The advocacy movement for other animals does not have a good track record in terms of thinking critically about the structural forces in our lives. If anything, the very structural forces within the movement acts against critical thinking and drives towards moderation, as some social movement theorizing suggests. The funding structure and the “faulty giving culture”1 of the nonhuman animal movement also block what would arguably be the most revolutionary development possible: a growth in grassroots nonhuman animal activism that seeks to join forces with other social justice movements acting and organizing locally. Such a development would inevitably create a reflexive movement culture that would eliminate the racist, sexist, and even fascist factions in the advocacy movement for other animals.2
Recent developments in the movement seem to indicate that it is now more corporatized than ever, with several national and international organizations competing in the nonhuman animal campaigning marketplace. The movement is still largely focused on “social transformation largely through changed perceptions and priorities on the part of individuals and through welfarist reforms”3 with a recent counterrevolutionary push towards developing a capitalist market for new vegan food technologies and a phenomenon known as reducetarianism.
A 2016 Orcas and Animals blog entry about nonhuman animal movement matters spells out the problem, and although understated, it can be read as based on an anti- capitalist position:
The present animal movement contains many groups with approaches that rely on privilege and in equality as a strategy to alter treatment for nonhuman animals in such a way that animals may suffer less. This approach neglects the vast system that is responsible for subjugating nonhuman animals while it maintains the supply and demand for exploited bodies, and this is one consequence of an approach that has prioritized an appeal to the elite in society.
This conventional campaigning approach from mainstream groups has allowed the fundamental issue of power to remain largely unchallenged. Indeed, it purposefully neglects to examine the issue in order to encourage and reassure those potential “allies,” while concurrently promoting such methods of advocacy in the grassroots movement, commonly articulated around the dichotomy of “professionals” (bearers of “knowledge” and “wisdom”) and the “civilians” (those that have not thought through their approach to advocacy).4
This is a radical statement given the current state and funding structure of the advocacy movement for other animals. For example, this particular essay links to Tom Regan’s rights- based nonhuman animal rights position. The very fact that it is necessary to describe the nonhuman animal rights position as “rights- based animal rights” points to a long- standing philosophical problem in the movement. Few people in the movement— even though it often uses the term “animal rights” to describe itself in a rhetorical manner— have much knowledge and thus little or no adherence to rights- based theorizing about human relations with other sentient beings.
The corporate organizations in the movement – to the extent that they are interested in philosophical foundations or anything “theoretical”- subscribe to Peter Singer’s utilitarian perspective. The most popular, most widely advertised, and most frequently sold philosophy book in the movement for other animals is Singer’s Animal Liberation.5 The Case for Animal Rights by Tom Regan6 gets much less publicity and attention.7 There is some resistance to Regan’s position even in the movement’s grassroots because people claim that explaining a rights- based position is more difficult than one based on welfarist principles like the opposition to “cruelty,” and because there are numbers of misanthropists in the movement’s ranks, and for mainstream organizations, nonhuman animal rights in the sense of based on rights- based theorizing is not easy to “sell.”
The idea that an ethical position can be “sold” has come to the fore in the vegan community in recent times. Moreover, if the philosophy of veganism cannot be sold as a philosophy, especially a far-reaching radical philosophy embedded into the original vision of veganism, then sales psychology research may suggest forms of “repackaging,” or at least this is what the rank and file of the movement for other animals are being told by most of the national organizations.8 Meanwhile, in terms of the structure of the nonhuman animal advocacy movement, as suggested above, a “dichotomy of ‘professionals’ (bearers of ‘knowledge’ and ‘wisdom’) and the ‘civilians’ (those that have not thought through their approach to advocacy)”9 has developed with greater emphasis in recent years. Indeed, there are currently one or two powerful cartels running the mainstream, corporatized, “business side” of the nonhuman animal advocacy movement. Based on the data from “pseudoscience”, a fairly large segment of the careerist nonhuman animal advocacy movement has backed away from regarding veganism as the moral baseline10 and embraced the new “effective strategies” of reducetarianism and reducetarian initiatives such as “Meat Free Monday.”11
Tobias Leenaert gained prominence in the advocacy movement for other animals in 2013 and is now a leading light and rising star of the reducetarian movement, yet going under the name of “The Vegan Strategist”.12 This choice of name is as interesting as it is odd. The fact that Leenaert calls himself The Vegan Strategist is bizarre and counterproductive according to his own theory. He outlines a two- phase model. Society, he says, is currently in phase one, and there is no sign of phase two. Phase one is a “pre- vegan stage” in which talk about veganism, nonhuman animal rights, and speciesism should be discouraged and severely restricted. Leenaert’s own ideas suggest that the last name he should go under during the “pre- vegan” period is “The Vegan Strategist.” In a series of videoed talks to vegans relatively new to the vegan community, Leenaert insists that the vegan movement is “about food,” and he is one of those who seeks to reduce the meaning of veganism to its dietary component—in other words, the “sellable” part of veganism. Furthermore, Leenaert openly mocks the philosophy of veganism in his presentations, while constructing a number of bizarre “thought experiments” designed to get the new vegan activists in his audiences to agree that they would be willing to consume nonhuman animal products for some “greater good.” He also regularly propagated the myth of the “crazy vegan,” a “purist” extremist who furiously waives her arms around in the street screaming and shouting at members of the public.13 Leenaert’s account of the “crazy vegan” stereo type dates back to when he was informed by politicians who provided financial support to the vegetarian organization he founded that they believed vegans to be “crazies.”
Leenaert is an enthusiastic supporter of the research he says is designed to reveal “what works” in terms of advocacy for other animals. This research data is widely disseminated on social media by the mainstream nonhuman animal advocacy corporations. Casey Taft, a professor of psychiatry at Boston University, an internationally recognized researcher and methodology expert who has consulted with the United Nations on preventing violence and abuse, claims that the data reducetarians and others rely to justify their slide away from veganism is seriously flawed and scientifically unreliable. He is particularly critical of current activities that seem to be set in place to assist a reformist agenda and maintain a system of waged nonhuman animal advocates. Taft says:
I have witnessed a new cottage industry of advocacy research seeking effective approaches for helping animals. While this is a worthy goal, these groups are conducting and promoting flawed, pseudoscientific research that doesn’t really tell us anything about effective animal advocacy. Data from this research are being used by Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) to determine the most “worthy” charities to donate to, which is problematic because we end up with a “garbage in/garbage out” scenario where flawed data are input to generate flawed recommendations. Unfortunately, ACE regularly rates the organizations conducting this research as top charities, and ACE top charities are overwhelmingly (perhaps exclusively) professionalized organizations that do not promote veganism as a moral imperative, which has contributed to questions about bias in their rating system.14
As well as promoting the “data” that the nonhuman animal organizations insist suggests that a moderate, don’t-ask-too-much approach is the best, Leenaert argues that technological developments are crucial in increasing the numbers of people who reduce their intake of nonhuman animal produce or became “vegan eaters.” The biggest asset of the movement right now, he insists, is the money being spent by rich capitalists and capitalist businesses that are in the process of discovering and exploiting new plant- based food and drink markets.
I’m happy to see that lately, we’ve seen another factor at our side: money. Not that the vegan movement didn’t have any money at all before, but today it’s kind of a whole new ballgame. For the first time, big money is being bet on vegan products. Companies like Hampton Creek, Beyond Beef, and Impossible foods have raised literally hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital.15
A few voices within the advocacy movement for other animals itself have made the case for seeing the struggle for nonhuman animal rights within its structural economic constraints. For example, Juliet Gellatley and Tony Wardle describe the role of multinationals, colonization, and the depopulation of Ireland, in an exposé of “meat – the global killer”.16; Mark Gold (1998, 4) describes the life and work of Henry Salt, “a self- confessed ‘rationalist, socialist, pacifist, and humanitarian’” whose position on human and nonhuman animal rights, in the twenty- first century, would be called “intersectional”.17 Both Jim Mason and Will Tuttle provide critical accounts of humanity’s “herding culture.” While Mason focuses on his concept of misothery (defined as hatred and contempt for other animals),18 Tuttle’s more radical exposition sees generationally transmitted human culture embedding humans as “modern inhabitants of a herding and animal- consuming capitalist culture”.19 Richard Kahn provides a radical, vegan- relevant, exploration of “critical pedagogy” and “ecoliteracy”;20 Travis Elise writes an anti- capitalist critique of recent books, debates and issues in the movement;21 Steven Best’s vision of “Total Liberation” explores crises under the impact of global capitalism, human overpopulation, species extinction, and runaway climate change; and critical sociologists, “opposed to the exploitation of other animals”;22 and Matthew Cole and Kate Stewart explore the capitalist commodification of other animals and how that is reflected in cultural artifacts.23
Many radical nonhuman animal advocates came into the movement— or its periphery at least— through punk music, radical feminism, anti- capitalism, and forms of anarchy. A great deal of this often zine- based literature is, naturally enough, staunchly anti- capitalist in outlook. Examples include “From Animals to Anarchism” by Kevin Watkinson and Dónal O’Driscoll and “Beasts of Burden: Capitalism – Animals – Communism”, in Do or Die. The “Anti- Capitalist Meet-Up: An Anti-Capitalist Case for Animal Rights,” contains a critique of private property and labor inequalities. “Humans, Animals and Nature in The Crisis: On the Need for an Anti- Capitalist Critique of Animal Exploitation” is a call to action against the “daily barbarity of capitalism”. The Talon Conspiracy (formerly Conflict Gypsy) provides an extensive archive of anti- capitalist, pro-nonhuman animal liberation, materials dating back to the 1940s.24
Other more prominent and mainstream movement for other animals’ names are not so helpful in identifying capitalism as a major cultural and economic engine of nonhuman animal exploitation. David Nibert, for example, underlining his own central position that the exploitation of “others” has capitalist economic self- interest as its chief motivational base, explains that “Some powerful advocates for other animals— such as Regan, Stallwood, and Spiegel . . . suggest either overtly or implicitly that economic systems, capitalism in particular, are not primary in the causation of oppression”.25 Kim Stallwood regards the nature of different economic systems as rather irrelevant in terms of the use and exploitation of other animals. Therefore, be it in a communist, capitalist, or a “developing” world, “the labor of nonhuman animals is used.”26 Law professor and animal advocate Gary Francione’s view on this subject was outlined in a 2014 Facebook post and is essentially a mirror image of Stallwood’s 1996 view.27
As a general matter, however, and certainly in terms of the general day-to-day discourse of the mainstream nonhuman animal advocacy movement, this subject is hardly ever mentioned, let alone discussed at length: it is certainly not a major part of claims- making in the movement.
For Leenaert and other reducetarians, pragmatism is the key: “I’m a pragmatist. I don’t tell people that veganism is the moral baseline or that they should go vegan, but suggest that they take what ever steps in that direction that they are comfortable with.”28 If one merely wants to sell a plant- based diet rather than a justice-for-all ethic, one has to be pragmatic, moderate, and inconsistent:29
I get a quite a bit of criticism from some people for my blogposts and videos. I’m being told that I’m telling people not to be vegan and that hence I’m an anti-vegan. I’m being told I’m not vegan myself because I’m not picky about wine because I would eat a steak for $100 (which I can use for animals), or because I would make small exceptions if I thought it was better for people’s idea of vegans and veganism and, therefore, for the animals.30
Those in the movement for rights for other animals who have “tactically” moved away from talking about consistent veganism, nonhuman animal rights, and speciesism in the name of bringing about veganism, nonhuman animal rights, and defeating speciesism insist that they too are abolitionists. Indeed, in the original formulation of the concept of the “new welfarist”31 such people were seen as ultimately reaching for the abolition of use of other animals but through the use of problematic theories (such as utilitarianism) and flawed methodology (nonhuman animal welfarism).
Reformists and reducetarians claim that “abolitionists” are asking for too much and certainly asking for it too soon, that “baby steps” are necessary incremental steps, and the alleged abolitionist “all- or- nothing” approach is unworkable and off- putting to the very people the movement is trying to influence. The better “strategy,” they say, is to go easy — be moderate — don’t ask for much. Tell people that all they need to do is make step-by-step changes in their diet, that they can eat their way to a less cruel world.
This world will be chock full of new vegan foods developed by capitalist entrepreneurs: entrepreneurs who have no interest — and need no interest — in a justice-for-all veganism that, for sure, would look much more critically at how these products are produced.
Adapted from Roger Yates’ chapter “The Business of Revolution is Counterrevolutionary” in Nibert, David, (ed.) Animal Oppression and Capitalism, Volume 2, Santa Barbara, CA, Praeger, 2017.
Banner Image: Ventura County field workers harvesting amid toxic air during the Southern California wildfires, November, 2018. Photo: courtesy of Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy.
- This January 22, 2016, blog post by Roger Yates, titled “The Faulty Giving Culture in the Animal Advocacy Movement,” can be read at http://onhumanrelationswithothersentientbeings.weebly.com/the-blog/the-faulty-giving-culture-in-the-animal-advocacy-movement. Accessed September 25, 2016.
- For a discussion of such a development, see the talk by Steve Best: “Total Liberation – Revolution for the 21st Century,” given at the International Animal Rights Conference 2013 in Luxembourg. https://youtube /Pr7Ax_p7ocw.
- Nibert, David. 2002. Animal Rights/Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, p 243
- “A Few Thoughts on Elitism in the Animal Movement.” A March 26, 2016, blog from Orcas and Animals. https://network23.org/orcasandanimals/2016/03/25/afew-thoughts-on-elitism-in-the-animal-movement/. Accessed September 25, 2016.
- Singer, Peter, Animal Liberation, 2d edition, London: Pimlico, 1995. Singer’s status as an applied philosopher is controversial. People opposed to nonhuman animal rights— including many in organized countermovement mobilizations — want Singer to be seen as the “leader” of the “animal rights movement” because they believe that brings advocacy for other animals into disrepute as a general matter. See Yates, Roger, 2007: “Debating ‘Animal Rights’ Online: The Movement- Countermovement Dialectic Revisited,” in Piers Beirne and Nigel South (eds.), Issues in Green Criminology: Confronting Harms Against Environments, Humanity, and Other Animals, Cullompton, UK: Willan, 140–157.
- Regan, Tom, The Case for Animal Rights, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1983.
- There was a brief moment (the late 1980s) in the history of the modern nonhuman animal advocacy movement when Regan’s rights- based position was prominent, leading sociologists James Jasper and Dorothy Nelkin to declare that, “it is Regan’s rights argument— not Singer’s utilitarianism—that has come to dominate the rhetoric of the nonhuman animal rights agenda, often pushing it beyond reformism and pragmatism”. See Jasper, James M., and Dorothy Nelkin, The Animal Rights Crusade: The Growth of a Moral Protest, New York: Free Press, 1992, p 97).
- See, for example, Taft, Casey. 2016. Motivational Methods for Vegan Advocacy: A Clinical Psychology Perspective, Danvers, MA: Vegan Publishers.
- See note 15: “A Few Thoughts on Elitism in the Animal Movement.”20. For a description of the reducetarian movement, go to: http://reducetarian.org/. Accessed September 25, 2016.
- See Francione, Gary L., and Robert Garner, The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation?, New York: Columbia University Press, 2010
- See 2016 website established by the Meat Free Mondays Foundation: http://www.meatfreemondays.com/. Accessed September 25, 2016.
- See related blogs by Tobias Leenaert at: http://veganstrategist.org/. Accessed September 25, 2016.
- For an example of a related talk by Tobias Leenaert, see the video: “Attacking Veganism One Talk at a Time”: https://youtu.be/GiEpWaJhUWE. Accessed September 25, 2016.
- Taft, ibid, p 25
- See the blog post by Tobias Leenaert titled “Our Movement’s Biggest Asset: Big Money.” August 4, 2015. http://veganstrategist.org/2015/08/04/our-movements-newest-asset-big-money-2/. Emphases in original. Accessed September 25, 2016.
- Gellatley, Juliet, and Tony Wardle. 1996. The Silent Ark: A Chilling Expose of Meat— The Global Killer, London: Thorsons, 1996.
- Gold, Mark, Animal Century: A Celebration of Changing Attitudes to Animals, Charlbury, UK: Jon Carpenter Publishing, 1998, p4
- Mason, Jim, An Unnatural Order, New York: Lantern Books, 2005
- Tuttle, Will, The World Peace Diet, New York: Lantern Books, 2005, p22
- Kahn, R. (n.d. ). Critical Pedagogy, Ecoliteracy, and Planetary Crisis. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang US. Retrieved Nov 29, 2018, from https://www.peterlang.com/view/title/21127
- Elise, Travis, “Anti-Capitalism and Abolitionism.” In Kim Socha and Sarah- jane Blum (eds.), Confronting Animal Exploitation: Grassroots Essays on Liberation and Veganism, Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2013, p 22–43.
- Best, Steven. 2014. The Politics of Total Liberation: Revolution for the 21st Century. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
- Cole, Matthew, and Kate Stewart, Our Children and Other Animals: The Cultural Construction of Human-Animal Relations in Childhood, Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2014.
- Watkinson, Kevin, and Dónal O’Driscoll, “From Animals to Anarchism”, Dysophia, 2014. Accessed September 25, 2016, from http://dysophia.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/ARzineweb.pdf; See the review of the online work titled “Beats of Burden: Capitalism, Animals, and Communism” from http://www.eco-action.org/dod/no9/beasts_review.htm. Accessed September 23, 2016; Daily Kos, “Anti- Capitalist Meet- Up. An Anti- Capitalist Case for Animal Rights.” June 5, 2011. Accessed September 25, 2016, from http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/6/5/982050/- ; Red, Black, Green, “An Anti- Capitalist Critique of Animal Exploitation”, January 24, 2014. Accessed September 25, 2016, from http://www.tierbefreiung-hamburg.org/wp-content/uploads/Capitalism_Englisch_CMYK.pdf. Talon Conspiracy is available at: http://thetalonconspiracy.com/. Accessed September 25, 2016.
- Nibert, David, Animal Rights/Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002, p 237
- Stallwood, Kim, “Utopian Visions and Pragmatic Politics: Challenging the Foundations of Speciesism and Misothery.” In Robert Garner (ed.), Animal Rights: The Changing Debate, New York: New York University Press, 1996194–208
- Gary L. Francione, “On Capitalism and Animal Exploitation”, Facebook post, August 24, 2014, Accessed September 25, 2016, from https://www.facebook.com/abolitionistapproach/posts/840379032648519.
- In some of Tobias Leenaert’s presentations, he tells his audiences that “consistency is overrated.”
- Francione, Gary L., Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996, p 29
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