Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records: Starvation, Charity and Rock & Roll: Lies & Tradition,
I spoke a few years ago at a university debate organised jointly by the university’s debating society and the "style society," so they wanted the talk to be about the wearing of fur.
Of four speakers, one was an ex-mink enslaver, James Redmond, who has traded in mink pelts for over 30 years. His views were not altogether shocking but quite rare, I would hope, in the 21st century. Not only was he arrogantly patriarchal in the mould of those Jim Mason speaks of in An Unnatural Order, his views on non-human animals were pre-Darwinian, and indeed Kantian and Cartesian, in character.
Kant said that, “as far as animals are concerned, we have no direct duties. Animals are not self-conscious, and are there merely as means to an end. That end is man.” Redmond, dressed in a large leather coat, went further and suggested that nonhumans not only were not self-conscious but were not really conscious at all. He described them as mere bundles of instincts. He said that minks have no needs because "needs" implies minds - which they lack. However, he was prepared to talk about the possibility of being "cruel" to them but it was uncertain what he meant by that. Indeed, his reductionist views of mink suggested that he may equate "cruelty" with "poor pelt quality" and seemed to imply that a poor pelt somehow indicated cruelty but that does not necessarily indicate that the animal had been harmed.
Redmond also had what seemed to be a particularly North American attitude toward knowledge; or at least he echoed the sort of views one sees in forums from those contributing from the USA. For example, he seemed to despise "book-learning" and, responding to debate participant Alan Lee’s point that the European Union had commissioned research into the welfare of farmed minks, he said that did not count because it was “objective knowledge produced by scientists.” The only knowledge that counted for him was his own – and others who have experience in the use and exploitation of captive minks. He also differentiated between dogs and minks but only to the extent that he believed the former had the ability to "portray love," whereas the only thing minks “wanted to do” was kill. Given this, he believed it was a kindness to separate minks by caging them, ignoring the fact that that are perfectly able to separate themselves given the opportunity in free-living conditions when they define, mark, and defend territory.
Ultimately he declared himself a good Irish Catholic and believes that his God says humans can use other animals. “I’m with God,” he said. By the time he declared that God had ordained that humanity could manage (as in Richard Ryder’s be superintendents of) other animals, and said, “if it is good enough for God, then it is good enough for me,” I had my first inkling that this man was not for turning. Redmond based much of his position on the straw man argument constructed by "the fox-hunting philosopher," Roger Scruton. In the foreword of a fairly-well cited article authored in 2000 by Richard North, Fur and Freedom: In Defence of the Fur Trade, Scruton writes, “Nobody has succeeded in explaining why it is wrong to farm animals for their fur, but acceptable to farm them for their meat, or why the wearing of fur-coats is so heinous compared with the wearing of leather shoes. For some years, nevertheless, groups which claim to speak for ‘animal rights’ have been campaigning for a ban…”
There is quite a lot to unpack here. For example, by 2000, Scruton’s book, Animal Rights and Wrongs, was in its 3rd edition (originally published four years earlier). In it, he explores the work of Tom Regan, Richard Ryder and Peter Singer. As an accomplished philosopher, Scruton knows well enough what animal rightists stand for, and explores in this book the marked differences between rights-based and utilitarian positions on moral questions. Of course, it may be that he is showing in the last sentence of the quote above that he’s aware that many animal advocacy organisations claim to speak for animal rights when, in fact, they adopt non-rights-based postures or attempt an incoherent mix.
It could be that, but I think not in this instance. I believe that he is following a strategy used by the fur trade in the movement-countermovement battle of ideas which, essentially, is posited on two ideas.
- to allege that there is any difference between fur and leather, or fur and meat eating, is absurd and reveals a fundamental dishonesty and inconsistency in animal advocacy against the wearing of furs.
- to argue that there are no differences between leather and fur and, therefore, all animal use is wrong, is extremist and fanatical.
The appeal of the fur lobby is well rehearsed within the pro-use community and is based on the following formulation: first they (the animal movement) will take your fur coats, then they will take the meat off your plate, and then they will stop you from having pets. This is essentially the "no-contact" scare perpetuated by the likes of the NAIA. This pro-use strategy was fully utilised by Redmond in the debate: either there is moral inconsistency afoot, and thus the fur business is being singled out when it represents just one mode of animal use, or there be extremists among us.
Speaking third, I cheerfully adopted the view already characterised by the fur farmer as “this crazy idea of animal rights.” I cited the views of the growing number of animal advocates, claiming no particular moral difference between leather, fur, and wool wearing, and agreed with Karl Lagerfeld that the conversation about fur would be "childish" in a meat-eating, leather-wearing, society, if that were the only conversation about human relations with other sentient beings being had.
This amounts to the false claim being made by Lagerfeld, Scruton and fur traders – that this is the only conversation being had about human-nonhuman relations – and, as such, is pure ideological nonsense. Of course, they may have in mind the activities of some prominent animal advocates who would run past 100 leather jackets to challenge someone wearing fur, or some of those who would rather be naked than wear it, but that is not animal rights – or human rights for that matter. The animal rights position is quite straightforward, and regards the wearing of leather, wool and fur as the same – rights violations.
Not everything Redmond said was utter nonsense, of course. He had a point that requires a good answer when he demanded to know why the Irish fur industry, with its 5 or 6 "farms," was being singled out for legislation when there are thousands of other such units abroad, mainly in places like Denmark, the USA and China. Since there are at least five animal advocacy groups in Ireland pushing for a ban, this is an issue I have not been able to get to the bottom of. There is an apparent assumption that attacks on the supply side of this use industry can significantly harm it, regardless of its global reach and scope. There is also the usual seduction that any "animal issue" that enjoys public support, once identified, will or may act as a gateway for animal advocates to talk about other concerns. In this history of animal advocacy, this logic has been applied in relation to bear baiting, hunting, whaling, circuses and, indeed, the fur trade (particularly the trade in seal pelts).
In an increasing globalised culture and economy, it is not clear how piecemeal attacks on the supply side will effect the demand for animal products. We know that demand for virtually anything ~slaves, pornography, nuclear weaponry, alcohol and so on~ will stimulate supply. In 2009, the HSUS claimed that global fur sales were experiencing a drop. They cited the availability of fake fur, the economic recession, and altering public attitudes to the morality of fur wearing as important factors. According to their press release, “Gallup, Inc. conducts an annual poll of Americans assessing the public’s stance on a number of 'moral' issues, including 'buying and wearing clothing made of animal fur.' Data show an erosion in the percentage of Americans who find the practice 'morally acceptable.' The number who find it 'morally wrong' has been increasing at the same rate, showing public opinion turning against the trade.”
The HSUS are a little shy of providing the actual numbers. I searched the Gallup web site and could access 2007 figures for US attitudes, revealing majority support for the fur trade. 52% of "liberals," 57% of "moderates," and 61% of "conservatives" found the buying a wearing of fur "morally acceptable."
This is the challenge on the demand side. As long as there is this magnitude of demand it will be supplied by someone, somewhere in the globalised economy and whether there are 5, 10 or 0 fur "farms" in Ireland is irrelevant. Indeed, there is a question at the moment as to what extent the Irish fur farms supply the Irish fur shops. Given the traditional trade links between Ireland and Britain (where the processing of fur is not banned) and the USA, Irish fur consumers are unlikely to experience a shortage of supply.
The truth is, if we cannot reduce demand then nonhuman skins will continue to be sold in Ireland. Essentially the demand is the demand of speciesism: the view that human beings can legitimately use and override the rights of nonhuman animals for a whole variety of purposes.
 Myself, James Redmond, a freelance journalist and Alan Lee, a representative of ARAN, an Irish animal protection organisation, who declared and adopted a welfarist approach to the issue, locating differences between beef production and fur production in Ireland. His welfarist case was reinforced, if anything, when he told a member of the audience that he was indeed wearing leather shoes.
 For example, he argued that the claims of the animal movement were deliberately shaped and distorted in order to influence young women who were overly sentimental and vulnerably emotional compared to men who were much better able to deal with the practicalities of the ‘real world.’