Mary Martin on “majority wins” language issues

Oh my goodness.

While I usually agree with Mary Martin over at AnimalPerson, I really can’t get behind her latest, and to my mind, entirely dismissive take on the very real differences between the abolitionist approach and folks promoting what I’ve come to call (trying to be as non-pejorative as possible, here) “interim welfarists.”

These are very real, very significant differences, and they don’t really center on who should call themselves x.

This is a fundamental philosophical divide in the movement that completely transcends individual self-definitions, and is vastly more important than the claim that this is mere “linguistic squabbling.”

It goes deeper than which group of persons has the “right” to use the abolitionist label. The issue is that the abolitionist approach has a very clearly defined underlying first principle: we reject ANY welfare regulation, whether or not people may think that such a regulationist approach will “eventually” lead to animal rights, because the fundamental issue is USE and not just treatment.

We’re making a case that ALL USE is wrong; if you’re saying that “some use” is acceptable “in the meantime” or that “better treatment in the meantime” is your personal position, that’s fine; I disagree with that on practical and moral grounds, but you can advocate for whatever makes you happy.
But you can not reasonably call that an abolitionist position when the abolitionist position on this is both clearly defined and explicitly rejects that approach.

Just as you cannot reasonably claim to be a vegan who eats flesh, you cannot reasonably claim to be a “welfare abolitionist.”

Animal welfare and cultural change

The people in the animal welfare movement are good, well-intentioned people. But welfare is still fundamentally a wrongheaded approach.

It’s taken me a while to really see this; my aim has little or nothing to do with getting people to feel good (or bad) about themselves, and everything to do with advocating for animal liberation. I don’t particularly care, ultimately, what humans think about themselves, because everyone is going to justify whatever they’re already doing, most of the time.

The problem, as I see it, is this:

The animal welfare movement has had, say, 200 years to change the culture and influence thinking, and globally we’re killing and eating more animals now than ever before. To the degree that the animal torture industries adopt any ”humane” regulation they do so when it’s in their commercial interest. The situation isn’t made any better by exchanging one kind of crate for another, or slapping a “humane” or “organic” sticker on dead animal flesh.

My effort is to get people to see, and to get people to adopt a vegan, abolitionist mindset; again, if we don’t stand, uncompromisingly for at least some things, the AR movement doesn’t really mean anything. I believe that animal welfare is well-intentioned. It’s also not really accomplishing anything. Granted, neither is the animal rights movement, right now, but that’s a question of numbers. When we reach a tipping point and the number of actual vegans (instead of fish-eating, beef-only-on-Sundays “vegetarians”) becomes significant, then the AR movement will have real impact.

But we won’t get there if we water down the message and tell people that welfarist “interim goals” that largely benefit the torture industries are accomplishing something good. In so many ways the animal welfare movement is a band-aid on a larger problem. The deeper problem is that we’re spending all of our time putting different colored band-aids ON that problem instead of really saying, “you know, if I stop slicing my hand open with that kitchen knife…”

I would agree that we might be more effective if we animal rights and animal welfare advocates could work together, the animal welfare movement simply wishes to be told that using animals is ethically justifiable, when, of course, it isn’t. There’s a largely unbridgeable chasm between the rights and welfare mindsets, that starts with saying “animals are acceptable to use for human purposes.” I’m just not going to do that. It’s not about intellectual superiority or moral purity. It’s about the numbers. The welfare movement has had oodles of time, and heavens knows how many millions upon millions of dollars heaped upon it, and precious precious little in the way of actual results to show for it.

It’s time we recognized that it just isn’t working, and did something else.

It’s fine that folks do animal rescue; but rescuing a few pigs, cows or chickens, here and there, while eating ice cream or cheese is so profoundly morally schizophrenic that it’s almost not worth commenting on (I know more than a handful of non-vegan, pseudo-vegetarian “animal rescue workers” with a vested financial interest, given that they work in farm animal rescue with attaching themselves to the animal rights movement; they still eat non-flesh animal products. Trying to point out the disconnect in this line of thinking tends to be a waste of time).

Telling ourselves that rescuing a few animals, here and there, is what we need to do to discharge our moral obligation to animals is worse than useless: it promotes a false sense of accomplishment. Yes, for the individual animals saved, it’s something, but in the larger scope of things, because we’re too afraid of being seen as “too confrontational” and we’re constantly willing to water down our advocacy for things like, yes, veganism, it’s not materially accomplishing anything.

We need to reach a tipping point where there are enough vegans to actually commercially affect these industries. Until we get there, not a bit of it will mean much on either side of the fence. But we won’t get there advocating half-measures and essentially the status quo.

Veganism and…doing the best you can.

We’re spending far too much time – far too much – coddling omnis and patting everybody on the head and in essence telling people that veganism is optional. No, it isn’t, in the exact same way that sexism and homophobia and racism are not optional. Yes, all of those things exist, but we do not tell the people who perpetuate them that they’re doing the best they can.

It’s no wonder to me that the AR movement is as ineffective as it is right now. We’re so hung up on begging for acceptance from the larger culture that we’ve allowed that to completely obscure our message. We’ve taken the entirely doable, absolutely necessary concrete first step – veganism – and stuck it up on a pedestal, as this lofty and unattainable ideal, that, well, a few folks may choose to practice, but really, if you can’t, you’re “doing the best you can.”

No, you’re not.

Everything PETA does – even the button-pushing, silly stuff – is hung up on this notion that we must beg for acceptance from the larger culture; PETA is convinced (not without reason) that they have to do something to shock people. The problem is that once they’ve shocked people, there’s nothing behind that message, at all. Once we’ve grabbed some eyeballs with an animal rights “community” at, or any of zillion other organized movement-y things, we bugger up the message with “Sign these 900 petitions against Sarah Palin! Something has to be done about aerial alaskan timberwolf hunting with AK-47’s by sitting Republican state governors who are women!”

“Sign my petition against sport hunting exotic animals with bows and arrows!”


Not that I’m defending Sarah Palin or sport hunting or any of the rest of it. Those of you who know me from the PETA forum know I’m not. But we’re wasting our time with what amounts to small-potatoes edge cases, while essentially ignoring the mass consumption of animals by the general public. We’re promoting the completely false message that there’s some ethical difference between eating flesh and eating cheese.

In the larger scheme of things, while folks are still killing tens of billions of animals a year in order to eat them, spending this amount of time and effort on edge cases is the wrong, wrong, wrong approach.