Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Why animal advocates should oppose California's Proposition 8

California's Proposition 8 - in case you've been living under a rock these past few months - would eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. It's a ballot initiative coming up in this November's election for California voters, and it would reverse a fairly recent ruling by the California Supreme Court holding that the state's constitution protects the rights of same-sex couples to marry. It's been generating passionate debate both pro and con, and money has apparently been pouring in for months to support the ban and turn back the clock.

What does that have to do with animal law, you ask?

Well, I was watching the Ellen DeGeneres interview on Jay Leno last night... when at one point the interview took a momentarily thoughtful turn. DeGeneres quipped that she couldn't understand how her and Portia (de Rossi, actress and DeGeneres' longtime domestic partner-recently-turned-spouse) sitting on the couch watching "Dancing with the Stars" could really be a threat to anyone. She suggested - paraphrasing here - that instead of sending in money to support hate, anyone with funds to contribute to a cause should consider sending financial aid to support the recent Hurricane victims. (Which I thought was a good point, in and of itself.)

But DeGeneres made me think about something else too.

It's just as important for animal advocates to take a position on Prop 8 as it is on the also-pending welfare measure, Prop 2 (which I will get to in a moment). Animal advocates historically have been a fairly liberal group of folks so I am probably preaching to the choir here. But in case you are inclined to vote against protecting gay marriage in California (or even simply support that position but live elsewhere in the U.S. or the world), please take a moment to consider this: social movements do not exist in a vacuum.

There is strength in numbers. To put it plainly - because I have a meeting in about an hour and don't have time to think of a more politically correct way to say this - if animal advocates show empathy and interest in gay issues now then hopefully, once gay rights are better protected, that segment of society can feel a little more settled and turn its resources to helping the remaining less-protected segments of society.

Consider as well that no matter how much you may personally feel that the sheer volume of animal suffering really ought to be a number 1 priority for the planet (and yes, I agree with you personally), the reality is that most people - straight, gay or otherwise... - don't share that view of the universe. Most people are people-centric. And it is simply unlikely that this planet will truly see a change in how animals are treated until it irons out all of its "people mistreatment" problems.

If you vote in California, please vote NO on Prop 8.

Now let's talk about California's Proposition 2. Prop 2 is another ballot initiative scheduled for the November 4, 2008 elections in that state. If passed, it would ban three types of confinement farming: veal crates for baby calves, battery cages for hens and gestation crates for pregnant pigs. Again, in case you've been living under a rock, the concern is that current farming standards allow animals to be confined so tightly that their cages do not even permit them to freely turn around, lie down, stand up or even fully stretch their limbs. As with Prop 8, Prop 2 is generating a lot of fierce debate. Those in favor argue, briefly, that reducing at least some suffering now is better than waiting to eliminate all suffering at a future point. Those opposed argue that it will be costly to implement, raise costs for consumers and could result in greater reliance on imported foods that might pose a greater health risk.

Oddly though, some of the strongest opposition to Prop 2 comes from within the animal rights community. The hard-core perspective fears that palliative measures will only placate people into feeling better about animal suffering and thus dampen and delay any impetus to really address the problem. This viewpoint was thoughtfully (as always) articulated by well-known animal rights professor Gary Francione last spring. In one of his blog posts he relates a story about going to a local market where a meat vendor sells organically-raised, locally-slaughtered animals. One shopper remarked she felt better about buying meat there and the vendor apparently described the animals as "dear friends". Francione expresses the oft-repeated concern that Prop 2 and other so-called "happy meat" efforts are leading the country backward in the effort to address animal suffering.

While anecdotally I can certainly see how those sorts of random comments might lead to those fears, I don't believe that reality bears those fears out. The fact is, this country has been improving - albeitly slowly - its animal welfare laws since Henry Bergh started championing the cause during the 1800's. The U.S. has also become increasingly more receptive to discussing the idea of granting at least some basic rights to animals in just the past few decades alone. (In fact, other countries are even farther along that path than the U.S., although that topic could fill multiple other blog posts alone.) If the hard-core view were accurate, there would have been no progress beyond the first, early animal welfare laws. And that's just not how history unfolded.

I, for one, do believe that it is better to reduce at least some suffering now. I don't believe it will delay further reductions; in fact, I tend to think it heightens awareness and actually leads to further progress. (Although admittedly, I don't have statistics handy to back up that belief either.)

So if you vote in California, please vote NO on Prop 8 and YES on Prop 2.

If you've made it this far down in the post, thanks for reading my rant all the way through. And I really do have to get back to work now.

11 comments:

Tracy H. said...

I agree. Oppression is oppression is oppression. Gay rights, women's rights, civil rights, animal rights -- at their most basic, they are about the same thing.

While I don't think the mistreatment of people will ever end, I do think that animal issues will continue to become more popular as more people become aware of them.

And even people fighting for gay rights can still fight for animal rights. They have to eat, right? People can still fight for causes close to their hearts and at the same time help animals: Simply don't eat them.

Barna Mink said...

"The fact is, this country has been improving - albeitly slowly - its animal welfare laws since Henry Bergh started championing the cause during the 1800's. [....] If the hard-core view were accurate, there would have been no progress beyond the first, early animal welfare laws. And that's just not how history unfolded."

Actually your statement validates the viewpoint that we're moving backwards. The animal welfare movement has been around for more than 200 years, yet we are abusing and killing many more animals than in the 1800s, and the ways in which we are abusing them would not have been dreamed of back then.

The animal welfare movement may have achieved some small and often symbolic "victories", but in general, the animal industries have expanded their practices (using new technologies etc) beyond belief with pretty much no opposition at all. This is why, on the whole, we are moving backwards.

The main problem with Prop. 2 is not what it says, but that all this time and money should have been spent on more effective campaigns, such as creative vegan outreach and education. Prop. 2 will not create more vegans, and THAT is where it fails. Increasing the public's knowledge about veganism and the number of vegans should be the animal movement's first priority and certainly what most of the money is spent on.

usd said...

Its true that the animal welfare movement has been around for 200 years and animals suffer greatly. Theoretically speaking, however, animal rights have moved into a more mainstream viewpoint and vegetarianism/veganism is becoming prolific in urban areas. Animals have extra protection from cruelty under the law. Medical researchers at least agree with welfarist principles (the three R's) at least in theory.

Practically speaking, I agree with your empirical observation that animals are still under a great deal of stress. It seems frustrating. But strategically, it seems inconceivable that America would give up animal exploitation "cold turkey."

What DOES make sense, is that animals would be given increasing legal protection and recognition as a function of increased sympathy for animal issues. Under this "functional" framework, we climb up scale of animal right recognition like a staircase rather than a trampoline -- each step taken in accordance with what society will tolerate. In this model, efforts should always be made so that society will tolerate greater protection, but it makes little sense to pass up an opportunity to advance the cause as in Prop 2.

One other point is to ask if the ends justify the means. Just think about all the veal that will suffer in crates over the next X years if this proposition doesn't pass. Can you honestly tell that calf (if it could understand), that you have decided it should make such a huge sacrifice on the possibility (of which I still haven't seen any peer-reviewed research demonstrating) that it might perpetuate an indeterminate level of harm on the overall goals of the animal rights movement as a whole?

Barna Mink said...

Wait, I have not mentioned this country going vegan "cold turkey" as a realistic scenario, or that ends justify the means. I merely talked about focusing on campaigns to increase the number of vegans.

Welfare measures are not the only way to reduce suffering and increase support for our goals. If all the Prop 2 time and money would have gone to creating 1000 new vegans in this country (an achievable goal, in my opinion), that would save, what, 100,000 animals from suffering and death EACH YEAR. That's what I would tell the calf.

The question I would ask is, what will all the fervent Prop 2. supporters tell the calf about how despite this "victory", he still will be torn from his mother's side, confined all his life, and still will go to the slaughterhouse, and that how this effort has done little to reduce the number of his peers to whom exactly the same will happen?

Sure, as a gut-reaction, Prop 2 is a "Yes". But it didn't just happen to come along at no cost. I believe that it has not been a smart use of resources. That's another big criticism expressed by those the post calls "hard core", which I wanted to point out.

usd said...

Who said I was talking to you, barna? I was responding to the "hard core" viewpoint generally, although your remarks were the inspiration for my post.

As for your proposition that 1,000 vegans = 100,000 less animals dead per year, while that may be true, what we really need to look at is a cost/benefit analysis like:

(a) how many dollars does it take to create a vegan, and how much suffering does that vegan alleviate? versus

(b) how many dollars does it take to pass Prop 2 and how much suffering will that alleviate?

If suffering(a) < suffering(b) then we should devote money into passing Prop 2.

My point is that none of the "hard core" people, as far as I've seen (I did read the blog posts what's her face referred to) have advanced a scientific study explaining these functions and metrics, and until then, I'm going to be skeptical of what ANYONE says (myself included) about the damage or benefits welfarist laws have on the animal rights agenda as a whole.

Barna Mink said...

usd: The way you started out your post (essentially quoting from my first comment), suggested that you are talking to me.

There are more than one problems with your "formula-based" approach, but I don't mean to hijack this blog post for yet another internet debate. So with this in mind, I'll rest my case.

Effie said...

People do not have to be vegans to support animal rights. It angers me how the issue of veganism is often mention when speaking of animal rights. There are many ways to instantly slaughter amimals without causing them pain. Mentioning veganism turns many poeple away from protecting any animal rights of any sort because they just don't want to think about it. They will always choose to eat meat. Therefore they close there minds as well to sufferig pets due to abuse, unessesary hunting and trapping ect... If you truly support animal rights then stop making it about veganism. People will always choose to eat what they want but lets ban together and open there minds about the true issue. Animals do not nor should suffer tortue.

Barna Mink said...

"People do not have to be vegans to support animal rights."

Um, no. This means that people wouldn't have to be against slavery to be in favor of human rights, or that people who condone wife-beating could be called feminists.

Veganism is the minimum baseline for any AR advocate who wants to be taken seriously and not called out as a hypocrite.

If you're not vegan, you may still care about animals and be in favor of ways to exploit and kill them "more nicely", but you most certainly are not an animal rights advocate.

effie said...

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effie said...

It is this small minded point of view that closes off a huge portion of society from awareness and effort. Apparently you did not see the Oprah show yesterday. This is all I have to say. I am satisfied to see the effort of not only a major network but also by one of the most popular programs on television. I had hoped to open someone's mind to encourage the opening of more minds. In a way your point of view is similar to racism. It is sad to me when another person does not try to incorporate others even if there beliefs are different. I never mentioned that a person needs to be a "serious animal rights actavist" to care about the unnecessary abuse of all animals rather it be a farm animal, wild animal or pet. That was my point yet you became severe and vigilant. This will always close another persons ears. I certainly do not condone wife beating but I prefer to be feminin. A severe feminist to me is masculin. A woman trying very hard to be like a man. Yet I totally supported Hillary Clinton. I do not care to respond to any more generalities. This blog site is a dead end to me. I will continue elsewere on my effort. Good luck with yours. The end result is the same. We both love animals and wish for more compassion and hope the lack of will bring about more protective laws.

Barna Mink said...

I don't really care if you keep reading this or not, but in your rambling post (Hillary Clinton?) you do misrepresent my views and I have to address that.

I don't want to "closes off a huge portion of society from awareness and effort." What I want is to bring to the same people, the right message. There's a big difference. It's actually welfare advocates who have an incredibly closed mind. To them it's either welfarism, or nothing which could not be further from the truth.

I do not think that I ever became "severe and vigilant" (if I understand correctly what you mean by that), but really -- if you truly claim to "love animals" but don't think that veganism is the baseline and think that we shouldn't even bring it up in our acti, then I hope that I will never be "loved" by you.