Some non-vegans reject the harm reduction argument for veganism because they have a problem with the fact that veganism is an arbitrary line. They see this arbitrariness as a fatal flaw that justifies their rejection of veganism. And they’re right that veganism is an arbitrary line. There are many other places to draw a line in the sand.
On the “more harm than veganism” side (I’m painting in broad strokes here – I realize that there is much variation from one diet to the next in terms of harm caused), one could commit to only eating non-factory farmed meat, or being vegetarian, or only eating hunted game. On the “less harm than veganism” side, one could commit to full-fledged freeganism (vegan or not), locavore vegan, locavore freegan vegan, or a strict boycott of all animal-derived products and companies that profit in any way whatsoever from animal use (almost all vegans fall short of this mark, even if they like to think they don’t). Depending on your philosophy, these are all valid options and they all have their internal logic. Yet so many vegans insist that veganism is this absolutely logical place to draw the line and will argue that it’s not an arbitrary line. I am vegan (more or less), so I obviously find the argument for veganism compelling, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t admit it’s an arbitrary line in the sand. The eighteen locavore freegan vegans that exist in this world probably think that the average vegan is a poseur that doesn’t take the concept of harm reduction seriously enough. Damn vegans with their money and their packages of tofu!
There are many things in this life that are somewhat arbitrary, but still worth doing, many ideals that are still worth striving for. I only see the arbitrariness of that line as a problem when someone tells someone else that they have a moral obligation to be at or under that line. I don’t make that argument as a vegan. I believe that being vegan (or, really, doing anything that attempts to respect the lives of nonhuman animals and take their interests seriously) is a supererogatory act, not something that one must do out of moral obligation. If you tell someone that they have a moral obligation to do something, and that thing is an arbitrary line in the sand, THEN there definitely is a problem. I don’t fault non-vegans for taking umbrage at that. Not at all.
But even if all of these approaches are necessarily arbitrary, isn’t harm reduction still a good principle? If you reject it outright, aren’t you essentially saying that the amount of harm we cause through our diets/lifestyles is irrelevant? I’m really uncomfortable with that, and I don’t think that the people that reject the harm reduction argument (as a reason to be vegan) are truly comfortable with it either. So I find it disingenuous when non-vegans claim to reject it outright. I don’t think they actually believe that the relative amount of harm we cause is irrelevant. It can still be a valid principle even if you don’t buy into the “moral baseline” argument of self-righteous AR vegans.
So… I guess my overall point here is that vegans should own up to the fact that veganism is an arbitrary line and learn how to argue that that is not a fatal flaw, and not a valid reason to reject veganism. But then they’ll also likely have to get on board with veganism being supererogatory instead of a moral obligation, and I guess I don’t have a whole lot of hope for that. The “veganism as the moral baseline” idea is just too firmly rooted in the “movement” at this point. If you’re not willing to let go of it, don’t be surprised if people keep telling you that veganism is an arbitrary line and that they don’t want to listen to your overwrought explanation why it isn’t.
My other point is for non-vegans: the arbitrariness is not a problem unless someone tells you you’re failing by not being at that line. I’m not telling you that. Also, I think you should do some thinking about harm reduction and whether you think more harm or less harm is what we should strive for. I think any sane person will agree that less harm is better. So find ways to cause less harm through your lifestyle. Find an arbitrary line in the sand that YOU are comfortable with. Don’t trick yourself into believing that it’s a non-issue just because you’re not down with what some self-righteous vegans are spewing on the internetz.
Less harm is better. Find your own line.
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