The starting point. Le point de départ.

Veganism is the moral baseline, the starting point, of the abolitionist animal rights movement. The main purpose of this blog is to explore animal issues from the perspective of the emerging abolitionist movement.

2007-04-22

How PETA is damaging to the animal rights cause

Please note: the general arguments against new welfarist tactics among the following apply to all new welfarist groups of course, however the focus of this post is on PETA, due to several recent comments brought up by PETA supporters in the blog comments as well as elsewhere.


PETA is not an animal rights organization, yet they have managed to use their large influence to create and foster a false impression of themselves with the public as "the" animal rights group. This is extremely harmful to the cause of animal rights since they engage in campaigns, and have organizational policies, that are incompatible with animal rights. So, not only are they engaging in campaigns that are inconsistent with animal rights, but they are promoting these campaigns as what animal rights is all about. No wonder much of the public, and some activists as well, do not know the difference between animal welfare reform and animal rights and that the two are fundamentally incompatible. At this point in time, this confusion about what animal rights means is one of the most important hurdles we must overcome on the road to the eventual end of animal exploitation - we must explicitly make the distinction between welfare and rights and explicitly show that it is the property status of animals that is the root of all atrocities committed against them. In short, we must first get people used to hearing a true animal rights position that explains the property paradigm while denouncing suffering and cruelty, instead of only focusing on cruel treatment, and that points out how the fundamental differences between our position and one that accepts animal use under certain circumstances guides our efforts away from welfare reform. PETA and other new welfarist groups actually perpetuate the confusion and misrepresent the concept of animal rights, and are thus not only doing nothing to overcome this important hurdle, but they are continually raising the hurdle.

As far as just a few specific examples from among many of PETA's problematic campaigns and policies:

-they do not advocate right-to-life for nonhumans (search this page for "we do not advocate 'right to life' for animals"), and accordingly, they kill healthy nonhuman animals, and are opposed to no-kill shelters as well as to trap-neuter-return, taking the position that the better way to help feral cats is to kill them (also summarized in same link as above).


Formerly a last-chance shelter rescue and a feral cat respectively, PETA would have killed S.P. and Oliver





-they give awards to slaughterhouse designers and vendors of "humanely raised" animal products, and promote non-vegan fast food products such as the Burger King veggie burger.

-they employ sexist ad campaigns that objectify women. Their reasoning seems to be that "sex sells", but how does portraying scantily clad women (and men, sometimes), who unfailingly fit the traditional-western-beauty-ideal and are presented as cheap entertainment, actually encourage anyone to reflect seriously on a social justice issue? One social justice issue (animal rights) cannot be furthered at the expense of another (feminism), as all forms of oppression are related. Their supporters may balk at accusations of sexism, with the excuse that the women have willingly participated in the campaigns. They may participate willingly, but in a society built on patriarchy that is so ingrained that many people cannot recognize it and some even think sexism has been resolved and is no longer a problem, this does not mean that the campaigns are not sexist. One discussion of PETA's commodification of women can be read here.

-They use non-vegan celebrity spokespeople in many campaigns - this encourages mixed messages that it is enough to be against fur even though you wear leather, or to be against meat even though you eat dairy. This only reinforces the impression that veganism is "extreme", and it furthers the compartmentalization of animal issues when what should be done Is to make the needed links between all exploitation of sentient beings even while focusing on one aspect or another of animal exploitation.

What about the "good" things that Peta does, in getting some people to go veg? Even if we disagree with welfarism and some of their other tactics, should we support at least that part of the organization? No, we should not. For example, I am sure that any given medical charity does some good things, but as vegans we do not support them if they fund any animal experiments at all, because to support them would be to give approbation to their policies and to encourage all aspects of their organization, some of which we are vehemently opposed to. Similarly we should not support PETA if we do not approve of their policies and tactics. People such as Gary Francione have already urged them at length to change their problematic positions, and they have completely refused.

For every one person who goes vegan because of them, how many do they alienate to the idea of animal rights (that is mistakenly associated with them), because of their sexism, because of their attention-seeking stunts that trivialize the issue? How many do they influence to instead embrace "humanely raised" animal products or to feel better about eating at fast-food places such as Burger King that have made some small change in husbandry standards which then gets promoted as a victory for animals, the new welfarist groups becoming nothing more than part of the animal exploiting industries' marketing team when they praise companies' new "humane standards" - and how many, of even those that are influenced to go vegan by PETA, continue indefinitely to believe that welfare reform tactics further the goal of animal rights rather than undermine it? The fact that some people do become vegan through them does not mean we must retain some sort of loyalty to them once we understand that their policies and campaigns are inconsistent with animal rights. They may get some people to go vegan, but if any of these people do undergo the full paradigm shift towards abolition that is needed for eventual social change, it is not because of PETA’s influence on them.

We don't need these groups and their campaigns; there is more than enough work to do without using new welfarist tactics, more than enough to do that is consistent with animal rights and does not force us to compromise our position by trying to work with exploiters or new welfarist groups. We don't need their resources such as pamphlets and posters to further our own vegan education campaigns; we can use those of the abolitionist sanctuary Peaceful Prairie or simply make our own for the time being. The abolitionist movement is in its infancy, and as it grows a greater variety of resources that promote a message consistent with abolitionism will become available for those who cannot create their own. In the meantime we do not need to compromise ourselves by distributing new welfarist groups' materials, for to do so is to imply approval of the policies of the group whose name appears.

Rejecting new welfarism is not a question of whether or not to speak out against animal exploiting companies perpetrating horrible abuses of animals such as those seen in undercover slaughterhouse videos, the implication of this claim being that if we do not participate in welfare reform campaigns then we do not care about these abuses or that we somehow want to allow them to continue. We can still speak out against cruelty and continue to expose the conditions of the animals' suffering, but in a way that recognizes that the underlying problem that allows this cruelty to occur is the property status of animals which permits their exploitation as resources. We still speak out against the cruelty, but not in a way that makes us compromise with the exploiters, that compels us to thank them when they make some small reform we have asked them for, that forces us to implicitly accept the legitimacy of animal exploitation by using the system of welfare reform, an institutionalized system that is based upon animals’ property status and the legitimacy of animal exploitation.

We cannot be effective in denouncing the property status of animals when we are working within this system. The system has a built in limit: it necessarily assumes, as its fundamental basis, the legitimacy of the property status of animals, and so there is no way to transcend that limit from within it. Welfare campaigns may seem on the surface to be all about reducing the suffering of the individuals being exploited, but they are in fact nothing more than a property rights issue. Animals are currently the legal property of their exploiters, and welfare reformists are trying to tell those exploiters how to use their property. The exploiters will fight the reforms, even the ones presented to them as economically advantageous, as no one likes to be told how to use their own property. To engage in these property rights campaigns with exploiters and legislators is to implicitly accept that it is a property rights issue, and using this institutionalized system of welfare reform only serves to further legitimize the system and thus reinforce the property status of animals. If we want rights for animals we must completely reject these counterproductive tactics and the groups like PETA who employ them and perpetuate the confusion about what "animal rights" means, essentially marginalizing animal rights and veganism all the while reinforcing the status of animals that allows them to be exploited in the first place.

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18 Comments:

At 10:21 PM, Blogger Vincent Guihan said...

Awesome post, dude. PETA is no friend to animals.

 
At 8:20 PM, Blogger veganfreak said...

Excellent post indeed.

 
At 11:05 PM, Blogger Douglas said...

Ok my dear. I am very glad that you wrote this.
A couple of things you wrote really bother me.

Last night I saw an amazing documentary called your mommy kills animals. It focused alot of the SHAC 7 and the ALF. It didnt have good stuff to say about PETA either but that was mainly because they declined to be interviewd for the film. I still highly reccomend it.

It would be ideal if this world had no animal abuse whatsoever at all in it. Unfortuneately thats not the case. Animals left to starve or who are malnurished, beaten or chained are forced into shelters only to sit in cages in agony. In many NO-KILL "SHELTERS" these people mean so very well but just dont have the room, money, or resources to adiquitly look after each animal with the love and care they so right fully deserve. What happens to the "last one" in the door, or the one after that? In too many scenarios these poor creatures are not given the attention they desereve and left to lead a miserbale life. In the case of euthanisation, no one likes to think about death. No one likes to conjure up images of a dead kitty or puppy but im afraid its reality sometimes. Life isnt roses all the time. Abolitionism does not have an answer. PETA kills animals, PETA kills, does this, PETA does that.

PETA does what they feel is best for the unfortuneate creatures who, for one reason or another were not given a fair shot at life. Like it or not, death is a part of life and euthanasia is required sometimes.

You likened medical charities that fund blinding cats or dogs for shaving cream to supporting PETA? How is this the same thing. I am completely insulted by you saying this. I dont understand what would make you say such a cruel and horrible thing. Drilling holes in animals heads or applying clamps to their brains is in no way, shape or form congruent with me being a believer in the methods in which PETA uses all or even some of its tactics.

You make mention of using nudity to gain attention. I have been part of naked protests and gained media exposure because of it. I have talked with many many people and spoken with other activists. Does the end justify the mean? ABSOLUTELY! Is it worth showing a little skin in order to save potentially millions upon millions of lives, in this boys oppinnion, YES! By any means necessary!

It breaks my heart that we cant all come together and unite for the good of the animals. I believe you do good for the animlas, I believe PETA does good and I believe that one day the world will feel much differently about animal abuse.

Are we all perfect? No. There going to be aspects that we all disagree with. You are losing the ultimate goal. Why take an entire organisation and label it bad? You can find good in everyting. You are taking a lot of peoples hard work and writng it off. Think about all the peoples hard work that you are just writing off. It's unfortuneate for the people and the animals. Instaed of looking for bad things, look for the good in people and the good in life. I have started studying Buddhism and it is a central idea. Always, no matter what, look for the good in everything!

If you go into life looking to find the bad in things, without a doubt YOU WILL ALWAYS FIND IT!

 
At 9:08 AM, Blogger Bryan Rathouz said...

PETA is the bane of my existence - excellent post. How can I get in touch with you? I couldn't find any contact info. If you could, please email me at systmc [at] mac [dot] com. Thanks!

 
At 11:52 AM, Blogger Ariix said...

1) Do not call me "my dear". It is sexist and condescending to call a woman "my dear" in order to marginalize and dismiss her arguments, whether you have chosen to do so consciously or subconsciously.

2) If you agree with PETA that non-human animals do not have an interest in their own continued existence, or if you think that this interest is not "on the same level" as humans' such interest and that it is therefore not necessary to respect that interest, then go ahead and defend the killing any way you like. Those who disagree with PETA's speciesist view find this completely morally unjustifiable, and help the animals they can while speaking out against the concept of "pets" that leads to this problem in the first place. There is no shortage of animal welfare shelters to do morally unjustifiable killing if that's honestly what you're worried about. Killing healthy animals (the term "euthanasia" only properly refers to ending severe, untreatable terminal suffering) is incompatible with animal RIGHTS and an organization that promotes itself as being for animal rights while subscribing to the above speciesist view and directly violating the rights of individuals does a disservice to animals in more than one way.

3) I did not say anything to equate PETA's actions with medical experimentation on animals. I used an example to illustrate that I do not support organiazations who have beliefs and engage in actions that I am morally opposed to. I did not imply anything about comparing the nature of the particular fundamental disagreements I have with the two types of organizations, one way or the other.

4) I have absolutely nothing against nudity and sexuality per se. However the manner in which PETA uses sex, and women's bodies in particular, is sexist and marginalizes both animal rights and feminism. Even if the ends did justify the means, which I do not think they do, we cannot manage to end the oppression of non-human animals without ending the oppression of human women as well because they are linked. (I would recommend the book "The Pornography of Meat" by Carol Adams on this subject.) The public is not broadly encouraged to think about social justice and ending oppression and exploitation when they see sexist PETA advertising (aside from those who recognize the sexism and are thinking about how PETA is reinforcing sexist oppression!)

5) This is not about "looking for the bad in things" or "fighting amongst ourselves". (In that vein please see post 2.) In order to explain abolitionism we need to first make clear what it is and is not compatible with; any focus on "the bad" is simply a result of needing to clear up the misinformation and confusion about animal rights that has been created by new welfarists. This seems a case of making a comment/asking a question interested in what abolitionism says about PETA, and then dismissing the answer by complaining that it is "focusing on the bad".

6) Your statement that "the world will feel differently about animal abuse" suggests that it is outright abuse and suffering that you are concerned with, rather than all animal exploitation regardless of the level of suffering, i.e. the treatment of animals while they are used rather than the fact, in and of itself as the root of the problem, that they are used. If this is correct then your support for animal welfare reform and groups engaging in it is not surprising or misplaced but make no mistake it has nothing to do with animal RIGHTS (as has been discussed in each post here and in the blogs and websites in the links section). And with that, there is no point in repeating things over and over so I will stop.

 
At 3:26 AM, Blogger KleoPatra said...

Wow. I've read elsewhere about the arguments against PeTA, but never quite so eloquently... i do support many places that do good work on behalf of animals and i wonder now about them, too... kind of saddens and disturbs me, really.

 
At 10:37 PM, Blogger veganfreak said...

Wicked response, J. :)

 
At 2:47 AM, Blogger ludditerobot said...

This is incredibly well done. You link to HSUS' helpful, profit-maximizing arguments for maintaining the property status of nonhumans, but PETA's are worth pointing out too, I think. To me, it is one thing to argue for the least evil of available evils -- not exactly an admirable position, but an understandable one. It's another thing entirely to run cost/benefit analyses for those you oppose, and then to urge them to streamline their cruelty for greater efficiency and profit. Fucking creepy.

 
At 12:36 PM, Blogger Ariix said...

Thanks very much for that link, ludditerobot! I'll add it to the body of the post. Creepy is an understatement.

 
At 12:22 AM, Blogger Sean said...

Brilliant Post, love it. I totally agree with you on so many aspects. While I'll admit I did go vegan due to Meat your meat, I now realize that the small bit of good PeTA does, doesn't out weigh things like promoting humane slaughter and Temple Grandin as a near god. While I don't feel that more suffering as good we as animal rightists should not be promoting any slaughter.
P.S. has anyone ever thought that the e in PeTA's logo is lower-case. Does that mean the ethical part isn't as important... hmmm ;)

 
At 10:19 AM, Blogger Jose Valle said...

Great post ariix, we very much need this kind of analysis and explanations. There is so much confusion in "the movement" and sadly, any critical voice is disregarded or tried to be silenced under "unity" claims and all that &*#!.

I'll use that link to PETAs file too, thanks for it!

 
At 10:47 AM, Blogger Jose Valle said...

I've found the main page at PETA.org where they promote CAK (Controlled Atmosphere Killing):

http://www.peta.org/CAK/

an excerpt:

"Considering the improvements in carcass quality, product yield, and labor costs that come with controlled-atmosphere killing, it is no surprise that a return on investment (ROI) in CAK can be reached in as little as one year."

 
At 12:29 PM, Blogger flex23 said...

I like your blog and your analysis of the problems of welfarist and new-welfarist orgs. I hope more people realize that the way to fight against speciessim is veganismo and abolition not reforms.

http://www.sensovegan.wordpress.com

http://www.igualdadanimal.org

 
At 11:23 PM, Blogger ms. veganorama said...

Very very excellent post. BTW, this is Ida. :)

 
At 10:20 AM, Blogger Gaia said...

Thank you for writing this and explaining it so, so well.

 
At 4:17 AM, Blogger JPW said...

Wonderful.

 
At 10:16 PM, Blogger Vivacious Vegan said...

I am so glad I found your blog. These posts clear up a lot of questions I have and I'm excited to learn more by checking out some of the books you recommended. Thank you for this articulate and well written exposé.

 
At 1:46 AM, Blogger Entity-Republik said...

Hi there. I used to work for PETA as a campaigns assistant and I found yer post very -- hmmm -- very close to the truth.

At first I thought Ingrid Newkirk and the rest of her ilk deserved to be called modern day saints but as the days I went on, I realized that I had put on so much trust on organization that basically did nothing to alleviate animal suffering.

Thanks for the post.

 

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