How to Prolong Injustice

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How to Prolong Injustice

By Tom Regan, Tom Regan's Animal Rights & Writes

Thousands of Old McDonald’s farms inhabited by millions of happy animals is not the end we seek. The end we seek is the end of raising animals for their flesh and other products. Why, then, should ARAs [Animal Rights Activists] work for the sorts of reforms I have described?

Considered superficially, the answers seem obvious. Since the animals are much better off because of the reforms, and since ARAs genuinely care about how animals are treated, surely ARAs should support and help implement the reforms.

Things are not this simple. From an ARA’s perspective, animal agriculture violates the rights of farmed animals; it treats them as our resources—indeed, as renewable resources. This unjust practice cannot be brought to an end by continuing to treat farmed animals in this way, which is how they will be treated if the system of their exploitation has been reformed in the ways we have imagined. No, to reform injustice is to prolong injustice.

Truth be told, it is wishful thinking to believe that the successful implementation of reforms will abolish animal agriculture. It is far more likely that great numbers of people will continue to eat animal flesh, only now with a clear conscience, a gift, paradoxically, given to them by the well-intentioned reformers.

Others (many of whom think of themselves as ARAs [Animal Rights Activists]) think abolitionist goals can be achieved by taking a different path. In the case of animal agriculture, for example, people who favor U (I’ll call it) think that the best way to realize abolitionist goals is to reform current practices, based on animal interests. For example, if decreasing density in battery cages is implicitly to count the hens’ interest in having more space, this is a reform we should support.

The same is true of reforms in transportation and slaughter techniques. Any time we can increase the number of animal interests that are taken into account, and any time we can have their interests counted equitably, U calls upon us to press for these reforms.

Suppose these reforms are implemented throughout animal agriculture. What would be the result?

Well, arguably things would have changed quite a lot. In place of the factory farms that scar the rural countryside today, we can imagine a plethora of farms modeled after Old McDonald’s. In this gentle new word, it is true, there are vastly fewer farmed animals than there are today, but the quality of their life is vastly better too. Who can be dissatisfied with so idyllic a world?

ARAs, for one. Thousands of Old McDonald’s farms inhabited by millions of happy animals is not the end we seek. The end we seek is the end of raising animals for their flesh and other products. Why, then, should ARAs work for the sorts of reforms I have described?

Considered superficially, the answers seem obvious. Since the animals are much better off because of the reforms, and since ARAs genuinely care about how animals are treated, surely ARAs should support and help implement the reforms.

Things are not this simple. From an ARA’s perspective, animal agriculture violates the rights of farmed animals; it treats them as our resources—indeed, as renewable resources. This unjust practice cannot be brought to an end by continuing to treat farmed animals in this way, which is how they will be treated if the system of their exploitation has been reformed in the ways we have imagined. No, to reform injustice is to prolong injustice.

Proponents of U might reply by saying that, over time, as first one, then another reform is implemented, the quality of farmed animal life is improved and people will begin to change how they think about animals. Once the general public understands that animals have interests, and once they have supported the call to have their interests counted fairly, people will move away from their meat-eating ways. On this view, a day will dawn when, because of the reforms made as well as the general public’s support of making them, we all awake to a vegan world.

This is a lovely story, but hardly credible. Why would human beings forego a leg of lamb or a brisket of beef if all the relevant reforms have been implemented? After all, with the reforms in place, farmed animals could not have a better quality of life than the one they enjoy.

Moreover (and this is hardly unimportant) surely the general public, accustomed to and supportive of the reforms, will want to help make this same happy life available to the next generation of cows and pigs, chickens and ducks. And the next generation after that one, a demand that, in the nature of the case, can only be met if the members of one generation are slaughtered “humanely,” to be replaced by others of their kind, and so on into the indefinite future.

Truth be told, it is wishful thinking to believe that the successful implementation of reforms will abolish animal agriculture. It is far more likely that great numbers of people will continue to eat animal flesh, only now with a clear conscience, a gift, paradoxically, given to them by the well-intentioned reformers.

So, to pose your specific question again: “Is a push for better animal welfare a way of helping society take the next logical step in not using and abusing other animals or does this, as some think, make the use and abuse of other animals acceptable to some?”

I don’t think ARAs should be working for improved welfare for the prisoners exploited by the animal industrial complex. To make such improvements will only make their exploitation more socially acceptable and, as a result, perpetuate the very evils we oppose. To my way of thinking, as I wrote twenty-five years ago, “to reform absolute injustice is to prolong injustice.”

That said, I do not want to deny the importance that learning about animal suffering has in people’s lives. Remember my previous observations about meeting people who ask me questions I’ve answered hundreds of times? Remember how, when I looked at them, it was like looking in a mirror.

Like them, there was a time when I didn’t know how nonhumans were being treated.

Like them, there was a time when I knew but didn’t care.

Like them, there was a time when I knew and cared but not enough to change how I was living.

Like them, there was a time when I was . . . them!

I don’t think ARAs who, like me, are Muddlers should ever forget how in-the-dark we once were. Or how important it was for us in our individual journey to despair over how horribly animals are treated. I know that I would not have become the person I am today if my mind and heart had not opened to find a place for me to acknowledge their suffering and needless death. It’s natural at this stage of Muddler development to want to make the cages bigger, hoping thereby to lessen the pain. Those were among the first steps I took; it was only later that I came to believe the cages did not need to become larger; they needed to become empty.