Temple Grandin, (portrayed on TV by Claire Danes in a Golden Globe-winning performance,) will be speaking about animal welfare at a conference in Virginia this week. Grandin is a professor at Colorado State University and a leading advocate for autism awareness. A person with high-functioning autism herself, she has written extensively about autism.
In addition to her work with autism, she is well-known for her work with livestock, specifically as a consultant to the meat industry on how to redesign corrals and slaughterhouses to be more “humane” and “decent.”
Grandin credits her experiences with autism with her ability to empathize with the experiences of animals and therefore design enclosures and restraints that are less stressful.
All of her speaking, consulting, and writing has made her a celebrity in recent years and so when it was announced that she would be speaking at the Virginia Winter Forage Conference this week, reservations went through the roof and all of her talks sold out. Grandin will give two talks per day for three days on animal handling and welfare.
One simply cannot help but respect the work that Temple Grandin does on the issue of autism. An undeniably intelligent woman with extensive education as well as a lifetime of personal experience, she is obviously the person to lead the way on that issue.
She certainly is no friend to animals, however. Dr. Grandin represents the exact opposite direction of people like Gary Francione and others like him who work from the abolitionist point of view on animal rights. Grandin explicitly states that she believes eating animals is ethical as long as we implement devices and designs like hers to minimize animal suffering.
This viewpoint cannot fundamentally change the fate of animals because it persists in the view that animals are objects and not sentient beings. She argues a seemingly contradictory case in her essay “Animals Are Not Things.” She argues that animals should remain as property and that legal protections for animals should be based on what we understand their level of neural complexity to be.
She openly admits that this logic falls apart when applied to a mentally handicapped child that may have less mental capacity than animals we choose to slaughter. If you were headed for a brutal and horrifying death, Temple Grandin would want to give you an escalator to spare you the stress of walking up stairs.
People flock to Grandin’s ideas because she gives people an easy way out. She gives consumers the moral justification to continue a lifestyle that they are reluctant to give up. Grandin is a winning lottery ticket for industries that profit from the murder of animals because she designs slaughterhouses that earn her awards from animal advocacy organizations. She is a seal of approval from the “good guys” to continue the slaughter.
The only real way to fundamentally improve the well being of animals is to fight against the idea that animals are property and that their lives and deaths are inconsequential.