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Intersectionality and Animal Rights: Unreasonable Moral Perfection Demands


NOTE: A few things have changed since the writing of this article. I became aware that many of the attacks on animal advocacy are directed specifically against people of Caucasian heritage-a process of demonization that has been going on for decades. In seeking to help the most vulnerable persons in any society–usually non human animals–it is unhelpful to single out whites as the source of the problem. Christians, Jews, Muslims, white, brown etc. you can find all of them involved in the exploitation.


Animal advocates use the history of slavery or racism to draw meaningful parallels with nonhuman exploitation and pursue the interests of compassion and justice. Exploitation supporters often use accusations of racism in an effort to distract and deceive from their wrongdoing.


When confronted, the animal exploiters will frequently put forward a perverse paranoid accusation that the animal activists are systemically racist. This is the standard rhetoric of the fur industry and hunters:


“Animal rights activists are racist—they hate people.”

Strangely enough, some vegans make the same accusation while claiming to champion animal concerns. This has been known as the Intersectionality movement.

For example, they will allege an anti-dog meat campaign in Asia is promoting racism by giving an incentive to people who are upset about the torture and death exhibited in a video to express their outrage in racially offensive language. This suggests that potentially offending people’s sensibilities in social media forum comments is as great as or greater than the systemic, economic-driven exploitation of the victims— i.e. being born to be tortured to death. A sincere activist knows where to place their priorities.

It is one thing to say you feel a particular campaign isn’t effective enough, but it is another matter entirely to say the campaign encourages racism or sexism—this latter concern implies you care more about hurt feelings than trying to address systemic, economic-driven torture and death. Not a position a true supporter of nonhuman animals would take.

Those that dismiss nonhuman animal concerns have often thrown a familiar response at activists:

“Human problems come first.”

Interesectionality is being trumpeted by some so-called vegans under the guise of universal justice when in fact the goal is to bog down animal activists and discourage their efforts by giving them rules and restrictions that would not be applied to other social causes (especially ones that do not involve large industries and making money from systemic exploitation of helpless beings).

Gay rights activists are not expected to be equally devoted to fighting racism, anti-poverty activists are not brow-beaten to defend LGBT causes. Advocates for children in a war torn country are not forced to be political and condemn the dictatorial regime of their host. Single issue focus is tolerated for human concerns but not for nonhuman animal concerns, even though the most abused and exploited beings on earth are apolitical, and their exploitation crosses all ideological boundaries.

These so-called vegans will equate political correctness with systemic industrial mass torture and death. This defies logic, fairness, and decency.

Another area where Intersectionality is highlighted is in responses to the arrival of Christian conservative authors who champion animal concerns. In this case, we are told that those who show concern for nonhuman animals should be shunned if they do not agree with us on all other political ideological fronts.

Mathew Scully’s articulate and passionate promotion of animal issues might be the most significant development of the movement since the 90s, and should not be derided and dismissed. While many vegans are secular and adhere to left leaning politics, outreach beyond this group is absolutely vital if one wants to see significant gains for the victims of exploitation who as we have said before, are apolitical and non partisan. A speech writer for a sitting US president is extremely well positioned and equipped to advertise these issues to the public, far more than philosophy academics with an audience that primarily consists of their students.

To reject efforts to gain the support of a larger segment of society for the critical cause of innocent beings born into hellish suffering due to differences in ideology is to abandon them for trivial and selfish reasons. Whatever one’s position on social programs, gun control, or abortion, the scale of nonhuman animal exploitation is such that it not only requires but deserves independent attention, not a backseat to a “humans first” mantra.

Intersectionality is not only an effort to distract, divide, and demoralize advocates with a charge of racism, sexism, or hating people, but also a moral perfection demand. As we have said before, neither intersectionality nor moral perfection existed among those fighting slavery, and human rights activism is not morally perfect either. We all have benefitted from wars, slavery, human experimentation, and other exploitation now deemed wrong, yet we do not say human rights is therefore impossible and should be abandoned.

The definition of vegan used to mean someone who was committed to opposing the exploitation of nonhuman animals and making a personal commitment to avoiding products that are connected to such exploitation (as much as possible). There is no rule book on this, though avoidance of meat and dairy, fur, hides, is usually a standard lifestyle profile. But, just as the word vegetarian has seen its definition subject to personal interpretation, vegan has naturally undergone the same phenomenon. On one end you have those who aren’t as strict in their definition, and on the other, those who go to great lengths to divorce themselves from any tie to exploitation.

While this behavior can be a personal aim, there has been an orchestrated effort by industry (indeed—anti-vegans) to promote a special kind of vegan perfectionism in order to distract/divide/demoralize animal advocates.

This vegan perfection demand attempts to make personal purity the primary objective while diminishing attention to industry—or rather, suggesting that those who have criticized industry practices and strive to bring it to the public attention are being tricked by, or even collaborating with industry, and against nonhuman victims.

“Vegan” Gary Francione will put the focus on the “animal people” as he calls them, demanding they achieve a vegan state according to his own definition, otherwise they are guilty of being hypocrites and (in his mind), worse than those non vegans (or anti-vegans) who are actively breeding, torturing, and killing victims for profit.

The aim is really to change the conversation—and keep advocates busy chasing perfection and fighting among themselves so industry can get on with their business—or at the very least, delay the inevitable.

He often frames his points in the major media as an attack on the animal people—that they are hypocrites—that they should look at themselves before criticizing others—meaning, the abusers are not the problem—the activists are. In other words they must be morally perfect. He might give lip service to meat and dairy exploitation when on a major network news program but not as a sincere and passionate vegan/animal activist, rather he speaks as a non vegan exploiter would in order to deflect from the issue at hand.

Whether it is a CNN television segment on cat abuse or a NYT column on horse carriages, he downplays the advocacy topic and steers discussion to attacks on the advocates. He is inclined to avoid giving a detailed summation of slaughterhouse cruelty or the destructive effects of animal agriculture on the environment to a public that could benefit from the information.

Francione is fond of saying that an animal person who buys meat from a store is no different than Michael Vick. “We are all Michael Vick.” A meat eater who opposes animal cruelty is no different from serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. He has also said that committing a murder directly or hiring someone to do it for you are regarded as the same thing by law and therefore a purchaser of meat is no different from the slaughterhouse worker or dog fighter. But he knows perfectly well that nonhumans are systemically exploited by industry and that current cultural beliefs regard meat and dairy the same way slavery was seen in 1800. If someone pays taxes to the government to fund an army for defense, and the money is used to finance a war where soldiers are instructed to attack a village and in doing so, a few soldiers torture prisoners for personal gratification, we would not normally say the moral responsibility of the taxpayer is identical to the soldier’s. By Francione’s logic or whatever we can call it, “exploiter’s logic” may be most appropriate; the taxpayer is just as guilty as the soldier. Such philosophical foolishness is completely unhelpful to animal advocacy and can only seek to undermine it. Animal rights activists are only racist if you want to believe it. Why believe what the worst exploiter would want you to believe?





Francione’s Rules:
1. veganism; 2. non-violence; 3. intersectionality


Francione: 2. Those who reject speciesism are committed to rejecting racism, sexism, heterosexism, and other forms of discrimination as well.
Explanation: Some animal advocates maintain that the “animal movement” does not take a position on other forms of discrimination. That is not correct. Those of us who want justice for nonhumans are necessarily committed to justice for humans and for an end to human discrimination as well as discrimination against nonhumans. The animal movement should not, for example, be perpetuating sexism as a means to the end of animal rights. Sexism involves the commodification of women. Commodification is the problem, and not the solution.
Exploitation is not the problem, the activists are the problem.


Human Rights perfection:

“There is considerable evidence that proud names in finance, banking, insurance, transportation, manufacturing, publishing and other industries are linked to slavery. Many of those same companies are today among the most aggressive at hiring and promoting African-Americans, marketing to black consumers and giving to black causes. So far, the reparations legal team has publicly identified five companies it says have slave ties: insurers Aetna, New York Life and AIG and financial giants J.P. Morgan Chase Manhattan Bank and FleetBoston Financial Group. Independently, USA TODAY has found documentation tying several others to slavery:* Investment banks Brown Bros. Harriman and Lehman Bros.* Railroads Norfolk Southern, CSX, Union Pacific and Canadian National.* Textile maker WestPoint Stevens. * Newspaper publishers Knight Ridder, Tribune, Media General, Advance Publications, E.W. Scripps and Gannett, parent and publisher of USA TODAY. ….Lloyd’s of London, the giant insurance marketplace, could become a target because member brokerages are believed to have insured ships that brought slaves from Africa to the USA and cotton from the South to mills in New England and Britain. The original benefactors of many of the country’s top universities — Harvard, Yale, Brown, Princeton and the University of Virginia, among them — were wealthy slave owners. Lawyers on the reparations team say universities also will be sued.” USAToday, Feb 21, 2002