Archive for July, 2007

Aftershocked Activists


“How can we live and act in this world? How can we think the unthinkable without going insane? How can we speak of the unspeakable without lapsing into babble? The planet is in peril. Suffering surrounds us. How can we feel our feelings about that without being overwhelmed or immobilized by them? We need the motivating energy of those feelings. We need not to waste energy shutting them down. We need to find a way to manage and channel them. We need to make peace. We need to do this here and now, as damaged animals in a damaged world.” ~Pattrice Jones, Aftershock: Confronting Trauma in a Violent World, a Guide for Activists and their Allies

 

Any animal activist knows exactly what Pattrice Jones is getting at when she writes that “sometimes the truth is sickening,” that “sometimes facing the truth feels like a punch in the stomach, leaving you temporarily breathless and immobilized” (Jones, 193). We acknowledge daily a truth that is physically painful to contemplate. It is the reason that we act. Once we accept the extent of pain and suffering endured by animals with every passing second, we run headfirst into a new and frightening dilemma: the need to cope. It is a need that continually re-arises as we struggle to save lives and create change. It is a need that we often push below the surface, opting instead to focus our energy on a cause. It a need, a consequence, an inevitability that Jones explores in detail in her incredible book, Aftershock: Confronting Trauma in a Violent World, a Guide for Activists and their Allies.

I finished reading Jones’ book while traveling to the Animal Rights 2007 Conference in LA. Strapped into an uncomfortable plane seat, engrossed in the reading, I could not stop thinking of all the people that I wanted to share it with. I thought of animal rescuers I know who are dealing with post-traumatic stress, of fledgling vegans battling depression, of activists who give up when confronted with burnout. Activism invites a certain vulnerability. It often includes risks and acts of selflessness. Yet sacrificing our health and sanity to the cause is not only unnecessary, it is counterproductive.

Taking care of other activists is and should be a part of activism. “Every social change movement,” writes Jones, ‘must embrace an ethos of empathy for all – including ourselves” (Jones, 147). As an activist, our bodies are our tools. Speaking at the conference, Jones instructed us to invest in brain function. To get enough sleep and stay hydrated.

Jones describes a movement as an ecosystem. As a system of social relationships that draws strength from biodiversity. Disregarding these relationships between individuals will always be detrimental to the cause. Unhealthy relationships, she warned, will decimate the effectiveness of any organization regardless of its financial situation. A movement is only as healthy as the joined efforts of the people who comprise it.

This metaphorical ecosystem is not exclusive to the animal liberation scene, but rather is interwoven and overlapping with other social change movements. At the conference, many speakers, including Jones, addressed the urgency of allying the animal rights movement with environmentalism. Yet Jones was one of the few to bring human exploitation into the discussion.

Jones does not differentiate sexism from speciesism. While these “problems” are typically understood “as separate albeit overlapping,” Jones insists that “they are just different aspects of our nameless violation” (Jones, 173). “They are,” she continues, “justified and perpetuated by the same ideologies and practices” (Jones, 173). “Our ideas about daughters and dairy cows evolved when both were the property of husbands” and therefore “the characteristics we ascribe to female humans and domesticated animals refer to and reinforce one another” (Jones, 175).

The sexualized violence that humans perpetrate against other humans has inescapable parallels to the sexualized violence perpetrated against nonhuman animals. As Jones points out, “sexualized violence [is] hidden in plain view within such normal acts as eating meat and advertising goods with women’s bodies” (Jones, 171).

Less public yet more flagrant is the control over the reproduction of farmed animals. A dairy cow, for instance, is forcibly impregnated. Mere hours after birth her calf is stolen away (if a male he will be locked into a veal crate) so that her milk can be used for human consumption. All of this violence so that humans can drink cow’s milk, a product that is not only unnecessary but is in fact linked to many human diseases. “No one wins,” Jones reminded me, except the corporate power that profits from the exploitation of these animals. She offered me a single sentence to encapsulate the connection: “Eating meat is exploiting the body of another being without their consent.”

Unfortunately, some animal welfare organizations continue to demean female bodies as a means of promoting an animal-friendly agenda. Some people within the movement exhibit sexism in their speech and actions. And, much to my own bewilderment, most feminists are not even vegetarian.

As Jones told us, if division is the problem, then connection is the answer. “Since the 1970s,” writes Jones, “we have come to see how forms of discrimination,” specifically “race, sex, class, sexual orientation, and ability”, “compound and support one another” (Jones, 199). What needs to happen now is the integration of “animals into the analyses of social justice activists and the concerns of social justice activists into the agenda of the animal liberation movement” (Jones, 199). As Jones concludes: “People talk a lot about building bridges between movements. I say there’s no time for that: We have to be the bridges right now” (Jones, 200).

And while coalitions are being forged and alliances formed, activists need to take time to take care of themselves. We shouldn’t forget that our own bodies are as worthy of respect and care as the bodies of the animals we are fighting to save. Animal liberation is, after all, a movement born out of compassion. It is about time that we allow our compassion to extend to its full potential.

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Vegetarianism’s Unknown History

Tristam Stuart’s The Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism from 1600 to Modern Times is an intriguing read. From doctors to missionaries, religious zealots to political revolutionaries, it is packed with details of Europe’s vegetarian legacy. Though at times the abundance of information is overwhelming, Stuart’s work offers fascinating insight into an unknown history.

Rather than approach history with chronological bullet points, Stuart chose to devote chapters to individuals or small groups of correlated people. For example, Stuart gives the most influential vegetarian doctors and religious leaders chapters of their own. This allows the author to divulge the idiosyncrasies and back stories of every relevant figure. It is these details, many comical or scandalous, that keep his summaries of their lives far from dry or boring.

One of my favorites was John Oswald. He was a British vegetarian so sensitive to animal suffering that he could not tolerate walking past a butcher’s shop. Yet he was also “intimately involved in the process that transformed the French Revolution from a mainly peaceful process into a bloodbath” through his notorious advocating of violent revolution (Stuart, 309). Oswald was a proponent of democracy and staunchly anti-monarchy. “Rousseau had elevated ‘sympathy’ into the philosophical basis for both human and animals rights,” explained Stuart, “Oswald took this to its radical extreme, transforming sympathy into a mandate for democratic revolution and vegetarianism” (Stuart, 298). In addition, “Oswald recognized that the meat industry was a principle cause of economic oppression” (Stuart, 301). Because “predation was symbolic of social inequality,” from Oswald’s stance “vegetarianism was also an act of solidarity” (Stuart, 301). He connected social and animal oppressions and used this knowledge to fuel revolutionary fervor. Oswald died in an overly ambitious attempt to overthrow the British monarchy and bring French revolution home.

Oswald is unique in his role in one of European history’s major events. Most of the historical figures revealed in Stuart’s book played much subtler roles in history. He is also unusual in that he was an atheist and deliberately estranged from the norms of his day. By far the majority of European vegetarians were deeply religious and able to reconcile vegetarianism with the culture of mainstream society.

By the 1600s, when Stuart begins his history, vegetarianism was something that most Europeans had heard of. The concept of choosing to abstain from eating meat had already been introduced to Europe by India. Stuart explains that after Europeans had ignorantly “accustomed themselves to thinking of Europe as the pinnacle of humanity, travelers were shocked to find in India a thriving religion which had been sustained in a pristine form since well before – and virtually oblivious to – the invention of Christianity” (Stuart, 34). Indeed, this ‘discovery’ of “a people following an unbroken tradition of vegetarianism and exercising an extreme moral responsibility towards animals radically challenged European ideas about the relationship between man and nature” (Stuart, 34). While most of Europe was too ethnocentric to fully endorse this foreign culture, they eagerly adopted attitudes and practices from India and Indian religions.

After observing another culture that valued animals, individuals in Europe began searching within biblical ideology and Europe’s own ancient roots of Pythagorean thought to justify kindness, pity, and compassion toward animals. It was soon a widespread belief that vegetarianism was the state of man before the Fall (i.e. in the garden of Eden). Rather than give the Indians any credit, Europeans insisted that Pythagoras, himself a vegetarian, must have taught vegetarianism to the Brahmins (Indian philosophers). In reality it was Pythagoras who, in his travels, developed his philosophy through interacting with other cultures. “Europeans projected onto the Indians the simplified Pythagorean idea that they abstained from killing animals for fear of hurting a reincarnated soul” which, as Stuart points out, “implied that the Hindus were not valuing the life of the animal itself” (Stuart, 53). People intent on finding Western roots of vegetarianism even pushed the search to far earlier than Pythagoras’ era. Isaac Newton in particular devoted much effort to discovering the one true religion and “clearly regarded Eastern and Pythagorean vegetarianism as a remnant of God’s original law” (Stuart, 111). As Stuart illuminates, “the belief that the prelapsarian diet was healthy and virtuous appears to have become almost an established norm by the end of the seventeenth century (Stuart, 81).

People throughout Europe realized, by the Indian example, that not only was it possible to survive on a vegetarian diet, but that it might even be healthier. The promotion of vegetarianism by the medical community logically followed. Countless doctors touted a vegetarian diet as physically, morally, and spiritually superior. While some of the doctors investigated by Stuart used this approach as a means to fame and fortune, for many it was simply an obvious way to improve health. The argument for the healthiness of vegetarianism only increased with time and the growing empirical evidence. By “the late eighteenth century, which Stuart deems “the heyday of medical vegetarianism,” “it flourished in the most prestigious medical faculties of Europe” (Stuart, 236).

Even the infamous disbeliever of animal sentience, Rene Descartes, jumped aboard the healthy vegetarian bandwagon. As Stuart wrote, much to my astonishment, Descartes himself was a practicing vegetarian! While “members of the public were appalled to hear that Cartesians kicked and stabbed animals to make the point that their cries had no more significance than the squeak of a door,” Descartes’ choice to decline meat for health reasons was far less controversial (Stuart, 134). “Descartes conducted dietary experiments upon himself” and came to the conclusion “that meat was unsuited to the mechanism of the human body” (Stuart, 135). Stuart half-sarcastically suggests that “it would be most surprising if Descartes’ medical decision to abstain from meat also made him feel better because it avoided the irrepressible sensation of sympathy for animal suffering” (Stuart, 137).

While most of these Europeans were vegetarians for strictly health and sympathy reasons, there were a few who, in their ethical embracement of vegetarianism, were predecessors of environmentalism and animal rights. Thomas Tryon, for instance, “in complete contrast to the norms of his society … came firmly down on the side of attributing to animals a right to their lives regardless of human interests” (Stuart, 71). He also “anticipated the shift from anthropocentrism to the biocentrism of modern ecological thought” (Stuart, 73). “While orthodox Christians tended to insist that all creatures had been made solely for man’s use,” Tryon developed “a system that resembles, and would later be developed into, environmentalism” (Stuart, 73). Similarly, John Evelyn, a prominent British vegetarian, was “a forbear of modern environmentalism” who “lobbied Parliament to introduce laws to curb air pollution” (Stuart, 86). And John Williamson “appears to have been one of the first (if not the first) to work out a thorough critique of meat-eating on the basis of its resource inefficiency” (Stuart, 250).

Though the relative prevalence of vegetarianism in Europe from the 1600s through the 1800s was a pleasant surprise, I am torn between feeling encouraged or let down. While I knew that certain great thinkers of history, such as Pythagoras and Leonardo da Vinci were vegetarians, I had not realized the extent of European vegetarianism. Yet one question continues to nag me: With such a head start, why hasn’t more progress been made on behalf of animals?

Then again, this was vegetarianism, not veganism, and it was adopted primarily for reasons of health or compassion. In more ways than one the animal rights movement is a different movement, fighting newer atrocities (e.g. factory farming) and promoting a different philosophy (ethical veganism). Trying to qualify the progress of contemporary animal liberationists versus fringe groups preaching biblical vegetarianism in the 1600s is pointless. Stuart doesn’t even go there.

So is this history relevant for current activists? I think so. And I think that Stuart does as well. He writes: “European vegetarians challenged humanity’s reckless exploitation of the animal kingdom. We owe to them – and especially the Indian philosophies that backed them up – some of the environmental sensibilities we enjoy today” (Stuart, 444).

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Regan’s Defense of Mammals

Tom Regan’s The Case for Animal Rights is actually a case for mammalian animal rights. He qualifies the animals hat he is defending by repeatedly specifying that they are normal, mammalian, and over one year of age. Regan’s eventual argument for the rights of nonhuman animals is, therefore, disappointing in its exclusion of countless species.

It is only after providing a detailed description of why other animal rights theories are inadequate that Regan posits his own: the subject-of-a-life approach, or the Rights View. By his own definition: “Individuals are subjects-of-a-life if they have beliefs and desires; perception, memory, and a sense of the future, including their own future; an emotional life together with feelings of pleasure and pain preference- and welfare-interests; and an individual welfare in the sense that their experiential life fares well or ill for them, logically independently of their utility for others and logically independently of their being the object of anyone else’s interests … [they also] have a distinctive kind of value- inherent value- and are not to be viewed or treated as mere receptacles” (Regan, 243). He makes clear that not all humans or nonhumans animal qualify. “Normal mammalian animals, aged one or more, as well as human like these animals in the relevant respects,” writes Regan, “can intelligibly and nonarbitrarily be viewed as having inherent value” (Regan, 247). As for non-mammalian animals and every being under age one, Regan is unwilling to take a solid stance. He writes that, “it remains possible that animals that are conscious but not capable of acting intentionally, or say, permanently comatose human beings might nonetheless be viewed as having inherent value” (Regan, 246). He will not state that they do have inherent value, only that it is possible. And what about those human and nonhuman animals who, while not meeting all of Regan’s subject-of-a-life criteria, are alive, aware, and a far cry from comatose? He writes that “it may be that animals, for example – which, though conscious and sentient (i.e., capable of experiencing pleasure and pain), lack the ability to remember, to act purposively, or to have desires or form beliefs – can only properly be viewed as receptacles of what has intrinsic value, lacking any value in their own right” (Regan, 246). “Mere receptacles,” in this context, is defined as treating said receptacles “as if their value depended upon their utility relative to the interests of others” (Regan, 248-49).

This is where Gary Francione takes issue with Regan’s theory. He also finds the idea that only some animals deserve to be subjects-of-a-life to be reprehensible. Francione points out that “although it is easier to identify the constellation of qualities that Regan describes as present in normally developed mammals of a particular age, there is no doubt that chickens and other birds are intelligent, sentient beings with an experiential life. And although most of us do not even think of fish as conscious of pain, researchers have concluded that fish ‘have subjective experiences and so are liable to suffer’” (Francione, xxxiii).

I cannot personally attest to the value of fish, insects, and other non-mammalian animals beyond the recognition of their sentience. But I have had the pleasure of interacting with many chickens.

I often think of the chickens at the sanctuary where I spent two years. They are a motley flock of breeds, sizes, intelligence, and personality. There was Effie, the independent adventuress who enjoyed hopping onto the shoulder of unexpecting visitors. Bert, the loner rooster with the bum leg that I had rescued personally from neglectful owners. Phyliss, the blind hen that chose to live with the goats. Sylvia, the brave bantam who could usually be found exploring the pig yard. Rock, the mischievous fledgling who broke every rule. Splish, the best friend of a chubby duck named Splash. Old Man Rooster, who would run up to greet me at the gate to the Chicken Barn. Each was a unique individual with his or her own personality and preferences.

Nevertheless, according to Regan, none of these chickens deserves basic rights. They do not qualify under his selective definition as a subject-of-a-life. Therefore, they may not have inherent value. They may only exist in their utility to those of us who do have inherent value. If that were indeed true, than the torture and massacre of billions of chickens annually to please American taste buds would be justifiable.

I was further disappointed to read Regan’s analysis of the “lifeboat situation” from the perspective of his Rights View. In his pretend shipwreck, there are “four normal adults and a dog,” yet the lifeboat can only hold four. “Which one ought to be cast overboard?”  Regan responds, “the rights view’s answer is: the dog” (Regan, 351). Regan argues that even if the number of dogs was greater than one (“suppose they number a million”), it is still justified to save the humans. Regan claims that this “is not speciesist.” He writes that the choice is “based on assessing the loses each individual faces and assessing these losses equitably” (Regan, 324). It appears that Regan is contradicting himself. The fact that he believes the ‘equal’ inherent value of humans to be superior to that of dogs is a speciesist belief.

I realize that this hypothetical has no easy solution. Much as Francione described in his burning house analogy, in the unlikely event that this situation did occur outside of our imaginations, human nature would almost definitely result in the death of the canine.

But consider the implications of applying this logic to other ‘burning house’-type situations. Regan is providing justification for humans to rank their inherent value over that of other animals whenever they feel that their life might be endangered. Indeed, he is justifying giving superior value to the lives of a small number of humans to a comparatively huge number of nonhuman animals. Again, how is this not utilitarian and, more importantly, how is this not speciesist?

Despite these major shortcomings in his Rights View, Regan’s book does make significant contributions to animal rights philosophy. He painstakingly debunks the philosophical treatment of animals in the work of numerous philosophers (including particular attention to Descartes and Singer). Most importantly, he argues for the rights of (some) animals, something that was absent from previous animal defense arguments.

Still, I find the suggestion that some animals do not have inherent value to be exceedingly offensive. In my opinion, sentience should be the only requisite for the right to live as an individual and not as objects, commodities, or in servitude to the interests of another. While Regan’s work was a groundbreaking beginning for animal rights philosophy, its trivialization of the suffering of billions of non-mammalian animals makes it insufficient for the animal rightists of today.

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Earthlings

In lieu of celebrating the fourth of July, I watched the documentary Earthlings.

The film is a procession of painful-to-watch footage. It takes you inside factory farms, puppy mills, and laboratories. It shows you death by lethal injection, gas chamber, throat slitting, strangulation, electrocution, and blood loss. It reveals the suffering, terror, agony, grief, and desperation of countless animals.

The images are too ghastly and atrocious to translate into words. There is no way to describe the eyes of a cow whose throat is being sawed into with a dull blade. Or the face of a dolphin who, hooked and chained to the back of a car, is being dragged bloodily down the street. Or the gait of a pig dragging a watermelon-sized abscess. Or the scars on the forehead of a circus elephant who has been whipped into submission. Or the expression of an injured dog who has been tossed into the container of a garbage truck.

It was evident that much of the material had been obtained undercover. At times the flaps of jackets entered the sides of the screens, presumably the result of a concealed camera. I’m sure that the act of filming required many levels of compassion and courage. To take the risk of not being caught, to witness these atrocities, to withhold one’s own desire to cry out and physically intervene – this is not the sort of work that just anyone can undertake.

I watched with two other people. We winced and gasped in unison. We heard one another’s oh my gods. We shared the comforting snuggle of an oblivious cat.

Yet the three of us were already vegan. Already well aware of global animal cruelty and the need to take a stand against it. As such, I’m unsure why we felt the urge to watch it. Certainly it didn’t give us any warm or fuzzy feelings. It yanked us in and dropped us off loaded with outrage, grief, despair, and an indescribable sadness.

There was nothing in this film that took me by surprise. Even the few cruel practices that I was unfamiliar with (rubbing red pepper flakes into the eyes of Indian cattle to force them to keep walking, for instance) did not require any suspension of disbelief. I didn’t question the validity of any of it. The most heartbreaking change that I underwent in becoming vegan was accepting that humans are committing unthinkably cruel acts every second of every day. This documentary impels the viewer to draw the same conclusion.

What does it say about me (about anyone) that mere moments after the film has ended I can go on with my life? Did my mind truly digest all of those horrific images? Or did I push them aside to linger in the periphery of my perspective? Maybe. But there is no way that I will ever forget the sight of a pig undergoing a slow slaughter or a wolf skinned alive. These images are too gut-wrenching to dissipate in my memory’s montage of images viewed secondhand.

It is both a blessing and misfortune of film that we are able to shut it off. The movie ends or we lose interest, and then we move on.

Earthlings will not let you do that. It will penetrate the years of desensitization. If you care at all about animals, it will not leave you untouched. Hopefully it will inspire you to do more, to increase your efforts. If nothing else, it will refuel your passion and remind you why your choices are so crucial. It reminded me why I went vegan in the first place. And it reinforced why I intend to stay vegan forever.


(Note: You can watch this film for free on http://www.youtube.com. The documentary’s official website is: http://www.isawearthlings.com/)

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Disavowing Peter Singer


“It’s a waste of time us to start yelling at each other, ‘I’m an animal rights person, and you’re a utilitarian.’ The important thing that we have in common is that we’re not speciesists, our interests overlap. And given where we are, that’s really more important than we insist that one take a particular systematic position.” ~Peter Singer, interviewed in Herbivore, July 07 online issue

It has become increasingly common for animal activists to renounce Peter Singer as grandfather of the movement. That his utilitarian philosophy is not always in sync with the convictions of many activists is more apparent than ever. Tom Regan’s The Case for Animal Rights and Gary Francione’s Introduction to Animal Rights both argue that Singer’s philosophy should be rejected when it comes to animal rights. As I have not read Singer’s Animal Liberation in its entirety I was hesitant to write about Regan and Francione’s debunking of utilitarianism. However, by some lucky coincidence, Herbivore magazine’s July online issue featured a highly relevant interview with none other than Singer himself. This pertinent interview, while thought provoking, reaffirmed my opinions about Singer and provided additional material in support of Francione’s abolitionist position.

Utilitarianism, which Peter Singer espouses, is a philosophical approach to comprehending morality. It determines “what is morally right or wrong in a particular situation” by “the consequences of our actions,” favoring whatever “brings about the best results for the largest number of those affected” (Francione, 131). In the context of animal rights, interviewer Yxta Maya Murray succinctly explained that utilitarianism does not “require us to say that killing animals is always wrong, or that animals shouldn’t be killed because they have a right to live. It’s wrong to kill them because killing and eating animals doesn’t contribute to maximum welfare.” In other words, it is not about ‘rights’ at all. The rights of animals are irrelevant.

Indeed, Singer does not even believe that animals have inherent rights. He specifically said that he does not believe that “it’s always wrong to kill animals based on an idea of inherent or intrinsic rights.” While he is “prepared to talk about animal rights as a rhetorical tool as part of a political campaign,” and believes there is a need for “a system of laws that gives rights to animals,” he does not think that system should be “based on inherent rights.” This is in significant contrast to Regan and Francione who both argue for the rights of animals and the recognition of their inherent value.

Francione devotes much of his book to outlining and rebuking Singer’s philosophical flaws. Francione describes Singer as a modern version of Jeremy Bentham. The latter was utilitarian philosopher of the 19th century who introduced the humane treatment principle, laying the groundwork for the creation of animal welfare laws. Interestingly, Bentham also decided that eating animals was acceptable. What Francione finds most unforgivable in both of these philosophers’ approaches to animal rights is that neither confronts the property status of animals. Instead of questioning the status or usage of animals, utilitarianism questions their quality of life. In fact, Singer (like Bentham) argues that while animals have interests in the quality of their lives, they do not in whether they live or die. Francione resolutely refutes this notion. “To be a sentient being means to have an experiential welfare,” writes Francione, “In this sense, all sentient beings have an interest in the quality of their lives but also in the quantity of their lives” (Francione, 137). Utilitarianism allows room to interpret quality life in terms of ‘humane’ usage of animals for human benefit, which Francione considers unjustifiable in all circumstances.

While Francione’s critique of Singer is bold and, at times, incensed, Regan’s detailed deconstruction of Singer’s utilitarianism is almost apologetic. Could it be because Regan’s 1983 publication of his book was so soon after Singer’s successful Animal Liberation of 1975? Perhaps that would explain why Regan ends his analysis with such a weak conclusion: “If the criticisms raised against Singer are fair and on target, neither those who seek a solid foundation for the obligation to be vegetarian nor those who seek a sound theory will find it in his preference utilitarianism” (Regan, 231). What an anticlimactic finale to a twenty-five page critique. Why the ‘if and implication that, quite possibly, his arguments are lacking in fairness or aren’t on target? Does Regan doubt himself, or doubt that his reader will be willing to doubt Singer?

Disregarding Regan’s wishy-washy conclusion, his scrutiny of Singer’s preference utilitarianism is not shy about exposing the “insuperable objections” of “hedonistic utilitarianism” (Regan, 202). His chief objection is that utilitarianism does not support individual rights and builds only a shaky case for vegetarianism. Furthermore, utilitarianism’s emphasis on the consequential benefit of actions for the majority allows for exploitation of the minority. As he politely asserts, “The modest point being urged here is that, for all its emphasis on equality, utilitarianism would sanction recognizable forms of sexism and racism, if the facts happened to turn out a certain way” (Regan, 227-8).

It seems likely that Singer would not disagree. When asked about feminist veganism, Singer informed the interviewer that, “It’s always been my argument that racism, sexism, and speciesism is all part of the same attitude of one group dominating or making use of an allegedly inferior group.” Yet how utilitarianism combats these oppressions is less clear. If the oppressor is in the majority, and benefits from the oppression, does that benefit outweigh the suffering of oppressed minority? Sometimes it does. As Singer demonstrated on a BBC documentary, he believes that some animal experimentation “could be defensible” if the benefit greatly outweighed the plight of those vivisected.

Singer proposes that activists “shouldn’t get too involved in philosophical differences.” Yet these differences cannot be avoided when it comes time to take action. While some work tirelessly on animal welfare campaigns, others argue that these very campaigns are not only a waste of effort, but are detrimental to the cause. Activists are taking sides. This is one of the stickier situations within the movement that I will discuss further in future posts.

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Francione on Linking Oppressions

Francione briefly touches on several topics (admittedly beyond the scope of this book) that I wish were given additional attention. While the content implied within each of these quotes could merit a book in its own right, I feel it is important to briefly address these issues as they will be recurring themes in my writing.

In our capitalist culture, many societal problems are addressed through the implementation of only those solutions that are already institutionalized. For example, it has become popular to respond to the current environmental crisis by choosing to purchase ‘green,’ thus perpetuating the consumer culture that has nearly devoured the planet’s resources already, rather than revising the consumerist lifestyle. Likewise, the response of most Americans to disillusionment with a presidential administration is to put their faith in the next election rather than question a corrupted government system.

Francione highlights one example of how this status quo approach, in the context of public health, has serious repercussions for animals: “In many ways, the choice to use animal experiments to solve a problem is as much a political as a scientific decision. Animal experiments are considered an acceptable way of solving the AIDS problem; needle exchanges, condom distribution, and education about safe sex are much more controversial” (Francione, 37). It follows that the choice is to pour money into the development of pharmaceutical treatments rather than focus on prevention not only increases the suffering of the millions of individuals without access to adequate health care, but also perpetuates the vivisection industry. While many people recognize that the modern medical establishment is focused on treating the symptoms rather than tackling the roots of disease (and thereby ensuring that the medical and pharmaceutical industries continue to rake in profits), we often overlook the extent to which nonhuman animals feel the effects.

Animals are affected by all of the norms, laws, and institutions of our society. One of Francione’s examples of how restrictions on animal exploitation ties in to social class struck me as especially relevant: “The difference between hunting and fighting animals is not a difference in animal mistreatment. Rather, the difference is between amusements historically associated with the lower socioeconomic classes (bear baiting and animal fighting) and those associated with middle upper classes (hunting and hare coursing)” (Francione, 164). This explains why bear baiting and animal fighting were relatively easy to outlaw (although fighting is still legal in parts of the U.S.!), but hunting and hare coursing were not. The state and federal level anti-cruelty laws that Francione is so critical of have had many successes targeting individual citizens who wantonly abuse or neglect animals, but are mostly unable to touch the for-profit animal exploitation industrieswith their purchased political sway. If brought to court, big business (e.g. animal industries with lobbying power) are able to get away with more extensive and barbaric acts of animal cruelty than is the average dog abuser. Money becomes a near abuse-animals-for-free ticket, assuming that the monetary leverage is substantial enough.

Francione recognizes that animal problems cannot be addressed outside the context of human problems. He writes, “It is likely that we could accept that animals have moral value and abolish institutionalized exploitation only in a context in which we generally rejected the moral legitimacy of much of the violence that is routinely inflicted on humans by other humans. Similarly, it is likely that we could reject speciesism only in a context in which we generally rejected the moral legitimacy of the racist, sexist, and homophobic attitudes and behavior that still affect our culture and deny other humans full membership in the moral community” (Francione, 166). In other words, acknowledging that animals are not pieces of property is not enough. This point, which appears on the last page of his book, is what truly separates Francione from many animal rights theorists. It is why I find his arguments so compelling. He is popping the AR bubble to remind us that animal rights is not an issue in and of itself. To genuinely be opposed to animal exploitation is to be opposed to all forms of oppression.

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Francione on Animal Rights

“How intelligent does a parrot have to be before we conclude that the parrot possesses general concepts or ideas? Does the parrot have to have the conceptual ability of an eight-year-old? A twenty-one-year-old? …We do not consider it sufficient that an animal possess a characteristic that we have for centuries denied them – they must possess some undetermined quantity of that quality, and this allows us to up the stakes every time we encounter proof that animals possess such a characteristic … In this game of special characteristics, animals can never win.” ~Gary Francione, from Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog

I should confess that I am no stranger to Gary Francione’s abolitionist argument. I have listened to enough Vegan Freak Radio and Animal Voices to be quite familiar with his ideas. Reading his Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog? was strangely like re-reading a book I had never read. Disregarding its familiarity, the book offers a refreshing perspective on animal rights. Lucid and accessible, his writing communicates each of his points as though he were simply articulating commonsense. Then again, from my stance, that is exactly what he is doing. For the contemporary animal activist who is frustrated by the movement’s sluggish progress, Francione proffers a logical launching pad.

The foundation of Francione’s theory is that animal exploitation is rooted in the fact that all nonhuman animals have property status. We use animals as a means to our own ends because, as property, animals have no interests. Whenever it is a choice between the interests of the property owning human and the animal, the human interest will always trump that of the nonhuman. His ultimate assertion is that it will not be possible to abolish animal exploitation until the property status of animals is addressed.

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