Originally published 1 September 2015, updated 22 January 2019
The word ‘exploitation’ is frequently used in connection with our behaviour towards other animal species. Like many others, ‘exploitation’ is a word we seem to save specially for this circumstance, perhaps without truly considering its meaning. However almost every one of us is familiar with the word ‘user’ which is more commonly used but means the same.
User: – A person who uses something or someone selfishly or unethically. A person who exploits others.
How many of us have personal and unforgettable experience of being ‘used’ in some way or another? Quite a few, I expect. Even more of us have sympathised with, comforted or supported other people who have experienced a using at the hands of others. Few of us are in any doubt that this word describes behaviour that is beneath contempt; as the using frequently involves a betrayal of trust, with subsequent humiliation and degradation.
Is it harmful to use someone?
So would we always consider using someone to be unacceptable, or are there possible exceptions? For example, how about if we think someone is less intelligent than we are, or if they look different from us, or if we can physically overpower them – would it be okay then? What about if they are too innocent to realise what is being done, or maybe they don’t speak the same language as us? What about if we were to claim we don’t know what they want, or if we pretend they don’t mind being used?
Our instinct is most likely to say a very shocked ‘no’ to all of the above when we consider a human in the role of ‘someone’. We’d all think any of those were despicable. To use someone is to put our own interests before theirs, whatever the physical, emotional or spiritual cost to them may be. If anything, we all tend to look on using as even worse if the individual being used is young, innocent, vulnerable and defenceless.
Change the species
Now go back and think about the previous paragraph from the perspective of one of our victims; a cow or a sheep, a hen or a duck or a pig. What does it say about us if, when we substitute an individual of another species in the role of ‘someone’, our responses change? This is, in fact, a clear illustration of our own speciesism and it is not an admirable quality.
It is a science-based fact that human animals have no need to consume or use in any way the bodies, the reproductive processes or the lives of other animal species. Every single use that we make of others puts our own interests before theirs, whatever the physical, emotional or spiritual cost to them may be. Perpetrated on thinking, feeling creatures who value their lives, our using is as inherently brutal as it is unnecessary.
However, when we’re not vegan, we are undoubtedly ‘users’ in every one of the contexts described above. And our innocent and defenceless victims are the losers. Every time. They lose absolutely everything, because we take it all.
In fact there are millions of them, trembling with fear and horror at this very moment, overwhelmed with desperation as they wait their turn in our slaughterhouses everywhere; millions bleeding to death in terror, out of the tens of billions who will take their place this year alone.
A frenzy of using
We use their dead flesh. We use their flayed skins and their shaved and plucked body coverings. We have selectively bred and genetically altered defenceless hens into bodies that self destruct so we can use their eggs. Having selectively bred many species to produce unnatural quatities of breast milk, we take infants from their mothers so we can breast feed in their place. We use their labour. We use their lives; their only, treasured and irreplaceable lives. We take from them every single thing that they value; the same things we consider valuable in our own lives; friends, family, the right not to be owned. And what’s more, we do it needlessly without any valid justification whatsoever.
Most of us were raised to be practised in the art of self-deception, accustomed to using members of other animal species for the flimsiest of fabricated reasons that we somehow never challenged, clinging to our frankly delusional fantasies of being ‘animal lovers’ as a front for the real slaughterhouse-tainted horror that goes on behind the scenes, day in, day out. We even go through elaborate pretences to try to claim that there are ‘humane’ ways that we can be users; making up all sorts of ludicrous rules and myths about how using our needless victims to death can be done ‘nicely’.
The day that we approach a mirror with honesty in our heart is not an easy day for any of us. None of us likes looking in a mirror and seeing a user looking back at them. However once we see that user, we realise that the only way we can live with ourselves is to stop being that person. Being vegan means we start to live in line with the values we have always claimed to hold; we stop harming and betraying, we stop making victims out of every other species; we stop being users.