Meat Inspection, Early Twentieth Century
The editors of the popular vegan/animal rights site On Nonhuman Slavery have recently elected to change their comment policy. They thus write:
We have decided to return to a comment-free format for this website. With all the misconceptions, anger and fear surrounding animal rights, one of our primary goals is to provide a place of quiet reflection in order to give readers who may not be familiar with these concepts room to explore without the “noise” of hostile posts from defensive animal exploiters and the contentious arguments which typically ensue.
It was never our intention to serve as another forum for debate (there are plenty of those already), but rather, to present a variety of anti-speciesist arguments, texts and presentations in a safe way which hopefully sparks interest and inspires readers to pursue further study and contemplation on their own.
Thanks for your understanding and continued readership. As always, if you have any feedback, please feel free to email:
Of course it’s their own choice, and they have every right to make it, since it is their website. But their characterization of any comments or criticisms that challenge their own ideology of anti-speciesism and animal rights as just “the ‘noise’ of hostile posts from defensive animal exploiters” paints everyone who fails to accept the blinding “truth” of political and ethical veganism as just callous exploiters making excuses for themselves. They thereby close off any opportunity for dialogue, denying from the outset that there are any legitimate grounds for opposition to the arguments and claims that they make.
Chicago Meat Inspection, 1906
Now I hesitate to accuse them of cowardice, but the fact of the matter is that I had been recently engaging their posts by offering what I would consider an idiosyncratic, Marxist critique of vegan politics. The entries in which I stated my position at length can be found here and here. My comments are the ones authored by Ben Rosenblum, a nom de guerre that I adopted for myself some time ago. As you will see, none of the arguments I made were insulting or offensive. I was both eager and earnest in wanting to hear cogent counterarguments to the criticisms I raised.
Just to give a “taste” of what this dialogue consisted of, I will post the following interchange, in which I politely and respectfully staked out my position:
Well, I’m not going to be personally hurting any animals myself (unless I’m attacked by one), but I will continue to eat meat and use non-meat animal products. After all, you can’t have paradise without the Land of Milk and Honey. Just kidding, but still…I like consuming those products.
Why? Because the consumer choice I make is irrelevant to whether any particular animal lives or dies or even suffers. The consumer choices of vegans, their boycott on animal products, has no influence over the economy of animal death and exploitation either.
And that’s because capitalism has virtually nothing to do with supply and demand, and because the consumer is basically powerless under this system anyway. The meat industry, like any industry under capitalism, is producing for the sake of production, not for consumption. The whole system is built on perpetual crisis brought on by nearly compulsive overproduction. As Marx explains, the flipside of production is not consumption, but the circulation of commodities. And the meat industry will continue to employ the most advanced and efficient means available to minimize input and maximize output, to speed up the turnover rate. So if demand drops, the price of meat will plummet…which means that consumers will rush head over heels to buy it all up. And look, the meat industry still turns a profit.
The inevitable answer I hear to this is: “So what then? Simply do nothing?”
To this I answer: accept the social conditions that exist at present. Only a massive political act can enable such a transformation of those conditions. Until that happens, it really doesn’t matter what consumptive choices you make. Most of you wouldn’t personally go over to China and force children in sweatshops to produce your clothes and sneakers. But in all likelihood all of you wear or at least own many products that have their origin in the massive exploitation of child labor. If you are rich enough to afford not to, then good for you. But again, it won’t make a damn difference whether you choose to consume those products or not.
To this, Jo Tyler composed an equally calm and considerate response:
Ben, when you consume animal products you are harming and killing animals for your own pleasure. Whether you are the one pulling the trigger or not, you are responsible for their suffering and death. To assume otherwise is delusional.
It seems to me you are attempting to hide behind your political theories in order to justify your continued participation in the needless exploitation of animals. (Many pro-human slavery supporters made similar arguments at the time.) But it’s evident from your post that the real reason you continue to harm animals is that you “like it.”
Can I ask you: Is that really an ethical justification? After all, a rapist might “like” raping a woman…but that doesn’t make it ok, does it?
As for your sweatshop analogy — True, it’s nearly impossible to live in the modern world without causing indirect harm to another being somewhere. The idea is to cause the least amount of harm and to avoid the obviously immoral products and situations. I would not knowingly choose products that had come from abusive sweatshops. (Would you?) And I would not knowingly choose products that came from slaughterhouses or slave “farms.” Fortunately, it’s very easy to identify those products. They are: all meats, dairy products, eggs and seafood.
Acknowledging the sincerity of her response, I thus replied:
You make some a heartfelt argument, but I think you missed the central point of my contention. Consumption does not deal on a one-to-one basis with production; supply and demand never balance out. Capitalism only cares about “demand backed by the ability to pay,” as Marx put it, and an intense overproduction of meat combined with a market deficiency in the demand for meat will only cause an acute crisis (affecting other areas of the economy as well) that cuts down the relative rate of surplus-value. The price of meat will be driven down absurdly, and hence those who do eat meat will scramble to buy it up. Demand shoots up again, and the meat industry is buoyed up once again.
Exactly the same number of animals will be killed, if not more, since the meat industry will be frantically trying to produce more meat in order to realize the same amount of surplus-value they would have achieved from a market where meat had originally been in higher demand.
So what I’m saying is that my choice to eat meat has virtually nothing to do with the reasons that led up to that animal’s death, just as my decision (conscious or not) to buy clothes produced under conditions of gross exploitation has nothing to do with the reason those workers were exploited. Not to mention the fact that the fruits, vegetables, and grains you consume are often imported from countries where these products were gathered under extremely degrading and exploitation of labor. The same thing can be said of the meat industry as well, but the point is that suffering takes place no matter how you “slice” it.
And just for those who feel virtuous enough that they only buy from local farms, which supposedly don’t produce under conditions of exploitation, or if the only clothes you wear are artisanally produced under the old system of home production, you’re either living 300 years ago or you have enough cash (from somewhere, God knows) to burn on a supposedly “ethical” lifestyle that has been anachronistic for centuries.
Sorry for the rant, but this is just how how capitalism works. And no, there cannot an “ethical,” “equitable” capitalism.
Discussion never really got more heated than that. And yet now I see, only a few days later, that they have subsequently closed off comments for the rest of their posts. This just a guess, but my suspicion is that they wanted to silence a strong, sincere voice of opposition who backed his own position with solid arguments. It’s the only thing I can really think of that would compel them to take this action. They may claim to “give voice to the voiceless,” but they certainly don’t seem to be interested in talking to me.