This post is part of an ongoing series called Most Common Justifications for Eating Animals, in which we seek to provide answers and resources to better address common defenses of animal product consumption.
If you care about animals and feel compelled to defend them, chances are you’ve come across knee-jerk accusations claiming you are “pushing your agenda,” forcing your ideas down their throat,” or “spreading propaganda.” So, why don’t other social justice advocates face the same accusations? It is very telling that human rights activists who campaign against violent and exploitative practices, such as sweatshop labor or sex trafficking, are rarely, if ever, criticized for pushing their beliefs on others. On the contrary, these activists are often lauded for their passion and commitment to justice and for exposing injustices.
So, why is it that when we advocate against the same violent and exploitative practices perpetrated against other animals, we are suddenly “pushing an agenda,” “forcing ideas down their throats,” and “spreading propaganda”? When billions of lives are at stake and systematic violence and killing of innocent victims is being waged largely in silence and out of sight, is the appropriate response to hand out recipes for vegan chocolate mousse? How would we react, or expect others to react, if the victims were instead humans? Why do we shoot the messenger, attack the whistleblower and thereby ignore or trivialize the victims?
It’s clear that such responses are based in speciesism, but believing that human suffering and human lives are worth more than the suffering and lives of other animals does not negate all moral consideration for them. And it certainly does not justify systematically exploiting, killing and eating them when we could easily avoid it — when the only reason we have for doing so is that we get some pleasure out of eating their flesh or secretions. Characterizing animal advocates as the problem is part of a concerted effort to invalidate the animal protection / liberation movement and reinforce social and cultural norms. It’s a reaction social psychologist Melanie Joy calls secondary carnistic defenses. As Joy explains, “secondary defenses are a part of a backlash against veganism; a backlash is a reaction of the dominant culture when its power is threatened.”
When faced with this kind of reaction animal advocates would do well to shift the focus of attention back on where it belongs: the victims. The undeniable truth is that these critics who claim that we are forcing our views on them are already paying someone to literally force feed, impregnate females by force, separate babies from mothers by force, force them to live in confinement and/or one’s own filth, mutilate their beaks, hooves, genitalia, tails, toes, ears and teeth by force, transport them to slaughter by force, and violently take their lives by force. People who buy animal products inadvertently pay for abuse of power and influence on many levels they don’t see, each and every time they buy an animal product. But no one can force you to accept an idea.
According to professor and philosopher Mylan Engel, there is no need to push people to change their beliefs since most people already accept the basic principle of minimization of harm. On the contrary, he writes, “Your beliefs and values already commit you to the immorality of eating animals.” We already accept the notion of minimal harm, that we should avoid harming animals unnecessarily and especially in cases where someone derives pleasure from that harm. And eating animals represents 99.7% of the animals needlessly harmed by humans.
Finally, the real source of power and influence is staring us in the face: just follow the money. Those who have the most financial interest in protecting an unethical practice, like exploiting and killing innocent animals or exploiting workers in sweatshop factories, must invest effort and resources in concealing the ugly truth of their enterprise. For example, Cargill alone spent $1,792,000,000 just on promoting animal products to consumers in one year, 2012.
Propaganda is a tool used by those in a position of power to influence and deceive the public by masking a violent reality with fictions. It is therefore foolhardy to compare a small vocal minority, such as animal advocates or vegans, with the industries that spend billions of dollars in marketing annually to create a propaganda machine powerful enough to brainwash 98% of consumers, including those with higher education degrees who are otherwise critical thinkers.
See more common justifications for eating animals.