What are some considerations on the head vs. heart in animal advocacy?
I would like to focus on two questions:
1) What is our goal?
2) What is our strategy to reach our goal?
Regarding question #1, if a vegan stops–really stops–and asks themself what the goal is in their heart for animals, I think most (but not all) vegans would say it is to end animal exploitation. The knee jerk reaction is to say that all vegans share the goal of ending animal exploitation, but I do not think that is true. To have that goal in one’s heart, in earnest, one has to shed some speciesism…insidious speciesism that most vegans assume they and other vegans do not possess because they are vegan. If a vegan asks themself this question, they either don’t allow themself to entertain a nonspeciesist goal such as a vegan world (“The world isn’t going to go vegan overnight so loving animals means working to ‘improve’ their exploitation or working on a given branch on the tree of animal exploitation.”) or they shed that speciesism and embrace a nonspeciesist goal such as a vegan world. This split of where one asks oneself what the goal is in their heart is where I believe the nonabolitionist and abolitionist movements split. If one never asks oneself what their goal is in their heart, they will work in the default, dominant paradigm of the nonabolitionist movement. They will work on animal welfare and other single issue campaigns. But if one stops and asks oneself that fateful question, then, and only then (if they want their animal advocacy to be aligned with the goal in their hearts), are they ready to begin asking question #2. In other words, to begin thinking or talking about strategy before one has analyzed one’s goal is slicing the bread before it’s baked.
Regarding question #2, if someone embraced a speciesist goal, their strategy to reach their speciesist goal sounds like, “Any and every action for animals helps animals” so this allows any and every action to be acceptable and praiseworthy regardless of its actual alignment or misalignment with the goal of ending animal exploitation. Typically, vegans assume that animal organizations share their goal of ending animal exploitation…that “we all want the same thing” (even though based on the presence of the speciesism in one’s heart, that is not true). That is why abolitionists’ criticism of animal organizations’ strategies and tactics that are patently misaligned with ending animal exploitation is met with anger and accusations of divisiveness. But remember, the division occurred before the strategy. And remember, we don’t all want the same thing. If, on the other hand, someone embraced the nonspeciesist goal of ending animal exploitation, it would only take a little self-education to realize there are effective and ineffective, faster and slower ways of reaching that goal. And this is where after self-education, vegans who have embraced the nonspeciesist goal of ending animal exploitation come to the realization that creative nonviolent vegan education/advocacy is the most effective and fastest way to reach their goal.
So in animal advocacy, the first step is determining what one’s goal is. This happens in one’s heart. Then, and only then, should one analyze different strategies to reach one’s goal. This happens in one’s head.
Sarah K. Woodcock, Founder and Executive Director
The Abolitionist Vegan Society