Dan Cudahy Interview
13 March 2010
Dan opposes animal exploitation and rejects the notion that welfare reforms can ever provide any justice or meaningful protection to sentient nonhuman beings. Dan promotes healthy and enjoyable vegan living as an imperative to respect the lives and the most basic moral rights of nonhuman individuals who are every bit as interested in their lives as we are in ours. It is only through dogmatic cultural prejudice and blind tradition and habit that we fail to acknowledge these basic moral rights.
We have overcome similar prejudice in our societies over the past four hundred years in ending the sanctioned torture and killing of heretics and “witches” and abolishing the institution of slavery. We can also overcome our prejudice regarding the view of nonhumans as commodities for us to exploit and kill. As a society, it will take a while to eliminate the prejudice, but as individuals, we can choose a paradigm shift and change immediately by going and staying vegan.
As a practicing accountant, Dan volunteers his time and accounting skills to animal rights related non profit organizations.
Thank you and welcome, Dan!
ARZone: Congratulations on the enormous success of ‘Unpopular Vegan Essays’. I was hoping you may be able to offer some information and advice to other people thinking about setting up their own blog site. How to go about starting out etc. Do you think podcasting is a good form of communication?
Dan Cudahy: Thank you. I think it is best to start with a purpose. When I started the blog, my purpose was to provide a resource for both myself and others when discussing animal-related issues.
A strong purpose will keep you interested and keep your blog more
interesting. If you want to reach more people, involvement in social networking sites is important…
I also learned to shorten my posts. People’s on-line attention spans are shorter than magazine or book attention spans. Lately, I’ve tried to keep my essays under 1500 words
Podcasts are popular, so I think they are a good form of communication. Again, keeping them shorter will gain more listeners.
Besides your most excellent blog, what other kinds of activism do you do? What do you feel are the 3 most effective and important forms of activism a person can do?
These days most of my advocacy is online on various forums where I explain to non-vegans what speciesism is, why it is wrong, and how to go vegan. I used to table at festivals in Denver and Boulder. There are two main reasons I stopped. First, I live 2 and 3 hours away from D&B, and the opportunities for effective tabling or leafleting are slim in the rural area where I live. Second, I think on-line advocacy can be more cost effective if done right in the right venues (popular, non-vegan venues). In daily life offline, I look for opportunities to engage people in discussion. I’ve found everyday off-line discussion to be effective in at least getting people to respect the issue and vegans, even if they’re not yet willing to go vegan themselves. If we’re giving people the right information, getting this respect and breaking down speciesist prejudice alone is important to long term success….My wife, who is trained as a chef, is planning to hold vegan cooking classes at our home during the warmer seasons (it’s cold and snowy here for 5 or 6 months a year)
I think the 3 most effective forms of activism in our era are education, education, and education (both why and how to go vegan) online and offline.
Could you please tell us why new welfarism doesn’t work for the animals, in your opinion? Some people believe that it’s just as, if not more, important to “save the animals who are suffering now”, rather than focusing on the bigger picture of vegan education.
New welfarism does not and cannot work for animals for precisely the same reason it did not and could not work for human slaves in the 19th century. Animals and chattel slaves are commodity units without basic rights.
Without *basic* rights (e.g. to life, not to be property of another, etc), it is useless to talk about what other “rights” someone may have Our “protection” has *only* two purposes: 1) to use the animal in the most cost effective way possible, and 2) to make consumers feel better about exploitation and killing. Different legal treatments exist among species because there are different human uses for each species. We will never resolve those differences or reduce the severity of the treatment as long as we see animals as “here for us to use”
Welfare regulations only entrench animals deeper into the property and commodity paradigm by creating additional layers of bureaucracy and “inspector” jobs that reinforce the exploiting institution. We must shift from the property, commodity, and use paradigm to a vegan, animals-as-persons, non-exploitive paradigm. Otherwise, we will continue to exploit and kill more animals in more cruel ways than ever before….A *commodity unit* VERSUS a *property rights holder* who owns the commodity: Who wins? We
are not even reducing suffering in any meaningful way with attempts at welfare reform, much less “saving the animals who are suffering now”….
OK. In an ideal scenario the whole world would be vegan. But what about the people who live in the Arctic, Iceland and other extremely cold places, where –they say– alternatives to fur, would let them freeze to death. Do people in the Artic have a moral get out of jail free card? People are everywhere, even where, in my opinion they should not be at all ! Could we just leave some pristine places untouched by our footsteps?
As a mountain climber with lots of experience in extreme temperatures and wind chills (wind chills down to -60F / -51C) successfully relying only on synthetic clothing for warmth, I can assure you that fur and feathers are not necessary.
Many alpinists prefer synthetic insulation over feathers in extreme high altitude conditions (some of the coldest on Earth) because feathers, like cotton, are worse than useless if they get wet. Again, fur and feathers are completely unnecessary. Vegan food can be shipped to the Arctic and stored as easily, or more so, than animal products (things freeze well there). In short, I see no reason why someone could not be a vegan in extreme climates in the 21st century.
Finally, I agree that there really should be a good reason for living in an extreme climate, even if you are living as a vegan.
Dan, I have a very serious question to ask, How does a new welfarist change a light bulb?
A new welfarist tries in vain to fix the light bulb instead of changing it. When we say that it should be changed, they get angry and sad and call us divisive.
What’s an abolitionist to do?
You have written, “People often ask if insects are sentient. I don’t know to what extent they are. The question of where to draw the line on sentience, particularly its degree, is a difficult and lengthy topic to cover, and I will not address it in this essay. What we do know for certain is that birds and
mammals are sentient in a way and to a degree highly similar to humans; so much so that any differences in sentience are morally immaterial. We have good reason to believe thatother vertebrates, such as fishes, reptiles, and
amphibians are also sentient to a high degree; although as we get further from biological similarities to humans, such as in the case of insects, it gets more difficult for us know what a being’ssentience or experience is like, in kind or degree.” Given Oscar Horta’s definition of Anthropocentrism-
“disadvantageous treatment or consideration of thosewho are not members (or who are not considered members) of the human species,” do you think you exhibit anthropocentrism in the above quote?
No, I do not in any morally relevant sense. We agree that sentience is the relevant characteristic (to think otherwise is almost always anthropocentric)
Whether or not sentience exists in a certain species is purely an empirical question, not a moral one. Yes, it has moral implications, so we should be very careful to leave biases aside, but it is empirical, not moral….We are limited to our own experience and knowledge of neurological anatomy and function in making empirical estimates of
sentience….Empirically, we have no choice but to attempt to relate a being’s experience to our own. So the more unlike us a being is physiologically, the more difficult it is to know what it’s like to be that being….This is especially true when nervous systems (e.g. of a gnat or mosquito) are significantly different….If we were dogs, we would have no choice but to relate a being’s experience to our “dog-experience”. It would be “canine-centric”, but we can’t empirically transcend that. So it’s not species-centric in a way that we can do anything about….Morally, however, we can make up for our inherent ignorance by giving the benefit of the doubt where it is reasonable to do so (e.g. insects). As long as we do that, I think we’re clear of anthropocentrism.
What would it take to make the whole world vegan and how long would that take?
It will take a gradual understanding and wearing down of the cultural prejudice of speciesism via relentless educational efforts over many years on the part of many vegan advocates.
That is why the quest for new vegans who reject speciesism is so important. We need more vegan educators. The prejudice of speciesism will have to
become as familiar in society as the prejudice of racism….I think it is
impossible to know how long it will take. Social change can be amazingly rapid and exponential, but it can also remain stagnant or go the other way.
Like the weather, it is unpredictable….For now, it largely depends on how quickly vegetarians go vegan and vegans embrace abolitionism and vegan
education. Too many vegans are enthralled with welfarism and single-issue campaigns for anything much to happen now.
You reviewed the “Gary books” (Francione & Steiner) in 2008 – ‘Animals as Persons’ and ‘Animals and the Moral Community.’
Can you say why these texts are important for the animal advocacy movement?
The short answer is that both strike at the root of the problem of speciesism and how to solve it with clear and cogent reasoning from overwhelming empirical evidence. Both are also very accessible and jargon-free….Gary Francione’s book is a good summary of his work overall and adds enough material formerly restricted to academic journals to make it well worth reading even for someone who is very familiar with his work. Gary Steiner’s book, as its title suggests, examines the mental life, moral status, and our kinship with nonhuman animals.
Conceptual abilities are utterly irrelevant; our kinship lies in our common striving for life and well-being….There is so much more to say about these books, so to those who haven’t seen the reviews yet, please check them out on Unpopular Vegan Essays: http://unpopularveganessays.blogspot.com/2008/12/recommendations-on-animal-rights-books.html
The issue of the supply –V- the demand side is a current debate. What are your thoughts on this?
The no-brainer is that
1) demand drives supply and,
2) the customer is always right (the marketing corollary to #1).
Marketing and advertising can realize potential demand, but cannot create demand. There must be potential demand for marketers to take advantage of itInvestors who decide where to allocate financial resources don’t care what is being sold (animal products or vegan products); they only care about the demand and resulting profit potential of a product….Industry is extremely resilient to supply-side efforts to make animal products cost more. Indeed, such efforts almost always play to their strengths. However, industry is vulnerable to major changes in social beliefs and attitudes that change demand and potential demand. This is especially true when (the animal) industry has so many social negatives….If consumers want vegan products instead of animal products, then animal-specific industries will suffer the loss in market share and profits.
This loss will, in turn, fuel more resources to go toward vegan products, perpetuating the cycle. The obvious implication is that we must focus solely on demand through vegan education, including education about speciesism and how to go vegan….For more on this, consider reading the following
For more on this, consider reading the following
is a difficult thing to counter, but notice what they’re doing: NON-vegan education!
Dan, what’s wrong with vegetarianism?
Vegetarianism used to mean something much closer to vegan, but over several decades, it has come to mean consuming certain animal products (e.g. dairy and eggs) but not others (e.g. flesh). Vegetarianism, because it includes easily avoidable animal use and animal product consumption, directly contributes to and condones the exploitation and intentional killing of animals, and all of the misery and terror that inherently goes with it….If we are going to rid ourselves of speciesism and take animals’ interests seriously, we must go vegan. If we wouldn’t contribute to the misery and unjust killing of humans, we shouldn’t do so with nonhumans either. For more reading, consider reading the following link: http://unpopularveganessays.blogspot.com/2008/09/what-is-wrong-with-vegetarianism.htmlDONE
Dan, any insights into what we can do to unify the movement? There are so many obstacles from within, such as the large animal orgs.
Keep on doing what we’re doing. Unfortunately, as long as there are non-vegans, there will be welfarism, so this battle will go on for decades, but hopefully we’ll gain more abolitionist vegans as time goes on. And hopefully it will be exponential.
Would you accept that at some point in the future, there might
be a time and place for non-violent illegal direct action?. Militancy does not equate to violence, in my view.
Could you provide an example? How illegal? Generally, I don’t think
illegal activities are effective when legal activities can get the job done.
For example, an illegal strike by workers at a meat-processing plant they block lorries etc. assume, that a large portion of the population is vegan at this point 30%+
As a form of political protest when we have sufficient political support (e.g. at
least 30 or 40%), yes, I think that could raise awareness. One caveat: As long as it remained non-violent. Such strikes sometimes become violent.
I believe you have a “vegans against PeTA” link on your blog. I have seen animal advocates say they don’t understand that. Could you explain?
PETA is an animal welfare organization, not an animal rights organization, despite calling themselves one. They are contradictory in most of what they do. They are an obstacle to animal rights….I’ve written two blog essays that
address PETA’s contradictions and how they are harmful to animal rights and
vegan education. PETA is one of the biggest obstacles we face.
Both blog essays are under the label “PETA”, btw
Any chance your work might make it onto a podcast or have you been invited onto any yet ?
Maybe. We’ll see. I doubt I’d do my own podcast. I’m more of a writer. Go ahead Vincent!
Pain is one sufficient criteria to consider an animal to be sentient. Do you think there are others? For example, do you think cuttlefish/other cephalopods are sentient?
I don’t know enough about cuttlefish and cephalopods to say, but yes, I think
there are many strong indications of sentience. For example Immediate reactions to stimuli, evidence of sight, hearing, sonar, etc Also, nervous system anatomy can help us identify sentience. Any being who moves or evades immediate harm within seconds is very likely sentient.
Dan, related question – What do you say to someone who says you’re not really for animal rights, its only rights for sentient animals, and some animals (i.e sea cucumbers) are almost certainly not sentient? Is this annoying or what! 🙂
What’s annoying is that these people know better. They are playing dumb, and making us jump through hoops to evade and avoid personal responsibility. That said, we have to take the question seriously and ask them why they don’t agree that sentience is relevant.
I am very troubled by something and I was hoping you could give me your
opinion. While in the process of abolishing domestication, I often think that we will still be responsible for many obligate carnivores, such as domestic cats and big cats in sanctuaries who may not be able to rehabilitated into the wild in other words; we abolish domestication, yet we have many animals still to take care of, many of them obligate carnivores and of those, many who are unable to thrive on a synthetic vegan diet. Obviously we don’t want to kill
any animals to provide food for them, all our newly rescued chickens and ducks and cows etc will be allowed to live. So what do you think about the concept of using this new “in vitro” meat to provide food for the refugee carnivores until we finally completely abolish domestication and have no more carnivores relying on humans for their food. Does that make sense?
Wow, good question. I’m ambivalent about in vitro meat because I wouldn’t want it to be considered a long-term “solution”. However, if speciesism was reduced enough, I see it as probably the best option in a very messy situation. My certainty on that answer, like many moral dilemmas, is weak. There is a right answer, but I’m not sure that I gave it.
Dan, you are critical of single issue campaigns. Can’t they play a role in animal advocacy?
Generally, I think not. Even if there was a much larger % of vegans, I think it would still be most effective to get more vegans. Also, I think SICs promote speciesism.
I cannot think of an example where SICs would be effective, but I’m open to
Thanks so much for taking the time to be here, Dan! We really appreciate it
Thank you everyone for attending. Again, the questions were great, and I think this was very productive! Great audience!!!
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