Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Part Two. The Emergence of "Animal Rights" Into "the Social"

[Please note that this version of this text has been recovered from an early draft due to a server crash. There may be a few typos and even mistakes in the following]

The aims of Part Two of the thesis are fourfold.  First, in making the case that ‘animal rights’ campaigning is a visible, acknowledged and sometimes actively debated social phenomenon, it is important to define and investigate exactly what the term ‘animal rights’ means to its various proponents, its detractors, media representatives and its opponents.  Often placing the term in parenthesis throughout this section, and in previous sections of the thesis, is meant to indicate that explaining the ‘rights’ component in animal advocacy is far from a straightforward matter.  Indeed, often a great deal of ‘animal rights’ campaigning has little direct connection to moral or legal rights formulations and, instead, ‘rights’ are employed rhetorically[1] by animal advocates in many instances.  Secondly, as another aim in this second section of the thesis, more will be said about the distinction between traditional animal welfarism and forms of animal advocacy, including those based on genuine rights positions, that emerged since the 1970s. 

          Indeed, for many writers concerned with human-nonhuman relations and associated social movement activity, explaining the meaning(s) of animal rights involves, in the first instance, demonstrating differences and distinctions that set genuine animal rights thought apart from forms of animal welfare.  However, it is suggested that the failure to fully differentiate rights and welfare approaches has resulted in a failure to secure rights as the principal basis of making human-nonhuman relations claims within the animal protection movement.  Institutionalised animal welfarism, whether expressed by animal welfare advocates located in social movement organisations, or animal welfare as interpreted by ‘pro-use’ mobilisations, is the basis of an impending chapter concentrated chiefly on the social and political resilience of this orthodox orientation to human-nonhuman relations.  This is to say that, not only does animal welfarism provide the established dominant paradigm by which any and all ‘animal issues’ are routinely evaluated, it is also the apparent ‘master-frame’ from which any genuine animal rights thinking must, in a sense, ‘depart from’ in order for its own distinctive perspectives to be publicly aired and thereby tested.  It is further suggested that the resistance to rights even in animal rights’ advocacy may be a product of social movement strategic thinking as much as a reflection of the complexities of rights theory.  Despite widespread endorsement of the idea of moral and legal rights, many animal advocates seem not to accept that rights formulations are a good basis for arguing for the protection of non-human individuals.  Often, they claim that ‘the public’ is not quite ready for animal rights, but can and do respond to claims about animal cruelty and excessive levels of animal suffering. 

          Having looked in Part One of the thesis at the social construction and maintenance of a general moral orthodoxy relating to human and nonhuman beings, the further analysis of animal welfarism in this part of the work places greater concentration on its apparent ability to effectively dominate all levels of societal discourse concerning human-nonhuman relations.  Common in discourse about human-nonhuman relations are declarations that while ‘animal rights’ makes no sense, it is possible to be oriented and committed to the notion of a duty of care toward other animals, and supportive of the principle of not causing ‘unnecessary’ suffering during legitimate forms of animal exploitation. 

Animal welfarism, especially pro-use versions aimed at maintaining and explaining the legitimacy of the human exploitation of nonhuman resources, suggests that perspectives not based on traditional animal welfare are simply ‘not needed’ and are rather ‘unwelcome’ in any assessment of contemporary human-nonhuman relations: to borrow from modern subcultural terminology, animal welfarism essentially asserts that major aspects of the ‘animal question’ are ‘sorted’.   

          The third section of this part of the study provides some empirical evidence of the continuing dominance of animal welfarism in the face of the emergence of ‘second-wave’ animal advocacy.  Therefore, it contemplates some aspects of what might be termed ‘the social reception’ to the emergence of animal rights and/or animal liberation thought and campaigns in the last few decades.  Although recent rights advocates assert that, for example, Peter Singer’s utilitarian ‘animal liberation’ perspective is a form of modern-day animal welfarism, the animal liberation position is nevertheless regarded by most as more radical and far-reaching than traditional welfarism and is the perspective usually adopted by advocates who dislike using rights as the basis of their claims on behalf on nonhuman animals.[2]  This particular section concentrates mainly on what pro-use countermovements and mass media commentators have made of the claims (and the related activities) of modern animal advocates, whether correctly labelled animal rightists or not.  Again, and predictably, orthodox welfarist understandings concerning human-nonhuman relations are almost universally used as resources to severely criticise contemporary ‘rights’ thinking.  The orthodoxy is seen to provide an established position of ‘care’ about animals from which the ‘extremism’ of the ‘animal rights’ case can be highlighted, or ‘de-bunked’, as one pro-use internet site would have it. 

Finally, the thesis endeavours to ask a rather blunt question that should interest any claims-making animal advocate: that question is, ‘who is listening?  Put differently, why should anyone actively engage with or be concerned about animal advocacy messages?  Why should any self- protecting audience face in any depth the often gory details of what humans routinely do to other animals: or with any information which may cause them discomfort and pain?  This final section, therefore, will outline some general strands of the complex social psychology of being the recipient of potentially distressing information.  It highlights how activities and campaigns seen by social movement activists as ‘public education initiatives’ may be received by many as a form of pain that they may wish to - and will take steps to - avoid.

          Notions such as so-called ‘compassion fatigue’ may explain why some individuals will go to considerable lengths to avoid, resist and even actively evade the information that many social movements attempt to place before them.  However, there are ‘deeper’ levels to forms of denial or ‘information resistance’.  In fact, Cohen (2001: 187) states that the basic notion of compassion fatigue is itself built upon three overlapping concepts: information overload, normalisation and desensitisation.  Moreover, other influential elements of ‘denial’ or ‘blocking’ may be acknowledged, recognising that such impulses are ostensibly based on entirely reasonable desires, oriented toward eliminating or reducing ‘unpleasure’, and directed at deliberately ‘putting to one side’, if not absolutely evading in every case, knowledge that may be intensely painful to know.  An important question seems to be raised again: why should anyone deliberately become embroiled with information that may - and most likely will - make them uncomfortable, cheerless, depressed, distressed, and will very probably put them off their dinner?

[1]   Defined as ‘the persuasive use of language’ by Jones (1996: 432).
[2]   Francione (1996) states that Singer’s work is important for two reasons.  One, his description of the institutionalised exploitations of other animals and two, ‘Singer presents a theory that would provide greater protection for animals than has classical animal welfare’ (1996: 12).  Joan Dunayer ( follows Francione’s line that sentiency alone is enough to warrant that nonhuman rights are respected.  She claims Singer’s position is ‘muddled’ and states that, ‘Actually, Singer doesn’t believe that any animals, including humans, should have inviolable rights.  He believes that an individual’s well-being or life can be sacrificed to the “greater good.”’

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