Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism
In the new book, Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation, Co-author Professor Robert Garner says this:
Animal rights abolitionism is intuitively odd because it asks us to accept the following proposition – that we should seek the complete abolition of practices that the animal protection movement has spent years trying, with only limited success, to reform. The question to ask here is, is such a position credible. (p. 121)
In other words, why in the world should we expect the “whole loaf” of abolition, when after years of trying, we can’t even get the “half-loaf” of welfare reform?
Garner is right, the animal welfare (protection) movement has only met with limited success in its attempts at reform. But, this should not be seen as Garner wants it to be seen, as both a reason for continuing to attempt reform and as one against advocating abolition. The opposite is true. Advocates for other animals ought to be demanding total liberation for them, and they ought to completely abandon calls for reform.
The reason society has not responded adequately to the call for modest reform is because the idea of modest reform makes no sense in the context of continued exploitation. If we are presented with an argument which asks us only to treat others more benevolently, while it doesn’t ask us to stop warehousing them and slaughtering them, we do not feel the moral “pull” of this argument, because it hasn’t got one. We know intuitively that it makes no sense, ultimately, to worry about larger cages for other animals when we are not worried about the entirety of their existence or, more importantly, their premature and untimely deaths. What does it matter how we treat others when it doesn’t matter that we kill them?
It doesn’t matter.
That is what we already believe, and calls for welfare reform do little to challenge us in this regard. In fact, and to the contrary, welfare reforms reinforce the attitude, which it is based on after all, that killing others isn’t, in itself, a bad thing. It is little wonder then that the animal welfare movement has had little success in achieving its goal of improving the lives of other animal. Animal welfare is not concerned with the lives of other animals at all.
Additionally, even if we do accept the notion of welfare reform, there is nothing we hear from the welfare reform movement that would make it more likely for us to move from that position to the stronger position of animal rights. We are not likely to reject the use of others as things and instead respect their rights as moral persons when everything about our societies and cultures tell us that such use is justified. We are even less likely to do so when “animal advocates” in the welfare movement don’t ask us to.
Given the choice, then, to either leave off the killing of other animals or treat them better before we kill them, at the very best, we choose the latter, because we never even seriously consider the former. More likely, and tragically, we only pay lip service to the idea of treating other animals better, for we know, as stated above: What does it really matter how we treat them we when are going to kill them anyway?
Therefore, we don’t take calls for modest reform seriously, and welfare reforms fail to make even the modest gains they seek.
The solution, for those who would advocate for other animals, is to take an uncompromising stand on principle, and to settle for nothing less than a radical rethinking of our relationship with the other individuals who share the planet with us. Thus far, we have not made any gains because we have given no-one any compelling reasons to affect change. We not asked the world to be the best it can be. All we have been asking for, if you will excuse the expression, is to put lipstick on a pig.
It’s time we ask for something more.
All uses of other animals as things, resources, commodities, tools, machines, experimental test subjects and objects of sport and entertainment must come to an end.
It will be said that such a position, for the total abolition of exploitation, does two counter-productive things. First, such a position will deny abolitionists a “seat at the table”. That is, because abolition is a position which rejects negotiation, no-one will sit down to talk with abolitionists in order to reach compromises on the way toward achieving abolition. Second, and directly related to the first, abolition, as an “all or nothing approach,” will never achieve “all”, but will instead only achieve nothing.
In the first instance, it isn’t the duty of those who make demands based on principles to negotiate those principles. In the same way that one who advocates for an end to human slavery ought not to negotiate with slaveholders who refuse to give up their slave-holding, no-one who holds a moral position ought to negotiate away the high ground. Moreover, it is a mistake to think of those who stand on principle as wanting to be engaged in negotiation at all. The role of claims-makers is to stake out what is the desired and necessary end, and to then advocate for and educate others about why that end is both desirable and necessary. Claims-makers should leave it to others to negotiate the compromises in the service of eventual realization of that end. (Consider this: If all advocates for other animals demanded abolition, it would likely force those sympathetic to the abolitionist’s moral arguments to either adopt abolition, or seek compromise between abolitionists and exploiters. The abolitionists themselves would have no need to compromise.)
In the second instance, it simply isn’t true that those who ask for “all or nothing” always end up with nothing. As can be seen in the case of the recent changes in policy regarding the service of openly gay, lesbian and bisexual people in the US Armed Forces, the repeated and consistent calls for the recognition of the civil equality of LGBT folks is resulting in partial gains for them. The eventual rescinding of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” isn’t all that LGBT advocates are demanding, but it isn’t nothing either. In light of that, there’s no reason to assume that advocates for the abolition of exploitation would come up empty-handed as they demand no less than the complete liberation of all other animals. On the contrary, it can be said that it is only because there exists an uncompromising moral position that any movement away from the status quo is possible. Perhaps, and it is likely that, we can only effectively move towards goals when first they are clearly defined.
Other animals have lives that are theirs to live, as they alone see fit, as best they are able, as free from interference, as far as is possible, in this imperfect world. We owe it to them to let them live those lives. There’s nothing whatsoever intuitively odd about that.
As advocates, we owe it to all animals, nonhuman and human alike, to demand from others, unequivocally and uncompromisingly, nothing less than for their total liberation and for the end to their exploitation, for once and for all.
(reposted from http://timgier.com/2010/12/26/odd/ )
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