Thursday, October 24, 2013

Winning the already won argument: Purity in vegan social movements

Bill Martin, in his Ethical Marxism, has called vegetarianism an already won argument. I take this as broadly given. The philosophical argument, made from Aristotle to Hegel, that animals exist only for humans, is largely routed these days. The evils of the factory farm are so apparent and indefensible that no one today seriously tries to defend the factory farm, with the industry simply supporting ag-gag laws and calling (and treating) animal rights activists as terrorists. This is not to say that veganism has really won. Fights over smaller scale raising and killing animals, various medical expropriations of animals, treatment of non-native animal species, and other issues are still major topics. However, the central apparatuses for the most horrible treatments of animals is mostly won. And yet, despite having won the argument, we are living the age of the most intense and inventive cruelty to the largest number of animals.

So, what to make of this? There are still those who are beefing up arguments around non-native species, for example. And there are those who are repacking and rebranding the already won arguments (Veganism--Now in an all new constructivism flavor!). Actually, both those examples are just me. And I do think it is important work. However, I know, and I am sure my compatriots know, that if the argument is already won, simply reframing the argument is not going to have major impacts. The why the already won argument is not working is one that is addressed by various thinkers-- Carol Adams' absent referent, Barbara Noske's/Richard Twine's/David Nibert's animal-industrial complex, Jacques Derrida's disavowal and the global production of forgetting, Bill Martin's carnivorism, and Melanie Joy's carnism.  I am sure there are many more I have forgotten. Despite their differences, what all of these thinkers are trying to get at is some sort of material and/or ideological system that perpetuates our violence against other animals in the face of the already won argument. And as John Sanbonmatsu points out, many of the arguments against a vegan world are made in Sartrian bad faith.

Now, there are those that believe because we have an already won argument, and we seem to be losing instead of winning, that the failure is one of the animal activist community not agreeing 100% on the correct tactic. Whatever that tactic is: non-violent vegan education, direct action, violence against humans, gradual animal welfare reform, etc. In other words, if we are failing to win, the reason is not with my arguments (whatever they are, they are all correct), it is must be because of the activism of other vegans. They are the ones I need to argue with, they are the ones letting the factory farms and labs and hunting seasons still exist. What emerges here is a purity around tactics and the tendency of vegan policing. I clearly think those are bad things. (1) Because I don't really know what tactics are going to work. But also, (2) I think a certain amount of vegan in-fighting tends to come from our own necessary continued imbibing of the disavowal of the absent carn(ivor)ism-complex (or whatever). This two is a harder thing to articulate, and something that makes me glad this is a blog post, and not an article. However, if there really is a material and/or ideological system out there, it is nuts to assume we have escaped it just because we are vegans, or are becoming-vegan. So, the purity of tactics and vegan policing reassures us that we have escaped. But also, in trying to escape, we have often be warped by those systems. We see those we love and care for munching on corpses, we remember ourselves doing the same thing. We are ridiculed, and demeaned. These sorts of traumas become powerful shaping influences. We learn to believe in our rightness, but also our righteousness. We learn to not listen, to be strident, to become distrustful or contemptuous of others, and to even become distrustful and contemptuous of our desires and instincts. It doesn't, of course, have to be this way. And many people are working to not make it this way.

Ecofeminism (and here I am thinking particularly of Chris Cuomo) has often promoted an ethic of flourishing. And we need that. Not just for the other animals we fight for, but for ourselves and communities. pattrice jones has written about the ways activists can use their trauma to transform themselves and their activism. And there is more, of course. The poststructuralist tradition that tries to think a community without sacrifice, or alternatively, a politics of friendship, is certainly important. Such communities are going to struggle with the normalizing and policing priorities and purities we bring with us. Though I am betting that the work of building such communities are every bit as important for the success of vegan social movements as picking up the bullhorn, and certainly as writing another blog post.

On that note, here is more of my schtick about the rebranding and repacking of vegan arguments (and remember, I am laughing with, not at).

Veganism--Try it any of these wonderful ethical flavors!

Mmm, mmm deontological.


Feminist Ethic of Yummy!

Or try the new veganism-lite -- Now with a sliding scale of Morality!

Or poststructuralist veganism -- now not just for Derrida's soul!

(none of these vegan ethical claims are approved by the dead philosophers associated with them, your vegan experience may vary, void where prohibited, and remember, always vegan responsibly).