Philosophy - Index > General AR Philosophy

Regarding direct action, Adam Weissman has posted the following challenging response on another list. (He has given permission for re-posting it on Ar-Views).

Personally, I find this debate hopelessly tired. It seems to be the central focus of the Animal Rights 200x conference every year. To me, a movement that constantly obsesses over one point of debate over and over and over at the expense of almost all other strategic questions is a movement that has grown stagnant and unimaginative. There are hundreds of really good questions our movement needs to be asking. Questions like:

* Why has the animal rights movement lost ground since the late 80s?

Barry: I am not sure that the basic premise is true. I think the closest I would come to agreement would be to say that we gain ground at a rate that slows the loss, but falls far short of equilibrium (let alone gain), and that overall increase in abuse of animals by human animals (other animals abuse animals all the time) is a function of demographics, resource depletion and various other social ills (not all of which are addressed by any one "paradigm shift" in social policy, even if such a shift were possible, globally.)

* Why isn't the animal rights movement taken seriously by the general public or other social change movements?

Barry: Because it asks the impossible, denies the huge variety of diversification within our own species (we would all have to think and act alike...that just is not going to happen and intelligent people realize that) and yes, because we sometimes perform acts of coercion or anti-socialism that disquiet people whose values are not the same as ours, and gives tools to our enemies to discredit us (I am in basic agreement with Lee on that, subject to a more objective evaluation of such tactics, of course).

Ann: In a word: misinformation. Most folks believe animals are treated well on farms, and that being alive for a short happy life is better than no life at all. They also believe the best way for medical science to advance is to test on animals. They believe anyone arguing otherwise is using isolated incidents. They don't believe "everyone could be wrong".

* Should we seek to build alliances with other movements or use a single-issue approach?

Barry: I don't think they are mutually exclusive, but the first part of the question is yes, IMHO. Brandy mentioned coalition with First Nations. We have done that with regard the Ontario spring bear hunt, and, less successfully, with regard the spring hunt and open limits for Snow and Ross's Geese. The point always to remember is that First Nations' (or any other movement's interests with regard their own goals) interest is in First Nations. They will value their legal "right" to hunt above a theoretical "right" of an animal not to be hunted, in balance. But also remember that there is absolutely nothing about being a native person that makes any such individual think like every native person. I have met some, quite a few, who do put an animal's right not to be hunted or otherwise exploited very high indeed, and would only hunt unwillingly out of dire need. But I think if, by "single-issue", you mean that we should seek to end all exploitation only, and never seek to end part of it at a time (incremental) then should be our goal, but not our strategy. When aviators sought to break the sound barrier they did not reject any aircraft design that allowed them to go faster, but not as fast as sound. Had they done so, they would never have gotten to their goal. If you mean should we (ala PeTA) respect the goal(s) of animal rights/liberation over, say, the goal(s) of feminism, or is there some sort of connecting common ground whereby all social causes come together, I would say there is...but it is NOT a world in which no animal is ever used by any human.

Ann: Since there are many different ARAs with different passions it is probably best to let them work in the area about which they feel strongest. We can't predict what will happen as a result. Ten years ago I would have thought that it would have been be easy to stop the seal hunt, and I would have thought that getting a city to ban foie gras would have been difficult, if not unconstitutional. Attacking all fronts is probably best.

* Where does the public support our agenda and how can we leverage that?

Barry: One must look for common values and interests (health, economics, environment, compassion, religion, political...whatever) and show how a movement that helps animals is consistent with those values and interests.

Ann: I'd guess that puppymills and animals dieing in shelters would get immediate public support if we could the information out. But someone needs to show the public the faces of the animals being killed because statistics don't tug at heartstrings.

* Are animal liberation and capitalism compatible? If not, what can we do about that?

Barry: THAT is a major question, and I don't think capitalism is even compatible with human liberation. But I am not sure anything CAN be done about a system that is as entrenched, and as seductive, in the absence of an alternative that provides greater worth or benefits to its adherents. My own political choice among those currently available in Canada is democratic socialism, but that does not preclude capitalism, nor does it have majority best a strong minority in Canada, a tiny minority in the U.S., nor (and this is essential to understand) does it come without its own set of does not solve every social ill...we must stay away from the "snake-oil" approach, so favoured by strict religions and true extremists, that "if only" we do such and such, all will be perfect for everyone at all times for ever and ever with all social ills cured.

Ann: They are compatible. Capitalists sell what people buy. If people don't want animal products nobody will make them. If lab-grown meat becomes an inexpensive commodity it may compete against live-grown meat. A billion-dollar industry could blossom by advertising against factory farms, disease in live meat, etc. Capitalism could work FOR the animals. That said, I'm not sure why veggie-burgers don't more aggressively advertise against factory farms now. Maybe they don't have enough political clout yet.

* What would a world where animals are liberated look like? What is our long-term plan to get there?

Barry: I don't think the first is possible (depending on how "liberated" is defined) so I think it would look like the world looked for a couple of billion years before humans arrived...a world full of animals, death, suffering, pain, etc., but not cruelty.

Ann: Our short-term and long-term plan is to liberate the animals and see. We can't anticipate the problems because we don't know how fast liberations will occur, or what animals will be liberated. One guess is that there would be wild animals as now, and no more domestic animals than could be cared for as part of human families, with the same "rights" as children.

* Why has the word speciesism failed to enter the popular lexicon? Why is the concept it represents still unfamiliar to most people?

Barry: To some degree because the practice of prioritizing is inevitable.  We all do it.  At least a word was coined.  There is no word that explains why, for example, we will favour the interests of a family member over those of a stranger.  Why we will spend our money to feed our child, but not some kid in Africa...except that some there a name for those who don't...childist, maybe? It is actually addressed by a question Adam posits, below, which I'll get to when I reach it.

Ann: Perhaps because nobody has heard the word, or not heard it frequently enough to need to use it. Kind of like "vilipend", which means to disparage mockingly, but usually with a fairly light tone. God knows there are people out there that need to be vilipended.

* What is our overall strategy for shifting the consciousness of young people?

Barry: There can be no one overall strategy any more than all "young people" are the same, thus equally responsive to any one strategy. I am, this morning, debating if I should loan my copy of Diet for a New America to a young lady who I know who ate with me and one other veggie, plus a group of omnivores, last night, but chose a vegetarian plate. Is that pushing too much, too she old enough to understand it (she's fifteen)? The seed might be there, but what is the strategy that might work? Her younger brother wouldn't think of avoiding meat, so how can I think there is an "overall strategy" for all young people if there is unlikely one that would apply to two siblings?

Ann: One strategy that seems to be working on the internet is placing information on and Animal rights and vegan videos are being watched by the millions on those popular sites, mostly by teens.

* Considering that they account for over 99% of the individual animal lives on the planet, do invertebrates deserve more attention in our movement?

Barry: THAT'S the question I referred to above, concerning "speciesism" entering the popular lexicon. Adam, even WITHIN vertebrates, I think 99 percent of them receive little or no direct attention in our movement. It appears that as long as you aspire to "veganism" your duty to species you've never heard of has been discharged, IMHO. There is a moth in my house. It is dying of starvation. Should I save it when EVERY moth of its species is dying starvation? None of them have mouth parts. The answer for me is yes, because in saving it...putting it outside, its death could feed another animal, or it may first mate and thus fulfill its function...identical to that of every species...of perpetuation. But should I spend hours doing so when the same time can be spent to save large numbers of vertebrates? Nope, not in my value-laden opinion. The reason? Counterproductivity. In short, no quick, easy, universal answer.

Ann: It is a problem that more animal rights advocates need to address. Without drawing a line somewhere, outsiders see animal rights as a "slippery slope" where animal rights advocates will always complain that some level of life is being killed. A similar problem exists with the slippery slope of abortion rights -- if proponents don't say "here is the line, and this is the reason for drawing it where I have", then it becomes a discussion based on emotion, not reason.

* Does our movement's current structure of independent national and local organizations work? Are there alternatives?

Barry: I'll pass on that one...too complicated, and I'm not well informed on the issue.

Ann: There are organizations for people who are passionate about horses, alligators, gerbils, anti-vivisection issues, anti-fur, etc. They wouldn't all have contagious enthusiasm for a singular organization. As it is currently, many of the larger organizations have aired their differences publicly which must tax their valuable time.

* How can we address the extreme whiteness of the animal rights movement?

Barry: Adam, you have eloquently addressed this before. I just don't see it in Canada, where people working for animals are in all colours, but where the power-structure that drives social policy is still, if ever decreasingly, white-male-driven and that fact is no doubt reflected through all aspects of society. I'd be happy if the disproportionate number of black males being shot could be reduced, but to do that requires a multi-faceted approach (and I'd start by being far less concerned about terrorists or marijuana crossing the border from Canada to the U.S., than handguns coming the other way, but that just reflects my own biases and values). We just had an AIDS conference in Toronto, and, um, guess what...a colour imbalance there, too. Might there be a connection that leads to a broader question about the "extreme whiteness" of western society?

Ann: In the last year we have been contacted by more folks than in all previous years from countries in South America and Asia. They are finding support and setting up websites to communicate the animal rights philosophy and attract supporters. Here is a list:

* Why have we lost so much ground on the fur issue?

Barry: I'm not sure the premise is accurate...I think the rate of gaining ground has slowed, but stats seem to show a steady decrease in fur use, world-wide, overall. It's hard to define (because fur apologists constantly fudge the figures), but I do think that what you refer to might be a credibility issue, and partly a "saturation" issue...there will always be people who don't care if animals suffer...along with burnout, contribute to what you see as loss of ground. I think, also, that it is realized that there are so many other areas where we need to work, that there has been some dilution of effort on that particular issue. I think, also, we have to look at new ways of doing things, new approaches. Also, initially we took the fur industry somewhat off-guard...they learned our tactics and developed counter-strategies. In a capitalist society, they have more resources than us, and have fought back somewhat effectively. But while they put up a good front, we have, in balance, I think won more than we have lost.

Ann: Just as with farm animals, in the polls I've read the vast majority of people believe that animals who are used for fur live happy lives and then die painlessly. Until someone convinces them otherwise they will buy fur. The masses need to be reached, millions at a time, for a long time. Thus far the only plan to do that has been by various folks who have run anti-fur ads prior to Christmas. This is the right approach but, as they say, even if you're going in the right direction you can get run over by a train. Okay, maybe nobody ever said that.

* How can animal rights be made compelling in an era of apathy and political conservatism?

Barry: Again, look to common values and interests.

Ann: People respond to news stories. Millions of dollars will be sent to rescue a whale from a bay while hundreds of dogs are put to sleep in local shelters. Apparently that is "human nature" and we can't change it. The stories are compelling, so we just need to get them in front of people.

* In an era of wars and other atrocities, how can we make animal rights seem like a compelling issue, rather than seeming like crackpots out of touch with the vital issues of our time?

Barry: Weed out the crackpots? To give this a serious answer would take the rest of the day, but it CAN be answered, and to start I think you have to be in touch with the vital issues of our time, and realize that they ARE vital even if not directly involved in animal "rights" or "liberation" or "welfare". Listening to the delegates at the AIDS conference, I found a lot of the rhetoric was similar to what I hear from us.

Ann: The best answer to the question of "Why are you concerned about animals when there are needy people?" is to explain that it doesn't have to take time or energy away from helping people to NOT eat meat, to NOT wear fur, and to NOT buy products tested on animals. If the masses think you are raising money to save dogs in shelters instead of raising money for children dying of aids in Africa, they will criticize you.

* What structures and support resources can we develop to strengthen our movement?

Barry: People. We already have a huge advantage over what we had not so long ago by virtue of the development of e-mail, but we have to increasingly swell our ranks.

Ann: The internet is already making slaughterhouses have glass walls. As they say during the "Genesis Awards": Cruelty can't stand the spotlight. A spotlight is our best tool

Yet we hardly ever talk about these things. Instead, we debate backandforthandbackandforthandbackandforth as whether the ALF is a good idea.

Barry: We do on these electronic e-mail lists, yes, but I think that's because it IS contentious. Just as I don't think we can convince people not to eat fish if we can't convince them not to kill seals (seals being more appealing to people than fish, on average) I don't think we can progress until we get our heads around the basic challenges presented by various strategies.

Which is particularly useless considering that the actual members of the ALF aren't participating in the debate--they are going out and doing their thing. Perhaps we should devote more energy to figuring out how to do our thing as effectively.

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