Establishing the Rights of Animals in Law and Human Consciousness
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Establishing the Rights of Animals in Law and Human Consciousness

Comments by David Cantor - 27 Jun 2006

Dear Frank & Mary,

Rather than belabor various points about the human-nonhuman violence links (benefits to humans indicated there are so paltry, anyway, compared to those from fully implemented animal rights agenda), whether to seek a large or small constituency at this time for advancing animal rights, who responds to what approach, and such, I’d like to return to the basic fact that Responsible Policies for Animals came to exist because animal rights was not being advanced by long-term reference to the violence links, efforts to address large audiences through the mass media, and appeals to things large numbers of people care about.

I’ll be more than glad to examine hard evidence contrary to what I’ve said, but numbers of people with the brief and transitory experience of learning of nonhuman animals’ plight or even of taking some action not only do not equate to progress for animal rights – they bolster my case: Despite all of those well-intentioned, compassionate, informed, and expertly executed efforts, there is no notable progress toward the goal of the animal rights movement after about a quarter-century of the declared animal rights movement. The burden of proof is on anyone who recommends continuing to emphasize the well-reasoned methods of the past as a means to achieving what they have shown they cannot achieve. I have already offered a basic fact that I believe explains the undeniable fact that no significant progress has been made: Those well-reasoned methods used for so long by so many dedicated and competent people only prove effective in arenas not involving establishing a new paradigms – in arenas where the dispute is among competing values within the existing paradigm.

RPA takes an entirely different approach in order to advance animal rights in a world in which the declared animal rights movement in a quarter-century has not advanced animal rights and almost no one on Earth can accurately state what animal rights is – not in a world in which progress is likely to be made if only some more people dedicate themselves to the old approach.

RPA is not only campaigning with regard to different targets than the declared animal rights movement, but with different subject matter and different methods. It is mainly the different subject matter that your thoughtful contributions to this dialog show me I should explain. Your e-mails also show me a need to state some basic criteria for assessing what is likely to advance animal rights as opposed to caring about animals, showing how treating animals better will help reduce violent crimes against humans, and other already-tried approaches RPA will not use in the foreseeable future. First, I want to make this distinction: It is not that RPA claims a mass audience or a large constituency that truly understands animal rights could not move it forward – they would be most welcome! That should be obvious. It is that built-in reasons exist why the media and subject matter necessary to reach large numbers of people quickly cannot advance animal rights.

Also before moving further forward, I want to answer you concerning what follow-up has resulted in the past month from the May 23rd Albany event where we first met in person. There are two parts to the answer:

(1) As you’ll see RPA explaining in the new issue of Thin Ice arriving by mail any day now, the simple fact that more people know what animal rights is than did before the event is one key indicator of an event’s contribution to the animal rights movement. Confusion reigns about this due to long exhortations to “help animals,” “save animals,” and so on – all of which can be done with absolutely no furtherance of the animal rights movement and have been done by ever more people to no avail with regard to advancing animal rights. (Helping animals is inherently good, yes, but it doesn’t affect the animal rights movement either way in and of itself. To the extent it is confused with animal rights activities, it most likely sets the movement back.)

(2) Some of the follow-up has been the best we could hope for beyond ensuring that a small number of articulate and influential people of three generations are much clearer on what animal rights is: the present discussions with two dedicated animal advocates who run a highly informative website and make other important contributions; some people extremely knowledgeable about the food industry and animal exploitation seriously interested in working to eliminate “animal science” from Cornell University, New York’s main land-grant university, as part of RPA’s 10,000 Years Is Enough campaign; and several new RPA members – as a small number of people are already doing in some other states.

What follows should help explain the extremely high value of those results to anyone who doubts it or is accustomed to seeing as important results only occurrences that seem dramatic when they occur but turn out only to have emotional appeal and really do not advance the goal of the animal rights movement. In addition, though, it is worth pointing out that the results of the Albany event were obtained without large expenditures of money, without any paid staff, without “media,” without RPA’s or my name being well known, without appalling photographs or video, without celebrity endorsement, without telling people what they should or should not eat or purchase, with most people who attended not being animal activists, with one of the organizers having learned important new things about organizing events, and with high potential for future communications among some of the people who attended and between RPA and those who attended. Moving on …

I stated above that built-in reasons exist why the media and subject matter necessary to reach large numbers of people quickly cannot advance animal rights. That is true of all new paradigms I know of throughout human existence. The fact that they are new and lack obvious connection to old paradigms dictates that they must undergo a period in which the vast majority cannot and do not understand them. That is not a value judgment about elites versus everyone else – it is simply that each new paradigm typically springs from one human mind or very few, or a few fairly close together in time when circumstances and personal experience are ripe for them to occur. A new paradigm is not a set of shared values; it is an all-encompassing new mode of thought that arises because characteristics of values, beliefs, knowledge, and experience previously shared have now been recognized as inherently incapable of solving the problem, answering the question, or achieving the task at hand – in our case, that of affording meaningful protection to the vast majority of nonhuman animals for the long term.

The subject matter appropriate to advancing animal rights is animal exploitation and human supremacist and speciesist indoctrination. It is not animal abuse or worst cruelties. That is what Joan Dunayer recognizes in her book Speciesism when she uses RPA’s 10,000 Years Is Enough campaign as one of very few examples of genuine animal rights campaigns. The test of a genuine animal rights campaign is not whether it can succeed quickly or whether the vast majority of people can easily understand and see their way to supporting it – it is whether it …

- makes demands based on and entirely consistent with animal rights, not components of the old paradigm such as compassion;

- delivers a clear and consistent animal rights message whether explaining benefits to nonhuman animals, ecosystems, human beings, or all three; and

- avoids the possibility of being understood as delivering an animal welfare message and therefore reinforcing the existing paradigm and setting back the desired new one.

RPA does not campaign for an end to “animal science” at our land-grant universities because “animal science” facilities and their instructors and students are the cruelest animal abusers – by and large, they are not. Nor because they developed and promote factory farming – though they did and do. Nor because investigations have revealed extremely cruel mistreatment of nonhuman animals at some of them – though they have. Nor because the is likely to get a mass following quickly – it hasn’t happened in the first three years, we didn’t expect it to, and we aren’t beside ourselves with indignation, frustration, and impatience at its small following.

RPA developed, launched and runs the 10,000 Years Is Enough campaign because we do not believe animal rights can be established by any approach whatsoever that fails to address the fact that a network of large universities with significant influence in every aspect of human life and every area of public policy throughout the entire world remain busy teaching thousand upon thousands of people – some directly, some indirectly – to oppose the animal rights movement in thought and practice.

Our LGUs teach by their words, actions, omissions, associations, structures, programs, revenues, and expenditures that nonhuman animals have no moral rights and therefore should not have legal rights. They teach that nonhuman animals should remain the property of human beings – the key circumstance that makes impossible their having legal rights or any other meaningful protection. And they provide incalculably vast benefits and support to the animal-exploiting industries it is most important to eliminate – not just because those industries exploit and kill the most animals, but because those industries are the biggest obstacles to people’s understanding what animal rights is, what their appropriate relationship to the nonhuman world is, and what the benefits of animal rights are for human beings.

To summarize my refusal to put time, energy, or RPA member donations into other approaches to animal rights urged upon me since RPA began its activities in 2003 is due to the facts that (1) all proposed approaches have already failed and show no significant potential to succeed – for reasons inherent in their nature and in the nature of animal rights, and (2) RPA is already dedicating itself to doing the single most important thing that must be done if nonhuman animals are ever to have meaningful, enforceable basic legal rights – the true animal rights movement’s only sensible goal at a time when such rights exist nowhere on Earth and nonhuman animals have meaningful protection against human practices nowhere on Earth and are deemed property and/or life unworthy of life in all human societies I know of.

It would be irresponsible of me to put myself or RPA forward as knowing with certainty that steps A, B, & C, if followed by enough people, in a certain period will establish basic legal rights for nonhuman animals throughout the human world. It would even be irresponsible for me to claim to know for certain that anything I and RPA are doing will bring about the desired result. But my explanations of why we will not involve ourselves with past approaches are based on the undeniable observation that those approaches are not working. So it would also be irresponsible of me, after starting an organization with the express intention to return to the accurate definition of animal rights as the basis for campaigns and education, to then involve RPA in the very kinds of activities I am saying do not advance animal rights.

Defining “victories” as compelling animal abusers to stop doing certain things that harm animals, for example – and I showed myself quite adept at doing that in the past and could have gone on making a comfortable living at it rather than doing RPA’s work for no remuneration – does not specifically advance the cause of animal rights or a new human-nonhuman animal relationship; it advances the cause of fighting animal abuse. To fight animal abuse, animal abuse must continue – just as to promote animal welfare, animal exploitation must continue. Those approaches are part of the old paradigm and so cannot bring about the desired new one.

The difficulty we all have in comprehending the complete depth and breadth of the animal rights paradigm and the failure of past approaches to advance it is inherent in animal rights’ being a new paradigm. It has nothing to do with whether individual people “believe in” animal rights but only with the freeing of ourselves from the existing paradigm. Since the existing human-nonhuman animal relationship is involved in every aspect of our lives, we cannot yet fully comprehend the extent of it. Civilization is built on ever expanding and intensifying violations of natural boundaries. But we can’t very well base a successful social movement on a notion of eliminating civilization. With 6.5 billion people on Earth and no possible source of food without agriculture, the basis of civilization?

There is no practice – not vegan eating, washing with cruelty-free soap, even washing our hands, in my opinion – that such a large number of people can engage in without harming vast numbers of nonhuman animals or driving some species extinct. But popular movements are based on shifting large numbers of people from one practice to another – even though any one practice undertaken by enough people is certain to be devastating, only in a different way from the surrendered practice. Yet I do not see the animal rights movement as being anywhere near adopting a serious human-population platform. There is also the matter of whether human animals have animal rights. I believe they do and can explain what those rights should be.

That is another aspect of what is necessary for justice to obtain for humans and nonhumans alike. To my knowledge, it has never even been discussed at a single “animal rights” conference or mentioned in any organization’s newsletter. In other words, the old approaches and the old subject matter have seized up the movement the way loss of oil seizes up a car engine. I believe RPA’s way is the best way forward at this time – otherwise I wouldn’t be dedicating myself to it. Nor do I expect others to support it if they don’t understand it or are so attached to old approaches, old notions of victories, and the rest that they can’t understand it at this time.

I hope all who want animals to have basic legal rights, though, will examine their approaches carefully based on the above criteria and will ask themselves,

Where did I get the idea this can advance animal rights? If the answer is, I just assumed it because a great organization told me it would, or, Getting the word out is all that counts, maybe too little thought is being applied.

Did I just help a small number of animals because I feel better helping a few now even though 2 million were slaughtered in the time it took, than I feel working for a whole new paradigm that humanity might not ever adopt? If the answer is yes, maybe it helps to understand that how we feel is irrelevant whether an act or omission can possibly advance animal rights. Or maybe it helps to understand that one can dedicate one’s time and energy to advancing animal rights while also being prepared in case one comes upon an injured animals and making the most compassionate and ecologically sound choices possible – knowing all the while that advancing animal rights is altogether different but more important since it is the only hope for the vast majority of nonhuman animals for the long term and also very likely the only hope for the vast majority of humans, too.

If anyone can get the old methods to work – maybe a new bottle really can improve an old wine? – more power to them, of course! When the result is there, I’ll welcome it no matter who achieves it. As Ezra Pound said (possibly not exact), it matters a lot that great poems be written; it matters not a whit who writes them. The same is true for establishing the rights of nonhuman animals in law and custom.

Best wishes,

David Cantor
Responsible Policies for Animals

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