Intersectionality Demands Moral Perfection?

Hello, all!

A few days ago, I was perusing social media, when I came across a blog post talking about intersectionality and animal rights. Naturally, this piqued my curiosity, so I clicked the link and…was slightly disappointed. I’m not sure who the writer of this blog is, but they seem to misunderstand the actual purpose of intersectionality. So although the post is almost a year old, I thought I would write a response to it, piece by piece.

“Animal advocates use the history of slavery or racism to draw meaningful parallels with nonhuman exploitation and pursue the interests of compassion and justice. Exploitation supporters often use accusations of racism in an effort to distract and deceive from their wrongdoing.

When confronted, the animal exploiters will frequently put forward a perverse paranoid accusation that the animal activists are systemically racist. This is the standard rhetoric of the fur industry and hunters:

‘Animal rights activists are racist—they hate people.’”

First of all, unless that’s a direct quote, there’s no need to make it one (I haven’t seen that anywhere as a direct quote, and if it is, it’s not sourced). Secondly, the use of African enslavement (since that’s the history I see invoked the most) to make a point about animal exploitation is not needed. As I said in my fourth entry in my YouTube series, racism, and other systems of oppression within the human species, are not comparable to speciesism, since things like race, class, gender roles, etc., unlike species, are, at least partially, social constructs. As such, racism does not manifest in the same way as speciesism, and neither do sexism, ageism, ableism, etc. At the same time, however, the cause of animal liberation does not need to be likened to human liberation causes to draw attention to its importance.

“Strangely enough, some vegans make the same accusation while claiming to champion animal concerns. This has been known as the Intersectionality movement.”

That is not at all the point vegans who promote an intersectional approach to veganism make, for the most part. I am one such vegan and know many others. We see animal liberation as a justice movement, but don’t see invoking injustice toward human beings, especially when talking about the latter as if it’s only a past evil, as productive. Especially because, as I see all the time (and include examples of in my videos), it can lead people to include bigoted statements within their advocacy.

“For example, they will allege an anti-dog meat campaign in Asia is promoting racism by giving an incentive to people who are upset about the torture and death exhibited in a video to express their outrage in racially offensive language. This suggests that potentially offending people’s sensibilities in social media forum comments is as great as or greater than the systemic, economic-driven exploitation of the victims— i.e. being born to be tortured to death. A sincere activist knows where to place their priorities.”

Well, there is nothing inherently bad about anti-dog meat campaigns in Asian countries (in fact, animal rights activists who are native to such countries protest dog meat all the time). What becomes a problem is that yes, there are people who will use the dog meat trade in China or South Korea, or Japan’s whale hunt, or Nepal’s now-defunct annual ritual slaughter of animals to make statements that are xenophobic at best, and outright racist at worst. That is a hindrance to our cause, since, as I mentioned, there are animal rights activists native to those countries who protest those actions (and Nepal has ended their annual slaughter ritual). It would be foolish to assail entire nationalities or ethnicities in our advocacy. After all, these xenophobic statements often come from Western activists, and it’s not like the hands of the United States, Canada, or the UK are totally clean of animal slaughter.

 “It is one thing to say you feel a particular campaign isn’t effective enough, but it is another matter entirely to say the campaign encourages racism or sexism—this latter concern implies you care more about hurt feelings than trying to address systemic, economic-driven torture and death. Not a position a true supporter of nonhuman animals would take.”

Would a campaign that might alienate a group of people not qualify as “not effective enough”? Furthermore, it’s unreasonable to paint concerns about feeding into oppressive mindsets as just “hurt feelings” (as if racism and sexism have no real-world consequences outside of hurt feelings).

“Those that dismiss nonhuman animal concerns have often thrown a familiar response at activists:

‘Human problems come first.’”

Again, is it not somewhat unreasonable to paint vegans who have concerns about vegan advocacy feeding into oppressive mindsets as somehow being “less vegan” than other vegans?

“Interesectionality [sic] is being trumpeted by some so-called vegans under the guise of universal justice when in fact the goal is to bog down animal activists and discourage their efforts by giving them rules and restrictions that would not be applied to other social causes (especially ones that do not involve large industries and making money from systemic exploitation of helpless beings).”

It sounds as if you’re suggesting that “real” vegans would never have other concerns besides animal liberation, not even vegans who are also women, people of color, LGBTQ, low-income, etc. Moreover, fighting injustice while making excuses for being unjust is hypocritical and counterproductive. Look no further than the fact that mainstream feminism, for the past few years, has come under fire for its perceived lack of inclusion of women of color, trans women, and other marginalized women.

“Gay rights activists are not expected to be equally devoted to fighting racism, anti-poverty activists are not brow-beaten to defend LGBT causes. Advocates for children in a war torn [sic] country are not forced to be political and condemn the dictatorial regime of their host. Single issue focus is tolerated for human concerns but not for nonhuman animal concerns, even though the most abused and exploited beings on earth are apolitical, and their exploitation crosses all ideological boundaries.”

They aren’t expected to…by whom? Never mind that there are LGBTQ+ people who are also people of color (like myself) affected by both racism and hetero/cissexism, that there is a population of young LGBTQ+ people who are homeless and struggling because they’ve been disowned by their family members, and that the conditions of a country’s people, including children, is affected by the government/regime they live under (to paraphrase Audre Lorde, there really is no such thing as a single issue struggle).

Furthermore, the argument here seems to be “these other activists don’t fight for more than one cause, so why should vegans”, which honestly comes off as somewhat callous and sophomoric. I think something that a lot of vegans miss in their advocacy is that we don’t need to convince the animals of the validity of veganism; we need to convince OTHER PEOPLE. You’re unlikely to convince other people of anything if you’re so quick to callously assail them.

“These so-called vegans will equate treating people with respect with systemic industrial mass torture and death. This defies logic, fairness, and decency.”

In what way? Animal exploitation does not exist in a vacuum  (as we’ve been over, no injustice does). Especially as it exists today; capitalism allows for animals to be killed at the rate and in the numbers they are, not to mention creating and maintaining global economic and social inequality within our own species.

“Another area where Intersectionality is highlighted is in responses to the arrival of Christian conservative authors who champion animal concerns. In this case, we are told that those who show concern for nonhuman animals should be shunned if they do not agree with us on all other political ideological fronts.

Mathew Scully’s articulate and passionate promotion of animal issues might be the most significant development of the movement since the 90s, and should not be derided and dismissed. While many vegans are secular and adhere to left leaning politics, outreach beyond this group is absolutely vital if one wants to see significant gains for the victims of exploitation who as we have said before, are apolitical and non partisan. A speech writer for a sitting US president is extremely well positioned and equipped to advertise these issues to the public, far more than philosophy academics with an audience that primarily consists of their students.”

Once again, the presumption here seems to be that animal exploitation exists in a vacuum; that socioeconomic systems have no stake in it whatsoever. This is not the case, and in my opinion, if people are serious about veganism and justice, that needs to be acknowledged.

While I can appreciate opening people of different political mindsets to the notion of veganism, it is my opinion that it’s not enough to promote veganism as a moral issue, but rather as a justice issue.

“To reject efforts to gain the support of a larger segment of society for the critical cause of innocent beings born into hellish suffering due to differences in ideology is to abandon them for trivial and selfish reasons. Whatever one’s position on social programs, gun control, or abortion, the scale of nonhuman animal exploitation is such that it not only requires but deserves independent attention, not a backseat to a “humans first” mantra.”

I don’t think we should reject such efforts on the basis of political affiliation (as I personally find myself disagreeing with other vegans in terms of politics; I’m a social anarchist who shudders at vegan Facebook friends of mine supporting Bernie Sanders), but again, I will ask the author of this post, as I ask others who come to my page, to realize there’s something problematic about acting on the presumption animal exploitation exists in a vacuum; that politics and economics play no part in it at all.

“Intersectionality is not only an effort to distract, divide, and demoralize advocates with a charge of racism, sexism, or hating people, but also a moral perfection demand. As we have said before, neither intersectionality nor moral perfection existed among those fighting slavery, and human rights activism is not morally perfect either. We all have benefitted from wars, slavery, human experimentation, and other exploitation now deemed wrong, yet we do not say human rights is therefore impossible and should be abandoned.”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a greater oversimplification of what intersectionality is. It’s not about division, but rather recognizing the interconnectedness of seemingly separate struggles. Far from distracting, an intersectional approach to veganism is (or should be) about promoting the cause in the most effective way. Unless one’s goal is to only reach a tiny portion of people, creating and promoting campaigns that disrespect marginalized groups, and then essential stomping your feet and shouting  “Animals First! Animals first!” is not the way to do that.

I don’t see why it’s asking too much just to recognize the struggles certain groups of people have had, and to a large degree, still have, in our advocacy. Yes, maybe intersectionality didn’t exist in the slavery abolition movement, and as I’ve said, justice movements today, like the modern feminist movement, still have trouble with it. But that’s no reason not to at least try to do better today. Part of being a vegan is realizing that one can do better.

“The definition of vegan used to mean someone who was committed to opposing the exploitation of nonhuman animals and making a personal commitment to avoiding products that are connected to such exploitation (as much as possible). There is no rule book on this, though avoidance of meat and dairy, fur, hides, is usually a standard lifestyle profile. But, just as the word vegetarian has seen its definition subject to personal interpretation, vegan has naturally undergone the same phenomenon. On one end you have those who aren’t as strict in their definition, and on the other, those who go to great lengths to divorce themselves from any tie to exploitation.

While this behavior can be a personal aim, there has been an orchestrated effort by industry (indeed—anti-vegans) to promote a special kind of vegan perfectionism in order to distract/divide/demoralize animal advocates.”

I’m not really sure why you feel the need to equate an intersectional approach to veganism as “perfectionism.” No one is perfect, and we all make mistakes, despite having the best intentions. As activists, when called out on problematic behavior, a more mature, effective way to view it is considering it, making amends if you are in the wrong, and striving to improve in the future. That’s far from demanding perfection.

“This vegan perfection demand attempts to make personal purity the primary objective while diminishing attention to industry—or rather, suggesting that those who have criticized industry practices and strive to bring it to the public attention are being tricked by, or even collaborating with industry, and against nonhuman victims.”

The blog post does not provide any evidence to back this claim. Once again, intersectional activism is about willingness to hear others out, learn, and grow.

“’Vegan’ Gary Francione will put the focus on the “animal people” as he calls them, demanding they achieve a vegan state according to his own definition, otherwise they are guilty of being hypocrites and (in his mind), worse than those non vegans (or anti-vegans) who are actively breeding, torturing, and killing victims for profit.

The aim is really to change the conversation—and keep advocates busy chasing perfection and fighting among themselves so industry can get on with their business—or at the very least, delay the inevitable.

He often frames his points in the major media as an attack on the animal people—that they are hypocrites—that they should look at themselves before criticizing others—meaning, the abusers are not the problem—the activists are. In other words they must be morally perfect. He might give lip service to meat and dairy exploitation when on a major network news program but not as a sincere and passionate vegan/animal activist, rather he speaks as a non vegan exploiter would in order to deflect from the issue at hand.”

This is the first time I’ve seen an actual name cited in this post. First of all, I should point out that Gary Francione does not speak on behalf of anyone but himself. Secondly, if what you’re writing is accurate, all Francione seems to suggest is vegans to have humility and willingness for self-reflection, which doesn’t seem like an effort to ask “perfection of them.”

“Whether it is a CNN television segment on cat abuse or a NYT column on horse carriages, he downplays the advocacy topic and steers discussion to attacks on the advocates. He is inclined to avoid giving a detailed summation of slaughterhouse cruelty or the destructive effects of animal agriculture on the environment to a public that could benefit from the information.”

Again, caring about advocating in an effective way is important to appealing to the masses. Vegans and animal rights activists are still a minority, after all.

“Francione is fond of saying that an animal person who buys meat from a store is no different than Michael Vick. “We are all Michael Vick.” A meat eater who opposes animal cruelty is no different from serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. He has also said that committing a murder directly or hiring someone to do it for you are regarded as the same thing by law and therefore a purchaser of meat is no different from the slaughterhouse worker or dog fighter. But he knows perfectly well that nonhumans are systemically exploited by industry and that current cultural beliefs regard meat and dairy the same way slavery was seen in 1800. If someone pays taxes to the government to fund an army for defense, and the money is used to finance a war where soldiers are instructed to attack a village and in doing so, a few soldiers torture prisoners for personal gratification, we would not normally say the moral responsibility of the taxpayer is identical to the soldier’s. By Francione’s logic or whatever we can call it, “exploiter’s logic” may be most appropriate; the taxpayer is just as guilty as the soldier. Such philosophical foolishness is completely unhelpful to animal advocacy and can only seek to undermine it. Animal rights activists are only racist if you want to believe it. Why believe what the worst exploiter would want you to believe?”

Another word salad that has nothing to do with intersectionality. There is also the fact that unlike not eating meat, people in the United States are arrested and sent to prison if they don’t pay their taxes (participation in the system is key to surviving in it; it’s a classic Catch-22), so there’s another false equivalence to make a point.

I do worry about misinformation about this being out there, so I do feel it needs to be called out.

Signing out…

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