On veganism and morality

I believe that exploiting animals for their flesh is fundamentally wrong.

If you know me, that shouldn’t be a surprise; I’m a vegan for ethical reasons, so it logically follows that I think eating meat is wrong, and therefore that anyone who does eat meat is doing something wrong. I’m occasionally told that this view makes people feel uncomfortable, and that I should be more respective of the personal choice of others. Let’s look at what a personal choice is.

A personal choice is choosing not to exercise, or choosing to watch one movie instead of another. Physically harming and exploiting a human for pleasure is not a personal choice. If you believe, as I do, that non-human animals can feel and suffer almost as much as humans can (science believes this too – even for fish and (maybe) insects), then you should also hold the view that paying someone to physically harm and exploit animals is not actually a personal choice.

Now let’s think about discomfort. If you lived in a society of people who harm humans for pleasure, you would, presumably, feel justified in making people feel uncomfortable and telling them they are doing something wrong, and making it clear that you do not condone their actions, even if they only have slaves several days a week. Again, as animals can suffer just like humans, there should be no qualms with making it clear that harming animals for pleasure is wrong in an assertive manner. There is probably nothing to be gained by being overly aggressive, but there is also probably nothing to be gained by being overly passive (a view shared by Dr Casey Taft, who wrote Motivational methods for effective vegan advocacy: A clinical psychology perspective).

There are those who choose to remain passive for the sake of their own immediate wellbeing, and that of those around them, but I don’t believe this to be the right choice. For the same reasons we tell loved ones that they can’t sing to save them happiness in the future, despite the short term discomfort, we should be comfortable telling those close to us that their actions are not ethical. Imagine a friend or family member reaching the end of the life and realising they did something wrong for the last 80 years, despite multiple opportunities to change. Would you not prefer that you had helped them realise that earlier? Not to mention it places a very low weighting on the wellbeing of the 7,000 animals that the average human eats in their lifetime.

As recently as 150 years ago the majority of the world believed that it was acceptable to use and abuse humans who were sufficiently different to them. Presumably we are quite happy there were those who stood up and made the slave traders uncomfortable. However, today we still use and abuse other beings simply because they are different. Very little has changed – we are just a little kinder to 1 species amongst millions.

For an anecdote, I recently attended a strategy meeting with an environmental organisation in Australia. The focus was on effective means of advocating for climate action in the lead up to the Federal election in July. I mentioned that I was seriously concerned that so many individuals and organisations claimed to care about the environment, and would actually harass people who don’t (they spent 10 minutes insulting the personal character of a local politician who was not present), and yet still don’t make the one lifestyle change which makes the biggest difference of all; going vegan. Further, the same organisations and people refuse to make vegan advocacy a priority for mitigating climate change. Everyone in the room averted their eyes. I don’t feel bad for making them uncomfortable. If I was in a room of climate change deniers I would happily tell them they are wrong about that. This exchange was different in topic, but not in theme.

This is mostly a piece on what I believe. The most effective means of advocacy, and therefore what I should do in practice, is another question entirely. To that end, I’m currently writing a review paper on the effectiveness of different actions that individuals and organisations can take to reduce and hopefully eliminate the suffering and exploitation of human and non-human animals. However, in conclusion, I don’t believe there is anything to be gained by being passive in the face of atrocities.

The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept.” Lieutenant General David Morrison

If you are reading this and thinking that you are too old to change because of habit, I’d like to dissuade you of that notion. There are more and more examples of people of all ages making the change. But even if you believe that change gets harder as you get older, that should be reason to make the change now, not to wait.

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