In my public talks over the years, I’ve frequently focused on how other animals are treated by the major animal abuser industries — commercial animal agriculture, biomedical research, entertainment businesses, including circuses and greyhound racing, for example. While what I will be exploring sometimes, and in some respects, might apply to companion animals, I am primarily interested in the conduct of industries that exploit nonhumans. It is with reference to these industries that, in my talks, I frequently allude to what I call “the undeclared war humans are waging against other animals.”
Interestingly, those Animal Rights Advocates (ARAs) in my audiences have tended to nod their heads emphatically, as if to say, “Yes, humans are waging an undeclared war against nonhumans. Big time!”
Of course, sometimes the war that is being waged, especially in the case of animals in the wild, is declared. Here are a few examples:
“We’re declaring war on hogs and coyotes,” Rep. Phillip Lowe (R-Florence) said during a South Carolina House subcommittee meeting.
“What we’re talking about is killing,” just in case we don’t get it, said Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens (South Carolina). “We’re not talking about hunting. We need to take these animals [wild hogs and coyotes] out any way we can.”
Discussing HB 294, which would have allowed year-round trapping of feral pigs, Rep. Major Thibaut, D-New Roads (Louisiana), expresses his compassionate sentiments in these stark terms: “It is a war against the feral hogs.” If his bill passes, Thibaut said, the only place that feral pigs will be going is “to the skinning shed and the barbecue pit.”
Even when war is not explicitly declared, in the case of human interactions with animals living in the wild, it is often implicitly implied. To cite an example, I give in my book, Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights, Newfoundland’s Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, John Elford unequivocally declares that “I would like to see the six million seals, or whatever number there is out there, killed . . . I do not care what happens to them. The more [the sealers] kill, the better I will love it.” If Elford is not in favor of waging all-out war against seals, to the point of their total destruction, it’s hard to understand what war is.
Or consider former Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s support of legislation that paid a $150 bounty to hunters who shot wolves from airplanes. All the brave hunter was required to do was chop off the left foreleg and deliver it to the appropriate government authority. And not just wolves are in Palin’s rogue-ish cross-hairs. As the Grizzly Bay web site states, “Palin wants bears dead.”
Notice, too, that it’s not just the pro-hunting folks among us who talk in terms of war. Back in the mid-70s, Cleveland Amory wrote a widely read book, Man Kind? Our Incredible War on Wildlife, almost twenty years before I first spoke about the undeclared war humans are waging against other animals.
So, yes, the rhetoric of waging war against nonhuman animals sometimes is explicit. But this proves to be the exception, not the rule. Most of the time, the war analogy, as I call it, is noteworthy for its absence, especially in the case of major animal abuser industries like those I mentioned earlier. How can hog farming and egg production be likened to waging war? Wouldn’t we be stretching the limits of language beyond the breaking point if we think and talk this way? This is the central question — how far the “war analogy” casts light on what humans are doing to nonhumans — that I want to explore on this occasion. But I will also offer some suggestions about what ARAs should and should not be doing in their defense.
FOUR CHARACTERISTICS OF WAR
Of course, when I say humans are waging an undeclared war against nonhumans, I don’t mean ‘war’ in the sense in which we speak of the War of 1812 or the Second World War, the sense that involves a state of armed conflict between political units, usually nations. Whatever else we might think about other animals, they do not comprise a nation, in the way the United States does, for example.
That said, what humans are doing to nonhumans nevertheless resembles wars waged by nations. For consider: among the shared characteristics of nations that wage war, four stand out. Combatants use weapons; they cause injuries; they often imprison their captives; and they routinely kill the enemy. The same is no less true when it comes to how nonhuman animals are treated by the industries I have in mind.
WEAPONS ARE USED
First, as is true of declared wars between humans, so in the case of the undeclared war humans are waging against other animals: humans use weapons to advance their war efforts. Of course, normally, the means used are not called weapons. Normally, they are called (in the case of vivisection, for example) scalpels and prods, Pavlovian slings and restraint chairs, stereotaxic devices and rodent guillotines. But once we frame the exploitation of nonhuman animals in terms of the war analogy, the true nature of these means of exploitation becomes apparent. They are weapons, just as surely as guns and bombs are weapons. Indeed, the normal way of describing the ‘tools’ used by the animal exploitation industries can now be seen as a rhetorical device to conceal, not reveal, their true nature as weapons used in the undeclared war being waged against other animals. Hammers and screwdrivers are tools. Stereotaxic devices and rodent guillotines are not “tools of research.” They are weapons of destruction.
Moreover, what is true of the means used in the name of pursuing the ends of vivisection is also true of other animal-abusing industries — the knives that slit the throats of the dismembered bodies of animals in the slaughterhouses of the world, and the hakapiks used to club to death defenseless seals in Canada and Newfoundland, for example. They, too, are not ‘tools.’ They are weapons used in the undeclared war being waged against our brothers and sisters in fur, and feather, and fin.
ANIMALS ARE INJURED
Now, in wars waged between humans, weapons (guns and bombs, for example) are often used to injure. The same is true of the undeclared war under review. The animal-abusing industries are engaged in activities that result in intentionally injuring other animals. By way of illustration, consider these examples from biomedical research — examples of what occurs everyday, as routine business, throughout the world, all of it perfectly legal.
- Cats, dogs, nonhuman primates, and other animals are burned and exposed to radiation.
- Their eyes are surgically removed and their hearing is destroyed.
- Their limbs are severed and their organs are crushed.
- Invasive means are used to give them heart attacks, ulcers, and seizures.
- They are deprived of sleep, subjected to electric shock, and exposed to extremes of heat and cold.
That the researchers who injure their (so-called) “animal models” in these ways do so for what they consider to be good reasons is not at issue here. Rather, the issue here is to recognize the fact that, just as is true of combatants in wartime, these researchers do injure these animals, not accidentally or in some figurative sense, but intentionally, literally.
ANIMALS ARE KILLED
In addition to being injured, nonhuman animals also are killed. Even if we exclude marine life, in excess of 58 billion land animals are slaughtered annually throughout the world for the sake of human consumption. Unknown numbers of others are killed primarily for their skin or fur. By way of a few examples:
- On fur mills, mink, chinchilla, raccoon, lynx, foxes, and other fur-bearing animals are killed by breaking their necks, or by asphyxiation (using carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide), or by shoving electric rods up their anuses to “fry” them from the inside out.
- Animals trapped in the wild take fifteen hours on average to die.
- Trapped fur-bearers frequently chew themselves apart in a futile attempt to save their life.
Again, that those who raise and slaughter (so-called) “fur-bearing” animals, as well as those who trap these animals, do so for what they consider to be good reasons is not at issue here. Rather, what needs to be recognized is the fact that, just as is true of combatants in wartime, these people do kill these animals, not accidentally or in some figurative sense, but intentionally, literally.
ANIMALS ARE IMPRISONED
Let us note, as well, that not only are tens of billions of animals (on an annual basis) intentionally injured and killed by the major animal abuser industries, tens of billions of them also are imprisoned. For they are being held in confinement. And (like human prisoners) they are not free to choose an alternative. By way of examples (the following, at the present time, is true in most countries, most of the time):
- “Veal” calves spend their entire lives individually confined in narrow stalls too narrow for them to turn around in.
- Laying hens live a year or more in cages the size of a filing drawer, seven, sometimes more per cage, after which they routinely are starved for two weeks to encourage another laying cycle.
- Female hogs are housed for four or five years in individual barred enclosures, barely wider than their bodies, where they are forced to birth litter after litter.
As was true of my previous remarks about injuring and killing, so in the present case: that those who raise (so-called) “meat” animals do so for what they consider to be good reasons is not at issue. Rather, what needs to be recognized is the fact that, just as is true of captured combatants in wartime, these people do imprison these animals, not accidentally or in some figurative sense, but intentionally, literally, which, using the war analogy, makes these animals prisoners of war.
EXPLOITERS AS MERCENARIES
Now, the war analogy might seem to absolve most humans of any role in animal exploitation. After all, most people, most of the time, are not in the business of exploiting nonhumans. Which seems to suggest that most people, most of the time, are not involved in the war being waged against them.
This way of thinking overlooks the role that mercenaries sometimes play in waging war. Mercenaries are professional soldiers hired for service in a foreign army. For example, during the American revolutionary war, England’s King George III hired Germans (collectively known as Hessians) to fight against American colonists. The war analogy I am pressing, then, invites us to re-conceptualize the role played by hog farmers and vivisectors, wild animal trainers and furriers, those who transport animals to slaughter as well as those who slaughter them.
Using the war analogy, those who behave as described are to be viewed as mercenaries, paid to wage the undeclared war against other animals by those who purchase the products of industrial animal exploitation. Of course, the “soldiers” in this army do not all wear the same uniform. Some dress in bib-overalls; others wear neatly pressed white lab-coats. However much their uniforms might differ, though, their “marching orders,” so to speak, are fundamentally the same. Each day that they remain in service, their principal responsibility, for which (as mercenaries) they receive monetary compensation, consists in using weapons to imprison, injure, or kill nonhuman animals so that consumers don’t have to do the “dirty work” themselves.
So, yes, humans are not waging war against other animals in the way that one nation wages war against another. But humans are behaving in war-like ways when they reward, financially and in other ways, those who use weapons to intentionally imprison, injure, and kill them. The fact that no human being or representative body has issued a formal declaration of war should not blind us to the fact that, as a species, we are waging one.
ASSETS AND LIABILITIES OF THE WAR ANALOGY
Thinking of nonhumans as the victims of an undeclared war not only offers a different way to frame what industrial exploiters are doing; it also offers a different way for us to frame what our role as ARAs is with respect to their exploitation. For we are their allies when it comes to the war that is being waged against them. We are on their side, standing in opposition to the exploiters. Indeed, without human allies, the situation of those animals exploited by the major animal abuser industries is utterly hopeless. Although (as I wrote in The Case for Animal Rights) “the individual is right to withhold support from industries that violate the rights of others, even if the individual is the only one to do so” (394-5), the undeclared war will end only when a critical mass of people make respect for animal rights a central, a defining value in their day-to-day lives. I will have more to say on this matter below.
Now, the war analogy not only offers a different, it might offer a better way of framing what nonhumans are being made to endure. The two analogies most commonly deployed by ARAs are (1) slavery and (2) the holocaust. In my opinion, neither quite fits industrial domination of other animals.
Yes, at the present time, “meat” animals, for example, like chattel slaves, are owned, are property. And, yes, like animals in a lab, slaves on a farm were not free to leave. But chattel slaves, unlike farmed animals, were not raised to be eaten, nor were they routinely, systematically slaughtered in very large numbers. Indeed, for most slave owners, most of the time, it was in their interest to keep their slaves alive, not kill them. The slavery analogy doesn’t quite fit the horrors routinely visited upon nonhuman animals.
As for the holocaust analogy: the human victims certainly were systematically slaughtered, in very large numbers, in a truly abhorrent manner. However, the overarching goal of the holocaust was to destroy the members of identifiable groups of people — to eradicate them from the face of the earth. With notable exceptions (the destruction of coyotes, wild pigs, the massive slaughter of seals favored by Elford, noted earlier), this is not among the principal objectives of industrial exploitation of nonhumans. On the contrary, their more common objective is to increase, not decrease (let alone eradicate) the number of nonhuman animals they imprison, injure, and kill, something that the holocaust analogy conceals rather than illuminates.
In saying what I have said, I do not mean to suggest that there is no resemblance between chattel slavery and the holocaust, on the one hand, and the industrial exploitation of nonhuman animals, on the other. Nor do I mean to suggest that the war analogy resembles the industrial exploitation of these animals in every respect. It does not. To cite one obvious difference: in wars, in the usual sense, wars like the War of 1812 and the Second World War, one nation, or a group of nations, tries to defeat another nation, or a group of nations. However, the industries that exploit nonhuman animals are not trying to defeat these animals. It is not as if, in any literal sense, these animals will one day surrender to their human victors. So, yes, the war analogy, like the analogies with chattel slavery and the holocaust, does not “fit” the industrial exploitation of nonhumans in every respect, a finding that suggests, to me at least, that the industrial exploitation of nonhuman animals probably is sui generis — that is to say, unique; one of a kind.
This much acknowledged, the war analogy has additional virtues, first among them being that it casts light on the injustice of how nonhumans are treated by their industrial exploiters. For these animals are not waging war against us. It is preposterous to maintain that sheep and turkeys, chimpanzees and “laboratory” rats pose a threat to our survival. It is no less preposterous, therefore, to attempt to defend our war-like treatment of them on the grounds of their aggression against us, and this for the good and simple reason that they are not aggressing against us in the first place.
THE WAR ANALOGY AND ABOLITIONISM
An additional virtue of the war analogy is that it offers an alternative way to express what people like me believe. In 1985, for example, I declared myself to be an abolitionist, writing:
“I regard myself as an advocate of animal rights — as part of the animal rights movement. That movement, as I conceive it, is committed to a number of goals, including:
- “The total abolition of the use of animals in science
- “The total abolition of commercial animal agriculture
- “The total elimination of commercial and sport hunting and trapping”
I then went on to summarize the kind of thinking that informs my abolitionist aspirations.
“What’s wrong — fundamentally wrong — with the way animals are treated isn’t the details that vary from case to case . . . [The fundamental wrong] is the system that allows us to view animals as our resources, here for us — to be eaten, or surgically manipulated, or exploited for sport or money. Once we accept this view of animals — as our resources — the rest is as predictable as it is regrettable. Why worry about their loneliness, their pain, their death? Since animals exist for us, to benefit us in one way or another, what harms them really doesn’t matter — or matters only if it starts to bother us, makes us feel a trifle uneasy when we eat our veal escalop, for example. So, yes, let us get veal calves out of solitary confinement, give them more space, a little straw, a few companions. But let us keep our veal escallop. But a little straw, more space, a few companions won’t eliminate — won’t even touch — the basic wrong that attaches to our viewing and treating these animals as our resources. A veal calf raised to be eaten after living in close confinement is viewed and treated in this way; but so, too, is another who is raised (as they say) ‘more humanely’. To right the wrong of our treatment of farmed animals requires more than making rearing methods ‘more humane’; it requires the total dissolution of commercial animal agriculture.”
What I sought, back then, and what I continue to seek, to this very day, is (in a few words) “not larger cages, but empty cages” — a complete end to human exploitation of other animals. Or (feeding off the war analogy) what abolitionists who agree with me seek is an end to the undeclared war the exploitation industries are waging against other animals. Whatever people might think about wars waged between nations, abolitionists who agree with me are peacemakers when it comes to the undeclared war to which I have been referring; we categorically oppose this war and will not be satisfied unless or until it ends.
THE WAR ANALOGY AND HUMANE TREATMENT
The war analogy also offers a different way to address a vexing, divisive issue. I mean whether, as ARAs, we should involve ourselves in campaigns that seek to improve the welfare of exploited animals — campaigns that call for the repeal of the gestation crate, or others that seek environmentally enriched alternatives to battery cages, for example. For consider: nations waging war against each other often recognize restrictions on what can and cannot be done, both to enemy combatants and noncombatants. The Geneva Conventions, for example (I am quoting from Wikipedia), “are essentially a series of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ to protect vulnerable and defenseless individuals.” In general, the Conventions require that “everything possible must be done, without any kind of discrimination, to reduce the suffering of people who have been put out of action by sickness, wounds, or captivity, whether or not they have taken direct part in the conflict.”
Specific ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ include:
- prisoners must be “treated humanely”
- they must be “supplied with adequate food”
- they must be “given the medical care their state of health demands”
- special circumstances aside, they “must not be held in close confinement”
If animals are prisoners of the undeclared war being waged against them, can we reasonably apply this way of thinking to what animals suffer at the hands of the major abusing industries? Aren’t these animals entitled to humane treatment, adequate food, appropriate medical care, and enough space to move around? Indeed, isn’t this what United States’ federal legislation, embodied in the Animal Welfare Act, as amended, expressly requires, if not in all cases (there are no “special circumstances” when it comes to close confinement of chickens, for example), at least in some, a tacit acceptance on behalf of American lawmakers that, yes, nonhuman animals are prisoners of the undeclared war being waged against them?
Suppose this is true. Then, as ARAs, shouldn’t we involve ourselves in campaigns that seek to “reduce the suffering” inflicted on the prisoners by improving the day-to-day quality of their lives, their welfare, in captivity?
Before answering, consider two situations, one involving human prisoners of war, the second involving nonhumans. In the first, the prisoners live in truly horrid, unsanitary conditions. The Confederate prison in Andersonville, Georgia, during the American Civil War, is a painful real-world example. Imagine that we are pacifists, opposed to all wars. Would it be inconsistent with our pacifist beliefs if we sought improvements in the living conditions of the prisoners, improvements like those called for by the Geneva Conventions? Granted, these improvements will not end a particular war (the American Civil War, for example), let alone all wars. But that is not what the improvements seek to accomplish, their objective being to “reduce the suffering” inflicted on human prisoners of war. Myself, I cannot see how working to reduce the suffering these prisoners endure would be inconsistent with a pacifist’s objections to all wars.
Next, consider the conditions in which hogs and laying hens, for example, are imprisoned. We are abolitionists, opposed to all forms of human exploitation of nonhuman animals. Would it be inconsistent with our abolitionist beliefs if, as ARAs, we supported campaigns that call for improvements in the living conditions of hogs and laying hens, improvements like those called for by the Geneva Conventions? Granted, these improvements will not end a particular war (the war being waged by the hog industry, for example) let alone all animal exploitation. But that is not what the improvements seek to accomplish, their objective being to “reduce the suffering” inflicted on nonhuman prisoners of war. Shouldn’t we, as ARAs, do what we can to realize this objective, just as pacifists should do what they can to realize the objective of reducing the suffering of human prisoners of war?
This way of thinking, which I believe many animal advocates embrace, overlooks important differences in the socially recognized status of human and nonhuman prisoners. In the case of human prisoners, the Geneva Conventions require that “[t]he human dignity of all individuals must be respected at all times.” It is against this backdrop of “human dignity” that the Conventions declare that “[e]very thing possible must be done, without any kind of discrimination, to reduce the suffering of people who have been put out of action by sickness, wounds, or captivity, whether or not they have taken part in the conflict.” And it is against this same backdrop, “human dignity,” that the Conventions require “repatriation of certified seriously ill or wounded prisoners and quick release and repatriation when hostilities cease.” In other words, human prisoners, because of their socially recognized “dignity,” are to regain their freedom after war’s end; they are to return to their socially recognized status as free beings, as befits their dignity.
The situation is importantly different for nonhuman prisoners. In their case, their socially recognized dignity is not something that must be respected. Why not? Because they do not have a socially recognized dignity remotely comparable to that attributed to human prisoners. Which is why, in their case, the undeclared war against them continues, and why it will never end unless or until a critical mass of people find in animals a dignity morally comparable to the dignity we find in humans. That, in sum, is the fundamental challenge ARAs face, if we are to end the war. We must create this critical mass. Otherwise, the war will continue.
So, we return to the second of the two cases sketched earlier, the one that asks whether, as ARAs, we should support campaigns that seek to improve the living conditions, the welfare, of hogs and laying hens, for example. Granted, these improvements will not end a particular war (the war being waged by the hog industry, for example), let alone all wars being waged against other animals. But (as was noted earlier) that is not what the improvements seek to accomplish, their objective being to “reduce the suffering” inflicted on nonhuman prisoners of war. So, we ask, again: isn’t this what ARAs should be doing?
We now see, I hope, why this question gives rise to another, more basic question. For we need to ask whether working to reduce suffering advances or retards the challenge to create a critical mass of people who find in animals a dignity morally comparable to the dignity we find in humans.
CAMPAIGNS ARAs SHOULD NOT SUPPORT — AND WHY
By my lights, campaigns that attempt to reduce suffering or, alternatively, those that seek to improve animal welfare, retard these efforts; they do not advance them. Why? I’ll offer three different but related reasons for thinking this way.
First, these campaigns, even when they are successful, systematically fail to address the fundamental reason that explains why humans are waging an undeclared war against other animals in the first place. I mean the socially entrenched view that other animals are our resources, that their reason for existing is to benefit human beings. No amount of improvement in animal welfare addresses, let alone challenges, this all-too-widely-shared belief regarding the moral status of nonhuman animals. Let me repeat what I have just written, because it is so important: no amount of improvement in animal welfare addresses, let alone challenges, this all-too-widely-shared belief. Why, then, should ARAs support campaigns that systematically fail to address the underlying cause of animal exploitation, campaigns that, even when they are successful, fail to challenge this same cause?
To my mind, the questions answer themselves. The unjust exploitation of nonhuman animals will not and cannot end so long as they are viewed and treated as our resources, which is how they will be viewed and treated if the exploitation is reformed to promote their welfare. No, we won’t end a war by improving the living conditions of its prisoners. “No,” as I have written on another occasion, “to reform injustice is to prolong injustice.”
Second, as was noted earlier, an important element of the Geneva Conventions requires “repatriation of certified seriously ill or wounded prisoners and quick release and repatriation when hostilities cease.” Notice that no amount of improvements in the welfare of human prisoners of war will go any way towards their repatriation — their returning to their normal existence, as free beings, as befits their dignity. In other words, the demand that prisoners be repatriated, on the one hand, and the call to “reduce their suffering,” on the other, are separate requirements. Well, the same is true in the case of nonhuman prisoners of war. What abolitionists who agree with me want is their repatriation, an objective that no amount of improvements in their welfare addresses, let alone advances. Why, then, as abolitionists, work for improvements in their welfare when it’s their repatriation that we want? As before, I believe this question answers itself.
Third, suppose true humane reforms are implemented throughout, say, animal agriculture. What would be the result?
Well, arguably, things would have changed quite a lot. In place of the factory farms that scar the rural countryside today, we can imagine a plethora of farms modeled after Old McDonald’s. In this gentle new world, it is true, there are vastly fewer farmed animals than there are today, but the quality of their lives is vastly better, too. Who can be dissatisfied with so idyllic a world?
Animal Rights Advocates, for one. Thousands of Old McDonald’s farms inhabited by millions of happy animals is not the end we seek. The end we seek is the end of raising animals for their flesh and other products — a vegan world. Why, then, should ARAs work for the sorts of reforms called for by reformers?
Considered superficially, the answer seems obvious. Since the animals are much better off because of the reforms, and since ARAs genuinely care about how animals are treated, surely ARAs should support and help implement the reforms.
Things are not this simple. From an ARA’s perspective, animal agriculture violates the rights of farmed animals; it treats them as our resources — indeed, as renewable resources. This unjust practice cannot be brought to an end by continuing to treat farmed animals in this way, which is how they will be treated if the system of their exploitation has been reformed in the ways we have imagined. No, to reform injustice is to prolong injustice.
Proponents of working for improvements in animal welfare might reply by saying that, over time, as first one, then another reform is implemented, the quality of farmed animal lives is improved and people will begin to change how they think about the meat on their plates. Once the general public understands that animals have interests, and once they have supported the call to have their interests counted fairly, people will move away from their meat-eating ways. On this view, a day will dawn when, because of the reforms made, as well as the general public’s support of making them, we all awake to a vegan world.
This is a lovely story, but hardly credible. Why would human beings forego a leg of lamb or a brisket of beef if all the relevant reforms have been implemented? After all, with the reforms in place, farmed animals could not have a better quality of life than the one they enjoy.
Moreover (and this is hardly unimportant), surely the general public, accustomed to and supportive of the reforms, will want to help make this same happy life available to the next generation of cows and pigs, chickens and ducks. And the next generation after that one. And the next. And so on indefinitely into the future, a demand that, in the nature of the case, can only be met if the members of one generation are slaughtered “humanely,” to be replaced by another of their kind, and so on into that same indefinite future.
Truth be told — by my lights, in any event — it is wishful thinking to believe that the successful implementation of reforms will give birth to a vegan world. It is far more likely that great numbers of people will continue to eat animal flesh, only now with a clear conscience, a gift (paradoxically) given to them by the well-intentioned reformers.
So let us ask again: should ARAs work for reforms in the name of “reducing suffering,” assuming that, wishful thinking aside, the world thereby created is not the world ARAs want to create? To which question I answer: why work to bring a world into existence that we don’t want? Why, indeed?
LEARN, BABY, LEARN!
What, then, are ARAs to do? This is a question I have explored many times in the past. To cite just one example: in 1988 I was invited to give a speech by ARAs from the Los Angeles’ area. You can find the text by clicking here. Nearing the end of my talk, I said the following:
Terrorists … terrorists … terrorists …
That’s the new buzz word the medical-industrial complex uses to describe animal rights advocates. We’re no longer little old ladies in tennis shoes. Today we’re young thugs in face masks, armed with torches and cans of spray paint, out for a Clockwork Orange evening of fun and games. You’ve got to hand it to the vivisection industry’s PR people; they certainly know how to work an image to their advantage. The problem is, the image doesn’t correspond to reality. The basic philosophy of the animal rights movement is Learn Baby, Learn! not Burn, Baby, Burn! Learn the truth about how your tax dollars are spent, learn the truth about the callousness and lack of compassion that characterize so much of the medical industrial complex. Learn the truth about how ignorance and greed find a happy home in the medical community, learn the truth about how animals are being treated and what they are doing there to begin with, and why the public health is not being served by this science of death. Learn, Baby, Learn! Not Burn, Baby, Burn!
I stand by these words just as much today as I did back then, in 1988. People are not going to join us if they don’t know what’s happening and to whom. Nothing is more important for every ARA than our role as educators.
But this role involves much more than opening other people’s eyes to what is happening and to whom. Why? Because we know that things will not change in any fundamental way unless or until people (and I don’t mean a few; I mean many) — unless or until a critical mass of people change how they perceive other animals. I discuss this idea — the idea of a change of perception — in some of my writings. When I do, I use this familiar example of how the same thing can be perceived differently by different people.
Some people initially see a vase.
Others initially see two faces.
The same object, seen differently.
Well, when it comes to other animals: with some notable exceptions (well-treated companion animals, for example), most people see them as our resources, existing for us, to be used by us, as food or clothing, for example. For most people, the reason-for-being of these animals is to satisfy human desires.
This (of course) is not how we see them.
- We see them as our biological and psychological kin.
- We understand that what happens to them matters to them, because what happens to them makes a difference to the quality and duration of their lives, quite apart from the desires of human beings.
- They are somebodies, not somethings. The subjects of a life, not a life without a subject.
- In these respects, we see these animal beings as the same us.
- We see them as our equals.
And so it is (I believe) that all ARAs share a common moral outlook: we should not do to other animals what we would not have done to us. Not eat them. Not wear them. Not experiment on them. Not train them to jump through hoops.
How can we help other people have a change of perception? How can we help them see these animals as we do?
No one knows the full answer. If Solomon had been an ARA, he would not have known the full answer. So I hope you will not misunderstand me when I offer a few thoughts by way of my answer.
I say “my answer,” but, in fact, I am borrowing. For what I have to say is a weak echo of what Gandhi would have said, if he was writing these words.
When he says “we must be the change we want to see in the world,” he has in mind the creation of a new human being.
- Not the mindless consumer who makes the economy go round.
- Not the selfish grabber who is morally disengaged from the world.
No, he has in mind the creation of people who embody the change we want to see in the world — what I have called, in some of my past work, The Thee Generation. And to do that — for people to embody this change — they must (among other things) experience a change of perception when it comes to other animals.
So (again) how can we help people have a change of perception — come to see other animals as we do?
From my reading of Gandhi, I have come away with five principles:
1. Practice humility
The last thing other animals need is another reason not to be respected. So the first thing we need to insure is that we do not provide that reason — something we do provide if we come across as thinking of ourselves as so much better than, so superior, to the meat-eaters or the fur-coat wearers of the world, for example. Who wants to be around arrogant, self-righteous people? Who is going to listen to what they have to say? I don’t know about you, but when I’m in the company of such people, I’m looking for the exits. Non-ARAs can be counted on to behave the same way if we present ourselves as holier-than-thou. We don’t help other animals by turning-off other human beings.
2. Believe in the potential of others
In particular, believe in their capacity to change — and believe in their capacity for goodness. Think of things this way: we are trying to help people have a change of perception. Here is a person who does not know what is happening on factory farms or on puppy mills. Here is another person who knows, but doesn’t care. And here is yet another person who knows and cares, but not enough to do anything about it. Unless you’re very unusual, these people used to be you.
I know they used to be me.
For me, looking at these people is like looking in a mirror — a mirror that reflects the past. My past. And, if you’re like me, your past.
If we can have a change of perception (as we have), then there is no reason why the same thing cannot happen to other people. We need to believe in the possibility of change in their lives before we can help facilitate this change.
3. Accentuate the positive
The idea of animal rights does not live in a moral vacuum. Those of us who believe in the rights of animals are for life’s great values, not merely against animal abuse.
We stand shoulder to shoulder with those who are for peace and tolerance, for compassion and mercy, for personal integrity and social justice, for human freedom and equality, for the preservation of the environment and the advancement of science, for special concern for those with special needs.
We are for, for, for, not only against, against, against.
So (as I mentioned earlier) because the general public has a negative view of ARAs as a result of how the media portrays us — this means . . . what?
It means that our job as educators takes on added importance. We are so many Davids. The media (fueled by advertising dollars from the animal abusing industries) are so many Goliaths.
Well, we all know how that story ended.
And, yes, we all should take inspiration from the outcome.
4. Take the path of least resistance
We cannot make people have a change of perception. All we can do is try to help this happen. The more we force the issue, without preparing the ground (so to speak), the less likely we are to succeed. So prudence counsels taking people where they are.
- They care about their health or the health of their families.
- They care about scientific misconduct or the ill-effects of prescription medicines.
- They care about environmental degradation or the extinction of species.
Fine. Fine. They care about something.
And whatever they care about in the list I’ve given (and I could write a much longer list, and so could any other ARA), there is a way to bring nonhuman animals into the conversation. We need to help these people see the connections. Help them see why what they care about intersects with what we, as ARAs, care about — and, indeed, with what these animals themselves care about. Helping them see the connections will not convert them to animal rights advocacy on the spot, but it can provide them with an opportunity to move forward.
5. Stay on message
As ARAs, we believe that other animals should not be turned into food, turned into clothes, turned into competitors, turned into performers, turned into tools. We are categorically opposed to all practices and institutions that treat other animals in these ways. This is not something we should be hesitant to say. We owe it to others to be open about our deepest convictions. We owe others our honesty. We should not expect, of course, that vast numbers of people will agree with us just because we’re honest about what we believe. But neither should we conceal our deepest convictions because this is not going to happen.
Being the change we want to see in the world.
So, what is involved in being the change we want to see in the world? This is a very big question to which I have given a very small answer. At a minimum, though, we embody that change if:
- we practice humility;
- believe in the possibility of change in others;
- accentuate the positive;
- take the path of least resistance;
- and stay on message.
Our failing to do this represents our failure to help people have a change of perception and, by doing so, guarantees that the undeclared war being waged against other animals will go on. And on. And on. And on without end.
By way of conclusion, then: we have another analogy to explore, the war analogy, an analogy that perhaps helps us better understand both (a) what our brothers and sisters in fur, and feather, and fin are being made to endure and (b) what we should and should not be doing, as ARAs, on their behalf. As I noted earlier, I do not believe the war analogy, as is also true of the slavery analogy and the holocaust analogy, “fits” perfectly. My much more limited claim is that it casts needed light on both (a) and (b). And that, if true, would possibly be helpful to understand.
You’ll find me addressing the “undeclared war being waged against other animals” at the Royal Institute of Great Britain, in 1989.
Part of the above text is included in The ARZone Interview.
The 1985 essay from which I quote “The Case for Animal Rights” is in The Struggle for Animal Rights, Clarks Summit, PA: International Society for Animal Rights, pp. 46-48.
For the conditions at the prison in Andersonville, Wikipedia is a good place to turn.
For further reflections on The Thee Generation, see my book of the same title. Temple University Press, 1991.
I want to thank Steve Best for helping me better understand the ideas explored above, and Bruce Friedrich, Andy Page, and Samantha Hagio for helping me find examples of explicit declarations of war on certain animals — not meaning to suggest that any or all of these folks would agree with what I have argued on this occasion.