What Do I Call Myself?

Lately I’ve been struggling with what to call myself when it comes to my position/role as a person that advocates for people taking the issues of animal use more seriously. I often have a hard time succinctly articulating (especially to non-veg*ans) why I am vegan, and a lot of it comes down to trying to choose between different terms, none of which really describe me all that well.

It should be pretty clear by now that I don’t identify as an “anti-speciesist” (although I have one guy trying to convince me that I just misunderstand the concept – and I honestly appreciate what he’s trying to do).

I’m not an “animal rights advocate” because I don’t really “believe” in animal rights, because rights really only exist when they’re respected, and hardly anyone respects animal rights, so I feel that front is sort of a losing battle (also, I’m a speciesist, so that complicates things on that front). I haven’t fully articulated my views on this yet, so please don’t beat me up too hard if you disagree.

I don’t like “animal liberationist” because I don’t ever see a day when all animals will ever be truly liberated, so it seems like we’re raising the bar a little too high with that one (it just gives off that “I’m disconnected from reality” vibe to me).

I’m not even totally comfortable using “vegan advocate” even though I am vegan and I do advocate for veganism (or some type of veganism, especially freegan veganism or even veganishism). I think the term “vegan advocate” pigeon-holes you as someone that wouldn’t be okay with people being something less than fully vegan, and that is not my position. Even though I think there are certain issues that typical vegetarians don’t take seriously enough, I can definitely admit that someone going from “typical omnivore” to vegetarian is a definite step in the right direction, a definite improvement. So that’s another reason why “vegan advocate” is ill-fitting for me. I respect vegetarians as people that are willing to act on their convictions, even though I personally feel motivated to “go farther.”

“Animal advocate” is not bad. It’s very general. I am actually advocating for animals. One problem I see with this, though, is that certain non-vegans perceiving this as being just a less-than-honest “codeword” for “animal rights advocate” is pretty much inevitable. Although one could advocate for animals without “believing” in animal rights, for sure.

In short, I’m really confused as to what to “brand” myself as.

One phrase that I’ve been using more lately is that I want to “encourage people to take issues of animal use more seriously.” I know it’s really vague, and not very forceful, but it’s the best way I can find to honestly describe my position at this point in time.

In case people haven’t picked up on this yet, I’m really not sure of a lot of things and I’m open to all kinds of suggestions for new directions, new ways to “brand” a way to get people to take these issues more seriously. I just don’t know exactly what the best way forward is. I think that’s part of why I’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback from so many LTEM readers.

I think a lot of LTEM readers are in similar positions. They care about these issues, but they’re dissatisfied with the more codified “movements” that claim to have the answers. I can admit that I don’t have all the answers (but I do have strong feelings about certain things). I can only say that I care and I want to keep talking about it and trying to come up with ways to get through to people that just don’t give a shit at all.

The “people that claim not to care at all” segment is the area most ripe for real progress, in my opinion. I think it’s time that we people who DO care start figuring out a way to get through to them instead of fighting amongst ourselves. Maybe we are a too-disparate group. Maybe I’m naive. Maybe we actually operate at cross purposes. But I hope not. I hope the fact that we actually care is enough of a binding force to get us to see that “WE” might actually have something to say to “THEM.”

For me, all I really need to hear from someone to consider them an ally is that they actually care about issues of animal use, and that they’re open to the possibility of making some sort of change in their behavior. I don’t care if their response is different from mine. Not everyone is willing to be vegan. I just care that they take the issues seriously enough to consider that the gravity of the situation might warrant a change in their behavior.

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8 Responses to What Do I Call Myself?

  1. I like to think about the issues in terms of animal interests. I care about animals’ interests in not being killed and not suffering, but I’m willing to admit that human interests will sometimes outweigh them and that I sometimes put my own interests above those of animals.

    Alas, I don’t know of an appropriate noun for somebody who cares about animal interests.

  2. I agree with everything in your comment, Adam.

    But “animal interestist” just doesn’t have that snappy ring to it, does it?

    I think, at least for now, I have to try to be satisfied with not having a nice, catchy term that denotes my views. I think I need to say that I advocate for people taking the issues of animal use (or animal interests) more seriously.

    And maybe that’s not really a bad thing. Ideas that try to be understandable merely through their names often end up being misunderstood or misappropriated anyway.

    Still, it makes it kind of frustrating when you try to give an
    “elevator pitch” for why you’re vegan.

  3. DaveD says:

    I’m in the same boat. I’m glad you are also working on this problem. 🙂

    I wonder though, what really is the point? The utility of a brand or label helps others find the like-minded and to advocate a position but both of these are subject to the same foibles that have inflicted the other forms. Why call yourself anything?

    • The world demands labels for things in a lot of ways. It’s sort of “unfair” that I have to label myself an agnostic atheist, because it really just means that I don’t have any religious belief. In a lot of ways it’s kinda silly to have to label yourself by what you’re not, by what you don’t possess or believe. But since most people do have religious belief, I’m sort of forced to label myself to differentiate myself from people that I don’t have much in common with (only in certain ways, mind you). And outsiders are going to label us anyway. It’s just what people do.

      So, I share your concerns, but I don’t think that just doing nothing is realistic. We are creatures that like to label the things in our world so that we can attempt to make sense of them.

  4. How about “animal libertarian”? It popped into my head when I read your LTEM interview statement that animals have their own interests and should be left free to pursue them as much as possible.

    It’s not a perfect fit, but I think it accurately captures my own sentiment. You’re welcome to borrow it, provided you give proper citation. ;p

    • Yup, I saw that at LTEM. It’s actually not bad. That is kind of my attitude. If there is no compelling/overriding reason to use animals, just leave them alone.

      And it looks like there are already some people talking about it (or at least a group of libertarians that are pro-animal) and I plan to check that out once I get some more free time. I also plan to delve into your blog a little bit more (added it to my Reader account).

      Thanks for the suggestion!

  5. TaVe says:

    (note: this is a response to both this post and your “Why I Am a Speciesist post”- partly because I’m lazy)
    I hate labels. On my facebook info in the religion box I have something like “Atheist. I don’t care about your definition of the word”. When someone asks if I’m “pro-life” or “pro-choice”, I generally answer by criticizing the terms and explain my views. One of the main reasons I’m against it in that case is because it is not black and white and it just exacerbates confirmation biases by creating an “us” vs. “them”. For those closer to the middle, real discussion is prevent that could lead to real agreement. I hate the vegans who do the same thing.

    Keeping label-free allows one to argue from different positions to people with different views- something you can’t do if you’re doing your arguing on a blog- so that I can try to reach the goal of reducing animal suffering as much as I see possible. Although there was no secret that I was an atheist, I have been more than willing to argue that the bible promotes vegetarianism when someone said that eating meat is okay because god said so. Francione’s view that we must try to change people’s underlying belief systems and become vegan on-the-spot as the only thing we should do seemed absurd to me. I prefer the idea that I’ve seen Vegan Outreach’s posts, reduce suffering as much as possible. To people who “can’t give up ____”, I have no qualms to try to get them to reduce. I share ideas such as week-day veg and meatless Mondays with these types.

    For me the baby or dog scenario doesn’t seem to have an answer, unless you take into account other factors (such as parents and family of the baby suffering, is the baby the son of Stalin or Einstein?, etc- which would probably be biased to favor humans, unless some way to measure suffering/happiness resulting from the decision was magically developed). If all suffering/happiness was held equal, I had to make an uninformed decision, or I had to make the decision instantly, then I’d probably go with the baby- not because it is morally right, but because instinct. Development of land seems to be where speciesism (by a more Singer based definition) seems to be an obstacle for me. But I don’t think people have to agree with me on that issue to be a vegan (or any other lifestyle that reduces suffering). Calling someone an extreme speciesist would definitely alienate them, so such definition has absolutely. Anyways, this whole discussion gets into labels (and therefore definitions) that I rather just avoid as they are pointless or harmful.

    I didn’t hear the term speciesist till after becoming vegan, but thinking about why I would have no problem with farming animals, but not humans was definitely a major factor in my decision (which I thought about while watching earthlings). However, I can see how calling someone a speciesist can lead to them becoming closed off. At that point I was only thinking about how terrible factory farming is- Francione seems to laugh at the idea that people would do it- so I don’t know how I would have felt about the idea of speciesism if it were to have been brought up in earthlings, nor how I would have felt about veganism if it focused on it. Would be nice to have some controlled experiments on what is the best ways to advocate and what to avoid.

  6. Cat Hess says:

    Thanks for this, I really relate to a lot that you’re saying. I’ve been vegetarian since June 2011 and vegan for about three months now, but recently I’ve been re-examining my reasons and reading up a lot about ex-vegans and I’m realising that there is no actual perfect answer, which I originally thought veganism was! I also think I have been at risk of falling into the self-righteous everyone-must-be-vegan category, so this has definitely helped to give a sense of perspective.


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