Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Simple Case For Going Vegan

This essay aims to show that we are morally obliged to go vegan by our own core values. The essay is divided into two parts, where the first part presents a simple argument for veganism based on an ethical principle that we all hold valid, while the second part argues that the only reason we are not vegan is that we are speciesists, and that this is no more justifiable than supporting other forms of discrimination such as racism or sexism.

The Simple Argument
It seems widely believed that people who are vegan have chosen to be so based on some rare and unusually noble ethical values that few of us can claim to hold. The fact of the matter, however, is the complete opposite, as we are all obliged to go vegan according to the perhaps simplest ethical principle that we all accept. So unlike what most seem to believe, deep philosophical contemplations and arguments in favor of new value systems are not required in order to reveal that we have an obligation to go vegan; all it takes is to point out two simple facts and then connect them.

The first fact is that we can be perfectly healthy on a vegan diet. We do not need to consume “animal products” such as flesh, eggs or dairy in order to be healthy, which has been expressed clearly by numerous professional dietitians, doctors, and scientists working in the field of nutrition. Here is for instance the position of what is now called the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (previously known as the American Dietetic Association), which is the largest organization of nutrition experts in the United States:

It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.

The second fact we need to point out is that we all agree with the following basic ethical principle: It is wrong to impose unnecessary suffering and/or death upon another sentient being. This is perhaps the most basic and solidly established ethical principle that we all agree upon, and connecting this with the first fact mentioned above reveals that we are indeed obliged to go vegan: if we maintain that imposing suffering or death upon another sentient being for unnecessary reasons is wrong, then we must also admit that we cannot defend killing a sentient being in order to eat or wear her or him when we have no real need to do so. Neither can we defend buying and consuming eggs or dairy, as the “production” of these also involves both suffering and death – to an unthinkable extent even. In the egg industry, for instance, male chicks are killed right after they have hatched, as they will not serve any commercial purpose, and a similar tragedy is taking place in the dairy industry, where calves are taken from their mothers right after birth. And if the calf is unfortunate enough to be a male, he will be killed not long after, while if the calf is unfortunate enough to be a female, she is cursed to have the same life as her mother – a life where she will go through an unending cycle of painful insemination and pregnancy that results in the birth of a calf who will be taken away from her immediately every time. And, needless to say, the chickens and cows who are exploited for their eggs and milk also end up getting killed themselves, hanging upside down in a slaughterhouse. These are the horrors behind eggs and dairy, whether “organic” or not, and only our loyal adherence to old habit seems able to explain why we dare not face these tragedies and respond with viral outrage as we should.

The best reasons we can provide for subjugating and killing non-human beings in order to eat, wear, or otherwise exploit them is that we like the taste, look, smell or texture of them or things they can provide; that we are in the habit of eating, wearing or using them; and that it is convenient to do so. Yet we must admit that none of these reasons – reasons that basically come down to pleasure, habit, or laziness – can be considered even remotely necessary reasons for imposing suffering or death upon another sentient being. Therefore, if we accept the validity of the above-mentioned ethical principle, as the vast majority of us surely do, we must admit that we cannot justify killing, or giving an industry our money for killing, a sentient being in order to eat, wear, or otherwise use things that came from this being. We must admit that this core value we all share obliges us to go vegan.

This may seem counter-intuitive – after all, even some of the most compassionate people eat non-human beings, so it seems hard to believe that it is wrong, and that it is so even according to one of the most basic and widely shared ethical principles of all. Yet this is indeed the case, and an analogous example put forth by animal rights theorist Gary Francione that is ethically equivalent, but not so closely tied to an old habit that most of us are slaves to, may help us realize this: Most of us condemn the actions of people who kill non-human animals for sadistic pleasure – kill them because they like seeing them die. The reason we condemn such actions is that this bizarre pleasure clearly is not a necessary reason for killing a sentient being. However, ethically, such actions are in fact equivalent to the killing of non-human animals that we all support, directly or indirectly, when we buy their flesh, eggs, or milk. In both cases, a being is killed for the mere sake of pleasure, which renders them both equally unjustifiable according to the basic ethical principle stated above.

The main difference between the two cases is that the killing of non-human beings for the sake of economic gain and palate pleasure is accepted by our culture, while killing for sadistic pleasure is not, and as a result there seems to be a big difference between the two cases intuitively, yet ethically, the difference is negligible. So we clearly have a moral illusion, and it is about time we see through it and realize that we cannot justify killing other beings for the mere sake of palate pleasure or other frivolous reasons. For until we do, we will keep on acting in ways that in the most relevant regards are practically indistinguishable from the evil actions of a sadistic killer, although on a scale that by far exceeds what even the most vicious sadist could keep up with in his wildest dreams, as we needlessly kill about 2000 land animals every second, and far more marine animals, for no higher purpose than our pleasure and convenience. It is about time we realize that when we buy the flesh, skin, or fur of another sentient being, no matter how “happy” the being that this “product” came from was, we are inevitably supporting something that we all actively condemn: the needless death of a sentient being – death for the mere sake of pleasure.

Speciesism: No Better than Racism or Sexism
One of the defining traits of our moral progress since the beginning of the Enlightenment is that we gradually have moved away from discrimination based on ethically irrelevant criteria. Where it was once more or less the norm that the rich man above a certain age had privileges that nobody else had, while people of a certain ethnicity had no rights at all, we have finally come to realize that such discrimination is deeply unethical. We have finally realized that racism, sexism, ableism, and other forms of discrimination against human beings cannot be justified; not that they do not exist anymore, but they are no longer the norm, and no longer as widespread as they were 200, 100, or just 50 years ago. We have finally realized that women should not be given fewer rights because they are women, that people should not be discriminated against because of the color of their skin, and that people who have a disability should not be treated with less care and respect because they have a disability. When it comes to humans, we have finally realized that it is by virtue of sentience alone — the fact that we are conscious beings who can experience suffering and well-being — that we have moral value. When it comes to humans, we recognize that this and nothing else is the true basis of moral concern. Black, white, male, female, physically or cognitively impaired or not, it is all irrelevant for our status as beings of inherent moral value, beings who should be respected and treated as ends rather than means.

Unfortunately, there is still a form of discrimination that thrives as well as ever: speciesism, discrimination against non-human beings because they are non-human beings. When it comes to these beings, we still see the outer appearance as relevant, we fail to connect with the conscious subject, and we justify our discrimination more or less in the same way as we justified our racism and sexism in the past: because they are black, they don't deserve the same rights, we said, and because they are women, they should not be granted the same rights, we claimed. Today we put non-human beings into the x of this equation of unjustified discrimination: because they are “animals”, we can raise and kill them as we please.

But discrimination against non-human animals is not ethically unjustifiable. Human beings and non-human animals are different. Humans have cognitive capacities that other animals don’t have.”
Humans are surely different from non-human animals, but men are also different from women, and people who have a disability are also different from people who do not. The point being that mere difference does not justify discrimination. The contrast between our view and treatment of humans who do not have certain abilities and our view and treatment of non-human animals who also do not have certain abilities is indeed quite striking. For we obviously do not find it defensible to kill or to grant less moral consideration to a human if s/he does not have certain mental faculties that most other humans have; for instance, if we imagine that we have a human being with the mental capacities of a cow – a mind that cannot understand words, but which can feel emotions and feel degrees of joy and pain, probably every bit as intensely as other humans. We do not accept disadvantageous consideration for, or treatment of, such a person. On the contrary, we rightly realize that we have an obligation to help this person even more than we need to help other humans.

The pressing question is then why we not only do not feel the same way about a being who has both the mind and body of a cow, but feel the complete opposite: that it is okay to exploit and kill this being for no higher purpose than palate pleasure. This is clearly indefensible discrimination, because it reveals that if we could only transplant the nervous system of a cow into a human body so that this cow's mind and experience would be embodied in a human body instead, this – that the being gets another shell – is what is needed in order to save this being from our dysfunctional moral intuitions and the butcher's knife, since we will, as pointed out above, not only not kill such a being for mere palate pleasure, but realize an obligation to help him or her.

The same line of reasoning can be used to reveal how outraged we would be about the dairy industry if only the cows who are exploited by it had human bodies – and how outraged we should be over the dairy industry today, even though the cows “only” have cow bodies. It seems safe to say that we would never accept a practice that forcefully makes women pregnant every year and which takes away their children right after birth – the boys being killed soon thereafter, and the girls being bound to have the same fate as their mothers – in order for us to get milk from these women, no matter how much we enjoy drinking milk or are unable to "give up cheese". Nobody would consider supporting this industry a matter of personal choice. And saying that we do it to women who have a cognitive disability does not change this; the mere pain and nausea of being pregnant and the pain of labour, along with the sheer lack of necessity for milk, makes it obvious that we should not do this. Yet this is exactly what the dairy industry that most of us happily throw our money after does to innocent cows, whom we have every reason to believe experience as bad pain and suffering from pregnancy and labour, not to mention the violent insemination they are subjected to, as a human would. Again, this clearly reveals that we have a double-standard, and its source is pure speciesism. If only the cows in our dairy industry had human bodies – if they only had the outer appearance of a human, while still having the mind of a cow – people would be outraged about this practice of forced pregnancy of human-looking beings, and they would no doubt demand that those responsible for it should get the highest punishment possible. Unfortunately, the reality is that they “only” have cow bodies, and that we are all responsible for the continued thriving of this industrialized torture.

These thought experiments where all we do is give a sentient non-human being a human body perfectly expose our speciesism, and expose how this form of discrimination finds itself down on the exact same low level as other forms of discrimination that we recognize as indefensible like racism and sexism. Like these forms of discrimination, speciesism is just another flavor of the indefensible failure to realize the irrelevance of outer appearances. (In relation to the concept of speciesism, I recommend watching Speciesism: The Movie.)

So there is an enormous discrepancy between our moral perception of human and non-human beings respectively, and, as closer examination reveals, this discrepancy is indefensible: we would never find it justifiable to kill a human being just because s/he has the mind of a cow or a chicken, so why do we find it okay to kill a cow or a chicken because they have the mind of a cow or a chicken?

This inconsistency clearly reveals that we need to expand our circle of compassion and ethical consideration so that a human form and the above-mentioned transplant are not needed in order to be granted adequate moral consideration. Essentially, so that we can stop discriminating against beings based on outer appearances. If we do this, if we reject speciesism and reject our ethic based on outer appearances, then we are obviously also bound to go vegan, since we all find it wrong to enslave, raise, or kill beings with a human form for trivial purposes such as palate pleasure or fashion preferences, and it would be speciesist to not have the same stance in relation to non-human beings. So anything but veganism, anything but the refusal to participate in exploitation of other sentient beings, is clearly speciesist. The bottom line: If we reject speciesism – if we reject discrimination based on outer appearances – we must embrace veganism. It is about time we do.

As has been made clear in this essay, the core values we all hold – our belief that we should not impose unnecessary suffering or death upon other sentient beings, and our belief that we should not treat beings differently based on their external traits – clearly oblige us to go vegan. The question we should all be asking ourselves, then, is: do we have the dignity and sincerity to end an old habit and start living according to our own core values?

For a more detailed and broader case for veganism, see 'Why We Should Go Vegan' and 'Why ”Happy Meat” Is Always Wrong'.

For more information about speciesism, see

For a good introduction to, and more information about, veganism, see:

Parts of this essay have previously been published elsewhere.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Calling Out Sam Harris


Sam Harris is beyond doubt one of the people who have inspired my thinking, and even changed my life, the most. I have found his writings to be enlightening and mind-changing, and I have a great deal of admiration and affection for him.
What characterizes Sam Harris, in my view, is his fearless and uncompromising adherence to reason wherever it takes him, be it on the subject of drugs, spirituality, faith or morality.
However, there is one issue, I'm sorry to say, on which Harris' thinking betrays his otherwise uncompromising reason, and where he is in fact profoundly confused. It is the issue of veganism, or exploitation of non-human animals. In this post, I would like to point out this confusion.

Harris has written precious little on the subject of non-human animals, which already is quite a betrayal of the moral framework he argues for: that we should maximize the well-being of conscious beings. This framework should surely make him pay a considerable amount of attention to the subject of non-human animals, as they after all do constitute the vast majority of conscious beings on earth. But very little related to the subject can be found in his books.
To my knowledge, the most of what Harris has expressed on the subject is instead found in two short videos in which Harris conveys his ideas, or lack thereof, about the subject, so it is worth focusing on them. Here is the first one:

It is worth noting that the question Harris is asked here is related to vegetarianism and veganism, yet Harris completely evades this issue, and instead talks about weighing the importance of different kinds of conscious beings. This is not the issue when it comes to veganism, however. The issue is: Are we justified in raising, killing and eating non-human animals? Harris' claim that "we show every sign of having a broader and deeper and richer experience than any other conscious creature we know about"  a claim that of course can be contested  has little relevance here. After all, Harris also considers some humans to be more important than others ethically – some humans may have a "deeper and richer" experience than others – but the central question, and the question that Harris comfortably sidesteps completely, is whether these beings with a deeper and richer experience  art collectors, say – are justified in eating other beings with a "less rich experience", for the sake of their mere pleasure or convenience. It should be obvious that they are not, yet pleasure and convenience are the only reasons we who live in a modern society have for eating non-human beings ultimately (see the first chapter of 'Why We Should Go Vegan'). So Harris simply sidesteps the core issue.
Here is the second video from Harris:

This video, if anything, shows how inconsistent Harris is on this subject, and how little he has thought about it. He admits that he "actually can't defend eating meat", yet he gives it half a try anyway, saying that he felt he lacked protein after being a vegetarian for six years, and this was his reason for taking up eating non-human beings. First of all, the fact that Harris was a vegetarian is clear evidence of the little thought that he has given this subject, as there is no ethically relevant distinction between eating flesh and then eating eggs and dairy (see the fourth chapter of 'Why We Should Go Vegan'; arguably, from the perspective of reducing suffering, eggs and dairy are far worse). Secondly, as someone who has spent a fair amount of time thinking about what we can say about third-person facts based on our direct first-person experience, Harris should know a lot better than claiming that he felt protein deficient. After all, how does protein deficiency feel compared to, say, vitamin B12 deficiency? Paying close attention to one's direct experience simply does not reveal our fundamental needs at the level of molecular biology; the only way to find out whether one is deficient, and what one is deficient in in that case, is via a blood test. In short, Harris should and could easily have taken a blood test that would reveal any deficiencies, and the fact that he instead chose to surrender to eating non-human beings just reveals his lack of moral seriousness with regard to this subject.

Harris then goes on to say that the day we have synthetic meat, we will have a real ethical obligation to stop eating actual flesh from non-human beings, a sentiment he has since repeated in a tweet. This is as wrong as can be, however, since the ethical status of eating flesh is the same today as it will be the day synthetic meat is available: we do not need it.

It is also confusing that Harris in the video points toward delegating something that one would not do oneself as the unethical aspect of the killing of non-human animals, as if the killing itself was not the problem. The wrongness of hiring somebody else to kill a person does not lie in the hiring of somebody else rather than doing it oneself, but obviously in the resulting death itself. Irrespective of who does it, killing is wrong. The same is true when it comes to non-human beings, and this is a point where Harris again demonstrates his confusion: when he says that he would support any effort to make this whole practice of raising and killing non-human animals more compassionate. This in fact both reveals a lack of compassion and a lack of serious thinking about the subject, since compassion first of all excludes finding it justifiable to unnecessarily kill those we feel it for, and since a closer ethical examination reveals that raising non-human animals for the purpose of killing and eating them cannot be justified in the first place (see 'Why "Happy Meat" Is Always Wrong' for such an examination).

In sum, Harris is, like most people, profoundly confused on this subject. Like many people, he seems to express concern about the well-being of non-human beings, yet at the same time he continues a practice that is unnecessary for his health  unnecessary, because anything we can get from non-human animals that we need for our health, we can get from vegan sources too, and not choosing the vegan option is simply immoral laziness  and he supports a system that exploits and kills non-human beings in unimaginably horrible ways. And his confusion has consequences. People take Harris' position on this subject to be reasonable, as I myself inexcusably did too for a period, and as a result, many people are confused and seem to believe they are justified in doing the wholly unjustifiable. For example, on the second video above – the one where Harris says he can't defend eating meat, but gives it a shot anyway – one finds comments like this one:

No surprise here, I agree with Sam on this completely.  I actually have thought this way a long while, we do need a substitute; but I have no problem killing other animals for food.  I do sleep soundly being a meat eater, I don't like how the current practices are though but I'm a, "People Eating Tasty Animals" advocate.
That a joke like this can even be made by someone who probably considers himself both rational and compassionate just reveals how pervasive speciesism is in our society, and Harris has done little to go against this most unfortunate state of things.

But why am I picking on Sam Harris when there are so many professed reasonable people who should also know better, for instance Richard Dawkins and Kenan Malik. First of all, the reason I call out Harris here is because I know that he has an open mind, and there is hope that he will change his mind and behavior. Secondly, veganism simply follows from a simple analysis based on the very moral framework he has put forth himself (such an analysis is what I aimed to make in my book 'Why We Should Go Vegan', a book that I think does make a clear case that we should go vegan). Thirdly, I reach out to Harris because he already holds views of non-human consciousness that should make him a lot more enlightened and a lot less lazy than he has been on this subject so far. Harris is a neuroscientist, and he recognizes the "fatal resemblance of the human brain to the brains of other animals." (The Moral Landscape, p. 159). Presumably for the same reason, Harris also recognizes that it is highly unreasonable to dispute animal consciousness: "[...] is there really a question about whether any nonhuman animals have conscious experience? I would like to suggest that there is not." (The End of Faith, p. 266).

With his background in neuroscience, Harris should know that while non-human animals do not share many of our intellectual faculties, they do share many of our emotional ones, and this should give anybody who eats them and senselessly makes jokes about how they love frying them some pause. It it rarely does, though.

Lastly, I reach out to Harris here because it is an opportunity for him to take his own moral framework seriously, and to prove wrong those who claim that reason cannot help guide our moral actions. Because if Harris really is concerned about the well-being of all conscious beings, he should not only be a vegan, but a strong advocate for veganism. I am sure he can, and eventually will, become that.

He seems to be a far way off presently, however, which he shows clearly with statements like the following one from his otherwise great book, 'The Moral Landscape': "We seem to have decided, all things considered, that it is proper that the well-being of certain species be entirely sacrificed to our own. We might be right about this." Harris goes on to write that we might be wrong too, but the fact that he frames the issue in this way in the first place demonstrates his profound misunderstanding of the realities of the subject in the first place. As I argue in my book, 'Why We Should Go Vegan', the truth is that we are not merely sacrificing the well-being of certain other species for our own, but both the well-being of other species and of humanity by not being vegan. And that is one of the reasons it is such an easy moral question to answer, and one of the reasons all reasonable people should come strongly out against it. The only thing that is hard here, if anything, is to quit an old habit.

When it comes to non-human beings and our obligations toward them, Sam Harris is unfortunately as much an enemy of reason as anybody he attacks in his own work. On one hand he admits that he cannot defend eating them, yet he keeps on doing it on an ill-informed basis  that is, without making the slightest effort to study vegan nutrition, which would surely make him realize that eating flesh or anything else that comes from non-human animals is not necessary in order to be healthy. How is this in any way in line with the reason Harris is advocating for? How can supporting an industry that needlessly makes non-human beings suffer be in line with the compassion he argues for? It can't. On this subject, intellectual laziness unfortunately seems to have beaten Harris' commitment to reason. This will hopefully change.

We live in a society that is horribly confused and that has a consensus on many subjects that is not close to be worthy of even being called confused. Harris knows this is true with regard to many subjects, but he does not seem to have fully realized it when it comes to our treatment and view of non-human beings. It is time he does, and I therefore give him, along with everyone else, the following invitation: Change your mind and behavior, become a vegan and become a force of reason and well-being in full and argue for veganism. If not, at least try to come up with an argument against it. It is simply nothing less than hypocritical to argue that we must let our actions be guided by reason, and then at the same time knowingly not act according to reason oneself. That cannot be considered anything but a prime example of unreason.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Why Veganism Is Important

Veganism is perhaps the most important issue of all to be thinking about and promoting at this point in time if we are determined on reducing suffering in the world – as we indeed should be. For our exploitation of non-human beings for frivolous purposes, which includes tens of billions of lives lived out under the horrible conditions of factory farming, is no doubt the greatest source of suffering in the world that we can easily abolish (and it is worth noting that a vegan diet, contrary to common objections, in fact is the diet that prevents the most suffering and death). And all it takes to end this suffering is that we, civilized and moral citizens, collectively decide to put an end to it, which makes it unlike, say, the unthinkable torture presently going on in North Korea, which unfortunately seems hard to stop for the ordinary, decent citizen. Furthermore, what it takes and what is being asked of us in order to create a vegan world is really a bare moral minimum, as we are not asked to actively save any non-human animals — no money need be donated, no new inventions need be made. All that is required is that we stop actively supporting the harming and killing of our fellow sentient beings. No heroic or self-sacrificial acts are required.

Another reason why veganism is of great importance that should not be overlooked is that our not being vegan also increases the risk of an existential catastrophe, a catastrophe that causes human life to go extinct, since our raising billions of non-human animals under closely confined conditions inevitably increases the risk of pandemics that could spread sickness and death faster than we can manage to devise a cure.
Lethal pandemics aside, our not being vegan causes many different diseases to spread to human beings, and it also pollutes our environment in ways that make us sick and can be lethal; all in all, our raising of non-human animals causes enormous amounts of human suffering and death — thousands, if not millions, of human deaths every year — in many different ways (I will not elaborate on the ways in which our not being vegan causes human suffering in this essay, as I have done that elsewhere. See the first and especially the second chapter of 'Why We Should Go Vegan').

Yet another reason why veganism is important is that it is the first step toward recognizing the moral value of non-human animals, and toward transcending our speciesism — our discrimination against other beings based on their species membership, which is not in itself an ethically relevant characteristic (In relation to speciesism and its pervasiveness in society, I recommend watching Speciesism: The Movie. See also my book Speciesism: Why It Is Wrong, And The Implications of Rejecting It.)

Our notion that the pain and suffering of non-human beings cannot in any way be compared to human pain and suffering is a speciesist one; as speciesist as it is racist to say that people of color do not experience pain in a way that can be compared to the pain of white people, since it is not in any way supported by a closer study of the neural correlates of pain or suffering, as non-human vertebrates show every sign of having these basic neural structures in common with us. Here is David Pearce pointing out the anything but human substrates of suffering:

We often find it convenient to act as though the capacity to suffer were somehow inseparably bound up with linguistic ability or ratiocinative prowess. Yet there is absolutely no evidence that this is the case, and a great deal that it isn't. The functional regions of the brain which subserve physical agony, the "pain centres", and the mainly limbic substrates of emotion, appear in phylogenetic terms to be remarkably constant in the vertebrate line. The neural pathways involving serotonin, the periaquaductal grey matter, bradykinin, dynorphin, ATP receptors, the major opioid families, substance P etc all existed long before hominids walked the earth. Not merely is the biochemistry of suffering disturbingly similar where not effectively type-identical across a wide spectrum of vertebrate (and even some invertebrate) species. It is at least possible that members of any species whose members have more pain cells exhibiting greater synaptic density than humans sometimes suffer more atrociously than we do, whatever their notional "intelligence".

[Quoted from Pearce's 'The Hedonistic Imperative'.]

This should detonate a bomb in our thinking about ethics and unleash a Copernican Revolution in ethics that finally makes us realize that all moral concerns and obligations do not revolve around us humans alone. It should make us realize that people who fight against racism but not speciesism have taken up an arbitrarily narrow fight against discrimination — speciesism is, after all, very similar to racism, as it is also discrimination based simply on different external traits; the only difference is that racism is discrimination against our close cousins while speciesism is discrimination against our more distantly related sentient cousins.

The fact that we are likely equal with our fellow vertebrates in our capacity to suffer should also make us realize that we are committing an atrocity every day when we raise non-human animals under horrible conditions and kill them, and it should obviously also make us go vegan. We would for instance never accept a practice that forcefully makes women pregnant every year, and then takes away their children right after birth — the boys being killed soon thereafter and the girls being bound to have the same fate as their mothers — in order for us to get milk from these women, no matter how much we enjoy drinking milk or are unable to "give up cheese." Nobody would consider supporting this industry a matter of personal choice — in fact, nobody would consider supporting any exploitation of humans for frivolous purposes a matter of personal choice, no matter what minds or traits the humans who are exploited have, which just reveals that the only reason we consider not being vegan a matter of personal choice is speciesism.

In the case of the imagined human dairy industry, nothing would change in our attitudes if we said that we only exploit women who have a mental disability and who do not understand what is going on; the mere pain and nausea of being pregnant and the pain of labour, along with the sheer lack of necessity, makes it obvious that we should not do this. Yet this is exactly what the dairy industry that most of us happily throw our money after does to innocent cows whom we have every reason to believe suffer as horrible suffering from pregnancy and labour, not to mention the violent insemination they are subjected to, as a human would. This clearly reveals that we have a double-standard, and its source is pure speciesism. If the cows in our dairy industry had had human bodies — say we transplanted the cows' nervous system so that they had the exact same nervous system, and the exact same experiences that they presently have during their most unfortunate lives as dairy cows, but the outward appearance of human beings — people would no doubt be outraged about this practice of forced pregnancy of human-looking beings, and they would no doubt demand that those responsible for it should get the highest punishment possible.
This inconsistency clearly reveals that we need to expand our circle of compassion and ethical consideration so that we need not perform such transplants in order to care for our fellow sentient beings — so that we can stop discriminating against beings based on their outward appearances.

When it comes to human beings who have certain disabilities that make them unable to communicate what they are feeling, we rightly realize a responsibility to help and support, while in the case of non-human animals who are equally unable to speak up for themselves and report how they are feeling (even though their behavior quite clearly gives us good hints about this if we only pay attention), we somehow manage to convince ourselves that we can subjugate and use them as we please. Our speciesism and moral delusion could not be clearer. We would never be tempted to subjugate and kill a human being if we are told that s/he has the exact mental abilities of a cow or a chicken. So why would we subjugate and kill a cow or a chicken for the reason that they have the mental abilities of a cow or a chicken?

All this should make the immense importance of veganism clear: We live in a society where supporting industries that make non-human animals suffer in the most horrible ways is commonplace, and where going against it is considered extreme and something one should keep to oneself. And as long as we partake in it, that is, as long as we are not going vegan, we will fail to see anything truly wrong with it, and the above-mentioned transplant and the human form will continue to be necessary in order to ignite people's ethical concern.

Our descendants will not look upon our practice of subjugating and killing non-human animals as we do, and they will not look at us in the way we do ourselves. They will surely see our time as one where the banality of evil was more evident than ever: the Internet was there, they had the information, they could even see the footage. Yet they shrugged their shoulders and merrily took another bite. Our descendants will no doubt be far more advanced than this. Rather than harming our non-human cousins, our descendants will recognize their ethical obligation to not only not harm non-human beings, but to help them wherever they are, and this is yet another reason why veganism is important: it is the first step toward helping relieve the suffering of non-human beings in nature.

We will not climb toward this ethical high ground before we stop exploiting and abusing non-human animals for frivolous purposes such as palate pleasure, fashion preferences and entertainment, because until we do, we will be inclined to defend a habit rather than do what is ethically right. It all comes back to our custom and habit-bound nature. It seems that we find it hard to see anything wrong with that which is habit and tradition. We would probably also find it hard to find anything truly wrong with racism if it happened to be the foundation of a habit and a tradition that we all shared, and hear silly attempts to defend it. In fact, this was indeed the case back in the days where using humans of a certain race as slaves was a tradition, and one that was relied upon by certain industries. Fortunately, since the time we transcended this tradition, we have gradually moved further and further away from such racism.

Similarly, the day we go beyond the unnecessary habit we have of eating non-human animals and things from them, and start conceiving of them as sentient ends of moral worth as we should rather than as mere food, we will finally begin being just as horrified and aroused by speciesism as we are by racism today. Without the habit of putting non-human animals in our mouths, there will no longer be any incentive to rationalize unnecessary suffering. This will mark the end of the acceptance of our exploitation of non-human beings, and the beginning of an era where we instead help our fellow sentient beings. Humanity will then go from living off of the bodies, suffering and death of other animals, to living for the purpose of making all sentient beings flourish and free from suffering — regardless of species. That is what it should mean to be human. The day this begins to happen is the day we go vegan, and that is how indescribably important veganism is.