In Defense of the “Single Issue”

Much ado has been made by some AR activists about the “profound lack of understanding” involved in advocating campaigns against fur, meat, pet abuse, and other activism that centers around one or another animal justice issue.  I understand the argument is that animals should not be “used” at all… it isn’t the treatment, it isn’t that furry animals are cute, or that we have social mores about eating or beating cats and dogs.  It would be nice if all people who called themselves “animal lovers” would first and foremost stop eating some and pampering others, and take a consistent moral ethic (i.e., go vegan).  That would obviously solve a great many problems we have with animal justice, and I do promote veganism on a daily basis.

But I don’t agree that these so-called “single issue campaigns” are somehow misguided.

When human slavery was outlawed in America, that freedom did not guarantee against other abuses of former slaves.  Indeed, in many cases, those who were freed continued to live on their former master’s land as sharecroppers, and lived much as  they had as slaves.  The social change involved in true freedom for former american slaves did not come until much later – and continues to evolve.  Even to this day, human slavery and trafficking exist – but we  continue to strive for a higher ideal for society, even though it has been a slow process.

I can’t imagine anyone in the abolition years shouting out to other activists that freeing the slaves would be useless, since it doesn’t address all human rights issues.   I believe it is nothing less than speciesist  to accept single issue campaigns for humans, but reject campaigns for specific animals.  Consider:  Child abuse, elder abuse, gay rights, women’s rights, minority rights, religious discrimination, racial discrimination… after all, perhaps some people advocate against child abuse because they feel that children are “cuter” than, say, elderly people.  Maybe they feel that women’s rights are more important than not being discriminated against for being pagan or Muslim.

Isn’t the bottom line about justice to all people?  And isn’t veganism about justice to all animals?   If we reject campaigns against fur, meat, bashing baby seals, or any other specific injustice, what is left to promote in the real world?  Nothing.  Out here in the real world, entire species of animals are becoming extinct by our use of them and their domesticated relatives, at a rate faster than chanting mantras about “vegan education” in the desert will save them.

I would end this post with a call to action and one of my favorite stories.

One day an old man was walking along the beach. It was low tide, and the sand was littered with thousands of stranded starfish that the water had carried in and then left behind. The man began walking very carefully so as not to step on any of the beautiful creatures. Since the animals still seemed to be alive, he considered picking some of them up and putting them back in the water, where they could resume their lives.

The man knew the starfish would die if left on the beach’s dry sand but he reasoned that he could not possibly help them all, so he chose to do nothing and continued walking.

Soon afterward, the man came upon a small child on the beach who was frantically throwing one starfish after another back into the sea. The old man stopped and asked the child, “What are you doing?”

“I’m saving the starfish,” the child replied.

“Why waste your time?… There are so many you can’t save them all so what does is matter?” argued the man.

Without hesitation, the child picked up another starfish and tossed the starfish back into the water… “It matters to this one,” the child explained.

Advocating is a verb… it means using our voices and doing what we can to effect change around us.   Donate to a sanctuary.  Help an animal rescue agency. Protest the fur industry, the horse racing industry, the pet breeding trade… whatever is within your reach.   It all matters to someone.