Thursday, July 28, 2011

Let Them Eat Meat: An Interview by an Ex-Vegan

Rhys Southan's interview of me on his ex-vegan blog, Let Them Eat Meat, went up this morning. According to Rhys:
If anyone could convince me that I’m wrong about veganism, it’s Adam... [T]he interview is worth reading if you’re curious to see the strongest formulation of vegan beliefs that I’ve seen.
Please check out the interview if you haven't read my posts this summer. (Below I've included some not previously posted excerpts from the interview and several links to challenging articles written by Rhys).

Questions in the interview include:
  1. What do you believe is wrong with the standard consumer veganism that the most mainstream advocates promote?
  2. How would you describe the form of veganism that you advocate?
  3. Most vegan solutions for ending the exploitation and killing of animals (animal liberation) seem to require a human/animal separatism. How would your idea of veganism avoid that?
  4. Why do you refer to animals that aren’t humans as “animal others”?
  5. Is veganism a moral obligation?
  6. Do you think veganism, particularly your take on veganism, fits into Nietzsche’s idea of slave morality?
  7. When you first emailed me, you mentioned an interest in Ernest Becker’s Denial of Death, which is a book that was influential on my thinking after I quit veganism... However, you believe Becker’s arguments could work for veganism. How so?
  8. Veganism is an attempt to not cause death — is this not also a denial of death?
  9. Vegans admit that veganism is imperfect, and that we can’t really follow the ethics to where they want to take us — being truly anti-speciesist and not causing animal death and suffering. What is the point of having an ethics that we can’t actually follow?
  10. Why should I accept your vision and make the one life I have to live worse in order to say that I am against speciesism?
  11. Why should people become vegan despite the ineffectiveness of becoming vegan on an individual level?

Most of my answers are abridged versions of pieces I've previously posted in June and July:
I. A Critique of Consumption-Centered Veganism
II. Socially-Centered Veganism vs. Consumption-Centered Veganism
III. Veganism Without Vegetarianism: On Guilt, Disability, and Ex-Vegans
IV. Veganism as Social Somatic Response-Ability
V. The Animal Therefore I am Not: Eating Animals and Terror Management Theory (forthcoming)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Veganism as Social Somatic Response-Ability

Igualdad Animal Demonstration in Spain (
No one can deny the suffering, fear or panic, the terror or fright that humans witness in certain animals... the response to the question "can they suffer?" leaves no doubt… War is waged over the matter of pity... To think the war we find ourselves waging is not only a duty, a responsibility, an obligation, it is also a necessity... I say "to think" this war, because I believe it concerns what we call "thinking." --Jacques Derrida (1997, 2002)

The Ethics of Veganism: an Open Wound called Compassion
When I advocate veganism, I’m advocating it as recognition of a phenomenon, not as a prescription of a principle. That is, veganism is a recognition of the human condition of finitude, fallibility, and meagerness in a universe shared by other finite, fallible, and meager beings. As I wrote before, veganism as a social existence with animal others is not a foreign attitude. Rather, it is a mode we are “thrown into” when we become subjected to our own curiosity and compassion for other mortal creatures. Recognizing veganism as such holds us responsible to animal others’ interests, and holds us accountable for closing off this mode for relating to animal others as “killable” instruments for some so-called higher-value (i.e. profits, “life,” “humanity”). Thus, veganism as a social attitude motivates and is facilitated by vegetarian consumption. Veganism-vegetarianism are the means and the end of a non-exclusive social responsibility.

Veganism is therefore not the application of a principle of obligation, but the phenomenon of obligation from being addressed by the animal other to respond in return as a social being. I’m not saying that a pig or salmon speak to us or voice themselves as a human might, but that we experience the phenomenon of being addressed, being called to ourselves as social and ethical beings, by recognizing the others’ different perspective, interests, and shared vulnerability. This phenomenon is with us from infancy. Just watch the expression of wonder watching the expressions of other species. It’s similar to their gaze into the face of a human. Children are not born distinguishing the moral considerability between humans and many other animals. Just recently, psychologists Patricia Hermann and others found that anthropocentirsm is a perspective acquired around the age of five, not something innate.

The veganism I advocate fits well with Ralph Acampora articulation of ethics as a phenomenon of the body’s existence as an ecologically and socially interrelational being in contrast to popular thought that ethics is the product of transcendental principles of pure reason or codes intersubjectively consented to. Reason may be valuable in that it exposes latent prejudices and inconsistencies in how one treats others, but only by presupposing our existence as social, caring, vulnerable, and potentially violent bodies. From an ethical paradigm of the interrelational lived body, the “burden of proof” is not placed upon veganism as an extension of ethics, but rather the “ethical isolationism or contraction” of a an ethics based upon self-interest.

For example, reflect upon the times when reason has been used not as a preventative measure against violence and prejudice, but as an instrument against our sociality with and care for others (e.g. “just war,” “ethnic cleansing,” “honor killings,” vivisection etc). It is through manufacturing a code and imposing it upon the world that we can justify acting violently toward others because of the class we place them into. Arguments for fending off veganism and vegetarianism are usually no more than an elaborate game of logic to preserve one’s power and privilege over others by making violence reasonable. They defy our underlying capacity to recognize others as social beings.

Humanism's Double Standard: The Unreasonableness of Consistency
Veganism is the immanent, not the abstract, relationship we have to animal others as social beings. Although my description of veganism is abstract in form, in practice, the reasons we assign to violence are the abstractions. Animal others are exploited under the justification that they belong to a separate race we’ve created and called “animals,” and they are institutionally exploited for the good of something we call “civilization” and the “economy” for something called “capital.”