Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Welfarism vs. Abolitionism

I've recently come across a blog, Unpopular Vegan Essays written by Dan Cudahy. He writes about things that I often think about (and I assume most vegans have thought about at least once). My thoughts about activism and reforms echo his. From his disclaimer: "I promote vegan living as the only viable way of abolishing the property status of animals in society and the inherent and unnecessary cruelty inevitably resulting from animals’ status as property and economic commodities." This is the essence of why I choose to eat only plant products and live a life that relies on animal products to the smallest possible extent.

An excerpt from his most recent post (thanks to Matt for sending this my way):

The Road to Hell Is Paved with Good Intentions and a Permanent Non-profit Business Cycle: Welfarists "Versus" Industry’s Strength

Industry’s strength is its financial wealth and power, which translates into media, advertising, and information power, as well as political and legislative power. Industry’s weakness is that it is morally deplorable and environmentally disastrous (the eco-disaster will become ever more obvious as huge Asian markets increase demand for animal products). We cannot defeat an opponent of industry’s size and power by mostly avoiding their weakness and attempting to take on their strength, yet this is exactly what the new welfarist movement tries to do.

With welfare reform campaigns, the new welfarist movement seeks to at least weaken industry through legislation, and more ambitiously, legislate and regulate industry away. Most new welfarists call their approach the “two track” approach, and they believe that regulations are an integral part of ‘dismantling’ the giant. One track for them is ‘vegan’ education (albeit ‘vegan’ being merely a ‘boycott’ or ‘tool’); the other is welfare regulation.

But this approach of making welfare regulation a substantial part of eliminating animal agriculture plays to industry’s strength by 1) taking them on where they’re strong (in politics, legislation, and deal-making; see above), 2) diverting resources from the attack on where they are weak (diverting from vegan education), and 3)
reinforcing the legal structure and regulated property rights paradigm that animal exploitation is founded upon.

As long as animals are considered property and commodities, it is impossible to balance their interests fairly against human interests. This is not “merely legal theory”, as some new welfarists claim it is (although even in legal theory alone the property status problem is overwhelmingly supported as insurmountable due to the legal trumping power of property rights over regulations, as a matter of the inherent hierarchy of legal concepts [which have very real consequences]).

Rather, we also have overwhelming empirical evidence that this is the case by observing the endless efforts over centuries to regulate chattel slavery, which remained viciously cruel to its very end. As additional evidence, animal welfare laws have been attempting to regulate use for 200 years now, and animals are treated more cruelly and in greater numbers now than ever.
I highly recommend checking out the whole blog. There's a lot there to digest, so sit down with a nice vegan muffin or cookie and have a read through what he has to say.


Bianca said...

I think I was always a welfarist until I started listening to Vegan Freak Radio. I thought it was better that animals live in happier conditions since people were going to eat them anyway. I mean, I'd never eat them no matter how nice their lives were. But others who refuse to see the truth will continue...

However, I now realize that welfarism only promotes the idea that it's okay to eat "happy meat." And it's not. It makes people feel better about their awful actions. I consider myself an Abolitionist these days.

Theresa said...

I still struggle with it sometimes... surely if we can improve the conditions for those animals who have to live in hell, it's worth doing... but then I think about it and realise what you realised... it just makes people complacent!

DJ said...

Thought-provoking as ever, Theresa. I sometimes think welfarism is better than nothing, as abolitionism tends to be viewed as unreasonable and extreme by the meat-eating majority. Education is the key, but how long will that take to make a sizeable impact? I can talk it round in my head for hours without any happy resolution. Definitely going to check out the site, anyway, thanks!!

JohnnyZu said...

I didn't think being vegan was possible until someone told me it was -- because they were doing it. I've been vegan for two years and it's easy.

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