Published on
August 4, 2015

Ethical Consistency: When "Vegan" Animal Advocacy Groups, and People, Advocate for Death

By Saryta Rodriguez

  Cecil's death, like any nonhuman death at the hands of a hunter, was a tragedy-- but we cannot allow violence to beget more violence. We must not adopt the ideology of the oppressor, no matter how angry we are.
Cecil's death, like any nonhuman death at the hands of a hunter, was a tragedy-- but we cannot allow violence to beget more violence. We must not adopt the ideology of the oppressor, no matter how angry we are.

You’ve probably heard about Cecil the Lion by now. While the death of any animal always makes me sad, if you know at least one vegan and spoke to that person any time this July, they probably informed you that we are touched by the suffering of nonhuman animals every day. We are shocked that many of the same people who mourn Cecil in the morning have a burger for lunch, or a steak or fried chicken for dinner. Animal abuse is not something that just pops up in the news every so often but something by which we are surrounded on a daily basis.

What you may not have heard is that various animal advocacy groups—and individual advocates—have been calling for the death of Cecil’s murderer, Walter Palmer. It always surprises and offends me when I see people commenting on articles like those about Cecil that the person(s) responsible should die a horrible death. I have been critical of Gary Yourofsky in the past for his comments concerning how women who wear fur should be raped. While this rhetoric would surprise and offend me independent of its source, it particularly offends me when employed by animal activists. Animal activists are supposed to be the ones who respect the lives of all sentient beings.  There is no “but” to the Vegan Ethos. Once you add a “but”—once you decide, “Everyone deserves to live until/unless/except…”—you open a very dangerous can of beans indeed.

This is why people think vegans are “crazy.” They think we care more about nonhumans than we do about humans. They don’t believe that we stand for nonviolence because whenever someone hurts an animal, we advocate for violence against that person!!!

For starters, let us all take a minute to remind ourselves that once upon a time, we engaged in animal cruelty, too. Unless you have the privilege of having been born to and raised by vegan parents, there was likely a time in your life when you enjoyed animal flesh and secretions without any guilt or shame whatsoever. Should someone have killed you?

Secondly, the argument that some people “deserve to die” is precisely why the death penalty is still legal in most of the US, and we all know how well THAT’S working out.

Lastly, this all reminds me of a conversation I’ve had many times over with various people, most recently about a week ago. “If you have a chance to kill X,” the hypothetical goes, “Would you?” X is usually someone notoriously heinous, like Hitler, George Bush or Trujillo. The idea here is to see how far my respect for life extends, and if there’s ever a set of characteristics a person can have which would prompt me to violate my anti-killing stance.

My answer to this question is, and always will be, No.

I can hear you gasping. “But what about the people they’ve killed?” you wonder. “What about the people they are going to kill once you let them go?”

Allow me to explain:

  • Institutional problems cannot be corrected by murdering individuals. It doesn’t matter whether the Dude at The Top is dead or alive—as long as that person’s ideas are alive, the violence perpetuated by them will be, well, perpetuated. So the better solution, not just from a moral standpoint of nonviolence but also from a practical standpoint of wanting to end so-and-so’s abuses, is to attack the ideas they are perpetuating and prevent those from spreading or taking root.
  • There’s always another figurehead waiting in the wings. Killing Hitler would not have left the Third Reich leaderless. Soon enough, someone else would have taken his place—someone who could have been less or even more violent and extreme than Hitler, if such a thing is even imaginable (I’m having a hard time picturing what “more violent than Hitler” would look like, myself).
  • The last thing you want to do for any negative or oppressive movement is provide it with a martyr. It’s not like killing someone immediately informs the rest of the world that what that one person was doing was wrong, or that that person’s beliefs were misguided and vicious. That person’s supporters will only grow more zealous, now seeking revenge for the martyr’s death in addition to seeking to kill, enslave or otherwise oppress whoever the martyr said should be treated this way. 

In short, my fellow liberationists, please stop talking about how this or that person should be killed, no matter what they’ve done. You’re just outing yourselves as not true animal liberationists and sewing confusion amongst non-vegans as to what animal liberation is all about. 

(And, please, for the love of all that is holy, ENOUGH with the “CatLivesMatter” nonsense. We already talked about that, didn’t we?)

Let this also serve as a reminder to us to speak strongly for ALL oppressed animals—not just those our culture already does not consider food, such as lions, and not just those who are killed by individuals (hunters) but also those scores of animals who are murdered daily by institutions. While I don’t believe Walter Palmer should be killed, I don’t think any negative attention he gets should be perceived as his being “victimized.” The real victim here is Cecil, just as when a meat-eater is criticized, even though they deserve to live, the real victim in question is not the meat-eater but the animal whose body they consume.

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