Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why I Won't Support Single-Issue Campaigns

What Is a Single-Issue Campaign?

Prof. Gary L. Francione, who's written about single-issue campaigns (SICs) extensively in his published work and on his on his Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach website, defines it simply as such:
A single-issue campaign involves identifying some particular use of animals or some form of treatment and making that the object of a campaign to end the use or modify the treatment.
Basically, instead of focusing on educating the general public about how all animal exploitation is wrong, a spotlight is put on a specific type of use or treatment. Welfarist groups often initiate SICs which focus on how animals used for human consumption or entertainment are treated -- on the size of their cages and the other conditions in which they continue to be enslaved. However, SICs can sometimes confuse advocates by seeming to focus on use, and are thus sometimes misunderstood as being abolitionist in nature.

Why SICs Aren't Abolitionist

I had a conversation with an animal activist friend the other day about groups that wrap their fund-raising around single-issue campaigns (SICs). We were discussing the differences between welfarist and abolitionist activism and how or why it is that activists who are vegan and who don't personally condone animal use -- even sometimes those who self-identify as abolitionist -- may end up participating in some of these SICs. While a few of these groups occasionally do engage in some degree of vegan education and very vocally disassociate themselves from animal welfare groups, they nonetheless keep their main focus on more highly-publicized protests based on eliminating one specific type of animal use, often concerning some "hot button" form of animal exploitation such as the wearing of fur or consumption of foie gras.

Some animal advocates, abolitionist or otherwise, interpret these groups' activities as consistent with striving to abolish -- instead of regulate -- the use of other animals and then extrapolate that these SICs are somehow small steps towards eliminating all animal use. These campaigns often involve fundraising, whether lobbying and public relations costs or legal fees and -- let's admit it -- they're easy sells to a non-vegan public comprised of folks who, for the most part, honestly don't want to think of themselves as participating in any sort of cruel activity. The truth is that they are on different levels counterproductive and inconsistent with an abolitionist approach to animal rights, whether or not the SIC itself seems focused on the use of other animals.

When an animal advocacy group singles out something like the wearing of fur as particularly worthy of its ire, it's generally not all that difficult to get people on board to either scrawl their monikers on petitions or to send a cheque off in the mail. Fur isn't really something which any more than a fairly small minority of the non-vegan public tends to wear and it's generally associated with wealth and disposable income. Basically, it's easy to point a finger at it since most of us don't wear it and we associate it with excess or vanity. It's easier to point at it than to get all up close and personal with our own speciesism and to question the decisions we make each day when we involve ourselves in the cycle that leads to the habitual enslavement and slaughter of so very many others.

When an animal advocacy group gives members of the general public this easy out instead of asking them to reconsider their own speciesism -- to reconsider the mindset that leaves them thinking it's altogether alright to consider participating in this cycle, how does that change things for those other animals? How is this effective in bringing about an end to speciesism? It becomes evident fairly quickly how regardless of whether they focus on treatment or use, promoting SICs is counterintuitive to addressing the speciesism which underlies the casual shrugging off of what so many deem "ordinary" animal exploitation.
"One of These Things Is Not Just Like the Other"

The problem with presenting one particular form of animal use  as somehow being of greater moral relevance than another form of use is that it makes it appear that other forms of animal use are less relevant -- maybe even excusable . Advocates single out fur and picket outside a fur store filled with coats most ordinary folks couldn't afford anyway or circulate petitions which even non-vegans I know myself who collect leather shoes and purses like dryers collect socks wouldn't hesitate to sign, sharing in the advocates' indignation. After all, fur is cruel -- heinous and unnecessary. Cute Italian pumps, on the other hand, are "irresistible", and cheeseburgers are "delicious". If fur is single-out, though, then what about leather? If veal is singled out, then how about the dairy industry? Your tuna may be "dolphin-safe", but that doesn't do a whole heck of a lot for the tuna, does it?

Problems also arise when advocates believe that striving to end one single type of animal use will chip away effectively at the the prevailing mindset held by an overwhelming majority of people that all other animals are ours to use in whichever way we desire. Henry Thoreau once wrote: "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one striking at the root". By picking "easy sell" campaigns and convincing non-vegans to find certain forms of animal use in which they don't ordinarily engage outrageous or repulsive, nothing effective is accomplished in terms of addressing the everyday types of animal use in which most people engage and which most view as normal, ordinary and acceptable.

In fact, perhaps the greatest danger when it comes to SICs is that non-vegans often latch on to them and let themselves be lulled into thinking that by throwing $20 or $50 into the pot -- a donation to help the goodly animal advocates fight the Big(gest of the) Bad(s) means that they've truly done their "part" -- that they've done "enough" for other animals and can carry on with the ordinary and everyday types of animal use in which they engage which in turn leads to 150 billion animals being slaughtered globally each and every year just for human consumption.

Veganism as Moral Baseline and Message

I've not scribbled any earth-shattering revelations here. If you've leafed through some of Gary Francione's books or have spent some time on his website, you'll already be familiar with much of what I've written -- possibly even in much greater nuanced detail than I've articulated. If you've ever spent time reading the now-defunct Unpopular Vegan Essays blog (and many other abolitionist blogs along with it which have come and gone over recent years), none of what I've presented here should be new to you. Sometimes things just need to be re-emphasized, though. Sometimes when we get swept up in wanting to do the right thing, we forget that what may feel right -- may feel good -- isn't necessarily what's most effective in the end. And in the end all that truly matters is that we shift the status quo permanently.

For more information on SICs presented by folks much more knowledgeable and wordsmith-y than this wee blogger, read this and this. Don't hack at the branches, reach for the low-hanging fruit, cherry-pick causes and (a whirlwind of analogies and metaphors aside) confuse someone into thinking that anything other than taking non-human animals seriously -- and rejecting their use in all facets of our everyday lives where and when we can -- could ever be enough. Going vegan is the very least we can do and spreading this message to the overwhelmingly non-vegan public is, in fact, the very least that all animal advocates should do. At least it's the very least we should do if we earnestly want to bring about an end to the continued enslavement, torture and slaughter of others. Think about it.

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