Tuesday, August 04, 2009

PeTA and Peter Singer: What's the Problem?

This is just a quick post to draw attention to a couple of pieces that should be read by those sitting on the fence about a) where PeTA really stands in terms of animal rights, and b) whether Peter Singer has ever actually had anything whatsoever to do with anything even ever so vaguely resembling a serious interest in the rights of nonhuman persons. A My Face Is on Fire reader emailed me today to ask me if I'd read Roger Yates' most recent post on his On Human-Nonhuman Relations about the current public misconception of PeTA's being a radical animal rights organization (or, rather, how it misrepresents itself as such). Yates points out in his recent post that

a visitor to PeTA’s site may find herself looking for animal rights books in PeTA’s online catalogue. However, the only philosophy book on human-nonhuman relations there is Animal Liberation. There are no works of animal rights theory. Instead PeTA misrepresent Peter Singer’s texts by saying, “If you read only one animal rights book, it has to be this one.” For some reason, Singer seems to tolerate this distortion – elsewhere he’s at pains to make it crystal clear that his views have no rights-based foundation.
The reader who emailed me was wondering why it is that PeTA would misrepresent Singer as presenting any sort of philosophical framework that is rights-based if his work is not, in fact, based on a serious concern for the rights of nonhumans. (Why indeed?) She then asked me if I could clarify Singer's position in a simple manner and explain to her how it differs from the abolitionist approach to animal rights. I ended up forwarding her this link to an essay called "Peter Singer and the Welfarist Position on the Lesser Value of Nonhuman Life" by Prof. Gary L. Francione from his Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach website and I suggested that she also go directly to the source and take the time to read Singer, herself. I hope she'll check out the link in question (and the book) and respond to this post if she has further questions or concerns.

I also recommend to anyone else who's unfamiliar with Singer's actual work and with where it fits (or doesn't!) in terms of the "big picture" to take the time to go to your library and pick up a copy of
Animal Liberation and read it--critically. Then go back and read Prof. Francione's essays and let the dots connect like mad. And in case anyone already familiar with Singer's work lets out a little gasp that I may be offering it up as recommended reading on this blog (I know that I just did!), I'll just point this out: It's the simplest thing in the world to nod in agreement with others--especially when you know and value the soundness and significance of their work--but to actually take the time to muddle through source material yourself to come up with an actual understanding of why you agree (if you do) is invaluable and will honestly make you a better advocate for nonhumans who haven't the voice to speak for themselves.

1 comment:

Vincent Guihan said...

These groups have latched on to the public perception of "rights". Nominally, the United States is a rights-based culture (my rights!) even though most people make most of their moral judgements intuitively. Conceptually, just about everyone in North America understands what "rights" are and why they are desireable things. It's a shame that nonhuman animals don't have more advocates pressing for their rights, and that the regulated use mafia is more interested in collecting donations than they are in pressing for substantive changes for nonhuman animals, namely in the form of abolitionist veganism as a mass movement and an end to the legal property status of animals and the restoration of their legal personhood.