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On Cooking with Guests and Candidates for President


It might be a bad photo, but it was an awesome pie (I forgot to snap a picture when the whole thing was available). This weekend’s Cooking with Guests involved vegan chili/burritos and the above pumpkin custard pie with cream cheese frosting. Our guest is not a vegan . . . yet.

Mike from way, way up north sent me David Cantor’s "Beware of Politicians–and Newspapers–Talking ‘Animal Rights’" as it appeared in AR-News. Without further ado . . .

A  January 16, 2008, Associated Press article reported that Democratic Party presidential candidate Barack Obama stated at a "town hall meeting" in Nevada "that he cares about animal rights very much, ‘not only because I have a 9-year-old and 6-year-old who want a dog.’  He said he sponsored a bill to prevent horse slaughter in the Illinois state Senate and has been repeatedly endorsed by the Humane Society."   
     The article continued, "’I think how we treat our animals reflects how we treat each other,’ he said.  ‘And it’s very important that we have a president who is mindful of the cruelty that is perpetrated on animals.’"
     In addition to the candidate, apparently the Associated Press’s  editors don’t know what animal rights is, misrepresent it willingly, or have a policy, like many other news venues, of identifying people as they choose to identify themselves, regardless of accuracy.  If Obama knows what animal rights is, he also knows no presidential candidate can  possibly be elected endorsing it and figures his audience and the news industry will accept  misuse of "animal rights," such misuse  already being popular.  Obama’s comments, though purporting to endorse animal rights, in fact do not. Every detail is either a non- or anti-animal-rights statement.
     To show you endorse – and understand – animal rights, you don’t say your children  "want a dog" – you say you’ve explained to them an animal is not a thing to want.  If you might consider having a dog live in your home, you show you understand  animal rights by saying you’ll only adopt and never purchase an animal, will adopt more than one to minimize loneliness, and will ensure that they do not reproduce.  If you’re a celebrity politician, because people tend to imitate the famous, you say you’ll only adopt a  mixed-breed dog to avoid fueling another 101 Dalmatians- or Kennedy-leopard-skin-pillbox-hat-type debacle.
     You don’t boast of having sponsored a horse-slaughter ban in the Illinois state Senate — you unfurl your plan to phase out all animal slaughter and all other uses of nonhuman animals.  You say your family is proud to be showing how much better humans will live when nonhumans have rights – they eat nothing from animals, use no personal-care or household products made  from or tested on animals, wear nothing from animals … acknowledging that consumer choices will not establish any rights, which must be articulated explicitly, probably as Constitutional amendments if they are to end humans’ property rights in nonhuman animals and  the land, water, and airspace they need.   Prohibiting the slaughter of animals so many people love is not a step toward animal rights, nor does it give horses a right not to be slaughtered, let alone not to be born into slavery.
     You don’t boast of being endorsed by the Humane Society – it is not an animal-rights organization. It promotes animal rights’ antithesis, animal welfare.  If you understand and endorse animal rights, you understand many billions of animals are treated inhumanely every year in the U.S., most of them extremely inhumanely, even though all of the 300 million Americans capable of considering the matter believe it is wrong to treat an animal inhumanely – despite the  Humane Society’s having pushed its non-rights, industry-friendly mission for over half-a-century and claiming 1 in 30 Americans is a member.  So you realize for humane treatment of  animals to become policy, not just personal choice, requires fundamental change in the way Americans live – an end to all use, ownership, domination, and seizing or driving from  their natural homes of nonhuman animals – in short, meaningful, enforceable basic legal  rights for all sentient beings on which secondary rights can be based.  That is not what the Humane Society teaches or asks legislators to support.  And no candidate or legislator supports it.
     Nor do you say the president should be "mindful of the cruelty" humans inflict on other animals if you want to get across that you endorse animal rights – even though of course everyone should be mindful of that.  Animal-rights advocates work to end inhumane treatment as public policy, because fighting cruelty rather than pervasive inhumane treatment is a key reason there’s so much animal suffering including cruelty.  Inhumane treatment in every area of human life is a root cause of cruelty.  Not only does fighting cruelty do nothing toward ending inhumane treatment; it cannot possibly do so, ever.  More than a century of anticruelty policy proves that.  Far more animals are treated far more inhumanely than when anticruelty policy began.  And because we in the United States, with the wherewithal  necessary to establish humane treatment as policy, have failed to do so or even to attempt it in a big way, our country cannot serve as an example to others as it used to regarding human rights, before our government defended anti-rights practices and articulated anti-rights policies.  Cruelty must be prohibited and prosecuted, of course, but that has nothing to do with establishing rights.
     Obama’s comment that "how we treat animals reflects how we treat each other" is not wrong as far as it goes, but it implies human beings are not animals, and it can reflect any kind of opinion about how to improve the treatment of nonhuman animals.  It in no way suggests we must establish basic legal rights for all sentient beings – the animal-rights bottom line.  And since ending human interference in other animals’ lives is a key objective, emphasizing  "treatment" suggests perpetuating the status quo in which humans own, use, and dominate others.   
     To promote animal rights, such a statement must be supported with details.  If you are merely repeating the cliché that people who beat pet dogs are more likely to beat their spouse or child, you are not promoting animal rights.  You might be if you explain that owning and exploiting nonhuman animals is the original basis of owning and exploiting human beings and that establishing and enforcing all sentient beings’ basic legal right of autonomy will aid in establishing and enforcing basic human rights.  Many animal-rights advocates understand that billions of human beings lack basic legal rights and that where they exist,  they are too often violated with impunity.  Because so many people cannot conceive of treating nonhuman animals better than humans, establishing basic legal rights of nonhumans can be expected to help establish human rights where they do not currently exist and to improve enforcement 
where they exist.   
     Now, does endorsing the actual animal-rights agenda rather than a make-believe one sound like a way to get  elected?
     Because Obama’s "animal rights endorsement" doesn’t at all describe the animal-rights agenda and says things about animals that do not reflect that agenda, it is not surprising it doesn’t explain the connection to human rights or any of the other far-reaching advantages animal rights offers to human beings – improved  health, lower medical & insurance costs, healthier ecosystems, less-rapid fresh-water and topsoil loss, less burning of oil and coal, and more.
     It is not a big surprise that a candidate would not know what animal rights is.  The news industry never explains it and routinely misuses "animal rights."  Many people confuse others by calling almost anything anyone does  on behalf of animals "animal rights" – even rescuing injured ones or cruelty victims, which peop
le have done since long before "animal rights" entered the language, even before "human rights" did.   
     It might help if animal advocates would not confuse animal rights with anything any candidate or elected official can endorse or support – unless the candidate or official has lost their marbles or has decided to call it quits and take up animal-rights advocacy instead of electoral and legislative politics.  Animal rights is a political proposal for root  change – a radical idea that cannot be accurately described as improving the treatment of animals, prohibiting cruelty to animals, helping animals, and the like.  The animal-rights agenda is designed to make the world a better place for animals than reforms can.  As in other areas of life, reforms cause people to think the problem is being handled so fundamental change is not necessary.  Reform is not an animal-rights activity.
     Woodrow Wilson, a trained historian and political scientist, wrote in his book The State, "In politics nothing radically novel may safely be attempted."  He meant electoral and legislative politics. That was understood long before Wilson’s time.  For the foreseeable future, animal rights can only be promoted through education.  That can include education of politicians as well as millions of other people, but not under the delusion that politicians can endorse animal rights anytime soon without changing careers.  Dennis Kucinich is a case in point.  It is wonderful that he is vegan, but he would not have been able to gain even the respectable small amount of support he did if he’d articulated an animal-rights platform.   
     None of this is to say politicians are "bad" people or that Obama should be deemed a lesser candidate than any other.  Did the person who elicited his "endorsement" by shouting "What about animal rights?" know what animal rights is?  Probably not.  If she’d wanted to sink Obama with an "animal rights" cinderblock  tied to his ankles, she  would have said, There’s a rumor circulating to the effect that you’re hiding a radical animal-rights agenda that you intend to push if you are elected – is that true?  If she wanted to boost his chances, she would have simply asked if he cares about animals, leaving rights out of it.  Then he could do the equivalent of baby-kissing – bunny-hugging? – without reference to what in electoral politics would be a kiss of death.  He reportedly did the baby-kissing thing, but for his purposes including "rights" in his answer is a mistake.
     Ironically, if she thinks Obama would make a fine president and only wanted to give him an opportunity to wax caring, she provided his opponents and enemies with a weapon by phrasing her question in terms of "animal rights" and getting him to say he "cares about animal rights very much."  All they have to do is repeat at every  opportunity that Obama supports animal rights: no more animal experiments, no more meat, no more this, no more that.  That’s what animal rights is.  Your rights end where my nose begins; my rights begin where your cages, slaughterhouses, rifles, stables, tethers, backhoes, syringes, kennels … end.
     My organization does not endorse candidates or otherwise take part in electoral or legislative
politics – it is an animal-rights organization; therefore, it seeks to educate, and it takes part  in education politics, food politics, and other kinds, not electoral or legislative politics.  If it took part in electoral politics, it would consider endorsements in the context of recognizing that virtually all big business is detrimental to nonhuman animals and to their prospects for obtaining basic legal rights.  Can any candidate succeed today without big-business support or without being careful not to mobilize big-business interests against them?  And can you name any big business whose financial interests are not  threatened by animal rights?
     See what I mean?
     You have to start somewhere?  People say that all the time as if it justified pretending non- or anti-animal-rights positions were animal-rights ones – or as if some connection could magically come to exist between helping animals in their current human-dominated world and remaking their world so they won’t need help.  It won’t, so forget about it.  Whatever doesn’t explicitly advance animal rights …  simply doesn’t.
     Isn’t it amazing how much power you have when you don’t cede yours to others?  When you realize you can work to expand the American Revolution to all sentient beings without the say-so of any politician, official, advocacy hero, or anyone else?  As those who preceded you expanded it to people who’d been the property of others?  What you’re experiencing is the autonomy evolution prepared you for.  As an animal-rights advocate, you deeply want all sentient beings to share in that experience, according to their nature. You’re willing to take the necessary time.  You know there are no shortcuts, and you don’t accept substitutes. ´

David Cantor is founding director of Responsible Policies for Animals, Inc. — /

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Mike Grieco #

    Hi Mary.
    Great photo of an "awesome pie":)
    Also, thanks so much for posting some of David Cantor's wonderful work.
    I urge your wonderful reader's to explore RPA's web site. Very informative.
    Another strong voice. Another positive step for all life.

    January 28, 2008

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