Aug 8, 2011

The Animal Rights Debate... On Abolition, Reform & Welfare - My POV

The debates between what is best for nonhumans on their road to liberation has circulated through the Animal Rights movement since forever... In my few years I surely have seen both sides of the arguments and have been torn many times about the consequential infighting that occurs as a result.  I lament because they are counterproductive and the animals only stand to loose when any of us takes our eye off the goal.

From the 1989 Agricultural Law newsletter
What is effective strategy?  Some find it useful to objectify naked humans to get their point across... Some appeal with vegan food... Some initiate petitions... Some plead through the legal system... Some do open rescue and undercover video... Some destroy property..And on and on.  

Which is the answer?  My belief is that all of it is necessary to change society. I don't think there is one single road to convince billions that animals deserve their lives.  Different messages reach different people.  Some come to Animal Rights through viewing a graphic image... Some make their connection via a sanctuary.  Point is... There is no "one way".

I don't support welfare.  My end goal is to see nonhumans out of man's domination entirely... But I do know that every tactical battle includes incremental change and multi-faceted strategies.  I know that nothing will change over night and that reform efforts will continue till the goal is reached.  That's just fact.

I know too that when someone buys "cage free" or "free-range" options because they care... It is up to abolitionists to correct the positions to what "care" really means... 


I think Animal Rights will be had through a constant series of measures that ever-more pushes in the same direction.  But whatever each of us chooses to invest our advocacy time, effort and money in is something that I stand little hope of influencing, so I avoid criticizing fellow advocates.  My focus has always been on addressing consumers who are unaware or disengaged from the systems that exploits nonhumans: Carnists.

I view culture's relationship to nonhumans as an injury... Really more like a sickness, requiring many therapeutic steps towards recovery. Would I recommend the "medicine" of continued animal use in "better ways" as part of the cure?  Absolutely not... But I'm afraid there are "doctors" that would suggest this. Our job as healers is to tear down this idea every chance we get.  And to remind everyone that the end goal is not to use animals at all... No matter how much sugar is on the poison.

Put another way of how I see Animal Rights as a multi-tactical, "holistic" endeavor is by viewing it through a prism:   
Direct Action as in acts of open rescue and under cover video will increase awareness of issues.
Science & Health will expand options for better choices. Concerns to the environment and diseases caused by raising and eating flesh will persist... So will technologies create "vat meats" and urban farms.  This will all reduce animal consumption.
Economic & Legislative changes will influence demand. If politicians are sent the message that favors, grants and tax payer funding to these institutions is unacceptable... Eventually the animal using industries will be forced to operate in a true market.
Social & Cultural contributions are seen everywhere through literature, Animal Rights artists, plays, music and other methods of emotional/aesthetic expression.
Generational Influence will accumulate and re-adapt it's relationship to nonhumans.  Because the nature of youth is to constantly question the teachings of the generation before - They will be more receptive to new ideas and progressive thinking.
Advocacy will press on throughout all these other changes.  And it will be a mix of welfare, reform and abolition... I know what shade of "purple" I think is the best - But I also realize that others will see it their own way, with or without my approval.  And the time/energy spent arguing with each other - means that's less attention reaching totally unaware & disengaged individuals. 

Obviously, I am confessing that I haven't got any one "right" answer as to the way justice will be achieved. I'm not enough of an expert and have no crystal ball to say what the "only" way to abolition is.  Thus far I believe that all changes are part of the grand scheme

I know the quickest way is for everyone to just "go vegan" - It's a pure idea.  But most see that as extreme and will muddle their way only with constant nudging.  Using reforms helps those people drag their way down the road.  I don't like it.  But it's what we have until a tipping point can be reached. 

I'm not against anyone's personal tactics to achieve Animal Rights.  All that I ask is that they sincerely question whether their work really does help animals... Or does it just help people continue to use them?

The following have helped shape my views:

Yes, we do support a gradual, incremental approach to animal liberation, but one vegan meal at a time – not one inch of cage space at a time. The distant goal must be a vegan world – not a world with animals in huge cages. 
~Alex Hershaft FARM President and Founder

Steve Best discusses the Rights vs Welfare debate: Reform articulated through rights

Change Of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change

I don't believe there is one single strategy which will work, exclusive of others. Spreading the message through potlucks or protests all have their place within this movement.


Skye Conroy said...

Thank you for the wonderful and inspiring blog article. Keep up the good work through education!

Have Gone Vegan said...

Great post, Bea, and I strongly agree with a lot of what you say. All activists I guess ask themselves the same question of what work really does help animals, and obviously come up with different answers. But you're right, there is no ONE answer that we can all be sure of, so maybe it's good that there are various viewpoints to cover all the bases. :)

veganelder said...

Hear hear!

Harry said...

Hi Bea

Thank you. Great post.

I watched the video footage of Alex Hershaft and Bruce Friedrich with particular interest. Lately I've been questioning my opposition to numerous welfare means (read cages) and have been asking myself if perhaps I'm asking too much. So I've looked at what made me make the transition:

The book Animal Grace did it for me in a few paragraphs. If I love animals how could I possibly be eating them. As a vegetarian I then became quite involved in a mixed vegetarian/ vegan group: I made more connections. But despite having opened my eyes I was still able to eat free-range eggs and the occasional slice of dairy cheese - not comfortably so because I knew it was wrong but I could and did do it (in other matters eg clothing, toiletries etc I was vegan-like from shortly after I stopped eating my friends - thanks for that line George).

At no stage did the argument of cage size, however well publicised, make me take that next step. It was plain and simply a deeper and deeper realisation that I had no right to take another's life for sustenance that I could get elsewhere (taste - apart from that for a good drop of red - has never played into it for me.) As per Alex H, I could no longer justify my (learned) dietary habits.

So what about Bruce F's arguments. Shifts the playing field? Yes, it does indeed do so and people may seek out, for example, cage-free eggs. Not egg replacements but cage-free eggs. Raises awareness. Of course, but doesn't any well-publicised action do so. Did the Switzerlang egg graph look so dramatic because of a shifted playing field and awareness of cages that was raised, or more specifically because of increased egg prices and a raised awareness of chickens and the real lives they should be living? Should we not be raising that awareness while banning all egg farming and offering cheap egg replacements? Would that graph not have then been truly startling?

And then the 'collective housing cage' ... I would imagine that it is acceptable to a whole bunch of people. Looks like it should be in the 'petting' section of the local Agricultural show. You could almost imagine harmers letting the public tour such facilities! If I observe our hens and feel myself one of them such a life is not a life. And if they are deemed 'acceptable housing' won't that significantly delay the journey?

Do we have to piggy-back on the greedy corporates who will use us to try and get a headstart on their rivals? Can't we educate people as to the sentience and rights of our fellow beings by being loud enough on our own as a collective group? Do we have to settle for a long interim welfare? Must we cause those we speak for to wait so long?

So, no answers here but there has to be a way forward that takes small stones and large boulders out of people's paths all at the same time. And no surprise but I'm with Alex H.

Have Gone Vegan said...

What I find fascinating about the video though is how thoughtful, kind, smart, compassionate vegans who truly care about other sentient beings can hear the same words and watch the same images and come away with polar opposite conclusions. No surprise likely, but I'm with Bruce all the way. :)

Harry said...

Agree fully with you HGV. But certainly not polar opposites in our desires and end goal. Members of the winning team will seldom agree on every move they make. Team-mate!

Have Gone Vegan said...

But certainly not polar opposites in our desires and end goal.

Absolutely! In that we are united my friend. And, um, will you be giving the new "career" some thought? ;)

Bea Elliott said...

Hi Skye Conroy - I agree that we can never learn too much. My hope is that someday when the victims are finally freed - Someone will look back at all the strategies and say that they all played a hand in that final *genuine* victory!

Thanks for the visit and comment.


See, I told you HGV that we were'nt too far off! We all know that we don't know! That's not much of a comfort... But I sure do hope it cures in-fighting. The only thing I'm sure of is that it's counterproductive... (IMHO) ;)

Thanks! Thanks! veganelder!

Bea Elliott said...

Hi Harry... I'm not familiar with Animal Grace - I'll have to check it out.

I know what you mean about cage-size not influencing your views...

When I first became aware and laid my new vegan course out on my (somewhat unwilling) husband... He tried to source "free range meat" at the store. One look at the package - And we both came to the conclusion that it's wasn't a compromise that held any credibility. It immediately felt "fake" to both of us. I was happy at that outcome of reality.

And I agree that "welfare" might delay the journey... But since people (consumers) are the ones driving the bus - I don't know that we can do much except to constantly remind them that they are going in the wrong direction. Hoping that they too will see that their efforts are "fake". Till then, the way I see people's unwillingness to awaken - It's an unneccessary, but unavoidable detour. :(

As long as there's a market for these items - The Mackey's of the world will seize the opportunity and consumers are more than anxious to buy their way towards a "clean" conscious.

In the end, it's just not a workable system... Already I hear that birds kept in these industrial-type "cage free" facilities have health issues. And too the price of $8/dozen doesn't fit with thriftiness. Sooner or later those who honestly do think they are making a difference with "cage-free" will have to square up with the practical end as well.

Maybe then their ethics will have to finally align with their deeds to opt for egg-less alternatives. (?)

I'm obviously trying to see a positive (eventual) outcome... But as you say - And thanks for your input - It does delay the journey. (sigh)...

Bea Elliott said...

Hi HGV - It's true... We all do seem to hear the message differently. Although, I had a few moments where Bruce caught my attention... But in the end - I have to remember the boy chicks... And the totally unnatural (then stolen) life of these "cage free" birds - And none of it feels right to me...

I totally understand, as I stated in my comment to Harry, that these compromises are bound to happen with or without me/us approving of them. However, I think there is a difference in reluctantly "accepting" them... And proclaiming them as a "victory".

There is no doubt that it is step... I wouldn't say forward. And not necessarily backwards - But sideways. That means the "dance" is still on going... People will remain engaged. And it keeps "performance" pressure always in the industry's face.

Now... What happens if they do the very same thing that Smithfield did with their "promise" of eliminating sow stalls and gestation crates? It will be that much less credibility that the whole meat/dairy/egg industries has... And that may convince even more consumers that there is only one "humane" way.

As you see - I'm always trying to look at the best angle. I don't want us to loose any advantage in the way things go - Even when it's without our direction. Sure, we have to modify according to their plan... But always steering back to our end goal.
Keep your eyes on the prize as they say... That leads to victory. ;)

Thanks HGV - Go Team Vegan!

Anonymous said...

I have been very distressed since last night ever since coming upon an article about the horrendous treatment of animals at a slaughterhouse in Deonar, India. There are those amongst us who beat and wound and starve and break limbs and blind and gore the eyes of a loving, feeling, thinking being.

And then there are those who suggest nothing more than gradual approaches to these hellish conditions? To what extent have they deadened themselves to the blood and the gore and the violence? It is getting increasingly hard to tell the so-called defenders apart from the abusers.

Bea Elliott said...

I know what you mean Anonymous... When you finally see the reality for what it is - It's a profound shock to know that it exists because of universal apathy... And because of the world that we live in... We are all abusers to degrees. That fact is hard to swallow too.

Most of us who are aware and care would no doubt snap our fingers for the magical instant right change... But I think it's going to be a series of confrontations, concessions and compromises on the way there... We humans have a great capacity to leave doing the right thing, after we've tried every thing else. Sad.

I'm sorry to offer this meek, cliched substitute for a solution... But here goes: Be the change you want to see in the world.
~Mahatma Gandhi

Please know you are not alone in your rage... Or your sorrow.

{hugs} Bea

Anonymous said...

Dear Bea,

Thank you (!) for your kindness and understanding, and especially for continuing to stay strong -- for all of us.

Bea Elliott said...

Strong Anonymous? I don't know... Sometimes numb. Sometimes beaten... Always struggling.

Knowing the realities and facing the challenges constantly alter and affect who we are. I'm desperate for solutions as I'm certain you are too...

If ever there was strength in numbers - To end this holocaust - We must make it so.

Thank you for being a part that will make the difference.