Animal Protection > AR Interviews


The interview continues below.....................

Q. There are many people in our movement who are content to work for, say for example, humane slaughtering practices to be enforced. Would you see this then as a bastardization of ARightist views?

A. Yes, and for three reasons. First I do not think that such regulations do much to reduce suffering in the first place. As I and others have noted, "humane slaughter" laws are very difficult to enforce, and the economic realities of the meat-packing business militate against conscientious self-enforcement of these standards. And given the millions of animals that we kill every day, it would be impossible for the government to police the industry.

Second, I think that such laws actually increase animal suffering overall because they make the general public feel better about eating meat (or about any other animal use that is regulated to be "humane"). This is the "catch 22" of animal welfare: to the extent that welfarist measures make people feel better about animal exploitation, then animal exploitation actually increases and overall animal suffering increases and does not decrease.

Third, I think that making slaughter more "humane" should not be the point of the animal rights movement. There will always be welfarists who will promote longer chains for the slaves. I think that the animal rights movement should be working toward the abolition of animal slavery.

Q. Your work identifies that while the status of animals is only seen as "property" value, then whatever good that ushers out of that will always be checkmated back to a fundamentally wrong origin. ie, welfarist. Why?

A. If what you are asking is whether I think that the property status of animals is the reason that animal welfare is a miserable failure, the answer is "yes." Animal welfare both as a moral theory and as a legal principle requires in part that we "balance" human interests against animal interests in order to determine whether particular animal use or treatment is "necessary." If the human interest outweighs the animal interest, the use or treatment is considered as "necessary" and morally or legally justifiable. If the animal interest outweighs the human interest, then the use or treatment is considered "unnecessary" and morally and legally unjustifiable.

As I first explored in my 1995 book, "Animals, Property, and the Law", the problem is that because animals are property, what we really balance is the interest of property owners against the interests of their property. And that is absurd. It makes no sense about balancing the interests of property against that of the owner of the property; property has only that value accorded to it by the owner. That is precisely why laws that supposedly regulated race-based slavery in the United States failed completely to protect the interests of slaves: it was simply not possible to "balance" the interests of a slaves against those of a slave-owner. The slave was a piece of property, a thing that was owned by the slave owner, and only had that value assigned to her by her owner. Similarly, because animals are property, they, too, are merely things that we own, and only have the value that we accord to them. As a matter of logic, we cannot balance their interests against ours, any more than we can balance our interests against those of our cars or wrist watches.

Q. I think that you are right when you say that many people in the AR Movement today think that writing out a cheque or just paying their annual membership is being part of the Movement. It's easy to manipulate people into handing personal responsibility over to the "experts". This in turn inculcates a strong sense of powerlessness in people while feeding them illusions of individual choice and power. So what would be your advice to animal activists then?

A. First of all, I would advise every animal advocate to practice what they should be all preaching: absolute and uncompromising veganism in our own lives. I am very distressed that I meet "self-styled" "animal-rights" people who tell me that they can't give up ice cream or cheese or fish or chicken or leather. Indeed, many of the so-called "leaders" of the American animal movement are not vegans, and some are not even vegetarians. That is unacceptable.

Second, I would advise people to stop sending their money to the large corporate animal charities. We must face it: the modern animal "movement" is really more of a business than it is a social movement. As American animal rights lawyer Lee Hill says, it is better called the "animal rights industry." Most of the large national and international organisations are thoroughly corrupt. Their "leaders" are corporate executives who receive a very large salary. In the United States, many of the so-called "leaders" of the "industry" have salaries well over $100,000. And that does not include expense accounts and other "fringe" benefits. There was one prominent U.S. "leader" who boasted that he did not take a salary. What he did not tell the public, however, was that his organisation paid over $200,000 per year for his "living expenses".

Third, I would encourage animal advocates to understand a fundamental principle: radical change cannot be imposed by large corporate animal charities. Meaningful and pervasive change can only come from the grassroots. Rather than focusing on developing large national and international animal corporations, we should concentrate our labour and financial resources on local effects. Neighbours should educate neighbours about the need for change.

Q. Henry Spira said that constructive negotiations are far more productive than ongoing confrontations. How would you respond to that?

A. I knew Henry Spira well but the reality is that Henry's theory of "constructive negotiation" with exploiters is a term synonymous with selling out to the exploiters. Henry ended up becoming a spokesperson for the cosmetics industry and attacked those who demanded an end to all testing. In his later years, Henry, joined by Singer, advocated "constructive negotiations" with the meat industry to bring about "humane" reforms.

Although Henry has passed on, he would be happy to know that his "constructive negotiations" approach has become the norm. In 1996, when I wrote "Rain Without Thunder", I quoted PeTA's Ingrid Newkirk as criticizing Spira for making deals with the cosmetics industry. And now in 2001 Newkirk and PeTA are making deals with McDonalds. As you probably know, PeTA with the support of Singer withdrew its boycott of McDonald's after the largest exploiter of animals and the environment promised to provide hens with a couple of additional inches of cage space. The praise of McDonalds by PeTA and Singer will, I fear, do much to increase animal suffering because the general public will feel better about eating at MacDonalds given that it is now identified with prominent animal advocates as a corporation that takes animal welfare seriously. McDonalds will even make more money and sell even more animal products. Some may call this "constructive negotiations" with large animal exploiting corporations, it usually means that it will be "constructive" only for the corporation and the sell-out, such as Henry Spira or PeTA, who is doing the sell out. It is never "constructive" for the animals.

Q. You have spoken about our "moral schizophrenia" about animals. Please outline your thoughts on the subject here.

A. By "moral schizophrenia," I mean to describe a phenomenon that exists on both a personal and social level. The personal level is illustrated by the fact that many of us live with dogs, cats and other animals. We regard them as members of our families. But we stick dinner forks into other animals who are no different from the animals whom we claim to regard as our family members. This is an odd behaviour when you think about it.

The social manifestation of moral schizophrena is illustrated by the fact that almost all of us would agree with the statement that it is morally wrong to impose "unnecessary suffering" on animals. Although we may disagree about what "necessary suffering" means, we must agree that it is wrong to impose suffering on animals for human amusement, pleasure or convenience. After all, a rule that says it is wrong to impose suffering on animals unless we find it pleasurable and amusing would be a rather meaningless rule. The problem is that 99.9% of our use of animals cannot be justified by any reason other than human amusement and convenience. It is 2001; no one maintains that we need to eat meat to lead an optimally healthy life style. Indeed, an increasing number of health care professionals maintain that eating meat and dairy is detrimental to human health. And animal agriculture is an ecological disaster. It takes between 6 and 12 pounds of plant protein to produce one pound of animal protein and it takes about 100 times more water to produce a pound of animal protein than to produce a pound of wheat. Our best justification for eating meat and dairy is that it tastes good. Our best justification for rodeos, circuses, zoos, hunting, etc is entertainment.

In short, western culture claims to take animal interests seriously, and we all claim to accept the principle that imposing "unnecessary" suffering is wrong. But in reality, we impose suffering and death on them in situations that cannot be described as involving "necessity" of any sort. That is what I call "moral schizophrenia."

Q. What is your opinion of the relationship between vivisectors and the AR Movement of today? Within the context of your views, how can this relationship ever evolve or change?

A. In many ways, there is a much closer relationship today between the "movement" and vivisectors because the "movement" has become much more welfarist and is no longer demanding the abolition of the practice. For example, several months ago, the American Animal "movement" joined forces behind Jane Goodall (who, by the way, has become a paid spokesperson for an American dairy company, Stoneyfield Dairies) to press for passage of the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance, and Protection ("CHIMP") Act. The CHIMP Act will create a federally run "sanctuary" for chimpanzees but there is a catch: the chimpanzees can be used for further research if the government decides it is necessary to do so. This terrible law was supported by all of the major animal groups except for "Friends of Animals". So if I were a vivisector -especially in the United States I would say that the relationship has improved. After all, the vivisectors have Jane Goodall, PeTA, and even "anti-vivisection" groups such as the National Antivivisection Society, on their side.

As far as the future is concerned, I think we are on the verge of new horrors for animals as genetic engineering, cloning, and other technologies promise great corporate profits. Unfortunately, the "movement" is not prepared for the challenge.

Q. What are your views on the motivations of medical researchers?

A. I do not pretend to know what goes on in the mind of others. I am interested in getting people to stop oppressing others whether the "others" are animals, or women, or people of colour, of the differently-abled or whomever.

As far as I'm concerned it is not the vivisector, or the furrier, or the butcher, who is the problem. The problem is a patriarchal society that treats animals (or women, or people of colour, etc) as means to the ends of men. Vivisection would not exist if enough of us rejected the idea that it is acceptable to use animals as a means to our ends. Furriers would not exist if there were not a demand for fur. Furriers do not create a demand for fur; they merely satisfy a demand that is created by a patriarchal society that finds it appealing (and appropriate) for women to dress in animal skins. Butchers exist because most of us think that the pleasure we derive in eating meat justifies an animal-based agriculture. By focussing on the individual exploiter, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that animal exploitation is just a symptom of a larger social problem. The problem is not really "them". The problem is a society that treats animals as property.

Q. Could you provide some basic guidelines that would give shape to your vision of what an animal rights movement ought to promote?

A. I hope that my books and articles have provided some guidance, but I was asked recently by some animal advocates to article a set of principles that might be used as shorthand for what I regard as the moral baselines of a real animal rights movement. Here goes:

The animal rights position maintains that all sentient beings, humans or non-humans, have one right: the basic right not to be treated as the property of others.

Our recognition of this one basic right means that we must abolish, and not merely regulate, institionalised animal exploitation because it assumes that animals are the property of humans.

Just as we reject racism, sexism, ageism, and homophobia, we reject speciesism. The species of a sentient being is no more a reason to deny the protection of this basic right than is race, sex, age, or sexual orientation a reason to deny membership in the moral community to other humans.

We recognise that we will not abolish overnight the property status of nonhumans, but we will support only those campaigns and positions that explicity promote the abolitionist agenda. We will not support positions that call for supposedly "improved" regulation of animal exploitation. We commit ourselves to educating the public about the need to abolish animal exploitation.

We recognise the principle of nonviolence as the guiding principle of the animal rights movement.