Reflections on intersectionality in the animal rights movement

In recent years, the notion of intersectionality gained popularity in the animal rights and vegan communities. The discussions about intersectionality are a good case study for critical-analytical thinking. The goal of this article is to demonstrate the benefits and importance of more critical-analytical thinking about concepts and ideas used in activist communities. A critical reflection on intersectionality can improve rationality, which means consistency in ends and effectiveness in means. The ends could be ‘justice’ and ‘well-being’, and the means could be specific policies or campaigns. This article can be interpreted as a criticism: I believe that most intersectionality talk by vegan activists is not sufficiently analyzed, and as a consequence some intersectionality-based policies can be counterproductive.

 

Connectedness of forms of discrimination

We first need to define intersectionality. Different activists use different interpretations of intersectionality.

 

Common structure of forms of discrimination

A first interpretation of intersectionality, is the idea that all kinds of discrimination or oppression have a common structure or form. There is a dichotomy of the privileged people or oppressors at the top and the disprivileged or oppressed people at the bottom of a hierarchy.

This interpretation of intersectionality is very trivial: in the end, it all comes down to unwanted arbitrariness, i.e. making unjustified distinctions to which some people object. Discrimination is a prime example of unwanted arbitrariness: some people are arbitrarily excluded from the moral community and treated in ways that they do not want. All kinds of discrimination have the same discrimination structure (my favorite definition of discrimination can be read here).

In this sense, the notion of intersectionality does not offer anything new. Knowing about discrimination is sufficient. On the positive side, using a new notion to talk about discrimination could keep people engaged in anti-discrimination efforts. Intersectionality is like the sequel to the movie of anti-discrimination. On the negative side, using the new notion of intersectionality in this way can make things unnecessarily complicated or confusing. Sometimes sequels are successful, sometimes they destroy the whole movie franchise.

 

Common cause of forms of discrimination

A second interpretation of intersectionality is the claim that all forms of discrimination and oppression have a common cause. However, it is not clear what this cause is (other than the trivial cause of discrimination, or a vague notion like ‘matrix of domination’), what the evidence for this claim is, and what the implications for activism are. One could argue that this belief in one common cause of all oppression reflects an activist’s need for simplicity: a multitude of different issues and problems are reduced to one problem. This can reflect a cognitive bias: fighting one big enemy seems more feasible than fighting many small enemies whose total strength equals that of the one big enemy. This bias has the same structure as the ‘subadditivity effect’: the total probability of two risks considered separately is estimated to be higher than the probability of the two risks considered as a whole. More generally, a subadditivity effect says that the total problem of two issues considered separately is estimated to be worse or more difficult to solve than the problem of the two issues considered as a whole. If this hypothesis is correct, intersectionality is a kind of wishful thinking of activists who have this need for simplicity.

 

Common solution of forms of discrimination

A third interpretation of intersectionality is the claim that all the forms of oppression have one common solution. This is very similar to the previous interpretation, but with a focus on the solution instead of the cause. This third interpretation can be further interpreted optimistically or pessimistically.

According to the optimistic interpretation, intersectionality means that solving one problem automatically solves the other problems. This interpretation can also reflect a wishful thinking of activists, but I guess the pessimistic interpretation is more common among activists.

According to the pessimistic interpretation, different kinds of oppression are mutually reinforcing each other, like the mutual reinforcement of crossing words in a crossword puzzle. If this reinforcement is true, there is reason for pessimism, because it becomes harder to fight even only one of the many kinds of oppression. In the animal rights community, this is reflected in the criticism against single-issue campaigns, fighting against only one kind of oppression at a time. The total interconnected system of oppression is very robust and difficult to attack, so it becomes harder to fight oppression. There is one small reason for optimism, though: if the system falls, everything falls down and all kinds of oppression are eliminated at once. The battle is almost impossible to win, but if we win, we win everything. The pessimism lies in the fact that we cannot expect small victories: it is either all or nothing, and it will remain nothing for a long time.

Not much evidence is given for neither the optimistic nor the pessimistic interpretation. There is plenty of evidence against the optimistic interpretation: the decrease in some kinds of oppression (e.g. sexism, heterosexism,…) does not seem to have an influence on other kinds of oppression (e.g. speciesism). There is similar plenty of evidence against the pessimistic interpretation. For example, feminist meat eaters indicate that an anti-sexist but speciesist society is possible: it is possible to eliminate sexism while keeping speciesism.

 

Multiplicative effect of discrimination

The fourth interpretation of intersectionality is the most correct one (reflecting the original interpretation by scholars such as Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw). The multiplicative effect interpretation can be summarized as: not ‘plus’, but ‘times’, or not addition but multiplication. The problem consists of the product instead of the sum of oppressions.

This can be expressed in terms of linear regressions used in econometrics. The total problem P (e.g. poverty, psychological stress, probability of having a disadvantage, abuse of privilege,…) can be written as the equation P=a*A+b*B+c*A*B, with A and B being variables that count for discrimination and a, b and c being regression parameters that measure the influence of the variables on the problem. For example the variable A can be gender, with value 1 for women and 0 for men, and B can be race, with value 1 if the person is black and 0 if the person is white.

The interaction term c*A*B is crucial: when the parameter c is not zero but positive, the two kinds of discrimination (sexism and racism) are intersecting each other. This means a victim of both sexism and racism does not only experience the sum of those two kinds of oppression, but something extra. The victim is not only a victim of sexism and racism, but also of sexism-racism.

The equation can be rewritten as P=a*A*(1-B) + b*B*(1-A) + (a+b+c)*A*B. Suppose black women want to argue that they are discriminated against on the job market. The judge can look at the above regression and, if the parameter a is zero, conclude that there is no sexism, because there are as many white women as white men active in the economic sector. This is reflected in the term a*A*(1-B) that corresponds to white women. If the parameter a is 0, white women are not discriminated against white men. Similarly, the term b*B*(1-A) reflects the discrimination of black men against white men. If there are as many black men as white men on the job market, the parameter b is zero and the judge can conclude that there is no racism. However, if c is positive, there is sexism-racism on the job market, and black women are discriminated against all the other groups.

Estimating the parameter c in regressions is useful for prioritization research: which populations are extra discriminated and deserve more attention? If we find a problem with a positive parameter c, we have found a social group that is extra discriminated or marginalized. There are many examples of problems with positive c-parameters. For example the probability of losing an anti-discrimination court case is extra high for black women. White women have the highest probability of winning a court case, slightly higher than white men. Black men have a lower probability than white men. If the discriminations of racism and sexism were merely additive instead of multiplicative, these two discriminations are independent. That means the difference between black women and black men should be the same as the difference between white women and white men. So, one would expect that black women have a slightly higher probability of winning than black men. But black women have the lowest probability of winning. This means black women are extra discriminated against, above and beyond sexism and racism.

However, according to this interpretation of intersectionality, there is not one simple overarching theory or explanation: for some problems P and some discriminations (variables) A and B, the parameter c can be positive, but for others it can be zero or even negative. There is some evidence for zero or negative c in some cases. A strong example of a negative parameter c, is the discrimination experienced by gay black men. White straight men are more positively evaluated (considered more likable) than white gay men, but black gay men are more positively evaluated than black straight men. Similarly, being gay will have negative consequences for white men in the job application process, but it has positive consequences for black men on the job market. There is also evidence that black men experience more racism (e.g. negative stereotyping of being dangerous) than black women.

We can also give another interpretation to the above regression equation: the variable A now corresponds with the level of one kind of discrimination, B with the level of another discrimination, and a, b and c are contributory weights that measure how much one extra unit of discrimination contributes to the overall problem. We can rewrite the problem as P=(a+c*B)*A + b*B. The effective strength of discrimination A is given by the factor a+c*B. Hence, if discrimination B is eliminated, the strength of discrimination A decreases. If the parameter a were zero, then eliminating the contribution of B means eliminating the whole problem P, even with a non-zero discrimination A.

If the interaction parameter c is positive, multiple discriminations aggravate the total problem P (because P becomes higher than a*A+b*B). If the parameter c is negative, multiple discriminations mitigate the problem. If the parameter c is positive, then fighting one discrimination decreases the other kind of discrimination. For example, there is some evidence for the interspecies model of prejudice, which means that reducing speciesism could decrease racism. In economic terms, fighting speciesism has a positive externality: it is not only good for animal victims of speciesism, but also for human victims of racism. As economists know, positive externalities are a kind of market failure: there is underinvestment in interventions with positive externalities, just as there is an underinvestment in public goods. For example, if the interspecies model of prejudice is correct, antispeciesist animal rights activists contribute to the fight against racism, but antiracists are not rewarding the antispeciesists for this. Anti-racists could reward anti-speciesists, by satisfying a preference of the anti-speciesists, such as eating vegan. This is a kind of moral trade (see below).

According to the multiplicative interpretation of intersectionality, racism and speciesism are intersected in the sense of having a positive parameter c. But this interpretation of intersectionality is not often used by animal rights activists. Those activists claim that the animal rights movement does not include enough anti-racism, and in particular that animal rights activists should be involved in explicit anti-racism or anti-sexism social justice activism as well. However, even if there is a multiplicative intersectionality effect between racism and speciesism, it does not imply that animal rights activists should move towards the anti-racism movement, or that both anti-speciesism and anti-racism movements should merge. Keeping the status quo with separate anti-racist and anti-sexist movements is compatible with racism and speciesism being intersected.

There is a kind of inconsistency in this criticism by animal rights activists that their movement should focus more on social justice issues. Animal rights activists already acknowledge that e.g. vegan activism helps oppressed humans. Veganism implies less climate change that affects poor countries, more food security in poor countries, no pollution from factory farms in areas with black communities, no bad working conditions of immigrants in slaughterhouses, and less racism due to the interspecies model of prejudice. Hence, even racist animal rights vegans are already doing something anti-racist or pro-human rights by being vegan and defending animal rights. The intersection of racism and speciesism cannot be used as a criticism of the animal rights movement.

Similarly, some non-vegan social justice issues promote animal rights. E.g. feminists promote access to family planning, which means less unwanted pregnancies, which means smaller families, which means fewer meat-eating humans, which means fewer animal rights violations. Like the connection between veganism and human rights (less pollution, climate change,…), this connection between feminism and animal rights is accidental. Instead of implying that vegan activists should participate in anti-racist or feminist campaigns, or vice versa that feminists should join the animal rights community, this kind of intersectionality implies that keeping the movements separate is good as well.

 

Openness of the animal rights movement to other groups

Some issues about intersectionality in the animal rights movement can be problematic. Here I discuss two of them, related to the question to what degree the movement should be open towards other people.

 

Openness to disprivileged and minority groups

Intersectionalists claim that the animal rights movement should be open towards everyone, especially towards minority groups or marginalized, oppressed and disprivileged people. However, we do not need intersectionalist theory to justify this openness. There is already a sufficiently strong moral reason for openness: anti-discrimination.

Intersectionalists claim that the movement should be open for minority groups and disprivileged people, not only for moral reasons, but also for reasons of effectiveness. Allowing disprivileged people means more members in the movement, which means a stronger movement. However, consider a thought experiment: what if there were more people with racist ideas or extreme right conservatives than black people, and allowing black people in the vegan movement would push away the interested extreme right conservatives? The vegan movement could be even bigger, and hence more effective for achieving the goal of veganism, by allowing those conservatives. Therefore, arguments of effectiveness and openness can be tricky.

Aside from this thought experiment, the attitude of many anti-racist animal rights activists (including those who are not familiar with intersectionality) can be counterproductive. Those anti-racists and anti-fascists do not want to allow racists or right-winged people in the vegan movement. It is not clear what is meant by ‘allowing’, but consider a racist vegan who wants to participate in animal rights actions, walk in demonstrations, join animal rights conferences, volunteer for an animal rights organization,… Of course, the organizers of the actions, demonstrations, conferences and organizations can and should impose the rule that no racist actions or statements should be made at or during all those events. Even then, many anti-racist vegan activists want to exclude those racist vegans.

This exclusionary approach can backfire in the sense of ending up with more racism in the world when racists are excluded. By allowing racist animal rights activists into the animal rights community, those racists have a higher likelihood of being confronted with anti-racist ideas. They can become friends with anti-racist activists, and this peer effect can decrease their racist attitudes (a kind of de-brainswashing of fundamentalists). This is demonstrated by e.g. Daryl Davis, a black anti-racism activist who befriended Ku Klux Klan members and through that process successfully converted dozens of them out of their racism. In contrast, left-wing grassroots animal rights organizations want to completely exclude people with racist ideas, block any interaction with them, and also exclude the non-racist friends or colleagues of those racists. However, pushing a racist away won’t convince that person to become anti-racist. Instead, it can increase polarization in society, especially when the friends of those racists are excluded as well. It can increase us-versus-them ingroup-outgroup thinking. This polarization could result in racists drifting away even further from anti-racism and perhaps also from veganism. The excluded friends and colleagues might also start to sympathise even more with those racists, turning them away from anti-racism and veganism. And it is likely to result in more conflicts, violence, physical harms and retaliations.

Another concern about inclusion policies, is the risk of reverse discrimination by anti-discrimination activists. It is possible that an anti-racist or anti-sexist person starts to discriminate white people or men against black people or women. This kind of reverse discrimination is often very subtle (and can sometimes be an offshoot of positive discrimination or affirmative action). For example, if black people do not feel welcome in the vegan community because there are not many black vegans, one could attract black vegans by creating a subcommunity of black vegans. This reinforces the idea that race matters. We can ask the question: why do black people require the presence of enough black vegans in order to join the vegan community? Perhaps interested black people believe they will be discriminated against or feel unwelcome by the white vegans in the community, and are therefore reluctant to join. But that is a prejudice against white people (hence reverse racism), and it can be counterproductive to reinforce this prejudice.

Instead of creating the black vegan subcommunity, it would be better to create e.g. an anti-racist vegan subcommunity (i.e. a vegan community that very explicitly fights racism against black people). The anti-racist vegan community can have a goal to improve the lives of animals and black people who are oppressed, and hence takes skin color of victims into account, but it should not pay attention to the skin color of its own community members, because that would be exclusionary and discriminatory, and can increase ingroup-outgroup thinking. If we want an inclusionary movement, we should not reinforce the idea or feeling that someone is not welcome when there are not enough similarly looking people (e.g. people with the same skin color) in the movement.

In the end, we need a world where everyone is ‘color blind’ and ‘gender blind’, i.e. where skin-color and gender are not considered as relevant parts of one’s group identity. Selecting members of one’s group based on skin color might reinforce the idea that skin color itself (instead of e.g. experiences of being oppressed or shared values of anti-discrimination) is relevant and hence hinder the transition towards anti-racist group identities. Anyway, the psychological effects of group identity based on skin-color, and selecting own group members based on skin color, need to be investigated further.

 

Openness to privileged and majority groups

Vegan activists are concerned that the vegan community is not sufficiently open for disprivileged and minority groups. However, the opposite, the reduced openness to privileged groups, can be counterproductive as well. For example, the feminist approach, criticizing men for their male privilege within the vegan community, could result in men not feeling welcome. Roughly three quarters of vegan and animal rights activists are women. Men are a minority in the vegan movement. (Sidenote: most leaders in the movement are men, but leadership positions comprise of much less than 25% of community members, leadership positions are not easily accesible for newcomers in the movement, and most other communities and organizations have at least as high percentages of male leaders and hence can be considered more male friendly than the vegan movement. Hence, the presence of male leaders in the vegan movement does not yet guarantee that men feel welcome.) This minority position of men in the vegan movement can reinforce the perception by many men that veganism is something for women. Men can become more inclined to believe that adopting veganism goes against their identity of masculinity. Hence, masculinity becomes more and more associated with eating meat and dominating animals instead of eating plant-based and taking care of animals.

We should be concerned about this backfire effect. Luckily, in recent years we see a new trend of vegan strongmen promoting veganism. The recent documentary The Game Changers is a prime example: most vegan athletes appearing in that movie are men. This documentary fights the stereotypical image that being a strongman, champion, American football player or martial arts expert is incompatible with veganism. The documentary is criticized by feminist vegan activists for promoting toxic masculinity, but instead it shows that typically masculine men like Arnold Schwarzenegger can be caring people, taking care of animals, the environment and their own bodies. Criticizing this trend of new vegan masculinity, calling it toxic masculinity, could easily result in more meat consumption and animal rights violations, because men are turning away from veganism. And it could easily reinforce true toxic masculinity, that men are reinforced in their belief that real men should dominate others (e.g. animals).

 

Implications for communication

Intersectionality has implications for communication: it is often associated with political correctness and an expansion of the list of taboo words.

Vegan activists are criticized for using terms like moral schizophrenia (“it implies that individuals with schizophrenia are inherently violent and immoral”), animal slavery or animal Holocaust. When a vegan activist is worried that an aggressive or dogmatic communication style of some vegans might look “crazy” in the eyes of non-vegans, that activist is criticized for being ableist, because one meaning of “crazy” is “having a mental disability” and the term is used in a negative connotation.

While it is certainly good that we are becoming more and more sensitive to people in marginalized positions, these ‘taboo word’ criticisms are not valid, because the critic reads something that is not written or hears something that is not said. The statement that meat eaters have moral schizophrenia does not say anything about people with clinically diagnosed schizophrenia, because moral schizophrenia is not clinically diagnosed schizophrenia. The statement about crazy vegans does not say anything about people with a mental disability. The taboo words do not refer to people in marginalized positions. For example, the expression ‘crazy vegan’ could very well refer to an able-bodied, white, cisgender, highly educated man.

Similarly, the comparison between animal farming and human slavery or the Holocaust does not say anything denigrating about black people, slaves, Jews or Holocaust victims. Believing that the comparison between animal farming and slavery or the Holocaust is wrong because it underestimates the badness of slavery or the Holocaust, is an example of the moral gravity bias, a logical fallacy. If victims of racism feel upset by those comparisons because they are making a moral gravity fallacy, we can ask ourselves the question: do those victims want to be treated differently, in an exceptional, prudent way by respecting their moral gravity bias, or do they want to be treated like we would treat other people, not respecting their bias? Do we need to consider the actual preferences of the victim (not to feel insulted), or his or her ideal preferences (if the victim were fully informed and rational and not subject to irrational biases)?

Another expression that is being criticized by intersectional animal rights activists, is “dairy is rape”. It is argued that: “Several rape survivors have asked for the use of the term rape to be left out of these conversations. And since we can use other language to describe the reproductive manipulation and forced impregnation of farmed animals (I just did it twice) this hurt is unnecessary.” We could use those other proposed concepts such as ‘reproductive manipulation’, but rape victims are also victim of reproductive manipulation. So it is not yet guaranteed that rape victims will never feel offended by those other words. Do we need to change the terminology of ‘forced impregnation’ again once one rape victim feels offended?

Furthermore, rape victims have no valid ground for the claim of being unjustly offended when a vegan animal rights activist compares dairy with rape in a statement directed to the broad public. If the vegan activist is strongly against dairy and compares dairy with rape, it implies that he is strongly against rape. Both the rape victim and the animal activist are against rape, so the rape victim gets acknowledgment that rape is bad. Does the rape victim belief that the comparison is not valid because her rape is worse than the forced impregnation of the cow? But the statement that dairy is rape does not say anything about which experience is worse, and it does not compare dairy with that victim’s rape. The victim’s rape is never mentioned, so we should not read things that are not written. Logically speaking, the women who are victim of date rape cannot feel offended, because the statement is not “dairy is date rape”. Similarly, the women who are victim of human rape or bedroom rape cannot feel offended. By logical inclusion, a victim of rape is also a victim of harm and rights violations, so the statements “dairy is harm” and “dairy is a rights violation” should be equally offending. By analogy: the statement that pyramids are tombs is valid, even if pyramids are much larger than the graves in the cemetery. The statement does not compare pyramids with the grave of president Kennedy, because that grave is never mentioned. Neither presidential graves nor American graves are mentioned in the expression that pyramids are tombs. Tombs are constructions, so if the pyramids-tombs comparison is invalid, then so is the statement that pyramids are constructions.

The problem with this kind of political correctness is that we get an inflationary expansion of the list of taboo words. Terminology shifts from e.g. ‘nigger” to “negro” to “colored” to “black” to “African-American”, from “handicapped” to “disabled” to “person with a disability”, or from “rape victim” to “rape survivor”. Political correctness is like a never ending treadmill of changing terminology and avoiding taboo words. This treadmill implies that the changing terminology to fight oppression is not effective.

If effectiveness is not a good explanation for the treadmill, people can look for other motivations underlying this political correctness treadmill. One hypothesis is that this kind of political correctness is primarily used as virtue signaling: those who are best aware of the latest taboo words, signal to their community that they are good community members. I don’t see any evidence that avoiding those taboo words (“schizophrenia”, “crazy”, “Holocaust”, “slavery”, “rape”) in the context of veganism and animal rights is an effective strategy for decreasing ableism, anti-semitism, racism or sexism.

Furthermore, treating victims of oppression in a very different way from treating others, in particular as being hypersensitive, fragile or vulnerable individuals that are easily offended and should be protected even against certain words that are used to fight against rights violations, is not necessarily beneficial for the processing of their traumatic experience. It could even stigmatize them further and reinforce their feelings of helplessness and loneliness. And other (especially male) vegan activists might start to feel unnecessarily insecure, afraid of being negatively judged for their choice of words. In terms of healing and restoring community bonds, this kind of political correctness can easily be counterproductive. The implementation of political correctness, out of a concern of victims feeling offended, could also reinforce the idea that other peoples’ words were intended to be offensive and that we are allowed to assume uncharitable interpretations of what other people say. Instead, we should encourage a culture where other peoples’ words are interpreted more charitably. (Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, in their book The Coddling of the American Mind, have expressed similar concerns that cultural phenomena related to intersectionality and identity politics can result in overprotection and a culture of ‘safetyism’ that does more harm than good.)

There is another, much more important reason why expressions such as “meat is murder”, “dairy is rape”, “animal farming is slavery”, “animal slaughter is a Holocaust” and “speciesism is racism” should not be used: There is limited evidence for the effectiveness of these statements, and I am worried that they can backfire or be counterproductive in terms of convincing meat eaters to switch to veganism. With statements that are too shocking, meat-eaters may become more averse to veganism.

 

Joining forces

This final section concludes with the major recommendation of intersectional thinking in the animal rights movement: joining forces with other justice movements. This idea is expressed here: “What happens when animal rights and racial equality and feminism and LGBT rights and disability rights groups all join forces? Ideally, we could throw off our oppressions together. It suddenly becomes something more than fighting the issues facing each of us. It becomes an issue of liberation for everyone.”

However, it is not clear what is meant with ‘joining forces’ and ‘throwing off oppressions together’, and there is no evidence that these things enhance effectiveness. One interpretation is the wishful thinking mentioned above: we reduce a plentitude of enemies (oppressions) into one single big enemy, fight together against this enemy, beat this enemy by hitting its one weak spot, and by beating it, we have solved all oppressions at once. That sounds nice, but there is not enough evidence that all those enemies can be considered as one single enemy that has one weak spot. And it still remains unclear what fighting together means. Different interpretations could be given to the notion of joining forces. Some increase productivity or effectiveness, some are neutral and some are counterproductive.

 

Productively joining forces

Joining forces with other justice movements could mean sharing knowledge about effective strategies and tactics. For example, animal rights activists can learn from effective human rights campaigns. Learning from each other means all different movements can still focus their fight on their own enemy, their own system of oppression. So each movement can still be single issue, fighting against a single oppression. If two movements learn from each other, they both become stronger, and this creates a good win-win.

Similarly, movements can join forces, by sharing overhead costs (e.g. sharing platforms for petitions). It can be compared with the merging of two companies, to share administration, advertisement,… This merging can create positive returns to scale, which can also be a good win-win. However, companies can become too big once they face decreasing returns to scale. If the same goes for movements, then merging of movements is no longer effective. It all depends on whether or not there are increasing returns to scale.

 

Neutrally joining forces

The most common interpretation of intersectionally joining forces with other movements, is literally joining protest campaigns and actions of those other movements. This is expressed as: “Imagine what would happen if every vegan fought for LGBT rights? Not with any kind of ulterior motive, but simply to support our fellow human beings. We would add millions of voices to their cause. And what if the LGBT communities in turn supported us and joined our movement, simply to support the animals?”

However, this point misses one of the most important concepts in economics: opportunity costs. Every action has an opportunity cost, which measures the value of the next best thing one could have done with one’s time, money and resources. This is the cost incurred by not reaping the benefits associated with the best alternative action. People have a limited budget of time, money and resources that they are willing to invest in activism, so if someone spends a part of that budget to join feminist protests, that time and energy can no longer be used for animal rights protests. Hence, joining the actions of another movement is not productively joining forces, but merely switching forces. Some movements gain more support, other movements lose support.

 

Counterproductively joining forces

Joining forces by merging movements or closely tying movements can sometimes be dangerous. The animal rights movement fights against a specific type of discrimination, namely speciesism. Discrimination is a kind of unwanted arbitrariness, and therefore always immoral. It therefore makes perfect sense that the animal rights movement does not condone other kinds of discrimination such as racism or sexism.

However, many vegan animal rights activists are left-wing anti-capitalists, and they believe that the vegan movement should be anti-capitalist as well. They mistakenly believe that capitalism intersects with animal exploitation, or that capitalism is the cause of animal exploitation. Capitalism is not a kind of unwanted arbitrariness or immoral discrimination. In fact, with the investments in novel vegan foods (such as plant-based and cell-based meats, or leather, wool, milk and eggs made with precision fermentation and cellular agriculture), capitalism can drive the transition towards a vegan world. Anti-capitalists are concerned by economic exploitation and have the right value or moral end of social justice, but they choose ineffective means to reach that end. They are fighting the wrong enemy: not capitalism, but e.g. privatized economic rent is the crucial enemy in our economic system. By imposing anti-capitalist values and ideas on the vegan movement, people who are not anti-capitalist (e.g. center- and right-wing people) get an aversion of veganism and feel reluctant to join the vegan movement. This could result in more animal exploitation, because the non-anti-capitalists continue eating non-vegan, and the vegan movement is smaller and weaker to fight animal exploitation. Hence, if intersectionality means that the vegan movement should join forces with the anti-capitalist movement, then this intersectionality is harmful because it is counterproductive. The same goes for the imposition of certain kinds of political correctness: not allowing some words could backfire, causing people (e.g. conservatives) to avoid the vegan movement.

 

Moral trade

Perhaps the best interpretation we can give to this idea of joining forces, is what effective altruists pointed at: moral trade, using a kind of market mechanism for altruists. Moral trade offers opportunities to coordinate actions that result in win-win situations, just like normal trade creates mutually beneficial opportunities for both buyers and sellers (the buyer wants to buy the thing that the seller wants to sell).

An example of intersectional moral trade, is the idea that feminists eat vegan and in return vegans join a feminist action. Hence, increasing veganism in the feminist community is bought by selling one’s time to join feminist actions. Both vegans and feminists benefit from this moral trade.

 

Summary

Intersectionality has many interpretations. When analyzing these interpretations and their consequences, some kinds of intersectionality become trivial, other kinds are counterproductive, and some can improve the effectiveness of justice movements in their fight against discrimination. Overall, the counterproductivity should not be underestimated.

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