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On Progressives Who Aren’t So Progressive

Part of the "compassionate carnivore" phenomenon, in my experience, is that many of these omnivores (I can’t write carnivore and take is seriously) are not being honest, which I think is clear by now, but they also think they’re being "progressive," which is worrisome. Many are already anti-Bush (but then again so are most Americans according to polls, so I don’t know if that should count as significant), and are educated and would consider themselves to the left on the political spectrum. They demonstrate compassion toward others in different parts of their lives, and they have decided it’s time to demonstrate compassion toward nonhumans, and they’re going to do that by . . . killing and eating them.

Why is it so difficult for most progressives to take the rights of sentient nonhumans seriously? Doesn’t it follow that those who respect and participate in the struggles for justice toward others (including the environment), would include the close to 50 billion nonhuman animals we slaughter each year? Why don’t they acknowledge that speciesism can be thought of as a form of (and probably the oldest form of) fascism? When one race or breed proclaims that it is superior (/exceptional) and has been endowed with the right (either by a god or by what it sees as the undeniable fact of its superiority) to dominate and exploit all other races and breeds (who of course are inferior), that is fascism.

With few exceptions, the people in my close social circle consider themselves progressives. They will fight for the rights of others and their friends consider them "bleeding heart liberals." They are voting for Obama. They work for social justice in various ways, either by trade or in their philanthropy. And with few exceptions, they all eat animals, often including lobster, veal and foie gras, which most people consider "worse" than other foods made from animals. Some even reject capitalism (theoretically). My friends know what fascism is, and despise the very idea of it, yet don’t recognize it when they see it in behemoth proportions.

I find it all unfathomable. But at least I’m not alone.

As Patrice Greanville wrote last year at Cyrano’s Journal (and the Daily Kos and the Smirking Chimp, and some of the most embarrassing comments follow):

Words change, expand, become obsolete, drop and add
connotations and meanings, and sometimes die, like the things and
realities they were initially created for. And besides, just like there
are many varieties of capitalism, socialism and communism, so you also
have distinct varieties of fascism. In some, all the bells and whistles
are found that connote "classical fascism" —the jackboots, the open
corporatization of the state, and so on and so forth, as we have come
to know it. In others, it’s more of an all-encompassing worldview, a
system of values, a subterranean ideology that justifies a malignant
treatment code. But here’s what we need to remember: The boots, the
marches, the endless wars, the nauseating violence, the paraphernalia
of fascism and the fascination with death—all of that cannot happen in
the absence of an ideology that has its own roots in the oppression of
others by virtue of a self-serving, unilateral declaration of
superiority. Thus, it is undeniable that the core concept fueling
speciesism is also found behind racism, classism, and male chauvinism.
They all feed at the trough of hatred or profound lack of empathy
toward "the other."

Now—as we all have learned—human chauvinism cuts very deep and
pervades every nook and cranny of what we optimistically still call
civilization, and has done so for millennia. No one is immune to its
infection, including many folks who regard themselves as impeccably
"progressive". Indeed, it is from their ranks that you often hear some
of the worst and most derisive epithets. The usual argument is that
progressives, always a thin line against barbarism, have better things
to attend to than the fate of "mere" chickens and cows. Compassion, to
such individuals, has obviously left the building; it is fungible,
divisible, and comfortably apportionable according to inclusion or
exclusion in certain categories of privileged sentience. They obviously
don’t see—refuse to see—the parallels with so many other struggles they
may have honored or participated in, nor do they see how the liberation
of animals is an integral part of a serious environmentalist agenda.
No, here they draw the line, and reason, kindness, and the most
elementary fairness fly out the window.

Should we be using the term fascism?
I think it applies, though certainly not according to some definitions,
and speciesism is a form of fascism. But I’m not sure if it helps to
introduce it. It could help, as people associate
fascism with humans and it might jar them out of the idea that human
domination over humans is the only thing we should be concerned about.
On the other hand, like the Holocaust analogy, which I do sometimes
use, some people would find it so offensive that they wouldn’t be
receptive to the rest of the conversation. In my mind, my goal isn’t to
close the ears of the person I’m speaking with by offending them
(though a certain amount of offense is implied with criticism or
deconstruction of someone’s beliefs).

Do you speak of speciesism? Fascism? Neither? And do you have difficulty with
self-proclaimed progressives who refuse to consider the injustice done
to sentient nonhumans?

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nick #

    It is incredibly stupid and blind of these people. I get annoyed with them all the time. Personally, I'm a libertarian socialist (à la Chomsky), and I see veganism as a core part of my political beliefs. If someone is serious about challenging illegitimate authority, veganism is the only option. If someone is serious about women's issues, veganism is the only option. If someone is serious about rejecting, as you said so eloquently in your post, the "master race" mentality, veganism is the only option. And if someone is serious about protecting the environment, veganism is the only option.

    July 23, 2008
  2. I think two things are at play here. One is speciesism. That much is clear. People are not even stopping to THINK about, let alone act on behalf of nonhuman animals because of speciesism.

    But there is something else going on, something even more selfish and base. People don't want to give up things that taste good to them. I hear it all the time, "Oh, I feel bad for the animals but they taste good!" It doesn't take much of a sacrifice to vote for Obama. You just push a button. You don't really need to change your life if you're just pontificating about progressive politics but don't do anything more than read blogs and chit chat to change your life, to see the ways you're part of the problem. But upending your diet and giving up foods you never once gave a thought about? Too hard. I even thought that way once. I wanted to be vegetarian and couldn't even think of being vegan (and didn't understand why I needed to be vegan until over a year ago) but never was because I really liked the way certain things tasted and couldn't imagine giving them up. I also didn't know the truth but I could push aside wanting to learn it because I liked eating dead and cooked chickens and pigs and cows. A big part of some people's reluctance to change is taste, convenience, and habit and it all is very short-sighted, to say the least.

    July 23, 2008
  3. Bea Elliott #

    Of the things that most people adamantly avoid: change and deprivation. Change requires knowledge and new thought processes, re-adjusting old habits and conveniences….. So who has the time? Depriving one's self of immediate pleasure and "gratification", requires discipline and impulse control. And effort to find substitutes and replacements for what is being "deprived"…… So who has the energy?

    These "progressives", (and yes they are in my circle too) I have found to be a severely repressed group that cannot even listen to the idea of new (vegan) thinking – let alone act upon any discoveries. Discussing animal rights with these "enlightened thinkers" usually goes as such: "I already know" or "I don't want to know". So much for the "intellectuals".

    July 24, 2008

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