The Crocodile Tears Of New Welfarism
By Claudette Vaughan
It should be the raging topic of our time yet it is treated as a tired old construct from seasoned activists who should know better. Can animal welfare measures ultimately lead to liberation for non-human animals or is this simply a logistical impossibility? Has the movement sold animal rights down the drain for the perceived quicker ‘successes' that new welfarism offers? And if indeed welfarism offers quicker successes, where are they? Is this just another example of ‘The Emperor is wearing no Clothes'? (again) Why isn't this all-important subject worthy of discussion with any degree of seriousness among seasoned activists?
The industry of animal welfarism has created a slave class.
The question that is rarely asked by welfarists is this: If nonhuman animals are &lsquoersons' with family life, emotional range and community, and we reject that, then what kind illusion do we normally live under? What is this propensity in the human psyche for forming unrealistic fantasy relationships with other animals if we cannot act in a way consistent with a nonhuman animal's true value?
A great many people concerned about animals also eat the dead bodies of those same animals, and partake of the by-products of that same suffering. People in the movement supporting welfarist measures and who aren't vegan send out the message that intensive farming practices don't disturb them because the animal will eventually be killed and eaten anyway. They don't necessarily object to the slaughter of animals, but they do want it to be ‘humane'.
If we purport to be non-speciesists the idea of humane slaughter of a human being is unacceptable. Processing the sick, the weak and the injured human-being, like the Nazis did in WW11, is morally out of the question. Killing human beings is regarded as unacceptable to most people, even if it's to put them out of their misery. Eating people – cannibalism – is even worse. But killing nonhuman animals for food is usually regarded as preferable to keeping them alive and in pain. Where is the logic in saying on one hand that we care about the suffering of animals and then turn around and concurrently say, but we don't care if that same animal is alive or dead?
And let's be very clear on the meaning of welfarism. To some people it means the physical and mental wellbeing of nonhumans while they are alive. They might still want to eat a pig's flesh, cow's flesh or a chicken's body but they equally want to be sure those animals lived lives free of suffering. A Rightist's concern for nonhuman animals does not involve any such mental toil. The Rightist sees that being eaten or calling for “humane slaughter” practices from a movement that purports to work for their liberation, is an insurmountable obstacle to any individual animal's true welfare.
And here's where the parting of the way lies for the modern-day animal rights movement. There is simply no non-speciesistic way of differentiating humans worthy of a life from a nonhuman animal worthy of a life. The problem that arises is these two fundamental differences in attitudes to killing nonhuman animals means that those concerned with only welfarist issues have a very different aim to the rightist. One cannot build an animal rights movement off the back of welfarism because its aims, its motives and its ideas have different consequences in the real world. Back in 1964 Ruth Harrison wrote the first book on factory-farming called ‘Animal Machines.' On page 97 she said,
“The pigs are kept in semi-darkness. A 15-watt red bulb gives enough light for the pigs to see where to eat but not enough for them to allow fighting. Temperature and ventilation control coupled with the semi-darkness ensures that the meal is not wasted in unnecessary energy.”
In this terrain called welfarism nothing changes. All is sameness, revolving and repeating itself. Endlessly consuming. Pigs on today's factory-farms live in identical conditions to those back in 1964. In fact it's worse. Over the years welfarist farmers have devised sow stalls not only to stop pigs from fighting, but to stop them from turning around, tending their young, scratching themselves, being themselves. The slave class has no rights in welfare land.
The issue of animal rights and how to fight for animal rights is not a minority concern. The Animal Rights Movement is a grassroots movement and it's potentially here we should be at our strongest. People will always be drawn to our movement so long as they are able to understand our truth and not a multitude of opinions mixed and matched according to whose interpretation is placed on the meaning of ‘rights'. We should be striving for animal rights outright, the same as we should be striving for the abolition of vivisection outright.
That other animals are alive and capable of sentiency forces us to re-examine any self-validating rights which we fail to see in other animals yet we see them in ourselves. Charles Darwin was the first rightist. Darwin's theory undermined the traditional values of the day. In particular, the idea that human life has a special, unique worth while nonhuman life has relatively little value still holds true today. Our mode of living might be different to nonhuman animals but difference does not entitle us to take life.
Sydney City is often referred to as the gay centre of the international gay liberation movement. Living here affords us a close up view of the politics of ‘difference'. Queer culture embraces difference rather than simply supposing that everybody is identical. Gay liberation seeks equality and recognition within the law and other social institutions. Queer culture seeks to destabalise cultural ideas of ‘normality'. It is our most urgent task in the animal liberation movement to learn from queer culture and perhaps even, yes, for a time, privilege diversity over equality so to loosen some of our most fundamental flawed ideas about identity, rights, and hence, the constructs of anthropocentrism.
Traditional morality depends on the idea that human beings are in a special moral class all on their own. In the past, this has been supported in two ways: first, by religion and second, by the notion that humankind is a uniquely rational being.
The movement for animals in place at the moment is for the most part welfarist. It's sufficiently rational to perceive that they are not giving any equal consideration to the interests of nonhuman animals, if they kill them for food, cause suffering through recreational hunting and rodeos, or use them as office supplies in laboratories, intensive farming and other commercial activities.
Yet many people who associate themselves with animal rights, support a homegrown carcass trade against the live export trade or support the eating of organic pork over sow stalls or support larger cages for the battery hen.
If the animal rights movement is retrograde, as I imply it is, why then hasn't the mainstream Left taken up the political cause for animal rights en mass as it has done so in other liberation movements? Their modus operandi is renown for breaking down redundant modes of thinking but on this subject, on the whole, they remain awkwardly silent.
Animal rights activism has forged a praxis for challenging the old guard. If the movement has lost it's vitality and effectiveness it's because this praxis has been severely shaken by errors in having embraced its weakest link in political struggle i.e., welfarism. Being able to buy a veggie burger at MacDonalds is not something to be applauded.
Welfarists are the real utopianists if they think that the industry of welfarism will grant non-human animal's their rights.
It will be crucial for the Rights Movement in the next few years to move away from the one-off makeshift protest and the odd individual act of resistance to evolve into a fully-fledged progressive political movement by first learning how power structures operate in the world today.
In ‘Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings,' Michel Foucault states:
“It seems to me that this whole intimidation with the bogy of reform is linked to the lack of a strategic analysis appropriate to political struggle, to struggle in the field of political power.”
“ The phobia of the adversary's reformist riposte is the privilege accorded to what is solemnly termed the ‘theory' of the weakest link. A local attack is considered to have sense and legitimacy only when directed at the element which, if broken, will allow the total breach of the chain. That is, it must be a local action but one which, through the choice of its site, will act radically on the whole.”
To survive, the animal rights movement needs to shift its allegiance back to its original premise and re-capture the attention of a group of diverse human rights campaigners whose task is animal emancipation. The quintessential nature of welfarism works to enlarge, make more efficient, and make ‘respectable' animal usage. We can see this happening in China at the moment. An animal rights activist is detrimentally opposed to this viewpoint. They seek total non-usage of nonhuman animals under any and all circumstances and they work in a way that is consistent with that ideology.
Where's the difference between an animal exploiter, a welfarist, a farmer and a ‘animal rights' person calling for ‘compassionate slaughter'? They are all asking for the same thing which is to further normalise a commodity driven goods-for-services commercial enterprise where the power play in operation actually discourages any aggressive pursuit of animal rights, nay, it works towards its demise.
The human agency of the animal rights movement is largely unaware of the effects that a middle class value system has caused it in its refusal to work towards a larger vision outside of the current political system. Those that firmly believe change can be accomplished from within the system are the one's that don't share the abolitionist view that nothing is possible under the current system. What keeps these groups going is they have been shaped and defined by easy welfarist “victories” or simplified outlooks that cannot recognise and fight the entirety of the system.
The so-called pragmatic people of the movement ultimately manifest themselves as the opportunists. They get invited to the vivisectors conferences and are respected in the community as a reasonable, moderate force. They no longer work for justice but they want to be able to say to others that the system works. What is worse is they no longer like the radicals of the movement and seek to distance themselves from them.
They are attracted to the money rolling in for their welfarist campaigns based upon animals. They have inflicted their own petit bourgeois value system onto the movement and have found they are being rewarded for not rocking the boat.
Serious animal rights work offers resistance. Rights have never before been handed to anybody on a plate and the rights of animals won't happen by default either. Our duty, as I see it, is to penetrate the clouds of deception and learn how power operates in the world. Then, reflect upon the strategic, structural, or organisational mistakes from the past. The cycle of pragmatists and opportunists working in our movement has not yet been recognised, let alone broken. Without realising the weak, compromised, and infiltrated parts, they will always be retained and ultimately will weaken the movement from within. Before it can go forward one question needs to be asked: Was the litmus test for the continuance of the animal rights movement a choice between rights or welfarism, and, more importantly, did the movement failed it?
An undiluted animal rights message rejects all exploitation of animals and realises the world of welfarism does not work and is, in the long run, counter productive to animal rights interests.
Those that think the system can be reformed from within are fooling themselves. The powers that be are impervious to any fundamental reform. The animal rights movement must grow up, challenge the system, and keep building to make its voice stronger. It's never been easy, but it's not impossible.
Old and new welfarism has not the power, the ability, nor the inclination to take the Rights Movement where it has to go. It must go.