Identifying your goal as an animal rights activist: Five tiers

Effective animal rights activism

Many animal rights activists and organizations don’t even have a specific goal in mind.  Just ask them!  Most will be able to articulate a strong feeling that something is wrong and a strong desire to fix it.  But many will not be able to describe what that fix is or how that fix actually gets done:-/  This lack of focus is holding back the movement in a big way, in my view.

Here’s a simple chart aimed at helping activists focus their work on a specific, concrete goal.

Effective animal rights activism | faunacide convention, abolition amendment, animal protection laws, corporate manumission, vegan and cruelty-free lifestyle and life choices
Effective animal rights activism | faunacide convention, abolition amendment, animal protection laws, corporate manumission, vegan and cruelty-free lifestyle and life choices

Victory at the first three levels will represent the climax of the current animal rights movement; thereafter, the movement’s focus will shift from law-making to law-enforcing.

The latter two tiers represent the means whereby demand for cruelty-based goods and services is eliminated; such elimination undermines the financial viability of cruelty-based activities, thereby setting up the conditions necessary for victory at the former three tiers. Pick your favorite tier, and make things happen!

#animalrights #animalliberation #vegan

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(Original publication date:  Sept. 6, 2015 (FB))

Special Challenges for Modern Abolitionists: Part 5

Laguna 2

Preface:  This article is the fifth 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.

Think, think, think….

Another significant obstacle that an abolition movement faces but which is not faced by a proto-abolition movement pertains to the massive amount of thinking involved.  Specifically,  when slaves are human, those human slaves can assist with the enormous amount of cognitive work that must be done.

Changing an entire society’s unjust laws and eradicating an entire culture’s false beliefs requires an enormous amount of analysis, research, imagination, calculation, strategizing, and planning.  This intellectual dimension of a social change movement may well be the hardest part of all.  In the context of human slavery, the most direct victims—slaves and former slaves themselves—can participate fully in this difficult task.  They know the slavery system better than anyone, and they can use this knowledge to help identify weaknesses, formulate counter-arguments, and otherwise chisel away at the walls of collective delusion.

Unfortunately, abolitionists cannot expect the animals for whom they work to shoulder much of this cognitive burden.  Horses—who provided the key military advantage in human affairs for over 1000 years—cannot offer a similar advantage in the context of research and development.  Dogs—arguably the most selfless and courageous species, on average, of any with whom humans have interacted—cannot draw a roadmap for use in transforming humans into ethical nobility.  Yes, both of these species can lead by example, through the testimony of their personal behavior.  But it will remain up to humans to extract lessons from such examples, articulate those lessons, disseminate them, and apply them.

The fact that the most direct victims of slavery cannot fully participate in the intellectual work necessary for change should not discourage us.  We will win as sure as the sun will rise.  But acknowledging the special challenges faced by a full abolition movement will hopefully help to inoculate modern abolitionists against some of the burnout, frustration, and fatigue to which they may otherwise be susceptible.

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.


(Original article pub date: 11/27/13 (FB);  12/3/13 (EthicalVeganism))

Laguna 2
Laguna 2

 

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))

Special Challenges for Modern Abolitionists: Part 3

Preface:  This article is the third 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.

Victim testimony

Another significant difficulty that an abolition movement faces but which is not faced by a proto-abolition movement is an evidentiary problem, specifically, the lack of victim testimony. When slaves are human, those human slaves are articluate survivors of and eyewitnesses to the atrocities that are perpetrated against slaves.  When given the opportunity to do so, human slaves or former slaves can immediately describe—in human language—what happened to them or their fellow slaves.  Virtually no testimony is more powerful than that of the eyewitness or the victim himself or herself; thus, the ability of human slaves to provide such testimony is an enormous benefit to a proto-abolition movement.

The uniquely powerful value of the eyewitness and survivor can be illustrated though comparison of William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass.  Garrison was undoubtedly one of the most committed and articulate proto-abolitionists of any generation, and he played an integral role in the U.S.’s proto-abolition movement of the 1800s.  But, upon meeting Douglass, Garrison recognized that Douglass—as a first-hand survivor of and eyewitness to human slavery—could speak with an authority that Garrison could not fully possess.  Thus, after the two met, Garrison redirected much of his energy into elevating Douglass’s voice over his own.

Unfortunately, a full abolition movement cannot expect any such testimony from slavery survivors who are not human.  No turkey will write an article about the bloodbath that Americans call “Thanksgiving.”  No hen will deliver a speech about life in a cage that was too small for her to raise her wings.  No pig will recount the experience of being castrated without anesthesia.  There may, in short, never be a Frederick Douglass for the modern abolition movement.

Notwithstanding this absence of testimony from actual survivors, abolitionists still can get eyewitness information.  One way to get eyewitness information is through undercover work:  a human can infiltrate an animal-killing or animal-raping business and use a camera to take footage of the horrors perpetrated against the victims of such businesses.  This route is employed today by organizations such as Compassion Over Killing and Mercy for Animals.  Also, certain animal abuses leave a physical effect on the victim’s body which can be seen by a third party, even if the victim cannot verbally convey the pain of experience such abuse.

In short, while the challenge is greater without the benefit of first-hand survivor testimony, this absence can be partly offset through human effort and observation.

Revisit Part 1 and Part 2.

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: Pigs being transported to their deaths by Agnes Cseke. Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved.

Pigs being transported to their deaths | photo by Agnes Cseke
Pigs being transported to their deaths | photo by Agnes Cseke

(Original article pub date:  11/25/13 (FB); 12/3/13 (EthicalVeganism))

Special Challenges for Modern Abolitionists: Part 2

Laguna 3

Preface:  This article is the second 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.

Collective resistance

Another significant difference between ending human slavery and ending slavery of other animals pertains to collective resistance, armed revolt, and organized rebellion:  when humans are slaves, the potential for an armed, organized slave uprising is present at virtually all times.  This threat puts pressure on the oppressor class, forcing them to spend a significant portion of their resources on precautionary measures to guard against a revolt.  In short, the “slave front” drains the oppressor’s resources in its war against the slaves.  Moreover, actual slave uprisings, e.g., Nat Turner’s Rebellion (the “Southampton Insurrection”) (1831), sometimes break out despite the oppressors’ safeguards, inflicting damage directly upon the slaveholder class, their persons and their property.

Unfortunately, however, a full abolition movement can expect to receive very little assistance from the slave front.  The possibility of, for example, laboratory rats organizing a coordinated, armed, violent uprising is virtually non-existent.  The same goes for, say, farmed animals who are slated for slaughter:  a collective revolt comprising sheep or cows or chickens is just very unlikely.

Yes, occasional acts of individual heroism do occur, as in the case of a lion or tiger who kills a circus trainer.  But collective, sustained revolt from within the slave class will not happen.  To my knowledge, only primates and elephants have been documented to engage in substantial, coordinated retaliatory action against homo sapiens.

That a full abolition movement cannot expect to benefit from help of the slaves themselves does not itself, of course, render abolition impossible.  We will win.   But it is helpful to appreciate that the challenges facing a full abolition movement are substantially larger than those that have been surmounted by proto-abolition movements and that some of the resources with which to meet those challenges are not as readily available to a full abolition movement.

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.

Laguna 3
Laguna 3

(Original article pub date:  11/24/13 (FB); 12/3/13 (EthicalVeganism))

Special Challenges for Modern Abolitionists: Part 1

Laguna 4

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

The virtuous cycle

One significant difference between ending human slavery and ending slavery of other animals pertains to what may be called a “virtuous cycle”:  when a human slave is freed, he or she becomes part of the anti-slavery movement.  The former slave can take up arms—literally or figuratively—against the enslavement of other humans.  Thus, a proto-abolition movement accelerates with each and every successful freeing of an individual.

That virtuous feedback cycle does not, unfortunately, happen when slaves of other species are freed.  For instance, when a cat is rescued from a vivisection lab, that cat is not going to pick up a pen or a sword to help free other cats from torture.

This distinction is but one of the many reasons why the movement to end slavery—meaning, all slavery—faces numerous challenges not faced by movements that were directed at ending human slavery only.  We’ll win anyway, but it’s important to understand that simply repeating what proto-abolition movements did will not likely suffice for full abolition.

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.

Laguna 4
Laguna 4

(Original article pub date:  11/23/13 (FB); 12/3/13 (EthicalVeganism))

Authenticity vs. Purism

Awesome rabbit pic by Vanessa Sheldon

Infighting in the “animal rights” movement

(Original article publication date:  August 17th, 2012 (Cruelty-Free))

As most of us have, unfortunately, been forced to admit, the animal protection community is rife with infighting.  For some time, I’ve been unable to understand why people who are theoretically working for similar—if not identical—goals would be so openly hostile and defamatory toward others.

Some potential explanations are beginning to surface, though.  For instance, one part of the problem seems to be a struggle between authenticity and purism.

Authenticity

When a person behaves with authenticity, he or she stays in touch with the values that brought him or her to the animal protection cause in the first place. The compassion, empathy, and reasoning that originally connected the person to other animals remains intact and pervades his or her daily actions and interactions with others.

In this place of centeredness, a person’s ego is subordinated to both the outer goal of changing society’s treatment of animals and the inner walk of simply being a living embodiment of these values.  The ego’s desires for beating others, being right, taking credit, gaining adoration, controlling others, and acquiring power are seen as counterproductive with respect to the outer goal and disruptive with respect to the inner walk.

Purism

When a person in the animal protection movement fixates on purity itself, the entire focus shifts away from the goal and the walk.  The new focus becomes a game of competing for who can be “more pure” than others in the movement (“I’ve been vegan longer than you,” etc.).

Control and credit are the “rewards” for winning the game, and these rewards may accrue to the benefit of a given individual.  But the movement itself loses, because the goal of societal change gets forgotten in the never-ending power struggle, and the inner walk of being the change is abandoned in favor of self-serving calculations and maneuvers.

Awesome rabbit pic by Vanessa Sheldon
Awesome rabbit pic by Vanessa Sheldon

The “no-kill” myth

No-Kill Myth

When good intentions become decoupled from veganism: the “no-kill” myth

(Original article publication date:  June 23, 2012 (Cruelty-Free))

For each cat or dog that you rescue but do not take vegan, you condemn dozens of animals per year to death, namely, the cows, pigs, turkeys, and others who are raped, tortured, and killed to become that cat’s or that dog’s meal. Each of these condemned beings is just as smart, just as loving, and just as worthy of protection as the one for whom you brutalized and killed them.

That’s why the so-called “No Kill” movement—when not coupled with veganism—produces an exponential acceleration of the killing.  One life saved produces, say, 24 killed.  It’s a meat industry bonanza.

And one of the most extreme perversions of people’s good intentions that modern culture has to offer, since its effect is the exact opposite of “No Kill.”

I advocate calling it the “Rape-and-Kill” movement or the “Over-Kill” movement so that people can at least go in with open eyes. Very few things are scarier than wholesale, unmitigated savagery in the name of good.

No-Kill Myth
No-Kill Myth

REVIEW: “Do Unto Others . . . A Conference on Animals and Religion” by Interreligious Voices for Animal Compassion

A New Kind of Conference

I’m departing from the usual topic for this column to provide a review of  a conference I attended on Friday, April 24, 2009.

Hosted at the Fish Interfaith Center of Chapman University, the event was entitled “Do Unto Others . . . A Conference on Animals and Religion”. This conference—the first of its kind in Southern California—was put together by a group of scholars who have taken on the name of “Interreligious Voices for Animal Compassion” (or just “IVAC”), including Zandra Wagoner, Beth A. Johnson, and Ronald L. Farmer.

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The conference was a wonderful experience, and I sincerely hope that this one will be the beginning of an annual (at a minimum) tradition.

Some Highlights

The facility itself, particularly Wallace All Faiths Chapel, was certainly conducive to the kind of thoughtful discussion and contemplation that the day provided. Beginning at 9:00am, this hall was filled with wonderful harp music that began the day and was interspersed between speakers for the first hour.

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Introductory speakers provided some background regarding how the conference came about as well as quotes and a series of personal statements pertaining to animals in the context of spirituality. These speakers were followed by a first keynote speaker, Jay McDaniel, Director for the Steel Center for the Study of Religion and Philosophy at Hendrix College in Arkansas and author of numerous books, including the classic Of God and Pelicans: A Theology of Reverence for Life.

Jay’s talk not only set forth a number of powerful intellectual insights regarding animals and how they are viewed in the world’s major religions but also allowed glimpses into his personal experiences related to animals and how these experiences have shaped his own world view of the value of life. Jay has a knack for being able to address high philosophy and self-effacing humor simultaneously, which made his presentation a delight that went by too quickly.

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Beth Johnson and Jay McDaniel prepare for a vegan dinner.

In between the morning events, participants mingled with representatives from a number of different animal-related organizations, including Animal Acres founder and Farm Sanctuary pioneer Lorri Houston

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Shelley Harrison and Lorrie Houston take a break between sessions.

The Christian Vegetarian Assocation had a display providing a wide variety of literature, as did Peta, and the conference organizers also provided display copies of about forty key books in the field.

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After breaking for a vegan lunch, conference-goers chose two out of six different one-hour workshops to attend consecutively during the afternoon. I personally attended a session called “Inside the Trenches: An Evangelical Looks at Animal Compassion,” which was led by Presbyterian Minister Reverend Mark Bruner, and “Schweitzer and the Animals”, which was led by Dr. Marvin Meyer, Chair of the Religious Studies Department and Director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute at Chapman. Both sessions were excellent, and I wished I had been able to attend all six.

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Thereafter, the conference reconvened as a single group for a panel discussion featuring McDaniel, Johnson and Wagoner. This portion was one of my favorite parts of the day, since the flexibility of the format allowed for a great deal of spontaneous discussion and Q&A between the conference-goers and featured speakers.

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That evening, we all gathered for a vegan feast in a different location on the Chapman campus. The dinner was fabulous, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to meet the people at my table. We shared light-hearted stories regarding being vegan in a world that eats dead animals as well as discussed strategies on how to get the word out about the pervasive cruelty in our culture. I found it encouraging and uplifting to be around like-minded folks.

Batting clean-up hitter for the day was the vivacious Karen Dawn, author of Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals, which has received numerous accolades, including that of being among the “Best Books of the Year” according to the Washington Post. Like Jay, Karen is somehow able to discuss grave–and sometimes heartbreaking–matters and yet remain fun, witty and charming while doing it.

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 Karen Dawn discusses her fowl friends at the evening banquet.

Overall, the event was a smashing success. I hope there are many more to follow.

For more information:
http://www.chapman.edu/chapel/animalConference/

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(Original pub date: 5/15/2009 (Cruelty-Free))

Artificial Meat, Real Change

Technology and Social Change

Technological breakthroughs can pave the way to major social changes—some good, some bad, some mixed. The internal combustion engine and other automobile advances, for instance, enabled numerous positive services, such as ambulances and fire engines. But the automobile also gave rise to city designs and lifestyle choices that are inefficient to the point of being almost bizarre, as in the now-common case of a freeway commuter who drives an hour or more—each way—to and from work.

In more recent years, the World Wide Web has again demonstrated that technological advances can precipitate fundamental changes in the ways that people work, play, shop, and socialize: the telecommuter is gradually replacing the freeway commuter, and MySpace and Facebook have emerged as primary ways to “hang out”.

The Impervious Dinner Plate

While computers and mobile electronics continue to revolutionize many other aspects of life, people’s eating habits have been very slow to change. Folks who ate bacon and eggs for breakfast, hamburger and fries for lunch, and pizza and beer for dinner 30 years ago are still eating those same items today. Aside from some packaging updates, the menus of restaurants that were in business 30 years ago, such as McDonald’s or Pizza Hut, remain little changed today.

Perhaps dietary habits are so deeply rooted in a person’s consciousness that they become a part of one’s identity. Certainly many community and religious events and holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, revolve around food. But whatever the reason, dietary choices have remained relatively impervious to the wave of change that has swept over many other personal choices in recent decades.

The Cost of Consistency

Unfortunately, the dominant eating habits of Western culture have proven to be wildly destructive at the environmental level. Meat, in particular, extracts a devastating toll, as it is a profoundly inefficient food item. Specifically, it generally takes approximately 10 to 25 times—that’s 2500% —more resources to produce a pound of meat than to produce a pound of vegetable food. After all, animals must either eat other animals or eat plants, whereas plants simply get their sustenance from the sun and the soil. Animals also require medicine, lodging and other upkeep, whereas plants are relatively very low maintenance. Finally, animals used for meat production expel a great deal of polluting gases, such as methane, whereas plants generally had an unequivocally beneficial effect on the environment.

The net effect of consistency in the dominant Western diet has therefore been highly negative. Indeed, many environmental scientists now consider meat to be the single most environmentally harmful modern lifestyle choice—yes, even worse than driving a gas guzzler.

And that’s not even to mention the well-documented health effects, from heart disease to obesity, of the Western and particularly American diet.

Meat Substitutes: a Good Start

Soy burgers and other vegetable-based meat substitutes (sometimes called “meat analogues”) have taken root in many households. Tofu has proven to be a sort of “miracle meat” in that it can take on so many flavors that even discriminating meat lovers can be fooled by tofu products masquerading as meat. These culinary advances have been applauded by environmentalists, nutritionists and animal rights activists alike.

But, while the personal health and environmental benefits of a vegetarian diet have been thoroughly demonstrated, whether meat substitutes can ever overtake the Whopper and the Quarter Pounder with Cheese remains to be seen.

Enter Artificial Meat

Perhaps meat substitutes do not have to replace real meat in order for many of the detrimental effects of meat production to be avoided. Scientists have now demonstrated the ability to produce actual meat—not a vegetable substitute—using cell cultures rather than cows, pigs, or sheep. Specifically, certain cell samples originally taken from an animal are then nourished and cultivated to proliferate into large quantities of such cells, thereby producing artificial meat (also “in vitro”, “synthetic” or “test tube” meat) that is at the cellular level essentially identical to meat that comes from the muscles of slaughtered animals.

Implications, Pro and Con

Many hurdles are yet to be overcome before artificial meat can fully replace slaughter-based meat. First, the in vitro technique is still too costly to compete with slaughter for meat production in the mass market. However, over time, these costs may come down, especially if a handful of early adopters are willing to pay a premium for cruelty-free meat.

Second, cell cultivation may not sound particularly appealing to a society that is accustomed to the use of farm animals to produce food. Test-tube meat may sound very “sci-fi”, mysterious, and perhaps even dangerous to the average consumer. Of course, such a perception is just that, a perception, and can probably be changed when met head-on with informational measures, such as those suggested by M. Renee Orth in her article on legislation for public surveillance of the slaughter industry.

Third, even in vitro meat is likely to prove highly wasteful of resources compared to vegetable food. While not as wasteful as traditional meat production, the new technique will still have significant, inherent overhead costs, and the conversion of organic material to meat will probably always be less efficient than a food production system that requires no such conversion.

Fourth, to the degree that synthetic meat fully replicates slaughter-produced meat, the massive health benefits of a vegetarian diet are lost.

Fifth, purists in the fields of environmentalism and animal rights activism may view artificial meat as a way of actually prolonging the meat addiction of modern culture and thereby undermining efforts to bring about true sustainability and cruelty-free living. Under this view, switching from slaughter-based meat to artificial meat is the equivalent of switching an alcoholic from wine to beer. However, if artificial meat does in fact significantly reduce the demand for slaughter-based meat, the purist argument will probably fail, at least in the animal rights field. Net environmental impact will be more difficult to resolve.

Opportunity for Long-Overdue Dietary Shifts

Notwithstanding the above reasons for caution, artificial meat has at least the potential to be a disruptive technology, one that could bring about fundamental changes in a sphere that has heretofore remained relatively impervious to change: what’s for dinner. Executed properly, artificial meat production could (i) dramatically curtail the practice of animal slaughter and thereby (ii) bring about a significant reduction of the environmental harms inherent in raising animals for slaughter. These two effects make the technology highly desirable and worthy of pursuit.


(Original pub date:  March 30th, 2009 (Cruelty-Free))

Cruelty-Free
Cruelty-Free