United Poultry Concerns, Inc.Summer/Fall 1994 Poultry
Press Speech, July 10,
National Alliance for Animals Seventh Annual International Animal Rights
Symposium, July 8 through July 10, 1994, Washington Dulles Marriott
Several years ago I published an article in Between the
"The Otherness of Animals" (Fall 1988). In it, I urged that in order to
contributing to some of the very attitudes towards other animals that we
change, we need to raise fundamental questions about the way that we,
defenders of animals, actually conceive of them. One question that needs
raised concerns our tendency to deprecate ourselves, the animals, and
goals when speaking before the press and the public. Often we
animals and our feelings for them. In Between the Species, I argued,
not to alienate others from our cause, half doubtful of our own minds at
in a world which views other animals so much differently than we do, we
liable to find ourselves presenting them apologetically at Court,
spiffed up to
seem more human, capable, ladies and gentlemen, of performing Ameslan
[American sign language] in six languages. . . ."
We apologize in many different ways. More than once, I
have been warned by
an animal protectionist that the public will never care about chickens,
the only way to get people to stop eating chickens is to concentrate on
like health and the environment. However, to take this defeatist view is
a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we, the spokespersons for animals, decide
advance that no one will ever really care about them, we will convey
message to the public. Insisting that others will never care about
projects the feeling, "I don't think that I can ever care much about
This negative attitude about chickens epitomizes the
apologetic mode of
discourse in animal rights. It is the "I know I sound crazy, but . . ."
the public. If we find ourselves "apologizing" for other animals, we
need to ask
ourselves why we do this. Is it an expression of self-doubt? A
strategy? Either way, I believe that the rhetoric of apology harms our
ment tremendously. Following are some examples of what I mean.
1. Reassuring the public, "Don't worry. Vegetarianism
isn't going to come
overnight." We should ask ourselves the question: if I were fighting to
human slavery, child abuse, or some other human-created oppression,
would I seek to placate the public or the offender by reassuring them
the offense will still go on for a long time and that we are only trying
phase it out gradually? Why, instead of defending vegetarianism are we
not affirming it?
2. Patronizing animals: "Of course they're only animals.
Of course they can't
reason the way we do. Of course they can't appreciate a symphony or
paint a great work of art, but . . ." In fact, few people live their
ing to "reason," or appreciate symphonies, or paint works of art. As
beings we do not know what it feels like to have wings or to take flight
within our own bodies or to live naturally within the sea. Our species
represents a smidgen of the world's experience, yet we patronize every-
thing outside our domain.
3. Comparing competent, adult nonhuman animals with
human infants and
people who are mentally defective. This is an extension of number 2.
Do we honestly believe that all of the other creatures on earth have a
life and range of experiences that are comparable to diminished human
capacity and the sensations of newborn babies? Except within the legal
system, where all forms of life that are helpless against human assault
should be classified together and defended on similar grounds, this
is both arrogant and logically absurd.
4. Starting a sentence with, "I know these animals
aren't as cute as other
animals, but . . ." Do you say to your child, "I know Bill isn't as cut
but you still have to play with him"? Why put a foregone conclusion in
people's minds? Why even suggest that physical appearance and
conventionalized notions of attractiveness are relevant to anything that
matters in a relationship?
5. Letting ourselves be intimidated by "science says,"
"producers know best"
and charges of "anthropomorphism." We are related to other animals
through evolution. Our empathic judgments reflect this fact. It does not
special credentials to know that, for example, a hen confined in a wire
is suffering, or to imagine what her feelings must be compared with
of a hen ranging outside in the grass. We are told that humans are
of knowing just about anything we want to know--except what it feels
be one of our victims. Intellectual confidence is needed here, not
sion to the epistemological deficiencies, cynicism, and intimidation
6. Letting the other side identify and define who we
are. I once heard a
demonstrator tell a member of the press at a protest at a chicken
slaughterhouse, "I'm sure Frank Perdue thinks we're all a bunch of kooks
for caring about chickens, but. . ." Ask yourself: does it matter what
Frank Perdues of this world "think" about anything? Can you imagine
Frank Perdue standing in front of a camera, saying, 'I know the animal
rights advocates think I'm a kook, but . . ."?
7. Needing to "prove" that we care about people, too.
The next time someone
challenges you about not caring about people, ask them what they're
working on. Whatever they say, say, "But why aren't you working on
________? Don't you care about _______?" We care deeply about many
things; however, we cannot devote our primary time and energy to all of
them. We must focus our attention and direct our resources. Moreover, to
seek to enlarge the human capacity for justice and compassion is to care
about and to work for people.
8. Needing to "pad" and bolster our concerns about
animals and animal abuse.
This is an extension of number 7. In keeping with the need to recognize
links of oppression and the indivisibility of social justice concerns,
imperative to recognize that the abuse of animals is a human problem
as serious as any other abuse. Unfortunately, the victims of homo
are legion. As individuals and groups, we cannot give equal time to
category of injustice. We must go where our heartstrings pull us the
and do the best that we can with the confidence that is needed to change
The rhetoric of apology in animal rights is an extension
of the "unconscious
contributions to one's undoing" described by the child psychologist,
Bettelheim.* He pointed out that human victims will often "collaborate"
sciously with an oppressor in the vain hope of winning the oppressor's
In fighting for animals and animal rights against the
oppressor, we assume the role of vicarious victims. To apologize in this
is to betray "ourselves" profoundly. We need to understand why and how
can happen. As Bettelheim explained out, "But at the same time,
the possibility of such unconscious contributions to one's undoing also
the way for doing something about the experience--namely, preparing
better to fight in the external world against conditions which might
unconsciously to facilitate the work of the destroyer."
We must prepare ourselves this way. If we feel that we
must apologize, let us
apologize to the animals, not for them.
*Bruno Bettelheim, "Unconscious Contributions to One's
SURVIVING and Other Essays, Vintage Books, 1980.
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