“Vegan is a distraction”. An interview with Matt Ball

Matt Ball

Matt Ball is a long time activist. In 1993, he cofounded Vegan Outreach, and led the organization as Executive Director for more than 20 years. Today, he is Director of Outreach for Farm Sanctuary. He’s the author of several books on activism, and blogs at MattBall.net. As far as I’m concerned, he’s one of the most thoughtful voices and best strategic thinkers in our movement. There’s no getting around him on a strategy blog, so I interviewed him about purity, effectiveness, definitions and dogma in the vegan movement.
Sit down and enjoy another longread.

VS: How would you define a vegan? A vegan diet?

MB: Before considering this question, I think it is important to step back and consider what is happening in the real world. Hopefully, it could help put the focus on what really matters….

You could argue that Jane’s brothers had it better. Andy and Bruce and Gene and Martin were tossed into a bag, on top of hundreds of others. Over many agonizing minutes, they were crushed as more and more were added to the bag. With increasing panic, they struggled with all their might to move, to breathe, as their collective weight squeezed the air from their lungs. No matter how desperately they fought and gasped, they couldn’t get enough air, until finally, mercifully, they blacked out and eventually died.

Jane’s torments were just beginning, however. Her mouth was mutilated, leaving her in so much pain she couldn’t eat for several days. One of her sisters was unable to eat and starved to death. Jane ended up stuffed into a cage with Becky, Arlene, Megan, Tracy, and Lynn in a tiny wire cage. To call it a “prison” would be a gross understatement. They were crammed into the cage so tightly that the wires rubbed their skin raw. Their excrement mixed with that of thousands of others, and the horrible ammonia stench of the piles of feces burned their nostrils and lungs.

Struggling for freedom, Megan was eventually able to reach her head through the wires. But then she was trapped, unable to get back in. Over the next few days, she slowly, painfully died of dehydration.

After over a year of this torture, Jane’s feet became tangled in the wire mesh of the floor. Unable to move, she was beginning to dehydrate. But before death could end her pain, she was torn from the cage, her entangled toes left behind, ripped from her body. The brutality of her handler crushed many of her bones, and she was thrown into a truck. For the next 14 hours, she and hundreds of others were driven through the Iowa winter, without protection, food, or water. The cold numbed the pain of Jane’s mutilated feet, but not the acute agony of her shattered bones. She was then shackled upside down, and had her throat cut. That’s how her torment ended.

An unfathomable number of individuals have suffered and are suffering just as Jane did.

Given that this is the current reality, we have a difficult choice to make:

matt ball choiceWe can spend our very limited time and resources worrying about, arguing about, and attacking each other over words and definitions.

Or we can focus our efforts entirely on actually ending the system that brutalizes individuals like Tracy and Gene.

If we take Jane’s plight seriously, the best thing most of us can do at the moment is help persuade more people to buy cruelty-free foods. As tempting as it is, we can’t just remain in our bubble, liking and retweeting what our fellow advocates say. We can’t be distracted by online debates. We can’t endlessly reevaluate every question and debate.

Instead, we have to focus on realistic strategies that start to create significant and lasting change with new people in the real world. As hard as it is, we absolutely must stop paying attention to people who want to create the world’s smallest club, and start paying attention to what actually creates real change with people who currently don’t know about Jane’s plight.

Questions like the above – about our definitions and opinions – seem harmless. But not only do they waste valuable time and resources, they reinforce the idea that our work is an academic exercise. It isn’t – the lives of individuals like Tracy and Andy depend on us actually doing constructive work in the real world.
VS: Do you think it is useful for vegans to point it out when they see non-vegan behaviour of “vegans”?

Three things should guide our actions in any situation:

1. The behavior or practice we see has actual, real-world negative consequences for animals.
2. We have a realistic expectation that our actions will lead to a net good; i.e., there is reason to believe positive change is likely, and it is unlikely there will be any offsetting negative or contrary consequences.
3. There is nothing better (i.e., more likely to reduce more suffering) we could be doing with our limited time and resources.

It is hard to imagine anything we could do that that would have fewer real-world positive consequences for animals than spending our limited time and resources policing the world’s smallest club.

I’ve actually found a pretty clear distinction between people whose primary concern is the purity and exclusivity of their club, vs those who are really working to change the world for animals. The former view everyone as the enemy. The latter view everyone as a (current or potential) ally.

Viewing everyone as an ally is not only necessary for truly helping individuals like Jane and Andy, but it is also much better for our mental health and the sustainability of our activism.

VS: What are some exceptions you would make? Is there non-vegan behaviour you indulge in?

In an interview many years ago, someone* was infuriated that I had once said I wouldn’t police what our daughter ate birthday parties. They justified their anger by saying it would send “mixed messages” if a four-year-old ate a piece of non-vetted cake. I replied that I never knew anyone who said, “Oh, I would have stopped eating animals, but then I saw this toddler having cake!”

You (Tobias) have wisely pointed out that what we personally consume is nowhere near as important as the influence we can have in the wider world. So I think our limited time is better spent figuring out how to be better examples and advocates, rather than trying to be ever more “pure.” And even if we don’t agree with that, the only way to be truly pure is to be dead. But really, is the best case scenario for the world one where I’m dead? Where you’re dead? It would be really sad if that were the case.

matt ballThe evidence doesn’t support that, though. By being a thoughtful, realistic, positive, bottom-line focused advocate, we can have a significant impact beyond what we accomplish with our personal purchases.

There is so much each one of us can do to lessen the amount of suffering in the world, to expand our circle of compassion, to bend the arc of history toward justice.

But making the world a better place has to be our fundamental goal. We can’t be motivated to follow some dogma or comply with some definition. To create the change necessary to make the world a better place, we have to deal with others where they are. We have to be realistic about what change can happen and how it can most likely be brought about. We have to be pragmatic in evaluating our options and choosing the best course of action, given the variables and uncertainties inherent in the real world.

The best thing I can do in one situation (e.g., a child’s birthday party) might not be the best I can do in another situation (e.g., meeting with a group of new activists). And neither of these might be the best thing you could do in the opportunities you encounter. I can’t know for sure what the best thing to do is in any situations, but I do know it isn’t simple.

VS: To what extent should we use the word “vegan” in our outreach and to what extent other words? When? What words?

I stopped eating meat, eggs, and dairy over a quarter century ago. At the time, and for years after, I was mindlessly pro-“vegan.” Not pro-animal, or pro-compassion, or pro-change. Pro-“vegan.” The word. The identity. The philosophy and “lifestyle.”

matt ball2But in the real world, “vegan” is a stereotype, a punchline, an excuse. People say, “I could never be vegan,” and that is the end of the conversation – the end of any opportunity for constructive engagement, for steps taken that could have a real-world benefit for animals.

“Vegan” is an ego-boost, a divider, a distraction. It is too easy to simply judge things as “vegan / not vegan,” instead of focusing on cruelty to animals, working to end factory farms, and having any real impact in the real world.

When I focused on “vegan,” instead of how to bring about real change for animals in the real world, I was being both self-centered and lazy. I understand the desire to only care about “vegan,” of course. But at best, the word distracts from doing our best to help new people make compassionate choices that have real consequences for animals.

VS: You have said that the greatest hindrance to the spread of veganism … is vegans themselves. Can you elaborate?

I’ve seen the dynamic of “I could never be vegan” play out for years. As discussed in The Accidental Activist, bottom-line-oriented activists experience a huge increase in the quantity and quality of conversations when they changed their shirts (stickers, etc.) from “Ask me why I’m vegan” to “Ask me why I’m vegetarian.”

University of Arizona research in early 2015 bears this out: non-vegetarians see “vegan” as impossible, and “vegans” as angry, fanatical, and judgmental. I have known several individuals who have given up lucrative careers to dedicate themselves to farm animals, and yet been so put off by the actions of “vegans,” that they want to disassociate themselves from the word. This is depressing, but it’s reality. I believe it is better to face reality and adjust so we can really help animals in the real world.

VS: Do we need to guard a definition or some line? Is that important? Is there a danger of watering down the concept of “veganism”?

It can be utterly addictive to debate terms, argue philosophy, and defend positions. It can be next to impossible to turn away from a debate, given that we each think we are right, and should be able to convince someone if we get the next post just right.

In the end, though, we have limited time and resources. We can, of course, spend this limited time trying to convince someone who has wedded their sense of self-worth to a specific position. But this is no more constructive than spending our time arguing with our Uncle Bob. I think we should spend our limited time and resources reaching out, in a constructive way, to new people – people who actually could make a difference with better-informed choices.

As difficult as it is, it would be so amazing if everyone who reads your blog would stop engaging in internecine debates. Ignore the attacks. Ignore the name calling. Give up the fantasy of winning an argument. Give up any concern with words or dogma. It would be so incredible if we were to just focus on positive outreach to new people.

VS: For most of your career, you have mainly worked on person-to-person outreach, rather than institutional outreach. What is the reason behind that?

When I stopped eating animals back in the 1990s, there was really no consideration of doing institutional outreach regarding farm animals. Before I did a more utilitarian evaluation of my efforts, I did try to put pressure on Procter and Gamble to stop testing their products on animals, even going so far as to get arrested.

After that, though, I realized I needed to work where I could have the biggest impact in terms of reducing suffering. But I couldn’t just go to a restaurant or food service provider and ask them to add in more cruelty-free options. This is a capitalist society, and if the demand isn’t there, no company is going to create supply (this played out when some McDonald’s introduced a veggie burger years ago, and it failed). Similarly, I would have no impact as an individual in asking Smithfield or Tyson to stop using gestation crates or move to a less cruel slaughter method.

Things have changed significantly in the past three decades. The animal advocacy movement as a whole has gained significant political and market power, such that corporations are more likely to listen and cooperate. Demand for meat-free options has grown in breadth (if not depth) such that working with institutions can have a lasting impact and further drive the cruelty-free demand / supply cycle. There is so much potential – more than half of the people in the US are specifically concerned with the treatment of farm animals!

Some of the most important and consequential work being done right now is at the institutional level. e.g. banning the most barbaric practices from factory farms, increasing the availability of cruelty-free options, and building the companies that will create the products that will replace animal products.

But as long as people want to eat an animal’s flesh, animals will be treated like meat. Of course, this isn’t saying that all animal exploitation is equally bad, or that abolishing gestation crates or battery cages isn’t an important step forward.

What we do know, however, is that even in “humane” meat situations, there is suffering – often, egregious cruelty. We’ve seen this regularly, including PETA’s recent exposure of the horrors of Whole Foods “humane meat.”

The continuing necessity of work on the demand side, combined with my background and opportunities to date, leads me to conclude that at this moment, I can have the biggest impact on the advocacy side. I don’t know if this will continue to be the case, however. There is a ton of exciting work going on now that wasn’t the case even 10 years ago!

VS: What do you think of reducetarian outreach?

matt ball2 (1)The reducetarian approach is rooted in one vitally important psychological insight: people are more likely to attempt and maintain a change that seems achievable, rather than something that seems far beyond where they are now. This has been shown over and over again – not only that the more realistic a change is, the more likely people are to attempt it, but also that the more stepwise a change, the more likely people are to maintain that change.

But as currently embodied, the reducetarian movement misses another important psychological truth (as discussed by Dr. Gordon Hodson): goals must be not only reasonable and achievable, but clear. “Eat less meat” is not a clear goal. Reach out to just about anyone considered to be a likely target for dietary change and ask them to “eat less meat,” and they will almost universally reply, “Oh, I don’t eat much meat.”

They often add, “Just chicken.” But of all the factory-farmed animals brutalized and killed for food, the vast majority are birds. Yes, nearly everyone cares more about mammals than birds. But as Professor of Veterinary Science John Webster has noted, modern poultry production is, “in both magnitude and severity, the single most severe, systematic example of man’s inhumanity to another sentient animals.” Combine this with the fact that it takes more than 40 chickens to replace the meals produced by one pig, and more than 200 birds to replace one cow, everyone who “eats less [red] meat” and replaces even a little of it with birds is causing a lot more suffering.

Like doctors, our first duty as advocates should be to “do no harm.” The initial test we should run on any potential campaign or message is, “Is there any chance that my efforts will actually lead to more animals suffering in the real world?” Unfortunately, I think the “eat less meat” campaign might fail that test.
VS: Speaking of chickens, you recently helped create One Step for Animals, which emphasizes decreasing chicken consumption. It’s clear that that would help save a lot of lives and suffering (as chickens are both such small animals and so intensively raised). Do you think there’s any truth to the idea that this is speciesist, or that it encourages eating other animals?

Encouraging people to cut back on or not eat chickens is just that. It is in no way saying that people should eat cows, or pigs, or dogs, or chimpanzees.

One Step isn’t concerned with speciesism, but rather, realism. One Step takes starts with all the statistics and known psychological truths. Just as importantly, though, One Step refuses to be driven by definitions. One Step refuses to engage or appease the dogmatists. Rather, One Step for Animals is concerned only with results in the real world: reducing the most suffering possible. You can disagree that their approach is likely to do that, but “reducing suffering” is the only metric by which One Step (or any group) should be judged.

VS: What is the number one piece of advice you would give to vegan activists?

Rather than considering how popular something is with your circle of friends, judge everything by the likely consequences your actions will have with non-vegetarians in the real world. To a first approximation, this will mean calculating how your actions will impact people’s consumption of chickens.

For more tips and suggestions, people can read my books and writings: aa handboek
If you like a linear discussion, The Animal Activist’s Handbook is probably your best bet.

If you like collections of essays and short stories, The Accidental Activist.

If you don’t want to buy a book, A Meaningful Life is a good start.



*I am happy to say that this interrogator and I are now friends, and she now regrets asking that question years ago.

88 thoughts on ““Vegan is a distraction”. An interview with Matt Ball

  1. Thank you for this piece, and Matt thank you for your great work. (I’ve already thanked Tobias!)

    Of course I overwhelmingly agree. The only thing I might disagree on is deprecating the word vegan. It’s a great word, an easy word, a pleasant word, an accessible word. (I mean all that – I think the word itself is an asset). I also think we need a word for the “destination.”

    So I don’t think we should cede it to either the extremists in our movement, or to meat industry propaganda about how vegans are all weird/obnoxious. As a wise person once told me, “Don’t let anyone else tell your story for you.” I feel we need to claim the word, own it, and exalt it. Showing pride in who we are, without letting it become a purity fetish, is easy enough.

    As cofounder of Vegan Kalamazoo, of course I’m biased! Colleen Patrick-Goudreau used to say something along the lines of “being vegan means trying to do your best,” and that’s the definition we promote in our group – while always also asking people to go a bit farther, and helping them do so.

    Looking forward to hearing others’ ideas on this.

    1. i agree with this. i think it’s too early to give up on the word vegan. but that doesn’t mean we should use it all the time. i think that is more what these lines were about. I’m not in favor of, like matt says, spending too much time on ideologies and definitions etc, but i think it is worthwhile to make sure that people associate the word vegan with good things and nice people.

      “pride” i think can be a bit of a dangerous, emphasizing the divide, if not done properly 🙂

        1. Tobias,

          Sorry, I don’t understand your comment. It seems to be cheeky? I think my question was perfectly sensible, if you’re not yet willing to give up on “vegan” what conditions would have to be met for you to give up on it? Oh well.

          1. “If you’re not yet willing to give up on vegan”? I challenge you to find a vegan post on a vegan blog by a vegan author that gets closer to what toy suggest than this interview. Ad nauseam: you seem to just keep criticizing whatever you read, without any constructive input about what is to be done.

        2. Tobias,

          You’re obviously angry about something, but I really don’t understand, I was asking you a question about your comment. There was no criticism in my comment. .

          1. I’m not angry, just tired, frustrated, and somewhat irritated with the content of your posts. I think i made clear what is my issue but clarity I’d not something u seem to be willing to offer.

        3. Tobias,

          I asked a question, that’s all. And I’ve articulated some of my thoughts in a variety of comments on your blog. But I really don’t understand the hostility and since this is your blog I think its finally time I took my exit.

          1. Articulated is a bit of a stretch i would say, and that is what my complaint is about. I do appreciate thoughtfulness. What i dont like is that you break down everything (and it is not that i care that u are critical of veganism – i am critical of it too). It’s that there simply doesnt seem to be anything u can agree to, even both A and not-A are voiced. And that makes me a bit weary.

        4. Mr Toad, instead of just throwing in, “How long are you going to give it? Its been 60+ years”, you could have added a statement why you think it is necessary to move on. You state that you have, ” articulated some of my thoughts in a variety of comments”, and why I agree that is true to a certain degree, you just don’t go far enough. I really think you need to move to statements of your opinions.

      1. I’ve personally almost gotten to the point where I want to cringe when the word “vegan” comes up in non-vegan company. It’s like an almost immediate negative connotation pops up in the non-vegan’s mind. Even if people don’t say anything out loud, their body language will usually express some discomfort.

        Does anybody have any suggestions for handling this situation in a positive light, keeping in mind you are going to have to react fairly quickly to what pops up in the non-vegan’s mind?

        1. Mr. Toad, when you say abandon veganism, do you mean just the word itself, or the actual practice?

          I completely agree that abandoning veganism would be an easy solution…for me, that is. However, I’m living this way to help the animals, and even if it’s hard or difficult, I can’t just abandon them. Even if I wanted to, my conscience won’t allow me to do it.

          So, if I’m a vegan and if I’m not going to abandon the principles of it just because it would be the easy thing…do you have any suggestions from your perspective on how I can sort of “nip in the bud” any negative connotations people may have of vegans that come up (I’m talking about when we are face to face in person, not online)?
          Do you have any suggestions on what can I do to promote veganism in a positive light, given that I’m not going to abandon it?

          I’ve mentioned this a couple times in previous comments, but the animals don’t care what you call yourself. In fact, I think many people who call themselves “vegan” have actually done a lot of damage as far as helping the animals. For example, there is this example of what I’m talking about now…instead of just focusing on helping the animals (which a hard enough task by itself), I now have to deal with negative impressions of all vegans left by a very loud and vocal group of vegans.

          Anyway, if you have any suggestions, Mr. Toad, I’d sincerely be interested in hearing them.

        2. Hey Christine, a friend of mine doesn’t like the word vegan either, so she just refers to herself as being Esther-approved. 😉

          Esther (for those who don’t know) referring to Esther the Wonder Pig

        3. “You’re fighting an uphill battle and there is a easy solution…..abandon veganism.” OK, now exand Mr Toad. What is the alternative or alternatives? Would they achieve ultimate animal rights? But since you eschew animal rights, it is unlikely you would provide a possible strategy for that. Therefore, identify exactly (even though you may feel that this is being repetitious) what you think can be achieved, why you think that, and how it can be achieved.

          Imo, you have shown enough evidence on this site that you have very clear, informed and sophisticated views, and, that being the case, comments like “…. abandon veganism” from you are basically trollish.

        4. Christine,

          The issue here, for me, is that I disagree with your premise so your question isn’t something I would entertain. In your comment you said:

          “However, I’m living this way to help the animals, and even if it’s hard or difficult, I can’t just abandon them”

          You are associating abandoning veganism (the practice) with abandoning animals. This is the very issue, is being vegan and promoting veganism helping? Is it the best thing one can do in this stage of time? I don’t think abandoning veganism is abandoning animals, rather the opposite, by abandoning veganism one can focus on strategies that are more effective for today’s world. I don’t think whether current vegans abandon the practice or not makes any material difference, its about what people promote and talk about. But there is another issue as well, just what the heck is veganism anyways? Everyone seems to have a different idea so what exactly is being promoted? It would seem a lifestyle doctrine that insists on personal purity. So long that is the focus, I don’t think the world will change much.

          My first comment here was a simple question, if you folks aren’t willing to give up on veganism today….what is it going to take? When when you finally give up on it? As I see it there have been many motivated, intelligent, etc vegan advocates over the last few decades……and what has been the outcome? Well….if anything the situation is worse. Are the new advocates much more motivated, much more clever…..and are now going to get things done? I don’t think so…I think the strategy is fundamentally wrong.

        5. Leone,

          I expanded a bit in my response to Christine. But you’re basically asking me to write a book on my views. I just don’t understand this repeated expectation that one is suppose to fully articulate their views in a few paragraphs in the comment section of some blog. I also find it disingenuous because the same expectation doesn’t exist for vegans. Asking particular quesetions that can be answered in this context is one thing, asking very general open ended questions is another. I’m not even sure if the expectation is serious…perhaps just a rhetorical ploy? In any case, its tiresome and why I won’t comment on future posts. Not that anybody cares, but this is just another case of vegan isolation.

          I realize its easy to write people off as myself as “trolls”, people that say “no no no” and so on. But such things aren’t going to make the criticisms go away. But my take away from this experience, and some others, is that you really cant have a serious conversation about veganism on “vegan turf”. So I think its finally time I created by own blog and avenue to critic animal rights, the vegan movement, etc. Assuming I can get it going, it will definitely be interesting because vegans aren’t use to dealing with matters from this angle. It will, I think, have an important strategic role as well.

          1. Toad, u come in here, under a pseudonym, criticize every view expressed no matter how far apart they are, don’t give anything concrete if yourself (“fully articulated” is in another universe). All fine, but please don’t say people are not open-minded or calling you names. I don’t think you can put the blame in anyone else.

        6. Tobias,

          What you’re saying is just hyperbole and just seems like a repeated attempt at character assassination, I’ve by no means “criticized every view expressed” and plenty of my comments have contained concrete claims. Whenever someone has asked me a **concrete** question, I’ve tried to answer. I didn’t say anything about people being “open-minded” or not, what I suggested is that your blog is a place for vegans (which is fine) and that its very difficult for a non-vegan to have discussions with vegans on vegan turf. That is because they will gang up on you, ridicule you in some way, call you a troll, etc. The tone here isn’t as bad as some other places, but its ultimately the same experience. You can blame me for whatever you wish, it doesn’t change my perspective.

        7. Tobias,

          Yes, in the sense that I won’t comment on future posts……I have been following up on discussions from existing posts. Free feel to block me if that bothers you.

        8. Mr Toad – first of all I didn’t say (or mean) that you were a troll, I said certain of your comments were “trollish”, particularly since they are coming from a person who clearly could offer a substantial and challenging critique. If only you had offered your expanded response to Christine to begin with – not a book, not a potted exposition of your whole world-view, just a worthwhile a, b and c.

          Since this a vegan site (vegan critical mass) one can not expect the vegans to offer articulated arguments de rigeur as they naturally take a lot of stuff as given. Having said that I would very much like to see them respond to critiques.

          Let me be quite clear – I don’t identify as a vegan and I am sympathetic to many of your criticisms of veganism. I would have really liked to see you, for example, point out why vegan moralism (lifestyle doctrine, personal purity) is a dead duck – perhaps you will do this on your proposed blog. But , come on, if you come on to a vegan site strongly critical of veganism you have to expect flak: I’m surprised I haven’t had more.

        9. Mr. Toad, like Tobias, I’d be interested (sincerely) in checking out your blog if you get it going. If you do, could you please leave a comment with the link?

          You also wrote, “…by abandoning veganism one can focus on strategies that are more effective for today’s world.” Can I ask what the strategies are that you’re referring to? One can’t focus on those strategies and be vegan at the same time?

        10. Leone, you wrote in reply to Mr. Toad, “…come on, if you come on to a vegan site strongly critical of veganism you have to expect flak: I’m surprised I haven’t had more.”

          That’s what this blog is all about…how to further our cause, but without the flack! 🙂
          I was very glad to read that you’re surprised you haven’t had more flack…hopefully this means the methods and ideas of Tobias’ blog are reaching others and they are putting those into practice.

        11. Leone,

          I don’t have any issue with this being a blog for “vegan strategy” where veganism is “a given”…..the purpose of my comments on making case was to point out that nobody is really doing it. So, okay, not here….but where? Who is making the compelling intellectual case? .

          Its hard to talk about “vegan moralism” because….its a moving target based on who you are speaking with. There is no moral theory behind veganism, its fundamentally a lifestyle doctrine that people justify in a variety of ways. For some its “animal rights”, for others its some sort of utilitarianism, and so on. So right there is a problem…..veganism really doesn’t represent anything other than following a particular set of rules.

          1. “Veganism … fundamentally a lifestyle doctrine.” Indeed. My view is that the word “vegan” should be left to the vegan diet and consumption. “Veganism”, which could mean a philosophy countering the exploitation and use of animals, from which vegan consumption logically follows but is not equivalent, would need a major overhaul and shaping up on what currently exists. Perhaps it would be better to replace the word “veganism” in this case.

            “The compelling intellectual case” – I take it that you are saying that if veganism is so full of holes, it’s a bit presumptious to be talking about a strategy for vegan critical mass? A worthwhile point.

        12. Christine,

          I tried to point this out in previous comments, but whether someone is vegan or not is immaterial…..its about what the ideology they promote. I’ve yet to find vegans that aren’t systematically promoting vegan ideology…..but I suppose nothing would preclude this from occurring. Someone that is vegan in private…but says nothing about it.

          In terms of strategies, I think the most effective at this point are largely covert strategies (or more accurately covert propaganda and pre-propaganda)……but vegan activism is all about overt strategies…..often self-grandizing ones.

          But this reminds me, is anybody in the vegan community thinking about propaganda? Anybody reading any of the classic works on propaganda?

  2. What I am going to say has no scientific basis and is just my view. I only use the word “vegan” as a convenience, e.g. is the soup vegan? In general, I think the word vegan should be left to the only consistent meaning it has ever had – what one consumes, especially diet. This would allow for all the types of vegan there actually are in the world – health vegans, environmental vegans, etc – and get away from trying to reclaim or purify the word. It would facilitate focusing on protection, rights or liberation for animals and place individual consumption practices as part of that project where most appropriate, relevant or useful. A while ago I read a discussion between two activists who said they had had the experience of getting more likes for Facebook comments when they had spoken about animal rights without mentioning the v word. They both said their experiences were too few to form a conclusion, but both were going to keep trying it out to see if there was a pattern.

    1. veganism is no a diet! period. So Tobias and co are talking about something completely different altogether! so beit! so leave veganism and animal liberation to vegans and stay out of our social movement!

      1. jean blanquart, how do you expect veganism and animal liberation to grow and gain ground?

        By definition, you can’t have a social movement if you don’t include all of society, or at least aim for that. By telling others who aren’t already in your movement to stay out, a movement is going to remain a very small group and you are extremely limiting the chances of growth & success for that movement.

        “Social movements are a type of group action. They are large, sometimes informal, groupings of individuals or organizations which focus on specific political or social issues. In other words, they carry out, resist or undo a social change.”


      2. “Veganism is no diet!” – if we define the word veganism as the philosophy of not harming or using animals, then, clearly, the word veganism is about more than diet.

        “so leave veganism and animal liberations to vegans…”. First of we must acknowledge that the word “vegan” is not simply a person who adheres to veganism as defined above, vegan is actually used to mean anyone following an animal-free diet. Many people may not like that fact, but that’s how it is. To try to reclaim or purify the word vegan seems to me a supreme waste of effort. This is why I think the word “vegan” should be left to the only consistent (NOT exclusive) meaning it has ever had – the vegan diet.

        I also think creating some gap between veganism and vegan could have certain benefits. For one it would lessen the distinct and common tendency to reduce veganism to a moralist focus on vegan diet and consumption, even though vegan consumption would logically follow from veganism.

        I don’t think animal liberation can be left to vegans. First of all vegans (and I specifically mean those who adhere to veganism) are so few, and decreasing as a percentage of the global population, that to restrict animal liberation to vegans means to consign it to oblivion. We need to consider whether non-vegans can be advocates of animal rights/liberation, and to my mind this may be possible if rights/liberation are framed as political movements. I don’t think you find many political movements that demand consumption practices on the individual level as the main criteria for being involved.

  3. Thanks so much for this interview with Matt, Tobias. Matt is a true voice for sanity & common sense in this sometimes crazy movement. His courage, honesty, knowledge, and years of experience are like a lighthouse guiding us on how to navigate a stormy sea without crashing up on the rocks.

    And now I also know what “internecine” means (had to look it up). 🙂

  4. Christine, you wrote above – “That’s what this blog is all about…how to further our cause, but without the flack! 🙂 / I was very glad to read that you’re surprised you haven’t had more flack…hopefully this means the methods and ideas of Tobias’ blog are reaching others and they are putting those into practice.”

    I may well have misunderstood, but my understanding of many of the things Tobias talks about – e.g. welcoming reducetarianism, asking for less than veganism – is that it is an initial or early stage in strategy, where the goal is to facilitate a move towards vegan critical mass, and then towards animal rights, by “softening up” the current state of affairs so as to make the move to veganism by individuals and by a significant proportion of the population easier and achievable. Understandably, this “softening up” phase will mostly take the character of being conciliatory, so as to make ultimate veganism look reasonable and non-threatening. However, I’d be surprised if anyone really thinks that the whole journey towards animal rights can be free of flak, free of conflict. To be frank, I’d be interested to know if some people are what I call extreme non-violence adherents – that is not only opposed in all contexts to violence, but also to any kind of conflict.

    1. leone, that’s an ok summary. the softening and being conciliatory, as you call it, is of course a matter of degree. for some people saying you’re not going to hell if you have one non vegan pie a year is already very soft, others can go further than that 🙂

      I agree with you that we probably (it’s not impossible, i think) will not get “rain without thunder” (how ironic i’m quoting this), but that is the thing: we will only able to create thunder with a much bigger public support.

      1. “…we will only able to create thunder with a much bigger public support.” That’s fair enough. So long as people accept that when significant public support materialises, forces that have no interest in allowing animal rights will move into blatant, and what is more insidious, covert opposition.

        1. Leone, can you explain further regarding “forces that have no interest in allowing animal rights will move into blatant, and what is more insidious, covert opposition.”?
          What does or will that opposition consist of?

        2. the opposition can differ in degrees though. suppose that all meat and dairy producing companies have a stake in meat and dairy alternatives, their resistance would drop a lot. and that is already happening now.
          Of course, the primary sector (agriculture) is another matter.

          1. Tobias, I just happened to see this post by Compassion Over Killing (COK)…funny you should mention “suppose that all meat and dairy producing companies have a stake in meat and dairy alternatives, their resistance would drop a lot. and that is already happening now.”

            “Beyond Amazing: Former McDonald’s CEO Joins Beyond Meat!”

            It starts with:
            “The last few weeks have seen meatless eating go more mainstream than ever — and we’re loving it!

            Panera announces its opting into more veg-friendly choices, Guinness is discontinuing the use of fish bladders in its beer-making process, and now this: former McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson has joined forces with a vegan company.”

            1. yes, this is interesting too, though what i meant was more when actual meat producing companies (e.g. of sausages and burgers) start to produce vegetarian /vegan products. In germany apparently there’s already sixty of those, i heard…

              1. Wow, Tobias, that would be amazing if there are sixty meat producing companies in Germany producing vegan/vegetarian products…sehr gut! 🙂
                Do you happen to know if they got out of the meat producing business altogether?

        3. Leone,

          The industry is already using a variety of covert methods……ones that seemingly go right over vegans heads. Some interesting trends, at least in the US, are the promotion of pet foods with higher amounts of meat. Because, you know, your dog is a wolf…..and is most healthy if he/she eats like one. The promotion of paleo-diets which has very effectively shifted the whole conversation about meat, that is, not only does one not need to limit their meat intake……but meat is the very sort of food we were meant to eat. As a bogus, there is the demonization of the very foods that found a well-balanced plant-based diet (e.g., legumes and grains)….but that hasn’t been as effective (well, effective for soy…not so much the others). So much cleverness coming out of the meat and dairy industry…….not so much from vegan community.

          One thing I’m curious about is how much of the nutritional misinformation in the vegan community is actually from industry. This seems like an obvious strategy…..one with very good cost/benefit.

          The industry is pulling from the classics, what are vegans doing? Not so sure. But a vegan world is apparently right around the corner.

        4. Christine,

          I’ve seen vegans mention that a lot…..which I find funny because he was essentially “fired” for being ineffective. But investing in a company like Beyond Meat, for the typical investor, just means you think you’ll be able to sell your shares at a profit at some point in the future. You don’t even have to believe the company will succeed….just that there will be enough hype to push the evaluation of the shares up.

        5. One last note, I’m not sure about the situation in Europe but in the US its primarily the agricultural industry that has a vested industry in animal agriculture and their interests are promoted by a variety of government mandated industry groups……groups that are very well funded. And its not just the groups related to animal products, but many groups for plant crops as well (the crops used for animal fed). Food processors and manufactures are don’t necessarily have an inherent interest in animal products, they can make money selling plant-based products just as readily as animal based ones. Hence….why its pretty silly to pit a company like Unilever against Hampton Creek.

          In any case, there are some well funded interests here…..but most of the food industry is pretty neutral. Just don’t pit multi-billion dollar food conglomerates against tiny insignificant start-ups…..these guys will just buy up any successful plant-based brands.

          1. I find your point about the neutrality of the food industry and the vested interest of agriculture very interesting. The vegan boycott strategy focuses primarily on food and therefore the food industry, which you seem to paint as the easy target. That the food industry is quite happy to make its bucks from carpetting the whole of America with meat alternatives. Meanwhile agriculture (animal and animal-linked) will fight its corner and also find new markets.

          2. Leone,

            Assuming one can get a cultural shift away from meat to occur, I think the industry will target increased exports as an alternative…..but this isn’t without problems. They will be competing with other producers both foreign and domestic, they will have to deal with a variety of trade barriers, etc. But once the shift gains sufficient mass…..I don’t think people will be inclined to destroy their local environmental to feed people in other countries meat. Though I doubt it would come to that, I think the agricultural interests will shift just due to it becoming increasingly more difficult to make a profit. Government can help here by providing subsidies for farmers to switch to plant crops for human consumption. In the US I can see this happening in California….not so sure about the other states.

            Also, you can play plant crops against meat. For example, the California almond board and the California avocado board are both pretty well funded and have been successful at promoting their products. I think this is a good model of what successful plant advocacy would look like. In the US Avocados went from something relatively rare to something you now find in most restaurants. Almond milk is now rather popular. This is all due to the efforts of these boards. Fill people up on plants…..and they have less room for meat, etc……which can all be done by just talking about and promoting food.

    2. Hi Leone, in response what you wrote here…”However, I’d be surprised if anyone really thinks that the whole journey towards animal rights can be free of flak, free of conflict.”

      I agree completely that the journey towards animal rights, like any social movement, cannot inherently be free of all conflict…but I do see a difference between flack & conflict. I guess I consider “flack” to be interactions where the main purpose is to hassle or nag the recipient, but in a non-productive manner, in that it doesn’t forward your cause and/or hinders its progress.

      One thing that I should probably explain about myself and what I’m working towards…while a vegan world is the ideal, my main focus is on ending factory farming. To me, factory farming is one of the, if not the most, urgent and pressing animal welfare, environmental, and human health issues we face today. While all these implications of factory farming need to be and are being addressed, my personal main interest is in the animal welfare aspect.

      At the risk of offending other vegans, I currently view veganism first and foremost in terms of how it can help towards ending factory farming. I think that if & when factory farming no longer exists, then veganism will spread exponentially in response as a side effect. Factory farming = cheap animal products…when these are no longer available or the alternatives are too expensive, people will naturally turn towards alternatives, such as vegetarian & vegan options.

      Veganism is one tool in my Swiss Army knife arsenal in ending factory farming, but other tools in the knife include options for tackling the other issues, such as pollution, antibiotic resistance, world hunger, workers’ rights, environmental destruction, etc.

      I agree with Tobias that we aren’t going to get the rain without the thunder, but when it’s human nature to get out of the rain, it’s imperative that we do what it takes to get people to not run and take cover. Part of that is being conciliatory. Like Tobias also mentioned, there are degrees to that, but we need to work to meet people where they currently are, not where we wish they already were.

      1. Christine,

        What exactly is the plan to end factory farming? So long as people view meat, etc as important and lack the knowledge of alternatives they aren’t going to support policies that would dramatically increase the cost of meat, etc.

        So long as meat and dairy are culturally important…..not much is going to change. That is something the industry understands…..the vegan community not so much.

        1. Tobias,

          Well, yes, it was a generalization…..and I’m willing to believe that there may be things going on “closed doors” that isn’t apparent. But from what I hear and from what I see…..I’m not seeing anything nearly as clever as industry. Do you have some examples?

        2. Actually….I thought this was a reply to another comment. In this case…..what are the campaigns coming from vegan groups that are effectively changing the cultural beliefs that surround meat? How are they using cultural mechanisms to promote change? And so on. So far we have what has become a derogatory term (i..e, carnism) for these cultural beliefs…..but what else?

          1. Mr Toad, elsewhere you have expressed the opinion that the end of most animal agriculture is a reasonable long term objective, and you have expressed a strong focus on cultural change. So, would you like to present a possible strategy for achieving cultural change with regard to meat eating, perhaps a couple of important tactics?

          2. Leone,

            I hinted at that in my reply to you a minute ago, but I think the most effective thing you can do is promote plant-based foods, plant-based culinary techniques, etc. I think vegan advocates over the years have finally realized that you actually have to say something about food beyond what you can’t eat…..but still the overwhelming focus is on ethics or health and why you should avoid something. There is also a big focus on processed veggie meats, etc…..likely due to these companies being big donors to the groups. I think the boards of some plant-crops in the US show just have effectively you can promote plant foods without talking about ethics, health and the environment. Almond milk, for example, wasn’t popularized by vegan advocates……but instead the California almond board and food manufactures.

            So for me, that is the most important tactic. Namely promoting “natural” plant-based foods, promoting an understanding of how to craft a well-balanced plant-based diet while not actually talking about nutrition, and promoting the culinary techniques required to make tasty plant-based foods.

            But this is another reason I’m not fond of the vegan community, much of the food being promoted is based on unfounded dietary regimes (raw diets, high carbohydrate diets, etc), a lot of unfamiliar ingredients, and a lot of processed veggie meats/cheese. Its a mess.

    3. p.s. Leone, you also wrote, “To be frank, I’d be interested to know if some people are what I call extreme non-violence adherents – that is not only opposed in all contexts to violence, but also to any kind of conflict.”

      Conflict is unavoidable, as it’s inherent in any social cause, but I think violence should be avoided if at all possible. I mean, if anybody should be against violence, it should be vegans. 🙂

      1. Whoops…I guess my comment regarding avoiding violence might look kinda silly after I referenced a knife as one of my tools. I meant the Swiss Army knife simply as a metaphor in that it has many different tools. Maybe that’s obvious, but just wanted to clear that up. 🙂

      2. Why vegans? I am not being confrontational, but why vegans? First of all, who are vegans? Why should health vegans, for example, be against violence? I really think we can’t go on routinely using the word “vegan” to mean someone whose interest is animal rights. And why should those who are interested in animal rights be against violence? Because Donald Watson was a pacifist? Because being against the abuse and exploitation of animals should connect with being non-violent? How exactly does that follow?

        IMO, non-violence is a separate matter to animal rights.

  5. Mr. Toad,

    In reply to where you wrote, “In terms of strategies, I think the most effective at this point are largely covert strategies (or more accurately covert propaganda and pre-propaganda)……but vegan activism is all about overt strategies…..often self-grandizing ones.

    But this reminds me, is anybody in the vegan community thinking about propaganda? Anybody reading any of the classic works on propaganda?”

    This is an interesting point. Can you name some of the classic works on propaganda you’re referring to? I have to admit I’ve never given much thought to propaganda…I’ve only thought of spreading the truth as far as what the average person may not already be aware of regarding the realities of factory farming.

    Can you elaborate more about covert and pre-propaganda and what that might entail for those like me who are trying to help animals?

    1. Christine,

      Two classic books on propaganda are “Propaganda: The formation of mans attitudes” by Jacques Ellul (originally in French) and “Propaganda” by Edward Bernays (he has some other books as well). “Spreading the truth” isn’t antithetical to propaganda and there is a variety of vegan propaganda….its just largely overt and I don’t think people are putting it in its proper social context. That is, they aren’t thinking of it as propaganda but “the truth”. When you don’t acknowledge your own propaganda as propaganda……it will never be particularly effective.

      I’m not so sure what would entail for an individual because propaganda does require some organization because the campaigns need to be multifaceted. For example, covert propaganda often works best when there is some sort of overt propaganda that acts as a cover. People will focus on the overt propaganda and largely discount it…..all while the real influence is covert.

      Industry has used effective campaigns of both varieties. For example, the promotion of the paleo-diet has been a successful covert operation to shift the public perception of meat. Meat was starting to get a negative connotation health wise and this was, in part, their way of addressing that. It worked beautifully…..even-though most won’t try the paleo-diet it re-emphasized the importance of meat in the human diet and changed the entire conversation.

      1. Mr Toad, you have made some very interesting points re. industry, propaganda, promoting plant foods. I think when you then turn a critical eye to the “vegan community”, the real problem there is does it exist except as a rather disparate collection of types? Veganism didn’t begin with anything like a cogent philosophy, and it has never acquired one, although many people have tried to pin one on it according to their lights. It is why vegans have to talk about what not to eat and why in terms of ethics or health, it’s all they have.

          1. I think this idea that you’re going to change the world without ever addressing the various philosophic issues is fundamentally strange. It seems like little more than a cop-out, a proclamation that the vegan-view is the correct view and as such one shouldn’t be bothered articulating it and arguing for it……what is important is “doing something”. Ironically….its not clear what vegans are actually doing nor do you guys seem to care about measurable goals. Its just a wheel that keeps going around and around…….to nowhere.

            1. Mr. Toad, there is actually an enormous amount of philosophical reasoning arguing that “the vegan-view is the correct view”,…but that’s not what this blog is about. This blog is about how to be an effective activist…this blog is about the “articulating” of the vegan view you speak of. If you’re looking for philosophy on animal rights, veganism, etc., (the “arguing” you speak of) please try googling, “philiosophical arguments for veganism”.

              You may however find you don’t find what you are looking for there, either. I don’t mean to speak for all people, but I think the majority of people don’t initially respond to philosophical reasoning as to why what is shown in this video is wrong….they respond with an internal voice that tells them what they are seeing is wrong. I don’t think there is any philosophical viewpoint that could convince me and many others to think otherwise.

              I’d be interested if you could provide philosophical reasoning as to why what is shown in this video isn’t wrong?


              “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of… We know the truth not only by the reason, but by the heart.” – Blaise Pascal

              p.s. Did you know all these people (philosophers included) were vegetarian?
              Albert Einstein
              George Bernard Shaw
              Nikola Tesla
              Leonardo DaVinci

          2. Tobias,

            You can comment about me personally all you wish….but it obviously doesn’t address the underlying issues. A common theme with “vegan advocates”, including yourself, is a basic refusal to engage in any substantive dialogue about the philosophic basis of veganism. The reason provided seems to be that this isn’t an “effective” way to promote veganism. While that may be true, its also suggesting that the only thing that seems to be important to you folks is promoting veganism….not whether veganism is in fact a useful and well founded ideology. When there is a basic refusal to address philosophic issues……what you have is more akin to a religion than a social movement.

            1. mr toad, you still don’t know what tires me about you: it is the fact that i could almost write myself literally what you just wrote (in fact in my book things very similar will be said, to the horror of many ideologues (if they would read it)) but still you keep seeing the same things and putting me and others all in the same camp.
              Very tiring indeed, people who can’t find any commonalities at all.

          3. Christine,

            While I understand that the purpose of this blog isn’t philosophy, the last time you pointed this out you couldn’t point to a single blog or source that addresses the underlying philosophy of veganism so I find your claim that there are an “enormous” number of resources suspect. Where are the resources? I’m well aware of the philosophic work, both for and against, animal rights and related issues….but philosophers rarely use the V word because they are addressing specific issues with specific arguments…..in other words “cogent philosophies”. Veganism on the other hand seems to have no philosophic basis, each vegan seems to have a different explanation for why they are vegan and the groups that promote veganism fail to articulate any basis for veganism. In this sense veganism appears to function more like a sub-culture or religion…..I’d suggest something in between the two.

            When you say that there is no “philosophic argument that could convince you otherwise”….what you seem to be suggesting is that this is an article of faith for you and no amount of evidence, etc will change your view. That is fine, after all many people have faith, but then I think vegans should stop insisting that veganism is a social movement but rather an article of faith.

            I’m a bit confused about the video you posted, it shows some examples of abuse. How do such examples relate to the general question of whether we are justified in using animals for food? The referenced abuses are by no means an essential aspect of meat production. Vegans need not just argue against specific abuses, but argue that no matter how the animals are treated its wrong to raise them for food.

            Not that it matters much, but most of the people you just cited aren’t philosophers. But I’m not sure why the fact that some intellectuals have been vegetarian is a relevant factor, after all, the vast majority of intellectuals aren’t vegetarian. Not that I’d use that as an argument against vegetarianism…..but I do think that it demonstrates that the intellectual case for vegetarianism and veganism is either weak or not being communicated well.

            Which brings me to what I was originally discussing, namely, the need for a “cogent philosophy”. Tobias, and many others, seem to believe such things aren’t important and that one should instead spend their time advocating for veganism. Matt Ball seems to suggest that philosophy, as it relates to animal rights and welfare, is a waste of time and that time would be better spent advocating for animals. I find these views fundamentally strange, again, I would point to how underrepresented veganism is in the intellectual community and note that while this community may not make up a large portion of society….its influence on society is dramatically larger than its size. Furthermore, I can’t think of any social change that has occurred without it being widely supported in the intellectual community first. This represents, I think, a huge problem for veganism…..not only due to the refusal to address philosophy but the various anti-scientific and anti-intellectual elements in the vegan community.

            1. Mr. Toad, you wrote that “the vast majority of intellectuals aren’t vegetarian”. Where does this statistic come from? You also wrote, “I can’t think of any social change that has occurred without it being widely supported in the intellectual community first.”

              Can you define or describe in more detail who exactly “the intellectual community” consists of, and what qualifications are needed in order to be considered part of this community?

              Call it faith if you will as to what a person considers is right or wrong, but is nothing in your viewpoint right or wrong unless intellectuals have approved of a philosophical conclusion for it?

              Human philosophy as to what is considered right or wrong has made 180 degree turns throughout history. The inferiority of non-whites and slavery was once supported and justified by philosophical viewpoints. Did that make it right? No, it was still wrong, even when philosophies provided arguments and support for it being right.

              Philosophy can provide support for the end of slavery and promotion of civil rights, but it can also turn people into Nazis and members of Isis. It can be twisted and manipulated. Philosophy is the reason we have wars and genocide.

              While philosophy has its place and I do agree that it’s an important factor that shouldn’t be dismissed, I don’t see how it can be the end all and be all and the only reasoning taken into consideration when deciding what constitutes right or wrong.

              Veganism also isn’t just about food and animals, what’s right or wrong, philosophy or intellectual arguments. Animal agriculture is one of largest contributors to the environmental destruction occurring on our planet. No philosophical argument from the intellectual community can dispute or prove this; these are simply the facts.

              While the ship is sinking, the intellectual band band plays on and discusses the philosophy of the iceberg.


              “A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change, a UN report said today.

              As the global population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050, western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable, says the report from United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management.

              It says: “Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”

              1. Christine,

                I’m using the phrase “intellectual community” loosely to refer to people that are educated and actively involved in some intellectual matter. In terms of the number that are vegetarians, there I’d refer to how poorly vegetarianism is represented by academic philosophers. You can almost count the number of academic philosophers that argue for animal rights on one hand.

                I think you’re using the term “philosophy” in a general colloquial sense, when I’m talk about philosophy I’m referring to a specific intellectual tradition that started with the Ancient Greeks and is today studied in Philosophy departments throughout western universities. Ethical theories in philosophy have not changed that much over the years….what has changed are the facts. In the case of slavery, it became increasingly clear that people of different races all had the same biology and once that was realized philosophers almost universally argued for universal human rights well before society changed. That is, this was primarily a scientific advancement rather than a philosophic one and its easy to criticize people from hundreds of years ago when they posed little to no knowledge of human biology. The situation with animals has been much more difficult because there are, in fact, numerous biological differences between humans and other animals and we still poorly understand important topics like sentience.

                So, unlike race, we are still missing a lot of the facts with animals but vegans insist on particular point of view….one that extends beyond the available science. This, along with the refusal to change your mind, is why I suggested veganism involves faith.

                In the middle of your post you switch gears to the environment…which I’m a bit confused about. Environmental problems are a serious issue but these are not, for the most part, philosophic problems…..they are scientific, economic and cultural and extend well beyond eating less meat. The UN report doesn’t use the word “vegan” once and only points out that the current trajectory of meat consumption is not sustainable. I have no objection there and think that we, people in developed countries, have an obligation to reduce our intake rather than just telling people in developing nations to not eat more meat. You know….lead by example.

                1. You make some good points, Mr. Toad. About my comments about the environment, I was trying to make the point that I agree that philosophy has it’s place, but in my opinion the facts are much more important to take into consideration.

                  Unless people face the facts and reduce their consumption of animal products, it won’t matter what philosophers say either way. The ship we are on is headed straight for an iceberg, and no philosophy of the right or wrong of the iceberg will change that.

                  I agree philosophy is important in formulating opinions, but unless those opinions lead to the ship being steered away from the iceberg, it’s going to sink sooner or later no matter what. Instead of waiting for the philosophical backing that says we are correct to avoid the iceberg, it’s now more urgent that we better just starting steering the ship away from our current course of direction.

                2. Mr. Toad, I think most of us would agree that we’d very much appreciate it if, instead of pointing out what we are doing wrong, please tell us what we can actually do that is right in your eyes.

                  Yes, we can try and change philosophy, but that can be a very long process and we need to see concrete change now. The only other concrete idea that you’ve proposed that I can remember is to lead by example. Again, that is a long process.

                  Would you be able to formulate actual steps we need to take to change the philosophical opinions of the intellectual community? I know you believe that’s what we need to do…but what are the concrete steps in your opinion to accomplish that?

                3. p.s. You wrote, ” My primary disagreement here is with abolitionism, not the strategic considerations if one assumed an abolitionist position. ”

                  This is just my own observation, but I think this might be the root of all the back & forth and confusion we are experiencing .

                  If your “primary disagreement here is with abolitionism, not the strategic considerations if one assumed an abolitionist position.”…I think many of us are confused as to why you continue to come to a blog with the focus of “the strategic considerations if one assumed an abolitionist position”.

                  This blog is about strategy for those who already subscribe to that philosophy, not about convincing people to be abolitionists (or vegans or vegetarians, etc.).

                  It’s as if one of Plato’s followers created a blog based on his philosophy for an audience that already subscribes to that philosophy…the blog is about strategy for that audience.

                  I think we are confused as to why someone who doesn’t subscribe to that philosophy themselves continues to come to a blog with that focus and attempts to convince the followers that they should question the philosophy they already have accepted and believe in.

                  If your disagreement is with abolitionism, and not the strategic considerations for those who are already abolitionists, why continue to hammer on the philosophy of abolitionism here (a blog about strategic considerations). Why not take this up on a blog that is actually about the philosophy of abolitionism instead?

              2. Christine,

                You are speaking as if “the facts” are some how antithetical to philosophy, but the point of philosophy isn’t to determine “the facts”. That is science, but instead to clarify and argue from them. My point is that without good arguments, without a cogent philosophy……one isn’t going to go far in changing how people act and believe. Also you’re speaking as if the correct position (which I presume is the vegan one) is already a matter of fact and all the philosophers, etc just need to come on board with this view. I find that rather presumptuous. So convincing “intellectuals”, academics, etc…..is a matter of formulating good arguments, a cogent philosophy, etc. One shouldn’t expect this group to be attracted to a ragtag group that can’t be bothered to make sense of its core philosophy.

                In terms of why I continue to come to the blog, well, I stopped commenting on the blog with the exception of discussions that I already started on old posts. Not because the blog wasn’t about philosophy but instead because I grew tired of the hostility….not just to myself but to a number of reasoned commentators that were pushed away. It seems only sycophants are welcome here.

                And people should always question the “philosophy” they believe in and have accepted…..that is what separates science/philosophy from religion. As I said before, what you’re describing really sounds more like religious faith than anything tangible.

          4. Jo,

            I’m sure you can make a point without….attacking me personally? In any case, I’m discussing veganism as a whole so naturally I’m going to have to generalize…….obviously individual vegans differ in various ways but that doesn’t mean generalizations aren’t useful. In terms of commonalities, I’m sure I can find commonalities with some individual vegans….but I’m not sure how helpful that would be. Since I reject veganism, obviously commonality with vegans is going to be limited. Its hard to build bridges with people when they are working to build a bride to something you don’t agree with. So, for example, I’m pretty sure me and Tobias agree on some things……but he is dedicated to building a bridge to a “vegan world”. I think such a thing is incoherent. How do we work together? I have no idea, that is why I’ve argued that vegans stop promoting vegansim…..so long as this is their focus non-vegans are largely going to be uninterested in working with them.

            1. Toad, the comment by “Jo” was by me (i was logged in as the admin). Whether as Jo or as me, i don’t see an attack in my words, but rather my expression of a sentiment of frustration.
              I’m just so tired of repeating myself, knowing that it won’t lead anywhere, but another try, against all odds:
              – you are writing these comments about veganism not being apt under a post called “veganism is a distraction”! How many posts or blogs by vegans have you come across who actually go along with you to the extent that they think that veganism is not the nec plus ultra of things and that there may actually be smarter ways to go about it
              – to find common ground with you on *another* aim than veganism… well, there has to be something we agree on, and while i can understand your criticism of veganism, i don’t understand you can’t even accept that we attempt to avoid or reduce unecessary suffering. And more frustrating than that, if you talk about building bridges, you have never, afaik, made clear where YOU want to build a bridge to. you mainly seem to talk about everything that is wrong, incoherent, inconsistent etc. you don’t say what’s right. hard to have a discussion. Again, i’ve written this about five times now.
              If i don’t get an answer that provides at least SOME clarity this time, i will seriously stop bothering altogether with you. I realize you’re not a stupid person, that you’re not mean spirited, that you don’t have bad intentions, but something about your writing or interacitng with you is just so damn frustrating and exhausting. Again, not an attack, but the expression of a sentiment that i’d love to get rid off.

              1. Tobias,

                My reply to your points:

                – My position is rather distinct from Matt Ball and yourself. Matt Ball, as yourself, seems to be an abolitionist so what we are dealing with here are primarily strategic considerations……not philosophic ones. I’ve pointed to this distinction in prior comments. So this post doesn’t “go along with me”, instead its about a different topic. My primary disagreement here is with abolitionism, not the strategic considerations if one assumed an abolitionist position.

                – This is something I’ve addressed here, I don’t talk about what I’d like to build a bridge to because I don’t think that is clear. I don’t pretend to have all the answers and, unlike vegans, I’m not making any lofty moral claims (e.g., abolitionism)…..and instead prefer to focus on what we can make strong arguments for given the available science. Vegans, as yourself, may agree with some of the actions that someone as myself may focus on………but you’re doing it as a piece of your bridge to a “vegan world”. Now I’m sure there are some vegans out there that work with non-vegans and keep their veganism to themselves but that is, in my experience, not the norm……Matt Ball seems to be going more in that direction? But I’m not sure if promoting veganism without using the word “vegan” changes much….

                Lastly I think your repeated claim that I don’t clarify myself is entirely disingenuous, when I’m asked concrete questions I have always made an effort to respond to them to the extend possible in this format. And you routinely personalize matters….

                1. yes, you try to give answers, but the always completely lack in clarity or concreteness, as they do here.
                  i’ve told you i’m using the concept of veganism as a heuristic rather than as a holy grail. you offer nothing at all. i don’t know how to talk to you as i don’t know what you stand for, what you like, what you think is important. all you say is what is not logical or consistent. i appreciate people “not having all the answers” more than dogmatic people, but there’s got to at least something you feel is worth going in the direction of. I have never read it.

              2. Tobias,

                You’re a broken record. Rather than ask specific questions that would help me understand what I’m not making clear or what you’re not understanding…..you attack me and act belligerently just as you’re doing now. I have no idea why you need to understand what people stand for before you can treat them with dignity and have a meaningful discussion with them.

                You seem more interested in making enemies……which isn’t very smart when you’re dealing with people anonymously. Keep up the good work.

  6. As a young child, I was fascinated by nonhuman animals and felt a strong connection to them. When I saw these magnificent individuals confined in cages, I knew it was very cruel and very wrong. I agonized over the monkey kept in a cage at the local department store and the wild animals kept in the zoo for no reason other to amuse the public. I agonized over the stately elephant being made to perform circus acts—acts that are not natural to them– just to entertain and make a profit for their human owner. I was heartbroken to see what had become of these animals, to see the loneliness and fear in their eyes. Unfortunately, they have no voice and no choice because legally they are considered property, like a piece of furniture, with no legal rights.

    Giving nonhuman animals legal rights does not mean giving them the right to vote, as is often cynically and sarcastically suggested. But it does mean granting them the right not to be abused, not to be taken from their natural habitats, and not to be kept in environments detrimental to their natural way of living.

    Granting legal rights to nonhuman animals will enable their legal advocates to:
    • Utilize the law to address injury done to them
    • Have the court acknowledge and take account of that injury
    • Gain legal relief in the court for their direct benefit
    An evolution from property status with no rights to a new legal rights status can be achieved through the common law. A judge’s opinion in one case can change the common law status of great apes, elephants, dolphins, and whales from mere property (things) which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to beings that possess such fundamental rights as bodily liberty and bodily integrity.

    Most judges, however, are reluctant to move the law forward to fill a void in the law or to recognize a new right or one previously withheld. They make decisions grounded in precedent because a judge before them made a decision based on precedent – right or wrong.

    But mindless faithfulness to precedent is not sufficient justification to support judicial decisions that are wrong in principle, or that no longer adequately serve the interests of justice. Precedents should not be used as a shield to deny rights to nonhuman animals. Rather common law permits adjustments and development in American law and is a powerful mechanism for change. Common law has the power to abandon principles when our courts conclude that the principle no longer is compatible with society’s norms or to modify principles when necessary to avoid injustice. This is the current posture of the law–counter to the arc of society’s norms and unjust– for nonhuman animals who have no rights.

    Unfortunately, expansion of rights for nonhuman animals will always be met with the tired slippery slope argument. The slippery slope argument allows decision makers to promote the fears of their perceived allies and avoid what is possible today. Just as fear did not justify the delay in striking down school segregation, granting equal protection for women, and decriminalizing homosexuality, fear of potential abuse of our legal status quo cannot be a legally sufficient reason to deny an opportunity to correct an injustice today.

    Not extending basic rights to nonhuman animals raises important ethical questions that are not easily dismissed. And as scientific research produces a more accurate picture of the planet, it often reveals ways that human attitudes and behavior are out of sync with a moral society and natural law.

    But deficiencies and gaps in the law need not continue. The power and flexibility of common law empowers the courts to evolve and make just decisions to rectify archaic rules. In light of the social, moral, and scientific developments extant in American society today, property status that currently plagues nonhumans should no longer stand.

    Courageous and empathetic judicial decisions by a single judge can fundamentally change the course of a court and a society. Through the writ of habeas corpus, protection and relief can be conferred on nonhuman animals if the court is willing to exercise its common law power to correct injustices and ensure that nonhuman animals’ living conditions and treatment are consistent with their level of autonomy.

    Current law permits habeas reviews to obtain transfers to better quality and less restrictive facilities in other legal contexts and would be just as effective for nonhuman beings seeking a transfer to a sanctuary. Many sanctuaries throughout the United States allow nonhuman animals to live and socialize freely as their psychological and physical well-being demands, creating a positive, safe, and healthy environment for all of their residents.

    Looking back on U.S. history, the rights of Asians, African-Americans, women, children, indigenous people, disabled, elderly, gays, and many others were deprived of basic rights because the courts and the law followed existing decisions. These decisions maintained the status quo of power and economic advantage. Likewise, today, the only reason nonhuman animals have no rights is because we have made a conscious choice to deny them rights.
    Future generations will look at this time in history and wonder how we failed as human beings to take a stand for those who are still denied the basic right to be free from captivity and abuse, the right to live in their native and natural habitat.
    We choose how we treat nonhuman animals under the law. We have made the choice to give legal rights to corporations, but not to nonhuman animals, even though science and research have confirmed that humans share almost 99% of DNA with that of chimpanzees.
    Around the world, ships, religious idols, holy books, rivers, a national park, a mountain, and the Columbian Amazon have been granted legal rights. A chimpanzee in Argentina named Cecilia was transferred to a sanctuary and protected with legal rights via litigation modeled on Nonhuman Rights Project. https://www.nonhumanrights.org. More examples of nonhuman rights surface as humans evolve.
    So, ask why U.S. Courts will not confer basic rights on nonhuman animals. Part of the answer might be found in Ted Kennedy’s eulogy of his brother Robert at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York City, June 8 1968.
    “Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, and the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change.”
    All of human history shows that the only way to protect human beings’ fundamental interests—even their bodily integrity—is to recognize their rights. It’s no different for nonhuman animals.
    Senator Kennedy ended the eulogy by quoting his brother. “Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.”
    For nonhuman animals, the fight and the question remains. Why not?
    Footnote: The term nonhuman animal rights and animal welfare are often used interchangeably, but their focus is very different.
    Animal welfare focuses on improving the ways we treat animals without necessarily changing their underlying circumstances. For example, you might pass an animal welfare law that increases the size of an elephant’s enclosure in a zoo or circus. Clearly this is an improvement, but the elephant is still deprived of her liberty.
    Nonhuman animal rights focus on the fact that nonhuman animals have their own inherent interests, just as humans do, and calls for these interests to be protected through the law.
    Until nonhuman animals rights are protected by law, animal welfare laws are necessary to protect animals from human-caused harm. I am thankful for the thousands of animal organizations and individuals working around the clock, year after year, to protect animals and their welfare and am grateful for their dedication and count many of them as friends and allies.
    For nonhuman animals’ rights, the fight continues in the courts by The Nonhuman Rights Project, the only civil rights organization dedicated solely to securing rights for nonhuman animals. For further information on NhRP litigation, legislation, advocacy, and education please contact https://www.nonhumanrights.org/.

    Thank you for reading and thank you for all you do. Together, we will make a difference for nonhuman animals and, in turn, humans and our planet.

    Pat Guter, JD
    2501 M Street NW Unit 206
    Washington DC 20037

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