Thoughts on “A New World, Piece by Piece”

This was originally posted on the Voices of CAA Blog, which got fatally dismembered in a CMS upgrade.

One of the reasons I wanted to start a CAA blog was because I was inspired by all the great essays that Jack Norris and Matt Ball of Vegan Outreach have written. Their most recent piece is entitled A New World, Piece by Piece, and is well worth reading.

By and large, I agree with this essay, and it fits in well with CAA’s mission. There’s more to doing activism than just “doing something”, you have to do something that makes an impact, and that often means finding a compromise between the perfect and the achievable.

But I think their essay leaves out one crucial point, though they allude to it when they mention “our limited time”. Yes, we should work to get people to go veg. Yes, we should work to reduce suffering right now. Yes, we should oppose animal ag, and yes, we should support that same industry when it proposes ways to reduce animal suffering.

I could go on and list another dozen things that are important for the AR movement to do as well, and that would probably be an incomplete list. But making a long list of stuff that must be done right away is paralyzing. Instead, we need to think very carefully about how we will deploy our limited resources. As a movement, we are constrained in terms of money, time, and person-power.

I think that efforts to improve welfare in the short term are worth pursuing when they don’t require a lot of resources, but ultimately we need to put most of our resources into our long-term goals.

Make no mistake, this is a real trade-off. There will be more suffering in the short term with this approach then if we worked all-out on improving industry practices. But I truly believe this is right way to go if we ever want to eliminate the abuse of animals for human ends.

Where does the right balance lie? That’s impossible to say. When we’ve discussed this amongst ourselves at CAA one of the sticking points has always been the complete absence of hard data. How many animals are saved when someone switches entirely to free-range meat? How much is suffering reduced? Does switching to free-range meat mean people are more or less resistant to further change? How many people go veg after first switching to free-range animal products? How many people would have gone veg if they hadn’t been told that it’s “okay” to eat free-range products?

That’s a long list of questions without answers, and I’m not even sure how to start answering them. Sometimes I think we need to form some sort of AR-focused polling organization. Anyone know of any research on these topics? Please let me know in the comments.