Vegan Voice Interview With Joan Dunayer

The March-May 2005 issue of Vegan Voice features a 6 page interview with animal rights activist Joan Dunayer, who has made waves with her absolutist abolitionist view of animal rights.

This site has featured more than a dozen items about Dunayer, but before ripping into the interview, let me say that to some extent I respect Dunayer a lot more than many other animal rights activists because a) I have never seen an instance where she has advocated violence to achieve animal rights ends, and b) she is honest about what granting rights to animals ultimately entails, and is not afraid to follow her thinking consistently to the end. I much prefer that to some of these activists who say they favor animal rights but when you challenge them about pets or some other human use of animals suddenly start vacillating.

In her interview, Dunayer makes it clear where she stands — favoring a radical interpretation of rights for animals that would require massive changes in human societies. She begins by noting how she defines speciesism in her book Speciesism,

Chapter 1 opens, “Whenever you see a bird in a cage, fish in a tank, or nonhuman mammal on a chain, you’re seeing speciesism. If you believe that a bee or frog has less right to life and liberty than a chimpanzee or human, or you consider humans superior to other animals, you subscribe to speciesism. If you visit aquaprisons and zoos, attend circuses that include ‘animal acts,’ wear nonhuman skin or hair, or eat flesh, eggs, or cow-milk products, you practice speciesism.” Those examples illustrate that speciesism is both an attitude and a from of oppression.

. . .

. . . it’s speciesist to give humans greater moral consideration than nonhumans for any reason, such as humans’ generally using tools and verbal language.

Dunayer has become controversial within the animal rights movement for attacking organizations that are ultimately pro-animal rights but sometimes seek improvements in animal welfare as what they bill as a short term solution. Dunayer continues that attack in her Vegan Voice interview, citing People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ campaigns against McDonald’s and Burger King in which those companies have agreed to make some changes in how their suppliers treat animals. Dunayer says,

Years ago animal rights activist commonly changed, “What do we want? Animal Rights! When do we want it? Now!” Today much activism could be expressed only with a chant like this: “What do we want? Slightly bigger cages! When do we want them? Whenever McDonald’s or some other massive abuser requires that their suppliers use them!”

Dunayer’s first book, Animal Equality, focused on changing the way people talk about animals — for example, she complains that rather than talking about “dairy farmers” we should talk about “cow enslavers” (seriously). In Vegan Voice, Dunayer argues that almost all religious speech is by definition speciesist, since human’s tend to anthropomorphize God,

Religious language that conveys a proprietary, condescending view of nonhumans also impedes animal equality. The Lord, Jesus Christ, and other language that anthropomorphizes divinity elevates humans over other animals.

Dunayer has famously asserted that even insects have rights, and in her Vegan Voice interview she takes up the cause for radial invertebrate rights,

Evidence of sentience is compelling with regard to invertebrates who have a brain and increasingly strong with regard to invertebrates who lack a brain but have a nervous system. Any creature with a nervous system should receive the benefit of the doubt. All nervous systems share many physiological characteristics. Why would beetles, oysters, or anyone else with a nervous system not be sentient?

What I can’t understand is why she doesn’t include creatures that lack a nervous system as well. True, to creatures that possess nervous systems it may be difficult to understand how such creatures could be sentient, but using Dunayer’s logic that represents nothing more than nervous system-ism. Do we really have the right to condemn such creatures to death simply because they aren’t sentient in a way that is meaningful to humans?

But, as I said at the beginning, it is Dunayer’s uncompromising adherence to what animal rights entails that makes me grudgingly admire her, though its a sign of just how difficult such consistency can be that even Dunayer occasionally would violate her own precepts. Vegan Voice asked Dunayer what rights she would bestow on animals, and she replied (emphasis added),

First of all, nonhuman personhood would end nonhuman enslavement. Nonhuman servitude to humans would cease. Humans no longer could compel other animals to labor, perform, compete, or provide any service. No more horses pulling carriages, tigers jumping through hoops, greyhounds racing, capuchin monkeys being house slaves for humans with disabilities, and so on. Nonhumans would be emancipated from property status-freed from human ownership. The law would prohibit humans from breeding, buying, or selling nonhumans for any purpose, from vivisection and food production to pet keeping and propagating endangered species.

Nonhuman captivity would be phased out. Upon emancipation, “domesticated” nonhumans living with loving, responsible human companions would stay with those humans. Liberated from exploitation and other abuse, other “domesticated” nonhumans would be fostered at sanctuaries and private homes until adopted. Nonhumans in human care would have essentially the same legal rights as children. To the fullest possible extent, “domesticated” nonhumans (including dogs and cats) would be prevented from breeding-for example, through “spaying” and “neutering.” The number of “domesticated” nonhumans would rapidly decline.

. . .

As full constitutional persons, nonhumans also would have a right to property. They would own the products of their bodies, such as milk and pearls. A honeybee colony would own the honey that it produces. A robin would own the eggs that she lays. In addition, nonhumans would own what they build, such as hives and nests. A dam built by a family of beavers would belong to those beavers and their descendants. It would be illegal for humans to take, intentionally damage, or intentionally destroy anything that nonhumans produce or create within their natural habitats. Further, nonhumans would own their natural habitats. All nonhumans living in a particular area of land or water would have a legal right to that environment, which would be considered their communal property. Land currently inhabited by nonhumans and humans could remain cohabited, but humans wouldn’t be permitted to encroach farther into nonhuman territory (for example, by building more houses on land occupied only by nonhumans). It would be illegal to intentionally destroy or dramatically alter any “undeveloped” habitat.

So unlike other activists who will flinch and vacillate when you start talking about pets or something like guide dogs for the blind, Dunayer is unwavering — they have to go. Then she takes that a step further by pretty much banning any human interference in the animal world. If a beaver dam is causing a problem, too bad. Its a shame she doesn’t say what would happen when wasps decide to build a nest on the side of my house. I’m assuming we have to live with this (after all, if we can preemptively kill the wasps, it is just a short jump to killing other animals preemptively that may pose threats, such as bears or large cats).

It is odd, though, that she wouldn’t allow humans to touch beaver dams or move into uninhabited areas, but she has no problems castrating cats and dogs who, presumably, have an interest in not being modified that way. Apparently animals only have rights to the extent that they are alienated from human beings.

Which brings us to the very odd conclusion that animal rights leads us to. Starting out from the proposition that all animals are morally equal, we come to the bizarre conclusion that human beings are nothing more than alien invaders; a species so unnatural and unlike anything else, that its members must be controlled in ways that animal rights activist’s would never contemplate doing for animals.

It is interesting, for example, that Dunayer seems to think beavers have some sort of natural right to build dams without interference wherever they want, but human beings clearly would not have the right to build skyscrapers anywhere they wanted. Dunayer presumably wouldn’t dream of restricting mobile predators such as wolves to areas which they and their descendants must never stray from, but clearly her views would classify nomadic tribes of human beings as inherently violating the rights of others.

This is what so many opponents of animal rights activists mean when we say that the animal rights philosophy elevates animals above human beings. Dunayer and others like her denigrate in human beings precisely the same behaviors that they glorify and wish to protect in animals. Both beavers and human beings make changes to their environment when they build dams for their own selfish purposes, but the beaver dam is sacrosanct, while human modification of the natural world is inherently immoral. Similarly, many species hunt and kill other species for food and fun, but the animal rights philosophy only finds this morally suspect in a single species.

Using the same analogies that Dunayer and other activists use, typically in a human setting if I say that it is okay for every human being to vote except for the Black ones, that is considered racism and discrimination. Similarly, when Dunayer and other activists maintain that it is okay for every carnivorous and omnivorous species to hunt, claim territory and other activities except for human beings, THAT is speciesism.

And, after reading Dunayer and other activists, the thread is clear that it is not so much a respect for other species which drives this ideology, but rather a loathing for homo sapiens and what it represents and has achieved. Animal rights activists are nothing more than modern day flagellants, believing that humanity’s role in the world is one of evil and sin. Only by scourging ourselves and retreating to some bizarre ascetic vision of humanity can we be redeemed.

Thankfully, we do not live in times that are conducive to this sort of self-hating religious fanaticism.


Speciesism: Interview with the Author (Joan Dunayer). Sienna Blake, Vegan Voice, March-May 2005.

Juvenile Justice Bill Targets Animal Rights Violence

An amendment to the Juvenile
Justice Act, approved by the U.S. Senate a couple weeks ago, would strengthen
the criminal penalties of the Animal Enterprise Protection Act as well as make it
a federal felony to distribute bomb making information over the Internet.

The language to strengthen the
AEA penalties was introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) as part of an
amendment co-sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and approved
by an 85 to 13 margin. The amendment would increase the penalty for raids
against animal enterprises to up to 5 years in prison and fines up to
double the actual damages done. In addition, the FBI would maintain a
database of information about attacks on animal enterprises, greatly increasing
the coordination of investigations of such crimes at the local, state
and federal level.

In a press release Jacquie Calnan,
president of Americans for Medical Progress, said, “We are grateful to
Senator Hatch for taking a leadership role in protecting biomedical research.
When research laboratories are attacked, the ones who lose most are those
of us who are living with a disease or who are watching a loved one cope
with a devastating illness.”

In a related development, a
bill passed the Minnesota legislature which allows victims of animal rights
activists to recover damages up to triple the actual damages done.

Both bills represent an opportunity
that opponents of animal rights need to seize. Although the increase in
prison terms and fines included in the Hatch/Feinstein amendment would
certainly be welcome, it appears unlikely the Juvenile Justice bill will
survive in a form that President Bill Clinton will sign. In the House
of Representatives, a similar bill is being bogged down with dozens of
proposed amendments as well as a storm of controversy over proposed gun
control measures. It is still possible the amendment might become law,
but it is a long shot.

On the other hand, the 85 to
13 vote demonstrates the support is there in Congress for taking more
serious action against the growing incidence of animal rights violence.
Opponents of animal rights should use the visibility created by the recent
attack at the University of Minnesota to push Congress to pass Hatch’s
amendment in its own right or attached to some other less controversial
piece of legislation.

Preferably such legislation
would not be burdened with Feinstein’s ban on distribution of bomb making
material over the Internet, which is clearly unconstitutional. Some of
the animal rights bomb making material found on places such as the Animal Liberation Front Information Site may itself be actionable in a civil
lawsuit, but Feinstein’s blanket ban is just the latest manifestation
of her anti-Internet hysteria and would never pass muster with the Supreme


US Senate Acts on Animal Rights Terrorism” Americans for Medical Progress press release, May 18, 1999.

Defend Frontline, the ALF and Free Speech! Frontline Information Service press release, May 20, 1999.

Juvenile Justice Bill Used to Target Activists. No Compromise, press release, May 25, 1999.

Anti-ALF Bill Passes Minnesota Legislature. Frontline Information Service press release, May 21, 1999.

Senate blasts bomb-making info on Net. Courtney Macavinta, News.Com, May 19, 1999.

Usual Suspects Attack Americans for Medical Progress over Xenotransplantation

As animal rights activists
and extremist environmental groups gear up to seek an outright ban on
the transplantation of organs from non-human animals to humans, Americans for Medical Progress‘s Jacquie Calnan wrote an excellent, widely published
op-ed on the importance of pursuing research on xenotransplantation and
similar technologies. She and AMP were subsequently attacked in a release
by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Greenpeace and

Calnan’s op-ed, “Payton’s
hope” (available at highlighted the problems of former Chicago Bear running back Walter
Payton, who recently announced he has a rare liver disease and may die
within two years if he does not receive a transplant.

As Calnan noted in her op-ed,
although there are 12,000 people on the waiting list for livers, only
about 4,000 such transplants are performed each year. In 1997 more than
1,000 people died while waiting for a matching liver. Calnan’s editorial
did an excellent job of highlighting animal rights hypocrisy, which is
why I suspect it was so quickly attacked. She repeated PETA celebrity
spokesman Bill Maher‘s recent quote to US Magazine that: “To those
people who say, ‘My father is alive because of animal experimentation,’
I say ‘Yeah, well, good for you. This dog died so your father could live.’
Sorry, but I am just not behind that kind of trade off.” Someone
should send Maher a thank you note for so succinctly summing up the animal
rights philosophy.

Calnan mentioned the newly
developed device I mentioned a couple weeks ago that uses pig cells to
help keep some people alive while waiting transplants. The fact is this
technology is here today and it is already saving lives, so the animal
rights and extreme environmental activists have to fall back on two claims
to discredit the technology.

The first is that the risk
of passing diseases from non-humans to humans is too high. Animal rights
activists have released claim after claim trying to make this point, but
most of the more serious ones have later turned out to be baseless. On
the other hand, like any other thing human beings do, there is always
some risk associated with it – the risk of some new deadly disease crossing
from non-humans to humans will never be zero.

But if our society was that
risk-averse no pharmaceutical drugs or medical technology would ever be
approved since the risk of a calamity from any new technology is never
zero. If this sort of principle actually guided medical technology, certainly
technologies that we take for granted, such as vaccination, would never
have been allowed since the potential risks were only poorly known at best.

The second claim is that there
are more than enough organ donors to go around. At the end of her article,
Calnan ask for more people to become organ donors, which is a reasonable
position, but the critics of xenotransplantation seem to assume that those
organ donors are here today. A recent press release from the Boston-based
Campaign for Responsible Transplantation claimed, for example, that Xenotransplantation
advocates “use statistics and emotion to make their case … some 3,000
transplant patients die each year on in the U.S. … [but a ] US General
Accounting Office report … reveals a potential organ donor pool of 150,000
people. This is in stark contrast to previous estimates of 5,000 to 29,000
people annually … if these organs are secured, it would solve the national
organ shortage, and completely eliminate the need for animal organ transplants.”

As is the typical modus operandi with
these groups, however, this last claim is a distortion. The GAO report
was written to explore different methods of evaluating the performance
of Organ Procurement Organizations, who are assigned the task of procuring
organs and getting them into the organ sharing network. In order to do
that sort of evaluation, the GAO wanted a baseline of the upper bound of
eligible organ donors, which it estimated at 147,000 in 1994 using a technique
to estimate actual deaths and then adjust the figures to determine how
many of those deaths would have had harvestable organs.

The interesting thing is that
in the very next paragraph after giving this estimate, the GAO notes the
limits of counting potential organs this way, “we found that both
the death and adjusted-death measures [which are the source of the 147,000
figure] have drawbacks that limit their usefulness, however, including
lack of timely data and inability to identify those deaths suitable for
use in organ donation.”

First, this explicitly concedes
that the 147,000 figure was obtained using a method that the GAO admits
has an “inability to identify those deaths suitable for use in organ
donation,” which is the crux of the problem with human organ donation
itself. If it was too expensive and time consuming for the GAO to go back
four years and decide how many people were eligible organ donors,
imagine the difficulty in trying to harvest those organs on the spot.

It is one thing to look back
several years later and say there were say 40,000 automobile deaths and
of those 6,000 were potential organ donors. It is another thing to be
in place to actually obtain those organs (a severe problem in organ donation
is that even among those who have signed organ donor cards and are good candidates
to donate organs, often the organs are no longer usable by the time doctors
are aware of the potential donor or get permission from family members
to proceed. This is a situation that is unlikely to change significantly
in the near future).

In addition, the CRT release
failed to note that the number organ donors has increased over the last
few years – but the number of people eligible for organ donation has increased
even faster. I suppose if PETA had its way, this wouldn’t be a problem
since there would be no animal research and fewer people would be transplant
candidates since the medical knowledge to save their lives simply wouldn’t
exist, but barring this it seems clear that future advances in medical
science are going to continue to drive the demand for organ donation at
a much faster rate than the increase in donated organs.

If anything the GAO report
on the failures of Organ Procurement Organizations to obtain more organs
is evidence of just how difficult it is going to be to increase the level
of organ donation, and further emphasizes why xenotransplantation and
similar technologies will likely play a key role in the 21st century – provided animal rights activists aren’t given the chance to
halt this important advance.