What does veganism have to do with metal?

(1) The advent of social justice in heavy metal and ignorance of metal philosophy

Thrash metal, speed metal, whatever one chooses to call it, did a profound ideological disservice to metal at large by introducing politically charged themes from the converging punk and hardcore movements. Traditional metal till that point had been vehement to be sure, but never self-righteous. Death metal and black metal would come around later to define metal philosophy as fundamentally nihilistic. Come to think of it, even most thrash/speed bands working away from the glare of the mainstream didn’t obsess over social grievances, but the heavy hitters dabbled in soapbox antics from time to time, and in turn influenced an entire generation of simple-minded listeners to view metal as a crusade for justice. Fans with a broader perspective on the genre will vouch for it being anything but.

The singer/guitarist of a certain one-time black metal band, previously written of here in not unkind terms, has over the recent past experienced a vegan epiphany and not long thereafter embarked on a proselytizing spree of some obnoxiousness. I have known this personage in life for a long time, have called him friend even, and am therefore familiar than most with his penchant for sensationalism. In other circumstances, I would wistfully shake my head at his behavior, move on, and probably share a drink with him somewhere down the road; but this time in his zeal to convert and gather cheap applause, he has managed to subvert an entirely unrelated musical philosophy to cater to his new agenda. You see, he now preaches the gospel of compassion towards livestock and good health, and vents his disenchantment with metalheads from whom he expects these fair virtues but who so abjectly let him down by having the temerity to enjoy their steaks.

This pattern repeats, time and again. Be it the clowns writing for American websites that don’t deserve to be named, front men like Barney Greenway (who, to his credit, at least plays in a genre which expects him to be a shill for the Left), ridiculous virtue signalers like Rob Flynn, or my Satan-worshipping friend in the one-time black metal band, the convention now seems to be to think of metal as an ideology of love, peace, and the brotherhood of man, instead of what it truly is: meta, descriptive, observational, not moral, not immoral, but amoral at heart.

(2) What is veganism?

Veganism at its core is a movement against the exploitation of animals for human consumption. Its polemics are broadly directed towards a trifecta of issues: the impact of animal husbandry on ecology, the fatal effects meat-eating has on human health, and, most importantly, the moral angle involved in using animals for human purposes.

These by themselves are not insignificant questions to be asked of our current mode of living and deserve to be discussed with some seriousness. Nobody can deny the detrimental effect that mass animal farming has on the environment. Similarly, the widely-prevalent use of hormone treatments in rearing livestock, as well as the “pressure-cooker” environments in which these animals are raised, can’t be doing many favors to those who choose to eat them.

Few sane people will argue against some form of regulation to be enacted against these practices. Massive demand implemented through capitalist, assembly-line models of production may render any such talk dead on arrival but, for the sake of argument, let us assume one is even in favor of introducing a humane, meat-rationing system of a kind, where animals are killed as painlessly as current medicine allows for and meat-coupons are distributed on a periodic basis. Surely, that ought to mitigate the severity of these two issues, health and ecology,  as well as soothing the concern over cruel treatment of animals, to a great degree.

(3) Duplicitous vegan reasoning

But it’s obvious that such a humane, meat-rationing system won’t be the endgame for veganism. In a movement notorious for shifting linguistic and philosophical goalposts as and when it pleases, the argument would then undoubtedly move in to the moral dimension, and it is here where “militant” vegans like my friend display breathtaking intellectual dishonesty. Veganism as an idea is founded on the self-serving non-sequitur of “speciesism”, or the discrimination of different animal species by human beings because those animal species are, in fact, different from human beings!

For instance, how can you eat a stack of ribs, they say, while cuddling up to your dog? Never mind if the farm pig’s only reason to exist is to end up on a dish alongside a cob of corn; quite literally, and may all accusations of playing God be dismissed with a flick of the wrist. Never mind that, but if you condone the one, why not endorse the dog-eaters in China, too? Why this bias for one species over another? If you call yourself an animal lover then shouldn’t you be equally up in arms against both dog-eating and pig-farming?

To be frank, I feel little else than anthropological interest in the phenomenon of Yulin; it is after all curious why certain pockets of the civilized world never developed an appreciation for the symbiotic, mutually affectionate relationship that has existed elsewhere between humans and dogs for thousands of years. But my personal distaste for a foreign culture’s dietary inclinations does not figure in making a moral judgement on the constitution of that culture.

More pertinently, what vegans accomplish through this line of reasoning is to conflate genera and species. All animals are not dogs. Just because I admire a dog does not automatically imply I have to love a pig. I go as far as to say that I even reserve the right to discriminate between different pedigrees of dogs, nay, between different members belonging to the same pedigree itself! In exercising my powers of judicious bias, I, in fact, am imbuing animals with a far greater degree of individuation than overzealous vegans who would have all animals resemble the same indistinguishable mass of flesh and bone.

Illustrating this striation found in nature further, in the wake of Cecil The Lion being shot by an American dentist, vegans wasted no time in making memes displaying various livestock – a chicken, most notably – miserably proclaiming, “Je suis Cecil!” I wished more than once that someone would come up with a counter-meme saying, “No, you’re a fucking chicken.” We call a courageous warrior lion-like, because we derive an analogy for his courage from the ferocity of spirit seen naturally occurring in a lion. No prizes for guessing which animal/bird a coward is compared to most often. Endless forms most beautiful, yes, but not all built the same.

Building on this spurious foundation of “speciesism”, vegans proceed further to commit one false equivalence greater than another. Foremost among these is a somewhat embarrassing, Cartoon Network-style anthropomorphism, in which animals are invested with all the attributes that define human beings. Once one becomes comfortable with this sleight of mind, all terminology and jurisprudence designed for human interaction with other humans can be conveniently transferred to the animal world under the aegis of a shared sentience.

For example, a cow is raped, a chicken is murdered, and a goat is enslaved. Human genocides pale into insignificance when compared with the holocaust perpetrated against animals through history. Intersectionality, or the attempt at linking human-centered movements with the experience of animals, is trumpeted: for instance, one cannot be a feminist unless they are also against the dairy industry. Cows are females, after all, and cows are forcibly impregnated and their milk stolen, ergo cows ought to be represented within the spectrum of the feminist movement, too. Though there may be considerable similarity between feminists and bovines with shit-smeared rumps urinating in the middle of traffic, generally speaking, the possibilities for animal exaltation and human denigration – but, insidiously, self-aggrandizement by arrogating all moral agency to oneself alone, too – become limitless through this brand of casuistry.

One might argue that denying this “transmigration” of human qualities to animals is only pedantic at best. Whether they are humans or not, to the naked human eye cows are “raped”, chickens are “murdered”, and goats are “enslaved”, and that neither humans nor animals actively seek out these traumatic experiences is as close to an axiomatic truth as any. Does it not then become our moral imperative to extend the same empathy that we do to our fellow humans to animals also?

But man’s moral imperative is based on his will and how he discharges that will within the society in which he exists. When a man says he wills so and so thing, the intent to do that thing can be centered either in the moment, influenced by biological impulse or reason. Or, crucially, that intent can also be realized in the distant future, being interconnected with multiple such wills counteracting on each other over time and through the sole agency of reason. The latter, in particular, when taken to an abstract extreme, separates us from animals.

But regardless of whether that moral imperative is channeled through biological impulse or concerted force of reason, in the instant or over extended spans of time, its validity in all cases is predicated upon a certain degree of appreciation and reciprocation between the actors. Naturally, the further one gets from one’s species, the more attenuated this degree of mutual reinforcement becomes. Occasionally, we as a society decide by consensus to accord certain rights to animals, perhaps with a view towards preservation. Sometimes, study reveals, as in the case of cetaceans and primates, indisputably higher states of consciousness, in which case we reevaluate our stance and tentatively bring those species into the ambit of human morality. But in all cases, our moral imperative is enjoined first and foremost on our fellow humans; call it the primacy of the biological imperative over the moral imperative, if you will, but to extend the latter to everything that walks, burrows, swims, or flies, on the basis of some Eden-style utopian pipe dream is to be estranged from reality itself.

(4) SJW shaming was the cure?

Once upon a time, A.N.U.S. (American Nihilist Underground Society) and the Dark Legions Archives famously mocked Chuck Schuldiner for  dying of AIDS, supposedly contracted through homosexual intercourse. Legend has it that letters to the effect were sent to Schuldiner’s mother after his death, in an attempt at trolling which I will confess I found somewhat distasteful at the time. Presumably, the motives were to cut Schuldiner fanboy adulation down to size as well as to vent against Schuldiner himself for watering down his music and, most importantly, for subverting and publicly disowning death metal ideology (inverted cross turning around, preachy lyrics, etc) to meet his increasingly docile views on life.

With due fairness, Chuck Schuldiner was never a “SJW” in the way the term has come to be recognized today. My Satan-worshipping friend in the one-time black metal band, however, most emphatically is, at least one fringe variant of the breed anyway. He may not be dying of AIDS, yet, and I wish he never does, but I would sincerely advise him all the same to give up playing black metal and consider a career in making sappy jingles for Bollywood, instead.

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5 Responses to What does veganism have to do with metal?

  1. Needles says:

    On an unrelated note, ODB, you ever thought of starting a podcast?

  2. Anonymous says:

    I’m reminded of Bentham’s saying: “The question is not: “can they talk?” or “can they reason?”, it is: “can they suffer?” “

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