Thursday, 5 April 2007

Why Can't Animal Welfare Lead to Animal Rights?

Why is the history of animal welfare an incessant procession of incalculable defeats? Why does every welfarist "victory" demonstrate nothing but impotence? Why, even though we recognized that we have direct moral obligations to animals two hundred years ago, are nonhumans held captive in spaces so small that they cannot move? Why, after 200 hundreds of years of welfarism (the first welfare law was enacted in 1641, and welfarists have been trying to implement their ideology for the past couple of hundred years), is humans' hegemony over other animals still absolute? Why do we have gestation crates and battery cages; drug addiction and burn experiments? In short, why has animal welfare not negated institutionalized animal exploitation at all?

In Animals, Property, and the Law and Rain Without Thunder, Gary Francione provides the answer. Because of the way the human-nonhuman conflict is conceptualized in Anglo-US legal systems, animal welfare is inherently biased against animal interests -- "structurally defective," as Francione puts it. Humans are legal persons who have rights. Animals, on the other hand, are property; they have only extrinsic or conditional value. Animals therefore are completely rightless beings (i.e., they are entitled to nothing).

Now a presupposition of Anglo-American legal systems is that rights have special normative force. Rights are (to use Ronald Dworkin’s metaphor) "trumps": "they give [powerful] reasons to treat their holders in certain ways or permit them to act in certain ways, even if some social aim would be served by doing otherwise." That is, rights invariably trump competing (non-right) considerations.

The implications of conceptualizing the human-nonhuman conflict in this way are clear. Animal interests are protected by welfare laws; whereas exploiters' property interests are protected by rights. Thus, when human and animal interests conflict we have a pseudo-conflict between a right and a non-right consideration -- between exploiters' property interests in animals and animals' interest in not being used as property. The entailment here is obvious:

Exploiters' right-protected property interests always prevail over animals' welfare-law/non-right protected welfare interests.

This pseudo-balancing process ensures that any welfare law that sought to accord animals protection that impinged on exploiters' property rights -- a law, that is, that was in the best interests of animals but wasn't also in the economic interests of exploiters -- would invariably be rejected outright by the framework of the system. As such, the framework of oppression of animals' property status/exploiters' property rights ensures that the system of welfare reform serves no more than the interests of property owners/animal exploiters to maximally exploit their animal property -- instituting reforms that militate for, and rejecting those that militate against, exploiters' efficiency and profitability.

Paradoxically, then, animal welfare protects the interests exploiters have in animals rather than the interests of animals (Francione) -- in other words, it protects exploiters not animals.

Francione's property analysis refutes the idea that there is a causal relationship between animal welfare in the short term and animal rights in the long term. The argument can be summarized as follows:

Argument 1:

1) Exploiters' property interests in animals are protected by right. Animals' welfare interests are protected by welfare laws (a non-right consideration)
2) In Anglo-US legal systems, rights "trump" non-right considerations

Conclusion: exploiters' property interests in animals always trump animals’ welfare interests.

Argument 2:

(1) A welfare law could theoretically be in the interests of animals but not also in the interests of the exploiters
(2) Exploiters' property interests in animals always trump animals' welfare interests (the conclusion of argument 1)

Conclusion: a welfare law that was in the interests of animals but wasn't also in the interests of the exploiters would be rejected outright by the framework of the system.

Overall conclusion: animal welfare serves no more than the right of exploiters to maximally exploit their animal property. Because animal welfare is a non-right consideration that is automatically trumped by exploiters' property rights, any welfare law that was in the interests of animals but wasn't also in the interests of the exploiters would be trumped by the latter's property rights. Therefore, animal welfare does not -- it cannot -- challenge or incrementally abolish animal exploitation. Rather it serves the framework of oppression of animals' property status/exploiters' property rights in animals.

The contradiction between the property rights exploiters have in animals and the societal desire to afford animals some measure of protection is resolved by having welfare laws that protect only institutional animal interests -- a minimalistic form of "protection" that is necessary to ensure that animals are exploited in a maximally (economically) efficient way. For example, there are welfare regulations which stipulate that animals imprisoned in vivisection laboratories must be given food and water; but that is only because if they weren't given food and water they would die and so wouldn't yield (what is taken to be) valid data for vivisectors. Again, because animals are legally regarded exclusively as means to human ends, the welfare regulations protect the interests the vivisection industry has in animals rather than the interests of the animals.

Accordingly, welfare laws and regulations do not represent a partial negation of animals' property status or legal "thinghood" and a corresponding concession that they have nonextrinsic, nonconditional value and morally significant interests. Rather, because welfare laws afford animals only institutional protection, they merely represent a codification of animals' property status.

In short: animal welfare laws are slave laws.

The special normative force of property rights within Anglo-American legal systems leads to a system of animal welfare that is virulently anti-animal: in order to protect exploiters’ property rights, it allows animals to be treated in the most horrendous ways imaginable (gestation crates, veal crates, battery-cages) so long as this treatment is economically efficient. This means that animals' property status and animal suffering are inextricably enmeshed; the latter cannot be reduced without eroding the former. Specifically, animals' property status prevents animals from receiving non-consequential protection -- protection irrespective of the (economic) consequences of doing so -- and instead entails that they receive only consequential protection -- protection only in so far as some third party (i.e. property owners/exploiters) benefits from the protection. On the other hand, in order for animals to receive non-consequential protection (from being treated as property), their property status must be eroded, which entails putting limits on what exploiters may do to them, in explicit recognition of their inherent value. But because the system of welfare reform is constrained by the legal assumption that animals are property, it can reduce animal suffering only if the framework of oppression of animals' property status/exploiters' property rights is not thereby infringed.

In short: animal welfare serves the oppressive framework under which nonhumans are enslaved.

A first principle of the abolitionist movement, then, must be the rejection of animal welfare and the recognition that, to effect a paradigm shift in attitudes toward the human-nonhuman relationship, we must use qualitatively different means from the (welfare) means utilized by what has hitherto passed as the animal rights movement. We must recognize that radicalism mediated through reactionary institutions is a contradiction in terms; the former is nullified by the latter. We must reject industries that seek to neutralize radicalism with meretricious and illusory offers of progress. We must recognize that animal welfare leads to cooptation; it harmonizes advocates with the status quo and reconciles them to animal exploitation. We must reject hypocrisy and inconsistency.

Instead, we must make veganism a nonnegotiable baseline and engage directly with the real locus of abolition -- people themselves -- since abolition means: abolishing exploitation in our own lives -- and going vegan