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A New Approach to Animal Rights Activism
By Andres Cameselle
2 CHANGING THE MORAL CONCEPTION OF
ANIMALS IN SOCIETY
4 ANIMAL LOVERS
5 CAMPAIGNING METHODS
6 ATTACKING THE ROOT, NOT THE BRANCHES
7 EQUALLY IMPORTANT CAMPAIGNS
8 THE PROBLEM OF DISCRIMINATING BETWEEN CATEGORIES OF NON-HUMANS
9 VEGETARIANISM AND VEGANISM
11 DIRECT ACTION
12 CREATING UNNECESSARY ENEMIES
Preface: Looking around us, we often want to think that things are getting better for nonhuman animals thanks to the work of the many organisations, groups and individuals defending the consideration of their interests as sentient beings.
But we tend to see everything done "for the animals" as something positive that will make people change their attitudes towards them.
This, far from being true, is the last nail in the coffin for this movement and the animals defended by it.
A lack of reflection and criticism has driven us to a point in which we are often considered lunatics or emotional freaks.
Due to the actual situation of the animal rights movement in terms of strategy, tactics and effectiveness, a new perspective on the issue appears to be necessary.
First of all, I want to express my support to all of those who fight against the exploitation, killing or use of sentient creatures. Although I show certain disagreements with certain views, methods or campaigns, I do not underestimate the efforts, good intentions or work of those carrying them out. Everyone really wanting to help animals should be happy to be criticised so that they can analyse their work better and decide if they can improve what they are doing. It is very sad to see that the most widespread attitude towards criticism is: "If you don't like it, don't do it. You do your thing, I'll do mine". That way, the movement will never develop. Also, there are things that can be counterproductive, which can affect the work of others, and thus animals. So, if someone is doing something that might damage this cause, we should not shut up. Also, if someone has an idea that could improve our effectiveness, her/his comments should be welcomed, not simply ignored or dismissed without any real consideration. Nobody is perfect, and we constantly do things that could be done in a better way. Lots of times we notice it ourselves after a while, but sometimes we just don't think of it until someone says it. Accepting you were doing something wrong (or simply that you could have done it better) doesn't mean accepting you are a bad or stupid person. What actually shows a lack of wisdom is to think that everything you do is fine and that there is nothing for you to change. Wise people realise they can always do things better and evolve constantly to improve their effectiveness.
This "piece of mind" is written from this humble position, just expressing my views on certain issues I consider relevant. We all learn something when having our work evaluated.
Many of the things I constructively criticise in this article I once supported and carried out, and I'm very happy to have been able to reflect on them or to have been criticised by others so that I could change. Equally, many of my views are shared by others, and have been expressed before. The reason for this article is that a new systematic approach in our movement has to be adopted, as - although many ideas are not new - the vast majority of campaigners are doing things completely different from these. It is not about the details in each point I make, but about the overall strategy to follow.
I hope no one feels offended by the comments in this article and that everyone understands that my only intention is to improve the movement to end all exploitation, use or killing of beings with the ability to suffer and to enjoy life.
CHANGING THE MORAL CONCEPTION OF ANIMALS IN SOCIETY
When campaigning for any cause, it is extremely important to keep focused on the arguments that sustain it. If the arguments are changed for some achievements to be reached in a shorter period, the cause is not being promoted; it is neglected for misdirected efficiency. Cases like the one for animal rights (AR) will take a very long time before they are seriously considered by most of the population, but if we maintain the basic arguments when campaigning, it will eventually happen, as happened in the case of abolishing slavery or gaining the right to vote for women in many parts of the world.
It will be hard for many people to accept the fact that other animals are not resources or property for us to use; that they are sentient, conscious beings with individual interests, like humans. Changing people's lifestyles, habits, mindset (your conception of life, the world, your priorities…), economy, laws, etc. is a tremendous task that won't be accomplished in just a few years. The same argument will have to be repeated over and over again until it sounds familiar and even reasonable in most people's minds. Sadly, unless people hear something many times, they hardly give it serious thought.
If by wanting short-term, superficial achievements we change our message, then we will need to make much more of an effort with each new campaign, as we will have to start reaching people from zero again.
Here are some concrete examples for this to be better understood:
If we want to make a campaign for vegetarianism, and the main argument we use is that it is healthy, then many animals may end up benefiting from it (as some people will buy less meat if thinking it is unhealthy), but we wouldn't have been doing an AR campaign. We would not have been promoting the ethical consideration of animals and, therefore, next time we want to make another campaign, say about leather, we will have to bring up the issue as something new, unconnected to the other (unless we want to use another "fake" argument).
Also, in this instance, we will first have to convince people that they should care about their health (which doesn't happen that often), that diet has a great effect on it, and that vegetarianism is actually healthier than meat-eating (and, objectively, eating meat once in a while is not something that will undermine your health enough as for it being upsetting on those grounds). This means lots of resources and time spent on a campaign that doesn't question our relationship to animals.
We should explain to people that they might be healthier if they go veggie (not necessarily the case, depending on how you eat), but we should use it as an "extra", so that people consider the change easier for them. First they must have heard all the reasons for them to consider animals as equals, not food.
It is true that if people consider that vegetarianism is healthier, and for that reason they go veggie, it will be easier to convey an AR message; as it is much easier for a vegetarian to accept the AR arguments than for a meat-eater (generally, what people consider as right or wrong is much related to how that affects their lives) but that is a job that health-promoting groups should be doing, not AR’ists.
If in campaigning against the racist attacks suffered by black people we argue that aggressors may end up in jail and their life will be ruined, we may be avoiding the beating or killing of some people, but we are doing a disservice to the achievement of a conception of black people as beings deserving of the same respect as other humans.
The same goes for vivisection. Maybe we could make a comment about the fact that animal testing can be misleading and useless for human medicine in many cases, but the actual point is "What if it were helpful?" Can someone justify having a certain group of humans (let's say those with red hair, for example) as resources to supply organs needed by the rest of the population? If the answer is negative, then the same goes for other beings with the same ability to feel. You can't ethically try to find solutions for a certain group by the systematic exploitation of others who also have individual interests. And even less ethically defensible is the decision to make a social rule that entitles the most powerful group to solve their problems (often caused by the powerful ones themselves) by killing and torturing defenceless individuals.
If we don't make our view clear, people will have thousands of doctors and scientists to convince them that animal experiments are useful. And, although there are many in the scientific community who oppose these experiments, those who support them are, at present, the vast majority.
With this, there is also the risk of some experiments actually being helpful to solve some human problems; which, unfortunately (and although many like to simply deny it by all means), seems quite likely. In the face of persuasive evidence to that effect, one would have to either deny it anyway (thus losing all credibility), or then - if we haven’t now lost our audience entirely- start giving the arguments we should have given in the first place. The reason rape is wrong is not that it is dangerous for the rapist (for the risk of him/her getting diseases, for example), but because of the harm caused to the victim. Who would be persuaded by the safety-based campaign against rape? The rapists maybe. They would start using condoms!
We should avoid giving speciesist arguments (i.e. "we should do this or that because it is better for humans"), and we should be mindful of the main reason for us to do the campaigns, which is the fact that animals are sentient creatures deserving of egalitarian treatment. In every leaflet, magazine, poster, etc. this should be the main point. Otherwise, the campaign against vivisection won't benefit from the one for vegetarianism, nor vice versa. This will also waste lots of resources (activists' time, money, written material…) and, most importantly, it will not question people's present attitudes towards animals. To the contrary, it will reinforce the idea that humans are the ones who matter most.
The important point being that all aspects of animal exploitation, use or killing (meat, vivisection, fur, hunting…) are consequences of the way animals are viewed today; they are symptoms, not the problem itself.
WELFARISM: A step towards or stepping on animal's rights?
When talking about "animal welfare" (AW) we usually refer to the movement that is dedicated to reducing the pain inflicted on exploited animals, and, occasionally, reducing the number of animals utilised (as opposed to abolishing the use of animals, as the animal rights movement does). This term is quite peculiar in itself, as one wonders how being killed or being imprisoned can have much to do with welfare.
Many activists often say that AR and AW groups should work together and not criticise one another. Indeed, there are many groups who call themselves AR and constantly carry out AW campaigns or use AW arguments (e.g. referring to the regulations not being followed in farms or labs, workers causing animals "unnecessary" pain, anaesthetics not being used, cages being dirty or small...)
So-called welfarism is the main enemy of AR. You just need to talk to people on the street to find out that there is practically no one saying: "I don't give a damn about animals suffering in factory farms, or in experiments, or during slaughter". Instead, the most common comment is "Oh, yes! This way of treating animals is horrible. But there are farmers who have them on fields and kill them humanely, and experimenters who use anaesthetics…" Many others also say "I know everything about it, I only buy free-range".
Very few people agree with "outright cruelty". What we have to make clear is that it is unfair to breed, use or kill someone for your own purposes without his/her consent. And, in light of the practical imposibility of being certain about consent in the case of nonhumans, the idea that they can consent must be completely ruled out.
It is tempting to give in to the idea of achieving easy victories, but are these actually victories? For example, someone who says women should have bigger kitchens to work in is definitely not helping the women's liberation movement. On the contrary, to say this only perpetuates the situation by making it seem as if housework is a woman’s function. For a woman that has to be in the kitchen all day (as a simplistic example), it might help to have more room. But for all the women to come, and their liberation movement, those campaigns would just be an impediment.
We don't want exploitation and killing to be regulated; we want it to be stopped, abolished. If the anti-slavery campaigners 150 years ago in US were demanding the softer hitting of the slaves, instead of the total abolition of slavery, they would now still be campaigning for them to have one day off every week.
Maybe it is true that there were also economic factors that contributed to the end of slavery, but this is definitely not the case with animals' slavery; this is very profitable. And for making it be otherwise through economic sabotage, as many try to do, we would need to be a huge percentage of the population, having some kind of very powerful army. This, considering the present situation, seems more like fiction than anything slightly reasonable.
Granted, there were also campaigners demanding a better treatment of the slaves. However, more than likely, had they been dedicated to abolition instead of regulation, the change would have happened much earlier and would have had a much deeper effect on society.
It is very easy to point out how things have changed due to certain campaigns, because you will always find some kind of improvement in one sense or another, but few of us reflect on how it would be now had things been done differently. For example, by doing campaigns focused on closing down just one business, some people will get involved in the movement and realise lots of other things apart from the "evil" of that particular place. But, how many people would understand our message for the first time if we were using all those resources in attacking the very root of the problem? Definitely many more. And, most importantly, they would then have a deeper understanding of the real reasons for treating animals as equals. Nowadays you can even find people of certain AR groups doing street stalls and not really being able to give proper arguments for why vivisection is ethically wrong. They limit themselves to saying that the practice is useless or evil, or to ask "what if it were your dog?" Accordingly, that is the information the public gets.
Vegetarianism is being held up by a monster called free-range. Most people are selfish and they just want to feel good about themselves. It is sometimes difficult for a moral agent to see animals suffer and to know they are responsible for it without trying to escape their guilt. But once they take a step, they already think "Well, I did my bit", and often they won't take more steps - the main problem being that a step towards free-range is not towards animal rights. Maybe some will, on their own accord, pass through that stage (or through eating dairy and eggs for a while still), but this is not something that we should encourage. We can understand they might not be able to go vegan immediately, but we must not offer free-range as an alternative to what they do now. We may prefer that some parents beat their children by slapping them than by hitting them with a belt, but we won’t encourage them to slap children as a "step in the right direction". They might take that step, but those who want to stop child abuse must demand that children are not beaten at all. Otherwise, the argument that sustains the idea that children should not be beaten won’t be understood.
Many groups campaigning for vegetarianism go on and on: "…in modern factory farms animals are bred in these conditions…" or "…in modern slaughterhouses thousands of animals are killed in a very short time, making proper stunning impossible…". And they never, or very rarely, mention anything about the so-called "free-range" farms, or the fact of the freedom and life of animals being what really matters; whether they are from factory farms or not. Animals in "free-range" farms have their mobility reduced (sometimes quite severely), and they are always killed (having to go through the terrifying experience of being transported to the abattoir and slaughtered), impeding the fulfilment of their future enjoyment, which is the determinant of our interest in being alive.
It is also quite naive to think that free-range is the step before vegetarianism, as industrial farming is something very recent, and farming has been going on for millennia. This, obviously, is because the idea that animals are things for humans to use has never been seriously challenged.
There are actually so-called AR groups campaigning for proper stunning, better transport conditions, and a bit more room in the cages. This attitude only perpetuates the present situation. Once these reforms are achieved due to the work of "animal campaigners", people will consider that the bad days have passed, and that those who still campaign for animals are just extremists with far-fetched ideals.
Not every single word said in defence of animals is right, and often more harm than good is caused. If a hunter says we should shoot animals in the head, so that they don't suffer, it will benefit the animal who is being killed, but, in general, it will give the impression that animals are okay to kill, and that hunters actually care for animals.
No one can ever say s/he is on the animals’ side when stating that it is acceptable to kill or breed them as long as you do it nicely. It is true that many people that use welfarist methods do actually think that the use of animals should be abolished, but they find their way of campaigning a more effective way of achieving that goal. Nevertheless, for the public, the strategy you follow, and not your objectives, is the idea they have of you. This means that what people understand of a welfarist campaign is that it is fine to use animals if you do it carefully and "humanely". And then, although personally many of us might feel close to those campaigners, publicly we need to oppose them, as they justify the utilisation of sentient creatures (or, at least, that is what the public will understand).
Animals are not property; they are not resources. They are individuals with an interest in living their lives, and doing so free from pain, exploitation or coercion imposed by other actors. Our interest in not being subjected to suffering comes from our ability to feel pain and discomfort. Our interest in living, and doing it in freedom, is due to our ability to feel pleasure and joy. When we die, our interest in not suffering disappears, as we don't suffer when dead. But all our chances of experiencing any further joy or pleasure are ended. That is why all sentient creatures with the ability to feel positive experiences must have the right to live. This should be added to the right to live painlessly and freely (the lack of freedom causes suffering and doesn't allow pleasurable activities to be carried out).
To reach a situation in which public awareness means that fewer animals are killed or exploited is a step towards animal liberation. However, although a change such as animals being killed with less pain or bred in better conditions is not something we should oppose, we must not be the ones to promote it.
By creating a public debate around the issue of animal rights, society will take small, abolitionist steps in the short term, and AR campaigns would trigger the adoption of AW reforms. Most likely, welfare reforms will be introduced by official institutions once the most obviously painful treatment of animals is generally rejected, as has started to happen in some countries. Also, we must not forget that those who use animals do have an interest in regulating the exploitation of animals to make it seem more justified. The existence of organisations of farmers against factory farms, or vivisectors for the "humane" treatment of animals in labs, demonstrates this; the practices involving the use of animals are not endangered, but strengthened and excused, by welfare reforms.
To achieve significant changes in the way people relate to other animals is going to take a very long time, and we shouldn't fool ourselves by trying to achieve short-term, but misdirected, improvements. These, far from advancing our cause, are diverting our efforts towards something that is not our original aim.
Many activists call themselves "animal lovers", and tell others to love animals instead of killing them. This is quite inappropriate, as you can't ask others to feel one thing or another; all that is needed is for people to respect them and to leave them alone. Also, by talking about love instead of justice, we make AR seem like a sentimental issue instead of a very important ethical question. Actually, most people who come up to stalls and say they love animals appear to eat meat or defend vivisection for medical research.
The use of phrases like "these beautiful animals…", or "these intelligent creatures…" is common in campaigning material. The use of those terms to lend a special urgency to the wrongs of exploitation is definitely harming more than helping. Beauty is subjective, and I don't see how it can be worse to exploit someone just because s/he is nicer than someone else is. I consider that speaking in these terms is also quite speciesist, as no-one arguing for women equality would use the "argument" of them being "beautiful" as something that would make their exploitation more condemnable. That would be seen as sexist, as should this other case be considered speciesist. One’s life is not more valuable depending on how beautiful one seems to men or to humans in general.
In the case of intelligence, a similar problem occurs. Apart from "intelligence" being a very vague term (as it includes lots of psychological features, some of them only found in some humans, others only found in other animals, and most of them shared to different degrees by members of several species), the fact that someone has any degree or kind of intelligence is not relevant at all at the time of considering the pain inflicted on him/her or the deprivation of his or her life.
Campaigns should be based (at present time, at least) on spreading information and creating debate. "Spreading information" doesn't mean publishing stuff that simply rubbishes animal exploiters, whatever the reason. It is heartbreaking to read AR magazines packed with issues that have nothing to do with animals.
Commentaries about a hunter’s lack of a testicle or the overweight condition of a pro-hunting writer (both are real cases, among many of the kind) are useless; they have no relation whatsoever to animal rights (and they reflect unjust and arbitrary discriminations, hence indirectly reinforcing speciesism). The same goes for intensively focusing on the history of workers of particular laboratories of punching animals, not using anaesthetics, drinking alcohol at work, taking illegal drugs, not following the laboratories regulations… This does not help to change people's minds about animals. What if the hunter had two testicles, that writer were thin and the lab workers didn't take drugs, followed the regulations and always used anaesthesia? Would vivisection or hunting be OK then? Of course these campaigners don't think so, but the general public may well do. So why use such inconsistent and definitely not-AR "arguments"? I could understand comments being made in publications about the maltreatment of animals not only due to the actual experiments, or the fact of them being fully conscious in most cases during them; but it shouldn't be an argument to rely on, to be constantly used or given much relevance.
Then, there are also those who like to promote AR as an indirect duty. This means that they say we should not be cruel to animals because those who are cruel to animals end up being cruel to people. Or that we should not eat meat as it is destroying "our" planet. These don't say much in favour of the value of the animals’ individual life, do they?
It is more important to teach others that animals matter in themselves and that the fact of harming them is wrong in itself, because they are sentient, not because it is bad for us. Suggesting that the problem of "animal abuse" is that it causes abuse of humans is plain anthropocentrism.
Certainly we should care for the environment, because, as a consequence of its destruction, animals die, but that doesn't mean we should defend it as if it were a sentient entity: the environment can't feel, animals do. So again, this could be used as a side-argument sometimes, but when stressing that animals are the ones who matter. It must be pointed out that, although environmental destruction kills animals, we must focus on campaigns against the direct use of them. This is because it is much easier for people to recognise that animals should be treated equally by understanding the direct consequences their habits have on animals, rather than seeing the situation of these as an indirect effect of most of the things they do. It is also easier to question one's diet, clothing and some other few things than it is the use of all plastic materials, cars, inks, paper… A coherent environmentalist attitude necessarily drives us to primitivism, which we can easily understand as not being the most appropriate thing to promote nowadays. Also, it may be added that what should be our main practical aim (i.e. to stop people using animals for food) will also, as a consequence, be the end of the main cause of deforestation and desertification on this planet (thus saving billions of animals indirectly).
ATTACKING THE ROOT, NOT THE BRANCHES
As stated earlier, the case for AR is mainly an issue of changing society's conception of non-human sentient beings. This is not a matter of disabling a few "animal abusers" so that they can't keep committing more atrocities. Nowadays, practically everyone is somehow involved in animal exploitation. England, one of the Western countries with the highest percentage of vegans, reportedly has around 250,000 such people - a very small fragment of the population. Does that mean that all the rest of the inhabitants don't care at all about others’ pain and lives? How come the number of people who are vegans and vegetarians for ethical reasons tends to increase then? Were they really cruel and selfish last year and suddenly became very nice, respectful people? Maybe they simply received information that they didn't have before and decided to change.
Yes, maybe people should find out by themselves, look for info, or question their attitude towards nonhuman sentient beings, but if everyone did, we wouldn't need to do campaigns.
Most of us did eat meat until we got information from somewhere, indeed not always looking for it. And of course we knew that "that" on our plate was an animal, as the vivisectors know what "that" on their table is. But we didn't reflect deeply enough on our relation to animals until we were challenged. Some people go veggie straight away, but for others it takes a while. And, more than likely, for someone whose way of living is based on the use of animals, it will be even harder to accept an animal as someone who must be respected, as it means a very drastic change for them. By this, I'm in no way suggesting that animal exploiters are always innocent. What I am saying is that most people are not as they should be, and this is something we should be aware of when defending the animals these people exploit, in order to run successful campaigns. Of course, animals don't care which excuse is used, but they do care about being exploited. And if we want ever to achieve something, we should better try to understand how people think, because it's only by changing their minds that we can make a change for animals.
All too often committed activists spend most of their time going to the gates of laboratories in the middle of nowhere to shout at the workers, for example, instead of saving animals for real by doing stalls, educational acts in the street, writing articles, distributing leaflets, trying to get media attention, doing conferences, studying AR issues, etc.
Unfortunately, a big part of the AR movement has lately adopted a new strategy of closing down places where animals are exploited (laboratories or farms, for example). The use of this strategy has started mainly in England and has now been exported to other countries.
The argument presented to defend this sort of campaigning is usually that if the use of animals becomes economically more problematic (for having to move your business somewhere else or having to spend more money in security), "animal abusers" will think twice before setting up a business of that kind.
This is attacking a consequence instead of the cause of the problem. There are not a few "evil" people that work torturing animals, with the opposition of the rest of society. It is the demand of the rest of the society that gives a job to those doing that. Slaughterhouses were not built and meat consumption then promoted - rather, there will be slaughterhouses as long as there is a public demand for meat. It is ridiculous to consider that the worker of a laboratory is worse than any person that accepts the use of animals in medical research (and they are many), as the only reason for the second not to do what the first does is that s/he has studied philology or maths instead of pharmacology or medicine, for example.
Closing a laboratory or a pig farm down does not reduce the number of animals used in research or as food. The experiments will in most cases be carried out somewhere else, and the meat will be produced somewhere else. Only when the demand for meat decreases, will the production decrease, and only when people realise that animals must have rights will vivisection stop.
Some activists think that it is very important to confront what they call the "enemy", that is, going to furriers or laboratory workers’ homes to hassle them, waiting for them at the gates of their job site, making threatening phone calls, ordering unwanted magazines or food to be sent to them… They think that being harassed will make the workers quit their jobs, and eventually terminate animal exploitation. As stated before, this is not about a few individuals with a sadistic desire to torture animals. When a worker quits due to pressure (something considered by many campaigners as a great victory), the only thing that changes is the person doing that job. It seems more like a question of "giving them what they deserve" than actually a method to save animals. This will also give the impression that certain practices actually are morally more condemnable than others, in this case making it seem as if animal experiments were worse than meat-eating. Are those who eat meat any better than vivisectors just because they don't kill the animals with their own hands? Again, is a manager less guilty than a worker doing a bad job following his instructions? Obviously not.
If animal exploiters were a reduced number of people committing atrocities with the opposition of most of the public, maybe those methods would have more effect, as once the exploiters were stopped, there wouldn't be others continuing their job. But unfortunately, we are facing most of the human population!
Moreover, campaigns against particular businesses often end up being campaigns not for AR, but against those places. Consequently, we see how thousands of expensive leaflets and magazines are distributed to inform readers about the details of investors, insurance companies or clients of such companies; only saying that they support animal torture (something they do indirectly, as everybody does nowadays - that is, by buying in shops that sell animal products, paying to the fruit seller who eats meat, buying products from a company that owns animal exploiting businesses…).
It might be that causing economic problems for a company can lead to its closure, but it doesn't make a difference when it comes to saving animals. Did the number of cats used in experiments decrease after the closure of Hillgrove Farm (a breeder of cats for animal experiments)? No. And what about Shamrock Farm (a primate breeder with the same purpose, which was also closed down due to campaigns)? They are simply building a new primate farm in Camarles (Spain). And what if Huntingdon Life Sciences (the biggest contract animal testing lab in Europe) closes down? Are all the companies that pay them to test their products going to stop testing them on animals? I'm afraid they'll just pay another laboratory. Oh, yes! I forgot "we are going to close them all, one by one". Anyone who seriously thinks so should reflect a bit on the amount of animal testing laboratories that exist on this planet, and make a calculation of the time, money, activists and power we've got. The closing down of all businesses that utilise animals that way will simply never happen. Vivisection won't be beaten unless the public understands it and questions its ethics. Then, its end is inevitable. It will not happen overnight, but this change of attitudes is essential for its abolition.
Campaigns such as the ones mentioned are wasting enormous amounts of money, activists, time and other resources in promoting not the egalitarian treatment of all sentient beings, but the closure of a place, using anything to bring them down, even if it has nothing to do with animals. Targeting, for example, those who give banking facilities to an animal lab, or those supplying fences, transport, insurance, security, or other services to them is a tactic used quite often, and which is folly. Those are just companies doing their jobs - jobs which intrinsically do no harm to animals. Imagine that someone has a fruit shop, and she becomes a target for selling fruit to people with leather shoes. Well, if she doesn't do it, it's fine (although such attitudes simply tend to put people against us, not making them understand our reasons for doing certain things), but nowadays you can't really expect people with businesses not to serve anyone exploiting animals, because that means their closure in most cases. The only ones benefiting from these tactics are those who exploit animals, by having the chance to dismiss our movement as a bunch of irrational, infantile and violent lunatics who are against everyone and everything. Also, nothing can help them more than making sure that the campaigning resources are wasted trying to close a place down instead of shaking the weak moral structures on which animal exploitation and killing are based.
EQUALLY IMPORTANT CAMPAIGNS?
As a way to escape criticism, many campaigners claim that all campaigns are equally important - and rare is the activist who dares to question this now conventional view. It is hard to believe that a campaign to save the pigeons in Trafalgar Square in London (where feeding them is currently illegal) can be as important as one for vegetarianism or against vivisection. The number of animals involved, the suffering that animals undergo and the social repercussion are very much lower. The pigeon issue can be used symbolically to protest against the consideration of animals as plagues, when actually these are individuals (and also, humans are the ones who most accurately could be considered a plague). But making a campaign about it… That's losing the point a bit. Of course all individuals matter, that is why ten individuals matter more than one. And ten million more that ten thousand.
Activists should have a deeper look at the issue and see the great power they have to change things on a larger scale. It is understandable that seeing animals suffering in front of us is very difficult to cope with, but those who are not there for us to see, are probably hidden because they are suffering much more. And the fact that we don’t see something doesn't mean it doesn't happen.
THE PROBLEM OF DISCRIMINATING BETWEEN CATEGORIES OF NON-HUMANS
In theory it seems to be very clear to most activists that other animals suffer as much as cats and dogs. But, in practice, we constantly see that much more attention is paid to the exploitation or maltreatment of the latter than to that inflicted upon other non-human animals. This can be observed in leaflets only about cats and dogs in experiments; phrases like "… even cats and dogs are used…" abound, as do leaflets about cats and dogs used for fur, lots of articles dedicated to them… even a call to boycott Korea for selling dog and cat meat! Why not call for a boycott of England for selling pig, chicken or cod meat? Some say that it is for the way they kill them, causing them more suffering, as if salmon, ducks or cattle were not killed (and bred) in terrible pain. And, even if the latter suffered less (which most likely is not the case), that would be a welfarist campaign, consisting of reducing the suffering of those exploited instead of abolishing the exploitation. That is definitely a campaign only based on cultural differences. It is simply one of those campaigns, like those against "exotic" meats, that easily receive much public support in Western countries, but that don't really question the human attitude towards animals in general. Even if the end of the dog and cat meat trade were possible relatively soon by doing these campaigns, they reinforce the speciesist and anthropocentric idea that companion animals are more important than others, making the message very inconsistent and incoherent, and the understanding of the AR idea more difficult.
Another sad thing is to constantly see, in leaflets and other literature, things like "Don't eat meat, poultry or fish…" Eating fish and birds is eating meat. If we keep making that erroneous disctinction, we'll always hear people saying they are vegetarians although they eat fish or chicken. If we want people to clearly understand what we mean by meat, we can make an anti-meat leaflet with the picture of a fish, or saying something like "…whether someone is a human, a chicken, a sea-bass or a cow; his or her interest in living and not suffering is the same. Don't eat meat."
Unfortunately, even when some AR groups give statistics related to vegetarians, they include those who stopped eating red meat only! Fish in particular are constantly neglected by AR campaigns. In spite of representing the highest number of animals who are killed, very few leaflets, posters, demos, magazines, campaigns, etc. are dedicated to fish. And when they are mentioned, they are often measured by tonnes, not individuals. Maybe it is difficult to know the exact numbers of the ones killed, but we can talk at least about thousands, or millions; not weight. What would we think of being told that 90 tonnes of Jews were killed in a certain concentration camp?
VEGETARIANISM AND VEGANISM
When promoting an ideology, we often fall into the trap of slogans and labels, which end up diluting the original message. This can quite clearly be seen in the AR movement, with people calling us "vegans" instead of "people with an ethical consideration towards nonhuman sentient beings", or, at least, "those working for the rights of animals". Descriptive, informative definitions would definitely be great, as when referring to us they would have to somehow explain what we are promoting, forcing them to reflect on what we are saying and making our message understandable to others.
However, nowadays we tend to use terms that label us and that let others talk about us without making explicit what we say. The term "vegan" is used constantly, and what people understand with it is that those who are vegans don't eat animal products, without any further understanding of the possible moral reasons for it. This way, we often find people saying "No, I don't eat eggs because I am a vegan." That is like saying you don't discriminate against blacks because you are an anti-racist. Would it not be more reasonable to say you are an anti-racist because you find the discrimination of blacks indefensible, and not the other way around? And don't you avoid animal products because you find the discrimination of nonhuman animals unjustifiable?
Many like to put labels on themselves to point out how different they are, instead of giving arguments that defend their moral standing. It is much more effective to explain our views than to label ourselves or to let others label us, because it is important to get others to see that we do things for a reason.
Anyway, at certain times we need to use certain terms; and I think that we should promote the idea of "vegetarian" meaning "vegan", for people not to believe that they can be "animal-friendly" whilst eating animal products. However, this should always be pointed out, as nowadays it can be confusing. We can say "I’m vegetarian; I don’t eat any animal products." If this clarification can’t be made due to the situation, maybe the best option is using "vegan".
Another problem is people saying they "can’t" eat something because they are vegan (as though it were an impediment due to health problems or religion) instead of explaining the reasons behind their decision.
Finally, it is frustrating to see that groups promoting vegetarianism give recipes or sell products containing milk or eggs. In some cases, it can be understandable that they don't mention the issue of dairy or eggs, but a very different thing is to promote or accept their use, knowing what there is behind these products.
A few things need to be mentioned about certain types of demos. It is hard to find the sense in going to a farm or lab in the middle of nowhere to shout when you are not being heard or seen by anyone but the workers, who know perfectly well what is going on in that place already, and who usually don't know less than anyone else about the arguments against speciesism. If it is organised as an occasional symbolic act, calling lots of press for example, maybe it could be quite productive, but doing it regularly, as if what really matters is "being there" and confronting the workers, is utterly illogical.
Demonstrating is a way of making your voice heard and letting people know what you are saying. Instead, some use it as a way to release anger, insulting and shouting, as if that would help animals. For others it is a good chance to cause damage to "animal abuser's" property, which, apart from putting lots of people off coming to demos, gives quite a bad image to the movement. Someone who has never questioned the use of animals by humans will hardly agree with attacking those who do use them.
Quite often, certain demos turn into anti-police demos instead of AR ones. People start using the megaphones to say how brutal the cops are, that they are making illegal arrests, and similar stuff. Sometimes things seem to be done without much of a reason; the police say "you can't do this" and automatically people start doing it, even if it doesn't help in any way. But they have to show they are rebels, they "won't obey a copper", and probably they will even be arrested, which for lots is what shows you are a really committed activist. And if they are jailed, they will become gurus that no one can criticise, as "they risked their freedom for the animals".
As well, we must take into account that if a demonstration is going to consist mainly of a particular kind of demonstrators (e.g., old women, young people with "strange" hair styles, only men or only women…), maybe it is better not to carry it out, as it may create a stereotype of "animal rights people" which excludes certain members of the public. This does not need to be the case in all situations. While elderly women are unfortunately seen by many as "emotional", and "strange-looking" youngsters are seen as rebels, if a demonstration consists mainly of whites (in most European countries), it won’t call many people’s attention. Instead, organising a demo in Senegal where most protesters will be white is definitely something to avoid. This is not about discriminating any group of people, it is about understanding that even if we feel strongly about something and we wish to express our views, we must be careful and analyse our actions.
The term "direct action" is usually misleading, referring only to the releasing of animals with your own hands, destroying property, or similar things. I would claim that persuading someone to become a vegetarian is direct action; you save animals directly in this way. But if this is not considered "direct", then neither could the smashing of a window, as that does not involve the taking of animals. Doing stalls is direct action, interrupting a fur fashion show is direct action, putting yourself in a cage on the street as a way of protest is direct action. Maybe you don't see the animals you have saved running free around you, but you can be sure you've saved them. Direct action doesn't mean you are risking jail or you are doing something necessarily illegal. Anyway, to save me from having to explain this each time I use the term "direct action", I'll refer to the concept expressed by most activists with it, i.e. the use of illegal activities such as rescuing animals, smashing windows or burning meat trucks.
Perhaps it is understandable that the use of "direct action" for AR purposes is widely accepted among campaigners. The problem is that dissent about this issue has become a taboo, no one can criticise any action without being seen as a traitor. Yet definitely not all actions of this kind are positive.
First, I want it to be very clear that I don't find it morally wrong to use reasonable force if it is absolutely necessary to stop a torturer, exploiter or murderer from carrying out abusive actions (as long as it doesn't harm others except those who are guilty, and the harm done to these is the minimum necessary to achieve our aim - i.e. defending the victim of the attack). My disagreement is in terms of strategy.
Some so-called "direct actions" are very useful and the outcome is brilliant. Examples of these can be filming in farms or labs to show images to the public (although pointing out that what is horrible is not the fact that the pictures show poor conditions in which animals live, but the fact that animals are actually used) . Symbolically rescuing one or a few animals - as living examples of how animals suffer there - can also be good.
Nevertheless, rescuing animals in large numbers (or not so large, but not really using them to campaign) is in most cases not a very good idea. This is because the dogs saved from a lab, for example, will simply be replaced. The experiment will not be halted in most cases due to that action. That means that you save that animal, but only by condemning another to go through what the first one went through. There are a few exceptions to this. One, for example, is saving animals that are "over-produced", as happened in Whitechapel Hospital (London), where, apparently, they bred more mice than they could use for experiments, meaning that lots of them were killed without being "used".
Still, trying to achieve non-human animal liberation this way seems not only terribly slow, but impossible. And let's not forget that those saved animals need attention, which makes many activists spend their time taking care of a few animals instead of saving millions by campaigning (and the same goes for the large sums of money spent on sanctuaries).
In the case of damaging property there seems to be a particularly acute problem. First, in most cases damage is covered by insurance, or the company has enough money to cover it easily (e.g. for Mc Donald's, a smashed window is like losing one penny or cent for most of us). Secondly, even if we manage to close down a place - let's say a butcher shop or a lab - people will just buy meat in the supermarket instead, or order the experiments to be carried out somewhere else. And finally, until there is a vast social awareness about an issue, the use of such actions will likely put people against us.
England is probably the Western country where knowledge of the "animal issue" is most widespread, and still, the public knows virtually nothing about animal rights. Yes, maybe they heard of a lab where workers don't follow animal welfare standards, or lots of stuff about hunting or fur. But you just need to talk to people to find out that practically no one has ever questioned the belief that humans are more important than other sentient beings, or that we can use them as resources. The debate is typically reduced to the amount of suffering they are subjected to.
Certain actions have caused most of the public debate, and the news on animal rights, to focus on the methods used by activists instead of the ethics of speciesism.
Some activists say: "Animals don't give a damn about public opinion". This is a bizarre objection when the actual cause of animal exploitation is public opinion.
In general, activists should realise how valuable they are, and understand that they can save many more animals doing informative campaigns than with most "direct action". At the end of the day, your effectiveness in jail is severely reduced.
Destructive action is especially pernicious in places where the message of the movement is not widely known (in reality, this is everywhere, but even more outside England or the US). If people have never heard of animal rights, and the first thing they are faced with is people burning places down, they won't ever listen to us anymore, as they will consider us as terrorists. A clear example of this is Sweden, where for the public, saying you are a vegan means that you are what they call "a militant vegan" (although it seems to be getting better now), i.e. a member of the ALF - this due to an action years ago, signed in spray-paint with that name ("the militant vegans"). Many well-intentioned activists in many countries are doing these sorts of actions in an attempt to do as much as they can for animals, not noticing that they are doing them a disservice.
For others, "direct action" is just a way to feel "cool"; going out at night with a balaclava, destroying stuff, escaping the police...this is war! What an adventure! And don't dare to criticise it, or you will be seen as a "fluffy" or a traitor.
It is frequently asserted that those who use "direct action" are people who give more for animals than others do. This is nonsense. There are people who use "direct action" and the rest of the time they are in the pub, or simply not doing much more for animals. And there are people who don't use that sort of "direct action" and spend almost every single minute of their life writing, reading, doing stalls, talks, press conferences... If the former is caught, "s/he was very dedicated and lost his or her freedom for the animals" (maybe doing something that doesn't do animals at large any good). The latter will be considered a "fluffy", because s/he is not risking her or his freedom. But, actually, this means not only risking, but altogether giving up your freedom, as you don't have a life anymore due to your absolute dedication.
For example, hunt sabbing saves animals, but using 15 people to save 1 or 2 animals in one day...?! Can you imagine how many animals they would save if they were doing stalls? Just by convincing one person to be a vegetarian, thousands of animals can be saved - and surely, the social impact will be much deeper than that. The effect of one person going veggie doesn't stop there, as that person’s viewpoint in turn has a social impact. And let's not forget that the change of the social conception of animals - which maybe is less visual than someone going veggie - has a slower but far deeper effect, achieved by questioning speciesism. On the other hand, the saving of the fox often stops there. Some will object (sometimes as emotional blackmail): "Don't you care about the life of those individuals?" Of course, again, we care about the life of individuals; that is why we should care more for 3,000 individuals than for 2.
Some activists say "yes, doing stalls is important, but you have to confront the animal abusers". One wonders why. If confronting them saves more animals, we should do it, otherwise we shouldn't.
CREATING UNNECESSARY ENEMIES
Some groups use techniques such as criticising certain politicians or promoting them according to their attitude towards animal issues. Others use sexist methods to call people's attention. These and other tactics can be simultaneously divisive and counterproductive, as many people can be put against you due to the way you are doing things, instead of for what you are saying. It is a pity if someone doesn't join us, or disagrees with us for things that are not directly related to AR.
If someone supports a political party and we give bad press to it, very possibly the person will be against us. The same goes for an anti-sexist person that sees us doing a sexist street performance (e.g. using so-called "sexy" women for calling people's attention). And in this last case they will wonder why we are against the exploitation of animals and not of women.
We, as a movement, must remain neutral on issues that are not AR. At most, we can condemn sexism or racism, as the link to the rejection of speciesism (egalitarianism among sentient beings) is quite obvious. However, we should include such issues only when they are helpful in explaining our point; and should definitely not involve any other theme, as that simply reduces the number of people that get involved. If you require that for being an animal rightist you need to be anti-lots-of-things, the path to get into it becomes narrower and narrower.
Many say that 'everything is related', and that all fights (the ones they consider right, of course) should be one. Well, first, the priority of abolishing the enslavement and killing of nonhuman animals should be something crystal clear for any non-speciesist person. The number of victims who are killed and tortured, the indescribable suffering undergone by these, and the fact of them being completely innocent and defenceless creatures whose exploitation is widely neglected, makes any comparison with "human liberation" seem like an insult to other animals. This is not to say that the suffering and death of humans matter less, but that if we count numbers of individuals the priority seems obvious. Also, saying that there is "the AR" and then "other" issues is definitely anthropocentric, as those "other issues" just affect humans. If we accept that those issues are separate, then we would also need to say that the use of sardines in experiments, for food or in aquariums are different issues we need to fight against, not just one, that is, the AR issue.
Secondly, if you decide to work for "other issues", then form another group concerned with that particular issue and work in it. But don't expect that everyone who agrees with AR has to agree with you on everything else. We should just want as many people as possible to help animals as much as they can, and no one should say to an activist who has a campaign with integrity, "No, I'd rather those animals die than that I work with you". That is definitely not being for animal rights.
The more kinds of people we reach the better. Many get very upset about working with people whose views (apart from AR) they disagree with. We are not doing AR merely because we like the people in the struggle, I hope. We do it because we think it is right. And we must work with people we like, and people we dislike. In terms of activism, it doesn't matter what the person thinks, as long as that doesn't affect at all the work of the group. Obviously, if someone publicly expresses non-AR-related views while campaigning for AR, and that makes people stigmatise AR campaigners (because the person expressed some controversial political ideas, for example) we should not allow that to happen. It is not a matter of whether we agree with those views or not, but of whether its promotion from AR circles will be counterproductive. We must not attempt to fight against everything we consider wrong as one thing. We must be pragmatic and work in ways that are effective. Maybe trying to be very pure in all senses does make our work counterproductive in relation to the most important thing we want to promote. If we are in a demo against sexist discrimination and we start criticising everyone that drops litter on the ground, we will most likely be the opposite of effective. Yes, we all have our own ideals (and dropping litter is not a very good thing to do, probably), but let’s keep them for ourselves in those situations in which they can be pernicious if expressed.
From an anti-speciesist perspective, any political tendencies that only involve humans are relatively of little importance. They affect just an extremely tiny percentage of the Earth's sentient beings. The change of human social organisation will not necessarily lead to an improvement for animals, as we have been able to observe through history in many different kinds of societies (even small groups) subjugating other animals for their own sake. Seeing this, our involvement as a movement in political or social issues that mainly affect humans, and animals only marginally, should be something to avoid.
How can we call ourselves anti-speciesist while dedicating, say, 10% of our time to exclusively human issues, when the percentage of sentient beings that humans represent is thousands (if not millions) of times smaller than that? If, for example, in Nigeria whites represent 2% of the population, can we call ourselves anti-racist while demanding that 10% of the country’s resources are dedicated to whites? Definitely not! Why then do we consider that people are anti-speciesist when they do the very same in the case of animals?
Just to get a clearer idea of the point of this article, I’d like to summarise in a few words the most important things:
- To achieve a significant change in society, we must address the problem for what it is, not using momentarily convenient arguments that undermine the development of the AR cause by neglecting the real argument: other animals can also experience pleasure, satisfaction, pain and distress, thus ignoring or undervaluing their interests is ethically unjustifiable.
- Regulating exploitation does nothing to abolish it, on the contrary, it impedes this by somehow accepting the use of animals as long as they are better treated.
- What we are fighting for is a matter of justice, not passion or love. Many animals that don't stir up those feelings in many of us can feel as much as others.
- Campaigning against the consequences instead of the origin of the problem only wastes resources that should be spent in making people reflect on their attitudes, not in closing down businesses that exist precisely because people do not reflect on the matter. At the same time, it diverts the attention away from the original issue, making this seem as a problem consisting of a few "evil" places and a few "evil" people rather than something that directly involves us all.
- We must not loose perspective and we shall choose those campaigns that will save more animals in the long run. The animals that exist today are a very tiny percentage of the animals that will be killed and tortured in the coming centuries and millennia. Paying excessive attention to those who suffer today is condemning millions more to suffer the same fate. We can’t save them all, but let’s save all the ones we can!
- The result of every action should be carefully measured, as a bad step can be very detrimental for animals. Our focus should be on long-term achievements, not letting impatience drive us to do things that will be pernicious afterwards.
- AR is a struggle for all those who honestly want to help animals. Everyone can find a way to include these views in their mindset; fair consideration of animals’ interests is not necessarily contradictory with views of other kinds.
I hope the above has been of some use at the time of creating debate and finding the way forward for our movement. I'd like to thank you for taking the time to read this article and I would be very pleased to hear your comments. Independently of the disagreements that we might have, I insist on the need for discussion and of coming to a consensus that will help us find the best way to achieve the goal we all share.