Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism
Reposted from Slate|
Peruse the scintillating trade literature of the meat industry and you’ll find that of all the forces currently arrayed against the livestock industry (drought, corn prices, opposition to subsidies, the vegan Skinny Bitch empire), none evokes as much vitriol as the Humane Society of the United States, or HSUS. Flipping through Pork magazine,Feedstuffs, or Meatingplace, it becomes clear that, as one Cassandra of carnivorism put it, “no activist group is more loathed by the agricultural community tha....” Pork has described HSUS as “a well-oiled, well-funded lobbying presence with a finely tuned message machine” and has quoted a consultant as saying, “HSUS is sophisticated and relentless in their dedication to defeat animal agriculture practices.”
Such assessments are music to the ears of Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection at HSUS. Shapiro spends his days lobbying for costly reforms that would eliminate inhumane methods of animal confinement. As Shapiro sees it, industry blowback is to be expected and, in a way, even welcomed as an affirmation of his advocacy. It’s always nice to know when your arrow hits the intended target.
Less expected, and certainly not welcomed, is the barrage of criticism that comes from the “abolitionist” wing of the animal rights movement, which views HSUS welfare reforms as craven capitulation to industrial agriculture. The rift dividing HSUS from this vocal wing of the animal rights movement might seem insignificant, but it’s not. In fact, it threatens to weaken the cause from within, a phenomenon all too familiar in the history of American reform movements. And mending the rift will be no mean task, as it requires confronting a thorny question: Does HSUS, in its ceaseless quest to improve living conditions for animals within factory farms, justify and perpetuate the ongoing existence of those farms?
There is little doubt that HSUS is doing something right. A complete citation of their recent accomplishments would be too long to list here, but consider that in one week alone last July, HSUS persuaded Sodexo, Oscar Mayer, Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr., and Baja ..., cages that confine pregnant pigs so tightly they cannot turn around. In banning this torture device from their supply chains, these companies joined industry kingpins McDonald’s andSmithfield Foods in yielding to Shapiro’s ceaseless nagging on behalf of a barnyard proletariat numbering in the billions.
Nevertheless, as the abolitionists correctly point out, there’s nothing especially revolutionary about HSUS’s approach to improving the lives of farm animals. HSUS works closely with Big Agriculture, never calls for animal liberation, and never explicitly endorses the habit that most efficiently prevents animals from being killed: veganism. This reticence infuriates abolitionists, who seek the eradication of not only animal agriculture but also all animal ownership and exploitation through ethical veganism.
No writer makes the abolitionist case more eloquently than Rutgers philosopher Gary Francione. In his books Animals as Persons and Rain Without Thunder, Francione, who is also a lawyer, powerfully argues that the only ethically consistent stance for humans vis-a-vis animals is the complete elimination of all animal ownership. This position leads him to savage HSUS at every turn. When, last year, HSUS agreed to work with United Egg Producers to legislate larger cages for chickens, Francione responded:
That is just plain silly. “Enriched” cages involve torturing hens. Period. The torture may be slightly “better,” just as padded water boards may be slightly “better.” But let’s be clear: the hens will continue to be tortured. And they will continue to end up in a slaughterhouse.
Francione’s logic is hard-hitting, but his extreme message is unlikely to resonate widely in a population that’s only 1.4 percent vegan. According to social psychologist and longtime vegan Melanie Joy, the abolitionist approach could attract a lot more supporters if it acknowledged, as HSUS does, that most people are going to embrace veganism on their own—you can’t strong-arm them into it. Joy, author of Why We Eat Pigs, Love Dogs, and Wear Cows, believes that social change—in this case, honoring the intrinsic worth of animals by not eating them—is a complex process requiring both an awakening to the hidden reality of exploitation and the individual will to act upon that awareness. Asking people to stop eating animals, as Joy sees it, is more than asking for a change in behavior; it’s asking for a profound shift in consciousness that people make only when they’re personally ready to do so.
Abolitionists don’t buy a word of what Joy and Cooney are saying. For them, tolerance for incremental change from the status quo empowers the meat industry, and any empowerment of industry is, ipso facto, counterproductive to the spirit of animal advocacy. Consider what Ellie Maldonado, an animal rights activist and former employee of animal advocacy group Friends of Animals, has to say about approaches that tolerate even a modicum of animal exploitation:
Advocacy that supports “improvements” in animal exploitation is neither “gradualist” nor a “vegan” approach—it is a dead end that will never lead to the end of animal exploitation. ... At best and in the unlikely case they are adhered to, so-called “gradualist improvements” only address a fraction of the animals' experience but do nothing to abate the heinous cruelty they are still subjected to.
Hence the strife continues: An organization such as HSUS lobbies, the meat industry kvetches, and the abolitionists howl at them all for unconscionable ethical waffling.
Meanwhile, billions of animals continue to suffer the indignities of industrial animal agriculture. As has so often been the case with reform movements in the United States, infighting between those who seek evolution and those who seek revolution fosters more stagnation than progress. Take, for instance, this year’s annual Animal Rights National Conference, which was held in Alexandria, Va., last month. After an abolitionist petition to ban HSUS from the conference failed, abolitionists tried sponsoring an independent seminar in protest of HSUS’s involvement. The hotel where the conference took place then attempted to shut down the abolitionists’ competing seminar (apparently at the main conference organizers’ behest). It’s this dust-up—not any of the myriad practical strategies of reform discussed during the four-day conference—that has earned the bulk of the attention in animal rights circles.
The motivation for animal advocates to compromise should be strong. And compromise is quite possible: There’s no doubt that HSUS reforms have improved the lives of farm animals, but there’s also no reason why the organization couldn’t bolster its small victories with more aggressive campaigns involving the v-word. Similarly, the abolitionists certainly make a compelling case for ending all animal exploitation, but there’s also no reason why they couldn’t tolerate a more personalized approach to change, one premised on the idea that we all come to Jesus in our own unique little ways. “It is better,” Joy often says, “to be effective than to be right.”
In any case, if the movement figures out how to meld these competing approaches to animal advocacy, the meat industry would really have something to complain about. For now, though, as I read the trade literature, it’s hard not to see the industrial producers of animal products as little more than petulant whiners who have no inkling of the real pressure they would face if animal advocates in the United States managed to pull themselves together.
I don't agree with the comments of those people who suggest that the money "for the animals": should be taken from HSUS (or anyone else) and given to others. The people who donate their money to the HSUS do so because they like what the HSUS stand for and want to support the goals of the HSUS. If the HSUS were to change their focus, those same people would be likely not to donate their money to the HSUS any longer. Similarly, the people who donate to the HSUS are not likely to give that money to another group with a completely different vision if the HSUS were no longer around. I think it's similar to people who give their money to Sea Shepherd. They do so because they care about the protection of whales and other species who live in the oceans. If SSCS were not around, I don't think those people would then donate their money to Vegan Outreach, or Humane Myth. They just wouldn't bother donating any more.
I think that many people give their money to groups like HSUS because it eases their guilt in regard to their own continued exploitation of other individuals; they feel they have done something "for the animals", but they have not been confronted with the truth. It is perfect for them - just like donating a can of beans to the "needy" at Christmas time and thinking you have "done your bit" for humanity.
Kath Worsfold said:
Thanks, Wendy. Very telling wording in their motto.
A couple of prominent AR activists have said that the money the HSUS has should be removed from them and given to true animal advocates, so that they can use it to actually help the animals. I agree. HSUS is at the moment nothing but a huge corporation, with all the evils that entails.
Wendy Kobylarz said:
I would agree, except that I see very little in the way of HSUS' attempts to relieve suffering. Even with dogs and cats, the animals they should probably be most concerned about given their starting point, they advocate "buy from humane breeders. HSUS does not wish to upset the capitalist status quo; without it, their donations and salaried dry up. With net assets of $187,515,301, I totally expect to see more work on behalf of animals, not animal farmers.
Furthermore, in 2010, they offered $25,000 of that money designated to help animals to catch "animal rights terrorists" in relation to either a fire-bombing or arson in California, an event that was never claimed by an AR group or person. The "animal rights terrorist" bit came out of thin air, ostensibly to distance HSUS' activities from those more direct-action ones. I think that speaks plenty for itself, but their blurb on Charity Navigator also states: Established in 1954, The HSUS seeks a humane and sustainable world for all animals - a world that will also benefit people. We work to reduce suffering. (Emphasis added. While I agree that both things are important - a world for people and one that contains less suffering, in light of what HSUS has done recently, I think this can also be read as: a world that puts humans first... We don't want to end suffering, just reduce it. I don't think that is necessarily true of every person who works at HSUS, but the organization has obviously lost sight of its goals to put animals first. And in the meantime, mixed messages are being sent to the general public: you can love/care about animal suffering and eat animals, too!)
This article is worth a read. http://www.ourhenhouse.org/2012/09/do-so-unapologetically/
Just regarding why people donate to organisations like HSUS, I agree Carolyn that many do so to salve their consciences, but I think many also genuinely believe that they are donating to an organisation that's protecting animals. One reason why they tend to have a high turnover in donors. It is why so much energy goes into keeping the real truth about what they do hidden.
Unfortunately McWilliams would not (could not?) defend the issues he raised in his piece when Francione invited him to debate them.
Francione's open invitation to McWilliams:
Francione's response to Vegan Feud on the Columbia University Press site:
The next day McWilliams informed the readers of his blog that he declined to debate:
This is Francione's response to McWilliams after McWilliams declined the debate:
I was very disappointed in McWilliams and in his article, Vegan Feud. Had I known he would remove the most essential reason why I oppose "welfare" reforms from my statement, I would never have agreed to be quoted. Even if he didn't want to use my full quote, if he had included half of my next sentence, which was: The industry knows this, and co-operates with 'improvements' because they ultimately put a stamp of approval on meat eating ( ........ ), the opposition to "welfare" reforms would have made a whole lot more sense -- but that would have shown his argument in favor of supporting them was incorrect.
Imo, McWilliams could not defend the issues he raised.
In "The Animal Estate" by Harriet Ritvo, I learned that animal "welfare" has always opposed cruelty perpetrated by the lower economic classes, while it condoned cruelty perpetrated by the affluent. HSUS opposition to dog, hog, and cock fighting would would fit this because they are practiced by lower economic classes.
HSUS opposed the Canadian seal massacre by bargaining the lives of other animals -- suggesting a temporary ban on other Canadian marine products only until the seal killing was ended. I don't know what it's bargaining for whales, but sealing and whaling are also activities of the working class.
If the poorer classes were the only people who ate meat, I think HSUS would oppose that too. Of course the opposite is true, and HSUS appeals to the those who can afford so-called "humane" meat. It constantly appeals to animal users with comfortable incomes because they can afford to make donations.
I think HSUS opposes chimpanzee research because the mainstream is willing to grant them near human status, but it doesn't oppose research on other animals. Instead of rejecting it, it did a study on pain in lab animals, with the intention of promoting "humane" reasearch. I'll see if I can find the link.
Imo, any group that supports "humane" animal products, research, etc. could not have abolitionist values.
Spencer Lo said:
I’m still learning about HSUS and trying to gain a deeper understanding of the controversy (which seems to have many facets). Although HSUS is a welfarist organization, it seems that they nevertheless advocate some abolitionist goals: for instance, they want to get rid of dogfighting, cockfighting, hog-dog fighting, experimentation on chimps, whaling, and various forms of hunting. So perhaps it’s more accurate to consider HSUS welfarist in some (many) respects but also abolitionist in others? I welcome anyone's thoughts on this.
I’m very skeptical about the role that economic status plays in HSUS’ decision to favor abolishing some cruel activities and not others—more likely, some activities are easier to condemn given current societal norms (e.g., dog fighting, chimp experimentation). It seems like you’re saying that calculations are made based on a dislike of poor people, and I don’t find that plausible.
But even if that were the case, HSUS still has certain abolitionist goals since they want to abolish certain practices completely. Perhaps they’re more “welfarist” than “abolitionist,” but I see clear elements of abolitionism in some of what they do. E.g., “The Humane Society of the United States opposes the use of wild animals in circuses and other traveling acts because cruelty to animals is inherent in such displays.”
I don't think HSUS dislikes poor people; I think it takes advantange of their insignificant status to promote campaigns that won't carry much oppositional weight. Have you read "The Animal Estate"?
HSUS is very careful not to alienate wealthy supporters, and as long as they want to eat meat, it will not speak against it. HSUS also condoned the hunting of one species of animal in order to save another. Again, I'll see if I can find the link -- this happened a long time ago.
I have not read “The Animal Estate,” but thanks for bringing it to my attention.
Who's whinning? HSUS encourages animal consumption by deceiving the public about "humane" meat. That hurts animals, and if you support HSUS, that's your impact too!
Btw, Francione isn't the only person who opposes HSUS. See http://www.humanemyth.org
Uptight Primate said:
The original post suggests that abolitionists might spend more time campaigning effectively for animals instead of spending time and energy whinging about some of the big welfare groups.
Whinging about PETA and HSUS etc is not campaigning.
Why not just get on and organise vegan outreach etc if that’s what you think will work and pay no heed to the groups whose work you don’t like?
The in-fighting itself is a problem for the movement. It stops us being effective – and it makes us look mad, unable to work together to deliver any meaningful victory for animals. The rise of the Francione-style abolitionists (frabolitionists) has made this situation far worse – and as a result the movement is more fractured than I can ever remember.
I think the frabolitionists have got it wrong – but I don’t want to waste my time or energy fighting about it – instead I’d rather get on with the work I think does have impact.
You're welcome, Spencer. I don't know if Harriet Ritvo supports animal rights, but she's very clear about animal "welfare".
Spencer Lo said:
I have not read “The Animal Estate,” but thanks for bringing it to my attention.
Ellie, would you agree that HSUS has certain abolitionist goals and therefore is abolitionist in some respects? That seems more accurate than the view that they "just" promote animal welfare.
Spencer, I think animal rights and abolition are comprehensive ideas that really do require rejection of animal exploitation. So while I think HSUS opposition to research on chimpanzees is a step toward the abolitionist goal, as long as HSUS condones research on other animals, supports "humane" meat, etc., I don't think it fits the abolitionist perspective.