Us & Them

As animal advocates, we can clearly recognize that the world is divided, in the minds of most humans, into two separate categories: us and them.  ”Us” includes all the varieties of human beings, and “Them” includes every insect, aquatic, land, and avian animal. This divide allows the human beings, the name labelers, to distance themselves from them and use and exploit them as they see fit.  It is tempting for those of us working towards a vegan world  to further demarcate humans into still further categories: those who are vegan versus those who are not.

PC or Mac?

Within the human category are more categories still: men and women, young and old, various nation-states, ethnicities, tribes, religious beliefs, color, appearance, height, talent, abilities, ages, languages. Once the Other is categorized, they may become feared or misunderstood, which leads to more labels: Radicals, Terrorists, Communists, Jihadists, Extremists, Fascists, Nazis, Murderers and Thieves. Rather than increasing understanding, the label is only the beginning of an ever- increasing gulf. Current advertisements also use this gulf to promote their products. In the past we were asked: are you part of the Pepsi Generation (or do Things go Better With Coke)? Now we have one campaign that emphasizes this gulf: PC or Mac? The PC is portrayed as older, stodgier, boring, more limited, where the younger Mac is more amiable, more functional, more slender, more appealing, and much more hip.  Guess what game Apple is playing? Group identification and Otherizing. The Apple folks are hoping you will want to identify with the slimmer, hipper Mac and spend your money on their product.

Back to the activists  – we also have our subcategories: welfarists, regulationists, utilitarians, protectionists, conservationists, abolitionists, neo-welfarists. We actually have very different goals from one another, though. Whereas a conservationist group such as Sea Shepherd is focused on a specific subset of animal life (whales, dolphin, fish), a welfarist may enlarge the category to improving the current standard of living for several categories of animals via legislation. Abolitionists believe that working with animal exploiters is always problematic; it is important to work towards shifting attitudes that will stop the demand for animals as commodities, as property, and allow all animals to live their lives as free beings. Regulating horror is unacceptable and not a goal that respects animal lives.

There Is Only “Us”

Looking at this another way, there is really only “Us.” Life on a finite planet emphasizes the interconnectivity of all forms of life, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. As Martin Luther King has said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” Catastrophes such as the recent tsunamis, earthquakes or hurricanes fell equally upon all who were present, and everyone of us is likely to be impacted to greater or lesser degrees by climate instability in the future. Human beings rallied and, for the most part, selflessly helped their fellow man (while a few opportunits preyed upon the vulnerable, just like in the rest of life). As activists, it is important that we realize the power of collectivity while still espousing and working for our own individual goals. I am an abolitionist, and as such am not likely to be distracted into single issue causes, nor will I collaborate with those who exploit animals. I will, however, collaborate and discuss issues with other animal activists where our shared goals intersect and challenge what appears to me to be failed policies where they diverge. We must become and remain part of an ongoing conversation about change in order to understand our world and why people believe and think as they do.  If we are hoping to educate the public that we are all part of the animal kingdom, that there is really only Us, then we need to start right here, in the world of animal activism. This does not require a theoretical shift, but rather an attitudinal shift, as we discover the commonalities we share with all other animals, both human and nonhuman. If we can discover our commonality with fish and foxes, with pigs and parrots, we should be able to find something to keep us at peace with fellow vegans, too.