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Vegan protesters reject righteous domination

  • 11 April 2019


On Monday, a coordinated series of animal rights protests took place across the country. Vegan protestors occupied abattoirs in Queensland, NSW and Victoria, and blockaded one of Melbourne's busiest intersections. To say these protests were controversial would be an understatement.

Social media was flooded with angry meat-eaters posting photos of their meat-based meals, which they claimed were inspired by the 'vegan terrorists' or 'vigilante vegans'. The Prime Minister called the protestors 'unAustralian', arguing: 'This is just another form of activism that I think runs against the national interest, and the national interest is [farmers] being able to farm their own land.'

More intriguing, to me, was the reaction of many progressive people, who expressed responses ranging from discomfort to outright rage. The protestors were accused of using coercive tactics to force their personal views on other people, and of choosing tactics that didn't help their cause because they were either disruptive to traffic, trespassed on private property, or harassed farmers. Others accused vegans more broadly of being racist, classist, ableist and blind to their privilege.

Frankly this topic is a minefield, and it's impossible to respond thoughtfully to all of these critiques in the space of a short column. So, let me briefly address one issue upfront: the concerns around white veganism and its blindness (and worse) to other systems of domination and oppression are completely legitimate and deserve serious attention, but they do not fundamentally undermine the central ethical arguments of veganism.

Furthermore, white people didn't invent veganism — the ethical concept of Ahimsa, or compassionate nonviolence, for example, is a key tenet of Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism, and has led many to adopt essentially vegan lifestyles.

In apparent contrast to the principle of Ahimsa is the biblical call for dominion. This occurs at several points in the Christian Bible, but the most relevant is Genesis chapter 1 verses 26-28: 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'

While theological debate continues as to the true meaning of these verses (with many arguing — convincingly to my mind — that the original text implies a kind of responsible, even compassionate, stewardship), the fact is that our culture has largely adopted a concept of dominion that equates to righteous domination over the earth.


"Veganism is a key part of a