Exploring the Domination Dynamic

Exploring the Domination Dynamic

If we want to move beyond “just do something” advocacy and develop a sustainable, morally consistent foundation for achieving animal liberation, this means challenging the roots of human domination over other beings in everything we do as activists. Let’s look at that dynamic more closely.

Because nonhuman animals are regarded as inferior beings by many humans, based on criteria having little to no moral relevance (e.g., intelligence), their interests are given less weight than ours, even when their interests are morally significant — typically a matter of life and death — while the human interests in this equation are morally insignificant, in that they have to do with making money and satisfying cultural preferences for food, clothing or entertainment, all of which are available to us without infringing upon the interests of other beings.

Regardless, an unjustifiable sense of entitlement has led our species to commodify others for these purposes. Thus, the economic interests of a business are given priority over the life and suffering of animals, so long as it continues to be beneficial for the business. Ironically, businesses are considered persons while animals are not.

In his writings, Gary L. Francione has described how, as long as nonhuman beings are considered human property, their suffering will necessarily continue, because the interests of property can never be given equal consideration to the interests of their owners. To crudely distill Francione’s argument for animal rights, we should at the very least extend to nonhuman beings the right not to be treated as property, since doing so would allow us to genuinely give their interests equal consideration where they are similar to ours, such as avoiding pain and seeking pleasure, among a variety of other basic interests intrinsic sentient beings.

Of course, many of us are vegan because we agree that nonhuman animals deserve equal consideration for these interests. By going vegan, we have aligned our behavior with this belief, which is a profound step in and of itself. Because it means being the change you wish to see in the world, veganism is the practical, everyday application in our own lives of the understanding that animal exploitation is unnecessary and wrong. It is an essential step toward achieving animal liberation and securing their right not to be treated as property.

“…veganism is the practical, everyday application in our own lives of the understanding that animal exploitation is unnecessary and wrong.”

But, as big a step as going vegan may have been, for some it is not enough. While we have taken personal responsibility for incrementally abolishing animal exploitation, this institutionalized injustice will continue until our society reaches a tipping point in its attitude toward nonhuman animals, and that is why so many of us want to do more than simply go vegan.

Now, when we consider the types of activism we engage in to help facilitate this shift, it is vital that we become very clear on what we are saying. We must know what we are asking people to do, and why. Just as we aligned our behavior with our beliefs by going vegan, we must do the same with our activism.

As vegans, we consider it inconsistent with our beliefs to eat products derived from animals. As vegan advocates who believe in abolishing animal exploitation, we must also consider it inconsistent to engage in activism that entrenches the sort of thinking that allows animal exploitation to continue. Of course it is unrealistic to expect liberation if all you seek is for animals to merely be treated less cruelly, but that is exactly what has been happening in the animal “rights” movement for years.

We have seen a great deal of welfare advocacy that focuses on how humans treat animals, avoiding the core problem entirely to focus solely on the symptoms. Worse, by not condemning the human sense of entitlement regarding animal use, and even awarding some companies with praise or positive press, some advocates send the signal that it’s okay to consume products derived from animals and their secretions so long as they are gassed to death or allowed to graze on grass most of their lives. If we do not advocate consistently for abolition in the here and now, then, it is unrealistic to expect animals to ever be liberated. How can liberation be achieved if no one is actively seeking such an outcome?

The primary focus of our activism as vegans, then — if we are to strike at the roots of this systemic problem — must be to transform the widely held human view that animals are ours to do with as we please. We must employ our various tactics (tabling, leafleting, etc.) to educate those in our sphere of influence in such a way that we help them understand how views they already hold about some animals — like cats and dogs — apply to all sentient beings. Just like us, many people have the ability to put the pieces together and comprehend that animals share very basic and important interests with us that deserve equal consideration and protection. Given this insight, we can then help them to see that veganism is the only way for them to align their behavior with this belief. And, of course, we can support that decision and help transition them healthfully and enthusiastically to veganism.

As people in our circle of influence come around to following our example, they may eventually go on to do the same in their own turn. Together, we can nurture and grow an alternate world view that gradually becomes the norm. While this grassroots approach may seem slow and difficult, it is not impossible, nor is it unrealistic. It is, in fact, the only way to build a foundation of popular and moral support for animal rights in our society.

Eric is the publisher of An Animal-Friendly Life and co-founder of the Boston Vegan Association.

Originally posted on April 7, 2008

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