This is my attempt to share some thoughts I’ve shared with my housemate and friend, R.
Veganism is the refusal to consume animals, or their byproducts. It is a simplified definition, and veganism is far more complex than just one simple sentence. But when I, and most people, explain what veganism is we generally use some variation of that sentence. Veganism is usually seen as an absolute— you either are a vegan or you are not.
Anthrocentrism is the belief that humans are, and/or should be, the center (of the world, the cosmos, culture, society, etc). This definition is also simplified.
As an ethical vegan I refuse to consume animal products to diminish the number of animals that suffer and die. My focus is on ending the suffering of animals.
And perhaps you were expecting an “and” at the end of that sentence.
“…and to end their use by human beings,” I should say.
But I’ll return to use in a moment.
I know I will be vegan (or freegan, or fruitarian) because there is this system of factory-farming— this system that causes the deaths and suffering of billions of animals, but I don’t really need to tell you this. I will oppose the industries that kill animals, that enslave animals, that attempt to hide behind an ethics based in anthrocentrism.
But what about a time when the factory-farms do not exist. When the labs and fur farms don’t dot the landscape. When animals aren’t killed for glitz or glamour or taste. When there are no cages, no locks, no fences.
Would veganism make sense then?
This is what I’ve been debating within myself.
When a goat, a sheep, a llama, a cow, a chicken, a bee, a dog, a cat is an equal member of my community. Do I have a reason not to consume eggs, dairy, wool when they are available?
I’m grossed out by the thought of consuming these things now. But as a hypothetical I have no moral qualms about it. I’m only bothered by the fact that for a period of time my veganism was absolutist— that it saw itself as universal and not dependent on the historical, cultural, social, geographical moment.
I’m against the enslavement of animals— that is what exists right now, and what has existed for awhile.
ME : What if none of the factories existed?
R: Then I assume the animals would be happier.
ME: Right. But would you eat cheese?
R: I don’t know.
R: It would still be using them.
ME: That sounds insulting to the cow to me.
ME: You have to assume that the cow isn’t getting anything from you.
R: True, but a cow wouldn’t need food from me if our/my ancestors hadn’t domesticated them in the first place.
ME: Again insulting. Don’t you think that’s sort of anthrocentric?
ME: Why do assume that individual cows didn’t have some awareness of the benefits that came with domestication— as if domestication isn’t a two way street. It sounds like economics to me.
Man the Hunter dominated nature and led to human civilizations.
Man the Domesticator tamed nature and led to human civilizations.
“How horrible that our ancestors did this.”
Not: “Why would our ancestors and the ancestors of the cow (dog, cat, sheep, goat, chicken, llama) come to this point of mutualism?”
We assume that humans are the only species that interacts, “uses,” or engages in an economy, with other species. It is a human exceptionalism, an anthrocentrism that puts humanity in the realm of unnatural. Then animality (already a ridiculous, anthrocentric division) is thrust into the realm of the natural. In abjecting everything else in the world, we’ve served to eject ourselves.
A universal, absolutist veganism, would deny that there are points in which human beings could interact with other animal species in a natural economy, that there can be a sharing, giving, mutualistic relationship between me and another animal.
And if history has taught us anything abolition is only a first step.
I’ve come to the conclusion that an absolutist veganism is one that ignores the possibility of communities not based on filial specialism, and that I wish to get beyond a anthrocentric exceptionalism that denies subjectivity to animals regardless of situation.