Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Vegan Outreach Schools Us on Black History...

By telling us to be more like the white guy! And, yes, it becomes as offensive as you would imagine...

Matt Ball reports having watched Lincoln, a film that has been criticized for distorting and whitewashing history, and I suppose this qualifies as a history lesson for animal advocates everywhere.  Specifically, Ball draws on abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens for inspiration:
Instead of being "true to himself" – justified and righteous, and on the losing side – he chose possible progress over personal purity, incremental advance over impotent anger.
To be clear, Ball is saying that embodying "impotent anger" is to "demand full abolition of any and all discrimination, and insist on nothing less than full and total rights immediately."

While there are certainly some tactical similarities between the two movements, there is no comparison between Thaddeus Stevens' position and that of Vegan Outreach.  Thaddeus Stevens was not arguing that we reform the institution of slavery, as Vegan Outreach argues we should reform the institution of speciesism.  Stevens did not suggest we reduce our dependence on slavery, as Vegan Outreach suggests we should reduce "meat" from our diets.

For that matter, the human and nonhuman abolitionist movements are two different movements altogether with unique social, political, economic, and historical circumstances.  First, Britain had already abolished slavery, meaning that abolition in the United States was a tangible possibility.  Second, the rise of wage-based labor in the capitalist system was demonstrating that the wage-based system was a more efficient and economical means of exploiting laborers and extracting profit, which undergirded much of the Northern industrial pressure.  Finally, support for the abolitionist ethical argument had grown considerably.  All of these conditions meant that calls for immediate abolition made sense, especially in the shadow of an impending war that was intending to dramatically restructure society.  In short, the human abolitionist movement enjoyed political opportunities that the nonhuman abolitionist movement currently lacks.

Thanks in no small part to large organizations like Vegan Outreach that do business with exploitative industries, we are not on the verge of abolishing other animals and there is no large-scale ethical support for animal abolition to make demand for "immediate" abolition probable.  Vegan Outreach repeatedly misrepresents Nonhuman abolitionism by insisting we expect speciesism to end "overnight."  No one believes in that possibility.  Rather, we recognize that we must accomplish two things first: 1. Begin the difficult work of dismantling capitalism; and 2. Create a vegan-positive culture.  Vegan Outreach, however, obstinately stands in the way of this progress by:  1. Helping industries reform to improve efficiency and public image, and 2. Routinely disparaging veganism .  It's not the "fury" an "righteous anger" of anti-speciesists that's the problem, it's large non-profits like Vegan Outreach that have sold their soul to the great capitalist dollar.

Vegan Outreach is doing the equivalent of adding straw mattresses to slave quarters so their victims will be marginally more comfortable.  Plantation owners are not likely to complain, this means better business for them, and they can proudly declare that they treat their slaves kindly.  Imagine if such a campaign had existed, you could be sure there would be advertisements celebrating "happy cotton from happy slaves."

When organizations like Vegan Outreach draw on the history of human abolition to validate their project of ongoing speciesism and fundraising, it's nothing short of offensive.  I wonder if they consider Frederick Douglass a "judger" who "came out of the woodwork" with "anger and hatred"?  Because, he was pretty clear about wanting to end slavery "immediately."  This is not just about what white people are saying to other white people in Congress, this is about actual persons with real agency who have their own opinions about their liberation.  Indeed, many, many abolitionists were African American.

Colorlines offers an important insight on the importance of slavery films in a "post-racial" America:
In each instance, Hollywood alters the past to fit the present, feeding our myths and expectations back to us. Slavery becomes both tool and metaphor, revised and rewritten to fit contemporary perceptions of our national past. If “Birth of a Nation” tells us more about 1915 than Reconstruction, “Lincoln” and “Django Unchained” are mirrors for our times, rather than reflections of the slave experience.


One last point, organisations led by privileged white persons that refuse to acknowledge ongoing human slavery and racial discrimination in their campaigning really have no business drawing on the history of that oppression when it is convenient for their fundraising.