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Why We Oppress? Why Animals?

The tragic oppression of animals is rooted in the oppressive mindset, which has governed human actions since the dawn of history. Any attempts to end oppression require an understanding of its motives, its manifestations, and the source of its power to afflict human and non-human animals alike. Please join us in exploring these issues.

About Social Norms

All oppression is introduced, promoted, and enforced by social norms, which govern our behavior more powerfully than our religion and our personal moral code. To reduce or eliminate any form of oppression, we need to reform the social norm that fosters that form of oppression.

In order to survive, all societies expect their members to abide by certain rules of behavior, or social norms. This is sometimes referred to as our social contract. These norms are the sole reason that the most enlightened society on Earth was able to perpetrate the Holocaust and that otherwise virtuous members of today’s enlightened societies are able to subsidize massive atrocities against animals. 

Social norms are initially shaped by our collective needs, desires, and morals, but also by powerful social influencers, like The Buddha, Christ, Muhammad, Hitler, Stalin, as well as by powerful political and corporate interests like the meat industry. The advent of mass communication in the past century has led to much more rapid changes in social norms. It took Christianity more than 300 years to gain a foothold, but Hitler was able to turn German social norms upside down in a mere six years.

Why and How Do 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 school bullying, domestic violence, or discrimination in housing or employment, and as disastrous and global as slavery, the Holocaust, and animal slaughter.

Because it is an integral part of our social norms, oppression may be hidden and manifest only gradually, like the oppression of women before recent times. Conversely, and also gradually, societies tend to reduce individual freedoms and impose additional controls on its members.

The roots of oppression are varied:

Low self-esteem. Most bullying, domestic violence, and personal discrimination is related to people attempting to salve their low self-esteem, which may well have been instigated by the oppressor having been bullied by others.

Fear. Fear that people of different color, culture, or language may harm us, perhaps by removing whatever personal privilege we have inherited or earned.

Revenge. Retribution for perceived past wrongs, as in the Holocaust and the genocides that followed.

Transference. Victims of oppression feeling that they now have license to oppress others, forming an oppression cycle.

Social control. Exploitation of all these powerful popular emotions by demagogues to control public opinion and retain power.

Convenience or financial gain. This is by far the most common root of oppression, accounting for both slavery and animal exploitation.

Confronting Oppression

Remedies to oppression can range from counseling to legal and political intervention, depending on the roots of the oppressive mindset and the stage of oppression. In our own case, it’s mostly about removing the financial incentive of abusing and killing animals by introducing and promoting plant- and cell-based meat and milk products.

One of our greatest failings in confronting all oppression has been our intense and exclusive focus on specific victim protection 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, which is the oppressive mindset and the social norms that foster it.

But oppression is not about the species, race, or gender of the victims. The oppressor’s only important criteria for selecting a victim or a victim population are vulnerability and distinct appearance. Animals fit these criteria perfectly and are therefore a preferred target of oppression.

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. But the moral value we all assign to victims of oppression is based pretty much on our personal relationship, rather than on species, race, or gender. We spend a small fortune protecting the welfare of our family dog, but not a cent to feed a starving child in a local shelter.

Why Animals?                                      

Still, people ask us why be concerned about animals, when so many human problems remain unsolved? When nearly 800 million people on our planet go hungry every day? When millions more don’t have access to clean water or medical care? When Middle East genocides continue?

The reasons are ample:

Because animal oppression is a 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 abused and slaughtered, we are providing his very first social permission to discriminate and oppress others.

Because animals 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 would not.

Because animals share our own feelings of joy, affection, sadness, and grief. And they can suffer.

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.

A Closing Note

Slavery and animal exploitation share the oppressive root of financial gain. Slavery was ended by a civil war that cost an estimated 600,000 human lives. Ending animal exploitation will not demand that high a price.

Indeed, animal exploitation has been getting phased out gradually since the middle of the 19th century, with the discovery of kerosene to replace sperm whale oil and invention of the steam and internal combustion engines to spare thousands of horses and mules. In the current decade, the development of plant- and cell-based meat and milk products will spare the lives of billions of cows, pigs, turkeys, and chickens.

Still, for all of the reasons listed above, committing to veganism and animal rights is a necessary first step on the long road to ending all oppression.

The views expressed here are of the author and do not necessarily
represent the views of the Farm Animal Rights Movement

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18 thoughts on “Latest Post”

  1. Incredible what you experienced over your lifetime. A true survivor and someone who has dedicated a lifetime to saving lives. I’m going to subscribe to your blog.

  2. Thank you so much for this. Very wise words that must be spread and shared. Many people will not want to hear these words because they don’t want to think of themselves as bad people but the animals depend on us to share.

    1. Thank you for all your throught-out informed beneficial points. Indeed you have touched upon many that I have been saying for years, being an ARA about 2 decades and Animal lover/rescuer from childhood. I’m the daughter of WWII Holocaust survivors and recognize 100% the parallel of the Animal Holocaust. At my demos I’ve advocated for communication via love and tolerance, in order to build a bridge of communication instead of a wall of defense. Aka NVC (Non-Violent Communication) and the importance of early education to counter the indoctrination via the ‘not yet vegan’ homelife and community. All you have mentioned shall be indeed beneficial. 🌟🕊💖🌱🌸✌🌷Thank You
      Mitzi Ocean global coordinator of the International Anti Fur Coalition (IAFC)

    1. I don’t think anyone but a survivor could openly own and say this, without being totally shamed by so many, because it sounds disrespectful, but I totally agree,I’ve used those rotten comparisons in my mind,and you sir have the ultimate right to shout that out. My respect for you sir, immense. Thank you for your compassion for the defenceless.

  3. Dr Hershaft is one of the very few who can refer to the Holocaust when referring to animal rights. To the best of my knowledge PETA previously drew comparison and it caused controversy.


      I am very happy to meet you, even if it’s on the computer. I have thought for many years that in order for there to be peace in the world, we have to stop killing and eating animals. We have to start with the animals and work our way along our paths to people. It’s horrible what we do to animals not even giving the smallest thought to the suffering we are causing them. I am not without guilt in this area as I ate animal flesh for the first forty years of my life until I met my husband to be who was a vegetarian. Now we are both vegetarians, but we do eat frozen yogurt and ice cream causing suffering to cows. I am now pledging to become a vegan and hope I will have the willpower to stay a vegan. Since I am now 83 years old, I will have to begin again doing some cooking as vegan food, I’ve found, is difficult to find. So I said to myself, this is too hard. So wish me well that I can stick to a vegan diet.

  4. Carla Sofia Salas

    THANK YOU só much for speak for animals and for show to the world the meaning of what they eat, and that a steak in your dish is more than a piece.of meat and potatoes! It’s a dead body part of a living being who had a cruelty life and a brutally dead!
    We are what we eat!

  5. Hi.
    What you quoted as similar between Holocaust and animal slaughter, stems from both been brought to us by same people. Modern “farming ” and slaughter comes from Germany and was brought to the States by Germans who went to live there. Four years after Neuremburg, all the scientists sentenced to death were freed and brought to America. They became CEOs in all the mayor companies, including pharmaceutical and agricultural industries.

    However, how can you compare what is done to animals, though wrong, to the Holocaust? By doing so you disgrace your parents’ memory, which is up to you, but also that of all the others who were murdered. It cheapens the Holocaust and is especially insulting because you mention your parents died there. I really don’t think it helps the cause either.

    1. Thank you for commenting, Nicole.
      The Holocaust and killing animals for food are two manifestations of the common capacity of otherwise normal people for committing unspeakable acts. The victims are not comparable, because we relate to them differently, but the oppressive mindsets, sanctioned by prevailing social norms, are amazingly similar.

      Please don’t presume how I should deal with my parents’ memory.

  6. Thank you Dr Hershaft for this very moving informative piece, I have read it twice so far. I agree that animals must think of us as Nazis but I think not all animals because some animals are in sanctuaries but unfortunately very few compared to the many billions of land animals murdered unnecessarily for food every year and trillions of sea life. I became a vegetarian in 1979 merging into veganism by 1999. In 1981 I went to the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem on a 2 week trip to Israel with my husband & his parents, some of what I saw at that museum is still in my mind now. Some years later we visited the Holocaust Jewish Museum in Sydney & later still I became a member of the museum. Thank you again Dr Hershaft.

  7. Thank you so much, Dr. Hershaft, for your words and thoughts and for sharing them with us. You show us how similar the victims were/are tortured and killed, and you can do this, because you know what you are talking about. Though the victims are different, the methods of torment are more equal than different. We have to stop the wars against other beings, any war against any being. It is not humanlike and we can do it better. The first step is very easy: GO VEGAN (and talk about it)! Best wishes from Germany and stay healthy.

  8. Thank you, Alex, for your heartfelt expression of what I have known for at least 30 years. Your beautiful testimonial underscores why I became a vegan over 26 years ago while in college (27 as of New Year’s Day 2021). As a Reform Jew who experienced ample anti-Semitism throughout my formative years, I can’t stand to see anyone subject to bigotry of any kind. I have no tolerance for moral hypocrisy that segregates non-humans from our moral sphere simply based on their different species, as if we should only respect the dignity of humans, and all other beings are legitimately exploitable for any purpose. I believe Tikkun Olam, the Jewish principle that advocates “healing the world” by definition must include veganism as a moral imperative. The notion of intersectionality also must include non-human beings in our moral community, lest we undermine the values we claim to uphold. As an agnostic Jew, I prioritize moral consistency over superstition. I don’t celebrate Jewish holidays or attend synagogue for Shabbat as I did when I was younger, though I had a Bar-Mitzvah and Confirmation, but I cannot accept any self-described Jew who consumes non-humans, has no qualms about vivisection and other myriad abominations against non-humans so ubiquitous in our daily lives as being consistent with Jewish values. Mohandas Gandhi advised us to “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us, “No one is free when others are oppressed.” I am personally offended by anyone, especially Jews, who proclaim that comparing non-human animal exploitation to the Nazi Holocaust “cheapens the memory” of the 6 million Jews murdered by the Third Reich. This is patently hypocritical and willfully ignorant, particularly when most of us know firsthand what bigotry feels like. This is exactly why I rebel against all true bigotry, regardless of who the subjects of such discrimination happen to be.

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