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Animal welfarists and abolitionists must speak with one voice

The time has come for animal welfare campaigners and abolitionists to put aside their differences and speak one message: veganism, writes Cameron Blewett.

Welfarism can be typically defined as a philosophy or practice where the way animals are used is questioned. Most proponents of welfarism want to see a particular practice changed, such as a move away from cage-laid eggs to cage free, or the removal of gestation crates from breeding sows. The focus is always placed on improving the conditions in which these animals are raised and kept in.  Yet the most critical question of why we use animals in the first place is never asked.

The animal rights movement and veganism in general have come to an important cross-road, where its future rests on the decisions that are made today. The time has come for those in both camps to put aside their differences and stand up, speak with one voice, and shout one message.

And veganism is that message.

The welfarist position and vegetarian agenda have long passed their expiry date, and neither message is relevant within the animal rights arena. If you talk to the majority of those who promote welfarism, they will tell you that they have the abolition of all animal use as their ultimate goal. Yet the welfarist model has failed the animals miserably.

In the past month or so, we have seen the undercover footage from Mercy For Animals of cruelty on an Ohio Dairy Farm. (For those that haven’t seen it, the undercover footage contains some of the most barbaric treatment of animals I have seen in recent times. Scenes like calves being kicked and punched because they made noise whilst being fed, cows being kicked and stabbed with pitchforks, and individuals gloating about the damage that they had done to a cows face). 

And the NZ dairy giant Fonterra has recently unveiled plans to create a huge battery environment for 6000 cows to be milked 3 times a day.  Both of these atrocities relate to the dairy industry – an industry where the mistreatment of animals is equal to, if not worse than the meat industry itself. 

Yet unfortunately, dairy products seem to be the items that most vegetarians say they have trouble ‘giving up’.

To say that the Ohio incident is a one off case is delusional, the fact that it happened at all should be enough to rid the vegetarians of the world of their cheese and milk addictions.

There are those in the welfarist camp that view abolition as an extreme ideology and something that will never happen. They usually won’t use the term vegan because it is seen as too confronting.

Though answer this for me, how many of us thought that we would ever see the day where milk is produced from cows on a battery dairy farm, being milked three times a day?

If you have seen the Mercy For Animals footage from the dairy farm, was that not a little extreme and confronting?

In all honesty, it amazes me that society has been blind to these types of things and that these incidents are not more prominently reported by the media. Now I am not saying that all dairy farms treat their cows like this, I just wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t an isolated incident.  Remember that this is an industry that treats cows as property.

An industry that has no reservations about mechanically raping cows to get them pregnant, tearing new born calves away from their howling mothers when they are days even hours old to be sent to slaughter, mechanically milking cows twice a day so that their bones become brittle and weak (often leaving them crippled) from lack of calcium, and finally, sending them off to slaughter once their milk production drops below a profitable level.

Welfarism has and continues to fail these animals miserably. After 30 years of campaigning and protesting about battery hens, there have only been token improvements. And the majority of hens are still in cages.  Now is the time to take a stance and drive home the vegan message before we see the same thing happen to dairy cows.

It is up to all of us as passionate animal rights activists to draw a line in the sand and say that we won’t accept anything less than abolition and the easiest way to do this is to go vegan.

Every time that an animal rights activist promotes vegetarianism and condones someone making a transition from factory farmed to organic/free range meat or eggs, we continue to let the animals down and most importantly we are carrying on the work of an industry that we despise. 

Will it not be harder to eat a slice of cheese or drink a glass of milk knowing that you are supporting an industry that is heading towards battery pens for dairy cows?

There are a growing number of ‘mock’ products that are available these days; it is far easier today to go vegan than it was 10 or 15 years ago.  There is also a huge amount of information generated on the internet about nutrition and recipes for vegans.  It has become increasingly easy for those that want to make a stance to do so.

So what is your excuse for not going vegan today? It is the only option.

Cameron Blewett is an associate editor at The Scavenger.


0 #33 gideon 2010-06-23 17:41
@ Russell: Your insistence on "social contract" as elaborated by "the greats" needs to be qualified. Here's why - "Social contract" as a legal/philosoph ical theory is based on adherence to an established (or an emerging) social order. More specifically, the political economy. Locke and Rousseau constituted a very necessary part of the emergence of capitalism in Europe - of conflating the interests of the classes (in favour of the capitalists, of course) via ideology. Therefore 'social contract', as a component of 'liberal' capitalist democracy, was (and still is) a part of a stage of history, but 'social contract' as it exists within capitalism, has not and will qualitatively exist in the same way. Primitive society 'social contract' was significantly different that which existed in feudalism or what exists today. Therefore 'social contract' itself is not absolute because it is a social construct that serves a particular class - grounded in economic interests.

Thus accepted norms including morality and beliefs cannot escape the ideology that seeks to continue the perpetuation of that social order. In capitalism, that social order is accumulation of surplus value at the expense of the majority (who are obviously led to believe they aren't being exploited - thus the importance of ideology and liberal conceptions such as 'social contract'). The very nature of capitalism is a process of perpetual cycles of expansion and destruction of markets which necessarily leads to commodification of virtually everything. Of course, labour power is the key constituent of driving this process of extraction of surplus value at the expense of the working class. The commodification of labour power and the need to reproduce this exploitative social relation (via manufacturing needs and consent) leads to the erosion of the human being in the form of alienation.

Given the inherent exploitative nature of capitalism, the oppressive social order it creates and how it manufactures and breeds unnatural processes in human beings, namely alienation and the internalisation of the norms and ideology of the ruling class - its fairly clear that the social relations are neither just, natural nor in our interests.

With regard to sentient (capacity for some form of consciousness) nonhuman animals and certainly the 50 billion+ brought into existence as commodities, tho not the same experience in every form and degree of exploitation - the mechanism of extracting surplus value from the individual and social group and the alienation that entails are very similar. More importantly its unnatural.

Although pointing out the similarities in the exploitation of sentient beings and the effects it has on them is useful, a fundamental difference must be pointed out that humans are firstly responsible for the alienation of nonhuman animals (easily avoided) and that humans possess the unique capacity to create their material conditions. They create history. Indeed, naturally racism and sexism and even speciesism cannot exist without material conditions. Racism, sexism and even speciesism exist to maintain a set of concrete conditions and oppressive social relations. They are not natural and they are reinforced through unnatural means.

That said, I dont think morality is absolute. However, in relation to class society and the period of history we are in, its becoming ever more apparent that racism and sexism are immoral. Abolitionism is fundamentally about abolishing the property status and instrumentalisa tion process that HUMANS impose upon NONHUMAN ANIMALS. It is not an absolutist morality doctrine, rather, applying equal consideration for similar interests where practicable.
0 #32 Alex Melonas 2010-06-18 18:28
@Russell: The only way to test the reasonableness of outcomes is by presupposing some normative test of "reasonableness ". Indeed, racists and sexists all believe the outcomes of their moral prescriptions are more than reasonable, while mine, the non-racist and non-sexist, are utterly unreasonable and irrational. As I've shown in my refutation of your appeal to "nature" and the "inherent good" of ecosystems, your "axioms" are unreasonable in the sense of not rationally defensible.

So here again we see that you, Russell Edwards, has just defended racism and sexism. Unless (and here we are again) you offer reasons, any reasons at all, for your "axioms", and allow critical engagement. Leave "objectivity" and "subjectivity" aside, you can be a moral "skeptic" to your hearts content, all I AM asking for are reasons for your position that go beyond mere assertions like "axioms" (because the racist can "reasonably" do that too).

I gave you reasons for my position, and instead of engaging them you merely asked for "proof", as if this were biology. But in this discussion of racism we see that you are uncomfortable with the conclusions of YOUR OWN "skeptical" argument (you can't let the racist be right, too), so let's move beyond the sophism.

Or, concede you've lost the debate and move on Russell.
0 #31 Russell Edwards 2010-06-18 17:34
That's right, Alex, that's the whole problem with normative moral philosophies. You can cook up any axiom you want -- after all, they're all unprovable -- in order to produce the outcome you like. Then you just tweak them and tweak them until they are are reasonable representation of your own personal prejudices and emotionally-der ived positions. Then you claim special privilege for those premises above any others, and declare the moral judgements that follow them as having presscriptive power.

You are correct that this is what some racists and sexists do. It's also what animal rightsists do, and most other moralists. Religions are great at it, the difference is that whereas the animal rightsist just expects his axioms to be taken as given, and believed in unquetioningly. The religious fundamentalist claims the premises were handed down from God. Either way you end up with an arbitrary position being elevated to a supposedly authoritative moral framework through faith in unprovable propositions.

You can have morals without such a framework. Just recognise that values are arbitrary, and if you need to judge the morals, do so on the basis of the reasonableness of their outcomes. On this test, racism, sexism and animal rightsism all fail.
0 #30 Alex Melonas 2010-06-18 12:17
@Russell: My second paragraph is quite clear: since you refuse to engage morality rationally, or at least give reasons for YOUR own position, extending that kind of (non)-reasoning we see that the racist or sexist are on EQUAL moral grounds as the non-racist and non-sexist; both sides merely assert as "axioms" their fundamental principles, and then allow their moral "skepticism" to take over.

In other words, you have lost this debate because you cannot provide any reasons at all for your own position. However, you, like the racist, has “won” the “skeptic” debate because both sides are by definition “equal”, which is to say, throw reasons out the door, assert whatever as an “axiom” and move on believing you are a moral person. But you aren't Russell.
0 #29 Gordon 2010-06-18 06:41
"And what of the animal impacts of horticulture? Should we not, as a matter of urgency, introduce Soylent Green to reduce our reliance on horticulture? And try to develop vat-cultured microbial foods, with a view to an eventual ban on horticulture? Or do we then have to worry about microbial suffering?"

I really shouldn't respond, because I know you're basically laughing at what you consider absurd consequences, but I will anyway. I support things like soylent green, vitamin and mineral fortified foods, and GMO's. I remember, about 6 months ago, a news story about an Australian kid (perhaps 5 years old) who was allergic to almost everything. To nourish him, he had some sort of bag with tube connected to his gut or something. I thought that was really interesting. While I don't take multivitamins, I think they're a really cool idea. Taking multivitamins and eating a minimal amount of food/calories seems like the way forward. I think it's safe to assume microorganisms cannot suffer.

"(As an aside, many people do in fact report not being able to "thrive" on a vegan diet. I wasn't one of them, but I am convinced of the sincerity of those who do have that problem, and also of the lengths to which they have gone to try to intervene without introducing animal products to their diet, before ultimately resigning themselves to that necessessity.)"

I think nutritionists should study these people and experiment to find out why they can't easily be vegan. Once enough people have been studied, the American Dietetic Association should update their position paper and adjust their conclusion. Ideally, we don't want to cause harm. So eating "soylent green" or some other ethical animal product would seem like a good solution. Next would be eating a hunted carnivorous animal, or eating a hunted animal that was essentially "euthanatised".

"Would you be morally justified in killing me in my sleep to make use of my body? No, because as a human you are bound by social contract."

So if someone is not bound by a social contract (infants, the severely intellectually disabled, and the senile), is it okay to kill them? Or is it just not immoral for them to kill you and others? I'll be honest: social contract, smocial smontract :P

"Prove that a) all animals suffer and b) animal suffering is bad.

a) is unknowable and b) is a statement of personal preference. How can you prove them?"

What do you mean by all animals suffer? Do you mean we must prove all animals are sentient, or that all animals in the wild suffer? In Australia, there exists anti-cruel legislation. The point of this legislation is to prevent the intentional infliction of suffering to animals. Just ignore the fact that the NSW POCTA is a pile of crap for now. The fact that such legislation exists proves that animal suffering is bad, or it at least proves that enough people believe that to be true. Would you like to see anti-legislatio n removed because you cannot prove "b)"?

"Do you think a mosquito suffers in the same way as a human? What about a zooplankton? Secondly, where's your proof that what is bad for an individual is bad in a universal sense?"

I don't know. But we shouldn't exclude cows, pigs, chickens, salmon, etc from our moral community just because we don't know for sure if mosquitoes are sentient or not. What do you mean bad in a universal sense?

Russell, being a biology teacher, why is it that people generally conclude invertebrates aren’t sentient? Why is this?

"How can individual suffering be bad when universally stopping it would induce the ultimate in universally bad consequences, universal death."

Universal death meaning what? A planet, or better yet, the universe, without the existence of sentient species?
0 #28 Gordon 2010-06-18 06:40
"I believe in actual fact that the death and suffering toll of my existence is probably dominated by the production of cereal crops and vegetables, through habitat destruction and pest control."

We should research and develop ways to reduce moralities in the production of crops, vegetables, fruits, etc. In the meantime we can use freegan strategies such as dumpster diving, urban foraging, and even plate scraping to reduce the demand we place on crop production, etc. It's also important to recognise feeding crops to animals is inherently inefficient, so eating farmed animal products inevitably results in even more suffering and death.

"Can you not see the arrogance in that statement? Appalling."

Complacency is appalling.

"Gordon: "When you are suffering, is it not the case that your number one priority is to have it stop?" Yes. Does that mean it should be everybody else's? No. Humans are bound by social contract to have that priority but other species recognise no such contract. So it's no more morally wrong for a tiger to kill me as it is for me to kill a tiger. (Species conservation concerns excepted.)"

I never said humans were under an obligation to prevent harm from occurring (i.e. preventing wild animals from eating others). Rather, we have an obligation to avoid harming others. What do you mean by "Species conservation concerns excepted"? :S

"Gordon: "The suffering an individual experiences is completely independent of others." Correct. My argument is that an individual's suffering is not significant compared to the sum total of all suffering."

What? That argument is irrelevant, and you appeared to admit that when you agreed with me ("Correct."). You're position became even more incoherent when you said you support less-cruel production systems for animal products. Why would you support that when, as a consequence, the reduction of net suffering would be insignificant?

"My argument is that any moral system that assumes animal suffering is inherently bad concludes that the world is an incomprehensibl y bad place. Yes, incomprehensibl e as in our mind cannot possibly be fully aware of the true magnitude of "badness"."

How is that even an argument? You might consider that to be absurd, but I, as an atheist, am comfortable accepting it as the reality (read: I'm a realist not in denial).

"Any attempt to do so is bound to induce severe anxiety and depression. It's also a nihlist position. Since the axioms of your moral system are a choice, suffering=bad does not make sense as a practical choice of axiom."

Of course, I think it is unfortunate. But that doesn't mean I suffer from severe exiety or depression. It certainly doesn't stop me from enjoying my life. Obviously I am not a nihilist, and accepting the existence of suffering inherent in nature doesn't make me one, either. Ugh! When considering morality, including over the past 1.5 years, I am NOT trying to design it to be perfect and practical. Doing so is irrational and somewhat self-serving. I don't deny there are situations where it would be impractical to avoid incidental harm. But should we seriously use this as an excuse to intentionally harm animals? No.

"you make an argument based on need, but this is irrelevant. Should we only do what we need to do? When we have perfect IVF and in-vitro gestation, will you advocate banning sex and pregnancy? After all, both cause untold suffering the world over. If they are unnecessary, why do them?"

Russell, we've argued this previously on Whirlpool. If I recall correctly, my counter-argumen t was valid. People should be educated about the risks involved with everything. Everybody should have the freedom to do whatever they want to the extent that they don't harm innocents. The suffering and discomfort experienced by breeding animals (particularly sows :sad:-) is generally overlooked. I often wonder about birds: does it hurt to lay an egg (be it fertilised or not)? Ignoring the side effects of having hens lay an unusual number of eggs, if laying an egg does involve suffering, the existence of selectively bred birds that lay eggs frequently is particularly immoral. It's just like broiler chickens and how they grow too fast.
0 #27 Gordon 2010-06-18 06:39
""I place almost zero value on biodiversity." well good for you, good luck selling that to the general public. Most now recognise it as an intrinsic good in the same way that you believe non-"suffering" is an intrinsic good."

Can you please explain to me why it is an intrinsic good? I honestly have never figured out why species extinction (animal or non-animal) is undesirable.

"Either one is a belief you make a choice to take on. The difference is, your belief yields absurd logical consequences, whereas a belief in the value of biodiversity does not."

Not true. Trying to not harm animals doesn't mean we have an obligation to prevent harm from occurring (i.e. lion eating their prey). My belief, however, does require us to consider the consequences of our actions before we go through with them. For example, undertaking terraforming may result in increased suffering. Releasing non-herbivorous animals back into the wild may also increase suffering. We shouldn't do these things if they result in more suffering than not doing them.

""Why accept nature for what it is when it is non-moral?" it's only non-moral when you have a reasonable moral system that does not yield the absurd conclusion that life on earth consists of millions of gross moral transgressions every second."

What are you talking about? This is the point you seem to be missing... Life/nature/eco systems weren't designed by a god. It is therefore non-moral. It's non-moral regardless of what we consider morally right or wrong. The premise people seem to accept is that because something is natural, it is therefore okay. I strongly disagree, and think we need to move away from this archaic notion.

"Neither immoral nor moral, just itself."

Exactly. So why do you point towards "the existence of natural exploitative interspecies relationships" to justify your exploitation of animals (be it hunting animals or consuming farmed animal flesh and secretions)? I can understand a religious person using that logic, but surely you're not religious. After all, you are a biology teacher.

"Also for what it's worth I make an effort within reason to support production systems that cause less suffering, e.g. free range eggs and chicken. I realise these are not perfect, nor do they meet the standards I would prefer. I aim to improve it when possible -- soon I will keep my own chickens -- but I also accept the need for pragmatism."

Why do any production systems still exist? Nearly all (if not all) can lead a healthy life without non-human animal products (see American Dietetic Association's position paper on vegetarian (including vegan) diets: Once we recognise this, we are forced to admit our justifications for exploiting and killing more animals for the production of flesh, dairy, and eggs are frivolous: pleasure, convenience, and/or habit. Honestly, why do you eat flesh? Why eggs? Why get your own chickens when you don't need to consume their eggs to lead a healthy life? (What will they be? The Inghams Hisex Brown Layer, or perhaps the Hy-Line W-36? (I find this sort of commodification morally repugnant) Where will they come from? Alas, I suspect a commercial hatchery. Furthermore, what will happen to the cockerels and the hens once their reproductive cycles stop?)

"As far as I know, apart from cage hens and possible stall sows, domestic animals suffer much less than they would in the wild on average and that is the minimal benchmark for me."

That's probably true. But, again, why are you comparing their existence to wild animals? Just ignore nature. Nature "just is", and cannot be used as to make comparisons.
0 #26 Russell Edwards 2010-06-18 03:35
Alex, I give up, you're crazy and cannot be reasoned with. I cannot make head nor tail of your second paragraph.
0 #25 Alex Melonas 2010-06-17 17:25
@Russell: So, in other words, you have absolutely NO argument justifying your exploitation of animals? That is a stunning admission, but I appreciate your honesty.

If I thought (read: I simply cannot defend it reasonably) that, say, "human rights" isn't worth a rational defense, just my assumptions and "axioms" so you are on EQUAL moral footing with me all you racists and sexists, I would likewise be suspicious of "moral prescriptivism" .
0 #24 Russell Edwards 2010-06-17 17:05
Alex, you keep on referring to appeal to nature when that it not the essence of my argument. I am rejecting the very notion of a normative moral philosophy on the basis of the arbitrariness of the premises upon which it is founded. Numerous published philosophers take a similar position and the general public, too, is usually highly suspicious of normative moralists. It's not my position to write an entire treatise to convince you of this. I suggest you spend some time reading the greats. On this basis, I do not put forth "nature=good" as an ideal and construct a normative moral philosophy on that basis, as you claim. My moral engagement with humans is based around an informal notion of social contract (again, read the body of literature, it's very well fleshed out) and my attitude to animals is based on a personal value system I freely admit does not derive from a formal logical normative moral philosophy.

If you're going to cling to the idea of prescriptive moral legislature flowing from your basic assumptions, then you still need to prove the things I asked you to before. Prove that the suffering of an individual nonhuman animal is a universally bad event.

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