Animal Rights Zone

Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

PETA: Futile Efforts and Destructive Consequences

Originally published on

January 23, 2012

It is true that any social movement succeeds in stages. The time necessary for a society to see an issue as a problem, to see how their actions contribute to suffering of others, requires a long-term strategy. Small successes lead to large real victories. There are effective ways to approach social protest, and then, there is PETA's approach.

PETA's messages are inconsistent, disrespectful, and precisely the reason the public is distrustful of their organization -- and mocks the efforts of the committed animal advocate. PETA trivializes animal cruelty with their cartoonish protests and ridiculous stunts. Their unwavering focus on single-issue campaigns confuses people, i.e. fur is bad, but leather is ok? One type of meat is unethical, but another is humane? Credibility is critical to any social movement, and without this trust, any message will fail to connect with anyone who's remotely willing to listen. This is why PETA, after an apparent promising beginning, has become a caricature of the animal advocacy movement. Education to those who do not share their views is entirely absent from their efforts.

Presenting logical arguments that appeal to our emotions and intelligence, educating us in a respectful manner is what motivates change. The animal advocacy movement, inexorably intertwined with the message of veganism, is only as strong as the individuals who make up the effort, and these individuals will collectively force change at the highest levels -- in businesses and legislation. Thus, the only way animal advocacy can succeed is to gain the respect of the individuals of society. One of the greatest challenges for the animal advocate is to communicate the message of veganism impartially, logically, and respectfully -- without this effort, success is impossible. Speak in anger, relying on histrionics, theatrics or with an argument that is obviously biased (or based in absolutes) and you've no possible way to convince the omnivore to consider veganism. There will be an appropriate place and time to debate passionately, but when you are working to communicate a message, it is the facts and an impartial approach that wins minds and enables action.

Activist organizations exist primarily, I would argue, to disseminate a message with the goal of creating change in society. Such a movement must connect with individuals on an emotional level with its message, but it must also associate that emotion with an action -- accomplishing this means that the message must also be logical and it must feel necessary to the individual. Without both sides of this connection, the movement will never succeed in creating a substantial argument for change that the average person will take seriously. For the activist movement, staying on track means a constant critical eye, and avoiding the tunnel vision of their objective. Focusing strictly on the "goal" means losing sight of what the activist group compromises to get there, and forgetting that how they succeed is as important as whether their message succeeds at all.

Accomplishing half of this will gain you the support of those who fundamentally agree with your cause; these individuals need little convincing, but whom will not be enough to make your message a "mainstream" movement. To create change, such a movement must garner the support of those who do not yet understand the need for change -- it is critical that the methods of the activist reach these people, and herein lays the most significant crux. Introducing the concept of change to the average individual is complex, as creating all sorts of reasons why we need not alter our current view of the world (and by extension, denying a proposed transformation to our behavior) is a specialty we all share.

Successful activist movements have a clear, rational and consistent articulated message. It is universally true that when accosted by a message, we cling stubbornly to our beliefs or simply dismiss the messenger as mentally unbalanced. When was the last time you stopped and asked the person with a "The End is Near" sign to back up their message with facts? Similarly, a protest centered entirely on a logical argument requires time and discussion to make your point -- which is why you never see that same doomsayer with a sign that reads,

The End is Near, because despite the numerous benefits that nanotechnology offers humankind, there are consequences that science haven't been fully vetted. Prior to the implementation of nanotechnology in environmental applications, such as waste cleanup (particularly relevant to the recent BP disaster,) proper governmental regulations are necessary as the threat of infinitely reproducing biotech nano-workers would (SEE BACK and/or take a BROCHURE…)

It is never ideal to attempt a complex argument, no matter how logical, in a protest setting -- no one would give you the time to make your point and those who do won't be open to a rational discussion. Protest, when the public views you as that person on the street, with an "end is near" sign, is futile. This is where many activist groups breakdown -- unable to understand how to communicate their message in a lucid, consistent and logical manner so that the public is open to education. Alternatively, some activist groups do understand that fact, but lack the demeanor, patience and/or desire to create change -- and thus settle for the spectacle and the illusion of result.

We're skeptical of anything that challenges our beliefs, especially those long-held and deeply ingrained, but provided an effective argument we're willing to consider change when that behavior stands in opposition to our moral beliefs. Personal experiences are anecdotal, but I am an example of someone who chose veganism for those exact reasons -- an argument took hold and proved my actions opposition to my ethical beliefs.

Before I went vegan, animal products made an appearance with every meal, I wore leather, wool -- I was not awash with guilt at this. I readily associated vegans with PETA, and saw veganism as a freakish practice consisting of eating primarily lettuce, and throwing things at people wearing fur. I was the epitome of someone who thought veganism unimaginable because I "just loved meat and/or cheese so much!" It's not that I didn't like animals; everyone "likes" animals (no rational person wants to see an animal suffer,) as long as the animal is a) cute, and/or b) in a movie and a derivative of point a). I never questioned advertising admonishing the very suggestion that an animal anywhere suffered for my choices, such messages just kept me unaware and unthinking. I never questioned the consequences to our planet, bodies or ethics. The human cost of factory farming was not even an issue to consider (and still, one that isn't often discussed in vegan campaigns,) the slaughterhouse employees who have the highest risk of injury, job turnover, and deal with substantial psychological trauma associated with their work.

The cost to animals was a habitual disassociation. Despite the many instances viewing factory farm footage that revealed, if only a moment, the reality of animals place in our society, the effect was fleeting. It's simple to push the thought away in time for my next latte, sandwich, steak or clothing purchase -- rationalizations flooded my mind, it can't be that way at every farm, surely, there are laws that keep that monitor that sort of thing? So much of what the vegan cannot forget, the number of animals killed yearly, their treatment in the food production industry, is not more than meaningless numbers to the non-vegan. We fiercely maintain defense mechanisms, and easily consider the horrific treatment of animals as abstract and remote, until we have an experience that forces personal context. Every single one of us has the necessary facts for epiphany, bouncing around in our minds, just waiting for that context. My context was, to say the least, unexpected. If no one or nothing challenges our logic, we will never consider change.

Those who would fight for social movements do so out of a complex mixture of emotion and logic, aided by timing and human variables -- there is no blueprint to follow that guarantees success. This is the reason why so many find themselves unable, or unwilling, to work for change. It's the reason that many activists, or potential activists, doubt success to the degree that they find half-measures and perpetual compromise so attractive. Unfortunately, when acceptance of inadequate measures are laid on the table, the only side willing to compromise is the side of which is fighting for change -- the opposition has no reason to change, and it places the activist at a place of weakness. This is why we see PETA and similar groups claiming "success" when they've convinced pig slaughterhouses to phase out gestation crates on some far off date, only when it would have become economically unnecessary to continue when cheaper, more profitable alternatives are on the horizon. The only success in such instances is one of public relations, organizations like PETA can send emails claiming a "win," and slaughterhouses can grow its profit by attracting the omnivore who can now feel positive about eating meat -- as far as their concerned, they have the approval of animal rights groups.

Omnivores do not see this as a victory for animals; they see it as a way to eat them without feeling guilty. The PETA'd vegan or omnivore are the only individuals who judge such an event like cage-free eggs as a success for animals. A cage-free egg facility moves the chicken from a small cage to a single large cage. Thousands of birds in a single room, each of whom have their beaks burned off to prevent them from pecking each other to death. Because, that's what you do when trapped in a room with hundreds of others for months, years on end.

PETA argues that by encouraging a reduction in animal suffering in stages -- cage-free eggs, "I'd rather be naked than wear fur" campaigns, more efficient slaughterhouse killings, elimination of gestation crates for pigs and on and on -- the public will eventually stop eating or wearing animals through an apparent paradigm shift in consciousness. Except, PETA never explains how this will happen, nor do they discuss the logical course of events that would lead to such a dramatic change of mindset in the average omnivore. On their website, PETA is strangely vague with what constitutes a "success."

Those in favor of welfarism often see the only alternative to their methods is inflexible veganism, or attempting to coerce omnivores to give up animal products overnight. This is not accurate. Using veganism as the behavior benchmark, the goal for which we should work towards, is not the same as telling the open-minded omnivore that their reduction in eating animals is useless. Choosing logic over fallacies, understanding the issues and working towards phasing out animal products is incredibly simple in 2012. Working towards veganism is a personal timeline, and it won't happen overnight for everyone. As long as the desire to minimize the harm you do is the goal, just start somewhere, and you will get there.

If PETA was truly interested in honest, logical and meaningful protest they would work to educate the public with a consistent message, not a myriad of divisive, nonsensical campaigns. Instead, PETA wastes efforts attempting to "sneak" the message of protection for animals in Dr. Seussian-like single-issue campaigns. As is possible to discern, PETA expects efforts like painting a nearly nude woman in fake blood, lying in a shrink-wrapped "meat tray" to plant a seed of vegan epiphany in the minds of the passing truckers. In such a protest, which is all too common for PETA, the extent of education, of any attempt to communicate are phrases like, "All Meat Comes from a Corpse," printed on their protest signs.

Promoting veganism as the answer to a myriad of complex, serious economical, environmental, human and ethical problems is the best and only successful method possible. No social movement has ever succeeded by using single-issue inconsistent messaging campaigns to work towards a larger goal. These methods have no context for those remotely interested in your message; the crass and intellectually lazy nature of PETAs approach piques nothing but revulsion from the strange use of sexual violence (a bloodied, near-naked woman imitating a piece of meat, really?) Visceral imagery creates disgust, but not association of disgust with eating or wearing animals. You've only succeeded in making your actions disgusting. This is PETAs approach to "targeted" protest, attempting to appeal to our base nature with sexuality, but without any intellectual or logical substance behind their intent. PETA is the Kim Kardashian of social protests.

Stockholder activism is another method of PETAs that has gained attention over the recent few years. Owning stock in companies that are counter to the goals of veganism and animal advocates, PETA states that they invest in these objectionable companies to "change" them from the inside is an illusion of action/result. Their initial attempts, shown on their Shareholder Campaigns page, gives an impressive list of 19 chemical and pharmaceutical companies, including Dow, Monsanto, Merck & Co, and ExxonMobil, of whom PETA and their supporters own stock to negotiate elimination of animals used in research. Each animal testing resolution introduced by PETA failed to accomplish these goals, gaining just enough votes to reintroduce them in the following year…that was 2007. There hasn't been an update since.

Undeterred, PETA tried this tactic with the fast-food restaurant industry. The objective argued is to improve the conditions of animals in factory farms before slaughtering to craft into Big Macs and chocolate shakes. Stock purchases in Burger King, Carl's Jr., Hardee's, McDonald's, and Denny's, claim major concessions from the campaign. As of now, this major effort resulted in a small percentage of eggs purchased from cage-free facilities (i.e. 3%,) and a 15% maximum of slaughtered pigs from gestation crate-free factory farms (i.e. any unknown number under that percentage.) This is a classic move by PETA, and one that confuses the message of veganism -- blaming the industry, deemphasizing education, and making no effort to change how the consumer thinks or eats. In the end, the message is that it is perfectly fine to eat PETA-approved animals from PETA-approved factory farms and fast food restaurants.

If PETA had an interest in real change, putting their investment dollars towards companies like gardein or Daiya (legitimate, healthy alternatives to eating animals) is a productive step towards reducing demand for meat and dairy, and eventually reducing the death of animals in factory farms. The publicity may not be as good, but it’s an actual step towards changing eating habits. Instead, PETA invests in the industry that, by its very business model, depends on PETAs failure as an animal "advocacy" group. PETA won't invest in companies actively providing a viable alternative to animal products because it’s a long-term solution.

However, this particular debate ignores entirely PETA's questionable choice to invest in such companies to begin with. Where is the judgment in purchasing stock, and profiting from the actions of companies like Burger King or Monsanto? It's true that PETA isn't buying shares directly from Monsanto -- publically traded companies work by buying and selling shares from other stockholders. Yet, by purchasing Burger King or McDonald's stock, PETA plays a role in keeping their stock value up, and the CEOs (those individuals directing the company's actions,) stay in bonuses, profit, and have no incentive to change the way that they do business. PETA can argue their case for improved conditions to other shareholders, but they are the same individuals for whom PETA doesn't "waste" time trying to educate on the issues, or present a rational, sane message.

Here is the true irony, even if PETA managed to convince a majority of shareholders of a company like Monsanto to vote along their shareholder resolution, Monsanto is under no obligation to implement the resolution. Shareholder resolutions are simply suggestions for the company -- they are not binding and will have no affect on Monsanto's or Burger King's business methods or profitability. Despite what PETA would have you believe, shareholder resolutions hold little financial or legal powers, and often disregarded by companies. In 2004, the Harvard Law Review considered this very topic, in The Case for Increasing Shareholder Power. PETA, of course, is all too aware of this fact, but you won't find that inconvenient truth of shareholder resolutions on their campaign successes page. In return for placations of which have little effect on the corporation or improvement to the lives of animals, Carl's Jr. or Burger King gets the blessing of PETA and all of the free publicity they could desire -- courtesy of the world's largest animal-rights organization. PETA molds this into a press release for their members, updating them on all of the good their annual donations accomplish.

PETA, by their own hand, is in a position where they cannot make a consistent message of veganism or campaigns of education on the issues. They profit too readily by placing the blame on the factory farm and/or fast food restaurant. After decades of publicity seeking, PETA stumbled onto the formula that provides them the perfect equation for the delusion of effectiveness, used frequently to justify their shock campaigns. Promoting veganism as the only objective that truly minimizes harm to animals would alienate much of PETA's membership and celebrity support, as it would require that PETA actually ask that they work towards meaningful way behavioral change.

This would prove problematic, as PETA would no longer be the group of endless cheap absolution to those who want to feel good about eating animals, wearing them, or otherwise contributing to their suffering and death. Such accountability would mean that animal activism would no longer be a fun, trendy way to spend an afternoon; they would no longer be a meaningless exhibitionist thrill machine, they would not be the tool for vapid celebrities to mock animal advocacy by making it their next Kabbalah bracelet. They would make the idea that the individual is responsible for their choices and actions -- the awful factory farm machine exists because we keep it alive. In short, PETA would become a serious, intentional, clear-headed advocacy organization.

It's much simpler to create endless campaigns targeting single aspects of harm to animals. Without a willingness to educate or rationally discuss the importance or veganism, such individual campaigns, like their shareholder activism, have no meaningful impact. This approach ignores entirely the critical need to connect with the individual -- if we do not understand the reasons for change (as well as exactly what we need to do to create change,) the only result is applauding nonsense like cage-free eggs, and no comprehension of the argument against eating them at all.

The problem? We easily talk ourselves out of change (also known as the "humane meat" reflexive justification -- the greatest stroke of genius marketing since cigarettes were good for you) when an argument only appeals to our emotions. Humane meat is incredibly attractive, and why wouldn’t it be? It offers those who are looking for any reason at all to avoid change -- and they have justification to continue eating animals, guilt free.

Today's demand for meat, eggs and dairy is gargantuan, and it forces production to such an extreme that it has tremendously hideous consequences. It is impossible for the USDA to monitor the billions of pounds of beef, chicken, pork, gallons of milk, and eggs consumed yearly. The CDC estimates 1,300 die yearly from food-transmitted pathogens like Salmonella, Toxoplasma gondii (toxoplasmosis,) and Listeria monocytogenes. Another 1,600 die from unspecified pathogens. That's about 3,000 every year. The demand for meat is so massive the USDA is considering privatizing inspections—starting with chicken in 2012. To put this into perspective, phobia of "chemicals" in skin care and cosmetics has spread like wildfire over the internet and media, with people everywhere convinced that death perpetually stalks them via their moisturizer and lipstick. Despite this nonsense, not a single person anywhere has died, or suffered harm from normal use of their skin care and makeup (no, drinking your sunscreen doesn’t count.) This is an excellent example of our ability to rationalize any behavior we don't want to change -- the furor over scary-sounding chemicals, despite no harm to a anyone, anywhere, compared to the thousands who die yearly from eating tainted animal products.

PETA prospers on the appearance of action, our willingness to fool ourselves, and the illusion of "successes" that make no progress towards improving the life of animals. Rather than speaking honestly and respectfully to the omnivore, they instead choose to dedicate themselves to protests that exist purely for the sake of perpetuating notoriety. PETA is aware that such effort -- protesting outside a KFC, Lettuce Ladies handing out veggie dogs, "cooking mama: Mama Kills Animals" video game, will never change a single mind on the issue of animal advocacy. The tools used to convey the message are so inflammatory they succeed only in ridicule, or fascinatingly bizarre, neither of which helps any animals. As a vegan, I understand the analogizing of the near overwhelming horror of a world that we've created for animals. However, as a former omnivore, I understand PETAs methods won't connect to those who haven't come to this seismic shift in consciousness. The omnivore will only see the crass vehicle for PETA message, and regard it with suspicion and disgust.

I get it. For the animal advocate, the overwhelming nature of the fight is exhausting. It makes one sad to see such vitriol and lack of respect for endless hours of work advocating for animals. PETA let this exhaustion, frustration and sorrow build-up like moss on our efforts -- muddling the message with endless compromises, confusing the public, and stealing the respect hard work for animals deserves. Squandering the greatest opportunity in decades for communicating the benefits of veganism to our planet, health and ethics, by supporting welfarism we've wasted time by perpetuating myths of humane meat, and holding the word veganism in disdain. This is what PETA has done with its early potential, thirty-some years later -- traded their veracity in exchange for headlines so many times like excessively printed money; its value has dropped to a near worthless state.

Nathan Rivas | Twitter | Facebook
Seattle, WA Nathan is a passionate animal advocate and vegan in the Seattle-area, and a contributor to This Dish is Veg. He lives with his partner, Troy, and a band consisting of: a defiant dachshund, a ginormous Maine coon and a judgmental shorthaired black cat. Nathan graduated with a Bachelors of Science (summa cum laude) from Northeastern University last spring, and is currently in his Masters of Science program. Nathan is at any time, 17% coffee, a slave to his Kindle, and a lover of science and mathematics.

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Comment by NR on February 2, 2012 at 13:20

@Tim, thank you for the debate—we’re going to agree to disagree.

@Uptight Primate—thanks for the comments. I do not agree that PETAs membership translates or reflects support of veganism as a goal. If anything, I would see the “millions” of members as more of an indication of failure towards this objective, and a greater emphasis on advocating the humane meat/slaughter myth.

Dan Mathews has been open in the past concerning the membership demographics of PETA, and at least halfis comprised of meat eaters, no word on how many vegans are still donating to PETA’d. I find this relevant, the number of members hasn’t ever translated to support for their efforts (at least, I don’t recall millions, or thousands, or hundreds, or dozens showing up for a PETA protest.) Certainly, not many showed up during PETAs “popular” actions like their invoking of the Holocaust for a marketing campaign. While to a vegan, the metaphor is not lost—horrible conditions on a factory farm and mechanized slaughter to those killing methods used by the Nazis (you know, the types of mechanized slaughter design PETA gives awards for, check out all those comments of support!) Of course, this message will never connect with an omnivore, the emotions are too powerful, it was just a disgusting campaign, but I won’t get caught up in that now. It’s just demonstrative of PETAs efforts to “educate” that only appeal to those who already see the message (i.e. vegans)—and thus the effort is useless.

So, members who aren’t vegan donate to an organization that advocates humane meat, an organization that doesn’t communicate personal accountability of its members (I covered that in my article.) What’s not to love about an animal rights organization that won’t ever ask seriously you to stop eating or wearing animals? Absolution on demand, just make sure you send in your donation annually. Incidentally, membership numbers of a million+ for PETA is a failure on another level, given their inability to adopt out the thousands of the animals they “adopt” annually before putting a bullet into their head. Millions of members, but PETA can’t (or possibly doesn’t try?) adopt a few thousand homeless animals?

I’ve addressed the issue of public approval of PETA below, and you may refer to this with your question. I do find this interesting,

“…this appears as just another polemic against a big organization – which is something I see a lot of – but without any understanding of what’s involved in running a large org and in making a difference in this arena.”

So, this is making PETA a bit of a totalitarian animal welfare organization? Where is the logic of making such an organization impervious to critical examination? Indeed, PETAs position and actions makes us obligedto question their motives. As I mentioned in my article, as an social movement, it’s easy to compromise so often that your efforts no longer reflect what was originally intended. And, as I also mentioned below, using the “good outweighs the bad” argument is the exact same argument used by vivisectors and proponents of animal testing—I won’t agree to this blanket logic that exempts PETA from any accountability. Thanks again for your comments. - Nathan

Comment by Tim Gier on January 31, 2012 at 22:44

Hi Nathan,

I'll make some final comments here and leave it to you to have the last word.

I am not making the argument that PeTA is especially distrusted by "the public", you are. What I have suggested is that if it is the case that PeTA is distrusted, then it is for reasons much more complex than what you have suggested. 

Your article is self-contradictory. You say "Promoting veganism as the answer to a myriad of complex, serious economical, environmental, human and ethical problems is the best and only successful method possible." Unless you have special meanings for the words "only successful method possible" then it is the case that you believe that promoting veganism provides a blueprint for success. Perhaps it was not your intention to mean what you clearly said, but it is what you said nevertheless.
In any case, your argument assumes what it should be arguing for. You assume that PeTA's tactics are counterproductive and that your favored approached is decidedly more effective, but you've offered no arguments or evidence to support your view. I happen to think that making the so-called "moral argument" for veganism is and will be, in and of itself, largely ineffective in changing the minds of "most people". I would be happy to see some research or data that proves me wrong.

Comment by NR on January 30, 2012 at 11:19

I also did respond to your perception of my article as contradictory, and I will again here.  You can know the best course of action towards a goal due to the enormous weight of evidence that demonstrates what works—and what doesn't.  Knowing this doesn’t guarantee success, as there are always variables that can derail even the most organized of campaigns, but it is certainly a bad idea to pursue a course of action that is in opposition of previous successful methods.  Unless you're prepared to argue that debating with context, relevant comparisons, consistent messaging and logic is somehow demonstratively ineffective in social movements, this is how it is possible to have no guarantee of success but still know what methods work best concerning persuading the public to change their behavior.

To jump back to PETAs awareness of their methods; it's simply dishonest for PETA to argue that it doesn’t anticipate (or intend) harm with their campaigns.  It's common sense that invoking imagery, such as the KKK or the victims of serial killers, will offend and will directly inflame with their enormously intricate and emotional associations.  Expecting to override a lifetime of training that reinforces the necessity of eating animals by exploiting a shark attack victim, or shaming the overweight on a billboard is incomprehensible—only provoking negative emotions and invoking an unconstructive response that overrides any positive message of the campaign.  The experiences and associations PETA asks passerby's to make (this refers to nearly any of their protest campaigns or advertising) is intellectually and emotionally complex and such a format is not appropriate to do so effectively or respectfully.  This would be true of most organizations using such tactics, but particularly one that has long ago willingly destroyed their veracity in the eyes of the omnivore—at every opportunity, PETA mocks the efforts of every logical and intelligent argument in favor of veganism.

PETA is perfectly aware of these factors, and they persist under the guise of "raising awareness" to invoke images that ridicule instances of emotional pain for many.  A social movement message must be persuasive—no argument there—but it must also be honest, logical and provide context for the viewer, (these factors aside from the critical consistent message, of which no social movement in history has succeeded without.)  A proper, logical and impartial plan to communicate with the omnivore is the most important part of such a campaign, as no social movement succeeds without a respectful dialogue that is rooted in facts to persuade a change in behavior.  PETAs campaigns do not provide the context necessary to initiate this dialogue, as they cater to those that already understand their meaning—other vegans, vegetarians and the PETA'd.  We're working against societal predispositions enabled by a lifetime of conditioning but assuming that omnivores will immediately understand the meaning of "seakitten," or that a blood smeared, fur-wearing protestor won't be thought of as simply insane (because only the obtuse would differentiate between leather and fur?)  What more can I say about this? 

Comment by NR on January 30, 2012 at 11:19


I appreciate your follow-up, and I apologize if I missed, or didn't fully answer your questions.  You argue that PETAs methods are largely misunderstood, due to a specific characterization on the part of the media, which cast a negative light on their efforts.  As you phrased, PETA has the media-molded appearance of "extremists," and that I haven't the evidence to back up my claims of the public's distrust of PETA.  Oh, wait…if I understand your argument, it's that the average person's association of PETA is one of radical extremism?  Do we trust extremists? 

The problem with your question concerning the evidence of the public's distrust of PETA is that it's diversionary and unnecessary.  Seeking psephology measurement of social movements is a bit thick—disconnect between the methods of a social movement and the average persons' concept of normative ethical boundaries in societal discourse is entirely within the boundaries of assumption.  Even in our pluralistic society, it's illogical to assume that the average individual cannot recognize methods that are outside of proper ethical conduct.  Would I be incorrect to state that society doesn't approve of group tactics used by, say, the Westboro Church—or did you want to argue individual relativism and state that only the individual can decide what is and is not acceptable?  Your question, Tim, is one that disproves itself—this doesn't even consider that you stated PETA is viewed as radical by the public (and then, inherently not trustworthy.)

Stating that 1% (of which is a dubious statistic, at best) of society is vegan/vegetarian and extrapolating this to support the argument that it is an unacceptable lifestyle choice by society is not accurate.  The image of vegans has a significant amount to do with how effective the movement communicates with the public, and the choice to go vegan has everything to do with how we understand the factors that perpetuate eating animals in society.  I wonder what methods of communication help perpetuate the negative perception of the vegan lifestyle as extreme, unattainable and unsustainable?

Comment by Tim Gier on January 29, 2012 at 8:06

Nathan, you did not address my claim that your article is self-contradictory. It is self-contradictory because you claim that there is no blueprint to guaranteed success and yet you claim to know what is the best and only successful method possible. This contradiction has nothing to do with any of your claims about PeTA - it is about you contradicting yourself. Either there is no blueprint to success or there is one, it can't be both.

You also don't address my final claim, which is that you seem to think that no one who works for or advises PeTA could be aware of your criticisms and reject them on principle.

Comment by Tim Gier on January 29, 2012 at 7:58

Hi Nathan,

Thanks for your response(s). In your article you make a sweeping generalization about what you consider to be "precisely the reason the public"  distrusts PeTA. That is to say, you are claiming to know what "the public" thinks and feels as well as the exact cause of their thinking and feeling. I can appreciate that to you it seems inevitable that "the public" thinks and feels as you claim they do, for the reasons you claim they must have, but, considering that you provide no evidence to support your claims and considering that there are perfectly reasonable alternate explanations that involve neither sweeping generalizations nor the invocation of specific necessary causal relationships, anyone is free to reject your claims. I do reject your claims.

The reasonable alternative explanation I offer is what I suspect to be the case, and I talk about it in terms of what most people are likely to think, based on what we know to be the case. Without a doubt, it is the case that PeTA is routinely portrayed as a radical and extremist animal rights group and, despite your laudable optimism to the contrary, veganism and animal rights are neither widely understood or supported in the US - most people reject these ideas. Taking the latter point first, I would hope that we can agree that when the best, most consistent estimates of the number of vegans in the US indicate the about 1% of the adult population is vegan, it is correct to say that veganism is rejected by the overwhelming majority of people in the US. Certainly it cannot be the case that people who do not practice veganism accept veganism, if the word "accept" is to have any meaning. (Also, my understanding of the relevant data from around the world shows a similar tiny percentage of vegans across the globe.) Now, you may think that when 95% or more of the world's population consumes other animals that that is consistent with the claim that most people do not reject animal rights but I would not. Again, and I think quite clearly, it would render the word "accept" meaningless to suggest that people who eat other animals accept animal rights. As to the first claim, it seems self-evident that more people watch TV news & information programs and read newspapers, magazines and internet news & information webpages than come in contact with PeTA campaigns directly. That is, it seems much more likely that most people form their beliefs about PeTA from secondary sources and not from PeTA itself. Moreover, it is not uncommon for all animal activists to be painted with a broad brush, where the most extreme actions of a few are ascribed by the lazy media (to use the term loosely) to the whole movement. Therefore, it seems congruent with reality to think that what PeTA does is less important than how PeTA is portrayed insofar as how PeTA is perceived. You will notice however, that I have not claimed to know precisely anything about this matter, but have only suggested what seems reasonable and I have not claimed to say what has specifically or necessarily caused anything, but have pointed out what I suspect is primary. Indeed, I even allude to PeTA's contribution to their own negative public image.

The simple truth is that neither one of us knows with any certainty the level of distrust of PeTA in the minds of "the public"  nor do we now precisely what would be the cause of any such distrust. You claim to know both these things and in making that claim, you are grossly overstating your case.


Comment by Kerry Baker on January 28, 2012 at 21:26

I think you make some valid points but I think that PETA does in fact achieve increased awareness of animal rights issues. I don't necessarily support all their campaigns, but they do have a powerful brand and I would say that most people at the very least associate them with being against animal cruelty. In many respects they have been remarkably successful in their marketing.

I do think that organisations go through a cycle. At the time they are created there is high level altruism and good intentions. But organisations are essentially political, that is they operate within a power relationship whether that is financial, influence or so on. However, at later stages it is a risk that they become part of the very problem they were started to fight. For example, in Australia the RSPCA is a highly regarded organisation, but among animal welfare groups has lost a lot of credibility. This is because they don't have a no-kill policy in their shelters, they put their brand on barn laid eggs that meet the regulations even though the hens are still kept in atrocious conditions, and they fail to fight for causes unless it becomes an avenue for them to promote themselves.

I'm also aware that PETA has been a victim of astroturfing, although this can't be quantified because of the nature of how it works. So perhaps some of the bad press meted out to PETA has been untrue.

Even if PETA is now regarded as being somewhat loony, they do still make some impact on getting certain messages out there. Without wishing to seem unkind, perhaps the sexy woman holding the cute piglet, or lying covered in fake blood on a tray, does appeal to a majority. I don't really think that there are all that many human animals with an IQ much higher than their shoe size when it comes to critically thinking about their effects on this planet we live on.

Sometimes, even if we don't necessarily like the organisation, they do manage to raise awareness. I think to be fair PETA has done this, although being in Australia I acknowledge that they aren't as vocal here as in the USA. But the AR 'movement' is comprised of many different points of view. Some on this forum I regard as more aligned with Monsanto than me, and I'd fight were they to implement what they suggest.

Lastly, many of their celebrity vegans are highly regarded people. They tend to go for the actors, so is it any wonder that they choose to use highly theatrical methods to get out there. Not necessarily my cup of tea, but in this day and age these are the idols and they have the power of influence.

Comment by NR on January 28, 2012 at 16:25

Oh gosh, Tim, I just noticed the latter half of my comments were cut off (I know, I had more to say.  The mind boggles.)  Here is the rest:

Animal Defenders International worked with Bolivia and Peru, where each country banned the use of wild animals in circuses, and the animals were transferred to wildlife sanctuaries.  Shark fin products were banned in California.  Animal abuse became a felony in Nevada.  Israel banned the declawing of cats.  Barcelona, after 600 years, ceased the bullfights.  Spain, by the way also was the first country to grant apes personhood in 2009, in 2011 they became the first nation to develop a viable HIV vaccine, now in stage I human clinical trials.  Last year, Republican Representative Roscoe Bartlett of MD introduced HR 1513, the Great Ape Protection Act of 2011, to eliminate the use of chimps in research.  Rep Bartlett was compelled to take this action after his work with chimps as lab animals while in the Navy, and his experiences challenged his moral beliefs and perceptions to the extent where he could no longer support apes in research. 


To state that people reject animal rights is a fallacy, and a cynical one that's driven PETA to the methods they adopt today.  It isn't that people reject these efforts; they reject the connection between lunacy and animal rights.

Also, your article is self-contradictory. At first you say "there is no blueprint to follow that guarantees success" but then you go on to provide just such a blueprint yourself: "Promoting veganism as the answer to a myriad of complex, serious economical, environmental, human and ethical problems is the best and only successful method possible". It can't be both.

This is not correct.  It is true that there is no blueprint to follow that guarantees success—but this is not contradictory.  Rather, the overwhelming historical evidence shows that no social movement in the history of humankind has ever succeeded with an inconsistent, incoherent message that depends on shock campaigns and a refusal to engage in logical education.  PETAs inconsistencies do nothing but confuse and contradict themselves.  Their campaigns, anti-fur from leather wearing models (even to the protest, no less,) don’t make any sense in their attempt to make a sliding scale out of which animal skin is worse.  That Olivia Munn, from the link above, didn’t consider the comparison of leather boots to fur means that PETA likely stopped at educating her on the issues with showing her a few graphic photos of animals killed for fur.  This was enough to convince her to take her clothes off to promote their campaign—because that's what matters to them anyway.  After 30 years, PETA still does not understand the enormous complexity of issues for which they are against when discussing the issue of veganism with omnivores. 

The problem is that PETA, with their campaigns, argues that the ends justify the means, or the good that they've done to bring attention to an issue outweighs the negative.  Except, this is no different from a vivisector arguing the same—that the purpose served by animal testing outweighs the moral negatives.  I will not accept the moral implications outweighs the benefit of animal research in 2012, nor will I accept that the damage PETA does to animal advocacy is acceptable for the good they do.  You are correct; PETA doesn't deserve this review of their work.  They've earned it. 

Comment by NR on January 28, 2012 at 12:03

Hi Tim!

I appreciate your feedback.  I will be happy to discuss this PETA further and clear up any confusion.  I will admit surprise to your first question concerning my statement of the public's distrust of PETA and your claim of their portrayal in the media.  The media need not portray PETA in any specific role.  PETA makes such a "frame" unnecessary with campaigns that make no effort to educate or discuss the issues in a rational way. 


Instead, PETA prefers to engage in an endless series of nonsensical, deeply offensive campaigns make no logical argument.  Does PETA (or you?) honestly believe that dispensing comic books aimed at children that refers to their "mommy" or "daddy" as a killer, or comparing missing, presumably murdered women to pigs, or fat-shaming, putting up a billboard that mocks a shark attack, will ever, ever open a dialogue to a single omnivore?  PETA cannot believe that any of these tactics qualify as education, or that what amounts to "drive-by" activism will be interpreted as anything other than the ravings of a fringe, unbalanced group?  Did PETA truly believe that comparing images of the Holocaust would strike a chord with those not educated on the issues? 


What PETA stands for and does is precisely the reason the public holds the perception of them as a fringe group—again, no "framing" required.  The only individuals that would agree with such tactics are those who already share the same beliefs—this of course is meaningless to the cause of animal advocacy, and actively harms the movement. 


Most people are not particularly receptive to the demands of veganism and animal rights.

This is interesting, as you've just asked me for supporting evidence of the public's distrust of PETA, and here you are making a generalized statement of the public's rejection of veganism and animal rights.  I disagree with you Tim, as if we consider the matter we'd be obliged to admit that veganism is more relevant and accepted than any previous time.  President Bill Clinton discussed his veganism on CNN in 2011.  Forks Over Knives, The Engine 2 Dieteducated the mainstream public on health benefits of veganism in a way that appealed with facts and logic.  New companies Daiya and gardein have made veganism accessible in a way not previously possible—featured on the national print and television media platform—as real, healthy alternatives to meat and cheese.   Kathy Freston and Tal Ronnen have made the topic of vegan food popular and pertinent.  Media writers, like Time's Bryan Walsh, Atlantic's B.R. Myers and Grant Butler from the Oregonian regularly cover vegan-related issues in a way that is not sensationalistic, inflammatory or illogical.    


On animal rights, I will need to disagree with you here as well.  No reasonable person wants to see an animal suffer, and to state that the public rejects these notions is inaccurate.  When greater protections for animals is associated with fish costumes, pregnant naked women in cages, blood-smeared activists, or similar demonstrations that would only make sense to those that already understand the issues (i.e. share the same point of view,) then yes, the public will reject the notion of animal advocacy every time. 


The successes that were made in the recent involved objective logic and reasonable arguments made to the public and government.  


Comment by Tim Gier on January 28, 2012 at 0:15

Hi Nathan,

Thanks for posting your article. I find that I am mostly in disagreement with it. I'll mention only three reasons.

First, you say, of PeTA, what the reasons are that "the public is distrustful of their organization". Have you any research data to support what you say, or is it just something that you assume to be true? I suspect that the if the public is indeed distrustful of PeTA it is because PeTA is portrayed, by and large, as an "extremist radical animal rights group". Notice, it makes no difference really what PeTA actually does or stands for, the public perception is, I would argue, formed largely in ignorance of what PeTA actually does and stands for. That is, most people pay little attention to PeTA and rely on the news accounts and other media information they receive about PeTA in order to form whatever opinions they may have. Given that most people are not particularly receptive to the demands of veganism and animal rights, it seems most reasonable that any distrust they may have for PeTA stems primarily from this - people, on the whole, reject the ideas of veganism and animal rights. It may well be that PeTA would be held in higher regard were they not to engage in some of the marketing campaigns they engage in, but that wouldn't necessarily translate into the public becoming any less distrustful of PeTA's goals.

Also, your article is self-contradictory. At first you say "there is no blueprint to follow that guarantees success" but then you go on to provide just such a blueprint yourself: "Promoting veganism as the answer to a myriad of complex, serious economical, environmental, human and ethical problems is the best and only successful method possible". It can't be both.

Lastly, whatever merit your criticisms have, I find it unlikely that PeTA is not aware of the line of criticism you embark on and unlikely that they have not given serious consideration to those criticisms. More likely, as an organization that surely must attract some of the best and brightest people concerned for other animals, they have considered the sorts of criticisms you raise and continue to operate in the way they think best. That doesn't mean that they are or will be always right (indeed, they must often be wrong, it is the nature of these things). What it does mean is that PeTA doesn't wholly deserve the derisive treatment they've received at your hands. 


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