Friday, December 11, 2009

Not 'How', but 'Why'

I read an article this morning by columnist Anne Else of New Zealand's Independent News Media ("A fair adjectival cow: Why cubicle farming is a really bad idea") that got me thinking again of how crucial it is that abolitionists continue to educate people--whether inside or outside of the animal advocacy movement--about the immorality of using nonhuman animals. When welfarists focus on regulating the treatment of animals, they miss the whole point; this focus implies that one some level, it's moral to continue enslaving nonhuman animals and depriving them of the very basic right to live out their own lives without existing solely to satisfy the selfish pleasures of those who exploit them and the others who provide the demand for this exploitation. There are so many people talking about treatment right now for any number of reasons; reading their morally confused arguments and assertions just adds so much more weight to my conviction that to do anything other than focus on use detracts from the problem at hand. Focusing on treatment is in fact detrimental when attempting to educate others about taking the interests of nonhuman animals seriously.

So, Anne Else wrote an article expressing a fair amount of outrage over a recent plan in New Zealand to house 18,000 cows being used for their milk in cubicles. In all fairness, Else makes it clear that she is not an animal activist. She writes:

I'm not a vegetarian, let alone a vegan, and I don't stick to organically produced food. But I do care about how the animals that produce my food are treated. And I'm convinced that ensuring our already rather battered claims to be clean, green and 100% pure become a reality is the only way our economy can survive, let alone prosper.
So Else is not someone who thinks that it's wrong to consume animals or their products. She consumes them quite happily herself, whether or not they have the sort of meaningless so-called humane stamp of approval they would have if certified as having been produced according to organic standards. Nope, Else is concerned about appearances. It would look bad to consumers if New Zealand farmers were to start adopting means of raising cows since the "clean green" image [they] depend on so heavily will be completely down the tubes" and the "reputation of [the] entire dairy production will be tainted". She even quotes a member of New Zealand's Green Party as saying: "British consumers literally taste freedom when they eat New Zealand butter."

Freedom, huh?

Else goes on to shift her focus somewhat to how the cows in question will be fed and the environmental impact this will have. She writes that the cows will likely be fed the recent subject of much media controversy--palm kernel expeller, and that New Zealanders will become complicit in the destruction of "fragile rainforest environments". For insight into the palm kernel expeller controversy in New Zealand, please read Elizabeth Collins' Independent Media Centre piece from this past September ("Why are we blaming the farmers?") and listen to Episode 38 of her New Zealand Vegan Podcast. There's not much else that I can say about it, except to agree wholeheartedly with Elizabeth that if there was no consumer demand for cow's milk, this palm kernel expeller fiasco wouldn't be an issue in the first place. (But I digress, since Else's article isn't about use, but about how they are used--their treatment.)

Else raises other concerns about the cubicles that deal with the cows' health and the discharge of their effluent into the surrounding area and the ensuing environmental toll. With this, she brings the article's focus back to her initial concern--that of appearances:
Even if they do manage to meet all the requirements and keep damage to cows' health, and to the environment, to a minimum, what is the point of farming this way in grassy, temperate New Zealand? There can be only one answer: because it enables inhospitable, fragile, and otherwise "unprofitable" landscapes, such as the stunning Mackenzie Basin, to be turned into a conglomeration of giant factory farms. We will indeed be catching up with the rest of the world.
So throughout this article, which takes issue with a new method introduced in New Zealand to confine cows used for their milk, it's made clear that this treatment of them will harm New Zealand's reputation as a provider of happy grass-fed cow produced milk. Hell, it will also harm the appearance of the landscape surrounding the area where the cows will be confined! This really big knot of superficial concerns revolves around the 18,000 or so cows at the center of the story who will, indeed, continue to be used as things to produce the milk products the industry wants to sell to the consumers who are demanding them.

Else managed to write an entire article loosely focused on the treatment of these 18,000 cows, and nowhere in it is the use of these cows ever questioned, since it's a given to Else (and others who in any way ever discuss the treatment of nonhuman animals) that these cows will indeed continue to be used, however it happens. It's also a given for welfarist groups like HSUS, which uses millions in donations to mount campaigns that concern themselves with how animals are used instead of questioning why they are used. This is why it's crucial, if the actual interests of nonhuman animals are to be taken seriously, that someone deliver a clear and consistent abolitionist message; this is why it's crucial that nonviolent and creative vegan education be a strong main focus of animal rights campaigns. Otherwise, we're not leaving people asking why nonhuman animals are being used or considering the morality of their continuing to use them. If we truly want to strive toward abolishing the exploitation of nonhuman animals, we need to get others asking the right questions--not 'how', but 'why'.

Talk to someone about veganism today.


Vanilla Rose said...

So ... she lists a whole bunch of reasons why farming the cows is a lousy idea, but just skips over her reasons for not being vegan?

Denial is not a river in Egypt.

M said...

That's pretty much the problem with focusing on treatment instead of questioning the ethics of using animals in the first place. People might object to how they see nonhumans treated and campaign against it while continuing to consume animals, blaming the farmer/rancher for the treatment (as if somehow, their continuing to consume the animals is a given, unrelated to how the animals are treated). In other cases, some may choose to stop consuming nonhuman animals whose treatment they question, but as soon as someone convinces them / they convince themselves that the treatment has improved, they go back to consuming them. And the truth is that there's no such thing as the "humane" production of animal products.

We're the exploiters as long as we provide the demand. The only way to meaningfully and permanently affect demand is to educate people about why it's wrong to use other sentient beings in the first place.

Jay said...

Jordan briefly covered this in his podcast and mentioned your blog, so here I am reading it! You've conveyed everything I wanted thought while listening to the podcast...