Karen Davis Reviews Joan Dunayer’s Speciesism

As mentioned previously, Joan Dunayer’s new book, Speciesism, has stirred up a hornet’s nest (excuse my maligning of our non-human friends for the moment) among animal rights individuals and groups because of its attack on groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and United Poultry Concerns because those groups have adopted a strategy of seeking intermediary step — such as changes in the size of cages that egg laying hens are kept in — on the way to their animal liberation fantasies. As far as Dunayer is concerned, groups like PETA and UPC are almost as bad as those who “murder” animals themselves.

UPC’s Karen Davis recently posted her review of Dunayer’s book, and the first thing to note is, as with Norm Phelps’ review, that the difference is one of tactics rather than philosophy. So, for example, Davis writes extremely favorably of Dunayer’s overall view of animal rights (emphasis added),

She [Dunayer] challenges the privileging of beings whose mental life fits the profile of a philosopher gazing in the mirror. Not only is there wealth of evidence showing that nonhuman animals, including insects, have rich and varied lives, including, in many cases, “perceptual powers that we lack”; but virtually all nonhumans are better eco-persons than we are. On the basis of reason and ethics, it makes sense, says Dunayer, to “value benign individuals more than those who, on balance cause harm. In utilitarian terms, a chicken’s life is worth more — not less — than the life of the average human, because chickens are far more benign.” But human vanity being what it is, such logic seldom prevails.

If I or David Martosko said that “Animal rights activists value animals more than human beings” we’d be accused of creating a straw man. Joan Dunayer says it, and the usual suspects fall in line to praise her.

What Davis objects to is Dunayer’s assertion that the only difference between PETA/UPC and those who slaughter animals for food is that “PETA and UPC staff won’t commit the murders themselves.”

Davis complains,

Dunayer writes: “If I were in a Nazi concentration camp and someone on the outside asked me, ‘Do you want me to work for better living conditions, more-humane deaths in the gas chamber, or the liberation of all concentration camps?’ I’d answer, ‘Liberation.’ . . . I’d regard any focus on better living conditions or more-‘humane’ deaths as immoral.”

But is the choice so patently either/or? In real prison situations, inmates are ready to sell body and soul for a stale crust of bread — anything! If I were in a concentration camp, I don’t know that I wouldn’t forego the possibility of full emancipation sometime in the future for a little cup of coffee, a reduction in the amount of lice or number of beatings, a less painful death, in the here and now. Stupid maybe, but what did the political machine bosses offer the grateful suffering multitudes in the early 20-th century New York City that the social theorists alone could not deliver? “There’s got to be in every ward somebody that any bloke can come to and get help. Help, you understand; none of your law and justice, but help.”


Book Review: Speciesism. Karen Davis, United Poultry Concerns, January 11, 2005.

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