Here you'll find all the important terms for better understanding the veganism and the issues surrounding it. Oftentimes, people use words without having a full understanding of the meaning of those words. This of course is unfortunate; however, we can work to make words more concise. Some words have dramatically different implications when we fully understand them. Here we will explore the meaning of some words and elaborate perhaps on why they are important to fully understand.
A Vegan is very often simply someone who acts through compassion. But can someone be compassionate or humane and not be vegan? In short, the answer is no. Although we could sit here and imagine circumstances where we might need meat (like trying to survive out in far northern Canada, or something like that), but that still wouldn't be compassionate to kill those animals, nor would it necessarily even be ethical. Such circumstances only makes those deeds less unethical. That, however, does not lead us then to the good.
Let's look at some of these important words a bit more closely for the sake of understanding the consistency in the vegan position, and so that we may better use these words in the future.
1. Humane - to treat with sympathy, compassion, kindness. Humaneness also entails treating other beings with mercy when it is required. In understanding this simple definition you may begin to see the contradictory ways that the word is often used in our world. For example, some people talk about humane slaughter, such as Temple Grandin, and people who believe they are being concientious omnivores. The simple fact of the matter is that humane slaughter is an oxymoron. When it is not euthanasia, and no necessity, there seems no place for compassion.
2. Sentience - This is simply the ability to have experiences or feelings. It suggests consciousness but nothing more is necessary for our understanding of sentience. Evolutionary biologists, e.g. Richard Dawkins, contend that sentience exists on a spectrum amongst animal species. Although we do not know all of the details of this spectrum, we understand that there isn't some magical line between us and all other species. Indeed, discoveries in ethology have shown us conclusively that the differences between ourselves and the rest of the animal kingdom is one of degree rather than kind. Our similarities are of course far more numerous than our differences and, when it comes to decide how we ought to treat them, far more important.
Some define sentience as including self-awareness, such as the author Amy Hatkoff, in her book The Inner World of Farm Animals ("being aware of oneself"). Although her book is a beautiful work, self-awareness is not required in order to classify a being as sentient. The capacity to feel is all that is required to ascribe sentience to a fellow being.
3. Suffering - occurs when someone incurs a loss or disadvantage. Notice that suffering is not in any way limited to physical pain. Oftentimes, the term suffering is equated with physical pain or even pain within a mind or consciousness; however, it is a term that has further implications. Although suffering requires sentience and consciousness, the loss of those things can coherently be equated with suffering as well. Literally to kill something is to cause it to suffer. It is losing its sentient life. Some may contend that consciousness is the problem, and so find a convenient, but unwarranted, escape from responsibility (or guilt, which we impose upon ourselves) for killing non-human animals. The harm of death is interesting and will be expanded on in the future.
I have witnessed others who hide behind a self-concocted spirituality, which I do not mean to degrade here; however, they say that we are all one or we are all connected anyway. They contend that consciousness as a separation between beings is in some ways if not altogether illusory. Although, I understand this contention, and that our experiences of the world as separate and individual is not reflective of every aspect of reality, it does not then follow that we can ignore any value in the sentience of other beings, or their suffering. It does not even follow from this line of questioning that our separation is illusory. It is an existential fact that requires our attention. I have never heard or seen this argument developed in a consistent way but am certainly open to a lucid and logical development of it. It tends to be an apologetic response to justify behaviour that that person is already participating in. The afformentioned approach does not address many important questions, such as: Where is the good in killing a sentient being (especially when it is not necessary for survival)?
Furthermore, please consider that logic is a tool that allows us to bridge the gap between us, in terms of our thoughts and explanations. Subjective spirituality has already given up on that pursuit, begging the question, by assuming that subjectivity is alright and then confirming it all in the same breath. This is a corrupt and bankrupt metaphysics that we (as a species) can ill afford.
4. Speciesism is a form of prejudice that in whole or in part ignores the interests, value, and/or otherness in another sentient creature because of its attribute of not being a member of the species homo sapiens (sapiens). This of course potentially leads to enslavement, abuse, neglect, and/or murder and in our history it has. It is a prejudice that appeals only to the belonging or not belonging to our species, or in some special cases to any species of domestic cat, dog, and/or horse. Speciesism can easily be understood through analogy to sexism, racism, and heterosexism.
Generally veganism entails that equal consideration of interests should be heeded regardless of species. This is a principle that allows us to understand the wrong in sexism, racism, or heterosexism as well. If one is to be consistent, when human('s) and other animals' interests are in conflict the importance of the interest to that being is considered and a decision made from there. Although such a weighing of interests, as if on a scale, is by nature quite combursome, as is measuring the good and the bad in our actions on a utilitarian scale, there are many cases where the fundamental interests of non-human animals come in conflict with petty or comparably trivial interests of humans. Some very common forms of this are: the interests of animals being ignored because people like how they taste or how they look on the human body, as a fashion accessory. Let us hope that we will never be judged as an entire species.
5. Vegan(ism) - Although this word means many different things to many different people depending on context, usually focusing on diet, the word will be used in its much broader sense on this web page. Understandably discussion of veganism often centres around food, as it is the most overt and strangely unquestioned aspect of humans' perceptions of animals; furthermore, diet seems to be the first step and consideration for a lot of people when they decide to 'become vegan'. This understanding, however, is incomplete and inconsistent.
Alright, the point is not to spend countless hours focusing on marginal issues like used leather (which likely has not even have any research done considering it), but veganism is beyond diet nonetheless. As it pertains to logic, veganism comes from a recognition of reality. Ethically speaking, veganism is an act of consistency after understanding this reality (ethics is focused on more extensively elsewhere on this web page).
In our universe there exists what are called the laws of logic; these are 3 simple laws that are hardwired into our brains. The law of identity (I am me, p is p, a book is a book, etc...) and the law of the excluded middle (p is either true or not true) are very important here. Vegans maintain that animals are animals, sentient beings with their own interests pursuits and feelings. We do not fully understand the inner worlds of other animals, but so what? Do you fully understand the inner world of your mother? brother? wife? daughter or son? Regardless of how well someone might understand psychology or 'human nature' the answer is: OF COURSE NOT! There is an unbridgeable gap between separate instances of consciousness. In brief moments we may commune, but that is not complete understanding (don't get sidetracked if you are a unity junky at this point). What matters for now is that consciousness and sentience exist as a characteristic of ourselves and of other animals.
Veganism rejects any denial of this reality and the bankrupt ethics that often come as a result of it (of commodification and objectification in particular). The problems with the commodification and objectification of animals are many, but perhaps most important is that exploitation is acceptable afterwards.
To close off this long encyclopedic definition, veganism is a position that recognizes that animals are animals, not things, tools, or automata and advances from this acceptance of reality to attempt to recognize the worth of the sentience and subsequent interests of other animals.
6. Omnivore - Omnivore is correctly used as a word to classify the diet (or common or possible diet) of a species. So we can classify ourselves as omnivores as a species. AND ... ? Some people argue from this point as if they found a knock down argument that ends the discussion. Unfortunately, discovering what has been natural over the course of the evolution of our ancestors does not tell us exactly how we should live today. See naturalistic fallacy for more info.
But let's get to the point. On this blog the term omnivore is used to classify people who are comfortable with using animals for various purposes, possibly for hunting or wearing, and at least for food. Here, this term creates a necessary distinction between those who condone and support (directly and/indirectly) the use and commodification of animals and those who do not. This is an intential polarization, not of people but of positions (on a spectrum of animal use and concern for the interests of those beings). Vegetarianism falls somewhere in between; however, its logical and ethical inconsistency, not to mention ambiguity, dictate that I shall not consider it in depth here.
An omnivore is someone who continuously shows fundamental indifference to the inerests of beings of one's own species or those of other species.
7. Vegetarianism - I know and love plenty of vegetarians, but I also know and love plenty of omnivores. That does not make either position more or less logical or consistent(see genetic fallacy).
Let's cut right to the chase with vegetarianism: taking eggs and milk may, if we imagine some vastly improbable scenarios, be ethical (simply assuming that factory farming is unethical here); however, these situations are highly hypothetical and already beg the question (not raise a question). Vegetarianism advances from a position that presupposes the moral acceptability, or at least neutrality, of using animals for their milk and eggs (and who knows what else?). By its very nature veganism is more basic and more coherent. I may take some time to address common fallacies of vegetarianism elsewhere.
Vegetarianism seems for some to be the end or the best choice, while for others it is an (ultimately unecessary) stepping stone to a more coherent way, veganism. I don't even know how to give vegetarianism a coherent and favourable ethical position. It is just so vague. It cannot focus on use, speciesism, or reality (addressing animals as animals not things or commodities or things that produce commodities). It cannot even be consistently opposed to factory farming, although Jonathan Saffran Foer bumbles in his attempts to do exactly that. He barely touches on eggs and milk in his book by the way. Is there a term for someone who won't eat eggs that come from a bird that was never trapped at all for those eggs, allowed to live on his or her terms, is not forced molted, and killed because production drops? It has nothing to do with the labels free range, free run, or organic; we can be sure of that.
Keep in mind that vegetarians in India do not eat eggs. So what are eggs chemically and vegetarians semantically?
8. Necessary and Unecessary - I recently read a post from a self-proclaimed 'paleo', who said that eating a live octopus is necessary to her. Defining the word in this way makes it basically meaningless. What couldn't we define as necessary by this standard? What is the human interest being observed here? What is the animal interest(s) being ignored? In the context of veganism, nonhuman animal interests, and their rights necessary and unecessary can be difficult terms to use properly. Nonetheless, as the writer mentioned above it does not then follow that we can slap these words onto anything that we deem important to our satisfaction or even happiness.
An example of necessary suffering may be for one animal (human or non) to kill another in order to survive. Note that does not make it ethical, only necessary. In the context of veganism, etc., then necessity goes beyond mere satisfaction, fulfillment of some drive or other regardless of the effects of the fulfillment of that drive, that is at least beyond mere sustenance and subsistence. What other meaning could it have?
When using the term "unecessary" in this context it is generally a component of the axiom for a moral claim concerning how we should treat nonhuman animals, i.e. while trying to avoid causing them unecessary (or un-needed) pain and/or suffering.
9. Holocaust - The term holocaust has many meanings. Using it here is different from the cultural usage in referring to the historical event of what has come to be known in 'the West' as "The Holocaust". I am not talking about that event, or even referring to it beyond this point of clarification. In a general sense, holocaust: means a reckless destruction of life or mass slaughter. I don't see any species exclusivity in this term. At the same time I do not mean to make the term so broad that a step on the grass could be viewed as its own holocaust. The point is not to throw the term around, but rather add a few hand picked examples of humans using animals to the commonly accepted ranking of holocaust.
If there are other mass slaughters that people wish to add that is compelling (provided there is some earnestness and ethical integrity), but not my immediate concern here.
The main issue here is factory farming. The methods employed in so called intensive livestock farming (or factory farming) has created the largest systematic, calculated, and deliberate slaughter in our history. This is a holocaust that is ongoing, and on-growing. Although, some vegans are optimistic, I am not. I see the optimism of the people at Smithfields, Tyson, etc. and the indifference to the interests of nonhuman sentience in the actions of billions of people and I am not optimistic. The one thing we know for sure, is that things will get worse before they get better. At least they will from here: October 2010. I hope, like I have never hoped anything before that the future proves me wrong.
One day, we may be lucky enough to see the end of factory farming for ethical, health, ecological, biological (viral), and other reasons, but that day will not be tomorrow, or tomorrow's tomorrow. Talk to your neighbours, your friends, your family and plant the seeds of inception (a link to a TED talk), but understand that these are seeds that will not bloom tomorrow, nor will they even sprout. Many seeds lay dormant for months or even years. Some never germinate at all. I hate to sound gloomy, but this is the world I live in. It is not a reflection of me, nor my actions, but of that world.
p.s. note that TED has never had a talk on Veganism (posted on the web anyway). These are the forward thinkers of the world. TED is an inspiring conference ... but in terms of animal use it is conservative and miserable. There was a TED talk on factory farming, and one on being vegetarian on Mondays, which I won't even link to because it is so half-assed. If supporting factory farming is wrong on Monday, it is wrong the rest of the week (or month, or year, or life) too.
10. CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation) Or Intensive Livestock Farming - These are basically bull shit terms that seem to create scientific labels for systems that are, in terms of taking care of animal interests, obscene and rudimentary. They are less awkward phrases for calling forth what in the colloquial is called "factory farming". I cannot really say enough about this type of exploitation to tell you how disgusting and morally derelict are the practices of this system. Factory farming, like other morally bankrupt actions, make an appeal to relativism easy to shrug off because the amount of suffering and pain caused in these methods of exploitation are soul shocking, if anything is.
Of the sins of our species, this is perhaps one of the greatest.
11. Anthropomorphism - Interestingly this is a term that people use when they believe they are being scientific or philosophically taught, when in reality they are being impractical and ridiculous. At the end of the day claiming that ascribing any interests or consciousness to nonhuman animals is anthropomorphic is a dogmatic reassertion of the gap that separates us all, which fundamentally is solipsism. This position is ridiculous for at least three reasons.
First of all, it has absolutely zero pragmatic weight beyond making a few ass holes few comfortable with torturing sentient beings for a living. Even our laws, as miserable as they are, reflect this.
Secondly, the assumption of solipsism or that anthropomorphism is the appropriate name for ascribing any consciousness to nonhumans is not the simplest answer anymore. Perhaps it was at one point, before we better understood physiology (including hormones and structure), dna, and behaviour. Keep in mind such a time would have also been before we had actually communicated using language with other species.
Thirdly, to use a sort of wager, that is not flawed like Pascal's for assuming the nature of God so unapologetically, is that in the presence of uncertainty here by far the safer assumption is sentience. If I am wrong, and nonhumans (or even you ... some people think that is deeply worth thinking about) are actually nonsentient but are automata or whatever, then it is no big deal. I have simply obstained from not using you and them as objects. If someone assumes that beings are nonsentient, or that I and everyone but them is nonsentient, a solipsistic position, then they have the good to lose. I say the good in a broad sense, because for them it is morally, if it is not completely ridiculous to talk about morality from this position, to treat everyone else as things. This means that if they are wrong they have brought immeasurable pain and suffering into this world ... for a dogmatic belief.
That's not scientific.
Compassion - good in itself.