Yesterday The Guardian published an opinion piece entitled “The Five Fatal Flaws of Animal Activism.” The author, Victor Schonfeld, details his own life of caring about animals and then how his Animals and Us two part series on the BBC to demonstrate how organized groups have not accomplished much for animals, and how fresh perspectives are necessary.
But I’ve been inspired to make my own list of five weaknesses of animal activism which, in my opinion hinders the liberation of nonhuman (and human) animals.
5. Established Groups. Animal activism has become dominated by only a handful of organizations. The agenda on a scale other than local has been set by groups like Humane Society and PETA. This is demonstrated by the fact that most of Schonfeld’s list is really the fatal flaws of PETA. These organizations have often proven themselves to be reinforcing of sexism, racism, colonial structures, classism, xenophobia, and a list that seems to continue ad infintum.
4. Masculinity. It seems like animal activist groups have been trying to pander to men. From the super stars of animal rights theorizing (Regan, Singer, Francione) to who those offensive PETA ads are trying to convince animal activism seems to be obsessed with men. We need to find out why this is happening, especially if we consider Breeze’s findings of the gender make up of vegans. Her numbers may not be exact, but they seem to fit my, and other folks’, anecdotal evidence. If women make up the majority of vegans why is it that campaigns enacted by groups are so often sexist? Have men become the leaders of animal activist groups.
3. Happy Meats. Animal rights organizations and individual activists often fall into the trap of reforms that are meant to reduce animal suffering, but that in reality legitimize animal usage. As Schonfeld points out in his list we have to get beyond making slaughter less painful, and end it. Otherwise we risk making it seem alright to consume animals.
4. Rights and Utilitarianism. I feel that there is a reliance on rights theory and utilitarianism within theorizing about animal liberation. I’m inclined to think this is very much connected to the over masculinity of animal activism. I’ve become a fan of care ethics, which comes from feminist theorizing. This approach both acknowledges that many people become animals not for the colder logic of utilitarianism or rights theory, but instead because of an empathy and caring for animals.
5. Liberalism. Animal activism sprang from periods of great liberal thinking, and this shows in the conceptions of animal rights. An acknowledgement of what liberalism has done to the world (colonialism, Euro-American hegemony, racism) leads often times to an understanding that a liberation for all may very well come from a break from liberalism. Animal liberationists/abolitionists/whatever-term-you-want-to-use should recognize that animal liberation is tied to other struggles, and should not depend so heavily on liberalism. Advocates of animal liberation should join the forefront of finding alternatives on this side of the end of history.