Newkirk published a defense of Peta in the Guardian on Thursday.
Her defense is of two different arguments used against Peta: 1) Their use of what Newkirk calls gradualism, and 2) Their offensive ads.
A few outspoken critics of such “half measures” or “baby steps” have gone so far as to argue against Peta’s campaigns for improved slaughter practices for chickens, better living conditions for hens and larger cages for animals in laboratories. We find this attitude unhelpful to the goal of animal liberation.
Not only is it possible to work for an end to animal slavery while simultaneously supporting incremental change, moving the bar closer to that goal also seems to us to be an important step. Yes, it is more comfortable for industry and consumers alike, but short of a bloody revolution of the sort history has witnessed in other social movements, it is also nearly impossible to move a society forward in any other way. The vast majority of people, if they care about animals − and consumer surveys show that they do − support incremental improvements, even if the increments are far from wholly satisfactory to the animals, who would rather not be caged and mutilated, hung upside down and killed, and to the liberationists, who chafe at such slow progress. It seems obvious that society is more likely to progress in a way that causes particularly abusive systems to be improved or eliminated before full animal liberation is achieved.
It is difficult to fight for animal liberation, and know that one can not do something about all the animals in cages right this second. That said it is important to question how making slaughter morally easier will benefit other animals in the long-term. Newkirk says that most consumers are in support of small incremental changes. The reason is most likely because they don’t feel as guilty consuming animals knowing that these animals had bigger cages. I’m sure if one could somehow objectively measure the happiness of chickens those in bigger cages might measure some greater level. Doesn’t mean they are happy though.
I question how self-evident it is that slow progress will eventually lead to liberation. History seems to show that liberation comes in moments of overturning paradigms, not slow edits.
Why is it so evident to Peta that bigger cages will lead to liberation?
As for the sexy women in our ads, the silly costumes, the street tableaux and the tofu sandwich give-aways, in a world where people want to smile, can’t resist looking at an attractive image and are up for a free meal, if such harmless antics will allow one individual to reconsider their own role in exploiting animals, how can it be faulted?
Notice how Newkirk posits Peta’s actions as fun, light, and okay because they cause some people to reconsider animal exploitation. Let’s ignore the border fence, the KKK actions, the objectified bodies of women (because they are sexy?), the inappropriate invocations of slavery and the Holocaust because it’s all fun! And it saves animals!
Too many lives depend on that success for us to be worried about how grand and perfect we are on the way to saving them.
And that is where Peta fails. They don’t care when their actions reinforce oppressive systems, they don’t care when their actions cause those of us who don’t agree with those oppressive systems to turn away from campaigns, or even caring about animals.
Peta doesn’t view it as pragmatic to care.