Published on:

March 14, 2014

Intrinsically Moved: The Main** Reason Consumerist Advocacy is the Wrong Approach

(by Kelly)

I write this in response to this article from 2010 by George Monbiot, called, "It goes against our nature; but the left has to start asserting its own values" and the WWF "Common Cause" report that Monbiot refers to.

Excerpts to summarize the Monbiot article:

"Extrinsic values concern status and self-advancement... Intrinsic values concern relationships with friends, family and community, and self-acceptance... Those who strongly value financial success, for example, have less empathy, stronger manipulative tendencies, a stronger attraction to hierarchy and inequality, stronger prejudices towards strangers and less concern about human rights and the environment. Those with a strong sense of self-acceptance have more empathy and greater concern for human rights, social justice and the environment. These values suppress each other: the stronger someone's extrinsic aspirations, the weaker his or her intrinsic goals."

"Instead of confronting the shift in values, we have sought to adapt to it."

"Many greens and social justice campaigners have also tried to reach people by appealing to self-interest: explaining how, for example, relieving poverty in the developing world will build a market for British products, or suggesting that, by buying a hybrid car, you can impress your friends and enhance your social status. This tactic also strengthens extrinsic values, making future campaigns even less likely to succeed. Green consumerism has been a catastrophic mistake."

"The progressive attempt to appeal to self-interest has been a catastrophe. Empathy, not expediency, must drive our campaigns."

"Common Cause proposes a simple remedy: that we stop seeking to bury our values and instead explain and champion them. Progressive campaigners, it suggests, should help to foster an understanding of the psychology that informs political change and show how it has been manipulated. They should also come together to challenge forces – particularly the advertising industry – that make us insecure and selfish."

"People with strong intrinsic values must cease to be embarrassed by them. We should argue for the policies we want not on the grounds of expediency but on the grounds that they are empathetic and kind; and against others on the grounds that they are selfish and cruel. In asserting our values we become the change we want to see."

What can we learn from this?

Our framing has to be about caring for the oppressed, not about the benefits for the oppressor of ceasing (er, minimizing*) that oppression. So stop talking about how healthy and convenient and tasty it is for a human to abstain from buying products of nonhuman oppression.

We should focus our efforts on creating a culture that values non-discriminatory empathy, not on trying sell nonspeciesist products of the consumerist (self-interested) machine. So confront people about speciesism and violence and oppression and atrocity, disrupt spaces of oppression, and challenge discrimination and domination when and wherever you see it.

So stop talking about veganism. Stop talking about vegan products. Stop talking about individual humans. Talk about speciesism. Talk about the animals. Talk about culture.

And shout about atrocity.

*Don't forget that NO ONE who exists in a speciesist society can completely abstain from participating in speciesist institutions. Notably, we pay taxes that subsidize the violence, we give money to an animal killer (and humanewasher) when we buy tofu from Whole Foods, and we perpetuate the invisibile hegemony of Speceisism in every single instance that we see a product or act of speceisist oppression and say nothing.

**Additionally, the vegan consuemrist model of activism is problematic for several other reason, as I have written about here (how consumerism perpetuates objectification of the animals), here (how a consumerist focus on the consuming human oppressor distracts from the oppressed nonhuman), and here (how focusing on plant foods distracts us from the atrocities happening beside them).