This blog entry is not a review of the book as such – but I thought a couple of passages from the concluding chapter, “To Change The World,” are worth highlighting.
Since the book provides a philosophical overview of writings on human-nonhuman relations, all the recent usual suspects are there, Darwin, Salt, Ryder, Singer, Midgley, Regan, Rollin, Sapontzis, Adams, and Francione, along with accounts of writings from Descartes, Bacon, Mill, Hume, Bentham, and Kant. The final chapter does seem to have bearing on many of the pressing issues in contemporary animal advocacy, such as what is to say nonhuman interests are harmed, emotion and rationality, supply and demand and single-issue campaigning.
Taylor notes that, “There has been a remarkable change among philosophers in recent decades concerning the moral status of animals. With some notable exceptions, philosophers now agree that sentient creatures are at least of direct moral concern, even if there is disagreement about how much they are to count in our moral reckoning” (2009: 175). However, he says, the general view is that nonhuman interests can be overridden to satisfy important human ones. His last sentence reflects this view: “The idea that animals are not just resources to be exploited, that they are individuals with lives that matter, is still too radical for most people to accept” (2009: 186).
There are two broad-brush philosophical camps, Taylor suggests, which he calls “pro-liberation” and “anti-liberation,” while noting that each is internally divided and focused on questions such as, “are some animals self-conscious? Do some animals have a concept of the future? What constitutes harm to a creature that [sic] lacks a sense of self or of the future?” (2009: 176). “Pro-liberation” philosophers are those, “sympathetic to the project of fundamentally rethinking our traditional view of animals,” who are essentially engaged in a somewhat conservative (but radical in terms of implications) “extensionist” venture of applying already accepted ideas to at least some types of nonhuman animals.
However, Taylor states that,
- The issue of our proper relationship with non-human animals tends to evoke strong emotions. There is more at stake here than dispassionate argument over the correct application of moral principles. At stake is our conception of what it is human: Who are we, what value do our lives have, and what is our place in the universe? For some, animal liberation is a misguided and even misanthropic cause that attacks progress and human dignity. For its advocates, animal liberation is simply the consistent application of the Golden Rule (2009: 177).
Taylor is of the view that animal advocates face an “uphill struggle”: “In a famous line, Marx said that while philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it. The animal issue is one field where philosophers have had real influence on people struggling for social change. But the question that remains is whether the animal-liberation movement itself has any real prospect of accomplishing its goals” (2009: 178-79). He marks some events as evidence of a growth of concern about nonhuman animals, the 1990 “March for the Animals” which brought onto the streets about half the numbers in the crowd to watch Manchester United at Old Trafford every week, the mid-1990s live export campaign in Britain, parliamentary progress in the Netherlands, and campaigns against seal killing in Canada and duck hunting in Australia and New Zealand. However, citing work on processes of denial, Taylor notes that animal use has not decreased in recent years. There is a current debate among animal advocates about the issue of supply and demand. Is it an issue of industry meeting a market demand, as Francione argues, or should the supply side by attacked, a tactic favoured by Steve Best?
- World-wide, the demand for meat is growing significantly. True, growing revulsion in Western nations for [sic] the most blatant abuses of animal agriculture may provide an entry point for attempts [citing Marcus] to dismantle the system of industrial meat production…On the other hand, a veritable industry has sprung up to promote “happy meat,” “compassionate carnivores,” and “humane slaughter.” These phrases may be oxymorons, but they strikingly illustrate a modern phenomenon: growing unease about the industrial treatment of animals, combined with a refusal to abandon the use of animals for food and clothing” (2009: 179-80).
Arguing that animal advocates face a “global challenge,” Taylor notes that philosophers and observers belief that the animal liberation movement is unlikely to succeed until it sees itself as part of a wider movement for change. The question here is really about whether “industrial society” and capitalism is conducive to freeing nonhuman animals from slavery and their status as legal things. He writes,
- With the collapse of the state-socialist model of industrialism, capitalism has succeeded in creating an increasingly integrated world economy. Unlike centrally planned economies, capitalist economies are intrinsically expansive systems, in which market competition not only provides a hothouse for technological innovation, but also forces enterprises to pursue growth, on pain of economic ruin (2009: 183-84).
Senses of things being sacred or having intrinsic values are torn asunder in such conditions, Taylor suggests, and this, “militates against overturning the traditional view of animals as essentially resources for human use” (2009: 184).
Taylor acknowledges that the internet is rapidly becoming “an important medium for communicating and organising” (2009: 180) adding that, “Many organisations and individual activists have websites…including Animal Concerns Community, the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, and law professor Gary Francione (“Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach”), as well as the “Animal Rights” section at Change,org, and Mary Martin’s blog, “Animal Person”” (2009: 181).
Tapping into another live issue of the day, Taylor states that, “The “liberation” of sentient non-humans, if it happens, will be a long, complex struggle, not some overnight revolution” (2009: 182), involving attempts to gain “personhood” status for many animals. Citing Midgley and Aaltola, he says,
- Though thinking of animals as persons may seem odd, it should be noted that “person” originally meant a mask, and referred to a character in a play. In this sense, [Mary Midgley argues that] a person is someone who is recognised as having an important role in life’s drama. A person is someone, not something, a who, not a what… Aaltola makes the case for understanding personhood as the capacity to experience interaction with other conscious beings (2009: 182-83).
Turning his attention to sociological analysis, and citing Nibert, Taylor notes that speciesism is seen sociologically, not a form of individual prejudice, but rather as an ideology. This means that speciesism amounts to a set of socially-shared beliefs. It is embedded into the collective consciousness about how nonhuman animals should be treated. Speciesism, guided by animal welfarism, is about regulating animal use: the ideology defends the “humane” use of animals and, says Taylor, “as such, it has its roots in institutional arrangements” (2009: 184). Taylor attempts to contextualise human-nonhuman relations into the issue of forging a sustainable global environment:
- There can be little doubt that today we face multiple, interlocking economic, ecological, and political crises. Climate change, the end of the age of cheap oil, air and water pollution, water shortages, food shortages, volatility in financial markets, international competition for resources, terrorism, failed states, religious and cultural rivalries and grievances, the threat of pandemics, growing populations, enormous disparities between rich and poor, extinction of species and loss of biodiversity – together these threaten the very existence of industrial civilisation and demand transformative, systemic change in institutions and in world-view (2009: 184).
Given all this, Taylor argues, we cannot approach human-nonhuman relations as a single-issue. I’ll end with this from Taylor’s final page:
- Whether capitalism’s need for incessant growth can be sufficiently channelled into ecologically sustainable modes (e.g., growth in green industries and in non-material, information technologies) to avoid catastrophe is not yet clear. Whatever the answer, throughout the world there is a growing awareness pf the possible dire consequences, on sundry levels, of a failure to preserve the health of the biosphere, including the well-being of its animal species. Animal liberation, of course, demands something more: recognition that numerous non-human creatures are members of the moral community (2009: 186).