Described by Jeffrey Masson as “the single best introduction to animal rights ever written,” this new book by Tom Regan will structure the animal rights debate for generations to come. In a style at once simple and elegant, Regan dispels the negative image of animal rights advocates perpetrated by the mass media, unmasks the fraudulent rhetoric of “humane treatment” favored by animal exploiters, and explains why existing laws function to legitimize institutional cruelty.
Written by the leading philosophical spokesperson for animal rights, Tom Regan’s shocking exposé of animal abuse makes an essential and lasting contribution that will significantly impact the history of animal rights advocacy in America.
Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights is a non-threatening, courteous but uncompromising book that explains animal rights to ordinary Americans and invites them to join in the struggle for animal liberation.
Tom Regan’s journey from butcher to animal rights advocate is a common thread used throughout the larger narrative. For example, it helps explain who animal rights activists (ARAs) are (we’re not a motley crew of misanthropic social misfits hell bent on terrorizing the local furrier), how different people become ARAs (there’s no one-size-fits-all answer), what we believe, why we believe it, and how (when given the opportunity) we can defend our convictions against the most challenging objections.
The role the media plays in misinforming the public about ARAs is explained as is the power exercised by the major animal user industries. Roughly speaking, the public has a negative image of ARAs because this is the picture presented by the media, and the media presents this picture because this is the one that serves the interests of the major animal user industries — who just happen to pay a lot of advertising dollars, for example.
Empty Cages unmasks the rhetoric of these industries and shows why what their spokespersons say about their treatment of animals (these industries treat animals “humanely”) is not sometimes false. It is always false. The book helps readers understand why these spokespersons should never be trusted.
Empty Cages takes the reader inside fur mills, the leather industry, factory farms, and the slaughterhouse, among other places. What we find is not pretty. What we find is truth. And the truth is anything but “humane.” The public will never demand change in how animals are treated if they do not know how animals are treated. Empty Cages provides readers with the necessary knowledge, far surpassing any other book on the market in the depth and breadth of its coverage.
The animal rights movement is not going anywhere (except backwards) if too few people want to make its goals a reality. Among the major impediments to real progress is the behavior of ARAs. Paradoxically, we can be the animals’ worst enemy. Sometimes we are self-righteous. At other times we get so caught-up in staging outrageous or tasteless media opportunities that we give animal rights a bad name. These and other “turn-offs” (including vandalism and other forms of violence) are explored. Readers are encouraged not to generalize on the basis of the behavior of a few. Not all ARAs engage in violence, for example, just because a small handful do.
Empty Cages is written in a relaxed, conversational style. Although the topic is serious, humor finds a place. Above all, it tells a story filled with faith and hope: faith in the goodness of humanity, hope for a better future for the animals.
Empty Cages is, in my estimation, the single best introduction to the topic of animal rights ever written. Nobody has done more to articulate what “animal rights” means and should mean than Tom Regan. Universally recognized for decades as the leading philosophical spokesperson of the animal rights movement, Tom Regan’s views have always been radical, in the original sense of that word, going to the root. This is what enables him to condemn, on purely moral grounds, any animal experimentation, whatever the perceived benefit to humans, a position I wholeheartedly endorse, and which I first heard expressed most eloquently by Tom Regan.
Tom Regan’s philosophy about animals is original to its core. It is not dependent on any prior system. It is not tied to the doctrines of utilitarianism or any other traditional point of view. It is the product of a unique combination of head and heart. This is what makes Tom so beloved of people who care about animals, and what makes this particular book so refreshing. Its pages overflow with profound ideas, clearly and simply stated. Though written by a philosopher, you do not need a degree in philosophy to understand and appreciate this powerful book.
Tom updates what is perhaps the most famous (and justly so) saying of the animal rights movement, proposed long ago by Jeremy Bentham: “The question is not ‘Can they reason?’ nor, ‘Can they talk?’ but, ‘Can they suffer?’” He adds something equally important, but not recognized until he formulated it.
The question is not only can animals suffer, but are they the subjects-of-a-life? This is one of those phrases that resonates long after you read it. It begins to sink in, and you realize that you have been exposed to a whole new idea, one of those potentially life-altering insights. Animals have a past, a story, a biography. They have histories. Mink and bears, elephants and dolphins, pigs and chickens, cats and dogs: each is a unique somebody, not a disposable something.
Think of the many implications: animals have mothers and fathers, often siblings, friendships, a childhood, youth, maturity. They go through life cycles much the way humans do (the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, earned his reputation by describing these phases in the lives of humans, but they are just as important in the lives of animals). Moreover, as Tom has said, and this is another of those illuminating phrases that will not leave you alone (gnawing, for example, at your conscience), their lives can go better or worse for them, whether or not anyone else cares about this.
Opponents of Tom often say we cannot possibly know what makes an animal happy. Nonsense. Nothing could be easier. A cow wants to live, to feed her young, to be outdoors in a natural world full of wind and sunshine and other natural things. A cow is happy when a cow does what cows have evolved to do: have friends and family and a life. Not a death. This is what a cow wants to do; this is what makes a cow happy. When you think of what is the worst thing that can happen in the life of any animal, you understand that it is an untimely death, and so Tom’s philosophy tells us that we must do everything in our power to see to it that no animal dies when death is not natural, necessary or required on grounds of mercy.
Untangle all the complex strands of Tom’s simple statement, and you realize that you are taking an intellectual voyage that will bring you to places you may never have thought of visiting. You will be faced with implications you may never have considered, as happened to me just after reading Tom’s book. After much research, my family found the Volvo Cross-Country station wagon to be the best car built in terms of child safety (and we have two small children). It only came in leather where I live (New Zealand). How seriously could I be taking Tom Regan’s insights if I could support the killing of a dozen cows for my car? No way. That was out of the question for me.
Or think about eggs: how are the chickens who produce eggs treated? How much credence could I give to the statements of those who profited from selling the eggs? And whose eggs were they anyway? If I took Tom’s ideas seriously, if I purchased eggs, was I not supporting practices that routinely killed animals because they were not laying eggs fast enough? Eggs I didn’t need in the first place? How can one justify terrorizing and killing innocent animals? If hens are subjects-of-a-life, was my decision showing respect for them? If their life goes well or poorly, was my decision helping or hindering their well being? So much for eggs.
I am not sure, but I believe it was Tom who first made me aware that taking the life of an animal, any animal, was an important matter, a momentous moment, not to be taken lightly. We could not hide behind words, or try to conceal what we were doing by talking about it in imprecise or obscure terms. Today, even as I write these words, Americans are engaged in doing precisely that, killing people while they talk about shock and awe and ordinances. In this book, Tom explains that we must use words that everybody understands in ways that they have always been used and understood. He will not allow the kind of obfuscation I have just indicated, especially when practiced by animal abusers who hide behind the rhetoric of “humane treatment” and “responsible care.” Tom is constantly recalling us to our own best instincts.
I am convinced that animals, all animals, feel love, much the same way that humans do. Tom, I know, agrees with me. And here is his book, written with love, asking us to do only one thing, but it is radical, to live in ways that show for respect animals even as we strive to live in ways that show respect for one another. Read this book and see if you don’t come away convinced that this is the single best hope for our planet at this dangerous time in its existence.
A few years ago, the Home Box Office (HBO) network aired a program entitled “To Love or Kill: Man vs. Animals.” It told a fascinating and, at the same time, a disturbing story about how different cultures treat the same animals differently. One especially chilling segment took viewers out to dinner in a small Chinese village. You know how, in some American restaurants, patrons get to choose from among live lobsters or live fish?
And how, after they make their selection, the animal is killed, and the chef cooks a meal of their choice? At this Chinese restaurant, things are the same except the menu is different. At this restaurant, patrons get to select from among live cats and dogs.
The video takes its time. First we see the hungry patrons inspect the cats and dogs, jammed cheek by jowl into wooden cages; next we see them talk it over; then we see them make their selection; finally we see the cook, using long metal tongs, yank a white fluffy cat from her cage and hurry into the kitchen. What follows does not make for pleasant reading, so feel free to skip the next paragraph.
While the cat claws and screeches, the cook hits her several times with an iron bar. Clawing and screeching more now, she is abruptly submerged in a tub of scalding water for about ten seconds. Once removed, and while still alive, the cook skins her, from head to tail, in one swift pull. He then throws the traumatized animal into a large stone vat where (as the camera zooms in) we watch her gulp slowly, with increasing difficulty, her eyes glazed, until — her last breath taken — she drowns. The whole episode, from selection to final breath, takes several minutes. When the meal is served, the diners eat heartily, offering thanks and praise to the cook.
I have never been more stunned in my life. I was literally speechless. Like most Americans, I already knew that some people in China, Korea, and other countries eat cat and eat dog. The video didn’t teach me any new fact about dietary customs. What was new for me, what pushed me back in my chair, was seeing how this is done, seeing the process. Watching the awful shock and suffering of the cat was devastating. I felt a mix of disbelief and anger welling-up in my chest. I wanted to scream, “Stop it! What are you doing? Stop it!”
But what made matters worse, at least for me, was how the people behaved. For them, everything was just so ordinary, just so ho-hum, just so matter-of-fact. The diners said, “We’ll have this cat for our dinner” the way we say, “We’ll have this roll with our coffee.” And the cook? The cook could not have cared less about the cat’s ordeal. The poor animal might just as well have been a block of wood as far as he was concerned. I have never seen people behave so nonchalantly, so comfortably, so indifferently in the face of an animal’s suffering and death. I don’t think many Americans could watch this episode and not ask themselves, as I asked myself, “What is this world coming to?”
In the years since I first saw “To Love or Kill,” I have imagined different variations of the episode I have just described. First variation: Everything is the same as in the original video except the dogs and cats are housed in large cages rather than jammed together. I ask myself, “Would making their cages larger make a difference in my thinking? Would I say, ‘Well, since the cat lived in a larger cage, I no longer object to what happened to her?” My answer is always the same. I would still object to what happened to her.
Second variation: In addition to living in a larger cage, the cook handles the cat gently and ends her life by giving her a shot of sodium pentobarbital, from which, to all appearances, she dies peacefully. Aside from these changes, everything else in the video remains the same. I ask myself the same kinds of question. “Would these changes make a difference in my thinking? Would I say, ‘Well, since the cat lived in a larger cage, was treated gently, and died peacefully, I no longer object to what happened to her?” My answer is always the same. I would still object to what happened to her.
Does this mean that I think these imaginary variations are just as bad as the original? No. Larger cages are better than smaller cages. Gentle treatment is better than violent treatment. Nevertheless, when that fluffy white cat is killed and skinned for dinner, even if she had lived in a larger cage and was killed without undue suffering, I would still want to shout (or at least plead), “Stop it! What are you doing? Stop it!” I cannot help thinking that the vast majority of people throughout the world, including many Chinese and Koreans, would agree with me.
Animal Rights Advocates
For reasons I explain in Part I, people like me, people who believe in animal rights, feel the same way about eagles and elephants, pigs and porpoises as most people feel about cats and dogs. Don’t get me wrong. Animal Rights Advocates (ARAs) don’t want pigs sleeping in our beds or elephants riding in our cars. We don’t want to make “pets” of these animals. What we want is something simpler: we just want people to stop doing terrible things to them.
Why do ARAs think this way? What explains our beliefs and values? There is no one-size-fits-all answer. ARAs take different paths to reach the same destination. It is important for people who are not ARAs to know something about those of us who are; it increases the chance of polite discussion. Which is why I will be saying something about my journey, along with the journeys of others.
My path has this odd twist to it. Part of the reason I became an ARA is because I studied philosophy. My teachers taught me to prize clear, rigorous, logical, fair thinking when I found it in others, and challenged me (my, how they challenged me!) to bring my own thinking up to these lofty standards. In quiet homage to them, this is what I have tried to do in my philosophical writing for the past thirty years and more.
I know there is a stereotype of ARAs out there that pictures all of us as emotionally unbalanced bunny-huggers who wouldn’t recognize a logical argument if one fell on us. I will address the origin of this and other ARA-myths in Chapter One. Here it is enough to express my hope that reading about my journey will go some way towards taking the air out of this particular stereotype. There is a rigorous, logical philosophy that supports what ARAs believe, one that treats fairly those with whom we disagree. In Part II, I do my best to explain this philosophy, as clearly and as simply as I can.
Explaining this philosophy also provides an opportunity to address another myth about ARAs: that we are misanthropic. We may love animals but by golly we hate human beings. My journey towards animal rights illustrates how far this is from the truth. I would never have become an animal rights advocate if I had not first been a human rights advocate, especially for those humans (the very young and the very old, for example) who lack the understanding or power to assert their rights for themselves. ARAs do not hate humanity. How could we? Any success we might achieve in the days and years ahead requires the cooperation of the other human beings with whom we share this fragile planet. In the struggle for animal rights, all humans are potential allies whose dignity and rights ARAs unreservedly affirm.
Earlier I described two variations on the cat episode. Here is another one. Variation three: What happens is exactly as shown in the original video except in this one I confront the cook and charge him with cruelty. He is shocked that I think so ill of him. He treats his cats and dogs “humanely,” he insists, with “due regard for their welfare.” I say, “You can’t be serious!” He replies, “I am!”
What are we to make of a disagreement like this one? Should we say that the cook treats the white fluffy cat humanely because he says he does? That he acts with due regard for the cat’s welfare because this is what he says? I don’t think so. Humaneness is not in the eye of the beholder. The cook acts inhumanely. This is an objective fact in the world, not a subjective projection onto it.
To make my point clearer, consider this scenario. Variation four: Everything is the same as in the original video except it is your cat that the cook takes to the kitchen. Not for a moment would you say, “Yes, the cook certainly treated my cat humanely; after all, this is what he said he did.” Not for a moment would you even dream of saying such a thing! Well, inhumane treatment does not become humane treatment just because some other cat is on the receiving end. If the cook says he treats cats humanely, we are certainly right to say, “No, you do not.”
The reason I have included this fourth variation has little to do with what a cook in China might say and much to do with the actual words spoken by representatives of the major animal user industries. (We examine their rhetoric in Part III). Like the Chinese cook in the third variation, representatives of the meat industry and greyhound racing, for example, say their industries treat animals humanely; like him, they say they always show due regard for their welfare. However, after we confirm (in Part IV) that these industries treat animals just as badly if not worse than the cat was treated by the Chinese cook, it will be hard to believe them anymore.
Some people, I am sure, will doubt the truth of what I have just said. Surely these industries do not treat animals just as badly (let alone worse) than the Chinese cook. Surely I must be exaggerating. Would that this were true! As we will see, compared to how animals are treated by the major animal user industries in America, and despite industry assurances to the contrary, that fluffy white cat was one of the lucky ones.
My discussion in Part IV is limited for the most part to the American scene. Much as I would have liked to have been able to include discussions of how the major animal user industries operate throughout the world, both the constraints of space and the limits of my knowledge worked against my doing so. In general, however, I do not think that how these industries do business in other countries differs greatly from how they do business in America. Granted, sometimes some animals in some places might be treated better, just as sometimes some animals in some places might be treated worse. As a general rule, however, I do not think there are vast, systemic differences from one nation to the next.
A second limitation should be noted. Humans exploit so many different kinds of animals, in so many different kinds of ways, that it is not possible to cover every form of abuse. Organized dog fighting. The whaling industry. The plight of America’s wild horses. Manatee preservation. The anachronism of “modern” zoos. The barbarities of roadside animal displays. The poaching of African wildlife. Bullfighting. The many torments animals endure in the name of religious practices and festivals. It is not hard to make a long list of omissions.
In lieu of trying to cover many practices superficially, I will be describing a few of them in some depth. Readers looking for more information, both about the issues covered in these pages as well as those that are not, can find this in our Resources section. Other resources on this site include photographs and videos that depict the beauty and dignity, the grace and mystery of other animals. In addition, some of these resources (the hard ones, so to speak) realistically depict the treatment animals receive at the hands of the major animal user industries. Be forewarned (and you will always have the choice to view them or not): these visuals do not try to conceal or minimize the tragic truth.
Billions of animals live lives of abject misery and go to their death in the unfeeling clutches of human cruelty. These are painful truths, but truths they are. One challenge ARAs face is to make the invisible visible; otherwise people will never fully understand the history of the meat on their plate or the wool on their back, for example. In this regard, the “hard” photographs and videos play an essential educational purpose.
A Final Variation
We return to the cat one last time, in the Epilogue, where I describe a fifth and final variation. Prior to this, in Part V, I explore a variety of ways in which people are turned-off by ARAs and try to put these turn-offs in perspective. The Triumph of Animal Rights is bleak if too few people want to make the goals of animal rights a reality. Like other social justice advocates, ARAs make our full share of mistakes. My hope is that people will not let the self-righteousness, tastelessness or violence of a small handful of ARAs prevent them from becoming ARAs themselves.
Who Are You Animal Rights Activists Anyway?
Do animals have rights? Different people give different answers. Sometimes people give different answers because of a disagreement about the facts. For example, some people believe cats and dogs, chickens and hogs do not feel anything; others believe they do.
Sometimes different answers are given because of a disagreement over values. For example, some people believe animals have no value apart from human interests; others believe the opposite. Disagreements of both kinds are important certainly, and both will need to be explored along the way. As important as these kinds of disagreements are, neither touches a third, more basic source of division, this one concerning the idea of animal rights itself.
Some people think this idea is synonymous with being kind to animals. Since we should be kind to animals, the inference is obvious: animals have rights. Or they think animal rights means avoiding cruelty. Since we should not be cruel to animals, the same conclusion follows: animals have rights. Given either of these two ways of understanding animal rights, it is hard to explain why the idea is so controversial, with animal rights advocates on one side, and animal rights opponents on the other.
The heated, often acrimonious controversy that pits advocates against opponents tells us that these familiar ways of thinking (we should be kind to animals; we should not be cruel to them) fail to capture the real meaning of animal rights. Its real meaning, as it turns out, is both simple and profound.
Animal rights is a simple idea because, at the most basic level, it means only that animals have a right to be treated with respect. It is a profound idea because its implications are far reaching. How far reaching? Here are a few examples of how the world will have to change once we learn to treat animals with respect.
1. We will have to stop raising them for their flesh.
2. We will have to stop trapping them for their fur.
3. We will have to stop training them to entertain us.
4. We will have to stop using them in scientific research.
Each example illustrates the same moral logic. When it comes to how humans exploit animals, recognition of their rights requires abolition, not reform. Being kind to animals is not enough. Avoiding cruelty is not enough. Whether we exploit animals to eat, to wear, to entertain us, or to learn, the truth of animal rights requires empty cages, not larger cages.
Untruth in Labeling
Opponents think animal rights is an extreme idea, and it is not unusual for them to pin the label “extremists” on animal rights advocates. It is important to understand how this label is used as a rhetorical tool to prevent informed, fair discussion; otherwise, chances are we won’t have an informed, fair discussion.
“Extremists” and “extremism” are ambiguous words. In one sense, extremists are people who will do anything to further their objectives. The terrorists who destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center were extremists in this sense; they were willing to go to any lengths, even if it meant killing thousands of innocent human beings, to further their ends.
Animal rights advocates (ARAs) are not extremists in this sense. Let me repeat this: ARAs are not extremists in this sense. Even the most militant advocates of animal rights (the members of the Animal Liberation Front, say) believe there are absolute moral limits to what can be done in the name of animal liberation, acts that should never be performed, they are so bad. For example, the ALF opposes hurting let along killing human beings.
In another sense, the word “extremist” refers to the unqualified nature of what people believe. In this sense, ARAs are extremists. Again, let me repeat this: ARAs really are extremists, in this sense. ARAs really do believe that it is always wrong to train wild animals to perform tricks for human amusement, for example. But in this sense, everyone is an extremist. Why? Because there are some things all of us (one hopes) oppose unqualifiedly.
For example, everyone reading these words is an extremist when it comes to rape; we are against rape all the time. Each of us is an extremist when it comes to child abuse; we are against child abuse all the time. Indeed, all of us are extremists when it comes to cruelty to animals; we never favor that.
The plain fact is, extreme views sometimes are correct views. That being so, the fact that ARAs are extremists, in the sense that we have unqualified beliefs about right and wrong, by itself provides no reason for thinking that we must be mistaken. So the question to be examined is not, “Are ARAs extremists?” It is, “Are we right?” As we shall see, this question is hardly ever fairly asked let alone fairly answered. Collusion between the media and powerful special interests sees to that.
One barrier to fair discussion of animal right is the media. As so often happens today, our perception of the “real world” is based on what we see on television or read in the newspaper. This should raise a red flag immediately. Think about it. The media loves a plane crash. Safe landings? Not newsworthy. As the first axiom of news reporting states: ”If it bleeds, it leads.” The second? “Good news is no news.” So if something happens and it doesn’t bleed or isn’t bad? Well, it’s probably not worth reporting, at least not in depth. Any doubts about this, just watch the news tonight or read the paper tomorrow.
Because the media looks for what is sensational, there is a strong tendency for them to cover animal rights only when something unlawful or outlandish occurs. Members of the Animal Liberation Front firebomb a lab. An anti-fur activist throws a pie in Calvin Klein’s face. These are the sorts of stories judged to be newsworthy. As for the peaceful protest that took place outside a fur store yesterday, or the lecture on animal rights given at the law school last night? Forget about it. Non-sensational news is not news; it doesn’t “bleed” enough for the media’s tastes. No wonder the general public views ARAs as a band of merry pranksters and social misfits. With rare exceptions, this is the only message that works its way through the media’s filters.
Special Interest Politics
That the general public tends to have a negative picture of ARAs is not the result only of the media’s appetite for the sensational; it is also due to what the media is fed by the public relations arms of major animal user industries. By “major animal user industries” I mean the meat industry, the fur industry, the animal entertainment industry, and the biomedical research industry, for example. The people who work in these industries speak with one voice, tell the same story, even use the same words to denigrate their common enemy: animal rights extremists.
The origin of the most recent chapter in this story is not hard to find. It begins in 1989, with the publication of the American Medical Association’s white paper, “Use of Animals in Biomedical Research: The Challenge and the Response.” Among the AMA’s recommendations: People who believe in animal rights “must be shown to be not only anti-science but also (a) responsible for violent and illegal acts that endanger life and property, and (b) a threat to the public’s freedom of choice.” ARAs must be seen as people who are “radicals,” “militants,” and “terrorists,” who are “opposed to human well being.” By contrast, sane, sensible, decent people must be shown to favor animal welfare, understood as humane, responsible use of animals by humans, for humans.
The AMA’s strategy was both simple and inspired. If the public’s perception of using animals in research could be structured as a contest between no nothing animal rights extremists who hate humans and have an insatiable appetite for terrorism, on the one hand, and wise scientific animal welfare moderates, true friends of humanity, on the other, ARAs would be repudiated and the ideology of humane, responsible use would prevail.
Since 1989, a steady stream of press releases, memos, email messages, press conferences, and web site miscellany, denouncing ARA extremists and lauding reasonable animal welfarists, has flowed from the AMA’s and other biomedical research industry’s public relations offices straight into the hands of reporters, news directors, and editors. How does this work? Here is one example.
The Foundation for Biomedical Research describes itself as “the nation’s oldest and largest organization dedicated to improving human and animal health by promoting public understanding and support for the humane and responsible use of animals in medical and scientific research.” FBR’s web site includes a page entitled “Journalist Resources,” featuring three links. One is “Expert Opinion,” which is described in this way. “FBR works to bring scientists and journalists together to inspire exceptional, outstanding and ongoing news coverage that contributes to public understanding and appreciation for the humane and responsible use of animals in medical and scientific research. When you need to quote an expert from the American research community, contact us first.”
“To inspire exceptional, outstanding . . . coverage.” That’s positive and appealing. Who could be against that?
A second link is “FBR News Tips,” described as “a monthly tip sheet for journalists that promotes story ideas that will strengthen public understanding and respect for the humane and responsible use of animals in medical research. It provides a summary of the latest medical discoveries, as well as reliable contact information. In every case, the research described demonstrates the essential need for lab animals in medical research.”
“Humane and responsible use of animals in medical research,” which is “essential.” Hard to be against that, either.
And the third link? This one is “Animal activism,” where FBR presents (quoting) “a record of all known criminal activities committed in the name of ‘animal rights’ since 1981.”
Let’s see, now. “Animal activism” equals “criminal activities committed in the name of ‘animal rights’,” which equals “illegal and violent acts.” If that’s what ‘animal rights’ involves, who (except those who support criminal, illegal and violent acts) could possibly be for it?
There we have the basic story: Animal welfare moderates versus animal rights extremists. Wise scientists who treat animals humanely versus no nothing, emotionally overloaded ARAs bent on destruction. This is the message special interest groups like FBR spoon-feed the media. Does it work? Does the media slant its coverage because of efforts like FBR’s? Before we answer, let’s do some imagining. Here we have Clark Kent, reporter for the Daily Planet. His beat includes biomedical research. On a monthly basis, he receives FBR’s tip sheets. On a daily basis, he receives the latest installment of authoritative quotes from “experts” who support research using animals. And on a timely basis, he receives an up-to-date inventory of “criminal activities committed in the name of ‘animal rights’.”
So let us ask ourselves: what are the odds of Clark’s giving an impartial, fair story about the “latest medical break-through using animals”? Might the odds be just a tiny bit skewed in one direction rather than another? Should we mention that among the Daily Planet’s biggest advertisers are major animal user industries, including economically powerful interests (major pharmaceutical companies, for example) represented by FBR? Or that Clark’s 401(K) is heavily invested in these same industries, as are those of the Daily Planet’s publisher and editorial staff? Can we really think, when we think about it objectively, that the odds of an impartial, fair story about the “latest medical breakthrough using animals” are even-steven?
There may be some people who will answer yes, but my experience tells me they would be in the minority. Most people, once they understand how the cards are stacked, understand why the news is dealt the way it is. Remember the old adage: “Those who pay the piper call the tune?” Its truth did not pass away when paid pipers became an extinct species. The plain fact is, many people have a negative image of animal rights because the media relentlessly presents ARAs in a negative light.
And the media relentlessly presents ARAs in a negative light because the media is relentlessly fed a negative image by the financially powerful and influential spokespersons for the major animal user industries. It’s not all that surprising, once we stop to think about it.
With so prestigious a group as the AMA having raised the sails, it did not take long for other major animal user industries to come on board. The meat industry. The animal entertainment industry. Sport hunters and rodeo enthusiasts. The story is everywhere the same. Animal welfare moderates versus animal rights extremists. Law-abiding citizens versus law-breaking terrorists. By way of example, consider the following discussion of animal welfare and animal rights from the Fur Information Council of America. First, we have a description of the sane, sensible position of those who favor animal welfare.
Animals enrich our lives in many ways. They provide food, clothing and companionship. Animals used for medical research have given us important advances in medicine that have saved millions of lives. Most people today recognize that the use of animals under humane circumstances is important.
Animal welfare organizations also support the wise use of animals under humane conditions. The animal welfare ethic has been promoted over the past century by many groups, including the fur industry. Working with the government and the veterinary community, industries that involve animal use have adopted high standards for the treatment of animals. For instance, today there are strict regulations governing livestock; guidelines have been implemented for the care of animals used in medical research; and humane care standards have been implemented by the fur industry.
Next, we have a description of the “out-of-touch-with-reality” extremists who favor animal rights.
In the past few years, however, an extreme movement called “animal rights” has emerged. The basic philosophy of these groups dictates that humans have no right to use animals for any purpose whatsoever. These groups oppose the use of animals for food, clothing, medical research, and in zoos and circuses . . .
The majority of Americans support animal welfare groups, but do NOT support [any] out-of-touch-with-reality, publicity-hungry animal rights groups . . . Animal welfare groups support humane treatment and responsible care of animals while the animal rights philosophy not only condemns the use of all animals for any purpose but it also is known for its increasingly terroristic tactics. The current mindset of the animal rights movement is, “Believe what I believe . . . or else.”
True to the spirit of the AMA’s white paper, the debate over fur is here framed as a contest between animal welfare moderates, who favor “humane treatment and responsible care of animals,” and animal rights extremists who, like the criminals who blew-up the twin towers of the World Trade Center, resort to “terroristic tactics.”
But (you might well ask) is this true of all ARAs? Do we all favor terrorism and intimidation? This is what the Fur Information Council is saying. They presume to tell us what “[t]he current mindset of the animal rights movement” is, not what a small handful of ARAs think. The mindset of the movement is, “Believe what I believe . . . or else,” where the “or else” carries with it the threat of one “terroristic tactic” or another. ARAs must really be terrible people.
“They Would Never Do That, Would They?”
Having adopted a pro-active strategy, one pillar of which is the depiction of ARAs as lawless terrorists, the major animal user industries face a daunting challenge. For their strategy to work, there has to be illegal, terroristic activity attributed to ARAs. And not just a little. What is needed is a lot. It did not take long before anti-ARA forces decided that they would need to do a little free lance terrorist work of their own.
Consider this possible scenario. Why not hire someone to infiltrate the animal rights movement, as an agent provocateur, with one main purpose: to find a malleable person in the movement who could be “encouraged” (shall we say) to try to do something that would really discredit ARAs. Like, maybe this person could be “encouraged” to try to murder someone. And not just anyone. No, the “someone” should be a pillar of the community, someone who (what an odd coincidence) just happened to be a leader in a major animal user industry, someone who just happened to have been famously outspoken in his criticisms of ARAs. An attempt on his life would be perfect. It would show the public that ARAs really are extremists who will stop at nothing to further their ends. It is not hard to visualize the headline: “Animal Rights Terrorist Attempts to Murder Pillar of Community.”
A few problems would have to be solved. It takes time to find the right person for the job. It takes money to pay all the players. Who is going to come up with the necessary cash? Well, suppose the pillar himself could pay for the attempt on his life. Suppose the pillar himself (such is his influence) could arrange to have the local police on hand to arrest the would-be murderer. “Nah,” you might say, “This is too fanciful, too conspiratorial. I don’t think anyone in a major animal user industry would ever do anything like this.” Think again.
Leon Hirsch, president of the Norwalk, Connecticut-based U. S. Surgical company, played the role of the pillar of the community. Hirsch’s company manufactures staples used in place of ordinary sutures in many operations. Physicians receive training by practicing on live dogs, who are vivisected, then killed. ARAs (led by Friends of Animals, also located in Norwalk) mounted an in-your-face campaign against Hirsch and his company back in the late 1980s. His ingenious way of getting even was to put-up the necessary money to arrange for an ARA to try to murder him.
On November 11, 1989, a man on the payroll of a firm Hirsh had hired drove a young woman named Fran Trutt, a self-professed ARA, along with her two recently purchased pipe bombs, from New York City to Norwalk. When she placed the bombs adjacent to Hirsh’s parking space, Hirsh’s friends in the Norwalk police department just happened to be on hand to arrest her.
The resulting story (not the bombs, which never exploded) was the real bombshell. There it was: “Animal Rights Terrorist Attempts to Murder Pillar of Community.” As John C. Stauber and Sheldon Rampton observe, “Normally, of course, company presidents do not arrange their own murder, but Hirsch was neither crazy nor suicidal. He was trying to engineer an embarrassing scandal that would discredit the animal rights movement.”
Hirsch would have succeeded, too, except for one thing: the ensuing trial brought to light extensive tape transcripts that implicated everyone, from Hirsh on down, who had hatched the plot to discredit ARAs. Friends of Animals sued Hirsh, but their suit was unsuccessful, and he never faced any criminal charges. Perhaps not surprisingly, Fran Trutt was the only person to serve time (a year in prison, followed by a year on probation). She seems to have left the movement.
It Only Gets Worse
This is not the only case where people in major animal user industries have taken on the job of trying to make sure there is enough “ARA terrorism” to go around. Books, not just people, can be deceiving. The infamous Ku Klux Klan leader, David Duke, knows this. One of his books, African Atto, is a manual written for violent black street gangs, supposedly authored by an “insider” (that is, a gang member). Another of his books (like the first, this one was not published under Duke’s name, for obvious reasons), is a sex manual written by and for the “liberated” woman. You know the type: mindless of “family values,” lusting after sexual adventures with the next guy to turn the corner.
In both cases, Duke’s books were written to reinforce prejudicial stereotypes of the sort Duke wants his constituency to fear: the predatory black male, in the one case, the “liberated” woman (whatever her race), in the other. Given the familiar stereotype of ARAs as misanthropic violent law-breakers who are anti-science, anti-reason, anti-American, anti-everything any decent human being values, one might expect to find a fraudulent animal rights expose written by someone posing as an ARA insider.
This expectation was fulfilled with the publication of A Declaration of War: Killing People to Save Animals and the Environment, written anonymously by an author identified only as “Screaming Wolf.” A real charmer, Screaming Wolf makes it clear that there is no limit to the violence real ARAs (“liberators”) are prepared to carry-out. It is not just the university researcher who uses animals in harmful studies, not just the furrier, not just the hunter, whose lives are at risk; it is the researcher’s children, the furrier’s rabbi or minister, the hunter’s friends or business associates. In short, anyone can be chosen as a legitimate, justifiable victim by the army of “liberators” who have decided the time has come to kill people in order to save animals and the environment.
Haven’t the major animal user industries been saying as much? Screaming Wolf (a liberator “insider”) is only confirming what these industries have been saying about ARAs all along. The industries could not have done a better job of discrediting ARAs if they had hired some fictitious “Screaming Wolf” to write this book for them.
Which is precisely what happened. At least this is the finding I believe the available evidence supports. In my judgment, A Declaration of War is nothing more than a work of fraudulent provocation, a work of fiction disguised as fact. And a clever work of fiction it is. For liberators, you see, will rarely take credit for their actions. In general, they prefer to remain anonymous.
Consider the illogic of this logic. Suppose a researcher’s car is blown up. Or she dies or disappears mysteriously. Or strangers rape her daughter. Then either liberators will take credit for this or they will not. If they do, then they did it. If they don’t, then they probably did it anyhow. Here, most assuredly, is a strategy that cannot fail to create the appearance that animal rights terrorism is on the rise.
And the moral of the story is? The moral of the story is simple. The next time the media shows or tells a story about “animal rights terrorism,” we should all think twice before buying into its veracity. We do not know how often violent, unlawful acts that the media attributes to ARAs actually were paid for by someone trying to do what Leon Hirsch tried to do: discredit the animal rights movement by encouraging an impressionable ARA to break the law. And we do not know how often violent acts that the media attributes to ARAs actually are carried out by people who, paid or unpaid, have nothing to do with the movement. What we do know is, all this happens some of the time, which should be reason enough to make us raise a skeptical eyebrow when we open tomorrow morning’s paper and read “Animal Rights Terrorists“ do one bad thing or another.
Norman Rockwell Americans
Let me be perfectly honest. My wife Nancy and I have been involved in animal advocacy for more than thirty years. During this time, we have met some people we would not want to watch our children. Misanthropic people, mean-spirited to the core. People who hate hunters, hate trappers, hate butchers, hate every living, breathing human being, even themselves. We have also met ARAs who could be described (to speak charitably) as weird, kooky, or strange, and others who have had no respect for reason or science. More, we have known ARAs who believe violent, criminal acts, as well as personal threats made against animal users or their family members, when done in the name of animal liberation, are morally justified. Yes, some ARAs are prepared to go this far.
For a variety of reasons, the attitudes and values of the ARAs I have just described are regrettable. One reason concerns the public’s perception of animal rights. The violent, lawless behavior of a few, the hateful attitudes of a handful, is grist for the opponents of animal rights’ mill. Representatives of the meat and fur industry, for example, want nothing more than to have the general public accept the accuracy of the stereotype of ARAs as misanthropic violent law-breakers. Fortunately for industry spokespersons, some ARAs cooperate by actually being this way. They don’t have to be invented.
If I have learned anything from my years of involvement in animal rights, it is that the ARAs who fit the stereotype are the rare exception, not the rule. The great majority of ARAs are just ordinary folks: neighbors and business associates; the family that runs the print shop or cleaners down the street; the guy next to you on the exercise bike at the gym; students and teachers in the local schools; the woman who sings solos in the church choir; teenagers who belong to Luther League or Wesley Fellowship; the couple that volunteers for Meals on Wheels; homemakers, nurses and physicians; counselors and social workers; whites, blacks, browns, reds, yellows, of every shade and hue; rich, poor, middle class; the old and the young; Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and every other faith, including those with no faith; political liberals and conservatives; people who love family and country, who work hard, mow their lawn, and pay their taxes.
Moreover, while the ARA message the public receives is one of negativity (ARAs are against greyhound racing, against sport hunting, against rodeo, for example), the other, positive side of the story never gets told. With rare exceptions, ARAs are for love of family and country, for human rights and justice, for human freedom and equality, for compassion and mercy, for peace and tolerance, for special concern for those with special needs (children, the enfeebled, the elderly, among others), for a clean, sustainable environment, for the rights of our children’s children’s children–our future generations.
In a word, the vast majority of ARAs are Norman Rockwell Americans, straight off his famous Thanksgiving cover for the old Saturday Evening Post, only with this noteworthy difference. We’ll pass on the turkey, thank you. We don’t eat our friends.
So let us put an end to the untruths that the major animal user industries spread about “animal rights extremists.” Not all ARAs are violent law breakers, and “[t]he current mindset of the animal rights movement” is not “‘Believe what I believe . . . or else.’” This is just special interest propaganda meant to forestall fair, informed discussion. That said, it has to be acknowledged that ARAs are, well . . . we are . . . different than most people. Especially if you’re a Muddler, you have to wonder how we got that way. Answering this question is a good place to begin the discussion.
Described by Jeffrey Masson as “the single best introduction to animal rights ever written,” and by Howard Lyman as doing “for the animal rights movement what Silent Spring did for the environmental movement,” this new book by Tom Regan will structure the animal rights debate for generations to come. In a style at once simple and elegant, Regan dispels the negative image of animal rights advocates perpetrated by the mass media, unmasks the fraudulent rhetoric of “humane treatment” favored by animal exploiters, and explains why existing laws function to legitimize institutional cruelty.
Written by the leading philosophical spokesperson for animal rights, Tom Regan’s shocking exposé of animal abuse makes an essential and lasting contribution that will significantly impact the history of animal rights advocacy in America.
Martha C. Nussbaum, University of Chicago: Tom Regan’s Empty Cages is a powerful call for justice on one of the most urgent issues human society faces. Calmly, lucidly, he asks readers to confront the miserable conditions we have inflicted on animals — not only in the familiar cases of factory farming, product testing, and hunting, but in less well-documented areas such as greyhound racing and circus performance. Answering the charge that advocates for animal rights are crazy extremists, he shows convincingly that they are, instead, thoughtful people who follow an argument to its logical conclusion. The reader has three choices: find a flaw in the argument, work for change, or throw the book away and try to forget it. The indelible force of Regan’s argument makes the third course very difficult.
Michael W. Fox, Veterinarian, syndicated columnist, and author of Beyond Evolution: The Genetically Altered Future of Plants, Animals, the Earth… and Humans: All who care for animals, and those who see animal rights advocacy as misanthropic extremism should read this book. It is a rude awakening — and a clarion call — exposing the sham of “humane standards” and the lie of “unavoidable necessity” touted by the industries of cruel animal exploitation. Tom Regan argues with logic and compassion why such outrageous mistreatment must be abolished for the good of all.
Marc Bekoff, University of Colorado, Boulder: Empty Cages is a long-awaited and much-welcomed personal and heartfelt book written by the ‘dean’ of the modern animal rights movement. Covering a broad range of important topics in an easy-to-read style, Tom Regan dispenses with misleading stereotypes about animal advocates and shows how nonsensical it is to label those who work on behalf of animals as ‘radicals’ or ‘extremists’ . . . Empty Cages is a must-read and deserves the widest of audiences.
Kim Stallwood, President, Animals & Society Institute: Tom Regan’s Empty Cages is for everyone who cares about animals: It will inform those new to animal advocacy, inspire those already on the front lines, and empower both. This book will define the future vitality and growth of the animal rights movement for generations to come. If you want the full story about animal rights, you must read Empty Cages.
Maxine Kumin, Pulitzer Prize winning poet and author of Always Beginning: Essays on a Life in Poetry (2000): Animal factory farmers hide behind such phrases as ‘humane treatment’ and ‘responsible care.’ Tom Regan gently but honestly takes you into the hog and chicken barns, onto the cattle feedlots; after that, it is up to you. This thoughtful book deserves a wide readership.
Paul Watson, Co-founder of Greenpeace, Founder and President of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society: Tom Regan is the Tom Paine of animal rights, the rational visionary who, while passionately defending the rights of man, no less passionately defends the rights of animals. His contributions are historically unprecedented. The animal rights movement may have evolved from the humane feelings of compassion and mercy. In Tom Regan, it has found the voice of reason.
Jim Motavalli, Editor, E: The Environmental Magazine: In a world where exploitation of other species has become mechanized and institutionalized, the animals need a spokesman. That voice belongs to Tom Regan, whose Empty Cages is a clearly written, eloquent argument in favor of compassion for the beings with which we share the planet. Far from a polemic, it’s an appeal to reason. Like Matthew Scully’s Dominion, the book is both a personal story of Regan’s own evolution to animal rights and a ringing critique of the casual cruelty that has come to inform our daily lives. Read this book and you’ll think twice about eating meat, watching a circus, wearing fur or supporting animal-based research.
J.M. Coetzee, winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize for Literature: Tom Regan delivers a searing indictment of the way we treat animals in the world we have made for ourselves, and presents a trenchant case that animals have or should have rights in the same way that human beings have.
Jane Goodall: Every so often a book is written that is destined to change the way people think. Tom Regan has written just such a book. Empty Cages is compelling because it is logical, rational and written in an elegantly simple style. It will educate and sadden you, and make you angry, but never is it inflammatory. Reading it may not convert you into an animal rights advocate, at least not immediately, but it will most definitely give you an understanding of and sympathy for the movement. And all animals, everywhere, will benefit. Please buy this book, read it and tell your friends about it. Everyone needs a copy on their bookshelf.
Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis and Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture: The major animal user industries and governments throughout the world say they treat animals ‘humanely.’ Empty Cages exposes the myth. Compassionate people will be outraged when they read about the mind numbing cruelty inflicted upon our fellow creatures. The challenge of animal rights is simple: Treat other animals with the same respect that we would treat one another — a truly revolutionary idea.
Neal Barnard, M.D., President, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: Tom Regan is a brilliant visionary. His new book, Empty Cages, debunks myths and exposes unscrupulous practices hidden from public view. People who are willing to ‘question authority’ need to read this original, illuminating, and thorough examination of the case for animal rights.
Gary Kowalski, author, The Bible According to Noah: Theology As If Animals Mattered and The Souls of Animals: This is the book that will inspire the next wave of animal rights activism. And the next wave after that one.
John Robbins, author, Diet For A New America and The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World: Empty Cages is among the most important books ever written on the great subject of how we humans treat and relate to animals. A rare and special book that can help us to awaken to our humanity.
Jean Greek, DVM, DACVD, co-author, Specious Science: Why Experiments on Animals Harm Humans: Every veterinarian should read Tom Regan’s Empty Cages, and every student of veterinary medicine should be required to read it. The book is this important to the future integrity of our profession.
Ray Greek, MD, co-author, Specious Science: Why Experiments on Animals Harm Humans, Americans For Medical Advancement: If you are only going to read one book about animal rights, this is the one to read.
2004. Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights. Rowman and Littlefield.
2005. Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights. Translated by Yang Tongjin. Beijing: Beijing University Press.
2005. Gabbe Vuote: La Stida dei Dritti Animali (Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights). Translated by Massimo Filippi and Alessandra Galbiati. Casale Monferrato: Sonda.
2006. Jualas Vazias: Emcarando o Desafio dos Diretios Animais (Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights. Translated by Regina Rheda. Porto Alegre: Lugano.
2006. Jaulas Vacias: El Desaffio de los Derenchos de los Animales (Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights). Translated by Marc Boillat. Barcelona: Fundacion Alarriba.
2009. Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights. Translated by Per Helman. Hallsberg: Back to Being, Sweden.