The Fund for Animals’ Norm Phelps recently reviewed Joan Dunayer’s latest missive, Speciesism. Speciesism, like all of Dunayer’s animal rights work, is strictly abolitionist with little room for dissent. Phelps doesn’t have a problem with Dunayers’ abolitionist arguments, but rather disagrees with Dunayer on how to get there.
So, for example, Phelps describes the following excerpt by Dunayer as “an intellectually consistent ethic of moral equality for all sentient beings”,
Sentience, defined as any capacity to experience, is the only logical and fair basis for rights. In nonspeciesist philosophy, all sentient beings have rights. What’s more, all sentient beings are equal. Any needless harm to nonhumans should be viewed with the same disapproval as comparable harm to humans. Am I saying that a firefly is as fully entitled to moral consideration as a rabbit or bonobo? Yes. Am I saying that a spider has as much right to life as an egret or a human? Yes. I see no logically consistent reason to say otherwise.
Phelps has no problem with this insane logic, but he cannot quite stomach the way Dunayer wants to put it in practice. As he puts it, “Unfortunately, what is elegant in theory can become hopelessly tangled upon contact with reality.”
That reality includes Dunayer’s attack on animal rights groups including United Poultry Concerns, Compassion Over Killing, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. In her book, 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 chambers, or the liberation of all concentration camps?” I’d answer “Liberation.” I’d regard any focus on better living conditions and more “humane” deaths as immoral.
They just can’t resist the Nazi comparisons at this point. Godwin’s Law is alive and well with the animal rights movement.
But Phelps disagrees,
It is this two-pronged approach — with its simultaneous, and not entirely consistent, emphases on both liberation and reform — that is critical to success in the real world in which animals are suffering and being killed. Dunayer’s Nazi concentration camp illustration is based on the unstated assumption that animal liberation can be achieved within a fairly near time frame. But since it clearly cannot be, refusing to work for better living conditions and less painful and terrifying deaths amounts to a betrayal of the animals whom we are professing to help. We must resist the temptation to sacrifice real-world results on the altar of an ivory-tower consistency because what we are really sacrificing is animals.
Someday, maybe, they’ll be able to treat spiders and humans as morally equal, but for now they need to concentrate on more humane slaughter methods. And if Phelps doesn’t think animal liberation is right around the corner, why does The Fund for Animals keep issuing press releases saying things like it is the beginning of the end for hunting?
Its kind of amusing to see Phelps then turn to a critique of Dunayer which is a pretty good indictment of the entire animal rights movement,
Like religious fundamentalists, Joan Dunayer believes that she has found the only path to salvation and that all who do not agree with her are giving aid and comfort to the enemy. And in fact, her faith that rigid adherence to logically consistent theory is the sole route to liberation has something of the aura of religious zealotry about it. And like fundamentalists religion, her faith is not empirically based. There is absolutely no evidence to support Dunayer’s claim that working for “welfarist” reforms retards liberation. Historically, the notion that the road to social change lies in strict submission to an elegant orthodoxy has always led, not to the utopia that was promised, but to failure, disaster, or both.
Come on, Norm — religious-like zealotry? Adherence to bizarrely impossible ideals? Holier than thou attitudes? Don’t pretend as if Dunayer has a monopoly on those traits; they’re pervasive in the animal rights movement.
Again, people used to e-mail me complaining that I was distorting animal rights activists by suggesting they might grant rights even to insects, but Dunayer says spiders and humans are morally equal and the best Phelps can muster is that its a great ideal that is nonetheless impractical for now.
Trying to Walk Before We Can Crawl. Norm Phelps, Satya, January 2005.