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If Cass Sunstein is a Radical Animal Rights Activist, What Am I?

You'd think that people who spend so much time vilifying a cause would know what it is. The Center for Consumer Freedom is at it again, calling Cass Sunstein a "radical animal rights activist."

Now, from what I've read and heard, Sunstein has some important ideas and communicates them very effectively . . . if  you're paying attention. But there seems to be quite a misunderstanding about where he stands on using animals.

One of his points is that the general public doesn't agree on what animal rights means in practice. And of course, he's correct. One could say that the CCF is simply using its own definition of "radical animal rights activist," although I think Wayne Pacelle is also in that category so the category loses legitimacy fairly quickly as it seems to include anyone who cares about the welfare of animals. I wouldn't spend a moment responding to CCF, and frankly I'm surprised
that they are taken seriously by anyone in 2009. I suppose we still
have a lot of work to do there (and me opting out doesn't really help).

Check out the now-famous "Facing Animals" panel for what Sunstein really thinks, such as:

  • He uses the following definition, which is one most Americans have concurred with: "Animal rights is legal protection against unjustified or easily prevented suffering." In other words, and I think this is true, most people think rights is about suffering–not use. Therefore, the new head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is about to make things a lot more difficult (for us) by sort of validating (codifying, almost) that definition.
  • "The striking phenomenon is not that we're divided on the moral questions, but that our practices violate our own moral commitments." I'm not so sure about that. I think that many people really do think that suffering is bad, but if their tasty steak is the end product, it's not so bad. I'm not sure that it's not also further moral development that we need.
  • "The law should be changed to give interested persons the right to sue to get the violation of law to stop." He's talking about existing anti-cruelty laws, and I don't disagree. I didn't hear anything about institutionalized cruelty, though.
  • There's a consensus against cruelty, but the coverage is too narrow (such as scientists being exempted, hunters, and the use of animals for food). Yes, he wants to ban hunting, as he should, as it has no purpose other than sport. However, when he talks about animals for food, he does not say the practice should be banned. He's all about unnecessary suffering, and perhaps adopting some of the practices in Europe that apparently decrease suffering during the production of "food" made from animals. (There's an entire section on labeling here.)
  • He finds the debate about property status to be a distraction, and at about minute 50 of the panel on you can hear more about that.
  • His most important point appears to be the need for disclosure. Disclosure of toxic releases or other environmental impacts and also a vivid, accurate understanding of what happens to animals used for food that triggers whatever moral intuitions people have so they can act on the truth. I think we all agree. Where we disagree is that if you ask me we already have such depictions. If you want to know where your food comes from, you can easily find out. If you want to know . . . However, I also don't necessarily agree that when moral intuitions are triggered, action necessarily follows. Plenty of people have watched Earthlings and still eat animals. And if you asked them they'd probably be one of those in the survey Sunstein mentions who says they think animals shouldn't be subjected to unnecessary suffering. I'd love to say that disclosure is the answer, but in our vegan advocacy we've all seen that it isn't. Or at least not immediately. With that said, it certainly is an important part. And Sunstein isn't referring to generic efforts like much of what we already have, he's talking about each product having to disclose how that product was made, including vivid imagery. As policy. I think that's a great idea. It certainly can't hurt.
  • He says that "there's a market in animal treatment, so that consumers know what they're purchasing and can choose based on their moral convictions. . . . This would protect animals and weaken the split between our practices and our moral convictions." Again, I think it's true in many cases, so the word weaken is good; he's not assuming it's the answer.

Sunstein speaks and writes about unjustified suffering, even saying that if the cages of greyhounds are too small and cause them to suffer, greyhound racing should be banned. I don't think we could have expected Obama to have appointed someone who doesn't believe we should use animals.

The question is: Will this appointment help animals? Could it harm them? And what of animal rights as defined by use? What happens to that cause?

What are your thoughts?

29 Comments Post a comment
  1. Roger #

    Chapter 4 of Francione's Animals As Person's highlights Sunstein's (non-)"radicalism".


    January 17, 2009
  2. Dan #

    Ditto on Roger's comment. As for the appointment, I don't think it will help animals in any significant way. At most, it will slightly offset the appointment of Ken Salarzar as Interior Secretary. Salazar, a Colorado senator, is a devoted pawn of animal ag interests, and will do whatever they tell him to do.

    January 17, 2009
  3. Roger #

    Mary, Your comment about CCF's definition of 'radical animal rights' raises interesting questions about the activities of the AR countermovements and the rights/welfare issue.

    The countermovements (CCF/NAIA) are well organised and well funded in the states in particular. There was a recent and apparently failed attempt to organise one in Ireland recently modelled on the US one.

    One aspect of their campaigning seems to be the characterisation of anything other than their own radically pro-use welfarism as 'animal rights'. They claim PeTA as AR, as you'd expect – but also the HSUS. They claim that these are rights organisations cleverly using welfare as a ruse to gain funds from 'animal lovers'.

    I did a survey,M1 of pro-use claims on a public forum and found that the views expressed by the likes of the CCF were being used by their supporters as scripts in discourse. This included claiming that "ARAs" were terrorists, that AR was about "taking your pets away from you by force" and that Peter Singer is a rights advocate. In the latter case, they could not bear the idea that Singer was a welfarist like them, albeit of the 'progressive' (Francione) variety.

    This claim about Sunstein seems to be more of the same – he's not 'one of us', therefore must be a 'radical animal rights advocate'.


    January 18, 2009
  4. "He's not 'one of us', therefore must be a 'radical animal rights advocate'." That's funny…. and it explains why Pacelle is on CCF's "list" too.

    Mary – "The striking phenomenon is not that we're divided on the moral questions, but that our practices violate our own moral commitments." Because he thinks that animals and the environment cannot have "rights" – we as "architects of choice" – must make a "duty based" effort to protect animals and environment. This "draws lines" from of our own conduct – rather than "rights" – that he thinks entities like animals (and trees) don't or can't have.

    Full disclosure on products – including "vivid imagery" – The public is currently in the dark concerning livestock practices, and wrongfully so. Exposure – this can't hurt… I think Sunstein believes people will make proper choices based on fact finding – and we, for now… can only "hope" they do.

    I think CCF and we all could learn much more about where Sunstein stands on animal "rights" through his dissertation "The Rights of Animals: A Very Short Primer"

    What struck me most were his ideas on page 7: And here's where Sunsteins expertise in Cost/benefit analysis comes in…
    "If farms are regulated, the price of meat will increase, and people will be able to eat less meat. Hence it is necessary to weigh the gain to animal welfare against the harms to human beings."

    Section D Eliminating Current Practices, Including Meat-Eating
    "Now turn to some quite radical suggestions. Suppose that we continue to believe that animal suffering is the problem that should concern us, and that we want to use the law to promote animal welfare. We might conclude that certain practices cannot be defended and should not be allowed to continue, if, in practice, mere regulation will
    inevitably be insufficient—and if, in practice, mere regulation will ensure that the level of animal suffering will remain very high. To make such an argument convincing, it would be helpful, whether or not necessary, to argue not only that the harms to animals are serious, but also that the benefits, to human beings, of the relevant practices are simply too small to justify the continuation of those practices. Many people who urge radical steps—who think, for example, that people should not eat meat—do so because they believe that without such steps, the level of animal suffering will be unacceptably severe."

    "But if, as a practical matter, animals used for food are almost inevitably going to endure terrible suffering, then there is a good argument that people should not eat meat to the extent that a refusal to eat meat will reduce that suffering. Of course a legal ban on meat-eating would be extremely radical, and like prohibition, it would undoubtedly create black markets and have a set of bad, and huge, side-effects. But the principle seems clear: People should be much less inclined to eat meat if their refusal to do so would prevent significant suffering."

    And: "If vegetarianism were widespread, would human health be undermined (as many contend) or improved (as many also contend)? After the factual questions are resolved, disputes will remain about the weight to be given to the various interests. My suggestion is that on a reasonable reading of the facts, many practices will have to yield."

    Maybe I'm an optimist… but I see his appointment as beneficial – if not to animals – to animal advocates. National exposure of factory farm conditions frees up resources and energy for us to focus on "rights".

    One thing I absolutely do like about Sunstein – are his views on free speech (which also helps advocacy):
    Why Societies Need Dissent
    "Sunstein casts new light on freedom of speech, showing that a free society not only forbids censorship but also provides public spaces for dissenters to expose widely held myths and pervasive injustices".

    We know what "myths" could be disclosed. Could you imagine? Public debates in libraries and other municipal buildings – on the local and national level: discussing Animal Rights? Discussing ethics?

    I also think Sunstein is an innovative thinker:
    He certainly fits the profile of what Obama's administration promises in "change". Granted it will not be fast enough or soon enough for most of us, but I have little doubt that issues on the environment and on animal "welfare" will be approached with serious thought and unprecedented reasoning. And in this way – he is "radical" in comparision to what policies have been governing the White House up till now.

    January 18, 2009
  5. Mike Spies #

    The question to ask is… "Is it the role and responsibility of government to re-engineer society?"

    If your answer is "Yes", you should, perhaps, be thinking about the 'rights' accorded to members of society, and the obligations incurred by members of society that enjoy those rights. Are the rights of some subordinate to the rights of others. Who has the authority to decide that for all of us? Is it those who are most vocal? Is it those who 'just know' what is best for us? Carried a little further, you approach Pol Pot style societal destruction – certainly done without the consent of the governed.

    I fail completely to see why one 'use' of animals (Growing them for food and killing them) is somehow morally superior to other means of killing them for food (hunting). There seems to be no rational basis for the distinction – just the 'feeling' that one is necessary and the other is for sport. So is the objection to hunting based solely on the idea that it's OK to kill animals, as long as there is no sport involved? Why? Is it because we do not want to acknowledge that animals are killed FOR us or BY us?

    Hunting is a far more honorable and connected way to obtain food than reducing an animal to a plastic wrapped, portion controlled 'product' that excuses the squeamish from their own culpability in the death of the creature it was.

    January 18, 2009
  6. Hi Mike, thanks for stopping by, and I do understand your point.

    But I don't think that using animals for food, whether via factory farm, small family farm, urban "farm," or stalking and killing them is honorable. Each has the same end result, which is the unnecessary slaughter of nonhumans as sentient as my dogs and cat.

    The "enjoyment" of stalking and killing, though, is an extra layer of morally repugnant behavior that's difficult to overlook by some people. Some do, in fact, think hunting is worse because of that enjoyment factor. I probably fit into that category, but I don't want to make too much of that because hunting is more similar to factory farming or any other kind of farming, than not.

    I hope that helps.

    January 18, 2009
  7. Kelev #

    I, perhaps like many animal advocates, used to post responses to the Center for Consumer Freedom's outrageous and often downright cruel statements about animals, AR, and activists, but realized quickly that my offerings were a waste of time. (And, too, They probably turn over email addresses to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act's enforcers). Still, CCF's articles and media attention tick me off to no end – especially with the obvious following they seem to have. -Which ticks me off even worse.

    I think anyone, in this case, Sunstein, who is perceived as a threat to groups such as CCF will be good. Like someone said above, at least it will be someone who is thought of as radical for animal rights by the staunch business as usual/legalized animal cruelty that is supported by our government, with our tax dollars, and could be a thorn in the side of many animal abuse for profit enterprises. – which would soothe my ticked off status a bit. Thanks for the informative post/article, and comments.

    January 18, 2009
  8. Mike Spies #

    Mary wrote;
    But I don't think that using animals for food, whether via factory farm, small family farm, urban "farm," or stalking and killing them is honorable. Each has the same end result, which is the unnecessary slaughter of nonhumans as sentient as my dogs and cat.

    The "enjoyment" of stalking and killing, though, is an extra layer of morally repugnant behavior that's difficult to overlook by some people. Some do, in fact, think hunting is worse because of that enjoyment factor. I probably fit into that category, but I don't want to make too much of that because hunting is more similar to factory farming or any other kind of farming, than not.

    Thank you for acknowledging my comments.

    Your comments tend support to my statement that 'the objection to hunting is based solely on the idea that it's OK to kill animals, as long as there is no sport (enjoyment) involved.'

    You mention moral repugnancy as a popular objection to hunting. As you no doubt know, morality is culturally derived. So morality has no fixed center, but is relative to culture. To assert the view that hunting is morally repugnant is a form of cultural colonialism, Would it be just fine to apply this view to other cultures by asserting cultural superiority? I doubt that this would be a popular view in regards to other manifestations of culture. Why the exception?

    January 18, 2009
  9. Mary Martin #

    I'm not a moral relativist. Though I agree that people allow their morality to be dictated by their culture, that doesn't make it right to do so.

    My morals are clearly not related to my culture. It's simply wrong to kill other sentient beings, intentionally, when you don't need to. No matter where you live or what your dominant culture tells you.

    I realize I am in the minority by living this way, but that doesn't matter to me.

    Also, my comments don't at all support the idea that it's okay to kill animals as long as there's no enjoyment. My point is that enjoying killing, frankly, is creepy. There–I've said it. It's not a sign of a healthy and balanced individual, and I'm fairly sure that many people–even those who eat animals three times a day–would agree.

    Vegans object to hunting and all farming of animals, but most nonvegans object to hunting (I think most is an accurate term, as hunters are a minority just like vegans are), and I think that your real argument should be with people who pay others to kill animals for them, whether or not there's any enjoyment involved.

    January 19, 2009
  10. Hi Mike – Just a comment about comparing factory farms to hunting – I don't know how any hunter can be certain that the animal he stalks and kills is not a "farmed" animal. Google "elk deer farms" – it's astonishing to learn that more than half the animals killed during hunting season are "farmed". Penn. which bemoans it's problem of deer "overpopulation", with numerous dead deer in the roads – has over 50 farms making new ones for each season of hunters. The animals consequently are trapped between two determining factors: the "rites tradition" and economics.

    As less than 5% of the population hunts – it's hard to claim moral "acceptance" within that culture. And I do believe that morality is a fixed concept. Objectively speaking an ethical "right" or "wrong" is what it is, regardless of society's stamp of approval.

    January 19, 2009
  11. Dan #

    In addition to agreeing with Mary’s entire last post, especially that although “people allow their morality to be dictated by their culture, that doesn't make it right to do so”, I’d like to add that when Mike (and others who hold his view) says that morality is derived from and relative to culture, what they are confusing is cultural norms and customs, which can be moral, amoral, or immoral, with morality, and/or they are conflating the two concepts, morality versus cultural norms and customs.

    We can judge and evaluate the morality of cultural norms and customs by applying culturally independent moral concepts to those norms and customs with logical consistency, such as the Golden Rule, deontological theory, consequentialism, empathy, and justice (just to name a few). And through such an analysis, we may find that any given cultural norm or custom are morally right and good, morally neutral, or morally wrong and bad.

    When an immoral cultural norm or custom is considered by the cultural to be “moral”, it is due to cultural prejudice. Chattel slavery was always morally wrong, but the cultural prejudice of the 18th century made most people think it was morally right. Today, the exploitation, “hunting”, and slaughter of animals is morally wrong, but our society’s cultural prejudice makes most people consider it to be morally acceptable (with the possible exception of hunting, which is merely an inconsistency in the common prejudice).

    January 19, 2009
  12. Mike Spies #

    Bea stated: … it's astonishing to learn that more than half the animals killed during hunting season are "farmed" Bea, if this were fact, it would be astonishing. Please provide some citation to support this statement?

    Dan wrote: "We can judge and evaluate the morality of cultural norms and customs by applying culturally independent moral concepts to those norms and customs… " We can? Sounds like cultural colonialism and pure intellectual arrogance to assume that 'we' can judge cultures that are not our own. See the question posed below.

    On the subject of moral relativism vs. moral absolutism – Moral absolutism would require that 'morality' (use your own definition) is hard wired – that is, it is in every person at birth – out of the bounds of cultural influence – and further, is universal in it tenants. Moral relativism insists that morality is culturally derived.

    So I pose a test question…

    A group of 18th century Assiniboine hunters stampede a herd of bison off a cliff, killing more than a dozen. They work hard for several days to preserve the meat, but more than half goes sour and is wasted, or cannot be retrieved. Are these people immoral?

    January 19, 2009
  13. Dan #

    First, I said nothing about “moral absolutism”. The world isn’t black and white, Mike, and that includes distinctions from moral relativity. Rejecting moral relativity does not logically entail moral absolutism as the only other alternative, and I reject both relativism and absolutism. Thinking as clearly and consistently as possible about morals does not lead to absolutism; it leads to recognizing obvious injustices as opposed to genuine moral dilemmas.

    Second, you are conflating different circumstances with different cultures. Often, what would be immoral behavior in some circumstances would not necessarily be immoral in different circumstances: that is why in law there is murder as opposed to justified homicide. It can happen that some cultures, such as the Inuit people, are in drastically different *circumstances* which change the moral assessment of their behavior. It is not “because it’s their culture to eat seals and fish” that excuses their killing of seals and fish, but because “they’ll starve to death if they don’t kill seals and fish” that excuses it.

    I’m not familiar with the circumstances of the Assiniboine “hunters”, but if the circumstances are such that they need to either hunt or starve, then their hunting is excused. Again, not because “it’s their culture” (which is utterly irrelevant), but because they live in such specific circumstances. Assuming for argument’s sake that they need to kill bison to avoid starvation, I do question the prudence of wasting so many bison by not first splitting the herd, but maybe that’s easier said than done.

    Third, you talk of “cultural colonialism” and “intellectual arrogance”, but what of your speciesist fascism and might-makes-right arrogance? Just as I’m all for harmless pleasures, I’m all for harmless cultural diversity. But when pleasures or cultures are cruel, exploitive, or murderous, then it is the pleasure or culture that must be abolished.

    Anthropologists really should be required, as part of their training, to take some basic courses in logic and ethics in the philosophy department. If that were the case, perhaps we wouldn’t have to clear so much fog from people’s goggles when it comes to assessing a culture’s norms and customs from a moral standpoint.

    January 19, 2009
  14. Mike Spies #

    Dan, of course the World isn't black and white.

    I would like to explore your thinking in this statement, “I’m not familiar with the circumstances of the Assiniboine “hunters”, but if the circumstances are such that they need to either hunt or starve, then their hunting is excused. Again, not because “it’s their culture” (which is utterly irrelevant), but because they live in such specific circumstances. Assuming for argument’s sake that they need to kill bison to avoid starvation, I do question the prudence of wasting so many bison by not first splitting the herd, but maybe that’s easier said than done.”

    To say that culture is irrelevant to hunting in the example I gave ignores reality. 'Culture' (in the broadest sense, society, lifeways, customs, traditions, technology, heritage, habits, mores, and values) is evolved as a response to the environment and, among other things, to prevent starvation. Do you think that the moral sense of the hunters in the example is that hunting is 'wrong', but that it is excusable in this case to prevent their starvation? No. That is your construction entirely. It is not for you to 'excuse' their hunting – their way of life – as some permissible exception to an imagined universal code of morality – it is central to the culture, which was built around hunting bison.

    You also stated, “But when pleasures or cultures are cruel, exploitive, or murderous, then it is the pleasure or culture that must be abolished.” This smacks of a severe case of hubris and exemplifies the intellectual arrogance I spoke of earlier.

    Perhaps ethicists and students of philosophy should sit in on some anthropology courses to learn a bit about the word and its people before they undertake the task of re-making it. I encourage you to re-examine your ideas in light of a larger wordview, one that includes all the people inhabiting the planet. The World is not black and white.

    January 19, 2009
  15. Mike – I'd be happy to… And I want to correct my figure about the total of "cervide" farms in the Penn. it's over 1,000 not "50"…
    In fact Figure 4 on the National Cervid Industry – Economic Impact Survey:
    The U.S. in total, has more than 10,000 Cervide Farms. According to: North American Deer Farmers Association (NADeFA®) –

    I reference page 12: "an average of 49 percent of the deer in their hunting areas are from breeding operations."

    This study was released Aug 07 – and according to the Executive Summary of the report: "The cervid farming industry is, perhaps, the fastest growing industry in rural America" thereby accounting for my 1% (error)…

    Fast growing money making biz – I believe it!

    These farms are divided into: Breeding Only, Breeding & Hunting, Hunting Only… yes, they do "artificial insemination, in-vitro fertilization, collect semen Straws and have *selective* breeding". And just like on the dairies, "farmers" bottle feed their fawns -"supplements"… which means mom either goes back to making more fawns, gets released to be hunted OR becomes *venison*. There's also quite an indutry for urine collection as hunters use this to attract the bucks…

    IMPLAN® (Impact Analysis for Planning), an input/output model, was used to estimate the economic impact of the cervid farming industry on the national economy. From page 13 on there are facts and figures (astounding ones!) that confirm my belief that deer (or rather Cervides) have been commodified to an extent that they are hardly "wild game" anymore… but rather, "sitting ducks".

    What's ironic is that (like standard "factory farms") people haven't got a clue what's going on… Most people think hunters are needed to "control populations". Whereas the truth is: Populations are being controlled by hunters.

    It's all "bottom line". They must "pay their way" just like every other non-human soul… Pardon me… am I letting my disgust show?

    Oh… and warning to anyone who studies this PDF – watch out for the photo of the man with the neon vest… it's not a pretty picture.

    January 19, 2009
  16. Dan #


    Normative judgment, whether it be of cultures, morals, science, literature, or anything, is one activity that cannot be normatively judged without falling into self-contradiction and hypocrisy. This should be obvious if you give it a moment's thought, but I’ll spell it out.

    When one asserts the claim, “One ought not to judge”, such a claim is itself a judgment, and also requires a judgment as to when the claim has been violated. The claim itself is therefore logically self-contradictory and untenable. Because your brand of radical moral relativity entails such a ‘non-judgmental’ position, it is also self-contradictory and untenable.

    I’ll use your judgment of me and my culture and tradition to provide a real-life example. You claim that ‘morals’ (what I call norms or customs) are derived from culture, and therefore when one judges another culture’s activities, including their ‘morals’ (norms/customs), one is judging a culture. You further claim that judging culture, including ‘morals’, norms, and customs is wrong. The Western culture, of which I am a member, is a culture whose norms and customs include judging everything under the sun. It is one of our sacred cultural traditions. So if one of your most cherished ethical claims is that one should not judge cultures, norms and traditions, who are you to judge our Western culture? It’s it blatant hypocrisy, contradictory to your own moral code, for you to judge our judging?

    Further, as a practical matter, ignoring the fact that your position is self-defeating, if everybody suddenly stopped judging at any given historical moment ‘t’, it is difficult to see how anything, ethically or otherwise, could possibly have changed since moment t. Judging, ethically or otherwise, is an inherent part of human culture, without which culture would be dead and stagnant. So not only is a ban on judgment nonsensical in a self-defeating way, but it is also devastating to culture itself.

    Anthropologists should reserve the expression of judgment in the field when they are studying a different culture so as not to change the very culture they are studying, but when that reservation of judgment is held as the ultimate good outside of fieldwork in anthropology, it becomes both nonsensical and pathological.

    Going back to the Assiniboine ‘hunters’, yes, I do judge intentional killing, taken in a theoretical vacuum, as wrong and bad. One must have excellent reasons (i.e. survival, legitimate claim of self-defense, avoidance of starvation, etc) for carrying out an act (or acts) of intentional killing before it is excused and considered acceptable under the circumstances. Culture itself (without consideration of surrounding circumstances) is an extremely lame ‘reason’ that doesn’t even come remotely close to being acceptable. Pleasure is an equally lame ‘reason’ for intentional killing. This is not hubris, but the exact opposite if it. Hubris is thinking that humans are so special that we have license, in virtue of our species membership, to murder members of other species in the name of human culture or pleasure.

    January 20, 2009
  17. Mike Spies #


    Thank you for the citation,. I read the information presented. The report says that their are approximately 2000 deer farms in the US, and that the average number of deer in each operation is 83 – composed of roughly equal numbers of does, bucks, and fawns. This puts the total population of deer on deer farms at about 164,000. These are almost all whitetail deer. Based on a number of creditable sources (USFWS, MSNBC, and others) estimates of deer population of the United States put the total at 25 million to something over 30 million. This means the total farm population of deer is about .6% – less than 1% – of the the total US deer population. This means that over 99% of deer in the United States are WILD , not 'farm animals'. Your 49% number (perhaps 80,000 deer) applies to a very narrow situation where 'sportsmen' pay to harvest a deer on private operations. This is a very small slice of a much larger picture and not something that the majority of sportsmen condone.

    As far as current population dynamics are concerned, current total US deer population is at about TWICE the population level at the time of first European contact. As for Pennsylvania, MSNBC says that deer populations in northern PA are at 30 to 35 individuals per square mile – very crowded, indeed. This is borne out by 2006 FLIR aerial surveys conducted by Pennsylvania DCNR and reported on their website.

    Concerning the harvest of deer, the state of Wisconsin alone accounted for 518,573 deer taken by hunters during the 2008 season. Many other states equalled or exceeded this number. While I have no 2008 numbers, I would guess that total take of whitetail deer by hunters in the US easily exceeded 2.5 million in the past season. This means that 12.5 million hunters experienced an approximate success rate of about 20%.

    If you would simply Google 'deer population' you will turn up pages and pages of references to the burgeoning population of deer, and the damage and problems they cause. MSNBC has an article or two on the subject. People who are working on deer population issues say that the population explosion is due to a lack of traditional predators, protection from hunting, and improved habitat. As a side note, deer are responsible for over 1.5 million auto accidents (and over 100 human deaths) every year. The population is limited by the carrying capacity of the habitat, and not by hunting.

    January 20, 2009
  18. Mike, seriously . . . "deer are responsible for over 1.5 million auto accidents (and over 100 human deaths) every year."

    The deer are responsible for the auto accidents? The deer are "responsible"? You might want to change that language. And if you got it from somewhere else, they might want to change it, as well. And how are deer "responsible" for human deaths, exactly? Are they attacking them with malicious intent and then killing them?

    I don't want to engage, as I've never heard a hunting argument that wasn't easily refuted. You might want to go to this series of factsheets on hunting, which address many arguments for the killing of deer in particular at

    There will never be anything anyone could say that could convince me that stalking and killing innocent sentient beings for sport is ethical. As I wrote previously, I think your argument should be with people who use animals but find hunting objectionable.

    January 20, 2009
  19. Dan #


    How about the burgeoning population of human apes, and the damage and problems we cause. The people who are working on human population issues say that the population explosion is due to the same things you mention: lack of traditional predators (and diseases), protection from hunting (and war), and improved habitat (and technology for growing food). As a side note, humans are responsible for 100% of auto accidents (and over 30,000 human deaths) every year.

    Additionally, humans are responsible for over 50 billion non-human animal deaths every year. Humans are responsible for all the human deaths from intra-species warfare. Humans are responsible for biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons that can destroy human existence on the planet, and unfortunately, also possibly all sentient life on the planet. Humans are responsible for polluting the Earth. If we continue on our current trends of consumption, expansion, and resultant pollution trends, which is likely given our collective self-absorption, we’re likely to not survive the next 200 years as a species, and likely to take many other species down with us. Of course, that will only get to happen if we don’t wipe ourselves and other species off the face of the planet via high-tech warfare first.

    So, if your argument is that X is a ‘big problem’, therefore we should hunt and kill X, then we ought to ‘cull’ humanity long before we start worrying about deer, who are unimaginably innocuous when compared with us. How about if we drop the speciesism and anthropocentrism and acknowledge our own shortcomings as a species before criticizing those species that achieve virtual teleological perfection compared to the human ape? If ‘hunters’ like to stalk and kill, then they should set aside some land and stalk and kill each other – kinda like paintball, but with real ammo. Now that would be a real sport – all the contestants would volunteer to participate, and all could equally defend themselves. What 'hunters' call 'sport' is cowardice, not sport.

    January 20, 2009
  20. Mike Spies #

    Mary, Dan, et. al.

    I made no special defense of deer hunting, and I am not a deer hunter. Bea made statements about statistics and population pressures on deer that did not reflect reality. A common problem with people who wish to defend an uninformed position.

    I respect that you all have convictions, beliefs, and morality. I am fine with that. Even Dan's feelings/convictions, despite his perilous logical constructions. But to present these convictions as universal moral truths is a position that is uninformed by reality. Before ethics can provide the answer to what to do, it is useful to first understand what actually IS.

    Your assumptions about me and my beliefs and ethics – which are not actually in evidence here – are expressed in your responses to the few simple points in my comments and reveal that you have a one-dimensional view of reality, and that you are willing – no, eager – to judge others by a code that entirely an artifact of the culture YOU inhabit. Campaign as you must, but do not claim the moral high ground, and condemn others for doing what THEIR values, morals, and ethic require.

    I have enjoyed the conversation.

    PS: Mary 'responsible' was admittedly a poor choice of words. I would amend that to say 'involved. However the statistics are correct.

    January 20, 2009
  21. Dan #


    I agree with you that you have made no special defense of deer hunting. In fact, you have made no defense of anything in this discussion. You have merely asserted and repeated (emphatically at times) moral relativity and the privilege of cultural norms and customs over logic and evaluative judgment. Instead of showing us why (i.e. defending your claim that) my logical ‘constructions’ are perilous (for me), you merely assert it.

    You imply in the last sentence of your second paragraph of your last post that “ethics can provide the answer to what to do” (if we understand what it is), but such an implication contradicts everything else you’ve stated about ethics, which can be summarized as “ethics are relative to and derived from culture and should not be judged or challenged” therefore “ethics can tell us nothing about what to do, but only about what is actually done”.

    So far, I have responded primarily to the claims you have made (e.g. that morality is culturally derived and relative) and questions you have posed (e.g. the Assiniboine people). My comment about deer hunting was not addressed to any specific claim you made, but to your general attitude toward the morality of hunting as relative and culturally-dependent (in contrast to circumstantially-dependent).

    I am eager to challenge those who believe that morality is a synonym for cultural norms and customs. I am also eager to challenge those who believe that sentient nonhuman beings are resources for humans to exploit and kill for their pleasures and preferences. I am eager to challenge people to challenge their own cultural prejudices, personal biases, and self-interest when all three biases lead to exploiting and killing innocent “others”, regardless of the species, race, or sex of those “others”.

    Finally, if there is a culture that I “inhabit” that has led to such challenging, it is the culture that throughout history has tried to at least reduce, if not eliminate, oppression, exploitation, cruelty, and violence against out-groups and the dogmas, prejudices, and epistemic irrationality that support them.

    January 21, 2009
  22. From Brownfield Ag News for America:
    "President Obama’s nominee for administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is a legal scholar whose writings on hunting and animal welfare have raised concern among those in livestock agriculture. Professor Cass Sunstein teaches at Harvard Law School and as a visiting professor at the University of Chicago Law School. At his hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Tuesday, Sunstein responded to a question by Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine about a primer he wrote at Chicago suggesting animals should have more rights in the court system, “The question would be what does, for example, the Endangered Species Act say or what does the Animal Welfare Act say? Not, what does a law review article say? So, I would follow the law.” Sunstein says that writing was a suggestion about state anti-animal cruelty law, “It might be that the enforcement by criminal prosecutors could be supplemented by suits by private people protecting animals from violations of existing state law – very much like under the Endangered Species Act where people, rather than elephants, initiate lawsuits.”

    Sunstein says that suggestion would play no part in his role as OIRA administrator, “It would not be legitimate for the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs to be playing any role in a federal system in rethinking state anti-cruelty law.”

    As for his writings on hunting that suggest it should be outlawed, Collins asked Sunstein for his assurance that his personal views would play no role in taking away hunting and fishing rights that are so much a part of her state and other states’ heritage. Sunstein gave Collins his assurance, “The law is authoritative, first. Second, I’m a strong believer in the second amendment to the United States Constitution. I’m on record as saying the second amendment protects the right to hunt. That reflects my own personal view.”

    The comment Collins quoted, Sunstein says, was an offhand remark in a speech on another topic,
    “Hunters are among the strongest evironmentalists and conservationists in the United States and it would be preposterous for anyone in a position like mine to take steps to affect their rights or their interests.”

    A self admitted pragmatist… as long as killing animals is profitable – it need not be examined…

    Audio from Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committe hearing on OIRA administrator nominee Cass Sunstein

    May 13, 2009
  23. Cass Sunstein says:
    "Second, I’m a strong believer in the second amendment to the United States Constitution. I’m on record as saying the second amendment protects the right to hunt. That reflects my own personal view."

    The second amendment is about humans having the right to own guns to defend themselves from harm. Hunting, which is the stalking and killing of other animals, is an offensive attack directed against innocents. Sunstein's notion that the second amendment "protects the right to hunt" is absolutely absurd.

    May 15, 2009
  24. For those interested… an update on Sunstein nomination:

    "But various farming and ranching interests, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, have raised concerns about Sunstein. Several have contacted Republican farm-state senators to raise concern over Sunstein’s academic writings.

    In a 2002 paper, "The Rights of Animals: A Very Short Primer," Sunstein wrote: “On reflection, the spotlight should be placed squarely on the issue of suffering and well-being.”

    He went on to state that this position “strongly suggests” that “there should be extensive regulation of the use of animals in entertainment, in scientific experiments, and in agriculture.”

    Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), a member of the Agriculture Committee, met with Sunstein earlier this month and said that Sunstein had provided assurance that he would not promote onerous regulations for farmers.

    Chambliss said he would not lift his hold until he had a chance to ask Sunstein to explain his views in a meeting after the July 4 recess.

    "I'm going to talk to him," Chambliss said. "He has not had the opportunity to look me in the eye."

    An aide to Chambliss said the senator is also concerned by Sunstein’s suggestion during a 2007 speech that hunting should be banned.

    As head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, a branch of the Office of Management and Budget, Sunstein would have sweeping authority over new Obama administration regulations.

    Sunstein served as an adviser to Obama’s presidential campaign. He and Obama became friends while both teaching at the University of Chicago Law School.

    Sunstein was considered a possible candidate to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter.

    In addition to farming interests, conservative groups have targeted Sunstein because of his writings. The American Conservative Union has created a website devoted to opposing his nomination".

    June 30, 2009
  25. Glenn Beck video interviewing a representative from CCF –
    "Sportsmen!…What’re We Waitin’ For!?! Block the Appointment of Cass Sunstein"

    August 28, 2009
  26. WJovab #

    As I read through this I have to ask " What is your solution?" I see much about banning hunting and no longer eating meat. However I see nothing on what the consequences of these decisions could be.
    I have seen firsthand an area that banned deer hunting completely for almost 10 years and the suffering of the deer was far worse than anything I have ever seen. In this time the population of deer grew so rapidly that the Habitat could no longer sustain the population and even during spring and summer months, deer were found malnourished and dying a slow suffering death from starvation. Fawns were being still born, or suffering for a few weeks before dying of starvation, as their mothers were unable to produce enough milk to sustain them. Finally after almost 10 years the Hunting ban was lifted and strict guideline were put in place to maintain a healthy sustainable herd. Now after only a few years the browse line has return to the forested areas, Deer are once again healthy. Bearing twins and triplets annually. Other wildlife has also returned due to the availability of habitat.
    I understand the concerns and objections to hunting, but research has shown that as of yet there is no viable solution that is both cost and naturally effective to maintain animal populations. Many say “ Give the animals Birth Control!”, One, this has been tested and failed, and even if it becomes a viable solution, is this not also a form of suffering for the animals. Being injected or fed some sort of drug to alter their natural state. What are the long term impacts? We regularly see cases against Human birth control manufacturing companies due to the side effects and these drugs were to have been thoroughly tested.
    I do not have the answer, and do not believe there is a simple solution. But after witnessing first the suffering of animals due to over population, although an animal may suffer briefly when shot by a hunter. It is far less then weeks of suffering from starvation and diseases. As of now Hunting seems the best tool to help maintain herd numbers in check and is currently used as a tool by state agencies and biologist who really are trained in the field and many are making their decisions based on science and not politics or from the heart as some many of us do.

    December 30, 2009
  27. Mike Grieco #

    Hello WJovab,

    Hope this helps>


    December 31, 2009
  28. Hello Mary Martin! I’m hoping your days have been filled with happy distractions of giggles, snuggles and wide-eyed wonderings.

    But I thought I might close out this one post sort of left hanging to see what Cass Sunstein would or wouldn’t accomplish (for nonhumans) in his official position in the Obama administration. Turns out — Nothing. And he’s gone:

    Oh well! So much for my wide-eyed thinking 3 years ago… Never too old to learn!
    Stay well! xox Bea

    August 9, 2012
  29. mary martin #

    Hi Bea!
    I actually FB’ed that article the day it came out and no one responded to it in any way!
    Oh well is right!

    August 9, 2012

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