In theory, animal rights advocates are all abolitionists – we all want all human-responsible animal suffering to end right now. The difference in one crucial assumption is where the false divide between gradualism and abolitionism begins. We must totally change the relationship between the two concepts.
Both are ultimately descriptions of two slightly different things that are not really opposites. One is the tangible end result, but the other is the practical means to the end. One is a goal; one is an action plan how to get there.
The abolitionist part of ourselves don’t want to say that oppression of a slightly lesser degree is morally acceptable – they are correct that it is totally unacceptable. However small increases in care and increased consideration are way-points on the path of progress towards animal liberation.
Gradually we will come to recognise the moral and most optimal way to behave is to treat all living things will basic respect. Once we have established basic animal rights a wider awareness-shift will gradually bring about the conditions where society will be capable of accepting the most significant and most difficult ideas to digest as a current meat-eater: veganism, animals as people, animal rights.
However these possibilities are not unlocked until we move as a society to a closer, more caring and compassionate culture. To get there we also need to make more progress towards a less consumerist, capitalist) system of finance and economics so that we are compassionate enough to care adequately about others, over our our obsessive self-interest.
The argument depends upon what we mean by gradualism. Welfarism in itself doesn’t necessarily include animal freedom in its objective, however welfarism is nonetheless still a beneficial force, pulling our mindset towards a more compassionate stance towards animals, paving the way for the more difficult truths to be embraced by society: that animals are relatively self-aware; they value their lives as much as you or I do; they may not be able to have advanced intellectual abilities, however they are king in their own specific evolutionary niche; they have their own umwelt, their own emotional and sensory perceptions and experiences of life.
If we look to all great social causes, it is evident that justice naturally prevails – how long depends on the size of the barriers to progress to overcome: psychology, tradition, culture; how much work is put in; how significant each small piece of contribution to learning; fighting legislative change.
It is important to remember that whilst in our hearts we are all abolitionists – more than anything we must accept the reality that all great social improvements have only come after long, painful, bitter struggles of decades or even hundreds or thousands of years. Whilst our society is far from healthy and far from being alleviated, gradually the small progress we make will slowly compel us to see reason.
This doesn’t mean to say that abolitionism is incorrect or that gradualism is better – these things should are not comparable – not opposite positions, rather two parts of the same journey forward. Gradualism is simply a description of the reality of the nature of change and progress. Like it or not, justice in the sense of basic animal liberty worldwide is not going to happen in the next 10 years. It would be amazing if we could grant this in the next 1 year. Another year is another 70billion+ killed for food unnecessarily as well as those uncountable number of beings killed by our environmental sins and our planet will be more populated and more polluted.
Tragically however, this is going to continue for another several years at least – accepting a gradualist approach is necessary. We all desire abolition as soon as possible; however demand for outright abolition is too much too soon for a public that on the whole has little to no idea of the critical concepts in question. Education is the key to success.
The entire spectrum of animal movement – all definitions of animal lovers – all share the same, most fundamental conviction: that animals, on some level, deserve respect and compassion. Depending on whether you are talking to a welfarist animal farmer or the most committed vegan, there is a wide spectrum of differing views. Crucially however, we all agree on the same basic premise: that a more compassionate society is necessary and that animals deserve a certain level of respect and freedom.
If more people were respectful towards animals and society became even slightly more compassionate, it will create more favourable conditions for the reception of larger changes, biggest challenges such as restructuring the economy in the post-animal emancipation period. Eventually we will become more open to harder-to-accept ideas – such as the assertion that morally and practically we should not be consuming animals at all.