Thursday, September 10, 2009

On veganism (a polemic)



 I’m sure you’ve come across some variant of “with the amount of grain used to fatten animals for human consumption, we could, if we all became vegetarian, eliminate world hunger.” The “case” for veganism suffers from the same limitations particular to consumer politics. In that it fails to understand capitalist production, the “air tight” arguments are shown to be nothing but non-sequiturs. 

First, world hunger has nothing to do with scarcity. We continue to produce enough grain and other foodstuffs for human consumption to feed double the human population. Economists who speak of a “grain glut” mean that literally tons of grain is wasted and unused, not because people aren’t in need of it, but because they can’t afford it. Second, it speaks to incredible naiveté to assume that world agribusiness would give away any excess grain left over if the meat industry suddenly collapsed. When I say political veganism doesn’t understand capitalism, this is what I mean.

While there’s nothing wrong with seeing it as simply a moral issue, there is something incredibly obnoxious and self-aggrandizing about puffing out your chest, believing your diet will change the world. While the number of vegetarians and vegans has grown into sizeable minority, you would think that meat consumption would’ve shown a slight decline. But the opposite is true. Total meat consumption has increased. With food costs rising, meat has become more practical (in terms of calorie intake) and affordable. There is absolutely no substance to the claim that going vegan saves any animals. Capitalism does not plan production based on a one to one correspondence of a supply demand. In fact, its key feature is overproduction. A general lowering of demand will then likely mean two things: 1) animals not consumed will just be wasted 2) the price of meat becomes cheaper, increasing total consumption.

There is also no precedent for a boycott strategy that has shut down an entire industry the way it’s being described (and it would require a boycott of all supermarkets and restaurants). That’s because the consumer has very little power. One can “choose” to drive a fuel-efficient car, but can’t choose why cities lack efficient public transportation. One can choose to buy energy efficient light bulbs, but has no say about planned product obsolescence. No one can dispute that the factory farm model creates tremendous amounts of waste, contributing to environmental catastrophe. It does so because capitalism forces every industry to accumulate and capture as much of the market as it can, in the most cost effective way. It functions to maximize profit, not to meet needs or work rationally. So every industry is structured unsustainably. 

But what if for the sake of argument, veganism got what it wanted? The world adopts a vegan diet, the meat industry collapses, then what? This is where their militant rhetoric unravels. The system can shed whatever it needs to, or create a small niche (which it has), but the drive toward exploitation, war, and environmental destruction will always be essential. "Animal Liberation" may sound radical, but instead of challenging the free market, it politically affirms it. Having said that, I find the term “Animal Liberation” to be as meaningless as the politics behind it.  That’s not to say that a being’s capacity to suffer is not worth ethical consideration, but that the term literally means and amounts to nothing. 

The inevitable charge of “anthropocentrism” or “speciesism” revels in anthropomorphism. This in no way is a claim to superiority, but to accuracy and intellectual seriousness. Human liberation is not abstract. Our species distinguishes itself by organizing into social and productive relations. Liberation is historically conditioned and defined by which social and productive relations are being overturned. The factory farm is part of those productive relations and can be dramatically altered, but animal liberation? Claims to the contrary are nothing but ahistorical nonsense. Rather than pointing to the rise of class society, some AR activists argue the root of human oppression (slavery, sexism, etc) can be traced to the domestication of animals. In Vasu Murti's "Politics of Vegetarianism" he even goes so far as to say that people commit "crime" not because of inequality, but because they never owned a pet. As Murti explains, “none of them had this opportunity to learn respect and care for another creature’s life and to feel valuable in so doing.”

These ideas in no way offer anything useful to the liberation of anyone.


33 comments:

  1. man that billboard is horrible... guess it just proves your point. Humans are superior though and meat consumption is up because I stopped being vegeterian

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  2. Your supply/demand argument itself is inconsistent. You claim that the "grain glut" supply outwieghs demand because people cannot afford it, yet if meat supply (which consumes far more grain than humans) outweighs demand then the meat prices would drop. Similar shift in supply/demand in the two examples would result in the long run in similar price shifts, not different shifts.

    On the welfarist angle (which, as an abolitionist, I go further), there are many examples of en-masse campaigns prompting changes in laws and regulations stopping or reducing the most egregious abuses, and even those are clearly not touted by "everyone" in society. Vocal minorities can be enough to augur social change.

    "[B]ut if [the injustice] is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then ... let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn."
    ~ Henry David Thoreau, 1849

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  3. I don't expect the world to change overnight. But at least on my death bed, I will be grateful that through my actions, I Did not contribute to the suffering of others, in as much as I was able.

    Just because we can't do everything, why does that mean we shouldn't do anything?

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  4. Seattle-those who fall into the "world hunger" category can't afford meat in the way i described either. Hunger will continue irrationally, because it's not profitable to feed people for free. Total meat consumption is growing among those can afford.

    i agree, en-masse campaigns can "reduce the most egregious abuses." As long as you admit there's no strategy for "animal liberation" because the strategy itself is misinformed by its politics. Politics that may sound radical, but actually reaffirms the free market.

    Jennifer-you are contributing to the suffering of others. that was the point of the article. what you do is ineffectual.

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  5. Alex - Trying to make a difference is futile, so you may as well participate in a vicious cycle of suffering and pain? Yikes, I'm glad I don't see things so bleakly.

    Also, the only reason that meat is so "affordable" is because of government subsidies.

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  6. Josh - You've missed the point. This article is about assessing a strategy for liberation, and it has been demonstrated to be of no use to that end. This is not the only strategy to end a cruel and exploitative system of production.

    It is not an excuse to surrender to a vicious cycle and it isn't bleak. Delusionally maintaining a passive set of consumer politics is bleak.

    And your point about government subsidies is out of scope. Political veganism is an economic boycott of an industry. How do you propose to address government subsidies? With a letter-writing campaign to your congressman/woman?

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  7. The sentence "you are contributing to the suffering of others. that was the point of the article. what you do is ineffectual" implies futility in taking a stance against cruelty and exploitation, and that is pretty damn bleak if you ask me.

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  8. Josh - try reading the whole essay a third time.

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  9. I have read it a few times, and my reading comprehension skills are just fine. Your argument is a bit confused, though.

    For example, you start one paragraph by saying, "But what if for the sake of argument, veganism got what it wanted? The world adopts a vegan diet, the meat industry collapses, then what?" offer absolutely zero facts, and come to the conclusion that, "Having said that, I find the term “Animal Liberation” to be as meaningless as the politics behind it."

    I offer to you the question you ask yourself at the beginning of the "article" and never answer. Why not veganism?

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  10. Speaking of reading articles again, here is a quote from the article you linked to in regards to meat production going up:

    Consumers will need to rethink the place of meat and other animal products in their diets to promote better human and environmental health. A recent article, for example, in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition notes that "vegetarian and vegan diets could play an important role in preserving environmental resources and in reducing hunger and malnutrition in poorer nations."31 And the authors of a September 2007 article in the highly respected medical journal The Lancet recommended that people in the industrial world eat 10 percent less meat as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as improve human health: "The unprecedented serious challenge posed by climate change necessitates radical responses... For the world's higher-income populations, greenhouse-gas emissions from meat-eating warrant the same scrutiny as do those from driving and flying.

    Although that does not address the issue of animal liberation, which is the topic of your writing, it does point to the fact (which has been widely-known for years now) that veganism/vegetarianism has benefits beyond that of refusing to participate in a system of abuse and torture.

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  11. the source was intended to back up a statistic. my argument is not bound to follow its recommendations. the argument posed by the article is the exactly the kind i'm refuting.

    to really tackle environmental damage, we need to restructure the world economy--get rid of capitalism.

    i offer plenty of facts. there is nothing inherent about "liberating" animals that challenges the system. capitalism can exist by creating a niche for you (which it has). it also has been able to survive outmoded methods. the fact that capitalism has adopted new forms of production, doesn't mean any of its problems have been solved. you can't argue that.

    the article doesn't argue against the 'Why not?" Frankly, i could care less. But Veganism is often sold with a list consequences attached, and i wanted to see how much validity it carried.

    which is, none.

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  12. why's there so much activity on this? I can't even believe people still care about being vegan. you're all so backwards. I always imagined that the amount of people at hardcore shows had dwindled, and the mindless turds who attended them went away. Is it still high school?

    There should really be a lot of activity over Inglourious Basterds which is much more fun to discuss.

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  13. I like how you guys created a blog solely for the purpose of stirring up shit. I am disappointed, as I am sure you are, that more people have not submitted angry responses to this post, however tepid the debate over the viability of political veganism is.

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  14. I think the article offers criticism to those that believe that being vegan/vegetarian makes an actual difference. Many will make the argument that the biggest contribution they can make is to abstain from eating animals. This way of thinking lends too much credence to the "free market" belief that a consumer really has an impact on what is being produced. As stated in the article there is an abundance of food in this country and choosing to buy organic, or vegan food does not effect the amount of meat that is going to be produced.

    This does not mean that veganism should be ignored or left out politically. The argument that "veganism is for high school kids" is for jaded fucks that do not care enough to see politics as a "big picture". While being vegan may not change the world, I personally believe that having awareness and adjusting your politics, and/or diet, is a good way to situate yourself politically. Also, as stated from previous posts, the meat/dairy industry are big time polluters and have other detrimental impacts on the environment.

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  15. you're an idiot.

    1. environmental impact - factory farming is the most destructive force on earth. more greenhouse gas emissions than all transportation. crazy erosion, acid rain, etc. and the biggest/fastest growing areas for factory farming are coming from clear-cut rainforests... at the expense of everyone and everything living there. the natives are forced to move or die, and many die.

    you omitted this entice facet, entirely. even though it was mentioned in a link you provided...


    2. meat consumption increases because *drumroll* derrrrrrrrrrrrrr, human population increases. way to miss that super obvious fact/correlation, genius.

    3. you cherry picked your arguments, resulting in logical inconsistencies/fallacies (and wow @ your boycott arguments. holy idiocy, batman!).

    4. for some reason, you're trying to base an ethical/moral argument on... *drumroll again* capitalism (not ethics/morals... or even results). and capitalism with government subsidies, no less... hahahahahahaha. dumbass.

    5. as for animal liberation - what you speak of is not an issue for plenty of animals. deer, birds, bears, turtles, frogs, wolves, coyotes, giraffes, fucking wilderbeasts, etc... all can live freely, with the exception of those domesticated/factory farmed... and of course, the idiotic notion of the need for people to shoot them, to control population (which is yet another logical fallacy)...

    in short, epic fail.

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  16. oh, and peta is a fucking sham.

    not only do they not represent vegans, they do not advocate veganism. seriously. just read up on their recent campaigns/what their vp has to say.

    they're actually anti-vegan. they promote going vegetarian, but not vegan... and then there's their "death vans" that they use to kill 99+% of all animals they pick up.

    they don't even attempt to have dogs/cats/other animals adopted... nor do they attempt to have wild animals returned to their habitat.

    http://www.terrierman.com/Peta-shelter-data-2008.pdf

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  17. 1. It was not omitted.
    "No one can dispute that the factory farm model creates tremendous amounts of waste, contributing to environmental catastrophe."

    You omitted what followed.
    "It does so because capitalism forces every industry to accumulate and capture as much of the market as it can, in the most cost effective way. It functions to maximize profit, not to meet needs or work rationally. So every industry is structured unsustainably. "

    If that needs to be spelled out for you, then here it is: Factory farming is structured the way it is because it is the most profitable way to do it in the short term. These are the only considerations capitalism makes. You confuse the effects with the actual cause.

    I refer to the talkback on the blog about my sources

    2. Other than the fact that human population has slowed a bit, the point was to say that personally going vegan does not effect the number of animals killed. simple as that. going vegan does nothing. if you're willing to admit that point, then i'll leave it there.

    3. i found a fallacy in your third argument--you didn't have one.

    4. i have no problem with the ethical argument. the piece aimed to pop your balloons when thinking your diet does anything else but make you feel good. my argument still stands.

    and are you an anti-capitalist or not? are the issues you're so outraged about mean that you're with me on taking on the real problem? or are you comfortable with the little niche capitalism created for you and enjoy your seitan from those "good" businesses?

    5. your last point proves my point really well. if vegans got what they wanted, then what? your "liberated" animals are becoming endangered, habitats destroyed by capitalist production. you wouldn't have liberated anything.

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  18. Veganism is not a "big picture" thing at all. It's the opposite. There is nothing revolutionary about being veing at all, there's not even potential in it. It is one of the most individualist and culturally elitist things I can think to do. I saw many kids turn vegan and still harbor their racist and right-wing values. Then a small minority become "conscious" hardcore kids who get tied up in alf/elf extremist,terrorist nonsense. And if they do care about human issues they are still retarded, ineffectual anarchists obsessed with the most extreme forms of identity politics and scream boring songs that really just serve as group therapy sessions for spoiled bands and their audiences dealing with their white, heterosexuzl, rich, guilt.

    And stop saying "epic fail", not only is it lame hardcore talk, you guys are all grasping hard at straws to try to counter-argue at the blog that really just obliterated your foundations. Pathetic.


    Also, why has the government subsidies argument been brought up twice? Obviously huge agribusiness gets huge government subsidies, but you act like that's the cause of the problem. So you're real big government haters too? Should I expect to see y'all at the next racist, anti-health reform, anti-obama, paranoid white reaction rally or what?

    If so, I'll be on the other side, doing the revolutionary thing eating my double double with cheese.

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  19. taken from:

    http://notpopular.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=2942&p=40202#p40202 (makes more sense with quotes for relevance)

    again - logical fallacy.

    the world is not capitalism. the world does not use capitalism. capitalism is relatively moot here. the only way it's remotely relevant is if this is somehow only about capitalist countries... but (pollution, etc) affects all.

    and the fact that the meat/dairy industries are backed by our government just MIGHT be relevant... oh, wait. i already mentioned that.


    umm... hahahahaha. yeah, 7 billion and counting. our (usa) population grew about 40% in the last 29 years...


    hey idiot, apples to apples.

    it's not about number killed, genius. it's about number born into it. only morons think that going vegan "saves animals." (*cough, eva gather, cough* it simply helps lower the amount farmed. one can not save what does not exist.

    and that's still better than the alternative.


    are you really so ignorant as to still not see where you're cherry picking... after it being pointed out? ...numerously?

    good job!



    yeah, i do it to feel good. because i'm posi. it's like you know me!

    moron.

    and see points 1 and 2. if they're not farmed, they can't impact the environment negatively. if they're not farmed, they're not living a life of needless torture... ironically, at our own expense, no less...

    it does plenty. you're just an ignoramus.




    i'm neither, dickshit.

    capitalism, like socialism, is just an economic model. it's neither good nor bad. it's the way it's implemented that determines that.

    are you so blinded/ignorant "about mean" that you don't know what the fuck you're talking about? (hint: that's rhetorical. it's obviously the case)


    ???????????

    and you had the audacity to deny having logical fallacies? holy shit. hahahahahaha.

    see the first post, genius.






    and i'll say "epic fail" as long as morons keep posting the same recycled, fallacy-laden bullshit i've read for years, and thinking it's some brilliant new revelation that debunks an ethical argument... especially when it's stupidly based on capitalism (which is hilarious for a number of reasons).

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  20. steve - you're a dumbass.

    yeah, veganism is dumb because you met a few vegans who were allegedly racist or whatever. brilliant assessment.

    and why the subsidies are relevant is because OF THE MORON'S ARGUMENT - CAPITALISM. guess what? if govt subsidies are involved... it's not capitalism.

    derrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

    you guys display the brainpower of my penis.

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  21. Hahaha this is all ridiculous.

    (this is big Kyle btw)

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  22. No robmafia you are the dumb ass. first your name is dumbass and second what you say is off-the-chart stupid, you should be checked for a mental illness.

    I have met more than a few Vegans who are racist and right wing. Either way its still a logical assessment because veganism is still a small subculture, that prides itself on being against the majority, yet wants to lead crusades to bring people to the light of it with shitty hardcore music.

    Having government subsidies that cater to huge corporations is a part of capitalism and always has been. It's not ideologically pure, libertarian capitalism of course, but capitalists mostly care about the bottom line and if it takes the government to bail them out or promote them they will use it. How fucking stupid are you? I was just making a joke about you guys being right-wingers who don't realize, but you do realize it and still continue.

    "capitalism, like socialism, is just an economic model. it's neither good nor bad. it's the way it's implemented that determines that." - this means nothing moron. That's such a cop out statement we might as well take it as a concession. Capitalism is not just some kind of "abstract" that with the right "implementation" - which I'm assuming you mean some kind of trust in the morality of capitalists which is absurd. The reason we need regulations (and hopefully socialism) is just to contain these bastards. The pursuit of profit at any expense is the bottom line. The horrors of our health care system should prove that.

    But no, you're right, vegan politics really do lead people on the right path. Being much more concerned with the plight of animals and having faith in capitalists not to exploit people in your fear of big government.

    You sound like a full fledged reactionary and you belong right on the front lines of the teabag protests with all the other nuts.

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  23. and I have more brainpower than your penis because your dick is small

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  24. Robmafia, are you really into conspiracies? Why are you so mean? Are you a closet fascist?

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  25. Haha, the robmafia guy is a Ron Paul weirdo (look at his blog).

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  26. ...i am?

    weird. i voted for barr. and feel free to look at my blog - why do you think i linked it? again... derrrrrrr.

    anyway... have fun with your retard logic. if you want to continue, do it on the site you spammed.

    otherwise, this is just a couple dickshits thinking they debunked an ethic because of capitalism... HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. smrt.

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  27. Mr. Mafia - if you are indicating that you're going to stop trolling here, then thank you.

    Apart from seeing you exercise your high school rhetoric lessons here, you made a particularly stupid point about veganism lowering the amount of animals slaughtered.
    Of course, only the frontperson of a vegan hardcore band would believe that it rescues the animals in the factories from being destroyed.

    After mocking one supply/demand vegan argument, you replace it with an equally delusional one.

    Ad nauseam, you're psychotically arguing that factory farming has nothing to do with capitalism while at the same time using a tired free market axiom.

    The economics behind veganism is the point of this essay, and you're off point. Ethics aren't be debunked here, unless its reckless debate ethics.

    Does your English teacher grade your essays with an "epic fail"?

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  28. A critique of this piece may be found at http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendId=176034051&blogId=526195390

    The space afforded here would not permit a response of my critique's size. I have no interest in this debate and especially not on this medium. The author of the original piece repeatedly pressed me to engage and finally he managed to dragoon me into this conversation, but my willingness to participate ends here and I would request that my original wish to be left out of this conversation be respected from here on out. I wrote this response one day when I was idle and bored, which is an aberrant state for me and thusly, I do not wish to be attached to the internet and engaged in the futile enterprise of internet debate any further. Feel free to criticize my critique all you wish, but don't expect a response, because to me this whole endeavor is as dull as hen shit.

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  29. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  30. quick thoughts on your response:

    1) there is nothing more naive than denying that AR activists and organizations make the argument counter-posing the grain used to feed animals and world hunger. its a false dichotomy. point stands.
    2) subsidies are definitely a factor. the point is that being vegan saves not one animal under capitalism. point stands.
    3) being vegan is at best a boycott, at worst "consciousness-raising." under a purely moralistic framework, it doesnt challenge capitalism. point 2 carries more weight and point 3 scores again.
    4) 'political veganism' has to be differentiated from 'vegans who are also' anti-capitalists'. it is willfully ignorant to suggest the political content of veganism is inherently anti-capitalist or that the majority of vegans take that position. maybe in the anarchist ghetto, but get real. generalizations have its place. political vegainism in itself is consumer poltics=free market affirmation
    5) maybe it shou;dve been prefaced with 'social relations dependent on the form of productive relations.' of course animals constitute a hierarchy in nature and live 'socially.' however, there is no (unless national geographic has proven me wrong) reason or record of animals overturning their own instinctual social order. humans can overturn social orders precisely because they are not bound by nature. they are man-made justifications for the current productive relations.

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  31. I have my own beliefs on the killing and use of animals for food, some of which are similar to those of the animal liberationists. I don't agree with all the arguments in this article, and I think it too glibly dismisses where animal liberationists are coming from. But it makes some very important points. Particular about the ahistorical nature of the animal liberation case.

    The 'holocaust' poster on this page is deeply offensive. Try telling someone who lost a mother, father, sister or brother to the holocaust that their grief is no different to that of a sheep. Or indeed that their mother, father, sister or brother is no different to a sheep. It is totally absurd and I dare say that there would be very few animal liberationists who would make this claim if they were face-to-face with someone in such grief. It is not only ahistorical - it is anti-people, anti-human.

    But even from the perspective of the animal liberationists, it is illogical and contradictory. They claim that the problem is the human-centric nature of society. But why then do they insist on giving animals human characteristics to make their argument? Why not win the argument on its own terms?

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