Sunday, November 23, 2008

No on Prop 2

This is a belated post, but the issue is of no less importance. If you search on YouTube for "No on Prop 2," you won't find much about California's recent ballot measure. The opposite is true of "Yes on Prop 2." Although 60% of the vote is not phenomenal, it seems as though the passage of Prop 2 was inevitable. Nevertheless, many vegans oppose this kind of measure, which calls for the ban of caged animal farming. This may seem perplexing, but the reason is a strategic one.

Popular understanding of veganism is based around its practical application in the form of a diet and abstinence from using animal products, leaving the principles behind the practice open to inference. However, Leslie Cross, one of the founders of the vegan movement, wrote in 1951 that veganism is first and foremost a principle from which the practice logically flows. The principle, what some are now calling abolitionism, is "that man should live without exploiting animals." In other words, veganism is not about protecting animals from suffering, which is the stated goal of PETA; rather, it is about liberating animals from the system of exploitation that is the root of much unnecessary suffering.

Hence, the Election Day post by Dani of "The Vegan Ideal" blog discussing the significance of "alternative means of exploitation." Dani eloquently writes:
As Mohandas Gandhi said, we must be the change we want to see in the world, not the darkness we wish to leave behind. Exploitation, even "reformed," is the darkness we want to leave behind. Whether or not its advocates are conscious of it, supporting alternative methods of exploitation obstructs, marginalizes, and negates veganism (the change we want) here and now.
In sum, Prop 2 is, according to Dani, a reform of exploitation. From a more plainly strategic perspective, Leslie Cross writes that veganism is
not so much an effort to make the present relationship bearable, as an uncompromising recognition that because it is in the main one of master and slave, it has to be abolished before something better and finer can be built.
In other words, we are not capable of building something truly better or finer until the enslaving system is abolished. Indeed, Prop 2 is not truly better or finer. Many vegans who would otherwise support reform oppose or don't care about the proposition due to a lack of any evident improvement in conditions between caged animals and free-range animals in the U.S. Although I do not agree with reformism myself and do not encourage a reactionary approach, I leave you a shocking video from Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary which will have to suffice for the lack of vegan media on 'No on Prop 2':


Alisha said...

Wow. I'm really glad you posted on this because honestly, I didn't understand why so many animal rights activists/vets/etc. were against this proposition. I guess that if it doesn't make any actual difference in the lives of animals, then there's no reason to encourage a false sense of comfort. But I still wonder a little about the all or nothing approach. You include the quote: "supporting alternative methods of exploitation obstructs, marginalizes, and negates veganism (the change we want) here and now," and I have to say that I can't quite seem to grasp the concept there. While working towards a greater goal, why not accept smaller victories that come along and fall in your lap? As long as you're careful in how you frame them (a move in the right direction but nowhere near adequate, etc.), it seems like they could only help - one less chicken being suffocated is still one less chicken being suffocated. When is it okay to encourage smaller victories and when do you need to hold out for the big wins? I just wonder sometimes, when ideals and realities don't line up in perfect harmony, if remaining "uncompromising" and be more dangerous to a campaign than adapting. Just a thought.

Luella said...

Hey, Alisha! Thanks sooo much for the thoughtful response. You raise some great questions. First of all, your response made me realize I had misinterpreted the quote by Leslie Cross, which I edited to say, "we are not capable of building something truly better or finer until the enslaving system is abolished." I'm sure the misinterpretation added to your confusion.

To be honest, I wasn't quite sure how to respond to your questions, but I have been thinking about them. On December 3, Dani wrote an excellent blog post addressing this matter, which I responded to:

I think many see reformism as a "here and now" business, but Dani sees it differently. Basically, Dani says that advocating the reduction of suffering as a means of systemic change is an abstraction that ensures the continuation of systemic change because people have now focused on reforming the system instead of abolishing it - we are just saying, "reform now, abolish after another few trillion animals have been exploited." The conclusion I draw from this can be illustrated in comparison to war. To say that we should focus on reforming the system as a way to achieve liberation is like saying that we should engage in war as a means of achieving peace. And yet, even if war might possibly have peace on the other side, many people refuse to engage in war as a matter of principle, as a matter of their own spiritual integrity, and in searching for a nonviolent means. There are many who suggest that nonviolence is dangerous for Tibetans if they want liberation from oppression created by Taiwan. They have given up searching for a nonviolent solution.

What abolitionism is saying is: don't give up. There is a way, without compromising our principles. Not only there and then, but here and now. To be the change we want to see in the world is to be here and now that change. To me, this is the essence of ahimsa, and of veganism.

So there you have it... I just think we should find another way. It is only because people choose not to find another way that another way cannot be pursued. I probably would not have voted for or against Prop 2. I just think we should devote our attentions elsewhere unless we wish to support animal exploitation, or at least I must devote mine elsewhere as reformism doesn't seem to be my calling any more than war or other kinds of violence. Black slavery is said to still exist in the form of the prison industrial complex, which needs to be abolished before we can "build something truly better or finer." In the case of animal exploitation, this would be a very serious consequence.

Anyway, I guess I'm still open-minded to other arguments, but is it possible for me to vote Prop 2 reformism without compromising my principles? Is it possible for me to vote for that without supporting unnecessary violence? Compromising principles is not something Jesus or Gandhi did, and those figures have lit the way for humankind. Certainly, gradualism (2000 years of it) got us from Jesus to now. But after how much bloodshed? Was it necessary, was it inevitable?