Originally titled ‘Why Veganism is for the Common Good of All Life’
Taken from the ALF SG Newsletter April 2009
I propose Veganism is for the common good of all species; for human-animals, animals and, in fact, for the entire biosphere. The philosophical ‘Golden Rule’ that threads timelessly through history proposes that we should “Do unto others as we would have done to ourselves”. Though it is not an inherently perfect code, it is a bloody good start! But where does it come from? It is reiterated – in philosophers and prophets from Lao-Tzu, the Buddha, Jesus, and Immanuel Kant, from the 7th century BC to the Enlightenment and beyond. Like Kant, I believe it is wholly necessary to locate the purpose of this law outside of the metaphysical preoccupations of religion and abstract philosophical enquiry – this law is manifest in our biology and thus in our treatment of all ‘others’, regardless of species, it is rooted and embedded in our genetic heritage as a cooperating and reciprocally altruistic species of primate. This Golden Rule therefore is simply the psychological and verbal expression of a biological imperative, a necessary adaptation that favours selfless cooperation towards others; what Petr Kropotkin so famously called ‘Mutual Aid.’ It is therefore a law that will guarantee the success of our species and so of all species. I believe the greatest manifestation of this imperative is Veganism.
Veganism bursts through all delusory speciesist barriers, it universalises and authenticates compassion and gives practical form to biological altruism: if altruism is the instrument, then Veganism is the music; one of the means for total species success and survival. Homo-sapiens cannot survive without other life forms being left alive and so we will perish, long before we are supposed to, long before the Sun has burned cold. Veganism is a method of mutually satisfying our moral needs and evolutionary requirements, naturally selected altruistic phenomena that will ensure the building blocks of harmonious life on this planet continue. Veganism is that important; it is a contingent facet of our evolution as sharing members within hugely sensitive and bio-diverse ecosystems (there are few left we don’t occupy). Like Albert Schweitzer, what I would argue then is that requirements for value should rest not just upon issues of sentience but also upon issues of life: thus lakes are valued because they house fish; rocks are valued because they house woodlice and soil has value because it houses plants ad infinitum. Since all inanimate objects directly or indirectly support animate life, with very few exceptions – if any at all- then the totality receives moral consideration. Thus for the benefit of abundant success of all species, Veganism is the default position, for it respects and preserves all life. All animal abusing industries (be it factory farming, vivisection, fur farming etc) have successfully helped to socialise the mass of people on this planet into using and consuming animals as part of their normal, ‘normalised’ and habitual existence. This is an immoral, consumerist ideological construct that is based on the anthropocentric delusion that our own species deserves predominance over all others: in fact, not only is it delusional, it is wholly destructive to all beings. This daily advertised discourse atomises and reduces the classical ‘whole’ to its composite ‘parts’, the whole biosphere and all its animal and plant contents become a resource for the use of the human ‘self, blind to the realisation that the self cannot function without the whole. These barriers and borders have been purposefully constructed over centuries to separate species and classes of people, to maintain the hierarchies of powerful elites, traditionally by royal patriarchies but currently by the ubiquitous Trans-National Companies we all abhor. (Joel Bakan’s great book and DVD ‘The Corporation’ illustrates their psychopathic tendencies so well!) Capitalist ideologies that advocate self-interest and inequitable over-consumption of the few at the expense of the many are transient cultural artifices enforced by violence, indoctrination and the manufacture of consent.
Such cultural creations have no evolutionary basis and so will be short-lived in real, evolutionary terms. This is especially relevant today as we are witnessing the depletion of the very fossil fuels they need to power and perpetuate themselves. No fuel, no capitalism, no oppressive ideology! (Again, see elements of http://www.transitionculture.org). This is where a full understanding of exploitation, of capitalism, of hierarchy and of the political implications of Veganism become so vital. That’s why I totally loved reading Bob Torres’ Making a Killing. He comprehensively introduces Karl Marx’s main beliefs and Murray Bookchin’s readings on hierarchy and oppression. (Bookchin received a lot of inspiration from Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid). I first read Bookchin’s analysis of contemporary hierarchical culture when travelling many, many years ago, mostly from Peter Marshall’s stupendous Nature’s Web (if you can get it, get it!) It is so important to gain an understanding of what Bookchin called ‘social ecology’. Loosely speaking, it is ‘anarchy’; but you must ditch immediately any stereotypical preconceptions and notions about that word – they are negative and deliberate connotations that have been purposefully bound in the propaganda of capitalist dialogue. Bob Torres effectively ‘Veganises’ Bookchin’s antidotes to contemporary speciesist society, outlining how a Vegan ‘social ecology’ movement (‘Veganarchy!’) of decentralised power will ensure that our diet is given a resolute, political form. Politics is everywhere and we have to incorporate our Vegan vision into that. We’re not Vegan just because the food’s good! (And, let’s face it, it hasn’t always been!) But if we de-politicise Veganism we’ll be prone to assimilation into commodity culture and will revel in the fact we can finally buy Vegan ice cream without understanding the forms of exploitation that allow the mass dissemination of all consumer commodities, whether they’re Vegan or not. “Unless we broaden our horizons and deepen our perception of both the universe and our fellow members of society, we may all perish in persisting to manipulate each other and our ecosystem with materialism and exploitation.” (Jan Lundberg: see elements of http://www.culturechange.org)
To struggle all our lives just to ensure there is a ‘Vegan option’ on every meat menu is obviously missing the point. Such consensus will be our downfall. As Torres effectively explains, Veganism must be the baseline and beginning of all liberation struggles. That’s why I used to love eating Vegan food on demos; food prepared and shared by other dynamic, engaged Vegans was fuel for the march, fuel for the protest; it was empowered and empowering! Moreover, it would have been stripped of all that power if I’d just been munching at home, watching the telly and congratulating myself on being Vegan! The Vegan belief in reverence and respect for all life must be compatible with effective, pervasive and immediate action and education. Veganism must be an active, consciousness raising project – to empower and engender our understanding and appreciation of all
life and to feed our bodies and our intellect – there are no species barriers, no circles of ethical separation, just one circle of universal compassion. So Veganism is not just a diet; it is the product of a powerful biological urge for liberation and equality, a vital element of the global justice movement that has struggled for centuries to liberate animals, humans and the planet from tyranny
“Veganism is the daily, lived expression of abolition in one’s life, and a rejection of the logic of speciesism (…) If we want to eradicate exploitation we must begin by ending it in our own lives and encouraging others to do the same.” Bob Torres: Making A Killing