Donald Watson’s vision of progressive evolution for moral development
Yes it has been a while and yes I apologize. I have been too busy to actually post and work on the blog a whole lot. However I was talking with a friend of mine and they are really interested in helping out with the blog. As you know this blog is mainly a food blog just because I am interested in sharing recipes but we do also deal with politics and this was a perfect posting my friend recently sent me:
Donald Watson in his later years (proving once again you can be vegan for life, lived 95 years 61 years as a vegan and previous too that 20 years as a vegetarian)
I am very concerned about what I see happening to the definition of veganism. It has become a largely recognized word, but the definition has been so bastardized by the media, internet dictionaries, wanna-bes, and worst of all, people within the AR movement, that I no longer take any pride in calling myself “vegan” and am abandoning that word in favor of “I do not use animals”.
We need words to communicate, but if we do not agree on the definition of a word we are not communicating. The popular use of the word has become limited to dietary issues, and often the focus is on the benefits to humans. We already had a word for that, “strict vegetarian”, but since “vegan” sounds so much cooler and “we don’t want to be an exclusive club”, as Nathan Runkle actually said to me, the word has started to retrogress.
When Donald Watson formed the Vegan Society in 1944 he did indeed concentrate on diet, but I think the reason that he did that was because it was such a huge issue he was battling at the time. I think that he saw his greatest hurdle as the dietitians and popular attitude that we could not survive without animal proteins. He did not have the benefit of the research that he started, and groups like PCRM (pcrm.org) continue to prove. He was concentrating so much on breaking through that mentality that it would seem, at first, that he really was limiting the definition to dietary aspects, but if you read his very first newsletter you will see that it was not the limit of his concern. http://www.vegansociety.com/uploadedFiles/About_The_Society/Publications/The_Vegan_magazine/Feature_Articles/1944-news.pdf
He stresses the compassion aspect, condemns exploitation and compares animal exploitation with the enslavement of humans, and he makes a snide remark about vivisection. He was a pioneer, laying the groundwork on which to BUILD. He clearly expects us to build on what he starts when he talks about laying the foundation for our movement, and he says that the impediment to our moral development is our parasitic treatment of other animals, but you can tell that he is still struggling with his own ingrained speciesist attitudes and previously accepted science when he refers to other animals as “lower”. We all have to unlearn speciesism, and he was starting from scratch.
On the Vegan Society page that discusses the origin of “vegan” they state: “vegan lifestyles (I really do not like the word “lifestyles”, though)- that is, ways of living that seek to exclude, as far as is possible and practical, all forms of exploitation of animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” http://www.vegansociety.com/about/history.aspx
“Any other purpose” is key. Our moral development depends on our building on what Donald Watson started. One of my favorite excerpts from his newsletter is, “There is an obvious danger to leaving the fulfillment of our ideals to posterity, for posterity may not have our ideals. Evolution can be retrogressive as well as progressive, indeed there seems always to be a strong gravitation the wrong way unless existing standards are guarded and new visions honoured. For this reason we have formed our Group, the first of its kind, we believe, in this or any other country.” He created the Vegan Society with the expectation that it would be progressive, and that we would build on what he started.
Now, the “cool club” kids are taking veganism in a retrogressive direction, downgrading it to a dietary issue and focusing on the benefits to humans, and well-known leaders of “the movement” are aiding this retrogression.
People (maybe even, to a small extent, the 1944 Donald Watson) have a very hard time grasping the concept that humans can live without using other animals. When someone limits the definition to dietary aspects, or makes it confusing with too many or too few “whys” and “hows” we lose the opportunity to teach people that other animals have moral rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness free from human exploitation.
People are used to the concept of dietary changes for one’s health, and it is still important to educate people about the health benefits (because they really want to believe the lies of the animal exploiting industries) of a vegan diet, but they really need to know that veganism is not about diet.
Veganism is about moral growth and a just society. It is about compassion and mercy. It is something to build on and live by, not to hinder and bend to one’s current lifestyle. It is a way of living that seeks to exclude all forms of animal exploitation for food, clothing, entertainment, experimentation, pet-trade, transportation, or any other purpose. That was the original society’s point; not diet.
Well, that was the idea anyway.
Eat Yer Veggies and happy new year,
Vegun and Qt