In this 2005 interview at the John Adams Institute, Regan is once again critical of the philosophy the animal movement follows, calling it "morally obscene."
Content Warning: Regan uses a real case of a brutal rape to illustrate his point.
In 1989, in a famous debate televised by the BBC in Britain, philosopher Tom Regan, the author of The Case for Animal Rights, declared that the utilitarian tradition that is favoured within the "animal rights movement" is "morally bankrupt."
In this 2005 interview at the John Adams Institute, Regan is once again critical of the philosophy the animal movement follows, calling it "morally obscene."
Content Warning: Regan uses a real case of a brutal rape to illustrate his point.
I recently wrote an article about Gary Francione's Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights and Tom Regan's Abolitionist Position of Animal Rights.
It has been published HERE by Animal Rights Zone, and HERE by VegFestUK.
This blog entry is to clarify why I wrote it. It is not part of a "personal vendetta" against Gary Francione, as someone suggested, but to put both of these abolitionist theorists into historical context. I do not regard this piece as attacking Francione at all. I am interested in social movement theory, and the history of social movements.
What really did it for me was "meeting" someone on FB who apparently knew nothing about Tom Regan, the author of The Case for Animal Rights in 1983 other than the controversial "lifeboat scenario" in which Regan says, in given circumstances, one million dogs should be thrown out of a crowded vessel to save a single human being.
The part of The Case where the lifeboat scenario is under discussion is when Regan is explaining how his "rights view" differs from both utilitarianism (Singer's) and a "perfectionist theory of justice." And he does indeed say that one million dogs may be thrown overboard. However, he makes it clear that this is based on assessments of pairs of individuals, one human and the dog, then a second human and the dog, and so on.
Regan does not spell it out clearly, but it's clear that the reverse but less likely circumstance may prevail with, as it were, a "normal" dog and human candidates who's situation means that they will be harmed less if they were killed rather than the dog.
Exactly why Regan remained somewhat unclear on this I don't know. However, in the article linked to above, when talking about Regan's subject-of-a-life criteria, I mentioned that Regan wrote in the early 1980s in a rather conservative way because the message of animal rights was so new and so very radical back then. To the extent that anyone reading this is faced by people suggesting that animal rights is "pie-in-the-sky," imagine what it was like to advance a rights-based animal rights position in the 1980s.
However, only two years later, 1985, Regan did clarify his position on the lifeboat in the New York Review of Books (April 1985). Regan writes
There are indeed some problems and issues with Regan's work - but fairness, respect, and knowledge of the history of the animal advocacy movement demands that Tom Regan is known for more than the lifeboat scenario, especially when critics seem to have forgotten that he would cast the humans overboard as much as the dogs in given circumstances.
Regan was a pioneer in establishing the rights-based animal rights position and we should never forget that and the debt we owe him. Here's some videos of Tom Regan, pioneer animal rights advocate.
There has often been some talk in the animal advocacy movement about rights - moral and legal - their origins, and whether or not they are "granted" to others.
I've tried to tackle the thorny issue of where rights come from in some of my research work, and I reproduce that part of the work below with minor updates and new references.
However, let's begin by reminding ourselves that Professor Tom Regan, the author of The Case for Animal Rights, grounds the notion of animal rights in the tradition of "natural rights"...
As we'll see, this natural rights view is criticised in the work cited below.
Rights and Animal Rights.
Tom Regan and Gary Francione are acknowledged as the major theoreticians of perspectives that seek to build on established rights formulations, and apply - or extent - to them to nonhuman animals. Regan is a Kantian deontologist who argues that many nonhumans are "subjects-of-a-life," a factor demanding that humans respect their inherent rights. Francione is a law professor particularly critical of the property status of other animals. His rights-based formulation is thought less complicated than Regan’s; he claims basic rights for all sentient beings.
Reganite and Francionian positions on nonhuman-human relations can be regarded as attempts to bring genuine rights views to bear on the issue of the human use of other animals. Such approaches are different in nature to traditional or classical welfarist stances; and different also from Peter Singer’s version of utilitarianism which...Francione claims as the philosophical grounding of modern day "new welfarism." Neither Regan nor Francione use rights concepts, or the language of rights, in a rhetorical manner as many other animal activists do, and both believe that protective rights formulations can be plausibly extended to prevent current large-scale institutionalised human exploitation of certain species of other animals. Regan’s and particularly Francione’s works are effectively marginalised even within the animal advocacy movement. This section, therefore, acknowledges and highlights a paradoxical situation in which the so-called "animal rights movement" virtually rejects genuine rights theories while embracing a non-rights animal liberation position as its main philosophical stance.
As implied above, however, it may be recognised that even the phrase "philosophical stance" can be quite misleading in relation to the majority of current animal advocacy in which "philosophising" per se is actively frowned upon, and/or seen as a very poor second to "doing things" (doing any thing) "for the animals." The modern animal protection movement, as well as its counter-movement mobilisations, frequently (and correctly) presents the book Animal Liberation as the origins of second wave nonhuman advocacy, along with an implicit and often explicit (and incorrect) claim that the book, and therefore the movement, is based on Peter Singer’s "animal rights perspective."
The frequent characterisation of his utilitarian perspective as an animal rights position, and presumably the number of times Animal Liberation has been described as "the animal rights bible," has seemingly led its author to regret ever having used rights language, even rhetorically and, according to Regan (2001: 83-4), Singer remains committed to his claim that attributing rights to nonhumans is not possible.
[...] some of the misrepresentation of Singer’s work as rights-based theorising, especially by pro-use countermovements, appears on the face of it to be deliberately ideological in intent. However, in relation to what Singer says about his own position, Francione fully accepts that Singer is entirely consistent to the extent that he rejects the notion of moral right holding in the case of human and nonhuman animals. Moreover, his consistent utilitarian principles have led Singer to accept that "there might be circumstances" in which human and animal exploitation…could be justified in light of consequences (Francione 1995: 259).
Francione suggests, however, that rights concepts are always likely to be important and invoked as resources in human affairs and therefore utilitarian "balancing" of human and nonhuman interests are extremely dangerous in terms of nonhuman interests. Dangerous precisely because protective rights considerations are not conceptually available "to limit the results of the balancing process" (ibid.) Francione attempts to clarify the point by putting it in a different way, while at the same time revealing how authentic animal rights theorists attempt to build on already established ways of thinking about the protection afforded by bearing rights:
the utilitarian notion of “consequences” cannot be interpreted in a way that does not prejudice the issue of animal protection. Even if we do accept that animals have interests, it is simply difficult to make determinations of those interests from a humanocentric perspective; it is because we systematically devalue and underestimate the interests of disempowered populations that rights concepts are necessary in the first place. Although rights theory rests ultimately upon a consideration of animal interests, rights theory does not permit the sacrifice of animal interests simply because human interests would be served. Rather, rights theory assumes that at least some animal interests are entitled to prima facie protection and that the sacrifice of those interests require a justification not dissimilar to that required when we seek to override human interests protected by rights (ibid.)
The questions, "where do rights come from?" and "how are 'rights' used in animal rights thinking?" are, of course, pertinent [...]. Perhaps the first thing to be said about matters concerning any formulation of rights, following Steve Kangas (www.huppi.com/ kangaroo/L-rights.htm) [this reference is now broken, however, THIS is essentially the same essay as originally cited], is that "the origin of rights is a messy and complex debate."
Kangas suggests that the understanding of the first question of where rights "come from" can be aided by separating out three types of thinking about rights: conservative, liberal and libertarian; and also by thinking about four initial bases put forward for the creation of rights: that rights are "natural" (following Locke), "inalienable," "God-given," and "self-evident." Kangas states that until a few hundred years ago, most philosophers believed that rights could be defined in these four ways. However, "today, most philosophers agree that rights are social constructs, open to change." He says that this view accords well with the "liberal" stance, since, "Liberals believe that rights are social constructions, defended by force and open to change and improvement."
Kangas is almost certainly correct to state that rights cannot be regarded as self-evident because, as he notes, "philosophers have been vigorously arguing about them for thousands of years" (ibid.) Kangas also finds support in his assertion that debates about rights can be messy and complex. For example, Carl Cohen, in his 1986 article, "Why Animals Have No Rights," [the original is again broken, so THIS replaces it] states that, "The differing targets, contents, and sources of rights, and their inevitable conflict, together weave a tangled web." Cohen’s title itself indicates philosophical controversy over recent rights claims. He has published a number of works addressing human rights concepts and the whole idea of nonhumans being right holders. Whereas theorists such as Cohen argue that nonhuman animals, as a matter of logic, cannot ever be said to bear rights, Regan and Francione disagree and have put forward differing ways by which they argue that rights formulations can and should protect sentient nonhuman interests. While Regan’s position has been described as a liberal rights perspective (Fiddes 1991: 196), Regan characterise Cohen, like Singer, as a utilitarian theorist, at least "when reasoning in support of continued widespread and possible expanded reliance on nonhuman animals in biomedical research" (Regan 2001: 70). The difference between Cohen and Singer is that Singer argues that no animal, human or nonhuman, can hold rights, while Cohen argues that all humans do and nonhumans do not.
Regan claims to adhere seriously to a commitment to develop an "informed, thoughtful moral outlook" (2001: 101). According to Benton & Redfearn, strength within Regan’s strategy accrues from the "benefit of latching on to the currently near-universal moral priority attached to human rights" (1996: 51, emphasis in original). Although it may be rather unkind of them to label Regan’s approach "a strategy," as if his commitment to human rights was only for the following reason, Benton & Redfearn acknowledge that, "Regan was the first theorist to get 'rights' across the species barrier" (ibid.: 50). Therefore, Regan can be credited with breaching that hitherto solid defensive ethical barrier based exclusively on species membership, of which the construction, maintenance, and usage of featured prominently in Part One of the current work.
Benton & Redfearn state that, as a matter of historical record, "the ethics of the 'rights' tradition has been markedly anthropocentric. To 'qualify' as an inherently valuable being one had to possess 'reason,' 'autonomy,' 'moral agency' or some other capacity generally restricted to humans" (ibid.) Regan, they go on, gets morality over the species barrier by concentrating on the criteria of right holding, a familiar notion in rights discourse addressing the question of the expansion of rights bearing. Clearly, many human beings do not have the characteristics listed by Benton & Redfearn above, neither do many have language use, another favoured way of deciding who holds rights. There is therefore a philosophical puzzle to be solved here. Either human beings without the above capacities are themselves not right holders or, if they remain so, on what basis are nonhumans, with similar capacities, to be denied at least basic or negative rights?
In general rights discourse, the notion that rights have been converted from shields to swords is seriously contested by various theorists: however, in this formulation, the idea of animal rights is clearly about rights as protective shields for individuals. Regan’s "subjects-of-a-life" are not necessarily moral agents; and logically nonhuman animals are placed into the category of right holding moral patients along with certain "marginal" humans (as they have became known in rights discourse) (DeGrazia 1996). Using a post-Darwinian understanding of the psychological complexity of many nonhumans, Benton & Redfearn claim that Regan shows that, "though animals are not moral agents in the full sense, they have enough sense of self as persisting through time, ability to express preferences and so on to be said to have 'interests,' which may be harmed or favoured by human agents" (1996: 50) Benton & Redfearn investigate the "lesser-than" aspect of "moral marginals," and conclude that not only are they not denied protective rights, "On the contrary, it might well be argued that it is just because of their lack of these attributes that they are in special need of the protection offered by the attribution of rights" (ibid.: 50-1).
For these commentators, Regan’s concentration on the rights of the individual strengthens the rights approach over what they describe as the more moderate "linkage of utilitarianism and animal welfare reform" (ibid.: 51). The one advantage of utilitarianism, they claim, is its reliance on "mere sentience" as the ethically relevant criteria. The strength of that, they say, is due to the fact that hardly anyone in the modern world would dispute that many nonhumans are sentient beings. A further "strategic limitation" of Regan’s position, Benton & Redfearn argue, stems from the huge social and personal changes implied by respect for the rights of many nonhuman animals. This would require, "both social transformation and lifestyle changes of very fundamental kinds." How many, they ask, will be prepared to adopt a vegan diet and avoid all animal products? Surely, only those who could adhere to veganism can remain consistent with the logic of animal rights? This question greatly interests animal advocates, many of whom suggest that a strict advocacy of the vegan diet can be "divisive" and "elitist," whereas others simply see it as a logical consequence of accepting the rights view about human-nonhuman relations (Francione 1996: 43-44, 239).
Francione’s position is free of the first "limitation" in Regan – but clearly not of the second. In other words, Francione’s basic right theory argues that a being’s sentiency alone is enough to demand that humans respect their rights. Francione also firmly declares that respect for nonhuman rights does indeed require the personal adoption of veganism as a lifestyle choice. Francione begins his outline of animal rights with a familiar warning common in accounts of rights discourse: "There is a great deal of confusion surrounding the concept of rights" (2000: xxvi). His focus is on one aspect of rights, the protection they may offer, and argues that this is common feature of virtually every theory about rights: in other words, "a right is a particular way of protecting interests":
To say that an interest is protected by a right is to say that the interest is protected against being ignored or violated simply because this will benefit someone else. We can think of a right of any sort as a fence or a wall that surrounds an interest and upon which hangs a “no trespass” sign that forbids entry, even if it would be beneficial to the person seeking that entry (ibid.)
A feature of rights formulation associated with other animals often clash with the views of environmental ethicists such as "deep ecologists" (see Regan 2001: 19-21 and David Orton’s discussion paper about Deep Ecology and Animal Rights). Dispute may arise due to the concentration in rights thinking of protecting individuals rather than emphasising, say, "species conservation." However, citing Rollin’s "The Legal and Moral Bases of Animal Rights," Francione (2000: xxvii) notes that rights were deliberately constructed as ethical ideas about respecting individuals. Rights protect individuals even in cases in which the general welfare of society would be improved by the right being ignored or not respected. Francione provides a detailed account of the concept of rights and rights theory in the context of animal law in Animals, Property, and the Law (Francione 1995) in which he distinguishes respect-based rights from policy-based rights. He argues for a basic right for sentient nonhuman animals: the right not to be treated as a "thing." For Francione, this basic right is not only a respect-based right but it is a special respect-based right, "in that it is necessary in order to have any rights or moral significance at all, irrespective of the political system and whatever other respect-based rights are protected. The basic right not to be treated as a thing recognises that the right holder is a person" (2000: 191, emphasis in original).
Moving toward his conception of animal rights, while accepting that no rights are absolute, "in the sense that their protection has no exception" (ibid.: xxvii), Francione builds on the notion that all humans "who are not brain dead or otherwise nonsentient" (and presumably who are not masochistic) have an interest in avoiding suffering and pain (ibid.) This interest is tied to the importance of being a legal person:
Although we do not protect humans from all suffering, and although we may not even agree about which human interests should be protected by rights, we generally agree that all humans should be protected from suffering that results from being used as the property or commodity of another human…in a world deeply divided on many moral issues, one of the few norms endorsed by the international community is the prohibition of human slavery. Nor is it a matter of whether the particular form of slavery is “humane” or not; we condemn all human slavery (ibid.)
Resisting a critical critique of this statement, if only by regarding it as an ideal type formulation, Francione’s point is fairly straightforward. In fact, he does himself acknowledge that human slavery still persists in the modern world, even though "the institution is universally regarded as morally odious and is legally prohibited" (ibid.) Returning to his theme about basic rights, Francione argues that all and any "further" rights are dependent on basic ones, in particular, "they must have the basic right not to be treated as a thing" (ibid.) By examining the principle of "equal consideration," which says that similar interests should be treated in a similar way, Francione makes the case for animal rights, at least the case for the basic right that concerns him the most:
If we apply the principle of equal consideration to animals, then we must extend to animals the one basic right that we extent to all human beings: the basic right not to be treated as things (ibid.: xxix).
As a matter of logic, then, Francione claims that, "if we mean what we say" about nonhumans being morally significant, as even traditional animal welfare does, "then we really have no choice": if social attitudes to human slavery desire its abolition rather than its regulation, "we are similarly committed to the abolition of animal exploitation, and not merely to its regulation" (ibid.) As for what "sort" of right is being claimed within his formulation of basic animal rights, Francione continues to rely on notions of basic or "innate" rights, distinctions about ideas of "natural rights," and the thoughts of, among others, Kant, Locke, and modern political theorist Henry Shue. Francione continues to attempt to build on the widely accepted "value" of basic human rights. He argues that, "there is certainly a great deal of disagreement about precisely what rights human beings have," however it is clear that all humans are seen as right holders which prevents them being, "treated exclusively as a means to the end of another" (ibid.: 93). In pointing out that this basic right is different from "all other rights," Francione claims it as a pre-legal right; and a necessary pre-requisite for other important rights. What is the use, Francione asks, of thinking about rights appropriate to human beings, such as the right to free speech, voting rights, etc., if their basic right not to be a thing is not respected? This sense of "basic right," he argues, is different from what many claim to be "natural rights" (although the discourse about "natural" - or any - rights is complex and often contradictory).
 Throughout Animal Liberation Professor Singer is careful to talk about the "Animal Liberation movement" and never speaks of a clash between human and nonhuman rights, rather human and animal interests. In the 2nd edition ofAnimal Liberation, Singer was motivated to say something about rights formulations: "The language of rights is a convenient political shorthand. It is even more valuable in the era of thirty-second TVA news clips" (Singer 1990, cited by Francione 1996: 49, 240).
 If Kangas is correct that talking about the origins of rights is messy, the same may be said of the claimed position adopted by this or that theorist. For example, while Regan suggests that Cohen takes a utilitarian line, Nathan Nobis (2002, in a review of Cohen and Regan) states that, "Cohen and Regan give high regard to moral rights… Both are decidedly anti-utilitarian."
 Benton & Redfearn (1996) also note that Regan’s rights approach will find opposition in some perspectives based on "ecological morality." For example, the rights view implies that only animals that resemble humans in relevant ways "qualify" as right bearers. Animal rights theory, they note, "offers nothing at all to animals not conforming to the 'subject of a life' criterion" (1996: 51).
Benton, T. & Redfearn, S. (1996) ‘The Politics of Animal Rights - Where is the Left?’ New Left Review, Jan/Feb: 43-58.
DeGrazia, D. (1996) Taking Animals Seriously: Mental life and moral status. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fiddes, N. (1991) Meat: A natural symbol. London: Routledge.
Francione, G.L. (1995) Animals, Property, and the Law. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Francione, G. L. (1996) ‘Ecofeminism and Animal Rights’ - a book review and commentary - review of “Beyond Animal Rights: A feminist caring ethic for the treatment of animals”, edited by C. Adams & J. Donovan’, Women’s Rights Law Reporter, Fall (email version supplied by Lee Hall in April 2002).
Francione, G.L. (2000) Introduction to Animal Rights: Your child or the dog? Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Nobis, N. (2002) ‘Review of Carl Cohen & Tom Regan’s The Animal Rights Debate (2001), Jornal of Value Inquiry, Vol 36(4): 579-83.
Regan, T. (2001) Defending Animal Rights. Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
An article by Barbara McDonald on becoming vegan, first published in the 1990s, has recently been featured in a new reader on human-nonhuman relations. Although the piece is now a little dated (the original research being conducted in June 1996), and the sample of 12 vegans interviewed is very small, it seems to contain some points of interests for rights-based abolitionists.
Although McDonald is critical of Jack Mezirow’s "transformation theory," ideas embedded within it seem relevant to a study of how people become vegans, especially when certain critical elements on, for example, power relations are added to the original formulation. Mezirow's perspective is certainly overly psychological and in need of sociological elements for balance and context. McDonald is undoubtedly an expert on Mezirow since her doctoral thesis was about his work. She states that the transformation theory “does not explain the process of learning to become vegan.”
However, some of her discussion in this paper seems to contradict that conclusion, at least to the extent to which McDonald claims the theory has no explanatory value. For example, in a 2000 book, Mezirow builds on 20 years of his theory and outlines the basic ideas about how people change in a 10-point process of "transformative learning"
1. Experience a disorienting dilemma
2. Undergo self-examination
3. Conduct a deep assessment of personal role assumptions and alienation created by new roles
4. Share and analyze personal discontent and similar experiences with others
5. Explore options for new ways of acting
6. Build competence and self-confidence in new roles
7. Plan a course of action
8. Acquire knowledge and skills for action
9. Try new roles and assess feedback
10. Reintegrate into society with a new perspective
One of the main thrusts in the theory, borrowing heavily from Habermas, is the power of rational discourse and a level of cognitive functioning which critics of Mezirow say most adults never achieve. For her part, McDonald focuses on the theory’s need for individuals to be critically reflexive about assumptions. She says her study of vegans failed to identify such critical reflection in their talk. Again, other parts of her piece seems to contradict that claim too.
However, let’s stick with Mezirow a little longer, and via Nancy Franz’s discussion of Stephan Brookfield’s definition of "critical reflection theory," which may well serve to correct some of the shortcomings in Mezirow’s approach. Critical reflection requires persons being self-aware, making sense of experiences, deconstructing and reconstructing meanings , the critiquing of premises and ideologies, and "principled thinking," all of which can be defined, according to Brookfield, as "reflecting on the assumptions underlying ours and other’s ideas and actions, and contemplating alternative ways of thinking and living."
These ideas may be expressed in this way - and by means of the following "phases"
1. Trigger event
2. Appraisal of assumptions
3. Exploration of alternatives to current assumptions
4. Developing alternative perspectives
5. Integration of new perspectives into daily life
At this point we have a basic understanding of some of the ideas that interest McDonald in her study of vegans. Perhaps we can see how these 10 points and 5 phases inform an appreciation of the changes people go through when they become vegan?
McDonald works with a process which begins with the notion of "Who was I?" (meaning, who was the person before learning about veganism and animal cruelty). This is followed by what some have called "a moral shock" but McDonald uses the term "catalytic experience" instead (meaning a person’s learning of some aspect of cruelty). At this point, two things are likely to occur. The information about animal cruelty can be acted upon, and therefore the person "becomes oriented" towards learning more and maybe making a decision (for example, to stop eating other animals' flesh), or there can be repression of the information (when people put what they know to the back of their minds). In the latter case, another catalytic experience or event may be required to, in some sense, re-engage a recall of the repressed knowledge of animal cruelty.
After this there is a process of learning about animal abuse and how to be a vegan (i.e., start reading the damn labels!! ) A decision is made to live as a vegan (or a vegetarian). Finally, the person’s general world view has changed. With a new perspective she or he begins to face the world as a vegan. This process can take a long time: some of McDonald’s interviewees took years to become vegan.
We can now follow some of the study’s participants through some of these stages. The first thing that would register with animal rights abolitionists is the number of McDonald’s respondents who acknowledged being in a state of what Francione unfortunately characterises as "moral schizophrenia." McDonald writes that the majority of those in the study had a prior love for nature and of pets. However, they did not see the connection between their pets and "food animals." McDonald says they had "compartmentalised their compassion." Moreover, many of them "expressed amazement that they had not seen the connection."
This notion of prior "love" for pets is interesting from an abolitionist point of view. I think it is fair to say that the "pet issue" is one reason why many animal advocates reject the rights view of human-nonhuman relations. Just like the pet breeders and pet lovers in countermovements, they cannot imagine a future with no living ornaments/toys, or a future without their child substitute "fur babies."
Many animal advocates suggest, then, that pet keeping is a necessary or at least widespread means by which humans come to have some ethical regard for nonhuman animals. Without their "prior love" for pets, they believe, they may never have seriously considered being an animal advocate. McDonald’s findings seem to support this view – but not fully by any means. For example, not every respondent had a strong affection for nonhuman animals when young and, as one person pointed out, most kids are dotty about their pets; most are upset when pets die, but that does not prompt further thinking about human-nonhuman relations. Most, it seems, can be quite comfortable in their "morally schizophrenic" state and no amount of "companion animals" pegging out on them seems to cure them.
When it comes to the catalytic experiences, one respondent seems to have had a "Paul and Linda McCartney moment." The McCartney's are said that have awoken to reality looking out of their Scottish farmyard window at gambolling lambs when cooking "lamb," while this respondent looked up "and exchanged a long and pensive gaze with a buck standing on the hill above him." At that moment, he decided to not eat meat again. Others in the study went vegan after watching videos.
At this point, McDonald discusses the issues of emotions and cognition. McDonald reports that her respondents’ catalytic experience was often but not necessarily emotional and often, it seems, a blend of emotion and rational thought goes into the process by which people turn vegan. If anything, there is a hint that going vegetarian is an emotional reaction while the decision to go vegan is based on a cognitive interpretation of learning. Often the one followed the other.
Thus, while people spoke of videos "breaking their hearts" and their reaction being, "My God, I just didn’t realise what things went on," McDonald says that, "Emotions seem to have been one of the major defining characteristics of the more memorable catalytic experiences. The decision to become vegan following a period of vegetarianism was more often rational." McDonald says it was typical that the decision to go vegan followed a period of learning, particular about the issue of "being in favour of animal rights" while "continuing to eat animal products."
Here the logical inconsistencies of vegetarianism often finally sunk in. By thinking, talking, reading and becoming active, people realised their actions may not match their beliefs. McDonald cites one respondent who admits that he had drawn the line in the wrong place by being a vegetarian. Through reflection he realised that "using milk and putting cheese in stuff" was not good enough.
Following catalytic experiences, respondents were "becoming oriented" to learning and then they learned about animal abuse. They learned about cruelty and how to be vegetarian or vegan. McDonald says that, at this stage, people are "guided by an ethical praxis of compassion." They learned by thinking, talking, becoming involved in activities and, most importantly, by reading. Reading "was the primary way of learning for every participant." All at once, they were trying to learn, teach and cope - but often their families proved to be a problem. Many respondents reported that family members argued with them, or trivialised their beliefs, and some even rejected them. Understandably, they found these experiences hurtful. One said she lost a friend of 20 years standing by going vegan.
What’s interesting at this point in McDonald’s paper is that, although she talks of the vegans’ new "transformed world views," it is not entirely vegan and it certainly is not all about animal rights. Therefore, even at the end of this process, vegetarianism and animal welfarism are mentioned. It is as though the paper echoes "the movement at this point." While there is talk of recognising the "moral rightness of veganism," there is also talk of "experiencing the world as a vegetarian and vegan," along with the advocacy of both animal welfare and animal rights. McDonald states that a central part of the new worldview is a generalised agreement that "animals were no longer viewed as food," which is hardly true of vegetarians.
I think what’s being reflected in McDonald’s work is the apparently widely-held view that veganism is rather difficult and we should expect a period of vegetarianism beforehand, despite the fact that it makes little sense. This may explain the current habit in animal advocacy literature of using the terms"'vegetarian" and "vegan" interchangeably as though they mean the same thing, often expressed by the horrible word, "veg*n."
I recently had recourse to revisit Victoria Moran’s 1997 book, Compassion the Ultimate Ethic: An Exploration of Veganism, in which she notes (p. 53) that some people turned vegan overnight, but most were vegetarian for a year or two first. This appears to be the expected pattern: it "makes sense" that people will drop one thing at a time. Moran cites Singer’s Animal Liberation in which the author quite reasonably is concerned about the firm grip speciesism has on the social agent. He writes, "In our present speciesist world, it is not easy to keep so strictly to what is morally right."
Perhaps, thinks Singer, since people have difficulty just giving up meat, the thought of eschewing milk and cheese as well may ultimately prevent them doing anything at all. It seems to me that this perspective is fairly reasonable since it was originally written in the early to mid 1970s. However, it seems that Singer’s views on this issue remain largely the same in the 21st century.
This marks a real difference for the abolitionist approach to animal rights. In an age when being vegan is very much easier in many places and for many people and groups than it was in the 1970s, our new movement should not expect – and certainly need not encourage – this pattern of "vegetarian first." What it means is that the young animal rights movement must prioritise making veganism as easy as possible, something that Neil Lea was a pioneer in with his "Is It Vegan?" and "Vegan Buddies" initiatives.
Since veganism is direct action for nonhuman animals, getting people to embrace ethical veganism is the best thing advocates can do at the present time: this activity also has the advantage over some others in that, presently at least, vegan advocacy and vegan education does not lead to anyone being chucked in jail for a decade or more.
 Joking apart, this was another interesting aspect of the research. Via both Mezirow and Habermas, McDonald looks at communicative and instrumental learning in vegans. The former ‘has to do with ideas, such as the idea of instrumentalised animal cruelty, animal rights, and veganism,’ while the latter "concerns the skills needed to live a vegan lifestyle, such as how to cook, order food in restaurants, and read ingredient labels."
 Peter Singer and John Robbins' texts were cited in this context.
This blog entry is a repost from the archives. The podcast associated with it was recorded in 2009.
In this podcast (scroll down for the media player), I talk about my views on "banning" fur farms which often create a few waves in the animal advocacy movement.
anyway - here it is...
Social change is happening but social change is slow.
This social fact may not particularly comfort us when we think of the thousands of nonhuman individuals who are killed every second but, nevertheless, it does represent the reality of the situation we face as animal advocates in deeply speciesist societies.
In this podcast, I discuss the apparent 'need' we have to clearly see positive change before our eyes but I suggest this may lead us to make the wrong advocacy choices. Who are we to do that, since we are not the ones in 'farms,' in laboratories, and such like? Also, on this point, I argue that we should distinguish between psychological requirements of animal advocates and economic ones of animal advocacy organisations.
I suggest the a useful mindset to adopt is one that recognises that we are pioneers of a recent idea, an idea that is just making its first impacts on 'the social': in other words, the vegan-based animal rights movement is new.
Since there are always complaints when the above point is made, let me clarify what I mean. The mass social movement that is informed by animal rights philosophy and which has veganism as its unequivocal moral baseline is a recent social phenomenon.
If you respond to such a claim by thinking of Peter Singer and Animal Liberation and PeTA and the like, then that is not animal rights in the sense that Singer is not a rightist and his books and the organisations that base their advocacy on his position do not reflect animal rights thinking.
These may be "close enough" for some, and I'm sure many animal advocates feel that, but it remains the case that this advocacy is not rights-based as it is grounded in a philosophy that rejects moral rights as the basis of an argument about human-nonhuman relations, and in advocacy that often willingly overrides human animal rights, especially women's rights, to make its point.
This blog entry is designed to showcase the work of animal rights philosopher, Tom Regan, author in 1983 of The Case for Animal Rights.
For a brief period in the history of the animal advocacy movement, Regan's rights-based position was more popular than Peter Singer's version of animal welfarism. The reasons why the work of Tom Regan became marginalised in the movement know globally as the "animal rights movement" is disturbing, shameful and, as ever, a great deal to do with money and power.
Here is a series of videos to highlight Regan's rights-based approach to animal rights. The fact that one has to point out that there is actually a minority of people in the "animal rights movement" who take a rights-based approach is a scandal in itself.
In the first video, Regan discusses his 1988 speech at an anti-vivisection rally attended by animal activists. He talks about the context, about the film Unnecessary Fuss, and the regrets he has about using the rhetorical of war.
The second video is the speech itself, described as the "greatest animal rights speech of all time." (click HERE for the transcript).
The third video is Unnecessary Fuss, which Regan talks about in the first interview. It should be remembered that this video was filmed by vivisectors for their own use ONLY. It was never meant to be seen by members of the public or members of the animal advocacy movement.
The fourth and fifth videos are Regan's contributions to the 1989 Royal Institute of Great Britain. I have included the "long" version of the fourth video, the one that includes a strong critique of Singer's position. There is one version where this was snipped out - corruption everywhere, folks.
I would invite you to see the Regan videos as an introduction to a genuine rights-based position on human relations with other sentient beings.
Of course, with all theories, there are some problem's with Regan's "rights view," but this is a good place to start.
365vegans is a fascinating project of activist Amanda Hinds who is travelling the world interviewing vegans as she goes. She recently found herself in Ireland and recorded a number of interviews with Irish and Ireland-based campaigners. Luckily, I was one, and the interview is below...
We talked about a variety of vegan and animal rights topics, including the gender dynamics of the movement, intersectionality, single-issues, and discourse on Facebook.
Over a number of exchanges with Dr. Koichi Tagami of Rissho University, Tokyo, Japan, I have been exploring how the issue and idea of animal rights is evolving in Japan. Dr. Tagami is an expert on Marx's theory of alienation and is the author of "Practical Environmental Ethics" (2006).
I am grateful to Dr. Tagami for giving me permission to reproduce the following exchange.
Dear Dr. Tagami,
Hello and I hope you are well. As you are aware I am sure, I am interested in the philosophical evolution of the "animal rights movement". I see that in a very short period of time, you have realised and appreciated that one must turn away from Peter Singer's utilitarianism, and turn toward theorists such as Gary Francione and Tom Regan, if one wishes to gain a genuine animal rights understanding of human relations with the nonhuman world.
Given this, you have taken a journey that the "animal rights movement" refuses to take. Therefore, I would be interested to hear of your philosophical journey, so to speak, in your exploration of animal ethics. At the present time, in Europe and North America, there is a struggle going on involving animal advocates who are serious about rights and animal advocates who merely use rights rhetorically, in group names for example. I would very much appreciate your comments on this, should you wish to share them.
With very best wishes and respect,
Dr. Roger Yates.
Dear Dr. Roger Yates.
First of all, I would like to explain how I have come to accept the theory of animal rights.
To begin with, my main research theme is 'the formation of ideas in early Marx’, and since the publication of my first article in 1991 I have been writing on issues surrounding the texts of early Marx, such as Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts and the German Ideology. After collecting the results of my research in a book entitled The Theory of Alienation in Early Marx, I obtained a doctorate in 2000.
However, this does not mean that I had no interest in, nor knowledge of, animal ethics. For I have been asked to teach ethics in university since 1994, and as a result, I have come to study issues in modern ethics, and become familiar with Peter Singer’s work. As you well know, Animal Liberation describes in detail the horrific conditions which animals suffer in factory farming, and this strongly impressed on me the strength of Singer’s argument. Yet, at the same time, I felt antagonistic towards his demand for vegetarianism. A ‘meal without meat’ seemed to me at that time unimaginably ‘abnormal’. I loved meat and was under the impression that I could not tolerate vegetarian meals. Besides, the fact that there were no vegetarians around me, and the fact that no one recommended it really worked against me.
In terms of my profession, there are many ‘academics’ who teach ethics, but there are no vegetarians, nor an ‘ethicist’ who supported animal rights (this is still the case).
On the contrary, the common attitude among the ethicists around me was that it was ‘ridiculous’ to put animals in the same category as humans, and that Singer’s argument was ‘extreme’ and did not deserve to be taken seriously. Consequently, although I felt that Singer’s argument was quite persuasive, I pretended to ‘look away’, and decided ‘not to think about it’. Nevertheless, ever since obtaining a doctorate, I have come to research environmental ethics in earnest. While re-reading books relevant to animal rights, I was becoming more convinced than ever of the evil of meat-eating. And Singer’s message that ‘one should become a vegetarian’ had changed from an irritation like ‘something in-between one’s teeth’ to an intolerable discomfort.
Yet the reason I still could not decide to be a vegetarian was that I believed that if I became a vegetarian, my muscles would deteriorate. I like training myself and I thought I couldn’t stand losing the results of all the exercise I had done over the years. That I used to worry about such a small thing is quite laughable now I think about it, but I didn’t know any vegetarians and couldn’t get rid of the stereotype of a ‘pale vegetarian’.
Around that time, I happened to come across an opportunity of going to India. It was December 2002. This trip to India turned out to be the biggest turning point in my life. It was literally a ‘culture shock’. One of the culture shocks I experienced was their diet. Apart from expensive restraints for tourists, diners for the Indian general public Alwasa served a set meal of dahl (a kind of soup) and vegetable curry, and even for snacks it was the rule not to use meat rather than the exception. In India ‘not eating meat’ is neither ‘abnormal’ nor ‘strange’, but rather a ‘natural’ thing to do. To witness the fact that far more people than Japan’s population are vegetarian made me feel certain that it is impossible to damage one’s health by not eating meat. After I came back to Japan, I had gradually reduced the amount of meat and animal product I consumed. And before long I became almost vegan at home, although I still consumed a tiny amount of dairy product. When I went out for a meal, if there was no way I could avoid it, I ate a small amount of animal product. Even in such cases, I chose sea food over meat. This is how my present eating habit became established.
Eating a small amount of animal product when I go out is a compromise I have to adopt in order to survive in Japan, which is an extremely backward country when it comes to vegetarianism. Of course I don’t want to consume animal product at all, but otherwise I wouldn’t be able to go out at all. Japan really is a difficult place for the vegetarian to live in. Once I became a vegetarian, I discovered that my worry that ‘I would lose muscles’ was totally unfounded. On the contrary, my muscles came to develop more easily through training. Being able to lead a much healthier life when I am vegetarian than when I was a meat-eater has allowed me to feel that it is right to be a vegetarian. And as I lived a vegetarian life, before I knew it, the desire for meat had disappeared. By becoming a vegetarian, I felt as though the thorn with which Singer had pricked my heart had been pulled out, and this gave me a stirring feeling that I was finally released from hypocrisy. I no longer have to adopt an attitude that is unworthy of an ethicist – that is to say, an attitude of pretence that animals are excluded as the objects of moral consideration.
However, once I became a vegetarian and seriously committed to animal issues as my own problems rather than somebody else’s, I started to look at Singer’s argument differently from the way I used to.
Although I used to think that Singer’s argument was a radical extremist one which forced people to become vegetarian, I began to think that in fact his argument is full of holes; a ‘loose’ argument. For although Singer emphasises that we should not inflict suffering on animals, he does not criticise the use of animals by humans in itself. Therefore, if animals are kept in comfortable environments and slaughtered painlessly, he will have no right to criticise factory farming. And as for animal experiment, if the ‘benefit’ humans gain outweighs the loss inflicted on animals, then, in Singer’s argument, animal experimentation is acceptable as an ‘exception’.
Soon after I became a vegetarian and started to engage with animal issues seriously, I discovered that Singer’s argument cannot be a true rationale for the protection of animals. For, because Singer’s theory is not a ‘rights theory’ that regards animals as ‘rights-bearers’, I cannot help but think that his theory is one that accumulates ‘deferral’ which allows the use of animals, and ends up rolling down the ‘slippery slope’, and that such a theory would make the animal rights movement spineless. Thus, although Singer made me aware that we should protect animals by becoming vegetarians, once I actually became one, I began to think that in order truly to protect animals, we should not stop at Singer’s position, but proceed to genuine animal rights theories such as Tom Regan’s or Gary Francione’s.
This is how I have become an animal rightist. Compared to the study on Marx, I have but begun to research animal rights. As a beginning I have submitted an essay [now published] entitled the Reality of Animal Rights Theories to a human rights organisation journal. The aim is to cause a stir in the present situation where Peter Singer is mistaken to be a representative of animal rights theories. Although you may find it unbelievable, in Japan there are few ethicists who subsequently declare themselves to be vegetarians and then support vegetarianism or animal rights theories. There is a gap between theory and practice. Against this tendency, I intend to deepen my research as a vegetarian animal rightist and to present my own position.
Dr. Koichi Tagami.
We can only hope that, as Dr. Tagami continues his journey toward veganism, that it becomes as easy as it is elsewhere. It is a noteworthy and welcome development that there is someone in Japan able to explain what is - and what is not - animal rights.
What vegans know and what flesh eaters and vegetarians often deny.
Far more crucial than what we know or do not know is what we do not want to know.
Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind, 1954.
On Saturday March 24, 2001, the Welsh edition of the Liverpool Daily Post featured a single large picture on its front page. Under the headline ‘HEARTBREAK’ a man is pictured standing in front of a cow. The man’s hand is raised, the cow’s head is raised too, as if she is trying to smell what the man holds in his hand. The smell is likely to be metallic because the man holds a primed captive bolt pistol. The gun is pointed at the head of the cow who is locked into a large red restraining device. The subtitle under the headline reads: ‘The chilling moment which graphically illustrates the horrific reality of the farm outbreak’. The caption under the photograph reads: ‘GRIM TRUTH: A slaughterman shoots a cow in Lamonby, Cumbria, yesterday. We apologise to readers who find this photograph distressing. After much thought, we decided to publish it to show the full effect of the foot-and-mouth crisis’.
Apart from the newspaper’s masthead, two adverts for the content of other pages and an advert at the bottom of the page for mobility scooters, the picture and the words above take up the whole of the tabloid-sized front page.
Albert Bandura (1990) has argued that ‘euphemistic labelling’ is commonly used to ‘mask’ objectionable activities. Something thoroughly ‘objectionable’ occurred regularly during the aforementioned British foot and mouth disease outbreak of 2001. The public saw, or at least had the opportunity to see - often several times daily - on both national and regional television and in all the nation’s press and every radio news bulletin - the mass media version of the killing and destruction of animals they normally encounter only as ‘meat’, or ‘hamburgers’ or ‘pork’ (see Agnew 1998: 184), or perhaps as ‘cute’ lambs or ‘contented’ grazing cows. Ted Benton (1993: 72, and see Plous 1993) points out, most people in the Western world usually purchase meat already commodified, packaged and often renamed.
As might be suspected, many meat eaters do not overtly recognise themselves as purchasers of parts of the carcasses of dead animals, just as meat eaters and vegetarians may not have the fact that they are consumers of animal products at the forefront of their minds. Apart from the case of some fishes, care is generally taken to remove eyes and heads or other parts that would result in ‘meat’ being seen as a piece of an animal (when does a pig end and a pork chop begin? - see Singer 1983: 165-66). How many recognise that the white liquid lined up on the shelves is, first and foremost, baby food: the food of calves? However, despite this, or because of these points, one question I pose here is relatively blunt: why should people take active steps to know any of the details about the animal products that they intend to consume?
In fact, since even a moment’s thought on the subject might be expected to lead many individuals to make a guess at least that the deaths of or use of ‘food animals’ may not be particularly pleasant to witness, regardless of how ‘regulated’ the process may be, the question is rather: why shouldn’t people go out of their way to avoid knowing all there is to know about the animal-derived foods on their tables? Furthermore, what is more sensible than attempting to ‘mask’ known or suspected objectionable activities by euphemistic labelling or by other means? After all, is it not commonsensically assumed that the consumer of, say, pornography will likely avoid focusing on the potential suffering or harm involved in the ‘product’ they consume, and concentrate instead on the personal pleasure that derives from the consumption? Is it not at least appreciated that such consumers are liable to put any ‘known details’ of such harm and suffering to the backs of their minds, or interpret matters in such a way that serves to reduce the harm done? As consumers of pornography may assume that all those they view are volunteers, at least in some substantial sense, meat eaters and vegetarians likewise assume that animal welfare legislation ensures humane animal products. Philosophical appeals that informed adult human beings should regard themselves and act as reflexive moral agents are apparently not sufficiently powerful to prevent the purchasing and mass consumption of many products that cause harm. Complex social forces and understandings are in play here.
In relation to meat consumption, Singer (1983) notes that people, perhaps quite reasonably, do not want to know thedetails about the lives and deaths of the animals they are prepared to eat: for one thing, they do not want to spoil their dinner. After all, why should anyone want to spoil their dinner? Adams (1990) begins The Sexual Politics of Meat with a dedication: ‘In memory of 31.1 billion each year, 85.2 million each day, 3.5 million each hour, 59,170 each minute’. Apart from perhaps placing ‘9-11’ into something of a controversial context, these huge figures might easily spoil someone’s dinner, since the figures refer to the deaths of ‘food animals’ (current numbers require that at least another 12 billion should be added to the total amount cited by Adams, and that figure should be doubled if fishes and shellfishes are to be included). Why would anyone willingly put themselves ‘in the way’ of such statistics? Why would any meat eater know these things? Vegan animal advocates know more of these numbers than meat eaters know, but we should expect that. Those fighting against human trafficking are also much more likely to know more details about modern-day slavery than the actual traffickers.
Toward the end of 2001, there was a lengthy discussion on an animal advocacy network about issues arising from the annual North American ‘Thanksgiving’ celebration. A non meat-eater had written in saying she was negotiating with family members about how the day should go; particularly, what was to be done about the traditional ‘Thanksgiving turkey’. Not wanting to spoil the occasion for others, the animal advocate was considering allowing her mother to have her way and visit brandishing a pre-cooked turkey. Her email was an apparent reflection of her anxiety about compromising her principles; but it also seemed to reveal her recognition, and even partial acceptance, of the cultural importance of a turkey dinner on this particular social occasion.
There is the suggestion that ‘animal rights’ views in this case had the clear potential to disrupt and upset a hitherto not-especially-thought-about aspect of Thanksgiving: that is, the plight of the millions of turkeys killed for it. This appears to be a case in which some awareness truly had the ability to ‘spoil’ a dinner: and an awareness of the emailer’s views had made her relatives, perhaps for the first time, think about turkeys at Thanksgiving, rather than simply think about Thanksgiving Turkey. When Groves (1995) investigated the role of emotion in social movement activity about human-nonhuman relations, he found a similar situation. He found that animal activists were often accused of ‘spoiling’ happy celebrations and occasions, and it is clear that this generally means that pro-animal philosophy had made people directly think about certain aspects of their relations with other animals (ibid: 441). For example, one activist told Groves that friends, aware of his and his wife’s position on human-nonhuman relations, stated before a meal: ‘We’re not going to say anything about food in front of our kids’. If a child comes up and mentions something about meat, the activist says of his friends: ‘They’ll all look at us like ‘don’t start him thinking!’’ (ibid.) Groves also recounts how a North American female activist had caused her mother to be very angry when she did talk about the plight of turkeys during Thanksgiving. Her mother’s rage was at least partly prompted by the presence of the activist’s aunt and the potential of a spoilt meal. The activist states that she was told by her mother: ‘‘This is supposed to be a happy occasion. It’s Thanksgiving. You’re supposed to be thankful’. I said ‘I am thankful. I’m thankful I’m not a turkey!’’
Appreciating Degrazia’s (1996) suggestion that negating early socialised lessons may take a certain independence of mind, it is further appreciated sociologically that any development of such independence of thinking is subject to, mediated, and controlled by forces of social interactions conditioned by social understandings surrounding any given issue. Sociologists Berger & Berger provide an interesting perspective on this sort of social experience as part of their ‘biographical approach’ to sociology. For example, they state that, “society is our experience with other people around us” (Berger & Berger 1976: 13) and that means that other people constantly mediate and modify human understanding of the social world. In a very real sense, they systematically impose and act to reinforce many of the norms and values of prevailing society.
There may have been sufficient media coverage, especially in recent years, of various views about human-nonhuman relations for most people to know that continual claims are made about animal agricultural practices. Therefore, even some of the more radical positions have recently had at least the potential to make up part of the social understanding of such relations. However, there is absolutely no reason, apart from appeals for the evolution of ethical thinking, to suggest to people that they must actively engage with, or would want to evaluate, any such potentially disruptive claims. It may be further understood - and it seems essential that animal advocates fully understand this point - that a vague awareness of claims about the human treatment of other animals is likely to contribute to the belief, and the suspicion, that even a superficial enquiry about the ins and outs of animal use is at least likely to be psychically painfulas well as socially disruptive. There is growing evidence, briefly reviewed below, that it is extremely common for the vast majority of people to attempt, again ostensibly quite reasonably, to avoid such pain; perhaps especially if new claims may disturb long-held views about the appropriate treatment of other animals by humans. Much of the following section, then, is based on Stanley Cohen’s (2001) book, States of Denial: knowing about atrocities and suffering, and the work of Kevin Robins (1994). However, initially, an account of a phenomenon Keith Tester (1997: 32) calls humanity’s ‘learning curve of indifference’ is offered. Tester suggests that modern ‘knowledge denial’ can be understood, at least in part, as the result of developments in information technology and the immediacy of ‘knowing while not knowing’.
Humanity’s ‘Learning Curve of Indifference’, or Knowing While Not Knowing
Tester notes that, regardless of where and when they take place, it is now virtually impossible not to be almost instantaneously aware of the occurrence of horror and suffering, and of the minute details of many of the modern world’s wars and calamities. At least it is true to say that the technology exists which makes this awareness possible on an increasingly global scale. Of course, sociologists take a great interest in globalised social change and many have been keen to understand the societal effects of new developments in communications technology. Numerous studies have focused on technological change and the resulting transformations in work patterns and political attitudes (Goldthorpe, et al, 1968; 1969; Blauner 1972; Gallie 1988), while other sociologists have attempted to place such change on a continuum between conceptualisations of technological and social determinism (Zuboff 1988; Grint 1991).
Tester (1997: 22) partly concentrates on the moral implications of technological developments. He cites the existential experience of Max Weber’s brother, Alfred, who was acutely discomforted when, in 1947, he found wars that had previously taken something like six months to be reported were now immediately broadcast on his new radio: ‘served up to us piping hot’, as he put it. Modern warfare, Weber continued, seemed to be ‘going on in the same town, almost in the same room’ (cited in ibid.) Although such experiences are almost routine for many twenty-first century citizens, Alfred Weber was rather shaken up by this ‘conquest of space’ and time. For him, the world had dramatically and rapidly become much smaller. It is one thing to know of far-away countries; it is quite another to suddenly become emotionally and morally involved in their day-to-day dealings. For Weber, the conquest of space and time meant that individuals could hardly be alone again.
The consequence of this is twofold, he thought. On the one hand, an individual becomes transformed into a knowledgeable ‘citizen of the world’ but, on the other hand - and more terribly, knowledge can result in individuals suffering from what Tester characterises as ‘a surfeit of consciousness about the world’ (ibid.: 23). Thus, Weber is far from welcoming his new form of knowledge. On the contrary, he would feel far more comfortable remaining ignorant of the Turkish war in question. Weber suffers personally due to what Giddens calls the ‘intrusion of distant events into everyday consciousness’ (Giddens 1991: 27, emphasis in original). Tester, following the analysis of the mass media provided by both Giddens (1991; 1994) and Roger Silverstone (1994), argues that it is possible to view Weber’s experience as common to many, indeed most, individuals. Giddens’ view, as developed by Silverstone, places Weber as a subject of ‘late modernity’, experiencing a process of ‘detraditionalisation’; listening to news on his radio, and suffering from ontological insecurity. Feeling the sensation of ‘disembeddedness’ due to new knowledge, Weber is trying desperately to make sense of it all.
However, Tester is keen to suggest that Weber is not ‘one of us’ at all (1997: 26). Acknowledging the problems in lumping whole groups of people into one category, Tester nevertheless argues that ‘we’ are currently further down the ‘learning curve of indifference’ to the horrors of the world than Weber was in the 1940’s. As a result, ‘we’ generally do not respond to knowledge of wars and horrors in the manner that Alfred Weber did. Of course, there are spectacular exceptions to this, even in modern times, and now the ‘Events of September 11th’ stands as the most immediate example. It is noteworthy that the attacks on the USA were shocking, yes – however, the fact that people could witness it live on global television networks was not. Nevertheless, ‘9-11’ cannot be seen as anything other than an extraordinary event, and Tester is claiming that Weber’s reaction to ‘everyday knowledge’ is remarkably different to most twenty-first century humans (ibid.) For, Weber was greatly moved by immediate knowledge - and particularly by the immediacy of the information he had acquired. The immediacy and startling newness of the medium by which that knowledge came to him meant that Weber felt he must try to make some sense of it. What was he now to think of himself? Of others? Of relationships?, and perhaps of new responsibilities? (ibid.: 27). Furthermore, cast into the role of a consumer of immediate knowledge perhaps better not known, at least not contemporaneously with events, Tester thinks Weber was left ‘struggling to come to terms with how he can possibly bear to know so much’ (ibid.)
Thus, in the contemporary world of increasing and immediate access to a vast amount of ‘information’, Tester suggests that a strategy of ‘moral indifference’ has become an essential coping mechanism to enable individuals to deal with their new and rapidly increasing store of potentially painful and disturbing knowledge about the world. Therefore, what makes ‘us’ different from Alfred Weber is that we - unlike him - know exactly what to do with potentially painful knowledge: absolutely nothing (ibid.)
Of course, the point Tester makes here would absolutely outrage many of those people who are campaigning daily to close down vivisection laboratories and/or stop road developments, and perhaps even those who managed to plunge their hands into their pockets during events such as Live Aid and ‘Red Nose Day’, precisely because it was knowledge relating to these issues and events which they claim spurred them on to act. The point would also likely get a cool response from those participants in the recent wave of ‘anti-capitalist’ demonstrations who follow ‘world leaders’ around the globe to make their protests, or those who have demonstrated to stop the ‘war on terrorism’. However, Tester could conceivably reply (as pessimistic Frankfurt School-inspired critical theorists may) with the suggestion that the overall numbers of people who attend such protests and demonstrations, drawn as they often are from several countries, are relatively very small. Smaller numbers than those who attend sporting events week-on-week, or the numbers found at the shopping malls pursuing the latest ‘must have’ necessities.
In many - perhaps most - sociological accounts, the tension of generalising from the particular are evident. It is unlikely that any so-called metanarrative captures the experience of all, as no individual case can ever be seen as precisely the same as others. Tester seeks to generalise about humanity’s indifference, contrasting that with Weber’s response as an individual, and presumable with many currently engaged in social movement activism; and wisely he acknowledges the difficulties involved. However, he is suggesting that the generalised modern ‘we’ of today largely do not share Weber’s emotional response to new knowledge. For ‘we’ are used to living in a world ‘stimulated by the mediated surfeit of consciousness’ (ibid.: 26).
If Weber’s reaction can be regarded as the result of hearing the piping-hot details of war and human suffering, Tester argues that modern responses to similar details are distinctly blasé and even akin to boredom. Any moral imperative incorporated into what is heard within systems of ‘global, 24-hour knowledge’ may now be entirely negated by notions of ‘compassion fatigue’. Unlike Weber, therefore, ‘we’ have heard it all before.
Overcoming Animal Pity
Bauman focuses on society-wide sentiments when he investigates the social construction of ‘moral distance’, and the availability of ‘moral sleeping pills’ (Bauman 1989: 26). He states that moral distance may be available for many people at different levels of involvement and awareness of harm-causing issues.
Against the proposition that human beings are ‘naturally aggressive’ and violent animals (see Yates 1962; Lorenz 1977; Charny 1982), Bauman starts with the suggestion that human individuals have a strong and innate aversion to seeing the suffering of others. Attempts to ‘overcome’ these innate feelings require an efficient, powerful, and sustained program of socialisation. Hannah Arendt (cited in Bauman 1989: 19-20), argues that humanity has a natural and almost instinctive ‘animal pity’ by which ‘all normal men are affected in the presence of physical suffering’. Philosopher Clark (1984: 42) says this sentiment of basic human solidarity can be also found in the work of Schopenhauer and Ruland, the latter’s 1936 book being called, Foundations of Morality. However, Bauman shows throughout his forceful sociological treatment of the Nazi Holocaust that effectively-utilised social forces and processes have the ability to shape, influence and eventually overcome this ‘naturally-present’ pity.
Taking such ideas, and following Levinas’ Ethics and Infinity, Bauman explores - and reverses - a traditional sociological orthodoxy which suggests that society itself is a ‘morality-producing factory’. In contrast, he suggests, ‘Morality is not a product of society. Morality is something society manipulates - exploits, redirects, jams’ (Bauman 1989: 183, emphasis in the original). Exploring the notion of ‘overcoming animal pity’, Bauman (ibid.: 24) notes that it involves socially producing conduct ‘contrary to innate moral inhibitions’. In other words, against everything that this fundamental pity implies in relation to attitudes and behaviour, people can become the murderers of others in certain social circumstances and conditions. However, there are other factors involved, including the connivance of those Bauman calls ‘conscious collaborators in the murdering process.’ As I have sought to demonstrate elsewhere, socially constructed stories, not least that ‘enemies are other’, and especially that human enemies ‘are animals’, can produce a sufficiency of moral distance that, in turn, enables the serious harm or death of chosen victims. If social mechanisms exist to allow people to involve themselves in harm, Bauman states that other mechanisms exist to deliberately distance the majority from knowledgeable involvement. For this large group, they are effectively freed by this process from having to make difficult moral choices and freed from the need to directly ‘stifle’ animal pity for victims of harm: morally, they sleep or doze.
Bauman notes that other writers, such as Hilberg, have argued that the vast majority play no direct role in the holocausts conducted in their name. Furthermore, even those who ‘administer death’ can be kept at some distance from the moral, physical and psychic discomfort of ‘direct’ knowledge. Thus, even the bureaucrats of the Nazi holocaust, apparently innocently, busied themselves composing memoranda, talking on the telephone and attended conferences. All this rather than being involved in firing rifles at Jewish children or pouring gas into gas chambers.
Bauman’s suggestion is that even were such individuals to make all the difficult and necessary connections between what they did and the existence of an organised genocide, such knowledge would remain (deliberately) ‘in the remote recesses of their minds’ (ibid.) Moreover, when connections between actions and outcomes are difficult to spot, who is going to criticise those who engage in a little ‘moral blindness’? After all, ‘Little moral opprobrium was attached to the natural human proclivity to avoid worrying more than necessity required’ (ibid.) Who is going to examine ‘the whole length of the causal chain up to its furthest links’? In sum, Bauman forcefully argues that societies can be other than morality-producing. Rather, social systems have the ability to be efficient manufacturers of those seemingly vital moral sleeping pills, with equally powerful social mechanisms for the production of ‘moral distance’, ‘moral invisibility’ and ‘moral blindness’.
In a State of Denial
It is likely that Stanley Cohen’s States of Denial (2001) will become essential reading for anyone wanting to know about the social psychology of knowledge evasion, issue denial, forms of moral blindness, or the social manufacture of the ‘moral sleeping pills’ referred to above. Although Cohen presents a great deal of psychological and sociological evidence about many various forms of denial, he wisely comments that ‘this is neither a fixed psychological ‘mechanism’ nor a universal social process’ (ibid.: 3). However, forms of denial have been extensively researched by cognitive psychologists who ‘use the language of information processing, monitoring, selective perception, filtering and attention span to understand how we notice and simultaneously don’t notice’ (ibid.: 6). There are also theories based on a concept known as ‘blindsight’ which suggests that parts of the human mind can ‘not know’ what is known in other parts.
Cohen is keen not to lose the wider picture about denial, noting, for example, that, although data suggests that family members can become engaged in ‘vital lies’ about a range of abuse issues, it should also be recognised that reliance of forms of denial effect more than just individuals and families: ‘Government bureaucracies, political parties, professional associations, religions, armies and police have their own forms of cover-up and lying’ (ibid.) Current political events in Britain and the United States in relation to the fallout after the ‘successful’ war in Iraq may have served to highlight the validity of these words.
Accounts, Justifications and Excuses
It is when Cohen turns to the sociology of denial that his work is most directly relevant to thoughts about human-nonhuman relations. When it comes to understanding forms of denial, both psychological and sociological factors must be interwoven for the fullest picture to be drawn. In a chapter entitled ‘Denial at work: mechanisms and rhetorical devices’, Cohen (ibid.: 51- 75) gives a comprehensive account of sociological denial theory; ranging from C. Wright Mills’ observation in the 1940’s that motives cannot merely be regarded as ‘mysterious internal states’ that ignore social situations, to 1990’s feminist analysis of abusive situations, and other investigations of ‘bystander’ politics.
Cohen (ibid.: 58) points out that denial operates before and after the fact, so some verbal motivational statements become guides to future behaviour. Again, it would represent a serious error to regard any ‘internal soliloquies’ as entirely private matters: ‘On the contrary: accounts are learnt by ordinary cultural transmission, and are drawn from a well-established, collectively available pool’ (ibid.: 59, my emphasis). Moreover, ‘an account is adopted because of its public acceptability’, which seems to support subcultural notions that alternative - that is, generally unacceptable - accounts may be adopted for ‘shock value’. Cohen says that it is socialisation processes that ‘teaches us which motives are acceptable for which actions’ (ibid.)
As children, individuals learn that ‘accounts are needed’, and are frequently ‘required’, to explain behaviour. Commonsensically, it is those accounts that are likely to be accepted that are the least problematic. Cohen follows Mills in noting that different audiences may require different accounts, yet this, ‘far from undermining the theory, confirms the radically sociological character of motivation’ (ibid.) Some accounts can be said to be in the form of justifications, others can be regarded as excuses. Drawing on the work of Scott and Lyman and Sykes and Matza from the 1950’s and 1960’s, Cohen notes that:
Justifications are ‘accounts in which one accepts responsibility for the act in question, but denies the pejorative quality associated with it’, whereas excuses are ‘accounts in which one admits that the act in question is bad, wrong or inappropriate, but denies full responsibility’ (ibid.)
A soldier kills, but denies that this is immoral: those he killed were enemies who deserved their fate. He is justifying his action. Another soldier admits the immorality of his killing, but denies full volition for his action: this was a case of involuntary obedience to orders. He is excusing his action (ibid.: emphasis in the original).
Cohen’s in-depth exploration of forms of denial, mechanisms of rationalisation, vocabulary of motivations, and justifications and excuses, means that it is apparently clear beyond much doubt that ‘turning a blind eye’ does not have to mean ‘not looking’. Rather, it is more about not registering or actively avoiding what has been seen or what is known. Denial is often about ‘deflecting’, ‘redirecting’, ‘turning aside’, ‘dodging’, and ‘escaping’ from what is essentially ‘known knowledge’. It would not be surprising to discover that the grim details of human harm contained in States of Denial could potentially spoil someone’s dinner, although it is interesting that Cohen openly admits that he himself is ‘in total denial’ about animal rights issues (ibid.: 289). He states that he is in denial about environmental issues as well, which is a little ironic in that environmentalists such as George Marshall (2001) have begun to use States of Denial as a substantive source in accounts of the psychology of denial about issues such as climate change and global warming.
Cohen’s thesis is that denial can be common, and indeed a normal state of affairs, and he provides an account of his own denial about these two issues. Moreover, and this is something making Cohen’s position even more interesting and particularly relevant, he admits that it is not the case that he cannot see the coherence of the arguments presented by environmentalists and animal advocates. In fact he reports that he ‘cannot find strong rational arguments against either set of claims’ (2001: 289). Yet, emotionally, he remains largely unmoved and, he admits, ‘particularly oblivious’ about animal issues. For example, while accepting that animal experimentation and animal agriculture may involve the treatment of other animals that can be difficult to defend, he resorts to putting his ‘filters’ on. He therefore tells himself that some issues are not really anything to do with him; that there are ‘worse problems’ in a suffering world; that ‘there are plenty of other people looking after this’ (ibid.) In fact, he employs many of the rationalisations and techniques of neutralisation that constitute the substance of his own book. Finally, and animal activists will especially recognise this stratagem, he relies on attack as a form of defence, stating: ‘What do you mean, I’m in denial every time I eat a hamburger?’ (ibid.)
Cohen suggests that there is what he calls a ‘meta-rule’ in operation here, involving all the elements of his thesis, and many seen in Bauman’s work on the sociology of morality. This ‘meta-rule’ is obviously quite speciesist, but it is a rule that also seriously threatens the well-being of any human ‘stranger’.
Can it be any surprise to discover that the meta-rule states that ‘own people’ should always come first? Can it be a shock that the meta-rule suggests that ‘extensions’ of moral concern beyond families, friends and our ‘intimate circle’ are uncertain? Humanity draws a moral line; establishes an ethical threshold and, on a pessimistic note for all social movement activists, ‘we cannot be confident that more information (or more dreadful information?) will change the threshold’ (ibid., brackets in original). Cohen suggests that the problem may not be the absolute lack of concern, suggesting that people tend to think that human suffering is not normal or tolerable; the difficulty may be a ‘gap’ between concern and action; a gap that regrettably does not show great signs of closing.
Searching for some understanding of the lack of action against deliberately caused human suffering within Western democracies, Cohen notes that many individuals may indicate their moral concern (their ‘moral investment’) by supporting a portfolio of social movements, or events such as Live Aid; yet, in the case of Britain, future prospects for action may be ‘unpromising’ given that ‘new sectors of the population are born-again free-market individualists and chronically infected by the selfishness of the Thatcher years’ (ibid.) People of ‘the Left’ have a range of new social movements which have effectively ‘fragmented’ concern, he claims, and they are engaged in a trend that encourages competition ‘about which group has suffered the most’ (ibid.: 290). Cohen does attempt to be optimistic, or at least he says that a ‘more hopeful’ narrative of the recent ‘evolution of a more universal, compassionate and inclusive consciousness’ is possible (ibid.) This latter point may tend to resonate with activists ‘known’ and ‘met’ on email networks. Many, just like Henry Salt and many others before them, insist on keeping the interwoven nature of oppression at the front of their minds.
Returning to knowledge denial, Kevin Robins’ (1994) analysis significantly adds to the themes developed here by similarly examining the interplay between individual psychology and social factors. Robins notes that recent work in media and culture studies have identified a ‘postmodern’ ‘active audience’ who consume products in ways that seemingly ‘empowers’ them. This relatively new view of media consumption - the notion of the consumer self - is seen in opposition to the 1960’s and 1970’s positions outlined by critical theorists such as Stuart Ewen and Herbert Marcuse who ‘saw consumerism as a ‘Corrupting Other’’. Robins cites Alan Tomlinson’s acidic comment on this ‘older generation’ of theorists, whose position Tomlinson characterises as ‘elitist’, ‘sad’ and even ‘menopausal’.
However, if it is really the case that modern consumer culture should be regarded as ‘fun’, ‘exciting’, ‘novel’, ‘convenient’ and a ‘marvellously subversive space’ then, Robins asks, what happens when people consume ‘media products’ depicting, for example, the Bosnian war? In other words, what does the putative ‘empowered’ and fun-oriented ‘active audience’ make of something that ‘anguish, despair or compassion might be more appropriate responses?’ (Robins, 1994: 452).
Robins’ analysis appears to provide an interesting additional psychological and social psychological component to Tester’s and Bauman’s sociology. Bauman (1989) himself introduces this dimension through the work of the controversial social psychological experimentalist, Stanley Milgram (see Milgram 1965; 1974). However, Robins’ account begins with Freud’s notion that human beings are purposely and deliberately involved in carefully avoiding the experience of ‘unpleasure’. After all, human beings have historically been quite sensibly interested in self-protection. This protection has been achieved throughout the ages with the use of physical measures, but often what is equally important is psychic protection from fear and anxiety and protection from knowledge. On the physical level, Canetti (1973: 266-7) acknowledges the ‘care’ and ‘cunning’ human beings have historically employed to protect their ‘naked and vulnerable’ bodies. They ‘fend off’ the things that they perceived to be harmful. They invented shields and amour, and built ‘walls and whole fortresses’, in order to try to feel invulnerable.
Robins claims that defensive cultural barriers can also be constructed in which ‘forms of cultural organisation and expression have been mobilised to sustain the sense of invulnerable existence’ (1994: 454). When the going gets tough, it is not so much that humanity gets going; rather humans have a tendency to block out or hide from what they believe may be harmful, including knowledge of pain, death and that staggeringly elusive thing, ‘reality’. Robins cites Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel, White Noise, in which the author notes that ‘reality’ is something humans often try to get away from: and when it comes to pain and death, we think these are unnatural: ‘We can’t bear these things as they are’. Humans can also ‘know too much’, Delillo suggests using Freudian language, ‘So we resort to repression, compromise and disguise’ (quoted in ibid). Humans do this in order to be able to ‘survive in the universe’.
Delillo argues that repression, compromise and disguise make up part of ‘the natural language of the species’ (ibid.) Indeed, Freud - who uses the term ‘repression interchangeably with ‘defence’ (Madison 1961: 15) - does state that the human need to avoid unpleasure may be regarded as even more important than the want of obtaining pleasure. Therefore, with regard to what they might come to ‘know’, human beings, just like Stan Cohen, are likely to employ essential and apparently effective ‘knowledge filters’ to help to screen out painful realities. An alternative to this strategy, Freud suggests, is to attempt to transform reality with a substitute version. These strategies are able to diminish the impact of painful knowledge, as individuals find adequate methods of containing and controlling the pain of reality. A significant way of doing just this, recalling Bauman, involves distancing: keeping what is perceived as suffering at a distance, or perhaps placing illusion before ‘reality’. Thus, human beings appear able to recreate the world, and ‘recast’ unbearable features as something else, thereby able to essentially ‘remould reality’. Freud further argues that this process can apply to both the individual or social collectives.
Robins, however, feels he is still left with something of a puzzle. After all, apparently ‘post-modern’ consuming is notbased on hiding away from cultural products - or based on the requirement to block them out. On the contrary, go-getting contemporary consumerism is commonly regarded as ‘liberating’, ‘self-affirming’ and ‘fun’: even ‘therapeutic’. However, like Tester, Robins says (of television consumption), that there is little doubt that watching, ‘in our culture is to be exposed to violence, suffering and death’ (Robins, 1994: 457; compare this with Ignatieff’s  optimistic account of the potential of television to increase the moral imagination). The conundrum for Robins involves working out what motivates consumption of, say, the ‘pain of war’ - when this particular consuming does not, on the face of it, appear to be ‘liberating’ or ‘fun’, while it does not initially seem to involve hiding away from the existence of painful knowledge.
Noting that modern society is actually rather keen to sequester ‘the real experience of death’, he questions the motivations (and the effects of the medium) of this consumption and wants to know what uses or gratifications can the ‘active audience’ gain from this watching. He cites Slavenka Drakulic’s disturbing account of death in Sarajevo (Drakulic 1993), to illustrate that, if humans want to consume the pain of war, they can apparently ‘see it all’: the mother who has lost a child, the child’s body wrapped up in a sheet. Yet, apparently this is not enough: the camera rolls on, and the sheet is lifted for a full-colour, screen-filling, ‘close-up of death’. Also easily seen are pictures of beheaded human corpses - food for pigs and dogs - or skeletons, or children with no legs, perhaps sniper-killed babies, and a 12-year-old describing being raped.
Much can be said at this point, of course. For example, the number of ‘active consumers’ whose ‘activity’ would be to reach for the ‘off’ switch is not at all clear. Whatever their number, perhaps is it just as likely that they never switched on, say, a ‘serious documentary’ in the first place. Again, why should they? There is bound to be a whole series of ‘soaps’ or ‘postmodern’, ‘ironic’ (read sexist) comedies on another television channel. If not, the DVD acts as a safe standby. Robins notes that it has been suggested that people have watched war to genuinely gain knowledge; to drive their active concern (Debray 1992, cited in Robins 1994: 460). This is the way Keith Tester characterises Giddens’ and Silverstone’s perspectives on the experience of media consumption (1997: 28). Alternatively, it has been suggested that watching war is an example of ‘living through the deaths of others’ (Bauman 1992: 34), or perhaps an example of being glad that someone else has died (Canetti 1973: 265). In these senses, perhaps this ‘consumption’ can be seen to have elements of therapeutic value after all.
Regardless of whether these views adequately supply information about ‘what’s going on’, Robins notes (1994: 458) that those who do willingly engage with this violent war material appear not be overly damaged by it. Perhaps surprisingly, audiences appear ‘relatively unscathed’ by their television wars and their encounters with screen violence, he says. Robins argues that this is something that still needs further explanation:
If it is difficult to fully understand why viewers choose exposure to pain and dying, perhaps we can say a little more about how, having once exposed themselves, they are able to escape the emotional and moral consequences of seeing and knowing (ibid.)
He says there is a need to ‘reorientate’ theory in relation to commonsensical view (and the view advanced by Giddens and Silverstone) of the rationalistic nature and motivations of information gathering. For example, ‘We take it for granted the desire to know’, Robins asserts. However, ‘We generally do not take account of, or even recognise the existence of, the equally strong desire to not know, to evade knowledge’. Human beings are thus sometimes in a situation in which they seemingly have to watch in order to know that this is the particular knowledge that they do not want to know. ‘In this context, consumption activity may be driven by the desire to create defensive barriers and to avoid or minimise anxiety. Such resistance will serve to screen out the reality of what is seen and known’ (ibid.: 466). Robins takes care to note at this point that he is not describing purely a phenomenon of individual psychopathology, ‘but rather a collective experience which is institutionalised as the social norm’. An informed critical theoretical mind would perhaps also inquire as to who benefits from this social norm.
Robins simply argues for a theoretical level that moves beyond ‘the too simple choice between ‘passive’ or ‘active’ notions of consumers and viewers’ toward an analytical complexity that understands the hedonistic ideas of ‘consumption freedom’ within the constraints of social and historical structures (ibid.: 465-6). It may be taken from Robins’ analysis that even the open display of ‘knowledge consumption’ does not necessarily mean that knowledge is actually consumed.
Moreover, while understanding the desire - and the apparent practical benefits - of evading knowledge, it is something else to recognise that there may also be a perceived hopelessness of knowing. In this regard Robins states that, ‘to know some awful truth without the possibility of changing it can lead to utter despair’ (ibid.: 459). In her Bosnian research, for example, journalist Drakulic notes that watching the war in all its macabre details only seems to make sense if, by watching, ‘something can change for the better’. If the possibility of change is absent, then surely there is something obscene about the knowing? However, reintroducing the practicalities of knowledge evasion, there is an alternative interpretation to consider. Suppose that it seems that ‘changes for the better’ may realistically come about from gained knowledge but then, bringing about this change would necessarily involve some important lifestyle or political change? If this were the case, Robins suggests, such a change may appear to be very painful for individuals or for groups. For example, the BBC 2’s Newsnight programme reported in 2001 that the global market in chocolate was intrinsically linked with modern child slavery. Presenter, Jeremy Paxman suggested to a representative of chocolate manufacturers and retailers that they could, and indeed should, take action to break this link, with a nod toward the chocolate-buying public that they too were implicated as the consumers of unethically-produced goods.
For determined ‘chocoholics’, then, knowledge evasion may definitely be called for in relation to this matter, perhaps requiring the formation of ‘defensive organisations’ designed to resist and refuse the knowledge that their ostensibly innocent enjoyment of a chocolate bar can result in serious human harm. However, as Bauman suggests (1993: 127, and see Varcoe and Kilminster 1996: 238-39), moral responsibility is subject to a high degree of ambivalence and ‘floatation’. Thus, how can an individual work out what is morally right when she is just one in a whole chain of people involved in any human enterprise? The actually chocolate bar held in the hand of the chocolate lover is hardly inscribed with suffering: how is she to know if the reports of child slavery are true? Out of date? Grossly exaggerated? In any case, who says her preferred bar is implicated? Why, why, should she even begin to try to find out?
Moreover, what point is there in even attempting to work out morally correct conduct when we know in the ‘vanity of human efforts’ that whatever is done by one counts for little in the overall scheme of things. Even if one person decides to ethically ‘opt out’ (if she can work out what that actually entails), she knows full well that ‘another person would promptly fill the gap’ (ibid.: 19). There is surely some moral relief and a deal of certainty in a ‘free rider’ belief that ‘somebody else’ will do whatever another has decided not to: in such a complex and unsure situation, why make such a decision? When knowledge may be evaded, or its ‘disruptive possibilities’ may be contained, Robins argues that, ‘the known may be withheld from the process of thinking; it may exist as the ‘unthought known’’ (Robins 1994: 459). He also notes that Bion (1963) has suggested that humans can do other things with thoughts than think them!
The intention at this point is to briefly outline the perspectives of one or two writers who have attempted to shift analyses, such as those above, to the experiential situation of billions of nonhuman animals and the consumers of their ‘products’. This is something some humanistic positions (such as that of Clare Fox of the Institute of Ideas) may regard as unwarranted, and more likely downright insulting. We began with Tester and Bauman - John Robbins’ (1987) position, which essentially advocates a vegan diet and lifestyle, contains some interesting parallels to their analyses. Robbins’ work is about the harm caused by the human consumption of the flesh of other animals and products such as the milk of cows and the eggs of chickens. In a section concerned with ‘knowledge denial’ and the effects of advertising campaigns, Robbins starts with the concentration camp experience of German pacifist Edgar Kupfer whose secret Dachau Diaries, the writing of which could have cost him his life, are now preserved in a special collection in the library of the University of Chicago (Robbins 1987: 122-3).
Kupfer was apparently sent to Dachau because he would not fight. He was also appalled that his fellow Germans stood by and silently accepted the genocide which was happening all around. However, the situation was not quite as stark as it sounds put this way. For it was not the case that the majority of German people knew every ‘precise detail’ of the Holocaust. While Bauman (1989) describes the careful and purposeful steps taken by the Nazis to prevent such full public awareness, Robbins nevertheless maintains that ‘most of them, it must be admitted, preferred not to know’ (1987: 124) suggesting that, for many, the activities of the Nazis became an ‘unknown known’.
Therefore, often voices such as Kupfer’s, who had risked so much to record his experiences on scraps of paper, were not so much silenced as simply not listened to. Robbins describes ‘a web of knowledge repression’ that can permeate such times. As seen above, however, this is an understandable and even entirely sensible situation designed to serve ‘a collective determination to avoid the immense pain that would have come from really seeing what was happening’ (ibid.) In language similar to Bauman’s, Robbins describes a ‘psychic numbing’, and a ‘narrowed awareness’ which the majority embraced:
While there were always some people who resisted, who did what they could to save the lives of those hunted by the Nazis, often risking their own lives in so doing, most others tried to ignore the horrors, tried to keep a stiff upper lip and pretend nothing amiss was happening. Though it was hard to avoid knowing at least part of the horrid truth, they found ways of blocking the impact. They busied themselves with other matters, conjuring up rationalisations, narrowing their awareness, and looking the other way (ibid.)
Of course Robbins’ intention is to draw parallels with what he calls the ‘process of denial’ in Germany in W.W.II and apply it to the present North American consciousness concerning health and environmental issues and relate it all to attitudes about nonhumans used in agriculture. He particularly focuses on the experience of Edgar Kupfer because Kupfer himself explicitly connected his own plight with that of other animals. Indeed, one of Kupfer’s essays is entitled, ‘Animals, My Brethren’, which was written in part in a hospital barracks in Dachau. Perhaps Kupfer was all for engagement rather than denial - even if it may be painful. Given his intent, it is therefore not surprising that Robbins highlights Kupfer’s case and tries to use it against knowledge denial he claims is ‘once again rampant’ (Robbins 1987: 124). He says human beings are all aware on some level that our world is in peril. Their life-support system, many people argue, is at the point of collapse. However, because it often seems too painful to think about these things: responses to this knowledge may often be to ‘block it out’ (ibid.)
Pain hurts, deeply, and many are frightened. However, pleads Robbins, do not deny it, do not disconnect, do not filter out: do not isolate oneself from that which cries out for response. Such a plea can be found in just about every pro-animal advocacy book since Singer’s, first published in 1975. Indeed, it is possible to trace such pleading as far back as Henry Salt, or to Rachel Carson (1963) and Ruth Harrison (1964). All contain calls to action. Robbins (1987: 125) asks his audience to ‘move beyond denial’, yet he immediately recognises the difficulties in doing just that. He says he has had to fight hard against his own tendency to ‘withdraw’ and ‘go numb’. How can someone struggle against something so large, something so immense? (ibid.) Recalling points made by both Bauman and DeGrazia, Robbins explicitly acknowledges that a supreme effort on his part was required to resolve to go on campaigning against intensive farming for the hurt it caused to humans and other animals. Gary Francione’s response to this ‘potential burnout’ question is praiseworthy. He says there is an element of self-indulgence in stopping to try to effect change. This is particularly true given that the animal rights movement is so young and so new. We are pioneers of the vegan-based animal rights cause, just as Donald Watson was earlier a pioneer of the vegan cause. In this sense, it is a little early to contemplate burning out or the engendering of too much frustration about how people will want to deny what we want to expose them to. What we need, at present, is to grow the number of ethical vegans, and thus to grow the numbers of pioneers of change. Consequently, the evidence presented above is not meant to suggest that we stand no chance of bringing about change, and it certainly is not part of the thesis that suggests that human beings are more social than rational.
Rather, the evidence above provides the social context of our efforts for us to internalise and appreciate; it explain why social change is slow, slower than we would like, not that it does not occur; it suggests that some effort is needed to understand our audiences if we hope to influence them; and it suggests to me that a degree of reflexivity is essential as an ongoing stance of animal advocates.
 Keith Thomas (1983) notes a move away from presenting meat on the table complete with heads and in a similar form as when a living animal. Modern meat products are very carefully packaged, using colouring, gas and chemicals to increase ‘attractiveness’, all of which means that the finished product on the shelf seems to bear no relation to the animals it came from (see Walsh 1986; Gold 1988, chap three: ‘Meat & Drugs’).
 Given this statement, it is incumbent to acknowledge the sociological research that points out the reality that the information which is potentially available is ultimately controlled by media gatekeepers, regardless of technological developments (e.g., see Elliot 1972).
 Freud himself has been accused of screening out painful realities, such as his alleged knowledge of the sexual abuse of children (Rush 1996).
 Clark (1984: 209-10) provides one of the most detailed lists of Salt’s major writings. They are, 1896 (ed.), The New Charter, (London); 1899-1900, ‘Rights of Animals’, Ethics 10; 1901 (ed.), Kith and Kin: Poems for animal life, (London); 1921, Seventy Years Among Savages, (London); 1922, Animals’ Rights, (London); 1933, The Logic of Vegetarianism, (London).
Adams, C.J. (1990) The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. Cambridge: Polity.
Agnew, R. (1998) ‘The Causes of Animal Abuse: A Social-Psychological Analysis’, Theoretical Criminology, 2(2): 177-209.
Bandura, A. (1990) Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.
Bauman, Z. (1989) Modernity and the Holocaust. Oxford: Polity.
Bauman, Z. (1992) Mortality, Immortality and Other Life Strategies. Oxford: Polity.
Benton, T. (1993) Natural Relations: Ecology, Animal Rights and Social Justice. London: Verso.
Berger, P.L. & Berger, B. (1976) Sociology: A Biographical Approach, (rev ed.) Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Bion, W. R. (1963) Elements of Psycho-Analysis. London: Heinemann.
Blauner, R. (1972) Racial Oppression in America. New York: Harper & Row.
Canetti, E. (1973) Crowds and Power. London: Penguin .
Carson, R. (1963) Silent Spring. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Charny, I.W. (1982) How Can We Commit the Unthinkable?, Boulder: Westview Press.
Clark, S.R.L. (1984) The Moral Status of Animals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cohen, S. (2001) States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering. Cambridge: Polity.
Debray, R. (1992) Vie et mort de l’image. Paris: Gallimard.
DeGrazia, D. (1996) Taking Animals Seriously: Mental Life and Moral Status. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Drakulic, S. (1993) The Balkan Express: Fragments From the Other Side of War. New York: Norton.
Elliot, P. (1972) ‘Mass Communications - A contradiction in terms?’, in D. McQuail (ed.) Sociology of Mass Communications. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Gallie, D. (1988) ‘Employment, unemployment and social stratification’, in D. Gallie (ed.) Employment in Britain. Oxford: Blackwell.
Giddens, A. (1991) Modernity and Self-Indentity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Cambridge: Polity.
Gold, M. (1988) Living Without Cruelty. Basingstoke: Green Print.
Goldthorpe, J.H., et al. (1968) The Affluent Worker: Industrial Attitudes and Behaviour. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Grint, K. (1991) The Sociology of Work: An Introduction. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Groves, J.M. (1995) ‘Learning to feel: the neglected sociology of social movements’, The Sociological Review, 43, 435-61.
Harrison, R. (1964) Animal Machines: The New Factory Farming Industry. London: Vincent Stuart.
Ignatieff, M. (1998) The Warrior’s Honour: Ethnic War and the Modern Conscience. London: Chatto & Windus.
Lorenz, K. (1977) On Aggression. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.
Marshall, G. (2001) ‘The psychology of denial’, Observer, Climate Change pull-out, October 28: 8-9.
Milgram, S. (1965) ‘Some conditions of Obedience and Disobedience to Authority’, Human Relations, 18(1).
Milgram, S. (1974) Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View. London: Tavistock.
Plous, S. (1993) ‘Psychological mechanisms in the human use of animals’, Journal of Social Issues, 49: 11-52.
Robbins, J. (1987) Diet For A New America. Walpole, NH: Stillpoint.
Robins, K. (1994) ‘Forces of consumption: from the symbolic to the psychotic’, Media, Culture and Society, 16: 449-68.
Rush, F. (1996) ‘The Freudian Coverup’, Feminism & Psychology, 6 (2) May 96, pp.260-313.
Silverstone, R. (1994) Television and Everyday Life. London: Routledge.
Singer, P. (1983) Animal Liberation: Towards an End to Man’s Inhumanity to Animals. Wellingborough: Thorsons.
Tester, K. (1997) Moral Culture. London: Sage.
Thomas, K. (1983) Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800. London: Allen Lane.
Varcoe, I. & Kilminster, R. (1996) ‘Addendum: Culture and power in the writings of Zygmunt Bauman’, in R. Kilminster & I. Varcoe (eds.) Culture, Modernity and Revolution: Essays in honour of Zygmunt Bauman. London: Routledge.
Walsh, J. (1986) The Meat Machine: The Inside Story of the Meat Business. London: Columbus.
Yates, A.J. (1962) Frustration and Conflict. New York: Wiley.
Zuboff, S. (1988) In the Age of the Smart Machine. London: Heinemann.
Francione, Regan & Singer.
Philosopher Tom Regan  recognises that, in thoughts about the human use of other animals, social attitudes are influenced not only by dominant forms of thinking, but also by "established cultural practices." Indeed, he states that the rights view on human relations with other sentient beings involves "issuing condemnations" of such practices. However, Regan maintains that animal rights, properly conceived, is, contrary to pro-use claims, "not anti-business, not anti-freedom of the individual, not anti-science, not anti-human." For Regan, the rights view is "pro-justice," seeking as it does to alter the "scope of justice" to include many animals other than human.
Regan further recognises that the case for animal rights will be heavily contested, not least because "prejudices die hard." In addition to the issue of prejudice, Regan is keen to underline the influence of the "insulating" function of "widespread secular customs" and religious belief, likewise acknowledging the "sustaining authority" of "large and powerful economic interests." Finally, in this diverse matrix of social constructionism, he appreciates the protection afforded to the whole system by the common law.
Ultimately a political battleground is sketched out in which any philosophy of animal rights is bound to be substantially criticised and contested. Criticised and contested by philosophers who just do not agree that "the case" has been adequately made – but also by many who have personal or vested interests in the continuation of the human exploitation of other animals. It is tempting, furthermore, to suspect that many objections to animal rights, whether from trained philosophers such as Frey  and Cohen, or journalists, or various other commentators, arise in the first instance at least from efforts to find the justification for a bacon and egg breakfast already eaten, and the steak dinner planned for later on.
Regan insists that moral philosophy can and will play a role in political action associated with the notion of animal rights because "history shows that ideas do make a difference." Indeed, he wrote The Case for Animal Rights in order that the animal protection movement would benefit by being well versed about the foundations on which much of their claims-making rests. The hoped-for result being substantial cultural change that Regan regards as a prerequisite for a widespread adoption of genuine animal rights thinking over animal welfarism.
Regan also articulates his firm belief that "moral philosophy is no substitute for political action," but insists, "still, it can make a contribution. Its currency is ideas." This assertion was made many years ago in 1983. However, it appears that large sections of the animal advocacy movement was not (and is not) listening to this important message. Many factions in the modern animal protection movement do not agree that a well worked out philosophical position assists in the furtherance of altering the moral standing of other animals. Moreover, many of those that do seem to agree with the general point that social movements require a solid basis for claims-making, appear not to accept the case for animal rights in the first place.
Recent developments in the animal movement tends to confirm such a view. For example, Francione  states that "the modern animal 'rights' movement has explicitly rejected the doctrine of animal rights." In fact, it might be tempting to claim, analogous to Gilroy’s  declaration that "there ain’t no black in the Union Jack," that there ain’t much rights in "animal rights" either. This tends to beg the question, if not rights violations, what do modern animal advocates substantially rely upon in order to make claims on behalf of nonhuman animals?
Francione argues that the contemporary animal movement appears content to rely on a new formulation of traditional ideas, which he labels "new welfarism." He describes this conception of new welfarism as a "hybrid position" which may be understood to be a more progressive, or in Francione’s terms, a "modified" welfare position compared with traditional animal welfarism, especially in the sense that this "version of animal welfare…accepts animal rights as an ideal state of affairs that can be achieved only through continued adherence to animal welfare measures."
This appears to be a crucial defining issue of so-called new welfarism: that its adherents are content talking about the eventual ending of animal exploitation, rather than expecting that the best the animal movement can or should do is tightly regulate nonhuman exploitation to such an extent that "cruelty" and "unnecessary suffering" is greatly reduced or, ideally, eliminated altogether. However, for Francione, new welfarists – despite what sets them apart from traditionalists of the genre - should be regarded as committed to the endorsement of measures "indistinguishable" from policies put forward by those "who accept the legitimacy of animal exploitation."
Unsurprisingly, such statements have angered many animal advocates. Francione puts forward two reasons to help explain apparent disparity between theory and practice:
When animal advocates discuss Francione’s position on email lists and forums, many object bitterly to the assumption that supporting a number, many, or all animal welfare measures does indeed "accept the legitimacy of animal exploitation" – they claim the opposite, that accepting welfare improvements does not diminish their commitment to abolitionism.
Contributors have difficulty accepting Francione’s claim that new welfarism necessarily accepts, on some level, the legitimacy of the animal exploitation issue in question. On the contrary, many argue that any "welcoming" of a welfare measure, or even sets of them, and over an extended period of time, can be done within an acknowledgement that their position is ultimately abolitionist in intent. Debate such as this amounts to beliefs about whether forms of animal welfarism are able to provide "stepping stones" toward the ending of the human exploitation of other animals or not.
Francione appears to have assumed that campaigners will be concerned about his claim that welfarist strategies have failed – and will continue to fail – to advance the cause of animal rights, and that a perspective based on genuine rights formulation can likely bring greater advances for nonhuman animals. He acknowledges that "rights talk" is a rhetorical matter in the movement which has lead to non-rightist Peter Singer being regarded as the foremost "animal rights philosopher" ever since the mid-1970s publication of Animal Liberation.
For Francione, therefore, the contemporary animal movement continues to commit cardinal philosophical and tactical errors:
Future historians of the animal protection movement may well take an interest in such questions. Anecdotal evidence and contributions to email listings suggest that Francione’s view expressed in the quote above may well be vindicated: many activists continue to suggest that the welfare + welfare + welfare = rights equation bears fruit for the animal movement.
One must hope that Francione was not mistaken in believing animal activists would take the time to explore the problem he raises.
In effect, some sort of impasse exists. On the one hand, Francione suggests that the animal movement makes ethical and tactical errors by not sorting out its philosophical position that directs its action. That, because it does not provide what is required, animal welfarism ought to be rejected by all seeking to radically alter human-nonhuman relations. On the other hand, however, many activists and the careerists in established organisations care less about philosophical purity as long as something is being done on behalf of nonhuman animals and membership numbers are maintained.
Advocates who wish to pursue a position based on rights thinking are very few in number and, furthermore, do not often feature in "leadership" positions within the current animal protection movement. Francione has had the frustrating experience of seeing his ideas - and indeed those of Regan - largely marginalised within the animal movement over the years. Attempts to bring bona fide rights thinking into the heart of a social movement bearing the name has been largely rejected. Francione’s work, especially because it includes a strong critique of new welfarism, has not so much been regarded as a source of philosophical clarity within a social movement, nor helpful in terms of strategic thinking, but rather labelled "disruptive," "divisive," and "elitist."
In retrospect, it may well have been somewhat unwise to call activists who see themselves as "radical," "full-on," "cutting-edge" campaigners "new welfarists" and expect them to welcome or even tolerate the criticism.
Nevertheless, the evidence points to the fact that the modern animal movement remains content with the philosophical leadership provided by Singer (to the extent that philosophy is thought important in the first place). It financially supports an organisational leaderships that includes many who may be welfarist in orientation, even in the traditional sense of the word, or else essentially use the term animal rights as a rhetorical devise only. Some opponents of rights-based formulations are careful to consistently use terms such as "animal liberation," more often, and thus ironically, than has Peter Singer.
Francione complains that Singer’s consequentialist utilitarian approach, based on reducing animal suffering and balancing interests, has marginalised the abolitionist approach to animal rights. When McDonald’s announced in 2002 an animal welfare initiative to increase battery cage space and phase out "beak trimming" practices by its suppliers, the move was greeted by many animal protectionists, including Singer himself, as the most important "advance" for nonhuman animals since the publication of Animal Liberation in the 1970s.
For understandable psychological reasons, "victories" on any scale tend to be loudly trumpeted within social movements. While this could be characterised as a movement getting what little it can when it can, supporters state that they are being "practical," displaying a poverty of ambition apparently predicated on them "knowing for sure" that the public will and will always reject the notion of animal rights. In any event, they suggest, how can animal advocacy mobilisations be seen to reject measures that seem to ease the plight of so many suffering nonhumans?
For such advocates the McDonald’s case and others may be seen as further indication, since larger cage space and specific alterations in production procedures were the only proposals "on offer," that campaigning on an "extreme" or a "fundamentalist" rightist platform, and seeking the rapid abolition of major aspects of commercial animal exploitation, is totally unrealistic – utopian indeed.
Such a position begs questions.
Why, since the modern animal protection movement has rarely if ever pursued an abolitionist agenda for any prolonged period, are many advocates apparently and unequivocally so sure that it is doomed to failure?
Why are they so convinced that it will take hundreds of years? Why, moreover, that a philosophical grounding in widely accepted ideas of rights undoubtedly represent demands that unrealistically call for "too much?"
What follows outlines Francione’s and Regan’s rights-based approaches to human-nonhuman relations: approaches that are often regarded as "utopian" and "extreme" both within and without the "animal rights" movement. These are approaches not adopted or widely followed within the present animal movement. Francione agrees with Regan that philosophy and political action go together. Indeed, in contrast to many in the movement, he claims the latter requiresthe former to inform its direction:
A social movement must have a theory if it is to have action at all… I suggest that we need a new theory to replace the one that we have. I am not unrealistic. I recognise that even if we adopt an abolitionist theory, abolition will not occur immediately. Change will necessarily be incremental. But it is my view that the explicit goal must be abolition and that abolition must shape incremental change.
Regan and Francione are generally acknowledged as the major theoreticians of perspectives that seek to build on established rights formulations, and apply - or extend - to them to nonhuman animals. Regan is a Kantian deontologist who argues that many nonhumans are "subjects-of-a-life," a factor demanding that humans respect their inherent rights. Francione is a law professor particularly critical of the property status of other animals. His rights-based formulation is thought less complicated than Regan’s; he claims basic rights for all sentient beings.
Reganite and Francionian positions on human relations with other sentient beings can be regarded as attempts to bring genuine rights views to bear on the issue of the human treatment of other animals. Such approaches are different in nature to traditional or classical welfarist stances; and different also from Peter Singer’s version of utilitarianism which is the principal philosophical grounding of modern day new welfarism.
Neither Regan nor Francione use rights concepts, or the language of rights, in a rhetorical manner as many other animal activists do, and both believe that protective rights formulations can be plausibly extended to prevent current large-scale institutionalised human exploitation of certain species of nonhuman animals. As stated, Regan’s and Francione’s works have been effectively marginalised, so the following acknowledges and highlights a paradoxical situation in which the so-called "animal rights movement" virtually rejects genuine rights theories while embracing a non-rights animal liberation position as its main philosophical stance.
As implied above, however, it should be recognised that even the phrase "philosophical stance" can be quite misleading in relation to much current animal advocacy in which "philosophising" per se is actively frowned upon, and/or seen as a very poor second to "doing things" (doing anything) "for animals."
 Regan, T. (1983) The Case for Animal Rights. Berkeley: University of California Press.
 Frey, R.G. (1980) Interests and Rights: The Case against Animals. Oxford: Oxford University Press; (1983) Rights, Killing, and Suffering. Oxford: Blackwell.
 Cohen, C. (1986) ‘The Case for the Use of Animals in Biomedical Research’, New England Journal of Medicine,315(14) (Oct 2): 865-70.
 Francione, G. L. (1996) Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
 Gilroy, P. (1987) There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack. London: Hutchinson.
 Among other arguments, Francione responds to such points by saying that, "as a practical matter, [animal welfarism] does not work. We have had animal welfare laws in most western countries for well over a hundred years now, and they have done little to reduce animal suffering and they have certainly not resulted in the gradual abolition of any practices… As to why welfarism fails…the reason has to do with the property status of animals. If animals are property, then they have no value beyond that which is accorded to them by their owners. Reform does not work because it seeks to force owners to value their property differently and to incur costs in order to respect animal interests." www.vegdot.org/special/Gary%20Francione
 Benton and Redfearn write: "Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation is…within the utilitarian tradition, and it may be that the animal welfare movement’s concern with animal suffering is a measure of the pervasiveness of utilitarianism as the ‘common sense’ of secular morality." Benton, T. & Redfearn, S. (1996) ‘The Politics of Animal Rights - Where is the Left?’ New Left Review, Jan/Feb: 43-58
Dr. Roger Yates is a rights advocate and sociologist