Special Challenges for Modern Abolitionists: Part 4

Preface:  This article is the fourth installment in a series discussing obstacles to abolition—the ending of all slavery—that movements for proto-abolition—the ending of human slavery—did not have to face.

Thanklessness:  the gratitude gap

Another significant obstacle that an abolition movement faces but which is not faced by a proto-abolition movement can be called the “gratitude gap”:  when slaves are human, those human slaves—once freed—can express gratitude to the people who helped emancipate them.  Specifically, because humans understand the tangible impact of abstractions, a former human slave understands and appreciates the labor of those who helped to change the political and economic system that once held those former slaves in bondage.

Thus, for instance, former human slaves could express their thanks to someone like Thaddeus Stevens or Angelina Grimké, even though they had never interacted directly.  Such gratitude not only rewards proto-abolitionists for their work after it has been completed, but the promise of such appreciation in the future also helps to motivate proto-abolitionists to hang in there before their work is done.

Unfortunately, abolitionists cannot expect any such reward from the animals for whom they work.  A cow will never know that a human manager is out there building an abolitionist political party on her behalf.  A mouse will never know that a human lawyer is out there fighting for animal rights.  Yes, an animal may indeed be eternally grateful to a human who physically opens a cage and carries that animal to freedom, as in the case of a beagle who is rescued from a torture (“vivisection”) laboratory.  But more abstract work performed by the many other people who participate in such a rescue will never be understood by the beneficiaries thereof.

That’s okay, of course.  We will win without the need for appreciation.  But it’s probably a good thing to accept from the outset that working for abolition will be a “thankless” endeavor.

A look ahead…

In this “Special Challenges” series, we’ll explore additional ways in which proto-abolition or proto-emancipation movements differ from abolition and emancipation movements.  If you have comments, suggestions, or contributions, please feel free to send them along.

Photo used with permission: Pig in window by Agnes Cseke. Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved.

Pig corpse in window | photo by Agnes Cseke
Pig corpse in window | photo by Agnes Cseke

(Original article pub date:  11/26/13 (FB); 12/3/13 (EthicalVeganism))