Jordi Casamitjana, the author of the book “Ethical Vegan”, explains the difference between Animal Rights, Animal Welfare, and Animal Protection, and how they compare with Veganism.

Systematising is one of my things.

This means I like to organise entities into systems, to arrange stuff in accord with a definite plan or scheme. This could be physical things, but, in my case, ideas or concepts. I think I am good at it, and this is why I don’t shy away from boldly going into systems “no one has gone into before” — or so my dramatic inner geek likes to put it. I did this when I described a series of stereotypic behaviours of captive fish never described before during an in-depth investigation into public aquaria I did in 2004; or when I wrote the paper “The Vocal Repertoire of the Woolly Monkey Lagothrix lagothricha” in 2009; or when I wrote a chapter titled “The Anthropology of the Vegan Kind” in my book “Ethical Vegan” where I describe the different types of carnists, vegetarians, and vegans I think there are. 

The first thing you need to do when you are systemising something is to try to identify the different components of a system, and the best way to do that is by trying to define them. Doing this will expose unnecessary lumping or splitting and help to find the functional integrity of any component, which you can use to see how they relate to each other, and make the whole system coherent and workable. This approach can be applied to anything that has interconnected components, including ideologies and philosophies. 

It can be applied to feminism, veganism, environmentalism, and many other “isms” floating on the oceans of human civilisation. Let’s look at the animal rights movement, for instance. This is indeed a system, but what are its components and how do they relate to each other? Finding this out would be quite tricky, as movements like this are very organic and their architecture seems very fluid. People keep inventing new terms and redefining old ones, and most people in the movement just go along with the changes without even noticing them. For instance, if you belong to this movement, do you define yourself as an animal rights person, as an animal protection person, as an animal welfare person, as an animal liberation person, or even as an animal rights vegan?

Not everyone will give you the same answers. Some would consider all these terms synonymous. Others would consider them completely separate concepts that can even conflict with each other. Others may consider them different dimensions of a broader entity, or variations of similar concepts with a subordinated or overlapping relationship.

All of this may be a bit confusing for those who have just joined the movement and are still learning how to navigate its turbulent waters. I thought it may be helpful if I dedicate a blog to show how I — and I must stress, “I”, rather than “we”— define these concepts, as I have been in this movement for decades and that has given me enough time for my systematising brain to analyse this issue with some depth. Not everyone will agree with the way I define these concepts and how I relate them to each other, but that’s not bad in itself. Organic socio-political movements need to be constantly re-examined to maintain their integrity, and diversity of opinion fertilises good evaluation. 

Animal Rights

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Animal Rights (also abbreviated as AR) is a philosophy, and the socio-political movement associated with it. As a philosophy, part of ethics, it is a non-religious philosophical belief system that deals with what is right and what is wrong without going into metaphysics or cosmology. It is fundamentally a philosophy followed by people who care about nonhuman animals as individuals, and organisations involved in helping and advocating for them. 

Not long ago I wrote an article titled Animal Rights vs Veganism, where I had a go at defining what the Animal Rights philosophy is about. I wrote: 

“The philosophy of animal rights focuses on non-human animals, which is to say, all individuals of all the species in the Animal Kingdom except Homo sapiens. It looks at them and considers whether they have intrinsic rights which justify being treated by humans in a different way than they had been traditionally treated. This philosophy concludes that they indeed have basic rights because they have moral worth, and if humans want to live in a law-based society of rights, they must also consider the rights of nonhuman animals, as well as their interests (such as avoiding suffering). These rights include the right to life, body autonomy, liberty, and freedom from torture. In other words, it challenges the notion that non-human animals are objects, property, goods, or commodities, and ultimately aims to acknowledge all their moral and legal ‘personhood’. This philosophy focuses on nonhuman animals because it looks at who they are, what they do, how they behave, and how they think, and, accordingly, assigns them attributes related to sentience, conscience, moral agency, and legal rights… 

It was probably in the 17th century when the animal rights notion began to be formed. The English philosopher John Locke identified natural rights as being “life, liberty, and estate (property)” for people, but he also believed animals have feelings and unnecessary cruelty towards them was morally wrong. He was probably influenced by Pierre Gassendi a century earlier, who was in turn influenced by Porphyry and Plutarch from the Middle Ages — already talking about animals. About a century later, other philosophers started to contribute to the birth of the animal rights philosophy. For instance, Jeremy Bentham (who argued it was the ability to suffer that should be the benchmark of how we treat other beings) or Margaret Cavendish (who condemned humans for believing all animals were made specifically for their benefit). However, I think it was Henry Stephens Salt who, in 1892, finally crystallised the essence of the philosophy when he wrote a book titled ‘Animals’ Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress.” 

In his book, he wrote, “Even the leading advocates of animal rights seem to have shrunk from basing their claim on the only argument which can ultimately be held to be a really sufficient one — the assertion that animals, as well as men, though, of course, to a far less extent than men, are possessed of a distinctive individuality, and, therefore, are in justice entitled to live their lives with a due measure of that ‘restricted freedom.’”

As we can see in this passage, one of the key elements of the animal rights philosophy is that it treats non-human animals as individuals, not as more theoretical concepts such as species (which is how conservationists normally treat them). This is the case because it evolved from the philosophy of human rights, which is also centred on the individuals, and how collectives or society should not infringe their rights.

Animal Welfare

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Contrary to Animal Rights, Animal Welfare is not a fully-fledged philosophy or socio-political movement, but rather an attribute of nonhuman animals regarding their well-being, which has become the main subject of interest of some people and organisations who care about animals, and often use this attribute to measure how much help they need (the poorer their welfare, the more help they need). Some of these people are animal welfare professionals, such as veterinarians not yet corrupted by the animal exploitation industries, animal sanctuary workers, or campaigners of animal welfare organisations. The charity and nonprofit sectors now have a subsection of organisations defined as “animal welfare” because their charitable purpose is to help animals in need, so this term is often used, with a very broader meaning, to describe organisations or policies related to helping and protecting non-human animals.

The well-being of an animal depends on many factors, such as whether they have access to the right food, water, and nutrition for them; whether they can reproduce at their will with who they want and develop appropriate relationships with other members of their species and societies; whether they are free from injury, disease, pain, fear, and distress; whether they can shelter from the inclemency of harsh environments beyond their biological adaptation; whether they can go wherever they want to go and not be confined against their will; whether they can express natural behaviours in the environment where they are better adapted to thrive; and whether they can avoid agonising unnatural deaths. 

The welfare of those animals who are under the care of humans tends to be assessed by checking if they have the “five freedoms of animal welfare”, formalised in 1979 by the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council, and now used as the basis of most policies related to animals in most countries in the world. These, although they do not cover all the factors mentioned above, cover those which animal welfare advocates claim are the most important. The five freedoms are currently expressed as follows:

  1. Freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
  2. Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Freedom to express (most) normal behaviour by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
  5. Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

However, many have argued (including me) that such freedoms are not properly enforced, and are often ignored as their presence in policy is often tokenistic, and that they are insufficient as more should be added. 

Advocating for good animal welfare is often based on the belief that nonhuman animals are sentient beings whose well-being or suffering should be given proper consideration, especially when they are under the care of humans, and therefore those who advocate for good animal welfare support the philosophy of animal rights at some level — even though perhaps not across all species and activities, and in a less coherent way than those who advocate for animal rights.

Both proponents of animal rights and animal welfare equally advocate for the ethical treatment of nonhuman animals, but the latter focuses more on reducing suffering (so they are mainly political reformists), while the former on abolishing the causes of human-made animal suffering altogether (so they are political abolitionists) as well as advocating for the legal recognition of the fundamental moral rights all animals already have, but which are routinely violated by humans (so they are ethical philosophers too). The latter point is what makes Animal Rights a philosophy as it requires a broader and more “theoretical” approach, while animal welfare may end up being a much narrower issue limited to practical considerations on specific human-animal interactions.  

Utilitarianism and “Cruelty”

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The “reduction of suffering” aspect of those policies and organisations that define themselves as animal welfare is what makes their approach fundamentally “utilitarian” — contrary to the animal rights approach that is fundamentally “deontological”.  

Deontological Ethics determines rightness from both the acts and the rules or duties the person doing the act is trying to fulfil, and in consequence, identifies actions as intrinsically good or bad. One of the more influential animal-rights philosophers advocating this approach was the American Tom Regan, who argued animals possess value as ‘subjects-of-a-life’ because they have beliefs, desires, memory and the ability to initiate action in pursuit of goals. 

On the other side, Utilitarian Ethics believes the proper course of action is the one that maximises a positive effect. Utilitarians can suddenly switch behaviour if the numbers no longer support their current actions. They could also “sacrifice” a minority for the benefit of the majority. The most influential animal-rights utilitarian is the Australian Peter Singer, who argues the principle ‘the greatest good of the greatest number’ should be applied to other animals, as the boundary between human and ‘animal’ is arbitrary. 

Although you can be an animal rights person and have either a deontological or utilitarian approach to ethics, a person who rejects the animal rights label, but is comfortable with the animal welfare label, would most likely be a utilitarian, as the reduction of animal suffering, rather than its eradication, is what this person would be prioritising. As far as my ethical framework is concerned, this is what I wrote in my book “Ethical Vegan”:

“I embrace both the deontological and the utilitarian approaches, but the former for ‘negative’ actions and the latter for ‘positive’ actions. That is to say, I believe there are some things we should never do (such as exploiting animals) as they are intrinsically wrong, but I also think that for what we should be doing, helping animals in need, we should choose the actions that help more animals, and in a more significant and effective way. With this dual approach, I managed to successfully navigate the ideological and practical maze of the animal protection landscape.”

Other aspects intimately connected to advocating for animal welfare are the concepts of cruelty and abuse. Animal welfare organisations often define themselves as campaigning against cruelty to animals (as is the case of the first-ever secular animal welfare organisation created, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or RSPCA, which was founded in 1824 in the UK). The concept of cruelty in this context implies the tolerance of forms of exploitation that are not considered cruel. Animal welfare advocates often tolerate what they call non-cruel exploitation of non-human animals (sometimes even support it), whilst animal rights advocates would never do so as they reject all forms of exploitation of non-human animals, regardless of whether they are considered cruel or not by anyone. 

A single-issue organisation that advocates for the reduction of suffering of particular animals under particular human activities considered cruel by mainstream society would happily define itself as an animal welfare organisation, and many of these have been created over the years. Their pragmatic approach has often granted them a mainstream status that has put them on the discussion table of politicians and decision-makers, who would exclude animal rights organisations for considering them too “radical” and “revolutionary”. This has led to some animal rights organisations disguising themselves as animal welfare so they can improve their lobbying influence (I have in mind animal rights political parties run by vegans that have “animal welfare” in their name), but also animal welfare organisations using animal rights rhetoric if they want to attract more radical supporters. 

It could be argued that animal welfare attitudes and policies precede the animal rights philosophy as they are less demanding and transformative, and therefore more compatible with the status quo. One could say that if you use the knife of ideological pragmatism and cast away bits of the philosophy of animal rights, whatever is left is what advocates of animal welfare use. Whether what is left is still a degraded version of Animal Rights, or is something which has lost so much integrity that should be considered something different, may be a matter of debate. However, those organisations or individuals who define themselves as either animal rights or animal welfare are often at pains to let you know that they should not be confused with the other, from which they want to keep a distance (either because they would consider them too radical and idealistic, or too soft and compromising, respectively). 

Animal Protection

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There was a time when it felt like there was a kind of war occurring between animal rights and animal welfare organisations. The hostility was so intense that a new term was invented to calm things down: “animal protection”. This is the term used to mean either animal rights or animal welfare, and it was used to describe organisations or policies that affect animals which were unclear whether they would fit more into the animal rights or animal welfare arena or to label organisations which deliberately wanted to be kept away from this divisive debate. The term has become increasingly popular as an umbrella term for any organisation or policy that looks after the interests of non-human animals, regardless of how they do that and how many animals they cover.

In 2011, I wrote a series of blogs under the title “The Abolitionist Reconciliation” as a response to the amount of infighting I was witnessing within the animal rights and veganism movements on this issue. This is what I wrote in the blog I titled Neoclassical Abolitionism:

“Not long ago the ‘hot’ debate among animalists was ‘animal welfare’ versus ‘animal rights’. It was relatively easy to understand. Animal welfare people support the improvement of animals’ lives, while animal rights people oppose the exploitation of animals on the basis that society did not give them the rights they deserved. In other words, critics of either side saw it as the former only interested in helping individual animals through welfare reforms, while the latter only interested in the long-term bigger picture’ utopian issues changing the paradigm of the human-animal relationship on a fundamental level. In the English-speaking world, these apparently opposite attitudes are well known, but funny enough, in the Spanish-speaking world, this dichotomy did not really exist until very recently, among other things because people still used the term ‘ecologist’ to lump together anyone concerned with Nature, animals and the environment. The term ‘animalist’ (animalista), which I am kind of forcing in this blog, has existed for decades in Spanish, and everyone in Latin countries knows what it means. Primitive? I should think not.

I’m a cultural hybrid who has hopped through both English and Spanish-speaking countries, so when I need to I can observe this sort of thing from a certain distance, and benefit from the luxury of objective comparison. It’s true that organised animal protection started much earlier in the English-speaking world, which could explain the fact that more time created more diversification of ideas, but in today’s world each country no longer needs to pay all its dues and endure the same long evolution in isolation. Because of modern communication, now one country can quickly learn from another, and in this way save a lot of time and energy. Therefore, this classical dichotomy has spread and now is more or less present everywhere. But curiously enough, the effect of globalisation works both ways, so in the same way that one world influenced the other in ‘dividing’ the animalists with opposing approaches, the other might have influenced the one by uniting them a little bit. How? Some animal welfare organisations began to act as animal rights groups, and some animal rights groups began to act as welfare organisations. And I, for one, am the perfect example.

Like many people, I started my journey by being just another exploitationist, gradually ‘awakening’ to the reality of my actions and trying to “change my ways”. I was what Tom Regan calls a ‘Muddler’. I was not born on the journey; I was not pushed into the journey; I just gradually started walking in it. My first steps in the abolitionist process were very much within the classic animal welfare approach, but it did not take me long to find the first important milestone; by boldly jumping across it I became a vegan and an animal rights advocate. I never was a vegetarian; I made my first significant jump all the way to vegan, which I must say really pleases me (although I very much regret I didn’t do it earlier). But here is the twist: I never left animal welfare behind; I simply added animal rights to my beliefs, as anyone adds a new skill or experience to their CV without deleting any previously acquired. I used to say that I followed the philosophy of animal rights and the morality of animal welfare. I helped to improve the lives of those animals that came across mine while campaigning for a bigger change in society where animals would no longer be exploited, and those that transgressed their rights would be properly punished. I never found both approaches incompatible.”

“New-Welfarism”

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The term “new-welfarism” has been used, often pejoratively, to describe animal rights people or organisations who started moving towards the animal welfare position. There is no equivalent term for animal welfare people moving towards an animal rights position, but the phenomenon seems similar and combined it could be said it represents a move away from the dichotomy toward a unifying Animal Protection paradigm — a non-binary approach if you like. 

Examples of these types of tactical migrations towards a more central animal protection position of the animal welfare vs animal rights debate are the welfarist RSPCA joining the campaign for the abolition of hunting of mammals with dogs in the UK, the welfarist WAP (World Animal Protection) joining the campaign for the abolition of bullfighting in Catalonia, the AR PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) reformist campaign on slaughter methods, or AR Animal Aid’s reformist campaign on mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses. 

I even played a role in one of these shifts. From 2016 to 2018 I worked as the Head of Policy and Research of the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), an animal welfare organisation that campaigns against hunting, shooting, bullfighting, and other cruel sports. As part of my job, I led the organisation’s transition from reform to abolition on the campaign against Greyhound racing, one of the subjects LACS deals with. 

Although the division between animal welfare and the animal rights approach still exists, the concept of animal protection has softened the “infight” element that used to feel so toxic in the 1990s and 2000s, and now most organisations have moved toward a much more common ground that appears less binary. 

The modern narratives of self-defined animal protection organisations also seem to gradually move away from constantly talking about “rights” and the “reduction of suffering”. Instead, they capitalised on the concept of “cruelty”, which, although belonging to the animal welfare side, can be framed in abolitionist terms, which allows them to be placed in a more central position of the welfare/rights debate — being against cruelty to animals is something every “animalist” would agree with.

One could even argue that the animal protection concept was the original historical idea that simply meant caring about non-human animals and wanting to help them, and the division was something that happened later as part of the evolution of the movement when different tactics were explored. However, such a simple division could well be temporary, as the same evolution may find a more mature way to deal with the diversity of tactics and opinions and discover better tactics that combine both sides. 

Some may argue that the term animal protection is just a mask to hide fundamental differences in approaches that are incompatible. I am not sure I agree. I tend to see animal rights and animal welfare as two different dimensions of the same thing, animal protection, one wider and more philosophical, the other narrower and pragmatic; one more universal and ethical, and the other more specific and moral.  

I like the term “animal protection” and its useful unifying properties, and I use it often, but I am fundamentally an animal rights person, so although I have worked in several animal welfare organisations, I always focused on the abolitionist campaigns they run (I use the concept of “abolitionist value” to decide whether I wanted to work on them or not).  

I am an abolitionist, and I also am an animal rights ethical vegan who sees animal welfare people as I see vegetarians. Some may be stuck in their ways and then I see them more as part of the problem (the animal exploitation carnist problem) while others are just transitioning as they are still learning and will progress with time. In this regard, animal welfare is to animal rights what vegetarianism is to veganism. I see many vegetarians as pre-vegans and many animal welfare people as pre-animal rights people. 

I have gone through the same process myself. Now, not only would I continue not to support purely reformist campaigns as I always have done, but I would find it difficult to work again for an animal welfare organisation, especially since LACS eventually fired me for being an ethical vegan — which led me to take legal action against them, and during the process of winning this case, securing the legal protection from discrimination of all ethical vegans in Great Britain. I would still try to improve the lives of any non-human animal who crosses my path, but I would dedicate more of my time and energy to the bigger picture and the long-term goal, if only because I have sufficient knowledge and experience to do that. 

Animal Liberation

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There are many more terms that people like to use because they don’t feel that the more dated traditional ones fit well enough how they interpret the movement they follow. Perhaps one of the most common is Animal Liberation. Animal liberation is about freeing animals from the subjugation of humans, so it approaches the issue in a more “active” way. I think it is less theoretical and pragmatic, and more actionable. The Animal Liberation Movement may be based on the bigger picture animal rights philosophy but also it may have in common with the animal welfare approach the fact that it deals with the smaller picture of individual cases that need an immediate practical solution for their problems. Therefore, it is a type of uncompromising proactive animal protection approach which can be seen as even more radical than the Animal Rights movement but less idealistic and moralistic. I feel it’s a kind of “non-nonsense” type of animal rights approach. 

However, the tactics of the animal liberation movement may be riskier as they may involve unlawful activity, such as the release into the countryside of animals from fur farms (common in the 1970s), the nocturnal raids on vivisection labs to free some of the animals experimented in them (common in the 1980s), or the sabotaging of hunting with dogs to save foxes and hares from the jaws of hounds (common in the 1990s). 

I believe this movement was heavily influenced by the anarchism movement. Anarchism as a political movement had always relied on direct action outside the law, and when the animal-rights movement began mixing with these ideologies and tactics, UK groups such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), founded in 1976, or Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), founded in 1999, became the archetypal embodiment of radical militant animal-rights activism, and the inspiration of many other animal liberation groups. Several activists of these groups ended up in prison for their illegal activities (mostly destruction of property of the vivisection industry, or intimidation tactics, as these groups reject physical violence against people). 

However, the modern phenomenon that led to the “new-welfarism” labelling may have also morphed the Animal Liberation movement into creating more mainstream versions (and therefore less risky) of these tactics, such as the Open Rescue operations popularised by the group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) — now replicated in many countries — or the Hunt Saboteurs Association moving from just sabbing hunts into the business of gathering evidence to prosecute illegal hunters. Ronnie Lee, one of the founders of the ALF who spent some time in prison, is now focusing most of his campaigning on veganism outreach rather than on liberating animals.  

Other terms that people use to define their animal-related movements and philosophies are “anti-speciesism”, “sentientism”, “farmed animal rights”, “anti-captivity”, “anti-hunting”, “anti-vivisection”, “ anti-bullfighting ”, “wild animal suffering”, “animal ethics”, “anti-oppression”, “anti-fur”, etc. These can be seen as subsets to bigger animal movements, or as versions of the movements or philosophies viewed from a different angle. I consider myself part of all of these, and I believe most ethical vegans I know do too. Perhaps veganism is this “bigger animal movement” all these are part of — or perhaps not.  

Veganism

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Veganism has one useful thing that the other movements and philosophies I have been talking about do not have. It has an official definition created by the very organisation that coined the word “vegan” in 1944, the Vegan Society. This definition is: “Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practicable — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

As, over the years, many people have been using the term vegan to only refer to the diet vegans eat, real vegans have been forced to add the adjective “ethical” to clarify they follow the official definition of veganism (not any watered-down version plant-based people and others may use) to avoid being confused with dietary vegans. So, an “ethical vegan” is someone who follows the definition above in its totality — and therefore is a true vegan, if you will. 

I wrote an article titled The Five Axioms of Veganism in which I deconstruct in detail the principles of the philosophy of veganism. The fundamental principle of veganism has been known for millennia as ahimsa, the Sanskrit term meaning “do no harm” which is sometimes translated as “non-violence”. This has become an important tenet of many religions (such as Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism), but also of non-religious philosophies (such as pacifism, vegetarianism, and veganism).

However, like in the case of Animal Rights, veganism is not only a philosophy (arguably formed millennia ago in different parts of the world in different forms using different terms) but also a global secular transformative socio-political movement (which started with the creation of the Vegan Society in the 1940s). These days, people can be forgiven for believing that the animal rights movement and the veganism movements are the same, but I believe that they are separate, although they have been gradually merging over the years. I see the two philosophies as overlapping, intersecting, synergetic, and mutually reinforcing, but still separate. In the article I wrote titled “Animal Rights vs Veganism” I talk in detail about this. 

Both philosophies overlap greatly because they all look at the relationship between humans and non-human animals, but the Animal Rights philosophy focuses more on the non-human animals side of that relationship, while veganism on the human side. Veganism asks humans not to harm others (apply ahimsa to all sentient beings), and although such others are often thought of as being non-human animals, it does not limit its scope to these. As such, I believe that veganism is broader in scope than animal rights, because animal rights definitively only covers non-human animals, but veganism goes beyond them to humans and even the environment. 

Veganism has a very well-defined future paradigm which it calls “the vegan world”, and the veganism movement is creating it by veganising every possible product and situation one step at a time. It also has a well-defined lifestyle that leads to an identity many vegans wear with pride — including me. 

Because it focuses on animals rather than on human society, I think the scope and scale of the animal rights movement are smaller and less defined than those of veganism. Also, it does not aim to completely revolutionise humanity but to use the current world with its current legal rights system and expand it to the rest of animals. Animal liberation will indeed be achieved if the vegan movement achieves its final goal, but we will not have a vegan world yet if the AR movement achieves its final goal first.

Veganism seems to me far more ambitious and revolutionary, as the vegan world would need to have a very different political and economic makeup if it is to stop the “harming of others” — which is what vegans are concerned about. This is why veganism and environmentalism overlap very smoothly, and this is why veganism has become more multi-dimensional and mainstream than animal rights.

“Animalism”

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In the end, all the concepts we have discussed can be seen in many different ways depending on the “lens” we look through (such as whether they address individual cases or more systemic issues, whether they aim to solve current problems or future problems, or whether they focus on tactics or strategies). 

They can be seen as different dimensions of the same idea, philosophy, or movement. For instance, animal welfare could be a single dimension only dealing with the suffering of an animal here and now, animal rights could be a two-dimensional wider approach looking at all animals, animal protection as a three-dimensional view covering more, etc.

They can be seen as different strategic routes to the same goal. For instance, animal welfare could be seen as the route of animal liberation through the reduction of suffering and the stopping of cruelty towards animals; animal rights through the recognition of legal rights that allow the prosecution of animal exploiters and the education of society that changes how they see non-human animals; animal liberation itself could be a tactical route to free each animal one at the time, etc. 

They can be seen as different philosophies that intersect closely and overlap greatly, with animal welfare being a utilitarian ethical philosophy, animal rights a deontological ethical philosophy, and animal protection purely an ethical philosophy.  

They could be seen as synonymous with the same concept, but chosen by people whose nature and personality would determine which term they prefer to use (revolutionary ideologs may prefer one term, mainstream legal scholars another, radical activists another, etc.).

How do I see them, though? Well, I see them as different incomplete aspects of a bigger entity we could call “Animalism”. I do not use this term meaning the behaviour that is characteristic of animals, particularly in being physical and instinctive, or as the religious worship of animals. I mean it as the philosophy or social movement an “animalist” (the useful term Romance languages have given us) would follow. I mean it as this bigger entity we did not seem to notice in the Germanic world I live in (as for languages, not countries), but used to be obvious in the Romance world where I grew up. 

There is a famous Buddhist parable that may help to understand what I mean. This is the parable of the blind men and the elephant, in which several blind men who had never come across an elephant imagine what an elephant is like by touching a different part of a friendly elephant’s body (such as the side, the tusk, or the tail), arriving at very different conclusions. The parable says, “The first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said, ‘This being is like a thick snake’. For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said the elephant, ‘Is a wall’. Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear.”  Only when they shared their unique perspectives did they learn what an elephant is. The elephant in the parable is what I call “Animalism” in my view of what is behind all the concepts we analysed. 

Now that we have looked at the components, we can look at how they work with each other and how they are related. Animalism is a dynamic system where its components evolve and grow (like a baby elephant that first has no tusks or does not control her trunk yet). It’s organic and fluid, but has a distinctive shape (it is not amorph, like an amoeba). 

For me, the animal protection movement is part of the veganism movement, the animal rights movement is part of the animal protection movement, and the animal welfare movement is part of the animal rights movement, but all these concepts are constantly evolving and growing, becoming more harmonious with each other with time. If you look at them closely, you can spot their differences, but when you step back you may see how they are connected and form part of something bigger that unites them.

I am an animalist who belongs to many movements because I care about other sentient beings as individuals, and I feel connected to other animals. I want to help as many as I can, even the ones yet to be born, in any way I can. I don’t mind the label people stick me with as long as I can effectively help them. 

The rest may be simply semantics and systematics.

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Jordi Casamitjana
“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.