For the abolition of veganism, for the abolition of slavery
Welcome to this blog, I am an animal rights activist from Switzerland and after studying sociology of social movements and history of human slavery abolitionists, I decided to write this text. Of course, I boycott animal products and I hope that this text will help our movement to evolve and become more effective.
One aim of a collective action is the expression of a political claim and the arguments in favor of it.
The public must be able to link the claim to a principle that it already knows, so that the claim sounds like the continuation of something already existent. So a good argument for a claim is the one that garanties the insertion of the other's point of view into a known structure.
To be understood by the public, an argument has to take its origin in already existent representations available in the public's mind. And representations that we want to be transmitted have to « anchor » themselves into already available representations.
Commonly shared principles play the rôle of a cognitive filter : only those claims that enter in this filter can be understood and accepted by the public.
Known principles: Equality + discrimination
Claim : Speciesist practices must be eliminated
Our society is for equality and against discriminations. Sexism and racism are considered nowadays as arbitrary and wrong, because no matter from wich « race » or gender we are, we have interests that have to be protected and we all want to avoid violence and the law of the strongest. And humans are not the only ones to have interests or wanting to avoid violence or the law of the strongest, it is also the case for the animals. Many authors who have analysed our relation to other animals have found that it is based on speciesism, this concept can be understood by analogy with racism and sexism, and represents the ideology that considers that the lives and interests of animals can be overlooked simply because they belong to another species. These authors conclude that speciesism is an irrational and unfair discrimination since both humans and other animals feel emotions and concerning our capacity to feel suffering we are equal. This means that considering animals as a simple ressource is speciesist and wrong. Justice requires that we respect the lives and interests of the animals by eliminating all practices that violate their interests simply because they are from another species.
Known principle: Violence is wrong
Claim : Slaughterhouses have to be closed down
Our society condemns violence. Hitting without reason or killing are criminal offenses, because if we can avoid agression we are obligated to do so. Violence against the weak is condemned even more vehemently. And everyone agrees that animals can also suffer from violence and are clearly weak compared to humans and their technology. Nevertheless, slaughterhouses constitute the most appaling conretization of the violence against powerless beings. Our society say that brutality is bad but kills thousands of innocent animals every day. In the same time, millions of vegans and vegetarians in the world show that it is not necessary to kill animals for food, wich means that the violence of slaughterhouses can't be justified anymore. The fondamental principles of non violence and protection of the weak have to be respected. Injust and violent practices of the past have been abolished or reduced, such as slavery, public torture or breaching. They also were embedded in the collective consciousness to the point that some people thought them to be eternal. But history has shown the opposite, because the moral evolution of human beings is a phenomenon that persists over time and one can easily imagine that one day slaughterhouses will be considered as a symbol of injustice and barbarism. Beginning to close them today is demanded not only by us but by the thousands of animals whose throat is being cut down right now in a society that condemns violence only in words.
Known principle: Law of the strongest is wrong
Claim : Animals are not a biological material
All agree that the law of the strongest is wrong and nobody would like to be reduced to the state of a thing by someone more powerful. Imagine for example that as you read carefully this text a flying saucer arises in the proximity. It is equipped with very complicated technological mechanisms and was built by smarter beings than humans. As you continue to read, you suddenly hear a strange noise, you turn around and see that the humanoid beings dressed strangely are approaching you. They have menacing tools. You start to panic and suddenly you get a kind of electric shock that hurts you and forces you to move forward. These aliens force you to go into a singular vehicle. It's dark but you can see other humans who are scared like you. You feel that the vehicle moves, but you do not know where it goes. Suddenly, it stops and aliens open the door. They force you to go out with the same tools that make you suffer. You arrive into a macabre place where you see cages and hear screams. You are afraid. Those aliens put you in a cage, you are totally horrified, you struggle with all your energy, but it is useless. These aliens want to use you as a biological material for their experiences to save alien lives.
Despite the fact that these aliens have an average IQ of 3500 and have certain abilities like telepathy that humans lack, you probably think these practices on innocent human beings, performed just because they are less clever and weaker than these aliens are unfair and should be stopped. This is because we are all against the law of the strongest and one could even argue that since these aliens are smarter, they should more easily understand that their actions are unjust. The same is true for our use of animals in laboratories, things are ethically identical in both cases. If the experiments made by these aliens are wrong, than our use of sentient beings as a simple biological material is also wrong because they are both manifestations of the law of the strongest which has to be eliminated in every civilized society.
Known principles: Environmental crisis + scientific knowledge
Claim : Animals must be considered as our co-citizens
In these times of environmental crisis, where we are more and more vehemently criticizing practices like the deforestation or the pollution of the rivers and oceans, we can easily understand that they are the logical consequences of the dominion of humans on all other sentient beings on the planet. If humans respected animals as sentient beings having an inherent value that can't be violated for the futile and commercial needs of humans we wouldn't allow ourselves to destroy their habitat by cutting down the forests or pollute the very place where they live. Parallel to this, we can see that ethologists found recently that self-consciousness, having been long considered characteristic of humans, is not only present in apes, dolphins and elephants but is even common in some birds such as magpies who can recognize themselves in the mirror. Of whom is this planet the environment? For whom does she have to become a sustainable place? Humans are not the only sentient inhabitants of the Earth. Other animals also have an interest in enjoying their life and having a habitat consistent with their needs. Henceforth, we can't continue to consider animals as a resource or as simple functions of an ecosystem. They are individual beings that feel emotions, have their own interests and desires. It is time for us to consider them as our co-citizens with whom we are sharing this earth.
field of ethical philosophy is composed of several branches.
Meta-ethics is the analysis of fundamental ethical concepts,
normative ethics determines what is right or wrong, applied ethics
examines concrete situations… One field however has remained
largely unexplored: moral mobilisation. When faced with a wrong, how
do you mobilise moral agents to remedy it?
see two possible methods: demand
A demand for justice is of a fundamentally political nature: it is a
request for legal, institutional or social changes. An appeal to
virtue is apolitical: it asks people to act more virtuously, to
modify their individual behaviour. In fighting poverty, a demand for
justice could mean a call forthe introduction of a welfare state, the
setting of a minimum wage, establishing trade unions, a generous
redistribution of wealth (or, for the more radical, a complete
transformation of the social and economic system). An appeal to
virtue means extolling charity, petitioning local authorities for
soup kitchens, asking bosses to make efforts that benefit their
employees. It means encouraging the poor to form a united front. It
means advising them to be more thrifty, to work harder if they can,
or to free themselves from material desires.
A demand for justice
operates on a collective scale. It addresses the citizenry. An appeal
to virtue relies on individuals. It addresses private persons:
consumers, donors, believers, disciples…
In accordance with its
apolitical nature, appealing to virtue can be done under an
authoritarian regime, whereas a demand for justice requires democracy
(if incarceration is to be avoided).
Causes of evil
two approaches draw on different (though not irreconcilable) analyses
of the avoidable
of evil. Proponents of the demand for justice approach hold the main
avoidable causes of evil to be found in social structures (typically
laws). Addressing them means changing the law, creating, modifying or
dismantling this or that institution, offering enticements (financial
or else) to change people's behaviour (a carbon tax, for instance).
Proponents of the appeal to virtue approach see moral agents'
failings as the main avoidable causes of evil. Lack of compassion,
greed, overly violent passions, want of a moral education; in a word,
vice. The remedy, then, consists in preaching morality to
individuals, stimulating their compassion (by showing documentaries
with explicit content, for instance), helping them calm the violence
of their passions (through prayer, meditation, or the reading of yet
another book about ancient wisdom), informing them; in short,
stimulating their virtue.
Proponents of the demand
for justice approach do not deny the importance of individual
patterns of behaviour, but they believe they can be modified more
efficiently by political measures than by preaching morality one
person at a time. For them, it is easier to act on these patterns of
behaviour's sociological roots than on their psychological roots.
A strategy heavy with implications
When mobilising moral
agents, limiting oneself to an appeal to virtue carries some adverse
implications: that the case for mobilisation rests upon an ethics of
virtue, that what is proposed goes beyond our moral duties or is not
even achievable; and that to do otherwise is legitimate.
An ethics of virtue
The ethics of
virtue is a branch of normative ethics that aims to improve moral
agents' fibre and to develop their virtues: goodness, generosity,
restraint, courage… The ethics of virtue is a private morality,
whose target is self-development and the good life. It is opposed to
universalist ethics, according to which what is right or wrong is
right or wrong anywhere in the world, irrespective of the agent's
The ethics of
virtue has always exhibited a touch of elitism. Aristotle reserved it
to citizens. A more recent instance of this tendency is called
perfectionism. As the name indicates, the purpose of this school is
to perfect the self. Its critics see it as an inegalitarian doctrine,
according to which exceptional individuals ought to be favoured.
Nietzsche is a textbook example of perfectionism2.
appeal to virtue does not always derive from an ethics of virtue. For
example, an NGO may appeal to their donors' virtue yet base that
appeal on universalist ethics (human rights, for instance). When one
operates on the basis of an ethics of virtue, however, one may
mobilise moral agents only
appealing to virtue. Virtue can come only from an inner impulse, not
from coercion. Trying to forbid meanness or decree courage would be
absurd. Ultimately, it is easier to be virtuous in a rotten world
than in an idyllic one: a vegan must demonstrate more virtue (moral
strength) in a speciesist world than in a non-speciesist one.
A school of
thought whose only strategy was appealing to virtue would thus give
the impression of proceeding from an ethics of virtue, and therefore
of proposing a personal ethos. All the more so if the behaviour it
seeks to encourage is publicly viewed as asceticism and takes the
shape of a list of prohibitions, or if this group defines itself by
its members' behaviour rather than their ideology.
a demand for justice formulates necessary demands (“excision must
be outlawed”, “we must put an end to discriminations against
foreigners”). Whereas in general the actions encouraged by an
appeal to virtue are supererogatory, i.e. they exceed our moral
obligations. Giving to a charity is considered a good thing, but not
a moral obligation. Buying organic or fair-trade products is
considered morally good, but buying conventionally-grown or -traded
products is not perceived as immoral.
if an action is really offensive, we must wish to forbid it. If we
only give recommendations, it must be that we don't feel it would be
legitimate to outlaw it. Or that we believe the ban to be
An unattainable utopia
appealing to virtue often deny themselves the right to demand a
social change when they feel that that change is impossible, that
what they propose is feasible only for a small, highly motivated
minority, but out of mere mortals'reach.
underlying line of reasoning is:
that all reform is impossible. The only remaining option is the
promotion of a personal ethos in order to live better.
shift was observed in ancient Greece. To put their ethical principles
into practice, the philosophers of classical Athens used a political
approach: they imagined ideal cities, new constitutions, political
and economic reforms. But during the hellenistic period (which
followed Alexander's conquests), the direct democracies of Greece
were replaced by kingdoms, then by the (Roman) Empire. As political
change became impossible, personal ethics and wisdoms came to the
fore: Cynicism, Epicureanism, Stoicism…
that human nature is bad and unredeemable. The only remaining option
is to fold back onto an ethics of aristocratic virtue.
often adopt this point of view. Christian charity aims to alleviate
suffering and poverty, not so much to fight their roots. Suffering is
due to original sin, therefore it is inherent to human nature (or
even deserved). Moreover, in traditional Christian morality,
consequences are a secondary preoccupation (they are left to God);
ethics aims for the redemption of one's sins through leading a
non-violence, too, is an unattainable ideal. It insists on the
agent's benevolence and compassion, the aim being the improvement of
their karma through virtue. Suffering is deserved (one suffers in
accordance with one's karma, i.e. because one has not been virtuous
in a past life). Therefore there is no cause to abolish castes, to
improve the condition of the Untouchables, to reduce social
Other opinions are legitimate
exclusively to an appeal to virtue also implies that the things we
criticise are legitimate, though we make it clear that we find them
immoral, since all immoral things are not illegitimate. For instance,
one may be in complete disagreement with a political current and
consider that, when in power, its representatives implement odious
policies, and yet consider that that current has its place in a
democracy, that banning it would be wrong and instating a single
party would be disastrous, however good its ideas may be.
may also give up demands for justice out of moral relativism3,
that is, identifying with one particular moral theory while believing
all other “systems of values” to be equally legitimate.
Activating our “virtue ethics” intuitions
doesn't need to be explicitly aware of virtue ethics in order to
think within that frame. Our moral sense relies largely on intuition
(Haidt, 2001). Some of this intuition, which was shaped by our
evolutionary history, belongs to virtue ethics. Before we enter into
cooperation with someone, it is essential to assess their
reliability. To this end we examine their past behaviour in order to
get a picture of the kind of person they are (their strengths and
weaknesses, their vices and virtues). In so doing, we may rely on the
concepts, lines of reasoning and categories of virtue ethics without
realising it. Because of this, an appeal to virtue activates,
sometimes without our being aware of it, the “virtue ethics” part
of our moral sense.
The current vegetarianist strategy
I will be talking about strategy, and not about being vegetarian or
vegan, which in itself is a very good thing. A “vegetarianist
strategy” as I define it is a strategy based on the following
consumption is essentially the extent of what can be done for the
best way of weakening the meat industry is to increase the number of
vegetarians and vegans;
others to go vegetarian, or better still vegan, is the most
efficient method of increasing vegetarians' and vegans' numbers.
A strategy based on an appeal to virtue
cannot but see that the promotion of vegetarianism and veganism
relies upon an appeal to virtue. Besides, by definition, education
(concerning veganism or anything else) doesn't attempt to change the
public sphere (laws, the government's nutritional recommendations,
medical school programmes…) but the private sphere (people).
course most of those who favour this approach are, for the most part,
inspired by universalist ethics, and wish for a change of society (as
demonstrated by the very fact of their militancy). But their means
are inconsistent with their views. This is why the
public perceives vegetarianism as a personal ethics (of
the “virtue ethics” type, then), as being supererogatory or
utopian, and meat consumption as being nonetheless legitimate.
of the objections we regularly hear bear witness to this:
objection would be literally meaningless in response to a demand for
justice. It only makes sense when talking of supererogatory actions
in the frame of virtue ethics: to each their own way of doing the
right thing for those around them: some write a cheque to charity,
others volunteer for the Salvation Army, others still are vegetarian.
is how the founder of the media outlet Néoplanète explains her
cannot stand suffering. Vegetarianism is my way of saying: “no!”
We are what we eat. And spirituality, within or without a religious
frame, begins on the plate. My husband, my children, my friends eat
meat, and I have never attempted to convince them not to, because it
is a personal decision, a self-sacrifice not everyone is able to
a good person too!” (or
in the same self-pitying vein:
“Anyway, I don't eat that meat all that often”).
a French blogger, describes this objection:
many people have made my ears bleed with how good, how gentle, how
non-evil they are, how they love animals or how responsibly they act…
without ever realising to what stratospheric extent I don't give a
damn. All their demonstrations achieve is to make me sorry they feel
judged by my behaviour, which is light years away from my intent.”5
that may not be the intent, this is how people interpret the “go
vegan” rhetoric. Again, such objections would be devoid of meaning
in response to a demand for justice.
is a kind of religion”,
form a cult”
indeed, religious morals are a type of virtue ethics, and to the
layman an appeal to virtue, especially of the vegan variety, seems to
consist of a list of food prohibitions (not to say taboos). Here is
how a doctor involved in the promotion of veganism presents it:
vegan means not only consuming no animal flesh, therefore no red
meat, no white meat, and no fish; but also no product derived from
animals. Vegans do not eat milk, eggs, nor any product derived from
milk or eggs. Consequently, vegans do not eat cheese. In sum,
vegetarians eat no animal flesh, vegans no animalproducts.”
similarity with religious prohibitions is transparent (the quote is
practicing Jew does not consume any product that is not kosher, that
is to say, any product that has not been officially approved by
religious authorities. Being Jewish means to consume only those
mammals which have cloven hooves (therefore no pork or ham, no
rabbit, no camel etc). Birds are permitted with the exception of the
24 impure species (Lv 11:13-19 and Dt 14:12-18). Of the aquatic
animals, only those with scales and fins are permitted; thus a Jew
does not eat crustaceans, shellfish and other seafood. Other animals
are forbidden. Products of the earth are permitted save for fruits of
a tree under 3 years old. The milk of pure animals is permitted, but
a Jew does not mix dairy and meat in the course of one meal. And so
on and so forth.
few more regular reactions:
think themselves superior to meat-eaters!”
look cheerless” (translation:
not such a great personal development programme after all)
is entitled to their opinion. You're free to be a vegetarian, so let
me eat meat.”
the same spirit, vegetarianists themselves describe vegetarianism as
a “lifestyle”. A lifestyle is not dictated by a demand for
justice, nor even by universalist morals; it is a matter of
personality. For the more morally or philosophically-inclined, it
follows from virtue ethics, and for most people it is simply a matter
of convention, personal habit or family or social tradition. Besides,
vegetarianist literature is teeming with phrases typical of virtue
ethics: “cruelty-free lifestyle”, “choosing without cruelty”,
“compassionate lifestyle”, “veganism: the compassionate way”…
Presuppositions of this strategy
we are interested with what this strategy presupposes when deployed
by persons motivated by universalist ethics. When a vegetarian
grounds their vegetarianism in virtue ethics, it is perfectly logical
that they should appeal to virtue.
On any given issue, people have convictions and act in accordance
with their convictions
of vegan education believe it is necessary to act on the deep-rooted
beliefs of each person. An instance:
is a collective movement, but adopting such a lifestyle is up to each
individual as a result of reflexions that they must develop for
theme of personal reflexion appears frequently in vegetarianist
Typically they don't end with a prescription, be it a demand for
justice (“meat must be abolished!”, “We demand that
slaughterhouses be closed down!”) or a clear appeal to virtue (“you
must stop eating animals!”). Arguments are given and the conclusion
left open, the reader being free to reach the same conclusion as you
(or not). Here is how the French Vegetarian Association (AVF)
if animal suffering were reduced to a single second (which is
unthinkable in intensive farming), is taking the life of an animal
when there is no need to (see our health page) a rightful action? It
is a question to which there exist as many answers as persons on
believe the stylistic figure (the hyperbole stating that there are
billions of possible conclusions) is symptomatic of a conspicuous
determination not to answer the question we've had the gall to spell
out. It is a colourful way of saying: “everyone's entitled to their
instance of vegan education:
mustn't tell people to become vegan, but rather suggest the idea to
them. Unless they ask you to, you mustn't expose them to pictures of
dead animals either, because whether you want it or not, it is an
aggression and tends to make them feel guilty, and then sometimes
they already do.”8
should make up their own mind and act accordingly, we are told.
However, when people are asked why they eat meat, most of them find
the question surprising (we are not accustomed to have to justify a
default choice). The most frequent answer is “because I've always
eaten meat”, followed by “because it would be too complicated to
be a vegetarian” (i.e. restaurants and shops have a limited
vegetarian offer), “because I can't be bothered” (i.e. I have
meat-eating habits and it would cost me some effort to change),
“because I like meat”9.
No personal belief in these answers, no ideology, only the weight of
habit and peer pressure10.
the example of homophobia. Its decrease in the last few decades in
the West didn't come about because everyone did, in their heart and
mind, understand the falsehood of naturalist sophisms, or the vacuity
of the concept of victimless crime11,
but because homophobia decreased in society at large and homophobic
talk had become socially fraught (even punishable in France since
is because, on a given issue, most people do not have what we call a
personal opinion. They do or think what their peers do and think.
Besides one may hold a belief yet not apply it (Reus, 2010):
regularly report that a significant (and increasing) part of the
population condemns harm done to animals, though they validate it by
their mode of consumption. Here are 3 examples in the French context:
to a poll conducted in November 2009, 82% of respondents said they
would eat foie gras at their Christmas dinner. Another poll,
conducted the same month, indicated that 63% considered that geese
and ducks suffered from being force-fed, and 44% were in favour of
January 2000, a poll was conducted on egg consumers with an aim to
evaluate their perception of egg-laying hens in battery cages. An
overwhelming majority (over 80%) declared themselves to be in
agreement with sentences describing this type of rearing in a very
negative light. To the question “in the future, would you support a
ban on the rearing of egg-laying hens in battery cages, authorising
only open-air rearing, considering that such a measure would lead to
an increase in the price of eggs?” 86% of those polled responded
“yes”. Finally, 70% declared “animal well-being” to be a
“very important” factor when shopping for eggs. At the time of
the poll, however, 90% of eggs sold in France came from battery-cage
among supporters of organic agriculture and fair trade, how many
completely avoid conventional products?
Postulate: people act on the basis of individual beliefs
some cases, we do act on the basis of our beliefs (I think it is
raining, therefore I take an umbrella); in other cases, we pick and
choose our beliefs to suit our actions.
case of meat-eating typically belongs to the second category. We eat
meat first, and only later, possibly, we make up our mind on the
can even act without being motivated by particular beliefs, in a
routine, automatic way. Such is the case, partly at least, for meat.
People eat meat because everyone around them does, and they
themselves always did. In other words, each individual does x
everyone else (as well as oneself) does x.
Corollary: most meat-eaters support slaughterhouses
conversion strategy is founded on the hypothesis, which is a
corollary of the previous one, that (almost) every meat-eater
supports slaughterhouses, either because they are speciesists to the
core, or because they refuse to get informed so as not to become
disgusted with animal products. From that perspective, convincing the
public is synonymous with turning the public vegetarian (or better
Cudahy (2008) writes:
Professor Francione clearly and explicitly admits in Rain
the five criteria [that define the so-called abolitionist reform]
narrow down acceptable industrial practice reforms to changes so
devastating for the industry (e.g., ones that would result in the
elimination of an essential aspect such as “killing animals for
food”) that such changes would stand no chance of being adopted in
today's speciesist society. Only
a society with a politically viable vegan population would accept
such revolutionary changes.”
What an odd
argument. How is convincing the population to become vegan easier
than convincing them that (for instance) meat must be abolished, or
that boycotting the products of the rearing and slaughtering
industries is morally right on principle? This is only sensible on
the postulate that every meat-eater supports slaughterhouses (and
that at the same time every one that opposes slaughterhouses is
studies demonstrate the inaccuracy of the above. See Reus and Dupont
(2012a and 2012b) for a complete review. Here are two examples.
conducted by Cazes-Villette (2004) on the French consumer's
relationship to meat revealed that:
of respondents disagreed with the statement: “It
is normal for humans to raise animals for their meat”;
disapproved of “animals being killed as a result of fishing
disapproved of “animals being killed as a result of hunting
Yet only 1,2%
of respondents were vegetarian.
conducted in the United States showed that in 2011, when respondents
were confronted with the statement: “If farm animals are treated
decently and humanely, I have no problem with the consumption of
meat, milk and eggs”,
Americans expressed a high level of agreement (level 8 to 10);
42% a moderate
level (level 4 to 7);
7% a low level
(level 0 to 3).
strongly agreed made up 63% in 2007 and 54% of respondents in 2010.
Corollary: a certain number of people must be converted to
vegetarianism before a public debate on meat abolition can be
This is logical
indeed, if one thinks that people act in accordance with their
beliefs, and that a majority of meat-eaters therefore support
slaughterhouses and would change their mind only after a deep and
think it's possible to abolish meat when 98% of the people still eat
meat? Again, if 98% of the people smoked and thought it perfectly
normal to asphyxiate those around them with their smoke, it would
have been simply impossible to enact a law against smoking in public
areas. You can't just make laws without changing mentalities. It
doesn't mean that everyone must agree with a law before it can be
passed. But believing that a vegetarian 2% could abolish meat is pure
also implies something else: that an appeal to virtue stands a better
chance of turning someone vegetarian than a demand for justice would.
I believe this to be wrong, considering the implications of an appeal
to virtue (see part 1).
Though it is
difficult to extrapolate from an example, India, where over a third
of the population is vegetarian, doesn't seem to support the idea
that a large vegetarian population automatically favours or engenders
a public debate on the legitimacy of meat.
An individualistic sociological conception
increase in the number of vegetarian individuals produces a decrease
in the demand for animal products and as a result, a decrease in
their supply, increasing the number of vegetarians is seen as the
most efficient means of weakening the meat industry.
almost limitless political and economic power that the meat and
husbandry industry has over animals is driven entirely by consumers,
individually or collectively, who condone, solicit and fund these
industries, and are ultimately responsible for its existence and
In my opinion,
this notion follows from reductive sociological preconceptions.
individuals are socially equal.
This is blatantly not the case. Some persons clearly hold more power
than others in this or that field. The president of the government's
dietary advisory board, the executive in charge of Wal-Mart's supply
policy, and journalists all have much more swaying power than the man
in the street.
Certainly, but the reverse is no less true. I am not only referring
to advertising. Many studies in behaviour economics show that the
ready availability of products largely shapes consumers' desires. The
mere display of dishes on a buffet alters patrons' choices14.
People eat meat because it is the default option, because it is found
The example of
Australia’s firearm legislation illustrates the influence supply
can exert on demand. The firearm pressure group claims that gunshot
murders are not caused by firearms but by some individuals' will to
kill others. Those whose urge to kill is strong enough for them to
act it out would have no trouble finding guns on the black market or
using different weapons. Therefore, laws limiting ownership of
firearms not only wouldn't hinder murder, but would also deprive
potential assault victims of a means to deter their assailants or
defend themselves in case of assault, and thus would cause an
increase in homicide rates. But in fact, after the 1996 reform
(setting drastic restrictions on gun sales and instating a buy-back
programme for weapons in circulation), mass shootings stopped.
Firearm homicides decreased at twice the pre-reform rate. In a mere
10 years, firearm homicides dropped by 60%, while firearm suicides
dropped by 65%. The overall suicide rate dropped from 23.6 to 14.9
per 100,000 inhabitants15;
the overall homicide rate, from 1.9 to 1.316.
There was no statistically detectable substitution effect (to bladed
weapons, for instance). It thus appears that the availability of
firearms really does increase the desire to use them.
end-buyer determines overall demand. Things
are far from being that simple. It is also true that people buy what
they find on the shelves. According to the data discussed above, in
France 4 out of 5 respondents claim to oppose battery-cage farming;
yet 4 out of 5 buy eggs produced in that type of farm, either because
they shop without paying attention, because they give in to the
temptation of lower prices, or because there are no more “free-range”
eggs on the shelves. Besides, almost half the eggs are consumed
indirectly as ingredients in TV-dinners, pastries, biscuits, in
restaurants, hotels, cafeterias…
sensitive to the cause of animal rights who still eat animals do so
because of psychological blocks.
Oddly, that idea may coexist with the idea that speciesism is
ubiquitous. This is notably so among Francionians: they claim that
99% of the population supports exploitation, is speciesist to the
core, and yet simultaneously that a large percentage are nonetheless
uneasy with exploitation. This is why Francione repeats to anyone
willing to listen “if you agree with the statement 'making animals
suffer uselessly is wrong', give me 15 minutes and I'll make you a
the solution is to get around these blocks by various methods: water
down the message, use indirect arguments first, approach the problem
from a marketing and psychological point of view. We now turn to
Consequences of the strategy of demand reduction by consumer
entail several consequences for the activists' behaviour and
The “Jehovah’s Witness” method
This method consists in
approaching one person at a time to convert them little by little.
The basic idea that people eat meat out of personal conviction takes
no account of the social determinations of meat consumption.
Witness” method has a curious consequence: in response to the
average person's “block”, vegetarianists18
water down their message by various means: they use indirect
arguments, don’t call a spade a spade ( i.e., don’t say that to
kill animals is immoral, refrain from talking about murder…). The
trouble is that by insisting on making the message acceptable to the
ears of people who wouldn't go vegetarian on their own, or might only
become weekend flexitarians, you alienate those sensitive to the
animal cause. And indeed surely within the frame of an appeal to
virtue, the next cohorts of vegetarians will not come out of the
ranks of hunting aficionados or butchers, but from the 14% of the
population who are uneasy with animal murder. If you are going to
promote vegetarianism, wouldn't it make more sense to target them and
tune out the jeers and sneers of the other 86%19?
The place of marketing
Flesh is weak
ethicists and those universalists who had the unfortunate idea of
grounding their message on an appeal to virtue are forced to conclude
with bitterness that humans do not live up to the morals they
designed for them. Viz., people are not massively going vegan.
This is when
they start to invoke some egoistic enticements. Religions promise
salvation (or getting reincarnated as a brahmin), proponents of
organic agriculture protection against cancer, and vegetarianists
firm erections and clean arteries.
In this spirit,
PETA launched several campaigns under the motto: “Vegetarians have
better sex”. It featured video ads associating scantily-clad women
and green vegetables, or street actions centred on (again,
scantily-clad) couples kissing each other20.
is only one of several indirect arguments being used. “Indirect
arguments” are those other than ethical arguments. The idea being
that, since the goal is to increase the number of vegetarian
consumers, any argument goes. But indirect arguments have a major
shortcoming: they are not obligatory, that is, they do not imply
completely giving up meat, much less animal products, and still less
closing up slaughterhouses and dismantling the meat industry. For
surely a plate of free range chicken and a slice of organic ham a
week will not make anyone sick21
or wreck the planet22,
nor will a bit of parmesan in the spaghetti or a salmon steak now and
then. And besides, good health and spiritual progress fall under
personal choice, not moral obligation. When presented on the same
level as ethical arguments, indirect arguments therefore compound the
misconception that vegetarianism is supererogatory.
As a result,
vegetarians who hope to sound more consensual by putting forth
indirect arguments paradoxically come across as extremists since,
while their arguments show it to be a good thing to reduce one's
consumption of animal flesh, they get rid of it altogether. Some of
these hardliners even go vegan.
arguments somewhat blur the general message, as an AVF leader notes:
it may be that faced with such a conjunction of reflexions – of
reasons, really, some people feel a little lost, and don't know which
way to go, which arguments to accept and which ones they should set
aside to maybe pick up a bit later.23”
An activist who
managed to counter the adverse implications of the appeal to virtue,
i.e. made people understand that his appeal to virtue is neither
supererogatory nor utopian, and that the alternative (to eat animals)
is not legitimate but criminal, would be perceived as fundamentally
aggressive. Since appealing to virtue is based on the belief that
evil stems from the heart of people, such an appeal would imply that
people are bastardsvillains. A demand for justice, on the other hand,
makes demands on society, not particular individuals.
To avoid this
pitfall, vegetarianists take great pains to avoid seeming to “impose”
anything, to avoid appearing as though they are pressuring anyone
into doing anything (see section 2.1.1). They claim all they do is
propose a lifestyle. I'm not forcing you, only showing you that it
can be done, and the rest is up to you. An already-quoted example:
mustn't tell people to become vegan, but rather suggest them the idea
to them. Unless they ask you to, yYou mustn't expose them to pictures
of dead animals either, without their consent because, whether you
want it or not, it is an aggression and tends to make them feel
guilty, when and then sometimes they already do.” “You mustn't
tell people to become vegan but rather suggest them the idea. You
mustn't expose them to pictures of dead animals without their consent
because, whether you want it or not, it is an aggression and tends to
make them feel guilty, when they already do.”This only reinforces,
to my mind, the supererogatory aspect of vegetarianism and veganism
in the eyes of the public.
Being a representative
literature tells activists that they publicly represent vegetarians.
As a consequence, they should make people want to become one. They
are advised, as much as possible, to be young, attractive, healthy,
athletic, to smile, have white teeth, to appear friendly. Part of
this is common-sense, while the rest is good for PR reps, not
In the same
vein, anyone who cares to listen will be told that vegetarians' IQ is
higher than that of the average population and that their ranks
include a certain number of glamourous celebrities (hence the poster:
“They are famous [photos of singers], they are beautiful [photos of
top fashion models], they are intelligent [pictures of da Vinci,
Tolstoi and Einstein], they are athletic [photos of athletes], they
At the same
time, it is understood that such controversial personalities –
regardless of why they may be considered controversial – as Peter
Singer or Brigitte Bardot24
are to be disavowed, as their presence in the animal rights movement
is considered unbecoming.
In this way,
vegetarian groups resemble service clubs more than political
movements or NGOs…
An emphasis on psychological causes
As vegetarianists work on
the individual scale, they tend to focus on the psychological roots
of meat consumption. Why does this person, who is standing in front
of me, refuse to go vegetarian? How can I reassure her, convince her,
address her concerns? How can I do it so she doesn't feel attacked?
How can I prove that vegetarian food is delicious? Hence the food
tastings, the cooking workshops and other such friendly events25.
Focusing on psychological
causes results in neglecting the social causes determining the
consumption of meat (and other animal products). Notable among there
farm subsidies, the availability of food products on the market27,
restaurant menus, dishes served in school canteens, vegephobia,
intense propaganda from pressure groups funded by husbandry and
fishing industries, family pressure, pressure from health-service
professionals, institutional diffusion of speciesism to children –
from animal books in day-care, through biology classes in middle
school, to philosophy classes in high school.
A parallel is often drawn
between patriarchy and carnism. It is in fact remarkable that, for
thinkers and militants working with these concepts, patriarchy
belongs to sociology while carnism belongs to psychology.
form of social and legal organisation resting on men's possession of
is the invisible belief system, or ideology, that conditions people
to eat certain animals.”28
Similarly, although the
animal liberation movement has existed for about forty years, the
concept of vegephobia – a social barrier to vegetarianism – was
only recently developed.
Many vegetarians insist
that being vegetarian is easy, and that meat-eaters simply don't
realise just how easy it is (given a period of adjustment and the
acquisition of dietary and culinary know-how). I believe, on the
contrary, that meat-eaters are very much aware of the social
difficulties that vegetarianism entails, and that these difficulties
deter them. Most people turn pale at the very idea of arguing in
public, of having to face the opposition or hostility of an entire
group of people. Many people are inconsistent and are not able to
resist the temptation of meat, which is ubiquitous in our society.
Many don't know any vegetarian in their social circle and are afraid
of isolation. In the words of Martin Balluch, humans are social
rather than rational animals.
The emphasis on behaviour
Another perverse effect
of the veganist strategy is that the media describes those opposing
animal exploitation as vegans (rather than as antispeciesists,
sentientists, animal rights activists, equalitarians, opponents of
such and such a practice, and so on). The emphasis is laid on their
behaviour rather than their ideas. A tedious list of prohibitions, up
to and including the weirdest, usually follows – in lieu of moral
2003, the French daily Libération
a piece about the third Veggie Pride. About 70% of the article is
dedicated to the difficulties of the vegan lifestyle (which is
described as an obsessive ordeal) and to endless lists of authorised
and prohibited articles, down to the minutest latex condom additive.
The ambiguity surrounding
mother’s milk is an illustration of how the public views veganism
primarily as a list of prohibitions rather than a moral position.
Some wonder whether vegans oppose breastfeeding29.
The idea is completely preposterous, but it shows that some persons
have registered “vegans do not drink milk” or “vegans do not
consume any animal product”, rather than “vegans are against calf
murder and industrial cow milking methods, including their slaughter
when their productivity decreases”.
Reduction to homo economicus
This reduction leads to
the perception of a human being solely as a consumer, and not as a
citizen. Media coverage of the animal rights question is often
approached entirely through the vegetarianist prism.
recent French radio show purported to talk about “the abolition of
meat” (“Le choix de la rédaction”, France Culture, May 20,
2013). As it turned out, over the show's five minutes, very little
was said about this political demand (it was limited to the abolition
of factory farming) and the moral arguments behind it (they were
reduced to “industrial farming is bad for the environment and cruel
to animals”). The bulk of the show was concerned with: a typology
of activists based
on their consumer habits,
from the more moderate (semi-vegetarians and vegetarians30)
to the more radical (vegans); the opening in Paris of a vegan
restaurant, whose chef plays up health and environmental issues; a
patron of this restaurant talking about her parents' reaction to her
vegetarian coming-out, and her friends' teasing her about her diet;
the scant offer of meatless products and meals in France; the
evolution of mentalities. Conclusion: “People’s mentality is
still far from the acceptance of such dietary regimes”.
In short, this is a show
that falls under “consumer trends”, not “social issues”. This
isn't a problem in itself (consumption trends are a legitimate and
interesting topic, of course) but it is a problem inasmuch as the
show was supposed to talk about the abolition of meat. This demand
appears to be perceived as a mere appeal to vegetarianism.
And this is only one
example. French animal rights group L214 recently launched a campaign
to press Monoprix to pull caged-hen eggs off its shelves. The object
of this campaign is political: on the one hand it declares it
abnormal that such products should be sold in supermarkets, on the
other it attempts to force a distributor to change its practices, and
thus to achieve a victory that will pave the way to future victories
against other distributors or other products. Sadly, many vegans
understood this as an awareness campaign directed at the consumer,
and in particular that of Monoprix. A typical criticism was: “While
we're at it, why not encourage them to give up eggs altogether,
rather than implicitly enticing them to buy open-air eggs”31.
Appealing to virtue is
probably effective in convincing a given person – a family member,
a friend, a neighbour – to go vegetarian. On the scale of the whole
population it is not. It is as if, because a mop is the best device
for cleaning up a puddle, one attempted to empty a swimming pool with
One of the aims of the
vegetarianist strategy is to fight the idea that meat and dairy
products are indispensable to one's dietary balance, and at the same
time to inform the population about the possibility of vegetarianism
and veganism. The French Vegetarian Association has existed for 150
years and it has been using the health argument for a long time now.
With about zero efficiency.
Is the ecological
argument any more efficient? People have been educated about ecology
for 40 years, and this has had no notable effect on their lifestyle.
Only political and economic changes have had a visible impact (to
mention only examples in the field of transportation: fuel prices,
availability of public transportation, prohibition of leaded
gasoline, compulsory catalytic converters, and so on).
More fundamentally, has
any moral problem ever been resolved by appeal to virtue only? The
very existence of laws proves that appealing to virtue alone is
incapable of deeply affecting the behaviour of humans.
in virtue ethics, intentions are primordial↩
2 See John Rawls, “A Theory of Justice”, paragraph 50.↩
3 Moral relativism should not be confused with moral nihilism, which denies moral propositions any truth value, and denies even the very existence of moral propositions.↩
7 This is not only a consequence of the idea that individual behaviour must derive from personal thought. The point is also to avoid appearing aggressive or extremist; for more information, see below.↩
9 This excuse for meat-eating as a matter of preference conceals mere childhood habits and the weight of carnist temptations in our society. Indeed, most people do not eat 100% of the things that they like (unless they like very few things!) For instance, many continentals like creole cuisine, but only have it once in a blue moon. They don't miss it the rest of the time, because other dishes, and just as tasty, are available.↩
10 Even the more ideological responses (man being on top of the food chain, and so on) still rest more on prejudices than elaborate thinking.↩
11 A “victimless crime” is a socially condemned behaviour that does no harm to anybody. As such, their condemnation is illegitimate in the consequentialist view (which evaluates an action's moral character based solely on its consequences).
12 The third example is the Cazes-Villette study which we mention below.↩
14 For an introduction to behavioural economics, see Ariely (2008).↩
15 S Chapman, P Alpers, K Agho, M Jones, “Australia’s 1996 gun law reforms : faster falls in firearm deaths, firearm suicides, and a decade without mass shootings”, Injury Prevention 12:365-372, 2006.↩
17 I'm astonished that it could be thought relatively easy to convince someone to go vegan in a carnist world, but that that same person will laugh at you if you talk about meat abolition or the closedown of slaughterhouses…↩
19 We believe this is a consequence of many vegetarians' habit of talking to walls, either for reasons beyond their control (discussions with their entourage, their colleagues, and other family) or because of their activist practices (street leafletting).↩
20 What is wrong with this campaign is its conclusion. Instead of something like “we are healthy” or something similar, it goes: “become vegetarian.” The observation that vegetarians are healthy doesn't lead to the conclusion that animal exploitation is useless needless or harmful, or that prejudices against vegetarians are unfounded (if this was the case, it would be a good campaign), but that it is in our interest to eat less animals (“less” because a moderately meaty diet does not cause sudden asthenia or erectile dysfunctions).↩
21 And indeed, a moderately animal-based diet, such as the omnivorous Mmediterranean diet, has no proven adverse effects, contrary to what some deceptive health arguments imply.↩
22 And indeed, pollution or waste are only environmentally problematic beyond a certain threshold. Besides, within certain limits, animal husbandry has no negative effect on the environment whatsoever, since the animals merely eat the plants humans cannot consume (they graze in undergrowths and on untillable terrain, eat cereal bran and vegetable peelings, etc.). We should add that it isn't only animal farming that pollutes more than is necessary to keep humans alive. Whoever refuses the slightest bit of bacon on environmental grounds should also consistently refuse any non-organic, non-local vegetable; and more generally all goods or services that were not produced by ecologically optimal processes.↩
23 André Méry on « Terre à terre », on France Culture, Feb. 20, 2010.
24 French former actress and famous animal rights activist, also known for her socially conservative and racist positions.↩
25 While such manifestations are obviously not bad in themselves, relying on them to change the world seems absurd to me.↩
26 A straightforward example: people buy battery eggs because their sale is allowed.↩
27 Meat is easier to find than vegetarian products.↩
30 As someone asked in the debate following a story on “The new vegetarians” (broadcast on the French channel Arte in April 2012).↩
31 See debates on the blog Les Questions composent (in French): http://lesquestionscomposent.fr/pourquoi-je-ne-participerai-plus-aux-actions-reformistes/ and: http://lesquestionscomposent.fr/debat-faut-il-reformer-lindustrie/↩