One More Thorough Response to Schonfeld:
Steve Kaufman shares with us his opinion about Schonfeld’s “Five
Fatal Flaws of Animal Activism”:
I take issue with Victor Schonfeld’s commentary of January 18
entitled “Five fatal flaws of animal activism.” Mr. Schonfeld relates
that he has been away from the animal protection movement since
producing The Animals Film in 1977, and in my opinion his absence has
not enhanced his assessment of the movement’s intervening history or
future prospects. What he really raises are criticisms of certain
contemporary animal protectionism strategies, and he gives no reasons
why these are “fatal flaws” of animal activism.
Here they are, with my comments:
1. Instead of promoting animal rights goals as a major plank within
broader social change movements, animal organisations insist on going it
alone. Yet the Green party’s animal rights goals are as radical as any
animal rights organisation's.
Reply: Animal activists have repeatedly been rebuffed by the larger
and more powerful environmental organizations. While many
environmentalists are concerned about species extinctions, they
generally have much less concern for the welfare of individual animals,
who are the focus of concern of many animal advocates. It has been the
experience of many animal advocates that environmentalists are not at
all interested in promoting a vegetarian or vegan agenda, evidently
because they fear offending their largely meat-eating constituency.
2. One of the world's largest animal rights organizations routinely
employs naked young women, including porn stars, to chase mass media
attention. Would a human rights organisation stoop so low?
Reply: Schonfeld is likely referring to PETA, which often uses naked
men as well as women. Their ads tend to be humorous, though the sex
appeal can’t be denied. Are their ads degrading to women? Some might
reasonably say yes and others no – it depends largely in the eye of the
beholder. Are they effective for getting PETA’s message across? Without
any evidence in his support, Schonfeld evidently thinks not. He seems to
deride “chas[ing] mass media attention,” but he does not offer better
strategies for getting animal rights messages out to the general public.
3. Animal rights organisations have been handing out awards and
lavishing praise on slaughterhouse designers and burger restaurant
chains after "negotiations" for small changes that leave the systems of
Reply: If the changes are indeed negligible, then it would be
inappropriate to praise those responsible for reducing animal suffering
at human hands. However, there have been significant reforms that have
ameliorated the tragic plight of nonhuman animals. Are these reforms
counter-productive (which they would need to be in order to qualify as
“fatal flaws”)? Schonfeld gives no evidence to support such a position.
It is possible, through surveys, focus groups, and other means to
scientifically assess whether or not Schonfeld’s criticisms have merit.
Currently, we have anecdotes and general consumer patterns, and the
latter are very likely influenced much more by massive animal
exploitation industries and their multi-billion dollar advertising
budgets than by the far smaller animal protection movement. Until
research with a high degree of validity is done, the best Schonfeld can
do is suggest that these strategies might be ineffective or
counter-productive. To claim that they are “fatal flaws” seems
4. Instead of animal rights organisations promoting a clear "moral
baseline" that individuals should become vegans to curb their own
demands for animal exploitation, groups have given their stamp of
approval to deeply compromised marketing concepts such as "happy meat",
"freedom foods", "sustainable meat", and "conscientious omnivores".
Reply: I agree that, if animal rights organizations choose to endorse
reforms that reduce animal suffering, they should make clear that their
ultimate goal is to see an end of animal mistreatment and/or
exploitation. In general, I think animal rights groups they have
followed such guidelines. Though PETA has endorsed practices that reduce
animal suffering, they clearly remain committed to veganism and ending
animal exploitation as their ultimate goal. Perhaps Schonfeld is
referring more to certain animal protection organizations that are not
dedicated to ending all animal abuse and that have more readily endorsed
contemporary systems of oppression and abuse. Though animal rightists
might not agree with some animal protection groups’ more modest goals,
animal rightists can’t accuse those groups of abandoning their
5. Tactics of violence and personal intimidation have at long last
fallen out of favour, but activists now pour energy and resources into
organisations that lack any real strategy for bringing an end to animal
exploitation, whether for food or science.
Reply: I’m not sure whether or not Schonfeld laments the reduction in
violent tactics, but he doesn’t offer any “real strategy” of his own. In
truth, organizations like Mercy for Animals and Compassion Over Killing
have generated a significant public outcry after exposing factory
farming conditions via undercover videos. Meanwhile, they have
orchestrated campaigns to reduce or eliminate animal products in fast
foods, and to create husbandry standards for animal foods that are sold.
Vegan Outreach distributes over 1 million booklets promoting veganism,
primarily to college students. Are such strategies optimally effective,
given the animal protection movement’s limited size and budget?
Schonfeld does not demonstrate why such strategies fail to qualify as
“real strategies for bringing an end to animal exploitation.”
Recently, three of the top 100 selling books focused on animal
agriculture and encouraged veganism and/or moving toward veganism. The
animal rights message is increasingly mainstream – a dramatic change
since The Animals Film came out in 1977. Schonfeld and countless others
deserve much credit for this gradual paradigm shift. I think the animal
protection movement has benefited from a range of voices and a range of
strategies, because different messages resonate with different people.
No strategy should be immune to critical analysis, but I see no benefit
in labeling certain strategies as “fatal” without compelling evidence.
Your question and comments are welcome