Just as the (mainly white) cis male hero is viewed as “saving” the movement, the movement is positioned as “saving” the animals. Saviorism is often exemplified by decentering nonhumans and invoking human-centric views towards oneself and the movement as saviors. Activists often describe themselves as ‘being the voice of the voiceless’ (drawing on a poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox from 1910); however, this erases the fact that nonhumans have their own voices, communities, languages, and lifestyles very different from our own’. We can’t be certain about how other animals experience the world, but we can imagine what suffering, pain, and social isolation are experienced. Shouldn’t our role be to ensure we bring attention to the abuses and exploitations done by humans rather than to assume we speak for them? While it could be claimed this phrase “voice of the voiceless” is metaphorical, activists also fail to consider the ableism behind it. We could ask, “Why do we live in a society that privileges the human voice socially and politically?”
For more information on why the term “voiceless” is ableist, we recommend this excellent article. In addition, this article explains some further issues with the term.
In addition, saviourism creates an either/or approach to nonhuman animal oppression: You are either working to save the animals or you are not. Sometimes, saviourism is used to protect people from putting in the work against other forms of oppression they have their hand in. When someone says “This is not OK, and this hurts me or adds to my oppression,” the response that saviourism legitimates is: “nothing you experience is like what nonhuman animals are experiencing.” Or “there are so many nonhuman animals who need to be saved, I don’t have time to think about your concern.” Or “there are so many nonhuman animals who need to be saved, why are you distracting us?” It also results in comments such as “well, battered women can speak for themselves but nonhuman animals can’t,” so that the assumption that humans can and will be able to speak for themselves promotes ignorance of social oppression of humans. These responses are insensitive and ignore systemic oppression of marginalized humans. This in turn exemplifies a lack the compassion that we claim we want to bring toward nonhuman animals.
“There are so many animals to be saved; I need to be doing more and more ‘saving” is a mentality that can often lead to burnout, as the activist centers themselves and forgets that social justice work must be a community effort centered on the oppressed while taking care to not oppress others.
There is danger of viewing veganism as a pledge of moral purity that absolves one from taking accountability for their hand in other oppressions that affect marginalized humans. This attitude also decenters nonhumans because it fails to recognize that nonhuman oppression is interconnected to human oppression.