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  • Owen Gunden

Why culture?

Updated: Jun 27, 2022

I'm going to argue that a focus on human culture is necessary and illuminating on our path to achieve liberation. It's also a good approach, because it bolsters all of our other work. Finally, it's neglected, so we should prioritize it.

A focus on human culture is necessary, because cultural norms are why most animals suffer. It's cultural norms that both allow and encourage people to eat meat. It's cultural norms that both allow and encourage most vegans and vegetarians to eventually fall prey to recidivism. We are taught that animals are here for us to eat, wear, and use at a very early age, and the message is reinforced with every meal.

A focus on human culture is also illuminating, because when we inquire deeply into what we really want, we may find that cultural change is actually the goal. Yes, we want to help animals, but do we really want to be rescuing animals while living inside a culture that continues to abuse and enslave them? Do we really want to be desperately trying to soothe and ease the suffering of the condemned masses on their way to slaughter? These are not what I really want. What I really want is to live in a society that values and respects the lives and the well-being of non-humans too. I want to live in a society that cares about justice and compassion, but not just for those who can speak about it themselves.

As we change our culture, the animals will finally be spared. All of our dominant institutions will change to reflect our values. The legal standing of animals will change. The food system will change. Cultural change helps every other type of work we do for the animals. And conversely, until the dominant cultural norms change, none of the things we want to achieve can be achieved.

I think very few people in our movement are focused on cultural change, and hence, it's neglected. Perhaps one reason is that a lot of folks are focused on measurability of impact, which is difficult to do with something squishy like cultural change. Some types of work that we do for animals have long-lasting impact, and other types have short-term impact. Some interventions may save large numbers of animals from immediate suffering. Meanwhile cultural change lays the groundwork for ending animal exploitation in the future, saving potentially many more animals in the long term future. But making these estimates quantitative is impossible to do with any degree of accuracy. And regardless of the numbers, we want to work on cultural change because for us it is the goal.

By now you may be wondering what kinds of concrete actions we can do to shift culture towards liberationism. Some ideas of mine follow, but I'd love to hear from you what ideas you have (feel free to leave a comment). Examples include normalizing vegan and plant-based foods, practices such as the liberation pledge, influencing language to be more pro-animal, and getting people to identify as pro-animal. But far and away the idea that I'm most excited about is creating spaces where liberationism is normalized (for an understanding of the term liberationism, see this post).

Imagine sending your child to a school where the food is all vegan and the cause of animals is taught as a fundamental struggle for liberation. Imagine a liberationist college. Imagine places of worship that have integrated liberationism with their faith and teachings. Imagine workplaces with a dual mission of profit and animal liberation. Or a retirement home that is all vegan. The more of our lives we can spend surrounded by people who share our values, the more likely we are to continue to espouse, develop, and act on those values. And the happier we can make ourselves through these spaces, the more attractive our lifestyle becomes as an example for others to adopt.

I hope you can see why I'm so excited about culture, and I hope you'll join us in planting the seeds for cultural transformation.

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Max Broad
Max Broad
Jun 08, 2023

As far as culture change goes, I'm really fond of the "opt-in" effect. When people have a chance to contemplate and opt into more compassionate values on their own terms, it allows them to widen their circle of compassion. That is why I am a big fan of petitions and ballot measures; getting people to "vote with their signature" allows them to decide for themselves that they care about animals; all while allowing them to be part of the solution.

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