Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism
He’s a great humanitarian, he’s a great philanthropist
He knows just where to touch you, honey, and how you like to be kissed
He’ll put both his arms around you
You can feel the tender touch of the beast
You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace
In an excellent post about whether his friend ought to keep chickens and eat their eggs, Jason Dunn says this comparing PETA to animal rights groups:
People like PETA are animal welfarists. They assert that killing animals is A-Okay, as long as we’re “nice” to them for a little while first. I initially was a welfarist, because, to be
perfectly honest, the bulk of the material out there is written by
people who think this way.
The other school of thought is animal rights. This kind of thinking says that animals are not property. Treatment of the animals is not the problem. Use of the animals is the problem.
Jason is right about PETA, they are animal welfare group, but there is an important distinction between two different kinds of animal
welfare. This distinction has caused, and will continue to cause, harm
towards animals. Here is how PETA describes itself on one of its “Action Center” webpages:
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is an animal rights group founded on the belief that animals are not ours to use for food, clothing, experimentation or entertainment.
Doesn’t that sound just like Jason’s description of Animal Rights? Yes, it does and that is the problem.
As Gary Francione has explained, PETA is not an old school welfare group. Old school welfarists talked only in terms of the treatment and
abuse of nonhuman animals. They did not consider or accept that nonhuman
individuals had a right to life, but only that they ought to live good
lives while they are alive. Most people now reject that view. Most
people recognize that, in least some cases, the actual killing of
animals is wrong. Most people are not old school welfarists.
PETA is what Francione calls a “New-Welfarist” group. Where they differ from the old school welfarists is that they believe that animals
do have a right to live their own lives, they really do. But, and this
is the distinction, they believe that getting the world to consider,
accept and recognize those rights is unlikely to happen any time soon,
if ever at all. So, in the meantime, they advocate for the better
treatment of animals at the hands of the exploiters.
Animal rights advocates, meaning people who are neither old school welfarists or new-welfarists, advocate that we abolish all current
practices that reduce animals to things or pieces of property. It would
make no sense for animal rights advocates who favor abolition to support
either kind of welfare. As Jason says:
Until animals are no longer considered property, use of them will never cease. It does not matter how well they are treated. Ultimately, we remove their ability to live their lives in a
manner they see fit. That is not our call to make.
PETA, and others like “Vegan”.com and “Vegan” Outreach, are new-welfarists because their words and actions have the effect of
continuing the status quo of animals as property. Whatever they may
claim about their interests in animal rights, the effects of their
actual words and actions cannot be denied.
The harms done to nonhuman animals as a result are many. Here is an example from PETA’s “GoVeg” Vegetarian 101 webpage:
If you plan to make the transition to a vegetarian diet gradually, the most important foods to cut out of your diet first are bird flesh and eggs. While many people think that “red
meat” and dairy products should be the first to go, this isn’t the case.
By cutting bird flesh from your diet, you’ll save many more animals.
Because chickens are so small, the average meat-eater is responsible for
the deaths of many more chickens than cows.
Imagine if you can that an argument such as this were applied to some human condition, slave labor for example. How would that sound?
If you plan to make the transition to a slave-labor free world gradually, the most important slave labor to cut out of the world first are Bangladeshi slave-laborers. While many people
think that American slave labor should be the first to go, this isn’t
the case. By cutting Bangladeshi slave-labor from the world, you’ll save
many more people. Because Bangladeshi slave laborers are so many, the
average slave-labor supporter is responsible for the deaths of many more
Bangladeshi’s than Americans.
Does that make any sense at all? American slave laborers can afford to wait and languish in slavery, because there are so many more
Bangladeshi’s at risk? No, of course that doesn’t make sense, and it is
as ridiculous as it sounds. When we oppose slave labor, we oppose all
slave labor because until everyone is free, no-one is free. Every
individual has value, and each deserves to be respected and have their
basic rights recognized and protected. To suggest otherwise is not only
wrong, but it has the effect of condoning and allowing some form of
slavery to continue.
But that is the suggestion which PETA and the other new-welfarists are making. They are suggesting that although it wrong to use other
animals as things and as property, since it seems that world is going to
continue to anyway, we should value some nonhumans more highly than
others, and we should advocate for and accept some forms of abuse over
others. Even worse, the new-welfarists work hand-in-hand with the animal
exploiting industry to develop these very forms of abuse.
What message will anyone who visits the PETA website take away from that visit? Will they understand that nonhuman animals are sentient
beings who want only to live their own lives, as best they are able, as
only they can see fit? Or will they understand that animals are ours,
that is, our property, to protect and care for, even if that means keeping them in cages and killing them as we alone deem necessary?
Unfortunately, they will understand the latter, and reject the former. As Dr. Steve Loughnan, Research Associate in Psychology observes in an article posted on the University of Kent’s website:
Some people do choose to stop eating meat when they learn that animals suffer for its production. An overwhelming majority do not. Our research shows that one way people are able to keep
eating meat is by dampening their moral consideration of animals when
sitting at the dinner table. (…)
Rather than change their beliefs about the animals’ moral rights, people could change their behavior. However, we suspect that most people are unwilling to deny themselves the enjoyment of eating
meat, and denying animals moral rights lets them keep eating with a
When people are being told by so-called “animal rights” groups that bigger cages are better cages, and that killing some animals for food is
better than killing other animals for food, how in the world should we
expect people to make and act upon sound moral judgments?
If animal advocates hope to accomplish anything meaningful in the long to the benefit of the actual individual nonhuman lives at stake,
they would do well to seek some clarity in their own positions. As it
is, their muddled thinking and confused messaging is doing a disservice
to the cause of animal rights. Much worse, by their actions and by their
words they are perpetuating the systems which cause direct harms to
PETA and their ilk are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
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