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Why I’m Not Giving Up On Capitalism

Among friends I'm thought of as a bit of a conundrum because I haven't completely given up on capitalism. More important, I haven't given up on the idea that money can save the day sometimes.

Or pulling money.

For instance, I think shareholder activism isn't a terrible idea because you're giving them money in the first place. The goal is to manipulate by gaining enough shares/power/control to swing things your way. Would I buy Burger King to do that? No, because their entire business is based on using animals. But there are other scenarios, such as some that PCRM has suggested in the past, that do make sense; where the goal is to alter policy within a company regarding, say, research using animals when that's not required. Or putting money into researching alternatives.

And though there's a lot of ridicule among some activists about writing checks–and particularly to large organizations–check out this check to a large organization . . .

Madeleine Pickens (yes, that Pickens–T. Boone's wife) was largely responsible for Oklahoma State University canceling its planned anthrax experiments on baboons after she threatened to cancel the Pickens' $5 million donation to the university's vet school. (Here's a local news article about the situation.)

Thomas Paine's Corner has more on the story here.

I'm going to contact Madeleine Pickens to thank her, as well as Burns Hargis, the President of Oklahoma State University.

I guess part of my refusal to completely abandon capitalism is the related notion (byproduct? goal, even? at least in my eyes) that larger amounts of money can make a big difference. And just like the premise of The Girl Effect, she who has the money has the power to change things faster and in a more significant way and in more in her favor than when the person who does have the power and the money has a different idea of what's important.

Okay, now take your best shot. And try not to call me any nasty names.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nick #

    Even those of us who have given up on capitalism can agree that money plays a major role in activism within the framework of the current system. The Pickens case is a good example, and I'm completely in favor of using financial resources to our advantage. However, this also confirms one of my central critiques of capitalism, that private wealth has more of a say in how society is run than people themselves do. I envision a world in which our lives aren't dominated by private power (such as Mrs. Pickens, who just as easily could have "convinced" OSU to increase their use of animals), and where grassroots social movements produce progress rather than large corporations like PETA, HSUS, or uber-wealthy tycoons such as the Pickenses. The same system that enables the wealthy to write checks on behalf of animals gives enormous power to corporate interests who favor the continued exploitation of animals.

    December 4, 2009
  2. Dan #

    Well said, Nick.

    Adding on to what Nick wrote: how does OSU’s cancellation of the testing shift society’s paradigm? Like all single issue “victories”, it is just more “picking of low hanging fruit” which then grows back. It would be ironic indeed, but not in the least surprising, to see another university pick up the project of testing anthrax on baboons. And that kind of ineffectiveness is what we should always expect when we’re hacking at the branches instead of striking at the root. Vegan education is the only way forward.

    So what to do with $5 million? I’d rather see $5 million go toward getting Gary Francione interviewed on a few primetime major network shows or to the promotion of veganism and abolition.

    Finally, there are industries that should be abolished (i.e. all industries related to animal exploitation) and industries that should exist, but be removed from the deleterious effects of the growth and profit motive (i.e. capitalism): tobacco, alcohol, weapons, pharmaceuticals, and gaming. Do we really want the profit motive involved in hyper-generating the social ills on so many levels associated with these industries?

    December 4, 2009
  3. Dan #

    P.S. – I wrote that those industries (tobacco, alcohol, gaming, pharmaceuticals, weapons) "should exist". I should have said that there is nothing *inherently* wrong with those products, but that in excess, or used wrongly, they are wrong. I didn't mean that they "should exist" as a blanket evaluative statement. The world would certainly be a better place if none of them existed (or in the case of certain pharmaceuticals and weapons, weren't necessary in some cases).

    December 4, 2009
  4. John #

    Sorry to label you two or maybe I'm not, but you sound like you're from the Francione cult.

    A bit off topic but let's please all agree on one thing. The vegan movement is and always will be an ongoing struggle. You are NOT going to change 99% of the population to become vegan with a single focused method and I don't care how much time you have to do it and your proposed nationally televised Francione speech is not going to start some revolutionary uprising. Sure, it may get a few people to delve into some deeper thoughts on what they eat or wear but the discussions I have with friends and family produce none if little results…and we're talking about ongoing education when interacting with them, hitting them with all the benefits of veganism from all angles. Abolition is a great goal and a lofty one to work towards but look at the reality of what you're up against.

    So some wealthy individual has some money in which to throw their weight around and stop a program inherent of animal suffering and exploitation. This is purely one method of halting a minute fraction of speciesism in this world where it's the everyday norm. Like the animal abuse cases uncovered by welfarism this act draws attention to the public but does not offer an all out ban of testing, but unlike welfarism it isn't a situation where the baboons still got tested on but were able to sleep in comfy beds and eat a four course gourmet meal before the experimentation. Will another university take up the testing? Who knows. Or will this action bring up more debate within the educational circles questioning the aspects of animal testing programs providing it with a possible change in a university's curriculum?

    As in this case of canceling a donation involving a large some of money it's using a mainstay of our society and having it work to our advantage, regardless of how slight it is in the big picture. Furthermore you're taking a woman's single favorable capitalistic action, condemning it, while comparing it to other corporate interests of continued animal exploitation and suggesting what she could have easily done something else.

    Oh so sick and tired of it's this way or no way redundantly served up by the Francione posse.

    December 4, 2009
  5. Nick #

    John, nothing I said links me to the "Francione cult," as you call it. My comment doesn't even reveal whether I support welfare or abolition (even a welfarist could have legitimate critiques of pro-welfare corporations). I was discussing my critique of capitalism, not my position on animal rights or how the movement should be organized. I was simply pointing out one thing: that what Chomsky calls the "unaccountable private tyrannies" allowed to flourish under capitalism are a major impediment to progress in any social movement, since massive sums of wealth almost always trump popular struggle.

    Where in my above comment did I imply that "it's this way or no way"? Did you miss the part where I said that "I'm completely in favor of using financial resources to our advantage"? If Mary, Madeleine Pickens, or anyone can write a check that helps animals, great. But in the face of a multi-billion (or trillion?) dollar worldwide industry, this isn't going to win our struggle for us. In a truly democratic system, in which power is distributed equally among all people rather than unequally to those with greater monetary wealth, accomplishing any progressive goal would be a much less daunting task. And the fact that there are some good, philanthropic people willing to use their financial resources in a positive way does not provide an adequate defense of an inherently unjust social order.

    I see no need for belligerent, ad hominem attacks against the "Francione posse" of which you so fervently disapprove. If you disagree with Francione, that's fine. I myself disagree with him on certain points–so much for my membership in this new cult I've been hearing about! But please discuss the content of peoples' arguments rather than resorting to name-calling.

    December 5, 2009
  6. John #

    Sorry Nick, I was aiming more at Dan's comments. If you're wearing a shirt, keep it on. Did you see where I said off topic a bit before elaborating on something closely tied to animal rights? Then I resorted to giving my opinion on how one method(financial with a capitalistic fervor) could work in favor of animal rights. Apologies for not constructing my comments to mesh with the exact topic at hand and grouping you with Dan's comments…maybe it was the "well said, Nick" that led me to believe that. I too agree w/Francione on some points and don't discredit all he has to say but my mentioning the things that I deplore may have given the wrong impression. "Posse" "cult" just slang terms relating to a following of a closely knit group.

    Have a wonderful holiday!

    December 5, 2009
  7. Olivia #

    More off-topic: The funny thing is that when I heard Gary speak recently, he emphasized that each of us is our own leader and should be growing our own animal-rights movements. I got the impression he's not a cult figure seeking out followers. He advocates everyone thinking intelligently and independently. That said, if I were gonna be a groupie, I'd rather ally with him than with some other unmentionable names in the AR/AW movement any day of the week! 🙂

    Even more off-topic: I don't agree that there's nothing inherently wrong with the products of the above-cited industries. I find no redeeming value or need for any of 'em. And if I can get along happily without guns, drugs, cigs, spirits and gambling, it seems to me that anybody and everybody can. None of them are peace-inducing. None of them foster self-responsibility, self-control, or self-worth. None of them enable us to do for our neighbor. None of them heal or restore or save or cure or transform on any permanent basis; they're all just a bunch of band-aids.

    As for the issue at hand (poor, patient Mary!), I don't think the OSU president responded from an ethical motive; I think he was just scared of his school losing a whole wad of money. That, to me, is no different from the pig farmers who don't want their businesses to fold. Fear of losing something that's ephemeral is not the best reason to do or not do something. There's no ethical backbone or courage behind such a decision. (You could say he knew the university's vivisectors would be mad at him, so he was brave to defy them. But they're not his bosses; big donors are.)

    Besides, money may talk sometimes but not all the time. If it did, the BLM would've bowed to Madeleine Pickens' noble desire to buy all the penned-up wild horses and put them on sanctuary land in the West. I wish! The cattle ranchers didn't want that solution (that wide expanse of public land belongs to them, ya know!), and they made sure the rancher-led BLM (cattleman Ken Salazar heads that agency from his perch as Secretary of the Interior) knew it!

    December 6, 2009
  8. Jarno #

    I think you have a warped view of what "no capitalism" (socialism?) would be like.

    "Large sums of money" would not be a factor, then. No one person or group would have so much money, nor would anyone else desire (and be able to use) that money. Anticapitalists want equal distribution of wealth, making philanthropy an empty phrase.

    All you say is that a difference *can* theoretically be made within a capitalist environment. The alternatives, however, would improve matters much more directly and rapidly.

    December 9, 2009

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