Recently, there has been a lot of conversation in the vegan movement; and as a result, a lot of drama. It makes sense if you think about it. As a movement grows it is more likely to start to fracture into different sects that believe the movement’s main tenets to varying degrees.
The conversation being had in recent weeks is on the topic of white supremacy in the vegan movement; or more specifically, it has been some people’s unwillingness to publically disavow white supremacy that allegedly is rampant in the mainstreams of veganism.
Beyond this issue though, there has been an uproar surrounding a particular person, James Aspey. Mr. Aspey is a long time vegan advocate who was made famous by a 2014 pledge to not speak a word for the entire year. This stunt was a part of his activism to give the spotlight to the literal voiceless of our society — the animals.
Since then, Aspey has become more and more “fringe” making veganism a more upfront cause with some pretty shocking tactics. He is no stranger to sharing slaughterhouse footage and images, as he believes it to a great way to get people into the movement. Over time Aspey’s language has gotten more and more intense, indicative of what he feels is the truth of the matter. This year, 2021, he has taken a constant liken to and defended his use of, the word holocaust to describe what is happening to animals.
After looking into the issue for hours, it appears that there is quite a bit of opposition to Aspey’s language. He also has a following that trusts and supports his activism. Dissenters say that the use of the word, or its cousin “genocide,” is a harmful tactic that trivializes the (capital H) Holocaust and other familiar genocides. They say that he just trying to get a rise out of people for views. Aspey and his followers believe the terminology to be perfect for the mass slaughter that is occurring.
I am not here to police anyone’s language. There might be merit to the use of those words, especially from groups affected by these genocides. More likely, people might actually find it uncomfortable so we should avoid it. What I do know is that these words — holocaust & genocide — as they are defined are not really good descriptors, at least for what is happening to animals worldwide. They are not enough.
So, I offer a new word: perpetanimacide. Let’s discuss.
The Other Words (and what they mean)
The terminology that is making a lot of people uncomfortable in this debate is The Holocaust, holocaust, and genocide.
Firstly, The Holocaust is a type of holocaust — a very specific one. And both of these are types of genocides.
A genocide, as defined by Oxford Languages is:
“the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group”
A holocaust is:
“destruction or slaughter on a mass scale, especially caused by fire or nuclear war.”
“a Jewish sacrificial offering that was burned completely on an altar.” (more specifically it was an animal that was first killed and then slowly burnt as an offering)
The Holocaust is:
“the mass murder of Jewish people under the German Nazi regime during the period 1941–5. More than 6 million European Jews, as well as members of other persecuted groups such as Romani and gay people, were murdered at concentration camps such as Auschwitz.”
Let me first point out that the only definition with historical ties to the killing of animals is the second one for a holocaust. This was a practice that predated the Holocaust. As much as this seems like an easy shot for vegan activists, it is not a mass scale killing, and as such I will not be going over or using it.
What is important to all of the other definitions is that:
- The killing is on mass.
- The killing is of people.
- The killing is for the purpose of “destroying” a group, i.e. total extermination.
As much as James Aspey and his side of the vegan movement would like for this to be a good description with animals, especially domesticated ones, it is just not.
The mass killing of animals in farms, research labs, cosmetic labs, on fishing boats, on fur farms, etc. does not meet all three of these criteria. Let’s look at each in turn.
The killing is on mass. This criterion is absolutely met. For the U.S. alone, it is estimated that 8,380,450,000 land animals died in 2018 as a result of industrialized farming. If we include our best estimate of aquatic animals, that number jumps up to an annual 55,286,450,000 animals. That is almost 2,000 animals per second. These numbers are in billions, which admittedly is hard to conceptualize. Here is an article I wrote about that very subject.
The killing is of people. This one is still hotly debated, partly because the goalpost for “personhood” seems to change every time we find out that some animal somewhere met all the checkboxes of our last list. This question has a rich history and there are some academics that work specifically on this issue. I invite anyone who wishes to learn more to look here.
One of the hallmarks of personhood is often sentience which pertains to the ability to feel pain, suffer, have preferences, etc. — I do not think I am going out on a limb to say that many, many animals meet this mark. So for the sake of this article, let us assume that most animals (especially the ones we use on a daily basis) are persons.
Alright well, we are on to the finish line. Does the mass slaughter of animals meet the final criterion? Nope, not at all.
The killing is for the purpose of “destroying” a group, i.e. total extermination. The sinister nature of the global scale animal slaughter is that there is no end in sight. None at all. Other historical “genocides” were committed for the express purpose of absolutely destroying groups of people. The end goal was to cause the extinction of people that were deemed less than.
As the situation currently stands, animals are brought into existence by humans for many purposes such as food, experimentation, and entertainment. Then, they are eventually slaughtered after various lengths of time. What is important here is that most of the animals that humans bring about are, from conception, only born to eventually die — usually prematurely. (This is obviously not the case for wild-caught/hunted animals). This is what makes the global animal killing so horrific.
I have even heard this line from people (often…):
If we stop eating animals, they will go extinct. So, we should continue eating them!
In college, I even attended a lecture where the professor was trying to convince the audience that we should eat “heritage” meats for the sole purpose of protecting these special species. This is obviously a weird thing to say for two reasons.
First, we are talking about the perpetuation of millions of individuals of maybe a couple dozen species. This sounds odd. And, considering that the farming of these animals threatens the lives of so many other species if we actually care about species conservation we should stop using up so much land (and other resources) to farm animals.
Secondly, there is a weird value claim being made. In the perpetual killing of animals for food, lab studies, etc. we are protecting “species.” What is important here is that we are justifying the harm of individual animals for the continuance of their species. Individuals suffer, species as an organizing principal do not.
If the killing of animals on this scale were necessary then there would be a better reason to continue doing so. But, as it currently operates, most perpetanimacide is completely unnecessary. I created this word to describe how timeless this issue is. “Perpet-” is from the Latin for continuous (think “perpetual”). “-animacide” is a notation that just means animal slaughter. So perpetanimacide is the perpetual killing of animals on a mass scale.
Adopting the term Perpetanimacide
I created this term for a couple of reasons. Firstly, other current alternatives do have an air of offensiveness. In any type of activism, language is your main tool of persuasion, and turning people off is a disservice to the cause, and in this case, the animals as well.
Secondly, even if these words — holocaust, Holocaust, & genocide — were not offensive, they are not accurate. These terms denote the mass killing of people for the purposes of extermination. That means they have an end goal of destroying entire groups forever. In the case of animal exploitation, their killing is not for the purpose of destruction. Cows, pigs, rats, chickens, goats, ducks, some fish, turkeys, rabbits, cats, dogs, etc. are all constantly bred and killed — over and over, ad infinitum.
I am not naive enough to think that this word will catch on, but I do not want people to believe that there was no alternative. On one side, some people are using offensive language. The opposition to this side is too relaxed. Mass slaughter of animals is not enough. Of the entire killing scheme, the most disturbing part is that it seems like the perpetanimacide will never end.