Blind Spots

Within a year, but independently of each other, two professors of mine have ventured the guess that anti-speciesism might soon become mainstream. One, a professor of journalism, thought aloud that liberals were perhaps always expanding their circle of compassion by a few more ambits to include ever-more „others“: other races, other sexes, other genders, other sexualities, and, at some point, other species. Maybe animal rights, he said, was the next logical step in this universalist progression. A few weeks ago, a sociology professor said something similar: After the seminar had been up in arms all semester about the racist, sexist, and overall -ist writings by otherwise seemingly smart, thoughtful, and pioneering scholars from three, two or even only one hundred years ago, she pointed out that we probably had similar „blind spots.“ Chances are, she said, that our descendants will be offended by some of the things we think, say, and write in good faith. By their very nature, such historic blind spots are difficult to predict, but, she said, if she had to prognosticate one, it would be our treatment of non-human animals. In fifty years we’d likely think we were wrong to treat them the way we do now.

Only fifty years? The next logical step in liberal universalism? This could be great news for animal rights advocates. If educated, thoughtful people with no animal rights agenda predict the end of speciesism and link it to other historic blind spots and fruitful justice movements, surely there must be hope for our movement, too? But this is precisely the problem: These professors are not animal rights activists and are—almost certainly—not vegans. They predict an anti-speciesist turn, but readily include themselves in that overwhelmingly large group of humans who will have been one ambit behind, offensive, or „blind“ in the minds of future generations.

At first this seemed senseless to me. And pretty upsetting. If those few individuals who thought about speciesism at all and admitted that they may well end up having been wrong were unwilling to change their ways and usher in the revolution they anticipated, then how can we expect anyone else to?

The inconsistency is still upsetting and perhaps even discouraging, but after some time of thinking about it, it makes more sense to me now. Perhaps they are able to distance themselves emotionally from their predictions by intellectualizing the injustice at hand. I’ve argued before that an intellectual engagement with the arguments of anti-speciesism is more likely to lead to long-term veganism than mere emotions or physical disgust. But maybe I was wrong. Maybe over-intellectualizing an injustice affords the dangerous ability to distance yourself from its horror. Maybe it is easier to dismiss misery when you’re coolly analyzing it. And maybe being critical in words can make you feel let off the hook when it comes to critical practice.

What do you think? Should such predictions make us hopeful because others are seeing the injustice, too? Or pessimistic because we can no longer assume that spreading animal rights simply means convincing people of our arguments?