We are the Problem and the Solution
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org

FROM

By Kim Stallwood as posted on Faunalytics
Excerpt from his book, Growl: Life Lessons, Hard Truths, and Bold Strategies from an Animal Advocate
October 2014

Not everyone will want to go vegan -- or if they do, they won't maintain their diet and drift back to eating meat, eggs, and dairy products when animal suffering is no longer as important to them. However we may wish it otherwise, we must accept this reality. We cannot afford to wait until everyone has been converted. That's why, while individual change is good, institutional change is better.

kim stallwood

On the table in front of me lie three appeals for funds. The first is from a national animal rights organisation that promotes vegan, cruelty-free living, and exposes institutionalised animal exploitation with undercover investigations. The second is from an animal sanctuary, which rescues not only cats and dogs, but also farmed animals such as chickens, goats, and sheep. The last request is from a local refuge, which works in practical ways to help people, including their children and companion animals, who've been abused by their partners. Each one wants me to support their work by making a donation. But my funds are limited. It isn't possible to help everyone. Which one should I choose? Which is a priority?

These agonising decisions aren't unique to animal advocacy. Many movements for social justice present choices between achieving larger goals and making an immediate impact on the lives of individuals. We're all torn between campaigning to change a system and the desire to do something right now to make a situation less terrible. We try to weigh the needs, attempt to measure the successes of organisations, and ask ourselves what "success" might mean, and in what context. At times, our funding only seems to generate more requests for funding, and changing the world for the better remains elusive, even illusory.

Because I've worked so long in the animal advocacy movement, I'm often asked about which organisations to support. My responses may be as hesitant and complex as the above conundrum implies. But I've found that my four key values in animal rights guide me on how to understand the problem of animal cruelty and exploitation and to determine effective ways to act for animals. I also find it helps in making a decision to remind ourselves that we, homo sapiens, are the problem and not the animals. They don't choose to subject themselves to the cruelty and exploitation we inflict upon them. We cause the suffering. We're also the solution. Animal rights begins and ends with us.

We are the reason why the animal rights movement is obsessed with moments of personal transformation. If only, we think, we can change people's attitudes, behaviour, and beliefs, as I changed mine, and you yours, then most likely we'll be able to change the hearts and minds of everyone else. If only we can make everyone see what I now see and go vegan, then we'll be able to hang going-out-of-business signs on zoos, slaughterhouses, research laboratories, and much more. We'll have accomplished our animal rights mission.

This is an attractive idea because it gives us immediate agency. It fires us up with evangelical zeal, provides us with focus, and directs our energies outward. It's also, as I've argued, a fundamentally limited approach. Not everyone will experience that connection we had with an animal. Not everyone will want to go vegan -- or if they do, they won't maintain their diet and drift back to eating meat, eggs, and dairy products when animal suffering is no longer as important to them. However we may wish it otherwise, we must accept this reality. We cannot afford to wait until everyone has been converted. That's why, while individual change is good, institutional change is better.

The Animal Rights Frame

How many times have you found yourself saying "There ought to be a law against [undesirable activity here]!?"

Well, there should be laws against abusing animals. Tougher laws, enforceable laws. These laws will obviate the need for personal revelations, moral shocks, or even the vaguest form of empathy. As Singer and Regan suggested decades ago, you won't need to care about or even like animals to treat them justly. Animals won't simply be the recipients of charity from the kind-hearted or the socially outcast. They'll receive justice. Laws not only reflect our society's norms, they also guide them. Statutes, vigilantly guarded and properly enforced, will establish a set of legal, moral, and psychological conditions that will change society in such a way that it won't only be illegal to harm an animal, but it'll also be immoral, and socially unacceptable, even deviant to do so.

After forty years of the modern animal advocacy movement, it's time to move beyond the stage-one formulations of media stunts, information dissemination, demonstrations, advertising campaigns, and personal appeals by celebrities to stages two and three. Certainly, we can continue to influence public opinion to be more sympathetic to animals, but we need plans that are less whimsical, harder-headed, more strategic, and more directed. We need to be unafraid of power.

As it is, animal advocates are boxed in. We're frightened of being told by other social justice movements that animals aren't as important as humans. We're frightened that we'll be called sentimental or irrational or self-righteous or just plain weird. We're frightened that others won't be as committed or absolute or uncompromised as we are. We're frightened that, when push comes to shove, the politicians will let us down because we're supposedly one-issue voters, and that issue just isn't important enough.

Well, these are the risks that any movement has to take as it grows up. It has to expect vilification and opposition. We have to expect to be called "radicals" and "terrorists" and a whole host of even more unpleasant names. What we do is hold on to the four key values and not only won't we earn those labels, but the general public -- whom I genuinely believe is more open to our cause than we advocates imagine -- will stick those labels on those who oppose us.

Fortunately, most of us live in societies where the free exchange of ideas and the right to petition the government and elect one's representatives are givens. True, moneyed interests and powerful lobbies exist that make it hard to get through to legislators. So start small and start locally. Pick an issue, analyse the problem, and propose a solution. Attend your local council or ward meetings. Bring in experts, write policy papers, give money, hold fundraisers. Organise, campaign, join a political party, run for office yourself. Show the politician you have a constituency; do the same with other groups in your area. Build bridges, develop a network, make animal advocates an unavoidable part of the constituency that supports a candidate.


Kim Stallwood is an independent scholar and author on animal rights. Since 1974, he has worked with Compassion In World Farming, British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and The Animals' Agenda magazine. He co-founded the Animals and Society Institute (ASI) in 2005 and is ASIís European Director.


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