Tonight’s NARN Social Discussion

Note: this entry has been edited since its initial posting.

Tonight’s NARN Social was a great time. We had some new faces (both were new to me, at least), and some spirited discussion.

The topic I came up with at the midnight hour–literally at midnight last night–was: How can we reconcile animal liberation and animal interests with animal welfare regulation in the agriculture and food industries? How much confidence can we have that changes will be made for the better when Smithfield Food’s phasing out of gestation crates has been delayed, and the veganness of KFC Canada’s veggie chicken sandwich is in question? Does it ultimately matter in the long term, or are these dead-ends on the road to animal liberation?

That’s a mouthful. It was all I could come up with, but it’s a huge issue. I framed it in a way that asks more of a practical question I was too tired to realize when I wrote it: can we regulate animal industries? There are certainly limits on what we can regulate–but the limits on what we can abolish are greater, at least logistically and politically.

Some great points were made in discussion tonight, once we hit on the topic: all social movements have ups and downs, gains and losses, and they all need different kinds of people working on things. I was glad the newcomers had interesting perspectives to share from queer rights and other, more historically established social movements. It was another good reminder (in the wake of Let Live) that all of us working to help animals are chipping away at a larger edifice of exploitation, and that change takes time.

I would go so far to say that it’s a myth that animal welfare and abolition of animal exploitation are exclusive or incompatible with one another. If we only sought to protect animals while they are still being exploited, we definitely wouldn’t get anywhere on the animal rights front. Fortunately, the movement as a whole is not taking things on in such a manner, but instead with a variety of positions, groups, and approaches. This diversity is a good thing. Besides that, animal liberation is probably a long way off if it’s going to happen–so it’s a worthy goal to relieve the more egregious animal suffering that’s out there.

(Note: It’s not that I don’t believe in liberation, it’s just that I’m skeptical about the progress humanity will make on this or any front–but still hopeful.)

I might also make the argument that if we could persuade more people to take action to make animals used for food suffer less (eating fewer of them, not intensively confining them, etc), it might cultivate more awareness and compassion, which might make people easier to reach and persuade to stop exploiting animals altogether.

There is certainly a concern that people becoming comfortable with so-called “Happy Meat” could entrench meat eaters and others who might otherwise be persuaded to go vegan. It’s my feeling that this depends on how pressured people are to give up their (fictional) humane meat.

But in the sense that it reduces suffering, efforts by PETA and HSUS to improve farming conditions is a good thing. But it’s far more important that the vegan message be promoted. I have no doubt that if factory farming was abolished tomorrow, all activist efforts focused on welfare would go towards promoting veganism. (I have yet to read Francione’s entire blog entry about this, which I linked to above, so I may write more on this subject once I have.)

(Edit: Before editing, I erroneously implied that PETA and HSUS both support veganism. HSUS doesn’t particularly support veganism, but PETA does. My point was: it’s good that welfare improvements are underway, but if there was no effort to spread the vegan message, it obviously would not help end animal exploitation. The converse is not so, however–animal liberation would end any need for animal welfare campaigns in the current sense)

It might be a harder sell without the horrific imagery of factory farms, but the situation would be less dire in terms of animal suffering, and abusive agricultural practices (not to mention exploitation) exist independent of factory farms. This movement may not have gotten the kick start it needed if factory farming hadn’t come into its heyday, but I would certainly celebrate if those dank sheds disappeared from the landscape–even if they were only replaced by somewhat less brutal farms.

In its current guise, the movement, like the factory farm, is not old. As someone said tonight, and as many others have said in the past: it’s going to take a lot of smaller steps before animals are truly free.

It’s always heartening to be reminded of the quantity and quality of people who are in it for the long haul.

-Bryan

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