Sunday 17 December 2023

A failed paradigm: "We the Free" and the futurelessness of vegan activism.

Two emails follow below: one is dated Feb. 1st, 2022, and the other was written and sent today (Dec. 17th, 2023).  Note that they retracted their offer to appear in an interview on my channel after reading the list of particular questions proposed, below.


Questions for "We The Free" (W.T.F.),


I'm sending these questions to an email address in Calgary.  Perhaps you'd disagree with me, but in a country the size of Canada (IMHO) there is no meaningful connection between the vegan movement in Calgary and the vegan movement in Montreal --nor is there a meaningful connection between Montreal and the West Coast.  Does it make sense for W.T.F. or any vegan organization to be "national" in scale, even in a country the size of Canada?  Does it make sense to have "national", "international" and "global" organizations, when the reality often is that the movement consists of very small groups (of perhaps five people) who do not actually collaborate with (or benefit from being supported by) other chapters in other cities, let alone other countries?

You may or may not be familiar with the vegan organization called "Nation Rising".  They have always insisted on grandiose claims about being organized on a national scale, but the reality is that people (including people I've met, face to face) are expected to spend huge sums of money traveling to Ottawa and staying in a hotel (at their own expense) just to have a demoralizing and disappointing experience (for the sake of a lot of revolutionary rhetoric that, frankly, the organization can never deliver on).  Travel within Canada (and staying in hotels in Canada) is more expensive than vacationing in Thailand (and I would know!).  In asking people to travel from Vancouver and Montreal to any "central" city (Toronto, Ottawa or even Calgary, for that matter) is really asking a lot (in terms of time and money).  In return, participants are not given a lot (frankly, they get nothing at all).

This is only the shallowest level of analysis, but it is still an important one.

Just one step deeper, we get into the question of practical democracy.  You'd need to have a long memory for minutiae in the history of the vegan movement to know this, but DxE began by claiming that their "global" organization was "entirely horizontal", with no hierarchy whatsoever.  For years, they dodged questions of who was in charge (and of how they were elected, and of where the money was going, etc.) by insisting on their "horizontality".  That ended with a series of sex scandals: they became a starkly "vertical" organization when they suddenly decided it was necessary to investigate and pass judgement on the sex lives of their activists.

Are there, in fact, advantages to national, international and "global" levels of organization that justify the disadvantages?


The initial pitch for W.T.F. sounds familiar: it reminds me primarily of the original plans for DxE (that were soon enough abandoned) mixed with Paul Bashir's plan for tracking the number of people converted to veganism by his street activism (that were eventually abandoned).  The main praxis of the organization looks a whole lot like Paul Bashir's A.V. without the masks (and without Paul Bashir… and maybe that's the implicit point here, I don't know).

There's a very broad question of, "Why would anyone start a new orgnization anyway?", but there's a very specific question here for W.T.F.: why would anyone create a new organization that so closely resembles other (still ongoing) initiatives in the vegan movement?

I do not begin with the assumption that an organization needs to be new and innovative to change the world (e.g., we could start a completely NON-INNOVATIVE gay rights organization that accomplishes great things, despite being old fashioned, or even because of it)… but yes, it is striking that W.T.F. doesn't offer anything self-evidently new (in terms of methodology or politics).


Some movements begin with people, some movements begin with a piece of paper (i.e., a manifesto or a constitution).  What is puzzling to me about W.T.F. is that it seems to have begun with neither one.

Gary Yourofsky started a vegan movement that basically "was" Gary Yourofsky: if people donated to it (or volunteered to work for it) they knew exactly who and what they were supporting (i.e., the ersatz philosophy of Gary Yourofsky: whether you like it or not is up to you).  The same could be said of innumerable other organizations that were never much more than their leader plus a small number of support staff (Dr. Greger now has a multi-million dollar foundation that exists for nothing more than supporting him in the creation of youtube videos).  To mention a non-vegan example, Extinction Rebellion has three very public founders (Roger Hallam being the most verbose, but he's not the only one) and supporters are aware of what they're supporting, just working from the words and deeds of those "founding executives", shall we say.

I do not know who founded W.T.F., I do not know who is in charge of it, or why.

Your first youtube video is narrated by "@bri_for_liberation".  She is credited as the "presenter", so I infer that she is reading a script written by someone else (and she is not the equivalent of Gary Yourofsky for this organization).  Who wrote the script?

My question here is not merely, "who is Bri?", "who wrote the script?", and why aren't they the person on camera pitching the idea.  Although there's very little accountability in fundraising, the audience feels they know who and what they're donating to when they decide to support Gary Yourofsky, Joey Carbstrong, Earthling Ed or Dr. Greger.  Yes, this may be an illusion (you can read Greger's form 990 and wonder where all the money goes), but the illusion has some significance here: most organizations begin with a person, and donors then understand that they're supporting that person, in a very specific act of trust.

The same is true of people as diverse as James Aspey and myself.  Although we may well speculate as to what anyone imagines they're donating money to support in relation to Aspey or myself, there is at least a specific person whose moral character, purpose and ambition they're "buying in to".

Again, this applies to myself as well: I collected $2000 from GoFundMe this month, and about $300 from Patreon.  Anyone may well criticize me, asking what it is that anyone is supposed to "believe in" that these donations will accomplish (and I have answers, but, of course, so does James Aspey, etc., and we can all be criticized and cross-examined on the point).

However, at this time, if I were to donate money to W.T.F., would I be donating money to "@bri_for_liberation"?  No, apparently not (apparently she is not the leader of this organization in the same sense that Dr. Greger is the leader of his, etc.).  Who am I donating money to?  Who am I supposedly trusting?

I don't think I need to digress into the other possibility mentioned, i.e., that people are donating because they believe in "a piece of paper" rather than a person: it has been largely forgotten that B.L.M. went through a phase of minimizing the significance of their leaders, when they tried to raise money on the basis of their written constitution, but they gave this up partly because their constitution was wildly unpopular (and couldn't give interviews).

If this is your strategy, i.e., if W.T.F. is going to be based on a published text (a book or a manifesto) rather than the leadership of particular people… well, let me know what that book is, because I haven't seen any indication of it, so far.

If there is an answer to this question of, "Who is W.T.F.?" we then begin to ask questions of why they're in charge (rather than someone else)… and, yes, I note, these questions have been asked (recently!) at DxE, Anon. for the Voiceless, and numerous other vegan organizations (whereas this question doesn't get asked at Dr. Greger's org., because everyone involved recognize that the organization is little more than an extension of the trust placed in Dr. Greger).


The website's statement on leadership I do not find convincing, and I can again allude to the crumbling away of DxE's commitment to "horizontality" as a significant precedent:

You say that you'll accept people of any political persuasion, and that you'll let local chapters lead (with the upper echelons following, etc.).  Is this true, in praxis?  If you have a local chapter in Portland, Oregon, that is entirely comprised of Communists, who are loudly associating your brand (and your t-shirts) with Communism, are you really saying that the central command structure of the organization will passively allow them to make excuses for mass murder under Stalin and Mao Zedong, and that you will respect their autonomy, their local leadership, etc., and not attempt to discipline or silence them in any way?  What if, instead, it's a local chapter in Virginia that's entirely comprised of vegan Neo-Nazis?  I am not joking: vegan Communists exist, and vegan Neo-Nazis exist, and I've interviewed examples of both myself.

In praxis, DxE found they could not tolerate even VERY SMALL variations in political beliefs within the organization (they ended up with ideological "witch hunts").  Paul Bashir's A.V. was instead committed to including conservatives and right wingers, precisely because of the dream of a broadly inclusive vegan movement of many ideological stripes, but if you ask around (or google around) you'll soon enough find that they can't really tolerate anyone who doesn't agree with Paul Bashir, down to the smallest minutiae of how the movement should be run.

I know you may be inclined to dismiss this question as a joke, but it's an extremely serious problem: I am now one of the most famous vegan leaders in Canada (I don't have much competition!) but I'm aware that I'm excluded from speaking at vegan events (even where the organizers do personally respect me and my work, i.e., this is a reality I've seen face-to-face, not merely speculation on my part) because I'm supposedly not left wing enough (and I did endorse Bernie Sanders in the last American elections, so I'm left of center… and yet this can never be left wing enough for the crypto-Communists who dominate most vegan organizations).

Every vegan organization I've seen to claim that it doesn't have a hierarchy (or that it has an inverted hierarchy, as WTF claims) really is ruled by just one man, or just one woman, or (often enough) just one married couple.

Tell me, if/when W.T.F. organizes a conference, who will decide on the list of invited speakers?  Who will decide who speaks and who remains silent?  This is a very palpable form of hierarchy: someone (even if they're invisible and anonymous) is in a position of authority to decide who gets to sit on the stage, who gets to sit in the audience, and who will be excluded entirely (i.e., not even allowed to sit in the audience).

I remember a vegan conference in Muskoka, Ontario, that did not have a very impressive list of speakers (again, we don't have so many famous vegans in Canada competing to be on stage) that absolutely refused to even allow me to attend (i.e., to be in the audience).  This is not unusual: in reality, organizations like DxE have a very cult like "purity test" for who is allowed to participate (even though this is contrary to all the written declarations they made in their first year, etc.).


When you look back at the last five years, what have you accomplished?

When you look ahead at the next five years, what do you expect to accomplish?  Where are you going to be, and what are you going to be doing, in the year 2027?

I would direct this question toward the particular person answering in Calgary, but I would ask him, also, to try to construe an answer for whoever is really in charge at W.T.F. (i.e., whoever wrote the script that Bri performed, whoever wrote the declarations on the website, etc.).  I do not know who that person is, or, if it is a group of a few people, I do not know who they are.

I think this is a reasonable question to put to the founder (or founders, plural) of any political or social movement.

The founding documents for W.T.F. (including the first youtube video) allude to the problem of attrition (i.e., vegans quitting).  I wonder if this is linked to the question about what has happened in your life (or in the founders' lives, plural) in the last five years.


The pitch video promises "community" and a "culture".

Today, in 2022, what is the community that W.T.F. can actually offer me?

I will pose this question with "me" actually meaning Eisel Mazard (again, one of the most famous vegans in Canada, partly due to the weakness of my competition; but yes, as you can imagine, when I attend vegan activist conference, a large percentage of people know who I am, as soon as I walk into the room, etc.), but it is an interesting question, also, if we consider an abstract and hypothetical person as this "me".

Looking ahead just five years, in 2027, what is the community that W.T.F. will actually offer me?

My honest opinion, whether you consider this skeptical or not, is that I'd have a better chance of being a part of a vegan community (and a vegan culture) if I buy an airplane ticket to Taiwan, Thailand or Tel Aviv (with some possible footnote for the possibility of converting to Jainism and flying to India).  These are promises other vegan movements have made before.  I've never seen any vegan organization even attempt to deliver on them (not even when they have a multi-million dollar budget, interestingly!).


Finally, training: I do not believe the claim that W.T.F. offers "professional level training".

If I actually spend the time and money to buy an airplane ticket and live in a hotel (for weeks?) to participate in a training course provided by W.T.F., what is the credential that I'll gain?  What are the palpable skills that I'll gain?

If I have to convince my mother to pay for this course you're offering (in the same way that I'd have to convince her to pay for my tuition if I decided I wanted to become a dentist) where is the evidence that this is A PROFESSION for which I'm receiving PROFESSIONAL TRAINING that is really going to change the rest of my life?

I can only remember speaking to one other vegan organization that offered training of this kind, and I can say (honestly) that when I looked into the "training" they were offering, it was far, far worse than just casually watching the youtube videos on my own channel that discuss the history of the vegan movement and the "brass tacks" of how to organize dissent.  The reality was that they (i.e., this vegan organization that I'm leaving nameless) could offer nothing more than participating in Skype calls with middle aged windbags who haven't accomplished anything, as they pat themselves on the back for their past "activism" and vaguely encourage the next generation to "try their best", refusing to deal with any difficult questions, refusing even to engage in basic fact checking (let alone real research, etc.). In 2022, there are a whole lot of Skype calls like that going on… and there IS NOT much to be learned from them (aside from the demonstrable stupidity of the grey haired generation of vegan activists who have taken us so far, but can go no further).

I studied political science at the University of Toronto, and the quality of education was abysmal; however, if I compare the "pep talks" offered by DxE (as "training") I would have to say that a university education in pol. sci. is immeasurably better.

The idea of providing "professional training" in vegan activism is an interesting, daunting and slightly surreal one.  I honestly can't imagine Gary Francione doing a good job at it (and he has tried).  I can't imagine anyone from P.E.T.A. doing a good at it.

If I were to sign up for this "professional training" in 2022, what can W.T.F. offer me?  (And please note, I am in need of a profession! I can devote a great deal of time and money to this, enrolling in baking college to become a vegan baker didn't work out.)  If I were to sign up in 2027, what would W.T.F. be able to offer me?


I never heard back from you guys.

(1) Here's a relatively causal conversation with Sky of PETA & "Vegan of Course"… he actually read my book (Veganism: Future of an Illusion) in the few days AFTER this interview was recorded (not before).

(2) Two of the book chapters have been uploaded as youtube videos (one is bilingual in English + French, the other is bilingual in English + Spanish).

The interview with Sky, above, you can listen to fairly casually while washing the dishes (etc.) but I admit: these (as narrated book chapters) are relatively exhausting (and require more of your attention… so to speak).

(3) The vegan movement is going to change.

It's going to change because it has to.

Progress is an ideology; change is an objective fact.

The future of this movement, James, is not Mariquita Solis of Vegan Empowerment Coaching.  And it's not Paul Bashir.  And it's not Peter Singer.  And it's not Wayne Hsiung.

And you know it.

On some level you know it: the next 20 years of the movement cannot consist of repeating the errors made in the last 20 years, again and again.  No matter how many millions of dollars from donors encourage precisely the repetition of those errors.