This latter suggestion is interesting, especially since they add that ideological belief can, "foster a dogmatic style of thought that insists on being right regardless." Of course, all ideologies may have these characteristics, including those based on ideas and beliefs we all favour and hold, as much as those based on beliefs we oppose or are generally "neutral" about. Constant vigilance and a commitment to critical thinking are required to ameliorate these tendencies to dogmatism.
Traditional animal welfare ideology displays these dogmatic characteristics, built on society-wide opinion that animal welfarism is undoubtedly, self-evidently, almost "naturally," the right and proper way to assess the morality of what humanity does every day to other animals. Animal welfarism remains largely accepted, generally without question, as the reasonable and realistic paradigm for evaluating human-nonhuman relations. Throughout the Western world, the ideology of animal welfarism is firmly institutionalised and its central ideological tenets are widely adopted and culturally internalised.
Claims are made on a regular basis, often by British farming interests and politicians of all stripes, that the "United Kingdom" has the strictest animal welfare standards in the world. Thus, it is suggested, "welfare costs" are substantial to the commercial industries which use nonhuman animals and animal welfare legislation should not readily be further strengthened without very good reason. However, there appears to be a general acceptance - or at least the articulation of a formal recognition - of the welfarist stance that says the "price" paid for maintaining "high welfare standards" is harsh and yet justifiable because, the ideology suggests, the users of nonhuman animals are concerned more than most about animal welfare. That said, the notion of going beyond what is evidently necessary to achieve "humane treatment" is clearly regarded as largely uncalled for, especially since it may dramatically endanger commercial competitiveness. In this sense, and rather like formal supportive claims towards health and safety provisions, animal welfare practices and legislation are presented as "essential," "adequate," and "strong but fair," notwithstanding that its provisions come at a cost. This is essentially the presentation of a pluralist political model allegedly based on seeking some satisfactory balance of various and often contradictory interests, even including some of the interests of the "lower animals" that humans routinely use as resources. This explains why animal rights claims are met by animal welfare statements from animal users.
In practice, organisationally and politically, animal welfarism is a constituent part of the various battle grounds and compromises between and among mobilisations such as the National Farmers Union (NFU), Friends of the Earth (FOE), the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), the British government’s Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) and the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA – formally the Ministry of Agriculture). This means that the "reasonable, reasoned and proper debate" over the human use of other animals is seen as rightly the province of legitimate mainstream organisations committed - on some level or other - to conventional animal welfare tenets.
This means that they are committed to the "non-cruel" exploitation of other animals for human ends. Thus, "on the animals’ side" (although all participants would loudly claim this particular image-friendly status), groups such as CIWF stand for a move toward ~or a return to~ extensive systems of "animal husbandry," while the more politically powerful NFU would more likely support the status quo of substantial intensive production. The most dogmatic elements of traditional animal welfarism are readily evident when they are challenged by animal rights claims, on the one hand, and (now rare) Cartesian-inspired claims that there are no ethical issues involved in the human utilisation of other animals.
Clearly, animal welfarism’s institutionalised status as the firmly-fixed orthodoxy is its greatest strength: from this assured position other perspectives can be authoritatively characterised as "extreme" and "unnecessary." The widespread social orientation to animal welfarism means that any thinking about human relations with other sentient beings is almost mechanically assessed within this long-established and entrenched paradigm. Animal welfarism, unsurprisingly, is all-pervasive, even in campaigns "for" nonhuman animals. Most animal advocacy organisations, even those describing themselves as "animal rights" mobilisations, base their claims on central welfarist concepts such as cruelty rather than on rights violations.
By its own standards animal welfarism can claim to "work," or function, in the sense of reducing "unnecessary suffering" caused by the human use of nonhuman animals. This apparent functionality leads to suggestions that alternative views represent unnecessarily radical or "utopian" views. Just as common sense knowledge is regarded as enough to understand social phenomena, animal welfarism is considered as sufficient to understand the needs and requirements of nonhuman animals. In the early 1990s, political scientist Robert Garner reviewed several philosophical positions on human relations with other sentient beings and situated traditional animal welfarism in a broad centre ground position by characterising it as the "moral orthodoxy" in terms of ethical views about other animals. Garner also identified two comparative extremes to the welfarist "centre": the presently rare "no moral status" position, and the growing "challenge to the moral orthodoxy," which Garner (often mistakenly) claims is represented by philosophers such as Andrew Linzey, Mary Midgley, Stephen Clark, James Rachels, Bernard Rollins, Steven Sapontzis, Rosemary Rodd and especially Singer and Regan.
In her "dismissals model" (absolute and relative), philosopher Mary Midgley underscores the centrality of animal welfarist understandings, while noting that a certain degree of "mental vertigo" results from confusion about these positions, and this was in the mid-1980s, before Gary Francione came up with the added complication of the notion of "new welfarism." While this may be true of professional philosophers, who tend to identify and appreciate the differences between welfarist and rights-based positions, it is probably more correct to state that, in general talk, animal welfarism holds centre stage to the exclusion of other views. It is also important to note in this respect that, despite regularly being labelled as concerning "animal rights," the vast majority of mass media coverage of issues concerning the treatment of nonhumans is unconditionally welfarist in content.
Writing in the Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Aubrey Townsend attempts to further define the conventional welfarist view of other animals. He argues that the ethical orthodoxy allows a distinction between two sorts of moral considerations. The first applies to human and nonhuman animals and is based on a welfarist commitment to do what promotes the "living of a pain-free happy life." The second consideration is reserved for humans only and is based on a respect for personal autonomy - "for what an individual wants or values." Therefore, since animals are regarded as "only sentient," they can only be accorded an inferior moral status compared to human beings:
Thus, we are entitled to sacrifice the interests of animals to further human interests, whereas we are not entitled to treat humans in the same way - as part of a cost-benefit analysis.
Robert Garner ultimately offers animal rights supporters little comfort, declaring that the position outlined here by Townsend, "amounts to what is the conventional view about animals at least in Britain." He also agrees that this position corresponds to the perspective of many traditional animal welfare organisations. In effect, then, welfarism accords to nonhuman animals "intermediate status" - while animals may be more than inanimate "things," they are nevertheless very much less than "persons."
Understanding the status of nonhuman animals in speceisist societies means appreciating the challenge that advocates of nonhuman rights face. That animal welfarism is the dominant paradigm in assessments of human-nonhuman relations is certain. This is the view a genuine animal rights movement must fundamentally oppose.