full story and comments:
September 16, 2012
Animal advocates are at war.
With each other.
The issue is how best to protect animals, and
while there is a range of opinions, the two primary polarized camps are
known as the welfarists and the abolitionists.
Humane Society of the United States exemplifies the welfarist approach.
Its mission is to relieve animal suffering, here and now, as much as
possible. That may mean making marginal improvements in the conditions at
factory farms, which HSUS has been successful at. They recently played a
major role in persuading at least
19 pork suppliers to
eliminate gestation crates (eventually -- McDonalds plans to take
ten years to make the change). HSUS calls itself
force against cruelty, exploitation and neglect."
welfarists undertake include better policing of the treatment of animals in
zoos, circuses and
movies, and sharpening the
teeth in laws against animal cruelty.
Abolitionists, on the other
hand, want no part in improving the conditions in which humans use animals:
they want to end that use, and they are not interested in any in-between
efforts. For instance, they want factory farms closed and an end to the
consumption of animal products. Represented by Rutgers law professor Gary
Francione among others, they consider welfarists' work to be worse than a
waste of time -- they consider it counterproductive. Abolitionists argue
that by making factory farming slightly less cruel, they make it
more palatable to consumers, who will then have less incentive to stop
eating meat and other animal products. When animals are mistreated,
abolitionists seek to publicize the fact towards the end of recruiting more
allies and more vegans.
The debate between these camps has simmered
higher and lower for years, but recently came to a head when animal
advocate, Texas State University professor and blogger James McWilliams
addressed the feud in
"The rift dividing HSUS from [vocal abolitionists] might
seem insignificant, but it's not. In fact, it threatens to weaken the cause
from within," he writes.
Francione has previously written that the
statement "you're being divisive" "translates
as: 'we have nothing to say in reply.'"
The two camps take very
different views of the public's role in animal exploitation. Both welfarists
and abolitionists want to convert consumers of animal products to animal
advocates. For abolitionists, that means nothing short of veganism, which
amounts to a complete boycott of animal exploitation. Welfarists will
applaud any step towards improving animals' lives, from signing a petition
to expand tiny battery cages for egg-laying hens, to observing Meatless
Mondays, to becoming vegetarian or vegan.
Some abolitionists consider
the general public culpable even as they court it.
Francione writes that "the real exploiters are those who create the
demand for animal products in the first place. The institutional exploiters
are certainly culpable as well but they are responding to the public demand
for animal products."
While this war plays out primarily in books,
articles and websites read by people who have already chosen a side, it has
very real ramifications. Welfarists work sometimes against and sometimes
with factory farms to change the facts on the ground for animals today, and
they have had success, including the planned reduction in gestation crates
noted above. Who knows what more they could do with more allies.
vegan. If I could abolish animal exploitation I would do it in a heartbeat.
It is my ultimate goal. But that doesn't free me from the moral obligation
and the demands of basic decency to help animals who are suffering today. If
I abandon them because I think their suffering is more likely to bring down
animal exploiters, I am exploiting them for my own purposes.
couldn't look a calf in the eye who had been stolen from his mother at just
a few days of age, was caged in a tiny veal crate that did not let him turn
around, was being malnourished on a diet designed to induce anemia, and
would be butchered while still a baby, and say "sorry buddy, I don't want to
help you. You are worth more to me suffering than you are happily gamboling
in a pasture with your mother nearby, so toodles."
That is why I
sympathize with activists who break into factory farm facilities and rescue
or euthanize the animals trapped and tortured inside, as Jonathan Safran
Foer described in
Eating Animals. These brave souls face jail for their missions of mercy.
They are abolitionists who do not turn a deaf ear to the cries of animals
who are in pain right now. If only other animal advocates could find ways to
synthesize their views and coordinate their efforts instead of trying to
make each other look bad, we might be a step closer to freedom for non-human