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Why We Oppress? Why Animals?

Just a few days from now, on January 27th, the world will observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The date marks 75 years since liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Hitler’s most notorious death camp. It’s an appropriate opportunity to question why we oppress and why animals.

Why We Oppress?

Oppression may be defined as the denial of another sentient being’s rights, freedoms, and/or opportunities. It can be as common and localized as bullying in school or employment or domestic violence and as disastrous and global as the Holocaust and the genocides that have followed and continue to this day.

The roots of oppression are varied:

  • Low self-esteem. Most bullying and domestic violence is related to people attempting to salve their low self-esteem by demeaning and controlling others. The low self esteem may be instigated by the oppressor having been bullied.
  • Fear. Sometimes we oppress people of different color, culture, or religion for fear that they may harm us. Demagogues explore that powerful emotion to control public opinion.
  • Revenge. This involves making up for perceived past wrongs, as in most genocides that followed the Holocaust and the end of colonial rule in Asia and Africa.
  • Transference. Victims of oppression feeling that they have license to oppress others, forming an oppression cycle.
  • Convenience or financial gain. This is by far the most common root of oppression, accounting for both slavery and animal exploitation. Slavery was ended by a civil war that cost an estimated 600,00 lives. Animal exploitation is getting phased out gradually, through technological innovations like the invention of kerosene, development of the steam and internal combustion engines, and investments in plant-based meat and milk products.

Whatever its root, no form of oppression can ever succeed without the support of social norms.

About Social Norms

All societies maintain certain rules of behavior, or social norms, in order to survive. All members of society are expected to behave in accordance with these norms. They are shaped by our collective needs, desires, and morals, but also by powerful commercial interests, by our public officials, and most importantly, by the failure of dissenters to speak out. They may also be exceptionally arbitrary, like the Nazi norm of hailing Christians and gassing Jews, or the Western norm of petting dogs and eating pigs.

Social norms govern our behavior more powerfully than our religion, our laws, and our parents. They are further refined and specialized in our group norms that apply to our immediate social and professional surroundings. They define our frames of reference – the mental lenses through which we perceive the world around us, so we don’t have to question everything we hear and see.  

Understanding the extraordinary power of social norms provides a clue to the key question asked by historians in the wake of the Holocaust: was the Holocaust a peculiarly German phenomenon, or are other enlightened societies capable? The question was answered by Jewish Nobel Laureate Isaaac Bashevis Singer who wrote “To the animals, all men are Nazis.” Yes, we are all capable. Indeed some of our best friends and dearest family members still subsidize animal atrocities every time they shop for food.

Fortunately, social norms can be reformed through judicious, well planned campaigns. Recent examples can be found in social attitudes toward local policing, climate change, and alternative expressions of sexual identity. We will address the strategies for social change in future blog entries. 

It’s Never About the Victim

One of our greatest failings in confronting oppression has been our intense and exclusive focus on specific victim groups. This is terribly counter-productive. It sets up a “victimhood” contest among victim groups about which deserves more consideration and sympathy. It distracts us from forming a united front to address the roots of all oppression. It lends a veneer of legitimacy to the oppressor: “maybe they deserved it.” It has even given some victims license to oppress others.

But oppression is not about the species, race, religion, ethnicity, or gender of the victims. The only necessary criteria for selecting a victim or a victim population are vulnerability and distinct appearance from the majority, or at least, from the power structure. Animals fit these criteria perfectly and are therefore universally oppressed.

The victim’s perceived low moral value has been suggested as a reason for oppression. But the moral value we assign to victims is based pretty much on our personal history and relationship. We spend a small fortune protecting the welfare of our family dog, but not a cent to feed a starving child  in our local shelter. Still, some social justice organizations look at us askance, because they think that we are comparing the moral value of their victims to that of pigs and chickens. 

Why Animals?                                            

Finally, why be concerned about oppression of animals, people ask, when so many human problems remain unsolved? When nearly 800 million people on our planet go hungry every day? When millions don’t have access to adequate medical care? When genocides continue?

Here’s why:

  • Because animal oppression is the key to all oppression. Animals are the most vulnerable, and therefore, the most oppressed sentient beings on earth. We believe that, when oppressing animals becomes socially unacceptable, so will other forms of oppression.
  • Because oppressing animals is the gateway to all oppression. When we tell a child that the dog on his couch is to be loved and cherished, but the pig on his plate is to be tortured, and slaughtered, we are providing his very first social permission to discriminate and to oppress.
  • Because they share our own feelings of joy, affection, sadness, and grief. And they can suffer.
  • Because they are an integral part of our fondest childhood memories. Toy animals were the very first objects we handled. Our favorite fairy tales revolved around animal lives. Our family dog gave us unconditional love, when our schoolmates or even our siblings would not. Rekindling these feelings may mitigate or reverse the oppressive mindset.
  • Because we can. Because, each year, each of us has the awesome power to spare 100 sentient beings just by choosing a diet that also happens to be better for our personal health and for the health of our planet. We don’t have that kind of power to save human victims of oppression.

On the long road to ending oppression, dropping animals from our menus is a necessary first step.

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34 thoughts on “The Vegan Blog”

  1. We have learned nothing, but I see a glimmer of hope in this next generation. There’s more love and willingness to care… Maybe I’m dreaming; naive; or surrounded by ‘nice’ young people, but it’s heartening. Thank you for everything you have done to keep those souls safe and loved 💚💚💚💚✌️💕
    Co, Antrim
    N. Ireland

  2. Amazing post. Some people are shocked at the comparison between the Holocaust and what humans do to animals, but this is just speciesism. They feel that comparing human and animal suffering somehow discredits or diminishes human suffering, because they believe animals are lower than humans. Thank you Alex Herscaft for making this important point and hopefully the no vegan majority will see the truth soon. Peace and Love

  3. Thank you. I often reference the holocaust in my animal activism and now here are your world changing words to back me up. Thank you thank you. Blessings.

  4. Dear Alex,

    I am moved and humbled by your experience as a young child and the journey it has taken you on. I am finding it hard to put in to words my gratitude that you have been able to find a positive trajectory for the suffering, pain and loss of life among your loved ones, not to mention countless others.

    I am only months in to living a more compassionate life. Vegan eating has been an easy conversion for me and my only regret is having not done it sooner. I have often been saddened by peoples’ lack of empathy towards fellow humans and found it hard as a child to understand racism. Little did I know I was implicitly being taught that oppression (in its’ many forms) was ok. I guess it has never sat well with me, but until only recently the connection between eating animals, animal cruelty and our oppression of people, has eluded me.

    Thank you for giving voice to such a big topic and sharing your experience. I look forward to reading more from you.

    Sincerely, Cyntra

  5. I was never in a camp. But I recognized oppression, and resolved to stop eating meat many years ago. Interestingly enough my own mother tried to guilt me about my decision. And she was raised on a farm.
    So thank you. I firmly believe that you cannot say you love animals and continue to eat meat…it’s more appropriate to say you love certain animals and hate the rest.
    And if you eat meat, you are harming the climate. That’s a proven fact. So thank you sir for your convictions. They are entirely correct.

  6. I wholeheartedly agree with you. I have been a vegetarian since I was a child and a vegan for ten years.
    It is so refreshing to read that others see how this evil, everyday like slaughter, slavery and torture is acceptable if someone else does it for you

  7. Thank you very much for this website, for this clear message.
    I am from Slovakia, and I woul like to make translations of your blog posts, so people, who do not speak English, can read your important thoughts, if it is ok with you.
    I never heard thoughts about our beloved animal toys in our childhood opposing the teaching, that animals are food. I is very strong image of our internal incoherency.
    Thank you. I is honor to read your kind words!

  8. It’s awesome to become acquainted with a four-decade Vegan. I will keenly anticipate your periodic sharing of wisdom and advice

  9. Thank you. Sir for your incredible insight…
    World must start to understand that
    Savagery is. Savagery… no matter the species 🙏

  10. This Text was verry emotional and show the same Violence to animals in high level how the Violence to jewish people before many years ago. Changes was only the Spezies,the cruelty ist the same and so unnessesary!!! Love all beeings is our learning Prozess! I fight for every Animal!💪💪💪✌️I’m a vegan.❣️

  11. Thank you very, very much for calling on your family’s tragic experience, and that suffered by so many others, to advocate for fairness and compassion for all sentient beings. When will the world learn? “Peace on Earth, goodwill towards ALL.”

  12. This was the first time I heard of you. I’m already vegan , 3 years only unfortunately.
    I wish you can reach more and more people , your words are so powerful. I wish you health and happiness and that many people will hear you out

  13. Alex, I’m so grateful that you are still so active in fighting for the animals! Keep it up as there is still too much work to do. We are fighting against our own government which subsidizes the animal industry!

  14. What an excellent piece of writing to defend animal farming industry 👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽 I’ve just shared it in Facebook

  15. Dear Alex, dear, dear man! I have for many years referred to the killing of these precious beings we share our Earth with as another holocaust! It has always saddened & sickened me. I am forever grateful for the work you do to try and bring awareness, awakening to the human species about what is REALLY going on!!! There are many times I cannot even leave my home for fear of what I might see! I pray and oh I do so hope one day this horrifically heinous treatment of these beloved beings, the innocents indeed will end! …. Thank you!

  16. Thank you for your kind comments.
    Additional information and lessons from the Holocaust about our oppression of animals are available on our website at
    The video of a speech I delivered before 2,000 vegan activists in England on August 31st may be viewed on the FARM Facebook page or YouTube channel.

  17. Thank you for the content of this piece, nicely written with lots of great historical information. (I wanted to re post it but I’m an aesthete and cant bring myself to post the cartoon pig logo)

  18. Greetings! This is my 1st comment here so I just
    wanted to give a quick shout out and say I really enjoy reading through your articles.
    Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same subjects?

    1. Thank you for your kind comments. I am not aware of anything comparable. That’s why I was motivated to start this blog.

  19. Good question. Much of what I write about is material that I have given a lot of thought to or actually written about. Beyond that, when a thought strikes me, I put it down, name the topic, and file it. So, a lot of my writing is more a matter of rescuing these files, organizing the content in some meaningful fashion, and filling in the gaps, rather than generating new ideas.

    1. I hope to eventually, once the blog has become more established and assuming that the author is someone whose expertise and opinion I respect.

  20. This is a great reminder of how far we have come. Sometimes it seems as if we have stalled and that there is no way to reach the 8 billion people on this planet.

    But comparing the progress over the past four decades does reveal a real move forward. I can remember the day when wanting a veggie burger meant boiling lentils or soaking beans to start with!

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