Peter Gelderloos’ “Veganism: Why Not – An anarchist perspective” can be found here:
Here I’ll provide a
short long repudiation by responding to one or two pertinent quotes from each of his sub-sections. Also, let’s remember this is his own, and not a general, anarchist perspective.
To those readers unfamiliar with the principles of anarchy: I keep this blog about veganism, not anarchy, so I wont much get into anarchy here except to say it is my deep belief that veganism and anarchy share the same spirit, namely freedom; freedom from the oppression of others. Living vegan is essentially an anarchistic expression towards nonhumans. On this blog you will find very little direct mention of anarchy for various reasons but the most important is that veganism is necessary for any movement towards peace. To maintain the freedom of anarchy requires peaceful individuals; it is impossible to force peace on others – it must be spontaneous from each individual – else this is not peace nor is it anarchy. Therefore fostering peace must be the first order of progress, and until we are able to be peaceable towards those who are most vulnerable to us we can never expect peace from those to whom we are vulnerable. There is a rule in anarchy – the golden rule – and veganism is absolutely necessary to that end. In promoting veganism I am automatically promoting the most fundamental aspects of anarchy – peace and freedom – but I’ll leave our own liberation from the tyranny of others (and our own selves) till after we have stopped being tyrants over billions of other sentient beings every year. That is to say, let’s address the beams in my own eyes before we focus on the motes in others’.
To anarchists: My “colour” is probably already apparent, but even if it does not match yours the arguments about the right of nonhumans to be free of your oppressive hands remain. In fact they are self-standing, with or without anarchy. You probably question why so many other anarchists or their traditions are not vegan? Then down with tradition. Just because those who first developed thoughts and wrote about anarchistic ideas centuries ago did not make claims against human supremacy does not make the matter unimportant. Thinking about anarchy, like thinking about anything, should be progressive and appeal to the best, often latest, sources. To refuse such progress would be like appealing today to Hippocrates for the best medical advice. That’s no longer critical thought; that’s religion. Further, nonvegan anarchists are generally as non-understanding of veganism as the general populace is about anarchy. More than just a diet or saving animals, veganism is a revolution of mind where the vegan no longer views individuals of other species as his resources but as fellow persons deserving of proper moral consideration. The fact that nonvegans can’t see this does not legitimise their nonvegan ways any more than a racist’s ways are legitimised by the fact that they see others of different races as inferior. The common blinding factor in both of these discriminations is unchecked privilege.
Finally, anarchy, like veganism, has a broad base with many opinions. (More on this soon.) I distance myself from those schools of thought that promote violence and many many anarchist schools of thought do exactly this. This is not dissimilar to some violent versions of veganism which I similarly do not consider legitimate, wish no part in and do not generally talk about here.
“It would be a mistake to critique veganism as an ideology, or as a body of thought and tradition of practice, because there do not even exist any vague guiding principles that all or nearly all vegans share.”
Which is much like anarchism. Let’s see:
Vegans – for ethics, health, environment, being hipster, or just winning over the vegan girl at uni.
Anarchists – yellow, red, green, white, purple, or any to justify going to Rage Against The Machine concerts with the rebellious kids at school.
What’s the point here? I’m confident that Gelderloos would dismiss ancaps as undeserving of the label “anarchist;” I would similarly find those that are non-ethical vegans undeserving of the label “vegan.” That there exist under our own labels those with different opinions or imposters is true for any label.
For the record every vegan anarchist that I know is abolitionist and rights based, exactly because of the shared essence between veganism and anarchism that I mentioned above. From here on whenever I refer to vegans or veganism I will automatically assume that they are abolitionist and rights based. I cannot make any claim for the others since I am not one of them.
The new thing
“As stated in the introduction, veganism in its totality is not an ideology or a tradition of struggle; it only exists as these things for a minority of those who identify as vegans. In its totality, veganism is only the identity of those who choose it.”
Then he has no idea what veganism is. That is to say, for whatever reason he does not see the struggle, probably much like the greater world out there does not see his, but that does not mean it’s not there.
“Every vegan who has ever spouted a statistic about the amount of water used to produce a pound of beef or the amount of methane emitted by the world’s sheep is actively supporting capitalism by participating in a great smoke screen which hides the true nature of how the present economic system actually functions.”
Wow! Is it not primarily the animal exploiting food industries that are bolstered by tax dollars? That have the largest lobby groups? That force their ways into schools? That supply the fast food giants? That push for ag-gag laws? But more than anything that churn over more plant material just as fodder for those sentient beings created to be killed than – what, a hundred* times more? – than all vegans do collectively around the world? The present economic system was built on nonveganism and nonveganism remains one of its great bulwarks.
“… but I imagine their malice stems from an ignorance of the meaning of rights, of the policing of living relations in a legal framework, of the democratic project.”
What a poverty of understanding to see rights as exclusively legal or regulatory instruments. Or if that’s his false accusation against vegans then what a poverty of understanding he shows in not being able to comprehend rights extended to all sentient beings. The only democracy here is that nonvegans are part of the mob: the mob that rules and that doesn’t care about nonhumans.
Thou shalt not kill
“Domination is only successful when the subject is kept alive so its activity can be disciplined and exploited: there’s got to be something to dominate.”
How very utilitarian. And what insult to those who have died at the hands of their oppressors. Not to mention that nonhumans bred for food are disciplined and exploited for their entire existence before they are dispatched to their murderous end.
“There’s nothing un-anarchist about killing a king, because kings are not a type of people whom anarchists wish to dominate at the end of the day.”
Of course killing a king is not automatically un-anarchist! Not because we don’t wish to dominate them at the end of the day (What?) but because it may be an act of self-defense against an imposing ruler. It is completely un-anarchist to kill any vulnerable person who is minding their own business and not affecting you just because you want to take something they possess, be it their body or otherwise.
“I find it hard to understand someone who does not comprehend that pain is natural, necessary, and good. When we inflict pain on others, our faculties of sympathy provoke a conflict within us, and such conflict is also good, because it makes us think and question what we’re doing, whether it’s necessary, and whether there’s also an element of the beautiful in it.”
How many times must you kill or otherwise harm someone in order to feel conflict and know it’s wrong? Three times per day plus snacks? Indeed it is vegans who question what they are doing and then they stop doing it. I’d love to see how beautiful he thinks pain is if he was the subject.
From boycott to insurrection
“In the first place, true veganism is impossible for anyone who lives within capitalist society.”
Of course it is impossible, just like anarchy is. But the arguments for both are not diminished by the difficult context they find themselves in, nor do their supporters abandon their principles when they fail to achieve their goals in such a context. Both aim to reform or overthrow their current contexts – that’s the point.
“Only rich people would be able to afford this food, but regardless of the final price, all profit made from the buying and selling of this food represents a return on investment, a cash flow that a diverse web of banks, insurance companies, and investors turn right around and put into other industries”
The idea that vegan food is expensive is absurd. Boutique foods – vegan or otherwise – can be expensive but they are expensive because they are boutique, not because they’re vegan. There is no food cheaper than vegan staples; the poorest people on earth survive on them predominantly. With regards to fueling other industries: What, exactly like the animal industries do right now? How do his steaks and ice-creams not do that any differently? Has he seen what McDonalds and co sell? And considering the cadavers and secretions nonvegans eat were fed more than twice their weight in plants in the first place this is hardly a problem with vegan food. His issue should be with capitalism itself – not veganism, which, like breathing, is possible under any form of political structure.
The Healthiest Diet
Vegans should make no claim that veganism is the healthiest diet; we always claim that veganism is a healthy diet capable of providing all the nutrients we need to thrive. We can listen to Gelderloos or we can take the consensus of credible nutrition science on their advice here so I won’t bother commenting except to take him up on his first point:
“Humans evolved on an omnivorous diet.”
“Veganism creates a righteous in-group on the basis of an illusion of purity. Many of us have had the frustrating experience of arguing with vegans who go in circles, claiming that they do not support the meat industry even after they are forced to acknowledge that all industries are interconnected.”
This illusion of purity is external, not internal. That vegans would prefer to commune with other vegans is natural; why on earth would we want to happily partake with nonvegans in their ceremonies of oppression against nonhumans? That’s not about purity, that’s simply being attracted to those with similar passions. Vegans make no claim about righteousness or purity – we only make claims about the immorality of animal use, which nonvegans usually agree with until they are exposed as complicit. For all I know Gelderloos is more righteous, if there is such a thing, than me, but that does not mean that his enslaving and killing nonhumans is anything less than grossly immoral. If nonvegans can’t handle that it’s their problem; why do they insist on making it ours by making up fables about our supposed purity?
Further, vegans do not boycott animal use in order to remove support from the meat industry; we boycott animal use because we find animal use objectionable, whether they come from an “industry” or from our own backyard. It seems to me that it is in fact Gelderloos who is dogmatic and circular about his favourite subject matter – namely “industries.” While vegan anarchists may be no less concerned about industries than Gelderloos we do not automatically conflate (or reduce) all the things we find objectionable in the world with industry, nor do we see “industry” as the great malefactor. Industry is simply industry, and could exist in various forms in all political contexts including any form of anarchy – even primitivism. “Let me show you my selection of sharp rocks.” See?
“[T]hus what a person eats should not model an ideal but highlight a conflict.”
For whatever value that statement holds, (and I truly don’t now what it is,) veganism certainly does anyway. When anyone consumes animal products they are willingly paying for the subjugation and domination of others. Vegans highlight this conflict by refraining from animal consumption and advocating against it. Nonvegans don’t give a shit (in this regard anyway) and eat what they will.
Every one of Gelderloos’ suggestions, from stealing to farming, can be realised within a plant-based* context. That is to say, all his ideals can be met and then on top of that we could further chose to not oppress other animals. (* I refrain from using vegan here since I do not wish to associate veganism with stealing – not because of its “unlawfulness” but because it may be seen as a violation of others’ rights to possession.)
“And then there’s another take entirely, in which neither our diet nor anything else about our lives is purported to be consistent with our ideals.”
And suddenly the black hole of Gelderloos’ argument becomes apparent with his own abandonment of the nonsenses he’s taken time to write about. If there is no consistency between life and ideals then why does he care to write about it in the first place?
“Go omnivore” he says. Really? Veganism is not about what we eat, it’s about how we think. Therefore his response to “Go vegan” should not be “Go omnivore” but rather “Go and assert your privilege over others – including eating and wearing them.”
“Against consumer society, against civilization, until no one has to live in a cage! “
All the while paying capitalists to force 60 billion individuals per year into cages? Righty-oh!
It amazes me how nonvegans so often see veganism as a threat, and as an idea that they must prove wrong. Really, why do nonvegans care so much? Is there anything about veganism that undermines anarchy? For what reason does Gelderloos make a case against veganism? What is his gain? If he sees veganism as such a dangerous idea that it needs to be written off publicly then maybe he should make the case for that. I wont hold my breath.
(* Re. 100 times more. This is a back-of-the-envelope approximation. I assume vegans form 1% of the global human population and that the animals nonvegans consume require twice their own calorific value in animal feed. Calorific conversion for animal products from feed generally ranges from 2 to 15 times so I’ve picked the lowest end and assumed that half of nonvegan calories are met by animal products. None of this allows for any waste. 100 times is probably a gross underestimation).