Veganism’s Tough Questions.

Our organization is always emphasizing the depth, breadth, and nuance of veganism; this is something we’re very proud of. We frame it in its proper context, as a lifestyle and philosophy that has global and moral benefits. To that end, though, I think that there are some dimensions to veganism that are hard to fit into the reality of our relationship to animals. There are issues that are really challenging to accept, justify, and/or support. Matters that are so difficult and nuanced that we just haven’t really had the place to bring them up. Nonetheless, these issues can be very important, and we should think about them as reasoned vegans.

It’s easy to despise, oppose, and/or boycott the animal exploitation that occurs through farming (it’s really self-evident why that’s horrible). It’s also easy to oppose the kind of exploitation that occurs in research, medicine, circuses, amusement parks, and fairs, but there are other issues that are harder to judge through a vegan framework. I will be exploring three such issues in this article.

Before I raise these issues, I want to disclaim that I am not attempting to answer these questions or lean towards any answer to them; I am merely identifying these issues as difficult quandaries for vegans. In a weird way, I’m excited to discuss these nuanced issues for veganism because it’s an awesome demonstration of its depth, breadth, and nuance in a way that often isn’t recognized. This is an evolving body of thought and it’s wonderful to engage in this discourse and focus on these issues. We, the collective of vegan thinkers and advocates, are unfolding this comprehensive lifestyle and philosophy every day. This is part of that process.

The first of these three issues is the use of service animals for individuals with a medical, psychological, and/or physical need for them. The biggest example of this is with dogs who assist people with guiding, mobility, PTSD, emergency medical response, etc. There are other examples of the use of service animals, such as cats, horses, and parrots. These animals help humans to function in the world, cope with trauma, improve wellbeing, and enrich the lives of people with disability or disease. This is definitely a good thing, however, there are implications for the animals that are difficult to reconcile with a vegan lens. There is an inherent level of exploitation that is involved in using service animals, and there are deeper considerations about how they are trained and treated throughout their time of service to humans. Balancing the humanitarian and social benefit against those moral implications of exploitation, training, and treatment is a really challenging proposition.

The second difficult issue is the use of some animals by the police and military, such as dogs, dolphins, birds, etc. This is a pretty deep topic, there are questions of national security, law enforcement, and the public good. The use of police dogs is the most recognizable example of this issue. Other examples in the Army are the use of dogs to sniff out land mines, guard bases, patrol and scout areas, etc. The Navy has also used dolphins in its conduct because of their ability to identify and sometimes retrieve underwater targets. Similarly, we have to balance the public good and national security, which are of vital importance, against the exploitation and subjugation of the animals. This is challenging in a different way because with this issue, the stakes are very high. I can’t speak to the efficacy of these practices versus the use of technology, but I do believe this is a necessary factor to consider when analyzing and assessing this issue.

The third and final issue is about the use and depiction of animals in media. There are countless movies, TV shows, videos, etc. that have animals in them, sometimes the depiction is positive and sometimes it is negative. Nonetheless, there is the same balance involved with this issues, wherein we have to weigh the cultural value and importance for storytelling against the exploitation, training, and treatment of the animals. For example, animals in Hollywood are often mistreated. This matter got brought to light when a video was released that showed the taping of a scene from the recent movie, “A Dog’s Purpose”. In the scene, the dog had to be submerged in roaring water; this, the dog to be forcibly submerged into the water while he flailed and struggled. It made the public realize the cruelty that can take place behind the scenes, when all we see is a curated scene. This has been an issue for a long time, however, probably since there have been artistic mediums with animals in them. There are two main dilemmas for the reasoned vegans out there: (1) what are the criteria that makes such a depiction or use ethical and justifiable, and (2) whether or not to indulge in, observe, share, or endorse said depiction.

I’ll end by saying that I make this seem like it’s a purely intellectual or philosophical inquiry, but it isn’t. There are practical implications for veganism and for reassessing the usefulness and ethics of practices involving service animals, animals for military purposes, their depiction in media, and other issues such as these. This is also how we test the boundaries of veganism, instead of just insinuating that it means an absolute prohibition of animal exploitation. This is the classic utilitarian v. deontological dilemma.

If these types of uses of animals as unacceptable, unethical, and/or unjustifiable, then we should consider alternatives and weigh their relative effectiveness.

Again, this article isn’t meant to answer, judge, or opine about these issues. This was just a brief introduction into some complicated and difficult issues in society that are really hard to reconcile with veganism. They’re reminders that veganism is a big topic that goes far beyond matters of violent and cruel exploitation, which can be rather obvious, but it goes into more subtle and nuanced topics as well. It’s also a great reminder that this is an evolving body of knowledge and thought, and as such the discourse and scope of thinking needs to evolve, too.

I am going to take the time to go deeper into these subjects, but I just wanted to publish beforehand to exemplify the true depth, breadth, and nuance of veganism. They’ve been whirling in my head for so long, but now that I’ve expressed them in writing, I feel compelled to follow-through with this line of thinking. I am curious what your perspective is on these issues, too, readers. This discourse is a collective effort of vegan minds.


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