The campaign to promote veganism by exposing the destructive reality of the animal agriculture industry.

Laying Down with the Lamb: Abolitionist veganism and the rhetoric of human exceptionalism


Are our current beliefs about human exceptionalism and animal-human relations based on anything more than particular cultural and historical assumptions, many of which are considered outdated? Moreover, even if humans are made in God’s image, how does this result in a license to terrorize, torture and kill? and if it does, then what does that say about the God, whose image we are supposedly reflecting?

DAVID STUBBLEFIELD: Today the animal rights community finds itself at a critical impasse. On one hand, the Abolitionist Approach argues that all forms of animal exploitation should be abolished and that veganism should become a moral imperative. On the other hand, the animal welfare movement limits itself to the more realistic goal of reducing animal suffering, a goal that stops short of calling for veganism.

As the vegan movement attempts to gain traction inside of the animal rights community and the general public, it has to make arguments that address the more entrenched position of the animal welfare movement and explain why simply curtailing animal suffering is not enough. A brief sketch of the differences between these approaches can bring to light the rhetorical situation in which arguments for veganism exist and provide an understanding of the obstacles that veganism must address in order to become a moral imperative.

From its inception, the animal welfare movement has taken its theoretical underpinnings from the utilitarian perspective of Peter Singer. Utilitarians follow John Stuart Mill in asserting that actions are good that bring the greatest amount of happiness to the greatest number. Happiness, for utilitarians like Mill, is not the happiness of the virtuous soul or of the blessed contemplating a beatific vision, but the happiness of the empirical being and its sensible experiences. By focusing on the strictly on the realm of sensation, utilitarians determine the morality of an action by calculating the sum total of pleasure and pain an action will cause, and–crucially for the animal welfare movement–by attributing equal weight to the sensible experience of each party affected by a particular action…

Gary Francione has pioneered the Abolitionist Approach that seeks to abolish all forms of animal exploitation and to establish veganism as a moral imperative. Francione’s work borrows both from Singer’s utilitarianism and Kant’s deontological approach. Like utilitarianism, it insists that sentience is the only criterion for warranting moral consideration. But unlike utilitarianism, it asserts that sentience grants membership in what Kant famously called “the kingdom of ends.” Crucially, in this ideal moral community, no one should never be used as a means to an end. Each member is intrinsically valuable and, therefore, should always be treated as “ends in themselves.” That is, they should be treated with dignity and respect and their mere existence should be seen as having value in and of itself.

This deontological component to the abolitionist position provides a way for Francione to push past the issue of animal suffering and to criticize all forms of animal exploitation. The issue is not whether animals suffer, but whether they are exploited. As Francione and Charlton explain, “At the core of the Abolitionist Approach is the idea that the primary moral issue involves the use of animals, and not the treatment of them”. This shift from moral interests to intrinsic moral value emerges upon a shift from Singer’s utilitarianism to Francione’s sentience-based deontological approach opens the door for animal slaughter, not just animal suffering, to become amoral issue.

The slaughter and consumption of animals by human beings clearly involves treating animals as a means and not as an end. We have rehearsed this existing conversation in the animal rights community in order to flesh out some of the core issues facing the contemporary vegan movement. From our perspective, there are two salient points that will affect any discussion of veganism.

First, the belief that most strongly impedes the moral claims of veganism is human exceptionalism. Once Singer declares that humans are exceptional in their possession of self-consciousness and their subsequent experience of death as a painful event, the path has been cleared to devalue animal death or to dismiss it altogether. One can be concerned about animal suffering, can oppose cruelty to animals, can call for the human stewardship of animals, and can even participate in various animal welfare campaigns, but as long as a belief in human exceptionalism persists, veganism’s capacity to persuade audiences, even audiences sympathetic to animal rights like the animal welfare community, of the immorality of slaughtering animals will be severely limited, or even non-existent. In other words, as long as humane exceptionalism persists, arguments for veganism will gain little if any traction.

Second, human exceptionalism is deeply ingrained in our society, so much so that even so-called radicals like Singer who are interested in penetrating the veil of speciesism and address animals uffering, are unable to push past it and eventually succumb to it. One of the primary means by which human exceptionalism has become ingrained in our society is Judeo-Christian doctrine. According to a Gallup survey conducted in 2017, a staggering 73% of Americans identify themselves as being Christians… In our culture, human exceptionalism often appears as an unimpeachable form of common sense. As a result, if veganism is going to take hold in western culture, it must go deeply into the Christian origins of this belief and question its foundations.

In light of this context,… we attempt to shake human exceptionalism loose from its historical sedimentation by critically examining the foundational sources of contemporary Christianity’s belief in this idea. Second, we draw on alternative sources and traditions inside of Christianity to construct an alternative anthropology where veganism is shown to be a moral imperative. By providing an immanent critique of Christianity from within Christianity, not only will we claim that Christianity is misreading itself, but that rather than being the historical glue for human exceptionalism, it is potentially its undoing. Accomplishing these tasks will clear the space for establishing a new relationship between humans and animals and for a vibrant discussion of veganism as a moral imperative. SOURCE…