Taking Animal Advocacy Seriously (Part 1 of 3)

Why is it that serious people sometimes don’t take animal advocates seriously? I believe it has to do with the sort of claims that animal advocates sometimes advance. Take, for example, my post on the value of human and animal life. The position I defended there – that it is, all things being equal, more wrongful to kill a human being than to kill an animal – is accepted by most people as uncontroversially true. Many animal advocates also believe that this proposition is sound (e.g. Peter Singer). As the comments to my post reveal, however, some animal advocates consider that claiming that human life is more valuable than animal life is speciesist. Putting aside the merits of the speciecism objection (I think it’s unfounded), I believe that defending this sort of claim does more harm than good to animal advocacy.

The people we need to convince in order to achieve meaningful reforms that will alleviate or eliminate animal suffering are understandably concerned when they hear claims that seem to suggest that factory farming is as wrongful as the Holocaust or the genocide in Rwanda (if taking animal life is as wrongful as taking human life, it follows that killing animals en masse should amount to genocide or a crime against “humanity”). I’m not suggesting that there’s nothing wrong with factory farming or that those who engage in this awful practice should not be condemned. I do believe, however, that we alienate people when we defend arguments that would lead to accepting the dubious proposition that the owner of Tyson Foods is as worthy of condemnation as Hitler, especially when the truth of the claim that animal life is as valuable as human life is by no means self-evident. This is the type of argument that we can do without if we want more people to start taking animal advocacy seriously.

– Luis Chiesa

2 Responses

  1. From a tactical perspective, Professor Chiesa is quite right. Equating the owner of a major chicken enterprise with genocidal Nazis insures a swift rebuke and an understandable unwillingness to consider the merits of the underlying issues.

    But there is more than a question of advocacy tactics. There can be no getting away from facing the issue as to the nature of nonhuman animals and their relationship in all spheres to humans. Many would exert themselves to reduce animal cruelty and suffering where they acknowledge its existence. And, of course, educating people about the many issues about the treatment of animals is the prerequisite to engaging them in reform. That can’t be done by those who espouse a view of the nature of animals that they have every right to proffer but which can not command any broad support.

    It’s that simple.

  2. […] Animal Advocacy Seriously (Part 2 of 3) A couple of months ago I wrote a post on why it is that people fail to take animal advocacy seriously. Today I want to elaborate that […]

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