On Small Victories
Yesterday's "Do Small Victories Affect Big Picture in Animal Rights Debate?" makes some fantastic points that are worth repeating and deconstructing. Here's the set-up:
- The European Parliament endorsed a ban on seal products.
- A famous Ottawa restaurant removed foie gras from its menu after being pressured by activists.
Both, of course, were seen as victories, but the article's author, Richard Foot, asks:
Do such successes mean the animal rights movement is winning its long, controversial campaigns to gain the same legal protections for animals as those ascribed to humans?
The removal of foie gras came after "months of nasty, anonymous phone calls, insulting e-mails, and noisy demonstrations outside . . . restaurants by animal rights activists." The restaurateur "couldn't take any more threats, intimidation or sleepless nights caused by the tactics." So it would seem that the mission was accomplished, and the means resulted in the intended ends. But Foot doesn't buy it and asks–again–
Yet over the long history of animal rights activism in Canada, it's hard to find evidence that the larger aims of such protests are ever achieved. Notwithstanding their local tactical victories, are animal rights protesters really as effective as they appear?
I'm not sure why he thinks we "appear" to be effective, as I can't think of one campaign that I've supported, other than the banning of greyhound racing in individual states, that has actually succeeded.
Foot explains why this isn't the end of sealing and quotes a Fur Institute of Canada spokesperson who says:
"The activists could have had an influence on the manner in which sealing is conducted – and they still could – if they want to talk and work with the people in the industry. But if they continue to just take a fundamentalist position against people who live in the same ecosystem as the seals, then they'll never achieve an end to this activity, because these people rely on this for their living."
As long as humans have anything to gain from using sentient nonhumans, in other words, the latter will always lose. Changes in the manner of slaughter (i.e., "welfare") is the best that any of us can ever hope for, and of course what is a change in the way I kill you other than a change in the method by which you die.
Paul Watson's response is, I think, the right one.
We don't focus on whether we're going to win or we're going to lose. We
do what we think is right, because it's the right thing to do. If we
don't succeed, well, then it's going to affect all of humanity.
This is simply honesty. Frankly, we don't know whether or not welfare reform will lead to the abolition of the use of sentient nonhumans. The story isn't over yet and perhaps the pace of change is glacial and all of this that doesn't very effective to me, will be seen differently in a hundred years. But that doesn't mean I'm going to support campaigns for changes in the way we use or kill animals, as that would be dishonest because it's not my goal. There is a right thing to do, and we shouldn't shy away from it merely because "winning" on a grand scale isn't likely in our lifetime.