Maxims

This is a list of 1) things that I think should happen in order for veganism to grow 2) the “rules” and defining characteristics that I see as being the most important, fundamental aspects of veganism 3) my opinions/beliefs about veganism that I think set me apart from most vegans.

Some of them are fairly minor and relatively non-controversial and some are pretty damn contentious. It is NOT ordered by importance. I just numbered them so that it’s easier for people to address them with comments.

It is a work in progress and it will change as I continue to think about these things. Hopefully it will expand and change as a result of dialogue that takes place on this blog.

NB: these are not all directives so much as they are an explanation of my position. For example, #2 doesn’t mean that you have to eat freegan food. It just means that it is my position that eating vegan food is acceptable under my understanding of vegan ethics.

  1. *buy only vegan food. This is paramount. Since economic boycott is arguably about the only real effect that veganism has, this needs to be the core of veganism and all other things should be up for debate.
  2. *eat any food (vegan or not) that can be obtained by freegan means (dumpster diving, sharing/bartering with people on websites, eating/finishing a meal destined for the garbage etc.)
  3. One needn’t believe that animals have rights equal to or even similar to the rights of humans to be vegan.
  4. *acknowledge that not all forms of speciesism are bad. In fact, sometimes a choice made for speciesist reasons is clearly the right choice.
  5. *avoidance of animal foods is supererogatory, not morally obligatory.
  6. *approach all debates and info with an open mind. The case for veganism is not absolute and veganism is not without its drawbacks and limitations. We need to be up front about this.
  7. *take nutrition, and critiques of veganism based on nutrition, seriously. Respect the fact that not everyone will take to a vegan diet (or any type of diet) as well as the next guy. Nutrition can be a very complicated thing.
  8. *avoid analogies to slavery, rape and genocide. Regardless of how many similarities there are, it’s very offensive to people that believe that humans have more moral worth than animals (i.e. 99% of the human population). We can fight this “bias” or learn to work with it.
  9. *Be vocal about the fact that no one should have to sacrifice their health to be vegan. We should encourage people to maintain optimal health first through vegan (or freegan) nutrition and then to use (sparingly, if possible) non-vegan/freegan food if they (or their doctor, nutritionist etc.) think that it will help them.
  10. *Promote the idea that veganism (and freegan veganism) is the ideal, but that near-veganism (or being veganish) is a laudable goal and may even be the end goal for a particular person.
  11. *take seriously the critiques of locavores, animal welfare activists, fair trade activists, anti-corporatists etc. Just because veganism is the best way to address certain problems doesn’t mean that it’s the best way to address all food-related problems. We can make veganism better by listening to people that don’t necessarily share our goals.
  12. *veganism is not, and needn’t be, globally applicable to be the right choice for the majority of people. Worldwide abolition of animal use is not realistic and for many people in developing countries, animal use is the difference between subsistence and extreme hunger and poverty, sometimes the difference between life and death.
  13. *be realistic and honest about the dietary/culinary/taste/nutritional/lifestyle advantages and disadvantages of being vegan.
  14. recognize that vegetarians, near-vega*ans and “conscientious omnivores” are allies, not enemies to be either converted or denounced as weak-willed. This doesn’t mean that we have to pretend there is nothing wrong with raising animals for milk and eggs. We shouldn’t. But we should acknowledge all cases where people are doing better than average, even if they have no plans to ever become veg*an.
  15. Admit that veganism is an arbitrary line in the sand, one of many. We should learn to argue that this is not a fatal flaw.
  16. The opposition of animal rights against animal welfare is a false dichotomy. There is much grey area between the two positions that can, and should, be explored.
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5 Responses to Maxims

  1. With regards to the question of obligatory or supererogatory, I think the best one can do is to compare to other things that are obligatory/supererogatory. For example, I had a discussion (http://pythagoreancrank.com/?p=998 ) with Dave D in the comments of Pythagorean Crank using the example of insulting people. Not insulting people is (under normal circumstances) obligatory, even though insulting somebody doesn’t usually do that much harm (this is perhaps too general a statement, but for the argument it’s sufficient to note that there are cases in which insulting somebody would be almost harmless and not doing it is still obligatory). I tend to think that eating an animal causes at least as much harm, but I haven’t really worked out the argument. (Of course, it’s also possible that the reason that we don’t insult people has nothing to do with whether it is harmful or not.)

    Of course, the other half of the question has to be how much do we benefit from each of these things? I think most people would say that they have more of an interest in eating meat than in insulting people all the time, so this argument pretty much falls apart right here. However, it seems plausible that a better-chosen example might lead a bit further.

  2. Something that I think is worth mentioning, which is perhaps a corollary of point 3 or 5, is that the division of people who care about animals into animal rightists and animal welfarists is a false dichotomy.

    The animal rights positions, loosely speaking, imply that except for certain extenuating circumstances, killing an animal is unacceptable. The animal welfare position is that so long as we give don’t make animals suffer, killing them doesn’t matter. It seems to me that there’s a lot of room in between these two positions, and that it is reasonable to believe that killing animals is a good thing to avoid, even if it isn’t morally reprehensible.

  3. I totally know what you’re saying and I think it would make a great addition to the list. I’ve felt the same thing many times. It is a false dichotomy. And it’s the abolitionist/AR side that is guilty of presenting it in this way more often, imo. It seems like welfarists (do they actually call themselves that?) are open to AR-type ideas and directions, but the abolitionist/AR mindset seems to abhor the idea of being associated with anyone that doesn’t fully believe in abolition.

    I think it’s actually a good enough of a point to stand on its own. If we can figure out a way to combine certain points together later, that’s cool, but I’m not worried about it being overly long at this point. At this point I can sacrifice brevity for specificity.

    Do you want to take a crack at coming up with a phrasing that elaborates the idea with enough specificity, but is still succinct enough?

    And sorry for not responding to your first comment on this page. I didn’t have anything to add and then I kinda just forgot about it. The supererogatory thing is still something that I’m trying to work with and I’m trying to develop a more persuasive way of putting forth an argument for non-obligatory veganism. I’m going to start doing some reading in virtue ethics, hoping that it might provide some ideas. Any help would be appreciated.

    • I agree that abolitionists use this dichotomy all the time, but I also see it used by people like CCF who don’t care about animals at all. Maybe it’s just the extremes that frame things that way. Anyway, I’ll give some thought to how to better express this point, but brevity doesn’t always come naturally to me.

      And don’t worry about not replying to my other comment. I’ve actually been thinking I should post a followup to it but just haven’t gotten around to writing it up yet.

  4. Cool. For now I will just add the following maxim to the list and you can give me feedback if you think it could be phrased better.

    “The opposition of animal rights against animal welfare is a false dichotomy. There is much grey area between the two positions that can, and should, be explored.”

    P.S. brevity isn’t always my strong suit either. I think that’s why I like the idea of putting together a list of maxims. Putting out a succinct list/description of your position is always dangerous. People can always oversimplify what you’re saying and take exception. But I think there is a lot of value in having a clear set of position points. Most people do not have enough time to wade through thousands of words of text. They just want a bullet-point list of what you think.

holler!

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