Whenever everyday people start asking themselves the question…
- Wait a minute, if people of yesteryear did all sorts of things we find barbaric, from keeping slaves to public flogging, what might future civilizations be equally appalled by in our age?
… they almost inevitably come up with some version of: “Well, it’s probably something about how we treat non-human animals”.
It probably is. Consider the following.
133 Holocausts per Year
We all know that tormenting a cat or a dog is a pretty bad thing. Indeed, we regard it as criminal, highly immoral, and certainly as picking on someone weaker than ourselves. There’s little doubt for anybody who’s known an animals that they have real sensations, real discomfort, and—in a meaningful sense—feelings. Darwin studied this in considerable detail already in the 1860–70s.
Now, still, maybe it’s even worse to torment a little kid or an old lady than being cruel to a cat? Who knows at the end of the day? Let’s say then, to remain on the safe side of the argument (so we don’t make ourselves any kinder than we really have to!) that tormenting two little dogs and killing them is about as bad as whacking an old lady.
Nah, still don’t feel quite safe. Maybe we’re still giving the dogs too much slack. Make it three dogs.
Hmm. No. The suffering of one HUMAN BEING must surely be worth more than three pesky mongrels, no? Make it five.
Ten. Let’s say I torment and kill ten dogs, slowly, one by one. Is that about as bad as whacking that old lady?
Still doesn’t feel right. How about a hundred dogs? And a few cats crushed under car wheels for good measure.
No, no—let’s be serious about this. Let’s take one thousand dogs, each of which has a family of people and others who care about them, lock ’em up, starve them, make them work hard, humiliate them, and then gas them to death. Let’s make that count as the life of ONE human person.
Admittedly, this is a pretty speciesist and supremacist position. We cannot exactly account for why one of us humans should be worth literally a thousand dogs. But let’s just go with it, as we all have a strong feeling that a human life is something so much more than the life of a non-human animal. Maybe even a thousand ones. Most of all—let’s just remain really on the safe side that we shouldn’t be any kinder to animals than we absolutely have to by a bare minimum of decency and ethics. A bare minimum. We don’t want to overburden ourselves, do we? We need to be kind to ourselves, not too harsh, when it comes to how kind we should be to others, right?
So, a thousand it is. I, Hanzi Freinacht, hereby proclaim that I am literally worth one thousand (1,000) of those dirty mongrels. I am human. Let my supremacy be known.
Now, this leaves us with a multiplier of 1000 when it comes to comparing crimes against humanity to crimes against “non-humanity” of animals roughly comparable to dogs (we don’t know how sentient different animals are, but we can gauge their intelligence to be above that of human babies or toddlers).
Let us then consider how many land animals the global market “produces” per year—i.e., basically keeps in death camps—to the scale of the worst crime against humanity that we can think of: the Holocaust.
[Note before we go on: Far-right apologists and Nazis have long used the trick of comparing human suffering to animal suffering while granting greater rights to the latter as a way of relativizing the plights of targeted ethnicities, who in turn are then compared to animals. The gap is thereby narrowed from both sides and atrocities become less unthinkable. I will have no such accusations cast against me for the comparison below: I am doing the exact opposite, namely using the profound seriousness of human suffering as a starting point for expanding our circle of care to other beings. The crooks are whoever become the apologists for crimes, not the ones who seek to prevent crimes from being committed.]
Over the course of this event, the Nazis imprisoned, tormented, and killed about 6 million people over a period of five years (1941–45), so about 1.2 million per year on average (6/5 is 1.2). Or that is the relevant figure for what is usually referred to as Holocaust—the number of people killed under similar murder campaigns in Nazi Germany is around 12 million. But for the word “Holocaust” itself, 1.2 million per year is roughly correct.
Our global non-human animal industry subjects about 60 billion land animals to a comparable fate per year. Now, let us remember that these are “just animals” right? So let’s apply the 1000 multiplier. They’re just worth a thousandth of one of us!
That lands us, with this conservative estimate of the worth of non-human animal life, at 60 million. Per year. Not over five years.
Divide 60m by 1.2m to see how this compares to the Holocaust’s yearly effects— and you get a rather grim number: 50.
Our current global consumption of land animals causes: Fifty (50) ongoing Holocausts per year.
The animal industry is not, of course, 50 times worse than the Holocaust. That would be a great under-estimation of the severity of our crimes against non-humanity.
We must not forget that the Holocaust lasted only 5 years, whereas our animal megacide goes on year after year, decade after decade, and does not exhaust its killing fields.
Oh, and that’s just the land animals. Aquatic animals account for an estimated over 1 trillion kills yearly (many of which are cruel and slow deaths). Yes, that involves a lot of fish, so let’s give ourselves a yet higher ethical premium: 10,000 non-human aquatic animals for just me!
So, if you divide one trillion by 10,000 (including a few seal cubs and dolphins for good measure, death to them!) you get… 100 million.
100 million plus 60 million, divided by 1.2… produces…
133 Holocausts per year. Every year. And still growing.
This is if, and only if, I am worth one thousand dogs or cats or chickens or cows or pigs—or ten thousand sea and water animals of various sorts.
Phew, okay. Why am I saying this? It’s not really news to anyone, is it? It’s just to set the premise for what follows: This issue matters a lot. It’s well known that we all become less empathic, not more, when faced with large numbers. But as you may have noticed, I am not speaking to your feelings so much right now, but just to common sense, just to plain reason. It’s just weird to deny that this is a thing.
Even if you don’t care about animals and only have a shrugging “well, we shouldn’t be unnecessarily cruel…” then you can hardly write the issue off as insignificant. It still matters.
It’s not about your damned personal choice to eat what you feel like. It’s not about puritanism or scoring cheap moral shots. It’s not about crazy people on YouTube feeding their babies grass smoothies and sporting toothless smiles. It’s not about shame or guilt. It’s not about feeling hopeless or depressed.
It’s about, with a very conservative estimate, 133 Holocausts per year. Every year. Decades on end. And growing. So don’t make it about yourself.
133 Holocausts per year—and that’s when I also used excessively conservative estimates of the number of animals killed. On what planet, in what barbaric dark age, is this considered to be okay and entirely normal?
Answer: On planet Earth, right about this minute.
Breathe it in. The numbers don’t land in our minds, they cannot. But we can all understand the concept of a staggering moral mountain to climb: a heroic struggle against what is just not right.
And that’s just factory farming plus industrialized fishing. Neither are all of the other animal-oppressive things I didn’t bring up morally okay: lab torture, exploitative pet industries, entertainment slavery, destroyed habitats, noise and chemical pollution, plastics in bellies, pouring boiling water in the sewers to mass-murder squirrels (no, rats actually, but they’re quite alike)…
So we have to stop doing it. Because it is something we are actively doing. Thus we, ultimately, have the power to change it. It’s not easy, and not without its dilemmas, but no, all of that suffering is not necessary and justifiable. Maybe some of it is necessary for human dignity and survival—by all means, let’s go through things ethically one by one and let the apologists of murder make their cases. Maybe some torments and murders of animals are justifiable? No doubt. But all of it? At this scale? It seems unlikely, to put it mildly.
Given the above, it is no exaggeration to claim that ending this quiet massacre of creatures weaker than ourselves is a matter of a fundamental and civilizational quality—on par with such issues as preventing world wars, nuclear annihilation, and global ecological disaster.
The reasons that it has so little salience and support are manifold, but a large part of it spells speciesism: the unwarranted and unjustified belief in human moral supremacy. We’re worth more. Why, we’re not sure, exactly—but it has something to do with having individuality, personality, writing symphonies, and going to the moon. Somehow, our cute personality quirks and symphonies written by someone else 300 years ago and moon landings justify massacre after massacre of the helpless.
Any Utopia or Protopia or future worth striving for must be one that reverses this trend and begins to dramatically decrease the number of “Holocausts per year”. Perhaps it cannot become zero, but every damned Holocaust counts, and if we can prevent just one Holocaust per year, we will—in terms of heroic feats and ethical impact—have stopped Hitler. Reduce a few more and we will have prevented the equivalent of the Second World War. Or, if you actually consider other animals somewhat more equal to ourselves in terms of worth and suffering (and consider the fact that this is not just five years), you will have stopped hundreds of Hitlers “only” by reducing the number of Holocausts per year from 133 to 132.
[Note: Not calling non-vegans Hitler by the way; just saying that stopping Hitler equals stopping the Holocaust, so if we stop many Holocausts we will, in terms of ethical significance, have stopped many Hitlers.]
How about we just get our shit together and do that? I’m not asking much: not to save all animals for all eternity from all suffering, but just stop a few hundred Hitlers? Seems worthwhile, doesn’t it?
Or if this is not worthwhile—what have I missed? How is stopping a crime magnitudes greater than the Holocaust not relevant?
We all wish to save our civilization from ecological disasters and existential risks. But we also owe it to ourselves to make our global civilization into something we can be genuinely proud of, something that doesn’t have a dark underbelly we’re hiding from ourselves. Our civilization could be much more worth saving if it treated its weakest members better—for, yes, non-human animals are inescapably also parts of human societies.
Sometimes people say that concern for animals is underscored by a morbid fascination with the downfall of civilization and a hatred for humanity itself. I guess it can be. However, there is no necessity in it. To love something is also to wish it to be its best version; to respect it means to not look the other way when faced with its vices and mistakes. We should love our kids enough not to let them commit criminal or cruel acts. We should love ourselves and our planetary community of societies enough to not let them partake in new Holocausts.
Or to put it in pithier terms: Not all animals resemble children, but they share in that they are all in inferior positions of power and in that none of them wish to suffer. When the newly adopted homeless cat looks back at me with a gaze strikingly similar to that of my baby daughter, both pairs of eyes asking a being infinitely more powerful than themselves: Will you be kind to me? …there is only one answer that the heart can give: “To the best of my limited ability, yes, I will be kind.” If I looked at a being infinitely more powerful than myself to ask the same question, I know that’s the answer I’d be hoping for. How about you?
Okay, so with that intention set, what is an effective metamodernist version of Animal Rights or anti-speciesist thinking and strategy?
What to Bring from Postmodern Animal Rights
The Animal Rights movement will never achieve its goals unless it becomes metamodern—as long as it is stuck in postmodern moralizing, it cannot be truly effective. Like the environmentalist movement, the Animal Rights movement has largely been a failure, despite all the ethical and most of the practical argument going for it.
That being said, most of the Animal Rights insights and ethics are perfectly available to the postmodern mind, so let us first take stock of what to bring with us—and then turn to how we may restructure an update of this to a metamodernist version of Animal Rights advocacy and activism.
I say “Animal Rights” and not Animal Welfare because only one of the two is actually an emancipatory movement. The former seeks to end animal slavery and confer appropriate and sensible rights upon non-human animals, the latter seeks to lessen the harms and suffering of owned and bred-to-be-killed animals. It stands to reason that as long as people own non-human animals as slaves and kill them for profit, Animal Welfare reforms will always be countered by pressures for increased economic efficiency. We currently have more Animal Welfare laws than ever before, and these neatly co-exist with greater animal suffering, exploitation, and extinction than anything the world has ever seen. Capitalism is a bitch, at least if it includes slavery and killing for profit. You can’t change that by smoothening its edges: it’s still a hard rock to chew. Today, we remember the abolitionists of slavery, the people who said slavery isn’t okay, period. We don’t celebrate the slavery apologists who said that it’s okay to own people of certain races (or of little means), if you only whip them a little less—for the sake of their “welfare”. Not heroic, sorry.
Animal welfare is, then, largely a distraction—and possibly a harmful one. It provides all of the euphemisms and excuses for mass murder. The pigs LIKE being gassed to death. Or at least they really don’t mind. They had rich lives in their concrete prisons, and then one day they just quietly went to heaven—not entirely unlike the Nacht und Nebel policy, where creatures simply disappear very conveniently.
Animal Rights is the striving to confer reasonable and justifiable rights upon non-human animals. It says plainly what is obviously true: Owning and killing a fellow sentient being for profit is bad, so don’t do it.
That’s the main distinction that we bring from the postmodern Animal Rights movements: a wholesale rejection of Animal Welfare and an uncompromising embrace of Animal Rights—or anti-speciesism.
Other than that, we may bring the following along on our journey:
- The Abolitionist positionchampioned by philosopher Gary Francione which simply holds that animal slavery must, can, and shall be abolished without compromise. This position equally rejects “piecemeal protests” (being against certain furs, but having no problems with milk slavery, etc.). It also rejects the majority of mainstream animal advocacy organizations (like PETA), as these rely upon donations from the public, and most donors themselves benefit from animal slavery (not being vegan, etc.), and thus these organizations are always short of breath when it’s their turn to speak truth to power.
- The view of anti-speciesismas a vector of struggles for structural justice: anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-ageism, and so forth. Feminist scholar Corey Lee Wrenn speaks to this, also emphasizing the overlap between capitalist economies (not that state communism proved better!) and the growth of animal slavery. These categories interact, of course, so you’ll find that people with lower status are implicitly (or not) thought to be closer to animals, while animals suffer from our ideas about gender and race (cows versus bulls, white dogs versus black dogs, and so on, there’s a lot of research on this). In the social sciences, critical animal studies has recently ballooned.
- The view that majority society isenthralled by the ideology of the dominant group, humans over animals, called speciesism or carnism, and that this distorts views of the oppression of animals—for instance, people have a hard time criticizing slaughterhouses while they’re still invested in feelings about wanting to eat animal products. Psychologist Melanie Joy has described this and shown it in studies.
- Friendly and pragmatic veganism—leading by example and opening pathways for living with less animal suffering, not being aggressive or an asshole, not being woo-woo, staying healthy, enjoying food and life generally. In cases when you fail to make the transition for various reasons (health, etc.), don’t try to pretend that veganism would not be better ethically speaking—hence still showing solidarity with people of a vegan lifestyle. Spreading information about such ways of life and addressing health concerns could unlock great potential when it comes to making people more open to supporting the end of animal slavery.
- Citizen journalism and research on animal mistreatment. Guess what? People will hide and lie about how animals in factory farms fare. Continuous documentation is important.
- Knowledge work on anthropocentrism—research on animal behaviors, intelligence, relations, sentience, and how people’s reasoning is convoluted around animal ethics topics. Even research on animals and their behavior is again and again shown to be steered by the assumptions of “man as the measure” and of human interests and supremacy. Eva Meijer’s overviews are great here. In popularizing such sentiments and common sense, documentaries about the lives and intelligent and emotionally complex behaviors of animals may arguably play a role.
- Differentiate Animal Rights from ecologism—being “green” does not in and of itself by any measure make you kinder to animals. By far the most ecologists hold as violent and oppressive views towards animals as mainstream society, if not more so, as it is romanticized as “part of the circle of life” and so on. Hence, support Animal Rights causes and work against all movements that would have us torment and exploit animals under more romantic and purportedly sustainable ways.
- Support peaceful and reasoned protests only. To protect life, one may put oneself above the law and enact civil disobedience, but this must be done in manners that do not cause violence or direct harm or danger to anyone. Otherwise, others will not be able to know if you are driven by compassion or by excuses for the pleasures of aggression. Letting out animals who then die in the near woods or as roadkill or become invasive species is not optimal.
The moral awakening to Animal Rights is perhaps the most powerful gateway into a truly postmodern consciousness. This is because it highlights the key postmodern insights in such salient relief: how power shapes knowledge and values, how norms shape personal morality, how utterly limited we all are in our perspectives, how extremely socially dependent we are to think even the slightest unique thoughts, how our minds are always fooling us with self-soothing and self-embellishing propaganda, how whole worlds can be built on top of the suffering of the voiceless and the invisible, how violence is structural and not personal, how a good person can be a part of an evil whole, how the world is always beyond good and evil in its sheer absurdity… and so on. People “woke” to postmodern consciousness will know what I mean when I trace these contours.
But again, my claim is that Animal Rights simply cannot succeed while emanating from this mode of consciousness. For victory over the institution of animal slavery, for ceasing the multiple Holocausts, a metamodern update on Animal Rights is necessary.
Meet The Metamodern Animals Rights Advocate
Now, with these insights, let us turn to the marriage of Animal Rights and the metamodernist mindset.
Unfortunately, very few metamodernists are Animal Rights defenders and very few Animal Rights defenders are metamodernists. The reason for this is fairly simple: metamodernism really doesn’t add or detract much to the morality of postmodern consciousness. Postmodernists emerge as a subsection of modern society, and metamodernists in turn emerge as a subsection of postmodern communities—metamodernists roughly have the same ethics as pomos; they just have different practices.
If we refresh our memories of the stages of cultural development (in my own version of them here and here), they follow a pattern where every other stage is more of a moral awakening, a critique of the former, and the rest are practical advances. Modernity was itself such a practical advance. As is metamodernism. Here’s the whole sequence:
- Animism (the role of which in contemporary society is discussed in an earlier post)
- Faustianism (involves a revolution of economic capacity, agricultural civilization, not morality)
- Postfaustianism (a moral revolution against Faustianism’s “might makes right” ethos, including the Perennial Age religions)
- Modernism (follows through on the promises made by Postfaustian critique—such as equality—but adds little moral content)
- Postmodernism (critiques all the dead-ends and inherent self-contradictions of Modernity)
- Metamodernism (delivers on the ethical awareness of Postmodernity, but adds little moral content).
Metamodern consciousness is not in and of itself that much of a moral awakening vis-à-vis postmodernism, but rather a practically oriented operationalization of the ethics of postmodernity. It emphasizes not new ends but new means: inner growth rather than economic growth, perspective-taking rather than moralism, reconstruction rather than deconstruction, and so on—but it does so as for the sake of achieving roughly the same ends as postmodernism: a more humane society, a more empathic civilization, the end of racism, greater equality, ecological resilience and a reconciliation with nature, cured alienation and improved mental health, less materialism and consumerism, greater gender freedom and equality… And, of course, the end of animal slavery.
As such, you might say that metamodernists are somewhat more cold-hearted and practically applied versions of postmodernists—just as the democratic reformers of modernity were more practical versions of Christian beliefs in the equality of all souls and the conviction that violence is wrong. Metamodernists emerge from internet society and thus see new pathways for action that were not open to the postmodern consciousness which largely came online with the counter culture movements of the 20th century. As such, metamodernists can often be somewhat less morally concerned than the postmodernists. Hence, ironically, they are less often truly faithful climate activists or vegans—just like mainstream modernists are less likely than religious postfaustians to give money to the poor or refuse military service.
Nevertheless, I hold, it is precisely the metamodernists who have the most potential to end animal slavery.
If you look at the psychologies and values of people, these will also tend to align according to one of the abovementioned six cultural stages. But on this personal or individual level, we call them “effective value memes” (as discussed in my book, The Listening Society). Even while living in societies that are “modern” like those of today, people can express and live by values that correspond to any of the six stages, although “modernists” will be the most common ones.
In terms of the effective value memes of vegans (not, then, Animal Rights advocates in the strict sense, just anyone who wishes to not harm animals and identifies with a vegan lifestyle), you will find that, although vegans exist across the board, they are overrepresented in two of the value memes: Animist and Postmodern. I don’t have the data to prove it, but I think a brief observation of vegan communities around the world will corroborate my claim:
- Animists: Vegans somewhat over-represented: “Animals are our friends, we can learn from them, etc.” Disney-ish and anthropomorphic reasons for animal care (i.e., seeing animals more as people, spirits, etc.). Keep in mind that I am here referring to non-indigenous animists (i.e. people living in modern societies who gravitate towards the animist value meme nonetheless), not indigenous populations who often need to sustain themselves from hunting and fishing.
- Faustianists: Almost no vegans (but a few Nazis may be vegans, see Wandervogel, etc.).
- Postfaustianism: Almost only Buddhist and Jain vegans, otherwise not really.
- Modernists (mainstream people in liberal democracies): Very few vegans, but still some extreme libertarians or posh lifestyle ones.
- Postmodernists: Lots of vegans, but of two distinct types: 1) “light” pomos are more likely to be of the new agey and puritan kind, sometimes collapsing back to Animist values, and 2) “dark” pomos, i.e. intellectual types who see structures, capitalism, power relations, language structures, etc. of animal oppression.
- Metamodernists: More vegans than among modernists, but somewhat fewer than among pomos (note, though, that metamodernists are by themselves rare, and thus there are very few metamodernist vegans).
Now, the first thing to note is that a “vegan” is not one thing. Critically minded dark pomo intellectual vegans have very little to do with the grass smoothie YouTuber cults who link veganism to magical powers and spiritual attainment while their health is deteriorating (but, of course, the defenders of animal slavery of mainstream society do love these own-goal videos!).
The metamodernist Animal Rights advocate is most often (but not always) a vegan, albeit of a non-judgmental kind—a kind of synthesis between the light pomos and the dark ones: aware of the importance of rationality and critical awareness and learning about animal suffering, factory farming, and so on, yes, while still seeing how inner transformations, the arduous practice of compassion, and meditating on the suffering of others can also fuel and guide animal advocacy.
And, as importantly, the metamodernist animal advocate sees that all of the above (vegans of all value memes) may be aligned for similar causes, but that they are indeed very different, and that different social logics pertain to each of them. It thus encourages veganism across the board (moderns for status, health, and lifestyle reasons, etc.) and defends veganism both against hostile attacks from the defenders of animal slavery and from the excesses and stupidities of magical thinking and puritanism. The metamodern mind weaves all of the former value memes together into one multi-dimensional vegan movement and steers it towards its goal: the shortest possible route to the abolition of animal slavery.
Metamodern animal advocacy cares somewhat less if John or Jane specifically becomes vegan, because the metamodern mind perceives a richer field of potentials: Yes, every consequential vegan matters (much more so than two or even ten 50%-less-often carnivores, as the vegan reshapes norms, discourses, expectations, consumer market demand, family networks, and so on to a much greater extent). But it is also the case that you can always contribute to the abolition of animal slavery across at least four different dimensions which I’m going to present in the following.
The Four Pillars of Metamodern Animal Rights
Okay, so I’ll simply use an old go-to for holistic thinking: the four quadrants of Ken Wilber’s integral theory—I just did something similar for environmentalism.
The “four quadrants” are: 1. inner experience, 2. concrete behavior, 3. culture, and 4. systems change.
The point here is that Animals Rights advocacy, with a metamodernist perspective, at a minimum should live up to this holistic view: working across and coordinating between all of the four quadrants. To date, no Animal Rights movement that I’m aware of fully lives up to this standard.
Pillar 1: Transform inner experience
This pillar involves the recognition that society will never end animal slavery unless more people develop—by themselves, spontaneously and from their own free will—postmodern and metamodern sensibilities and values. You can push for norms (so that exploiting animals would be shameful, illegal, etc.) but people will always become reactionaries against those norms unless their inner moral compasses align with them. Try to “force” political correctness on a population and a Donald Trump will explode in your face. Same here with Animal Rights.
Fundamentally, most of us really, genuinely just don’t feel it. Most animal advocates even don’t feel it deeply and in manners that are sanguinely compassionate rather than full of draining guilt and pity.
So, inner transformation entails:
- Compassion meditation (and the spread of it throughout society).
- The resolution of inner traumas and issues, so that we become less defensive and more open to challenging our own moral precepts.
- Perspective-taking in connecting to members of other species (and, to some degree, to nature), i.e. seeing the “faces” of animals, not just their anonymous snouts. Cultivate interspecies relationships and communication. Open up to new ways of seeing and understanding the world from the eyes of a seemingly foreign being: other colors, other lived and felt environments.
- Perspective-taking in terms of people of different backgrounds and effective value memes: maybe there’s a good reason your 98 years old granny doesn’t see the point with animal right? Or that indigenous pastoral cultures can’t see the vegan light? Or just that mainstream modern people “don’t quite feel it”?
- Training in self-forgiveness and acceptance, so that we have the fortitude to accept the moral responsibility of our civilization.
- The general enrichment of human life in manners that support inner growth into higher value memes.
- The dealing with feelings of hunger, fear of never being satiated, of feelings of imagined dissatisfaction or “thinness” associated with not consuming animal products.
- The improvement of cognitive processes, so that one can more easily make a decision (be vegan, or similar) and stick to it: busting our tendencies to fool ourselves (“I’ll just make a little exception, then it becomes much easier”—but of course being vegan is super easy to consequential vegans only, who just never have to make a decision about it, any more than deciding to sleep every night, brushing teeth, etc.).
As you can see, none of these points involve brainwashing anyone to becoming vegan or supporting the abolishment of animal slavery. It is just the case that moral growth comes from good conditions, and it begins from the inner depths of each of us.
In other words, gearing society for inner transformation, and working on our own inner qualities leads to a much more fertile soil for Animal Rights.
Pillar 2: Concrete behaviors
This one is fairly obvious: Some behaviors lead to little kittens being tormented and seals clubbed, others don’t.
- Vegan lifestyle (not just what you eat, also what you wear, such as leather, entertainment, such as circus animals, etc.)
- Take good care of yourself and stay on the side of reason and health, so you’re leading by example.
- Raise vegan families. 🙂
- Create vegan collectives, businesses, and restaurants.
- Work to create options at schools, restaurants, etc. and generally work for expanding societal acceptance and support.
- Invest in Animal Rights friendly companies and technologies.
- Give to Animal Rights causes.
- Learn manners to reply in social games when people question or mock the suffering of animals (“It’s a free choice.”—“Not of the pig, it isn’t.” etc.)
- Join and create Animal Rights advocacy movements and organizations.
- Help animal shelters.
- Guide intellectual and creative parts of your life towards integrating an Animal Rights perspective.
- Read the best theorists (Gary Francione, Melanie Joy, Corey Lee Wrenn, etc.)
- Announce your values when not inappropriate and in all other regards act normal and be a citizen and contributor that people have reasons to respect and like.
- Avoid all judgment and snobbishness: Just stand up for yourself as a person who will not stand for animal slavery.
Pillar 3: Cultural shifts
And then, of course, there can be no end to slavery unless cultures around the world change. Let’s take a look at what enacting such change can entail:
- The imaginative re-appropriation of food and consumption traditions linked to animal exploitation: Maybe the same essence or mood or quality can be achieved without animals being used? Christmas without meat? The Poles were already doing it: Their Catholic Christmas is almost vegetarian by tradition (not vegan!). My own Christmas is vegan, and it’s the season to be jolly.
- The linking of anti-speciesism to a wider network of social justice and intersectionality: to show and insist that even anti-racism and anti-sexism and postcolonialism are simply incomplete without anti-speciesism. In the same family of issues: to link the abolition of slavery as the natural heir to the abolition of human slavery in the 19th century.
- To challenge anthropocentrism in research, education, and media narratives—from research questions, to faults in thinking that arise from anthropocentric biases, to research methods and cruel experiments, to how animal suffering is spoken of and euphemized or routinely discarded, to creating philosophies that simply do not have anthropocentrism as a starting point (but rather center on things like the cosmos itself, existence, sentience, emergence, or interaction).
- Challenge infantilizing conceptions of animals. Non-human animals don’t have the exact same skills as humans, and they are in a less powerful position than humans in today’s world, but they are nonetheless competent and intelligent in ways that we are not: chimps have better working memory, hummingbirds can navigate the jungle better, and so on.
- To raise the sense of relevance, status, and “coolness” of going beyond anthropocentric worldviews and biases by creating or curating art with post-anthropocentric themes, or otherwise to develop vegan or Animal Rights conducive aesthetics that impress and shape public imagination in a manner that links Animal Rights to desirable and tasteful expressions of fashion, style, music, film, sports, and so on.
- To honor role models and public figures who stand up for Animal Rights.
- Work in all ways to normalize veganism and Animal Rights and facilitate the symbolic victories of their proponents whenever they are challenged, so that the norm systems sway in favor of veganism. Push the Overton window towards the normalcy and frequency of conversations about Animal Rights.
- Work to make visible and clear the ideology of carnism, how consuming animals is linked to conceptions of masculinity, and offer other role models for masculine identity formation.
- Challenge habitual derogative comments about “fanatic” and “extreme” Animal Rights activists and insist that animal advocacy is normal, reasonable, and respectable, so that it becomes more difficult for people to maintain a strawman version of what Animal Rights entails, hence making it easier for animal advocates everywhere to speak their minds.
- Make friends with other Animal Rights advocates and remain friends with others: be a good example to the latter.
- While “single issue” protests may not be beneficial, it is much easier to garner public support for the closing of slaughterhouses than for the banning of products of animals slavery—both things are similar, but one implicates more people (the consumers) and the other does not. The support for closing slaughterhouses is generally very widespread. So work on such gateway issues but balance them against getting stuck in the swamp of single issues (“don’t club seal cubs, but go ahead and choke piglets!”).
- Spread a rich vegan cuisine everywhere you go. Shoot at taste buds and invite changing habits.
- Cultivate positive identities for farmers and producers who make the transition from animal slavery (not blaming them!).
- Challenge and expose so-called meat nationalism: “Oh sure, those pesky French treat animals with no respect, but we Swedes… In fact, the more Swedish meat I buy, the better for the animals. The more I pay people to kill Swedish pigs and cows, the better a friend I am to animals…” The truth is, of course, that all industrial farming is an ethical abomination.
- Link animal liberation to the responsibilities of industrial civilization, not to the practices of tribal communities, fishers, and pastoral nomads—and do not let the existence of such communities be an excuse for the crimes of industrial civilization.
Basically, today’s culture is against human slavery but not against animal slavery. Tomorrow’s culture could, God willingly, be against the latter as well.
Pillar 4: Change the system
The last pillar has to do with changing the systems we live by—and these systems will have their own logics and incentives which shape our behaviors, values, and cultures. Today, factory farming and other expressions of animal slavery are part and parcel of our global economic systems. If one person goes vegan and thereby reduces demand for meat and dairy somewhat, the prices simply fall slightly and new consumer groups make up for the decrease. Even if consciousness of animal suffering increases, the system will still find ways to torment our fellow creatures for as long as it’s profitable.
But despite their tendency for inertia, systems do change from time to time. Human slavery was also ingrained into the global system and key to the economy (slaves from Africa, cotton from Dixieland, fabric from Manchester, and so the wheels of the world turned) but eventually the system shifted.
What systemic shifts are we talking of in this case?
- The abolition of subsidies for animal slavery (the US spends about $52bn on farm subsidies, where livestock and feed accounts for over 50% and fruit and vegetables only for 3%; the EU spends around €30bn on livestock farming—20% of its entire budget).
- Subsidize plant-based alternatives instead, making these available to all.
- Work to make visible and counter the systemic influence of animal slavery lobbyists.
- Create animal-friendly investment funds and grow startup hubs (alternatives to lab animals, lab-grown meat, vegan meat, veg tech, etc.)
- Shifting both the supply and demand-side: more numerous and attractive alternatives to the products of animal slavery and less demand for the latter.
- Providing health information and education from official and credible sources.
- Creating pathways for transitions to plant based models.
- Push for plant-based consumption in public institutions (schools, hospitals, and so forth).
- Link veganism to systemic issues of ecology, climate, health, food security, risks of pandemics (as viruses come from our animal industries, as do antibiotic resistant bacteria).
- Support effective altruist projects (which target helping as many sentient beings as possible).
- Push for progressive legislation of animal rights—notanimal welfare. Close down industries based on slavery, one by one.
- Create official certifications of different competencies (animal behavior and suffering and the ethics of these, wildlife suffering reduction, vegan nutrition, sociology of animal-human relations).
- Invest in research on bioethics, animal consciousness, and Animal Rights.
- Create official science-based standards of the life worlds of different species and their ethical concerns.
- Organize cross-party Animal Rights groups that can counter the interest group propaganda/lobbying of animal slavery industries.
- Envision and model “endgame equilibrium” scenarios—i.e., what would a realistic and humane process towards the end of animal slavery look like, and what would happen with animal slave populations?
The system of animal slavery has deep roots. It’s not “evil” in the sense it’s upheld by malicious intent, but a lot of self-interest does stand between us and animal liberation. Hence, you need to work this system on all the above fronts, transnationally. In the end, the arguments are on the side of Animal Rights.
Conclusion: Joke with the Hydra
Reason and common sense can and will prevail—but only if civilization is not under extreme pressure, possibly regressing to some kind of Mad Max society, under which circumstances we will likely see a drop in the prevailing “effective value memes” of populations and thereby no deepening moral enlightenment.
Metamodern Animal Rights advocates thus do not wish to see the collapse of our civilization. Instead they wish for society to grow peacefully and healthily into a higher awareness of the consequences of human action, and from there on, for animal slavery to be abolished once and for all.
But metamodernists would do well to take up some more of this care for the animals. Yes, the moral significance is unfathomable. But a great challenge, a mountain to surpass, a hydra with a 133 heads like Hitler, can also inspire us. It doesn’t have to leave us hopeless. When we look at this mountain of injustice, we also turn our eyes skyward—aspiring towards our highest potential.
And—as metamodernists are spiritually somewhat different from the righteous rebels of postmodernism—they can also adopt a sincerely ironic stance towards the sheer absurdity of it all. Okay, hydra with 133 heads like Hitler, show me what you’ve got. And like Churchill, we can call out:
We shall go on to the end, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our fellow animals, we shall fight in fucking Florida if we have to, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.
Maybe this is a world too dark to comprehend. And yet, here we are, somehow fairly happy much of the time, and somehow aware of the ethical direction we must take, and the route to get there. Somehow, that light at the end of the tunnel lights up the whole path towards a human civilization worth its name.
That moral journey is arguably a powerful fuel for metamodernists around the world—a playful struggle worthy of our blink of a lifetime. The hydra cannot be beaten with grit alone; it must also be met with grace, wit, imagination, and kindness.
Or, as they say, human civilization is a great idea. We should try it.
Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian, and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.