I love tattoos. I already have some animal rights themed ink with plans to get more, so when another member of a vegan FaceBook group asked for inspiration, I dived head first into the comment section.

There were some great ideas, and some horrible ones, and then there was the word “vegan”. I would never get the word “vegan” tattooed on me. Not because my commitment to veganism may falter, but because I am already beyond past veganism.

I have realised that veganism isn’t the be-all and end-all of ethics, even when it comes to treatment of non-human beings. Just 20 years ago, not many people were talking about veganism. Vegetarianism was seen as the pinnacle of animal rights.

The standard emotion of militant vegans towards vegetarians is one of loathing. “They don’t really care about the animals”. Now imagine a vegan got the word “vegetarian” tattooed on them 20 years ago to symbolise their belief in animal rights because they weren’t aware of veganism yet. Now they have a tattoo on them that is outdated at best.

The same will happen to the word “Vegan”. It already has, in my mind. Let’s inspect the meaning of the word “vegan” as it currently stands:

“Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose…”

The Vegan Society

The above definition was written by The Vegan Society, the creators of the term. In the years I have been vegan I have seen subtle changes to the definition, and recently a huge addition (which I have omitted) as they try and fill some of the gaps of the vegan philosophy.

Now I know a lot of vegans think veganism is the be-all and end-all of ethics, but it’s not. We can get into discussions about what is considered exploitation of animals, but just because something isn’t exploitation and/or cruel doesn’t mean it’s ethical, nor does there need to be a purpose behind exploitation and/or cruelty for an act to be unethical.

This can be shown in racial attacks. There might be no purpose behind a racial attack other than to inflict cruelty, yet we are well aware that such an act is unethical.

But people can apply all types of purposes to racial attacks behind the self-fulfilling purpose of inflicting cruelty. I’m going to address a more fundamental issue: “… exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals…”

Veganism only applies to animals (including to humans). But what about other being who can suffer exploitation and cruelty? No, plants don’t have feelings, and I don’t know of any other such beings, but let’s take a look at what an “animal” is:

Animals are multicellular eukaryotic organisms that form the biological kingdom Animalia. With few exceptions, animals consume organic material, breathe oxygen, are able to move, can reproduce sexually, and grow from a hollow sphere of cells, the blastula, during embryonic development.


The above definition precludes a huge number of potential or unknown beings. What if we encounter non-carbon-based life or create artificial life? What if humanity evolves beyond the animal kingdom?

These questions may sound like science fiction, but with exponential technology they may soon be very real problems. Afterall, it’s agriculture, industrialisation, and general technological advancement that is freeing animals from our plates.

I have realised veganism as a philosophy is fundamentally… limited. So, what is the fundamental relationship between all of these beings? Purely as thought experiment, what makes it unethical to cause harm to a human, and a dog, and a cow, and a robot, and non-animal alien lifeforms?

The point at which cruelty should be avoided is the point at which cruelty can be experienced.

The ability to experience emotion, philosophically known as sentience, is the basis for animal rights, and the rights of all beings. Cue sentiocentrism.

To be continued…