Wednesday, 25 June 2008

CAK, Welfarism, Militancy

I wrote a long forum post recently which I thought I'd reproduce here:

PeTA's own report on CAK clearly states that CAK will increase production efficiency for animal industry. Therefore, how can the welfare movement seriously claim that CAK represents incremental progress toward abolition -- in other words, that it is a step on the road to emptying the cages?

Animal industry will survive for as long as animals remain economically viable commodities. And animals will remain economically viable commodities for as long as industry can make profit from them. Therefore, if we are to eradicate animal exploitation, we must abolish animals' commodity status.

Now the abolition of animals' commodity status can be achieved either directly through the imposition of constraints on what exploiters can do to animals in the recognition that animals have inherent value, or indirectly through mitigating cultural speciesism through vegan education. And of course these things are not mutually exclusive but are, rather, two sides of the same coin - that coin being animal liberation.

Yet CAK cannot seriously be claimed to erode animals' commodity status either directly or indirectly.

First, CAK will reduce the cost of exploiting chickens and, correspondingly, increase their commodity value. This, of course, is in direct opposition to the aim of abolishing animals' commodity status.

Second, the increased profits that will come from the increased production efficiency will be cyclically invested by industry in more animal exploitation. This means that CAK, promoted by welfarists, will be a causal factor in the expansion and growth of animal industry.

Third, the decreased production costs probably will cause a decrease in the price of chicken. This in turn will cause an increase in demand, as people who couldn't afford these products pre-CAK will now buy them and people who could afford them will probably buy more of them. This increase in demand, driven by an increase in exploitative efficiency, will in turn cause a net increase in animal suffering because more chickens will be being exploited.

Fourth, PeTA's CAK campaign represents free advertising for KFC. PeTA have publicly announced that they have called off their KFC campaign - something that is suited to make people feel better about consuming chicken at KFC in particular, and to increase social acceptance of animal use in general. For if even a self-proclaimed animal rights organization no longer sees the need to oppose KFC, then what reason could the public have for opposing it? Moreover and deplorably, these statements by a self-proclaimed animal rights organization will be taken to have generalizing authority, in that they will be taken to apply to other forms of animal use.

The self-inflicted unimaginativeness involved in the reply that we should support any welfarist measure that is thought to reduce suffering is astonishing. If the idea here is that welfarism is a precondition of abolition, then I would reply: if you think that regulations which militate for industry's efficiency and profitability are a precondition of abolition, then you are in the kind of error (at least on issue of the abolition of animals' commodity status) that makes meaningful discussion impossible.

Second, these regulations would exist anyway, that is, independently of the welfare movement and of welfare campaigns, since, as I said, they protect only institutional animal interests, interests that relate to animals use as economic property. Only if they represented a recognition that animals had inherent value would it make any sense to be concerned about their being repealed.

Third, if the idea is that people have to find it intelligible that they should be kind to animals in order to find it intelligible that they have rights-type obligations, and that this means we should continue to promote welfarism, then I would reply with the following. Even though people generally accept the welfarist idea that they should be kind to animals, this has not, as an empirical matter, translated into welfarist regulation that reflects inherent valuation of animal interests. If welfarism is empirically unable to erode animals' property status, then welfarism has no abolitionistic function -- and so should rejected by the abolitionist movement.

Fourth, if the claim is that welfarism sustains a certain attitude in people's minds, namely, that people should be kind to animals, and that this is why the welfare corporations should promote it, then this is refuted by the fact that veganism can also sustain in people's mind the idea that animals are members of the moral community. Moreover, if the welfarist corps just promoted veganism, then this would not just have the same effect: it would have a qualitatively better effect. The problem, therefore, does not lie with the abolitionist approach, in particular with its rejection of welfarism, but rather with new welfarist corps which refuse to make vegan outreach their primary mode of campaigning.

Fifth, not all animal welfare scientists are even prepared to say that CAK will reduce suffering. Also, there are other ways to reduce net animal suffering in the short term, ways which do not our illogically undermine our ideals and long term goals in the very act of announcing themselves, and also our capacity to reduce animal suffering in the future. Vegan education, for example, can reduce net animal suffering (by reducing demand) while also militating for long term abolition (by building up the constituency of vegans). But this obscures the most important point in the fight for justice for animals, which is that neither PeTA, nor anyone else, can morally justify promoting, or engaging in, any form of animal use.

Thus to call welfarism an opportunity cost would be to radically underdescribe its pointlessness to the abolitionist movement.

If the empirical effects of vegan education seem minimal to people, then this would only undermine the abolitionist approach if vegan outreach were the animal movement's primary mode of campaigning. But it isn’t. On the contrary, welfarism is. Ironically, therefore, the empirical evidence that is supposed to undermine abolitionism – that people are unreceptive to veganism; that it has had a minimal impact; etc. – and to recommend welfarism in fact undermines welfarism and leaves abolitionism untouched. For it strongly suggests, not that vegan education won’t work (how could any empirical evidence show that vegan education won’t work when, as an empirical matter, vegan education has never been made the animal movement’s primary mode of campaigning?), but rather that it won’t work while the animal movement concurrently promotes welfarist measures (“happy” animal products, welfare regulation etc.) that provide people with an almost endless number of elitist excuses to continue exploiting animals.

If the idea is that vegan advocacy will take too long to abolish animal use -- that the former needs to be supplemented with other forms of advocacy in order to expedite the latter, then this is refuted by (at least) two considerations. First, it relies on the idea that vegan education is not maximally conducive to abolition. Yet vegan education is the only thing that directly causes abolition, for it is the only thing that directly targets the source of animal oppression (as opposed to welfarism which merely aims to mitigate the worst exploitative practices), which is demand; and it is the most effective use of our limited time and resources (why talk to someone about eating "humane" animal products when you can talk to them about eating no animal products?). In any event, it is difficult to see how something could be more conducive to veganism than direct and unequivocal vegan education. Accordingly, it is difficult to understand what could seriously be meant by saying that we need a “plurality” of approaches, or a “multi-pronged” approach, when the other approaches, or “prongs,” are less conducive to abolition than vegan education

Moreover, the success of vegan advocacy is a precondition of the intelligible success of the other main advocacy option, namely, prohibiting animal use through legislation. A cultural paradigm shift is a precondition of a legal paradigm shift. Indeed, in the absence of politically and economically powerful constituency of vegans, there is no reason why the government should ban animal use.

Regarding militancy, the repressive anti-AR legislation, precipitated by and pretexted on militancy, and the public attitude toward AR "terrorists," is strong empirical evidence that militancy is incompatible with the form of advocacy that is maximally effective at militating for a reduction in demand in the short term and total animal liberation in the long term, namely, the ongoing attempts to normalize veganism through vegan education. If someone replies that the public reaction to militancy doesn't matter, that all that matters is that animals are liberated, then I would agree. All that matters is total animal liberation. But this will never happen -- it is no intelligible that it could happen -- without broad public support. No one who rejects militancy is selling animals short. They are simply thinking of what is a maximally effective strategy for all animals, including those animals who will be disadvantaged in the future if we focus on militancy and welfarism as opposed to potentially culturally transformative vegan education.