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framing

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

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).

The sign is down, so you can forget about the violence underneath it.

The sign is down, so you can forget about the violence underneath it. (By Kelly)

About a month ago, the Whole Foods stores in Lafayette, California, put up a sign over the dismembered body parts of victims of institutionalized speciesist violence that read: "A hearty helping of Animal Compassion with every order." PETA set up a petition to have the sign taken down and contacted the company. Though the bodies remain, the misleading sign above them was taken down, and the following is what the animal-killers said to the petitioners.

Dear Customers,

Thank you for contacting Whole Foods Market regarding signage in our meat departments. We were contacted by PETA about this and acted immediately on the same day as we agree with PETA. The signage was limited to four stores in the Northern California region who opted to use that language several years ago, and we agree the language was not appropriate. It has already been updated and we appreciate PETA for calling it to our attention.

We sell the largest variety of vegan and meat alternatives across the country, and we proudly promote those products. And like all other supermarkets, we also sell meat. However, we believe there are significant differences in the way animals are raised for food in the United States and that Whole Foods Market will continue to sell and promote animal foods that we believe have been raised with less pain and suffering than factory farm meats.  PETA worked with us for several years to develop the standards that we are currently using to source our products.

Thank you again for taking the time to share your concerns about this matter.

Sincerely,

Customer Communications Team, Whole Foods Market Global Headquarters

550 Bowie Street, Austin, TX 78703

My mind is swimming with the number, complexity and magnitude of problems in this letter, but I'll try to strip and simplify those thoughts for the purpose of this brief blog post:

1) "... regarding signage in our meat departments." The dismembered dead bodies of beings who did not want to die are not "meat" -- what's still in that same part of the store is actually innocent animals, victims of violence, artifacts of discrimination, and bodies of the oppressed.

2) "... we agree the language was not appropriate." Great. What about the violence that the sign referred to, that made it's language inappropriate?

3) "We sell the largest variety of vegan and meat alternatives..." Insert expletives. The animals don't care about people eating plants, they care about their lives and families and freedom. Hell, the cow next in line on the kill floor doesn't even care if you eat someone else, she just doesn't want you to enslave and kill her and her loved ones. The tempeh sitting on a shelf near the flesh of a baby pig did absolutely nothing for that infant, so stop trying to distract compassionate people from the nonhuman rights violations that you continue to commit on an unfathomably immense scale. Until there isn't one single body of an exploited being up for sale in your store, the tofu sitting beside it would be better positioned up wherever Whole Foods pushes it's vile exploitative excrement out of.

4) "... will continue to sell and promote animal foods that..." First and foremost, since animals aren't food, there's no such thing. Stop reducing my cousins to objects. But secondly: DO ANIMAL "RIGHTS" ACTIVISTS NOT SEE A PROBLEM WITH THE STATEMENT THAT THEY WILL CONTINUE TO NOT ONLY SELL, BUT PROMOTE PRODUCTS OF VIOLENCE? Is this not the real problem? Humanewashing sign or no, the violence has to go.

5) "... with less pain and suffering..." What about life? Compared to animals exploited on factory farms, do they have more or less of that when they are killed?

6) "PETA worked with us..." No comment necessary. But perhaps a quote: "No compromise with slavery; no union with slaveholders" (WLG).

Forget consumerism. And stop compromising. Speak up against injustice.

When Distance Distracts Us

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When Distance Distracts Us (by Kelly & Glenn)

What if the animals being denied their right to life by Chipotle's hands were actually killed right behind the counter, instead of out of sight somewhere far away? The violence is the same. The injustice is the same.

Would we happily order our Sofritas burrito with a smile, or would we stop the violence?

Think about that for a second.

If someone were enacting violence against a defenseless animal right in front of you, would you do everything in your power to stop them? Of course you would. Even people who eat animals would. And you would try to stop that murderer even if they handed you a tofu burrito with one hand while they slit a pig's throat with the other. You certainly wouldn't happily take the tofu burrito and remain silent about the injustice happening right in front of you. So why behave any differently when the violence is removed and you're only faced with its results?

How the "Go Vegan" Message Perpetuates the Objectification of Nonhumans

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How the "Go Vegan" Message Perpetuates the Objectification of Nonhumans (by Kelly)

When we use the "go vegan" message and talk about "vegan options" we immediately -- by the implicit construction of a dualism -- frame the animals whose rights are being violated as mere commodities. When we tell people to choose one product over another, we're reinforcing that the bodies of those animals who did not want to die are "products." We are therefore not challenging people to see those animals as conscious entities deserving of the same protection of their inalienable right to life that we ask for ourselves -- which is what we need to do to challenge speciesist society.

No matter what we say about those animals and their right to live and be free from violence and oppression, when we tell (or ask of) people what personal choices to make, through that consumerist framing, we're telling people to think about themselves, and we're perpetuating the idea that the animals are just other consumer commodities.

So should we even identify as "vegans"? (I put that in quotes because, let's remember, even those of us who don't eat animals or things made in their bodies still pay taxes that are funnelled into the violence, and fund an animal-killer and humanewasher when we buy kale at Whole Foods, and participate in a corporate machine that is wrecking havoc on our planet and contributing to the displacement and death of countless animals in every ecosystem whenever we buy anything at all, which is especially not particularly aligned with the apparent "vegan" ethic if it's more than we need for our bare minimal survival). I think that the label is counter-productive, since it focuses on the human instead of the animal, and since it frames the animals as the commodities they're already being treated as. Yeah, we who are trying to move society away from speciesism should be behaving as nonspeciesistly as manageable, as part of our vocal and uncompromising demand that the animals' rights be acknowledged and protected. But we should not be framing the conversation about the animals' rights in ways that distract people from the matter of their rights.

We have to demand liberation for the nonhuman victims, not plant-based options for the human oppressors. The animals need the systemic change that will come from a societal shift in perspective, not from a shifting chain of demand and supply.

We would call for an end to speciesism even if all it left our plates with was rice, because it's the right thing to do. Fruits and veggies are nice, but ultimately irrelevant. We can't make not hurting innocent animals a matter of how convenient and pleasurable it is for the human to abstain from that violence, we have to make not hurting animals -- and further, demanding that our entire society stop hurting animals -- a moral imperative. Demanding an end to injustice can't just be the easy and enjoyable and nice thing to do, it has to the be right thing to do. (Not to mention that we're not even encouraging people to do that when we merely tell them to "go vegan," to not intentionally participate to whatever degree comfortable in speciesist violence, to by-stand.) Because it IS the right thing to do. Because doing anything less than demanding justice for all is the wrong thing to do.

And when we talk to an individual about personally eating "vegan" we leave the systems that run the speciesist injustice and violence we're attempting to combat completely invisible -- and invisibility is how the most oppressive power structures remain in power.

Forget about the tasty tofu burrito, there's a baby pig screaming and writhing in the hands of a human with a knife right now. Which of the two messages will motivate people to demand action for that baby pig, and other oppressed innocents?

The stakes are extremely high. Actually, they really don't get any higher. The animals cannot afford for us to make their interests look as low in value as the stakes of someone choosing a favourite band.

Challenging Our Own Status Quo

Challenging Our Own Status Quo

Speciesism is the underlying disease of which all human exploitation of nonhumans is a symptom. If our goal as liberationists is to dissolve speciesism, to bring about a robust cultural change that will ensure lasting change for the animals, then the perspective of the "animal rights" movement and its advocates needs to shift:

Right now the dominant perspective, goal and message is about limiting the number of future animals brought into the world. ("Go vegan" and "this company kills animals but we'll ignore that and praise it for the plant-based option they offer on the chance that someone who is not yet ethically aligned with the idea that violence against animals is wrong might purchase it instead of a violent option, thereby slightly reducing the demand for more future violence."*)

We need to shift that to a focus on how the rights of the trapped animals who are suffering and crying and being forced onto a kill floor at this very moment are being violated. The goal here is to get people to realize that the violence is wrong and that these animals are in a state of emergency and need to be fought for. These stakes are much higher, which makes this framing much more compelling. Not only will the currently popular goal of reducing the demand for exploited animals be achieved through this pushing of anti-speciesist, anti-violent ideology anyways, but this is how we will actively combat the disease of speciesism, instead of just pumping drugs into the system to relieve a few symptoms.

•Kelly
*Just to be brutally redundant with this: No one who has decided to stop eating animals and products of their exploitation is going to buy a burrito with someone's flesh in it, and no one is going to decide to stop eating animals because they ate a single plant-based burrito. People don't need convenient access to nonviolent food options, they need motivation to not by violence-based products. What they need (and what the animals need from them, in the interest of a cultural shift in how humans perceive nonhumans) is to become ethically aligned with anti-speciesism. And even if one's goal is "more individual humans eating plants instead of animal products" then making anti-speciesists out of them is their most compelling reason to do that.

A Note on the Power of Language

A Note on the Power of Language

When we talk about animals and share images of nonhumans, we have a responsibility to not frame those animals with a lens that reinforces their objectification. How can we more effectively use words and images in the interest of not brutally reducing those animals to objects? What can we do to give those humans we are talking to about nonhuman rights a lens that facilitates a non-subjugating gaze?

Consider the differences in framing when using following terms:

  • “it” v. “her/him/them”

  • “that” v. “who”

  • “something” v. “someone” (or "anything" v. "anyone")

  • “eating meat” v. “eating animals”

  • “vegan options for humans” v. “legal rights for animals”

  • images of dead bodies treated as the objects they are v. images that tell a story of the someones they were

Kelly