Let’s Get Our Priorities Straight

One characteristic of a dogmatic belief system is that its members find themselves on a perpetual quest for purity. The inevitable consequence is that the believers will fracture, with each respective group believing their version of the belief system to be the only true one, with all others being frauds.

This is not a great habit, so it is especially discouraging to see vegans engage in this sort of behavior.

I recently got in a tiff with someone on Twitter, who I won’t name. A tweet appeared in my timeline which alluded to a serious problem of speciesism within the vegan community. That was perplexing to me — on par with alleging that racism is prevalent among Black Lives Matter organizers. If speciesism is a serious problem, it isn’t it’s supposed existence among vegans. (To foreshadow a little, depending on your definition of it, I don’t think speciesism is a serious problem.)

I took the bait, and asked whether it makes sense to treat an elephant the same as an ant. He said yes. He subsequently confirmed that the same goes for oysters, and all sentient creatures. I pointed out that sentience is a perfectly reasonable line, but that there is every reason to believe that oysters do not meet the criteria. Moreover, I pointed out that concerning ourselves with sentience is inherently speciesist: we are saying that it makes sense to treat creatures differently depending on their ability to experience the world around them, which varies across species.

At this point, he was beyond incredulous that a fellow vegan was arguing that it’s okay to treat different animals differently. I kindly reminded him that he can opt to discontinue this conversation if it’s too upsetting to him, but asked that I be able to make one more point.

I asked if he believes human lives to be no more important than the lives of rabbits, mice, and other small mammals. He said to feel otherwise would be speciesist, so they are all on the same moral playing field in his view. This is where shit hit the fan. I pointed out that the crops we eat must be harvested, and that these sorts of animals inevitably die in the process. Since we must eat these foods in order to survive, isn’t our decision to continue living at the expense of these fuzzy critters inherently speciesist?

His response — well then let’s all go kill ourselves! — was somewhere between an acknowledgement of the logical conclusion of his argument that speciesism is a serious problem among vegans and an attempted refutation of my point. My argument, which I wasn’t able to fully flesh out since he blocked me immediately following this, is that some types of speciesism — continuing to live at the expense of the animals that die to feed us, even as vegans — will simply never go away, while others, such as treating species differently according to their neurobiology, make perfect sense.

There’s a dumb joke I’ve seen on the internet in a few places, that goes something like: “I’m level 1000 vegan; I don’t eat anything that casts a shadow!” It’s among the most pathetic jokes I’ve ever heard — I didn’t find it funny before I went vegan, either. It pokes fun at a perceived tendency among vegans to outdo each other, to be the “best” vegan there is.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen vegans direct their ire at other vegans for not being vegan enough. This is what it looks like when we don’t have our priorities straight — we talk about who is and is not really vegan because they have pets or some other petty thing.

Every bit of energy we waste on one-upping each other is a lost opportunity for effective vegan advocacy among those that really need to hear it.


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