the inherent injustice, bias and inequality that is at the core of speciesism, we begin to unravel any justifiable reasons for use.

I always think of the gay rights and liberation movement when I think of animal rights and liberation, because so many of the parallels hold true.  As with the rampant homophobia that is societally sanctioned around the world, the tide didn't start turn for LGBT people because we said, "Treat me nicely."  When tolerance and regard for our welfare was asked for, we didn't get it.  It was only when we united as a single community, organized and demanded equality that the tide started to shift.  We came out, as a community and we came out as individuals.  One by one, we deconstructed the entrenched homophobic belief that because we are "different" than heterosexuals we are not deserving of equal consideration with regard to our moral status as equal members in society.  

The same needs to be done with respect to our positions on the abolition of animal use.  Let's not pretend to be okay with half measures.  Let's not sow the seeds of self-defeating assumptions about the issues we don't mention to be inferred from the ones we highlight.  Let's agree about our moral baseline as a community and advocate that position, consistently and unabashedly.  We need to unite as a community to demand change.  "Using animals is wrong!"  Why is it so hard to say that?  You know you think it.  I think it.  We know it to be true.  The people to whom you promote all of the "Meatless Mondays" and "Happy Meat" crap know this, too.  They know you believe this.  You're not fooling them- you're confusing them!  They'll humor you and do your meatless Monday but they're going back to Steak-filled Saturday.  Instead, give them something to think about; "Don't use animals any day because it's wrong."  Then explain why it's wrong.  Sometimes I think that we, as vegans, don't give non-vegans enough credit.  I mean, most of us were non-vegans when we "woke up" to the reality of speciesism and animal use, right?  If we were capable, why wouldn't our non-vegan friends, family, neighbors and co-workers be capable of this same realization?  Let's not think that we are so exceptional that most others just can't get this.  They can.  But you've got to level with them, be consistent and be honest.  Nothing wreaks as foul as inauthenticity.

So it becomes a strategic question:  Do we promote single-issue welfare-oriented campaigns that ultimately might win a battle but lose the war?  Well, of course I'd love to win every battle where the animals are concerned.  In the end, though, with more than 58 Billion land animals killed for their flesh each year, I would say that the strides we make in the small single-issue campaigns are far outweighed by the massive numbers of innocents that are murdered.  We've been doing the same thing over and again regarding the promotion of single-issue campaigns and welfare reform and we're left with a massive schism in the animal rights community for a really long time now.  And it's paralyzing us. And while we continue to fight it out amongst ourselves as ethical vegans and animal rights advocates a holocaust continues!  I say, better we coordinate ourselves as an animal rights and vegan community around the globe an focus on the single-issue campaign:

"Animals are not ours to use.  There is no order of importance in the animal kingdom.  Sentience and the ability to suffer is the moral litmus test on whether or not we should ever think of using another living being.  When in doubt as to the sentience of a living being, err on the side of caution and always defer to non-use.  Now, more than ever in human history, we don't need animals to live.  We're just used to exploiting them out of old habit and convenience."

Send me a petition for that and I'll sign it.  In a heartbeat!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sandusky in the Gladiator's Ring

Like so many of us, I have been anxiously awaiting the verdict in the trial of Larry Sandusky, former Penn State University defensive coordinator. I was pleased to see justice prevail late last night when the verdict came back finding Sandusky guilty of 45 of the 48 counts of child sexual abuse. Now in custody, Sandusky awaits sentencing in 3 months which, if he gets the maximum allowable by law, would put the 68 year-old Sandusky away for 4432 years.

Shortly after the verdict was announced, Twitter went nuts. We were understandably happy to find out that Justice has prevailed and that the suffering of all of those young men and boys will be honored and Sandusky will pay for it by losing his freedom for the rest of his life.

I was very disturbed, though, to note a trend in comments like, "You know what they do to child molesters in prison" and "He'll get what's coming to him in prison." These are references to a well-known fact that in the "code of ethics" among inmates in U.S. prisons, pedophiles are singled out as the most heinous of criminals because they prey on defenseless children. That's right; Even rapists and murderers think they're better than pedophiles. Child sex abusers are often beaten, raped, and murdered in U.S. prisons with the full-knowledge of prison guards and Wardens who turn their watchful eyes, allowing this "Texas-Style Justice" to go on. Here's my issue with that; That's not justice.

Justice is a trial in court, having adequate legal representation, a jury of your peers review and decide your fate. Justice is when you are convicted of the crime you committed. And the punishment for that crime is a loss of freedom. You no longer are allowed to live amongst the brotherhood of mankind. You are removed from your community. You home. Your family. Your life. You are taken away as much as a punishment for you misbehavior as you are to remove the threat you pose to the rest of us in society. And that's what is happening here, and that's JUSTICE.

But in 2012 moralizing, do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do Christian America, we see something else- we root for violence. We voice our hope that beyond justice, there will be retribution and vengeance. We hope someone who took advantage of weaker children and physically and sexually assaulted them will, when in prison, be the weaker inmate who is himself physically and sexually assaulted. People are quite literally rooting for him to be raped, beaten and murdered. That would not be justice- that would be a corrupt system whereby We The People (represented by our prison system) are reduced to the same level as the criminal (by allowing for his abuse, rape and murder). It is my same argument against the death penalty for murderers, as it add nothing to justice. Rather, it just makes the state a murderer and lowers us as a society to the level of the criminal. This is retribution and vengeance, not justice. Like how, in Iran, if a man is caught stealing, they cut his hand off. If a man is convicted of rape, they castrate him. That is violence, not justice.

In the old days of Roman Gladiators, the blood-thirsty crowds of onlookers would root against convicted criminals, often out-skilled and over-powered by their Gladiator opponents. Crowds of otherwise decent people would cheer on the bloody "good death" for these criminals. The masses would get whipped up into a frenzied excitement anticipating the brutal, violent end to these condemned men. I dare say, that's what we're doing with Sandusky today in a virtual Galdiator's arena of public opinion.

Is Sandusky a model citizen? Hardly. He was a child sex offender- a predator- who covered up his crimes and has yet to come clean in admitting his wrongdoing. He is a very sick man. Despite this, I know that good people can do bad things and that what you do and who you are often two different things. What I do know is that our criminal justice system was worked and found him to be guilty of having done horrible things. For those crimes, he will pay with his freedom for the rest of his life in prison. His family and friends, though innocent, will pay for this too, by losing him from their life. I suggest, though, that we look at ourselves and our salacious desire for brutality and violence. It should suffice us all to know that a criminal has been caught and will be brought to justice and, even as we revile the heinous acts and crimes this man has committed, we owe it to ourselves as a society of compassionate non-violent people to celebrate Justice, but reject the violence of vengeance and retaliation.

When Christian America refuses to "love the sinner but hate the sin" we create a culture where that same violence sows it's seeds and a new Sandusky is born.