Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Strength and Resilience of the Orthodox

[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]

‘They pity and they eat the objects of their compassion’.
Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774).
The Citizen of the World.

In a discussion about forms of social knowledge, sociologists David Lee and Howard Newby (1983: 18) make the claim that both common sense knowledge and ideological beliefs suffer from certain limitations (which, they go on to argue, sociological knowledge can go some way to overcome).  Lee and Newby elaborate on the point, suggesting that these forms of knowledge are self-centred, incomplete and likely intolerant.  This latter suggestion is of particular interest, especially since these authors add that ideological belief can, ‘foster a dogmatic style of thought that insists on being right regardless’ (ibid.) 

       It may be immediately acknowledged that all ideologies may have these characteristics, including those based on ideas and beliefs favoured and personally held, as much as those based on beliefs one opposes or is generally ‘neutral’ about.  Constant vigilance and a commitment to critical reflexivity are thus required to ameliorate these tendencies to dogmatism. 

          With regard to traditional animal welfare ideology, this thesis suggests and attempts to make plain its dogmatic characteristics; built as they are on an apparently societywide belief that this is undoubtedly, self-evidently, and almost ‘naturally’ the right and proper way to assess any assertion made about human treatment of other animals.  Animal welfarism seems to remain largely accepted, largely uncritically, as the demonstrably ‘reasonable’ paradigm for looking at human-nonhuman relations; this alone being seen as an attractive attribute in liberal Western nations.

          Certainly throughout the Western world, the ideology of animal welfarism seems to have become firmly institutionalised, with its central ideological tenets widely adopted, culturally internalised, and incorporating the all-important notion that every human-nonhuman relationship issues can be adequately addressed without questioning the central claims of the welfarist approach to the human treatment of other animals.  Claims are made on a regular basis, often by British animal farming interests and politicians of all stripes, that the ‘United Kingdom’ in particular has the strictest animal welfare standards in the world.  Thus, it is suggested that ‘welfare costs’ are already substantial to the commercial industries which use animals for human ends and animal welfare legislation should not readily be further strengthened.  However, there appears to be a general acceptance - or at least the articulation of a formal recognition - of the welfarist stance that says the ‘price’ paid for maintaining high welfare standards is harsh yet justifiable.  However, that said, the notion of going beyond what is evidently necessary to achieve ‘humane treatment’ is clearly regarded as largely uncalled for since it may dramatically endanger commercial competitiveness. 

          In this sense, and rather like formal supportive claims towards health and safety provisions, animal welfare practices and legislation are presented as essential, adequate, strong but fair, notwithstanding that its provisions come at a considerable cost which, nevertheless, should be paid for reasons of morally good behaviour.  This is essentially the presentation of a pluralist political model allegedly based on seeking a satisfactory balance of various and often contradictory interests, even including some of the interests of the ‘lower animals’ humans use for their own purposes (or those that seek to represent them). 

          In practice, organisationally and politically, animal welfarism is a constituent part of the various battle grounds and compromises between and among mobilisations such as the National Farmers Union, Friends of the Earth, the RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming and the British government’s Farm Animal Welfare Council and the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). 

          This means that the ‘reasonable, reasoned and proper debate’ over the human use of other animals is seen as rightly the province of legitimate mainstream organisations committed, on some level or other, to conventional animal welfare tenets; that is, committed to the ‘non-cruel’ exploitation of other animals for human ends.  Thus, on the animals’ side as it were (although all participants would loudly claim this particular image-friendly status), groups such as Compassion in World Farming stand for a move toward (or a return to) extensive, and probably necessarily small-scale, systems of ‘animal husbandry’, while the more politically powerful National Farmers Union would more likely support the status quo of substantial intensive (yet still ‘non-cruel’) production.[1]  The most dogmatic elements of traditional animal welfarism are readily evident when they are challenged by ‘animal rights’ thought, on the one hand, and (now rare) Cartesian-inspired claims that there are no ethical issues involved in the human utilisation of other animals.  Clearly, animal welfarism’s institutionalised and internalised centrality as the firmly-fixed orthodoxy is suggested as perhaps its greatest strength: from this assured position other perspectives can be authoritatively characterised as extreme and unnecessary.

          The widespread social orientation to animal welfarism means that any thinking about human-nonhuman relations is almost mechanically assessed within this long-established and entrenched paradigm.  As suggested throughout, orthodox animal welfarism is virtually all-pervasive in discourse about nonhuman animals; it is by far the commonest way by which children are encouraged to view human relationships with other animals.  Furthermore, by its own standards, it can claim to ‘work’ or ‘function’, in the sense of reducing ‘unnecessary suffering’ caused to nonhuman animals.  This apparent functionality leads, as seen, to the suggestion that alternative views (either way, left or right, as it were, from this dominant centre) represent unnecessarily radical views (see Henshaw 1989; Tester 1992; Franklin 1999 for accounts of ‘animal rights’ as ‘extremism’ and ‘fanaticism’).  Once again, a fundamental element in animal welfarism essentially says that animal rights views are simply unneeded

          As common sense knowledge is putatively enough to understand social phenomena, animal welfare is enough to understand the needs and requirements of animals other than human.  Garner (1993), in Part One, reviews several philosophical positions and situates traditional animal welfarism in a broad centre ground position by characterising it as the established ‘moral orthodoxy’ in terms of ethical views about other animals.  Garner also identified two comparative extremes to the welfarist centre: the presently rare ‘no moral status’ position, and the growing ‘challenge to the moral orthodoxy’, which Garner claims is represented by philosophers such as Andrew Linzey, Mary Midgley, Stephen Clark, James Rachels, Bernard Rollins, Steven Sapontzis, Rosemary Rodd and especially Singer and Regan (ibid.: 10). 

          In her ‘dismissals model’ (absolute and relative), Midgley (1983: 12-18) underscores the centrality of animal welfarist understandings while noting that a certain degree of ‘mental vertigo’ results from confusion about these positions, and this was before Gary Francione came up with the added complication of the notion of ‘new welfarism’.  While this may be true of professional philosophers, it is probably more correct to state that in general discourse, reliant of mass media transmission, animal welfarism holds centre stage to the exclusion of other views.  It is important to note in this respect that, despite regularly being labelled as concerning ‘animal rights’, the vast majority of media coverage of issues concerning the treatment of nonhumans is unconditionally welfarist in content.  An investigation of the British animal protection movement (Yates 1998) strongly suggests that many animal activists and advocates are themselves often propelled by their concerns for nonhuman animals into a confused position involving often contradictory welfare and ‘rights’ orientations.  Midgley does say that disentanglement represents something of a ‘path to relief’ although, in practice, lines of thought may commonly converge (Midgley 1983: 13). 

          Writing in the Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Aubrey Townsend attempts to further define the conventional welfarist view of other animals.  He argues that the ethical orthodoxy allows a distinction between two sorts of moral considerations.  The first applies to human and nonhuman animals and is based on a welfarist commitment to do what promotes the ‘living of a pain-free happy life’ (Townsend, in Garner 1993: 17).  The second consideration is reserved for humans only and is based on a respect for personal autonomy - ‘for what an individual wants or values’.  Therefore, since animals are regarded as ‘only sentient’, they can only be accorded an inferior moral status compared to human beings:

Thus, we are entitled to sacrifice the interests of animals to further human interests, whereas we are not entitled to treat humans in the same way - as part of a cost-benefit analysis (ibid.)

Garner (ibid.: 17-18) ultimately offers animal rights supporters little comfort, declaring that the position outlined here by Townsend, ‘amounts to what is the conventional view about animals at least in Britain’.  He also agrees that this position corresponds to the perspective of many traditional animal welfare organisations.  In effect, then, welfarism accords to nonhuman animals the ‘intermediate status’ discussed in the present study: while they may be more than ‘things’, they are nevertheless very much less than ‘persons’ (ibid.: 18).

Media Coverage.

Apart from the philosophers and other academics who take an interest in the subject on some level or other, it is remarkably common to find that journalistic treatment of ‘the animal issue’ display a strong orientation to non-radical welfarist norms. As suggested above, there appears to be a further acceptance - indeed, sometimes an open ideological advocacy - of the assumed correctness of animal welfare’s central location between extreme and groundless positions.  For example, when in 1998 the British rights campaigner Barry Horne[2] went on hunger strike in protest at the government refusal to establish a Royal Commission on animal experimentation, the Independent newspaper ran an editorial (14/12/98) entitled ‘Remember the Real Animal Welfare Issues’.  To some extent this piece appears to be a genuine attempt to give serious attention to the issues raised by the fact that someone was willing to risk their life for ‘animal causes’.  However, the title itself is obviously firmly located within the purview of the moral orthodoxy, and its censorious note is common of such articles, many of which tend to at least imply that some ‘bigger picture’ has been overlooked.  Although it may be suggested that the headline merely reflects the hyperbole of subeditorship, it is also fairly clear from the substantive text that the writer was either unable or unwilling (or both) to assess the situation from the type of animal rights approach often adopted and expressed by Barry Horne himself. 

          Not only is the lens through which the writer sees issues raised by Horne’s actions clearly welfarist in the main, she also descends (if the point may be put this way) into animal conservationist themes at times, for example, in the claim that perhaps the activist was correct to draw attention to the ‘unnecessary suffering’ (the central welfarist tenet) in ‘some animal testing’, but that other animal issues are as, or are more, worthy of consideration.  Raising a conservation theme, the author notes that the short-haired bumblebee is reportedly recently extinct in Britain, and implies that Barry Horne should give cognisance to this - and to the plight of other threatened species such as the skylark and the water vole.  Arguing that the size of the human population represents a threat to animals in general, the author also complains that humans have over-fished the waters around Britain.  She again implies - as with the issue of the skylark - that this is the ‘the important animal issue’ that should perhaps be a more proper and worthy concern to the hunger striker.  Such points, of course, are framed within welfarist/conservationist understandings of human-nonhuman relations.  For example, the author declares that the fishing issue is not really an ‘anti-European issue’, as some may suspect or claim, rather, ‘we have over-fished our own fish’ (my emphasis), a factor that requires a degree of political intervention. 

          While a commitment to a genuine animal rights position obviously does not preclude an active interest in the plight of animal ‘species’ taken as a whole group or as a population, it is true to say that the essential focus of rights thought is based on the individual and his or her protection: even against group welfare (see Regan 2001; Francione 1996a; 1996b).  Therefore, given his animal rights declarations, it is extremely unlikely that Barry Horne would approach the issue of humans eating fishes in terms of assessing - let alone ‘managing’ - ‘fish stocks’.  Neither would he likely accept that, somehow, fishes belong to human beings simply because they are found in ‘their’ waters.  A rightist’s response may be to wonder whether it might be more correct to claim the marine environment for the fishes rather than for humans. 

          Despite the fact that the Independent newspaper had followed the ‘progress’ of the hunger strikes over many weeks, had reported on the basic reasons for the action, and had often spoken to Horne’s representatives outside prison or hospital, this piece is a representative example of a writer ultimately finding it very difficult to assess an issue about the treatment of nonhumans as animal rightists would be inclined to.  Such an inclination would, for example, challenge outright the human exploitation of other animals as resources and object to the property status of animals; but not on the basis of the rarity of any particular ‘species’. 

          On a more subtle level, allowing for the fact that the Independent had regularly covered the hunger strike stories, the writer of this piece failed to recognise that, effectively, Barry Horne had been ‘reduced’ to essentially making animal welfare demands of the ‘New’ Labour government.  While he began by demanding the complete and immediate abolition of animal experimentation; campaigning for the ‘total end of vivisection’, a rightist’s aspiration outlined by Regan (1985), Horne eventually ended up advocating that the government merely set up a formal inquiry into the subject of animal experiments that would test vivisection as a valid scientific methodology.  Had such an inquiry been established, a Royal Commission on animal experimentation would have undoubtedly rejected any tabled option of total abolition as unrealistic and uneconomic, as well as extremely difficult to do unilaterally.  Therefore, any movement at all toward Barry Horne’s demands would have been in the nature of traditional welfarist measures: proposals such as ‘tightening’ existing regulations and legislation.  If anything, the Independent’s story of the ‘animal rights hunger striker’ is a dazzling reaffirmation of the centrality of orthodox animal welfarist ideology when it comes to discourse about, and responses to, animal rights claims.  Even when a rights advocate shifted from a strictly rights position the journalist apparently had little hope to be aware of it.  Had she ever examined the issue of human-nonhuman relations from any position other than that of the moral orthodoxy?

          The Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee considered the hunger strike when Horne had refused food for sixty-two consecutive days.  In an article entitled, ‘Sorry, But I Think Dying People are More Important than Dumb Animals’, Toynbee says she finds it ‘perverse’ that animal rights activists should ‘pick first on science’, since she believes animal experimentation amounts to the ‘most morally justifiable reason for the destruction of animals’.[3]  However, she goes on, these ‘barmy’ and ‘dotty’ animal rights extremists, with their ‘selective cause’, may be contrasted with other ‘sensible animal campaigners’ who do not take the ‘nutty’ rights view.  ‘Sensible’ campaigners ‘simply want animals to be treated more kindly, farmed less cruelly’ and, where used in experiments, ‘scrupulously cared for’.  Of course, these ‘sensible’ advocates are not ‘dotty’ animal rightists but, yes, ‘realistic’ and ‘reasonable’ animal welfarists who - with another enunciation of the kindly stewardship model - apparently appreciate, in Toynbee’s own words, that ‘humans do have dominion over the birds and the beasts, but that with dominion comes responsibility to treat them well’. 

          Toynbee’s strident pronouncement of the putative correctness of animal welfarism and her theological justification of the human domination of other animals is immediately followed by a declaration straight from the mouths of some of those who believe that the so-called ‘postmodern condition’ is a reality (see Best and Kellner 1991 for the debate between critical and postmodern theorists about the ‘break’ from modernism to ‘postmodernism’).  ‘We’ humans, Toynbee confidently claims, currently live in a ‘causeless era’.  In this condition, she continues, many might perhaps look longingly on someone who appears to have found something to passionately believe in, even something as barmy as animal rights.  Few people now have a belief in religion, or in socialism, or have numerous ‘ologies’ and ‘isms’ to inform them, she goes on, so perhaps the absurdity of animal rights can fill the void for some.  For her, however, ‘animal rights’ is evidently a decadent and a ‘murderous cause’ of ‘crazy’, ‘dangerous’ and above all ‘unreasonable’ passions; unlike the sensible, judicious, commonplace and non-dotty cause of animal welfarism.

Pro-use countermovements.

Views such as Toynbee’s are eagerly reproduced by those who support the instrumental and sentimental use of other animals for human ends; those some animal rights advocates call members of the ‘animal use industries’, ‘animal exploiters’ or, in the blunt current parlance of young activists, ‘scum’ (see Guither 1998: chap 11 and, for more details, the following chapter of this thesis).  There are a number of organisations, most apparently having originated in North America in the last decade or so, which expressly warn visitors of the ‘nuttiness’ of ‘animal rights’ thought.  These groups tend to publish articles such as ‘Eating Meat is Natural’, ‘Why Animals Have No Rights’, and ‘Human Superiority’.[4]  One such group calls itself ‘People Eating Tasty Animals (PETA)’ to mock the acronym of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA), who claim to be the largest ‘animal rights organisation’ in the United States; the ‘rights’ assertion seemingly getting more and more dubious as time passes. 

          These pro-use organisations[5] are careful to avoid Midgley’s (1983) absolute dismissal position: their stance is strictly based on contrasting the reasonable, normal, conventional relative dismissal (traditional welfarist) position with ‘irrational’ and ‘fanatical’ ‘animal rights’ views.  For example, in a piece entitled ‘Reply to Singer’,[6] the author approvingly quotes Robert Nozick of the Department of Philosophy at Harvard University who asserts that, ‘animal rights seems a topic for cranks... The mark of cranks is disproportionateness’.  For these groups, and this philosopher, the proof of a ‘disproportionate’ approach simply means going beyond the self-evident correctness of orthodox animal welfarism.

          In his ‘Eating Meat is Natural’ article from 1996, the author Jim Powesland suggests that ‘animal rights’ denies ‘our evolutionary and dietary heritage’.  Therefore:

it would make more sense to adopt an animal welfare approach that advocates the humane use of our animal food sources rather than an animal “rights” position which ultimately seeks no use of and no contact with animals (including pets).[7]

This ‘threat to pets’ line is repeatedly used in these internet postings (and public ‘animal rights’ debating forums) as unequivocal - and presumably frightening - evidence of ‘animal rights extremism’ and, again, to suggest the utter ‘craziness’ of the rights position that would prevent people owning and keeping pet animals as well as curtailing meat eating and ending absolutely ‘vital’ bio-medical (animal) experimentation.[8]  The remedy to such fanaticism, the reasonable alternative to such views - precisely because nonhumans should be treated with some kindness and care - is conventional animal welfarism. 

          Marjorie Spiegal (1988) demonstrates that such pro-use groups are essentially repeating the same justifications and excuses for using nonhuman animals as US slave-keepers used to justify owning human slaves.  In a chapter about the defence of slavery from Aristotle onwards, she reproduces arguments of slave-owners who assert that the slaves themselves benefit from their status as property.  The very same arguments, she finds, are currently in service in suggestions that animals benefit from the use humans make of them.[9] 

          From the point of view of the animal rights challenge to the moral orthodoxy, a great obstacle to it, and the greatest benefit for the orthodox who defend ‘normal’ and ‘reasonable’ duty-of-care welfare approaches, is the already-identified fact that the latter perspective represents the longstanding and traditional socially-constructed view of human-nonhuman relations.  Like many widespread and firmly sedimented social views - daily reinforced by numerous macro- and microsociological agencies of socialisation - animal welfarism seems extraordinarily resistant to change and critical evaluation.  On one level, how can any position be seriously questioned when questioning immediately places those who ask in ‘barmy’, ‘lunatic’, or even ‘terrorist’ categories?[10] 

          With an allegiance to traditional animal welfarist views, humans can safely remain users of other animals in the incredibly comforting knowledge - frequently reinforced - that the animals used do not (should not) suffer.  Furthermore, in this view the very lives of many animals depend on their continued exploitation: for what would ‘meat animals’ and domesticates do without meat eaters and pet owners?

Foot and Mouth Disease.

During the writing of this thesis, Britain witnessed a serious and widespread outbreak of foot and mouth disease.  Like influenza in humans, foot and mouth disease (FMD) is a highly contagious viral disease which spreads very rapidly through herds of hoofed animals such as cows, pigs and deer.  Although the aphthovirus that causes FMD is transmitted quickly from animal to animal, the symptoms it causes are generally - but not always - nonfatal.  Lameness caused by foot blisters is a common and very painful symptom, as is the common blistering of the lips, nose and tongue.  Some animals’ tongues fall out and most experience some degree of pain, which can be severe. 

          However, about 95% of diseased animals apparently recover after a period of around one to two weeks (Gellatley 2001).  The British government’s official policy to ‘contain’ FMD is a slaughter policy, based on the intention of ‘killing-out’ the disease.  This strategy was used in this latest outbreak.  Thus, all animals found with the disease are immediately killed along with the contiguous killing of the animals on neighbouring farms, small holdings (sometimes rather disparagingly labelled as ‘hobby farms’ by ‘real’ farmers) and animal sanctuaries.  As if to entirely contradict and refute Adrian Franklin’s (1999) thesis that there has been a ‘dramatic transformation’ in human-nonhuman relations within the shift from modernity to ‘postmodernity’, the FMD experience in Britain appeared to violently slam the door shut on the notion that the human subject has been ‘decentred’ in present times, or that the ‘postmodern condition’ has somehow resulted in a ‘celebration’ of the differences between humans and other animals.  Franklin even talks of what he calls ‘the demise of meat’ in postmodernism, despite numbers of animals killed for food increasing. 
         The fact is, from the beginning of the foot and mouth disease outbreak, in numerous newspaper articles and countless radio and television programmes, ‘farmers’ leaders’ from the National Farmers Union and politicians of all colours let it be known that the FMD crisis was overwhelmingly ‘a human issue’ - indeed, they claimed that it may be regarded as a very severe ‘human tragedy’.  Of course, nonhumans were involved as well, but in true welfarist fashion, their most important interests (their very lives) were systematically ‘sacrificed’ due to the economic imperatives of human beings, and political expediency related to ‘export market considerations’.  Even so, for several weeks, and for several times every day, the British public were unusually exposed to a brutal reality for ‘farming animals’ used as if they were food: they are killed and they get burnt

          On the surface at least, these facts were evidently a shocking, horrific, and something of a complete surprise to the public.  Moreover, just as shocked were a large number of weeping ‘livestock’ farmers (who might be expected to know the basic realities of ‘animal agriculture’) who appeared in the media during the outbreak.  However, rather than being a product of ignorance of ‘farming outcomes’, food animal enslavers’ apparently genuine distress came largely to be understood as a result of uncommonly witnessing their animal property being killed; a rare event for many farmers used to routinely leaving nonhumans virtually at the gates of abattoirs.  Nonhuman animal deaths at such execution centres are not often seen by many ‘outsiders’, and especially not the public, as active steps are made to keep this unpleasant reality well beyond view (see Thomas [1983] for a historical account of ‘hiding’ slaughterhouses). 

          More instrumentally, talking about their losses due to FMD, many enslavers noted the upsetting loss of ‘bloodlines’ and valuable ‘breeding stock’ as the cause of many of their tears.  As said, the whole issue - and particularly this part of it - was largely characterised as an event effecting the lives and economic viability of human beings, rather than being principally about the deaths of (eventually) millions of nonhuman animals.  However, perhaps due to the very visibility of the slaughter, outraged public voices were raised about the treatment of the animals being killed.  On April 13, 2001, the Welsh Mirror carried a detailed report (all of p. 1; pp. 4-5; and editorial on p. 6) of a white-suited council slaughterer in an open field taking what were described as ‘pot-shots’ at sheep with a rifle.  The accompanying front-page picture features a reproduced still from a video recording of the ‘sickening scene’ made by a ‘shocked’ member of the public. 

          The inside pages contain further images from the same video, complete with a dramatic narrative explaining the sequence of events.  ‘Doomed’, says the first caption as the sheep ‘mingle in fear’; followed by ‘Taking Aim’; ‘Target’; ‘Cornered’; ‘Last Breath’; and finally, ‘It’s Over’.  A Ms. Irene Smith, who took the video with her husband from a window in their house, explained her outrage: ‘We could hear the gun going off and the sheep crying out.  I can’t get the haunting noise and the awful picture out of my mind.  Three of our grandchildren arrived minutes after it ended.  I’m just so relieved they missed it’ (p. 5).

          Concern for the welfare of the sheep and the potential distress of human witnesses informs this piece throughout.  For example, another observer of the killing said it was ‘pure horror’, presumably for the sheep themselves, but for herself also in having seen it; while she also expressed her sympathy for the ‘poor people’ who have to carry out the ‘cull’.  The editorial comment, ‘The voice of the Mirror’ (p. 6), spoke of the newspaper’s support for the government’s slaughter policy, again exclusively expressed within an orthodox animal welfarist framework, while the earlier piece acknowledges the endorsement for the killing of Britain’s largest animal welfare organisation, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  The sheep ‘have to die’, the leader comment states, adding a standard welfarist rejoinder ‘but not to die in such an appalling way’. 

          The outrage expressed in all of these pages appears to be firmly predicated on the palpable contravention of the fundamental welfarist assumption and indeed promise that animal exploitation can usually be carried out in ways that cause no ‘unnecessary’ animal suffering.[1]  It is only too clear that this phrase, ‘unnecessary suffering’, is welfarist through and through, since it unconditionally accepts the notion that humans are morally permitted to ‘sacrifice’ the greatest interests of other animals if theirs are deemed important enough, therefore allowing for some suffering – but only the ‘necessary’ sort - to be legally sanctioned.  The ideological welfarist message comes over loud and clear in this press report: even at the height of the extraordinary circumstances of a serious nationwide foot and mouth epidemic, there is nevertheless no excuse for ‘unnecessary’ cruelty. 

When in June 2001 (reported in BBC Radio 4’s Today programme) further members of the public witnessed part of the FMD ‘cull’ in Skipton, Yorkshire, the pattern of response repeated itself.  In this case, slaughterers chased cows, shooting them with rifles from ‘quad bikes’.  One cow was apparently left partially paralysed.  Another was still alive after three attempts to kill her.  She eventually died but only after being throttled by being hung from a JCB tractor by a neck chain.[2]  According to the radio report, members of the public were again said to be very upset and once more a great deal of that can be explained by the highly unusual visibility of the killing.  One eye-witness noted, as in the Welsh case, that children were playing close to the spot only minutes before the killing commenced (slaughtering lasted for nine hours in the Skipton incident) and they may have seen what was happening.  Others observers noted that they understood that the ‘‘cull’ had to continue’ to maintain the decrease in FMD incidence but, again, there was simply no excuse for causing this amount of cruelty to these animals.   
         The FMD outbreak of 2001 in Britain may be characterised as an out-of-the-ordinary public event - and therefore particularly distressing for that reason alone.  Members of the public as well as journalists sought to make sense of events which, many concluded, must have involved the regrettable but, presumably, ‘necessary’ deaths of animals.  The dominant interpretative framework through which the majority of people attempted to come to understandings of the ‘cull’ was unmistakably welfarist in origin.  That said, a limited number of people, journalist and former Member of Parliament Matthew Parris being one, suggested that maybe this outbreak, following as it did cases of BSE/CJD and swine sever, placed a serious question mark on the whole idea of using non-human animals as food.  However, these were minority voices, and most discourse on the FMD crisis failed to get beyond its characterisation as a human tragedy; moreover, British nonhuman advocacy groups such as Animal Aid and Viva! claim that they were regularly refused access to media coverage through-out the outbreak.[1] 

          Of significance are the suggestions that the events witnessed by the public amounted to incidents which ‘failed to live up’ to the usual high standards of animal slaughter thought to be routinely practised in Britain.  In relation to the FMD ‘cull’, much was made of the fact that the requirements of speed of slaughter, and slaughtering on farms, resulted in ‘the usually high animal welfare standards’ being compromised.  However, although this is perfectly likely to have been the case, the point tends to obscure standard slaughtering practices in ‘normal’ British abattoirs in ‘normal’ times.  Animal advocates claim that the notion of ‘humane slaughter’ a virtual impossibility in standard procedures as much as those put in place to deal with an industry crisis[2] (Singer 1983: 161; Penman 1996: 53; Gellatley 2000: 156). 

          In terms of the ‘normal’ practice of animal slaughter, perhaps an attitude that ‘ignorance is bliss’ is quite understandable.  As Juliet Gellatley (2000: 155) puts it: ‘Most people don’t work in a slaughterhouse, have never set foot in one and refuse to listen when you try to tell them about it’.  All of which makes the unusual visibility of slaughter during the FMD outbreak especially distressing to a public generally shielded from such scenes.  Animal welfare ideology states that, by and large, British slaughter standards are relatively high and largely unproblematic.  However, journalist Jan Walsh, whose book about ‘the meat machine’ (Walsh 1986) is especially designed not to put people off eating meat, and is not an animal advocate, states that:

Most people are probably aware that there are problems with the way we slaughter our food animals.  Undoubtedly some arrive at the slaughterhouse bruised and suffering from a long journey; some are fearful when they approach their end; and some fail to be knocked unconscious before the slaughterman’s knife does its job (ibid.: 43-44).

Welfarist ideology says that these problems are relatively small.  They are far from the norm and a whole raft of legislation exists to ‘ensure’ non-cruel slaughter.  Walsh goes on:

If the slaughterhouse staff mistreat an animal when it is unloaded, or waiting its turn, they are committing an offence.  If they allow a creature to see one of its fellows being killed, that again is an offence. And if the system is not good enough to make sure that every animal is either killed instantaneously, or stunned into unconscious oblivion before its life is ended, then again the slaughterhouse can be prosecuted. It is the duty of the local authority inspectors, and the vets in attendance, to make sure that these laws are kept (ibid.: 44, emphasis added).

“Horse Ripping”.

The traditional animal welfarist view is the orthodox and central cultural resource for ‘thinking about animals’.  It remains the dominant paradigm even in attempts to make sense of incidence of animal harm which appear to be utterly senseless, very frightening and absolutely ‘unnecessary’.  A recent sociological investigation of a series of attacks on horses in the South of England in the early 1990’s (Yates, Powell & Beirne 2001) provides an interesting example of interactive sense-making among humans about a set of events involving serious injuries to nonhuman animals. 

          In terms of an animal welfarist orientation, cases of ‘horse maiming’ or ‘horse ripping’ (as the attacks on the horses quickly came to be labelled in press reports) do not immediately render themselves as especially suitable candidates for the usual cost-benefit analysis based on the idea of ‘necessary’ and ‘unnecessary’ suffering assessments.  In other words, all those who took an interest in the plight of the various horses involved; that is, police officers, newspaper journalists, animal welfare organisation employees and the legal owners of the horses, appeared to have initial and sustained difficulty in understanding the situation through any standard welfarist criteria: in these cases, animal welfarism simply did not appear to ‘fit’, or explain much. 

          Usual terms of reference just did not meet these particular circumstances of animal harm.  For example, absolutely no-one could be found to state that someone’s apparent wish – or even ‘need’ - to maim horses was sufficient reason to hurt or kill these particular horses.  Even for traditional animal welfarists, the notion of ‘sacrificing’ animal interests for these particular human ones could not be sanctioned in any of the horse maiming cases.  In fact, the very idea that human pleasure could be included within a utilitarian calculus of these events was universally ruled out and viewed with disgust and bewilderment.  In any event, the property status of the horses concerned would prevent such a calculation in the first place.  It is understood that notions of ‘legitimacy’ and ‘in place’ and ‘out of place’ feature in animal welfare ideology.  In other words, in such a view, there are particular and highly ‘controlled’ locations in which animal exploitation and ‘necessary’ nonhuman harm can legitimately take place.  Since animal welfare is a regulatory mechanism, it can be sensibly applied to places such as abattoirs, circuses rings and ‘winter quarters’, pet shops and vivisection laboratories.  Places where people are often officially licensed to exploit animals in a structured, effectively monitored and tightly controlled manner.  The controlling element of animal welfarism exists to ensure compliance with, by enforcement if necessary, its ‘non-cruel’ promise.  Clearly, then, attacks on nonhuman property in open fields, at night, by non-owners, or any other ‘non-authorised’ persons, are to be deemed utterly illegitimate

          In the case of ‘horse-ripping’, as said, no-one could countenance or apply the usual welfarist balancing act.  It was left to the authors of the paper analysing the incidences of horse harm to acknowledge and point out that ‘humans sometimes are allowed to assault, injure and kill horses’ (ibid.: 16).  They make the observation that the general discourse surrounding the events in question passionately asserted that these horse, in these places, were unequivocally not of that order.  Only one commentator in all the fairly extensive (national and local) press coverage, the Christian theologian Andrew Linzey, hinted otherwise.  Linzey suggested that horse assaults like these could be seen within the wider perspective that acknowledges that animals are simply ‘regarded as things’ in Christian thought. 

          Because standard welfare criteria apparently dictated to those who tried to make sense of the horse attacks that they viewed the attacks as overwhelmingly ‘unnecessary’ in any conceivable sense, it soon became clear that the emergent (and apparently rapidly-formed) consensus was that the explanation of the maimings would be most likely found in the pathological state of the person or persons who had perpetrated the unwarranted attacks.  Unable to place these specific events of animal harm into the conventional welfarist framework of ‘justified and justifiable exploitation’, the assumed ‘irrationality’ of the perpetrator became stronger and ever more stridently asserted as announcements of horse maiming were made in the media and public meetings.[3] 

          The attacks came to be - in fact, could only be - universally regarded as utterly reprehensible, totally unwarranted, ‘sick’, ‘perverted’, and just downright wrong!  Those whose beliefs about human-nonhuman relations are imbued with the norms and values of animal welfare ideology could only interpret attacks on (mainly pet as opposed to ‘working’) horses as an unjustified betrayal of important welfarist principles based on an agreed ‘necessity of such use’ with the assumed concomitant infliction of ‘no cruelty’.


Garner (1993: 101) may be quite correct to claim that most people appear to accept the validity of the moral orthodoxy that says that nonhuman animals are inferior to human beings.  For such people, this means it is ethically excusable to override their most precious interests for human ones, even when the latter may be regarded as much less important.  However, one of the lessons from the understandings which emerge from ‘horse maiming’ cases is that they seriously break the unwritten (not to mention one-sided) welfarist ‘contract’ between humans and other animals which obliges humans not to harm animals unless the cause is clearly ‘important’ enough. 

          After all, just as Farmer Rafferty from Mudpuddle Farm (Morpurgo & Rayner 1994) is fully aware, the deal is that ‘they look after us’ and ‘we look after them’.  The assumed pathology ascribed to the perpetrator(s) of the horse attacks stands as an example of attempts to explain the extraordinary.  In this rare case, the normal, reasonable and realistic lens by which human-nonhuman relations are viewed fails.  Such assumptions also express the widely felt opinion that any (warped) ‘pleasure’ which the (assumed pathological) person may have experienced (commonly thought, according to the press, to be sexual or ‘Satanic’ in nature) is entirely unacceptable and illegitimate.          

[1]   Juliet Gellatley, the founder of the organisation VIVA!, did manage to get on a BBC TV programme about FMD which was transmitted a week or two after the outbreak began.  From memory (the show was seen but not recorded), the programme concentrated on the ‘human tragedy’ slant.  So much so, in fact, that events became remarkably heated when Gellatley attempted to shift the emphasis to the plight of those actually being killed.
[2]   Gold (1995: 77) notes that not only slaughterers have to be quick.  He recounts a time when he helped edit a film about farming and remembers a Chief Environmental Health Officer arguing ‘that it was perfectly feasible for meat inspectors to spot nearly all diseased chicken even though the conveyor belt whizzes along at 3000-4000 birds per hour’.  This means that individual chickens were ‘inspected’ for less than one second each.
[3]   Clinical psychologists did advance suggestions that there may be rationality within these apparently irrational acts.  For example, retired psychologist Tony Black suggested that the horse attacker may believe that horses were ‘devil-carriers’.  Given such a view, destroying horses could be conceived as a fairly sensible - even responsible - thing to do (Yates, Powell & Beirne 2001: 11).

[1]   Radford claims (1999: 702, 703) that the concept of ‘unnecessary suffering’ is not entirely universal in animal protection law but it is a ‘recurring theme’.  He says that the term was first used in statute in 1849 and in major pieces of legislation since.  A Judge Shearman, in a leading case Radford cites, also declared that the phrase ‘causing unnecessary suffering’ was the best definition of the word ‘cruelty’.
[2]   Some of these details come from an account of the Skipton incident on an animal email list (25/6/2001).  The author also reports that the police were called to the scene but left because they found it too distressing to watch.

[1]   Compassion In World Farming caused apprehension among campaigners in July 2001 when they proposed a joint initiative with farming representatives to try to get supermarkets to buy the normally rejected ‘light lambs’ on welfare grounds.  In the same press release, farmers called for the reopening of small local abattoirs.
[2]   Barry Horne died on 5th November, 2001, during his fourth hunger strike about ‘animal rights’ issues.
[3]   This type of position prompted Francione to include a chapter in his latest book (Francione 2000: 31-49) entitled: ‘Vivisection: A Trickier Question’.
[4]   see http://www.acs.ucalgary
[5]   The generic name of choice for such organisations, according to Tokar (1995), is ‘Wise Use’.
[6]   http://www.acs.ucalgary...nting/rights/singer.txt  Perhaps it is notable, at least it appears to have some utility for them, that critics of ‘animal rights’ thought keep suggesting that Singer is an ‘animal rights’ philosopher.  They seem content to attack his non-rights approach (while at the same time characterising it as animal rights) rather than engaging genuine rights thinkers such as Francione and Regan.  Scruton tends to focus on Singer, criticising every book the latter writes.  A recent example comes from the New Statesman ( uk...%3A+Front +Page&newDisplayURN=-200101220048) which declares that ‘Roger Scruton demolishes Peter Singer, perhaps the most famous philosopher in the world and a passionate founder of the modern ‘animal rights’ movement’.  It should be noted that Scruton does not call Singer a rights theorist in the main text.  That said, his book Animal Rights and Wrongs (Scruton 2000) contains seven citations of ‘Peter Singer’ or ‘Animal Liberation’, three citations of ‘Tom Regan’ and none of ‘The Case for Animal Rights’, and not a single mention of Gary Francione or any of his writings on human and animal rights.
[7]   http://www.acs.ucalgary...hunting/rights/meat.txt
[8]   A further strategy of pro-use organisations such as the (US) National Animal Interest Alliance is to claim that the fulfilment of the animal rights agenda would represent a situation of absolute ‘no contact’ between humans and nonhumans.  Similarly, Dr. David Starkey suggested on the BBC’s Moral Maze radio programme (07/07/2001) that animal rights meant a form of ‘animal apartheid’.
[9]   For example (Spiegal 1998: 65), the author quotes James Boswell who said: ‘[The abolition of the slave trade] would be extremely cruel to the African savage, a portion of whom it saves from massacre, or intolerant bondage in their own country, and introduces into a much happier state of life’, and the Reverend William Jones who said: ‘[It was] best for the beasts that they should be under man’.  Jones’ position is summed up by Keith Thomas (1983) who states that ‘in the 18th century it was widely urged that domestication was good for animals; it civilised them and increased their numbers: ‘we multiply life, sensation and enjoyment’’.
[10]   Similar points have been repeatedly made in public debates since ‘September 11th’ because George W. Bush effectively silenced debate about the retaliatory attacks on New York and Washington by declaring, ‘You are with us, or you are with the terrorists’.

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