Biased toward a vegan world

Sometimes I get feedback that the site is "biased," "one-sided" or would be more credible if it took a more "balanced" approach. Sometimes beekeepers say it seems as though I'd reached my conclusion before I started researching the issue. To all of which I say, um, well...yes.

Actually, that's precisely the point.

Like the first sentence says, "This essay explains why vegans do not eat honey." It does not try to convince non-vegans to cease eating honey, it does not attempt to claim that honey is "bad." What it does do is present, in detail, a vegan perspective on honey bees and their relationship with humans.

A "balanced" approach is incompatible with a vegan approach

Veganism is a social movement designed to create a world free from animal exploitation. People practice veganism by choosing to meet their needs through ways that do not exploit animals. We work to create non-exploitative systems to make obsolete current uses of animals.

Veganism is not merely a radical departure from the status quo – it is a replacement for it. It asks not, "how can we exploit animals in a less exploitative way?" but simply, "how can we stop exploiting animals?" The answer is easy: stop exploiting animals. If necessary, find a replacement.

Because the vegan perspective is not yet considered common sense, the page would indeed be less challenging to a general audience if it were more "balanced." That is, if vegan ideals were watered down with views from the status quo. The problem is, however, that veganism and the status quo are two opposing paradigms. Since non-exploitation is inherently incompatible with exploitation, to introduce ideas from the status quo does not simply water down veganism – it renders it utterly meaningless.

Broader implications of "bias"

It's somewhat distressing to me that in the 21st century, people still entertain old-fashioned notions of objectivity and neutrality. This is actually a very serious issue on a number of fronts. Would these same people, say a white American male such as myself, think that something written from the perspective of a Korean woman was "biased" and "one-sided" if she did not include the perspective of a white American male? Do people really believe that news can ever be fair and balanced?

Although everyone has a particular perspective, we only point this out when those biases deviate from what is considered normal or ideal. Since straight white able-bodied men embody "normal," they aren't biased – they simply are.

But the minute you change one of those variables, the person simply has an axe to grind – they're only presenting their "perspective," not talking about reality. We can't just listen to what they have to say on its own terms, no, we must also be given perspective of the status quo – to balance things out. Never mind that that is the unnamed background noise to which we are constantly subjected.

Like the myth of the cow who exists for no other purpose than to "give" us her milk – which she magically produces constantly – there is a similar myth that bees exist to make honey for us. If we want to challenge that myth, we have to get into the particulars. Beekeepers seem to think that by pointing out particular practices, I am somehow selectively buildling a case against honey. That view has it backwards.

It's about the exploitation, not the method of exploitation

Vegans eschew cow's milk not because cows are forcibly impregnated, because machines are used to milk them, or because their babies are forcibly taken away from them. Vegans abstain from cow's milk because we are creating a world in which animals are not exploited for human gain. Artificial insemination, milking machines, and veal crates are merely symptoms and tools of exploitation, not its root.

Similarly, the trappings of beekeeping: the removable frames, the smoker, the veil (or in its absence, the stings) – these things are not the reasons to forgo honey – they are simply the evidence of exploitation. Bees produce fixed hives because they are storing honey for themselves and they don't intend for it to go anywhere. But beekeepers use removable frames so that they can efficiently remove the bees' honey from their hive. Beekeepers use smoke to subdue the bees who would otherwise defend their hive from an intruder. Beekeepers wear protective gear because bees communicate loud and clear through their stings that they object to what the beekeeper is doing.

Talking about the tools of exploitation makes it clear that we have to forcibly take honey away from bees, that it is not a symbiotic relationship, that it is not a gift economy. Beekeepers get confused and think that vegans are upset about the specific methods of control that they engage in. Removable frames, they say, are so much more humane than the old way of destroying the entire beehive – why don't you talk about that? Because the relevant comparison is not to past forms of exploitation, but to the goal of non-exploitation.

Bias makes everything clear

Understanding what veganism is and what a vegan perspective is puts charges of "bias" into context. People say "you're biased" when what they really mean is, "What you are saying does not fit into my worldview." But they don't say that because they don't want to acknowledge that there are two competing viewpoints; it's less mentally challenging to dismiss me as dishonest.

Ryan, a beekeeper, says:

You are wrong. Bees are an important part of the ecosystem, and beeKEEPERS are care takers of the bees. We are constantly working to improve the conditions for the bees due to the fact that happy bees are productive bees. Your facts are completely biased and not accurate of reality.

Are my facts biased? Or do we simply interpret the same information in different ways – I see paternalism and exploitation where Ryan sees caretaking. Since vegans start from the premise that animals are not to be exploited, we simply aren't interested in Ryan's improved conditions for his "productive" bees.

I hope I've made my vegan bias clear. And I hope it's clear that beekeepers have biases too, and not just in a small sense that they want to preserve their ability to keep bees. They frequently invoke broader biases, such as the belief that animals are here for our use or that it's OK to take something from them if you think you're protecting and providing for them. It's those kind of largely unquestioned assumptions that are the real danger in terms of hidden bias.

I will let a different beekeeper have the final word:

I am a carnivore and keep bees, but I want to thank you for the clarity and sanity of most of what you have on the site. It is great that you seem to have an open mind and an open heart. I was a vegetarian for many years and have many veggie friends and family but met many vegetarians and vegans who were consumed with hate.

I am glad that you highlight the callous attitude of many beekeepers who treat bees as mere commodities. We are aiming to develop a collaborative rather than exploitative way of beekeeping. Whilst of course we hope to get some surplus honey a strong motivator for us to keep bees (and encourage other native bees and insects) is because they may now need our help to survive – yet it is because of a 100 years of bad beekeeping that the honey bee is beset by so many diseases and parasites and is now threatened with a major population collapse.

You would of course disagree with many of the practices we currently employ in beekeeping (we are still novices) and I do disagree with the core beliefs of vegans, but I respect your balanced approach.

Kind regards,
David

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