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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.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. I have problems with the article I must say. First, there has been no 40-year "animal rights" campaign on anything. Indeed, the two example given, seals and pate de foie gras, highlight what an animal rights campaign would ~not~ do, i.e., suggest that these animal products are special cases: no wonder people have not considered the wider ethical points and move only because they are forced to.

    I personally am not opposed to 'single issue' in the sense of initial hook (only) but any campaign (to be an animal rights one) should immediately and consistently be framed within the articulation of a rights-based understanding of human-nonhuman relations.

    Then we may move toward the paradigm shift that animal rights theory predicts.

    May 11, 2009
  2. We need systemic transformation to end speciesism and human supremacy.

    The state of the movement today (especially as manifested in the campaigns of the national "animal protection" groups) is largely reactionary. Much of what are called "victories" are actually pseudo-victories that serve merely to placate consumers and divert activist time and effort into fruitless ends. I mourn my past advocacy and defense of "welfarist" changes as this helped further the speciesist paradigm of continued exploitation and oppression.

    Thankfully, there is a growing abolitionist movement that engages in genuine vegan and animal rights advocacy. Nonhuman animals need us to be their voice for justice; let us speak out clearly, passionately, and with uncompromising honesty. With perseverance, true victory will be ours.

    May 11, 2009
  3. I was just reading a web posting by Chinese fur farmers and fur-bearing animal breeders and they are worried about the potential impact of EVERY SINGLE little victory.

    May 11, 2009
  4. Reading this comes at a perfect time. Recently I had a conversation with someone who frequently likes to remind me that "things will never change", and that "what you do won't make a difference". And that what I should be doing is supporting a *more humane* life/death for animals. I'm saddened that they just don't know me by now.

    I don't advocate for Animal Rights because of any anticipated victory in my lifetime. I press on because it's the right thing to do. To stick up for the abused and to seek justice for the oppressed. To desire fairness for those who are denied a decent shake at it. Nothing fancy, no great parades of conquest, no masses of humanity supporting my actions. Just me… trying to be consistent with my values. After all, in the end – without popularity contests; without my neighbor's nod of approval – the reflection that stares back from my mirror – must be my own.

    And if I've ever had cause to celebrate a "victory"… it's never been because of a won "campaign" for a select species tentatively granted a reprieve. But rather, the joy comes a hundred fold from the person that "got it"… The ones that say they've thought about some concepts I've presented and that they are going vegan. When I hear this – there is no band or banner big enough to express my "Hoorays!".

    May 11, 2009

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