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Abjection Your Honour

Updated: Jul 24, 2021

We are, what we are not. And we are not, what we are disgusted by.

Abjection noun the condition of being servile, wretched, or contemptible. the act of humiliating.

Philosopher Julia Kristeva points to abjection as a tool in how we identify ourselves, by what we are not; by what we reject. This method is outside ourselves, we form our individuality and character from what is around us, and our ejecting of the subjects that disgust and repel us.

There are two aspects of abjection which I relate to vegan activism, as well as carnism.

Carnism A concept used in discussions of humanity’s relation to other animals, defined as a prevailing ideology in which people support the use and consumption of animal products, especially meat. Carnism is presented as a dominant belief system supported by a variety of defense mechanisms and mostly unchallenged assumptions.The term carnism was coined by social psychologist and author Melanie Joy in 2001. (

The first is relatively positive, in respect to the activist perspective. A bystander at a vegan outreach event, such as a Cube of Truth, witnesses footage from UK slaughterhouses.

That’s disgusting That should be illegal I don’t get my meat from places like this

(Image by Ben Hunt) By labeling their disgust at the way non-human animals are treated, the onlooker separates themselves from the action. If they condemn it, they are refusing to be part of it - it’s not who they are, they don’t do this. An animal rights activist would highlight this in an outreach conversation, contending: if they don’t agree with the action (slaughter of animals), then they shouldn’t contribute to it (by buying animal products). This abjection jars with the morals we uphold for ourselves, thus highlighting the contradiction and points us towards living in line with the moral identity we have grown in. My own experience is testament to this:

When reading a paragraph about the dairy industry; particularly the artificial insemination of mothers, and the following separation from their children - I felt abjection. I was disgusted, I refused to contribute to that action. Since childhood, I regarded myself as an animal lover; with dreams of becoming a vet, working in a zoo, traveling to sanctuaries. This new understanding of what the food I was eating countered what I consider a large part of my identity, led me to changing my lifestyle to accommodate avoiding animal products where possible; becoming vegan.

(Image by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals) There are dangers with this scenario, where abjection is concerned. The disgust at witnessing animals being stabbed, shocked, shot, hit, sliced, kicked, slammed, can lead to the feeling of despair and hopelessness - or placing blame on an object, such as a worker or farmer. In outreach conversations, activists regularly hear:

Me changing won’t stop this. That’s the way it has to be. They (slaughterhouse worker) should be jailed/killed.

This despondency can be a thought obstacle for activist to navigate around. Some activists point to progress in society throughout time, such as civil and women’s rights - others touch upon the emotive and personal aspect of this anguish:

Would you feel better knowing you’re not contributing to this suffering?

(Image by Ben Hunt) On a broader, philosophical and behavioral level abjection plays a leading role in human animal and non-human relations. Our actions are justified by our conviction that we are not animals, or not the animals we choose to eat and use. We use disgust to create a barrier between us and them. We reject non-human animals as intellectually inferior. We label them:

Pigs are dirty Cows smell bad Chickens are stupid

We blame the non-human animal for being inferior and deserving of the violence we inflict on them. It makes us feel better about what we do. But does it? Kristeva warns abjection is dangerous in creating our identity:

“Abjection is above all ambiguity. Because, while releasing a hold, it does not radically cut off the subject from what threatens it — on the contrary, abjection acknowledges it to be in perpetual danger.”

By creating a divide between our species of animals with others (or the rest) we reject the clear connection, of sentience and desire to survive. We lie to ourselves and construct complex contradictions within our identities, which can lead to unfulfilling and aimless directions. Without being able to put a finger on our rising natural emotions, such as not causing harm to other animals, we are unable to witness and process our own feelings; our selves.Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl writes that hiding and avoiding pain is missing the point:

“Man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life.”

(Image by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals)

By witnessing our desires and disgusts we find a truth in who we are and a path in which we can tread. The moment I bore witness to my lifestyle contradicting my moral standards, I found meaning in my choices - I chose to stop eating and using animal products - I chose to help the victims of animal use - I found meaning in line with my values.

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