Worst. Dunayer. Review. Ever.

So this web site may have seemed like it should have been called JoanDunayer.Net lately, but I’m still a long way from finished writing about Dunayer. On the other hand, Friends of Animals’ Lee Hall probably should have refrained from writing about Dunayer’s book Speciesism at all if he had nothing more to say than his horrible review, “Raising the Bar.”

Hall has a completely different — and stupid — take on Dunayer’s view of animals as person. Hall for some reason think that Dunayer’s book is somehow relevant to legal precedents which treat corporations as persons under certain circumstances.

Hall writes,

Consider this: Corporations according to our modern law, are legal persons. They are born, die, and have emergencies as well — often. When a conflict arises between the survival of a corporation and the survival of a sentient individual, should a corporation, which is essentially a collection of humans who get together in search of profits, automatically have the right to bolsters its own viability at the expense of a feeling, breathing individual’s life?

Without a continual stream of profit, a corporation might fail in its duty to shareholders, and be unable to sustain itself over time. A business may well claim its survival is at stake in a given transaction, for property owners’ interests are deemed, and will continue to be deemed, immense stakes. After all, wars are fought over them. If a company’s a person, money is personal survival and that trumps the very life of any animal who isn’t a legal person. An oil company’s profit will frequently prevail over entire communities of wolves, seals, birds, and others. With corporations now considered legal persons, every nonhuman animal is endangered.

Advocates for animal right will, at some point in the very near future, need to grapple directly with the new realities of corporate personhood as well as conflicts related to our rising population. Regarding the latter, as land is taken up for a burgeoning human community, nonhumans tend to be moved, killed, or otherwise controlled.

Joan Dunayer’s proposal would fashion a legal obstacle to this patterns, as freed nonhuman would be seen as owners of their eggs, milk, honey, pearls, nests, and hives. And they would have a claim to the natural habitats in which they live, so that emancipation from property status could be effectively enjoyed.

Okay, let me start by making a confession — in large measure I have no idea what the hell Hall is talking about. His review at times reads like Philip K. Dick’s Valis trilogy. But lets see what we can tease out.

If I’m not mistaken, In the last two paragraphs above, Hall is asserting that if Dunayer is correct than animals might have property interests not only in their natural products, such as eggs, but in their natural habitats. This would seem to follow from Dunayer’s views. I have a tree in my backyard that birds use to nest. If the birds are really persons, they would seem to have a much better property interest claim in the tree than I do.

A couple years ago, bees began nesting in an area near my home. We killed the bees because and destroyed their nest because we have children in the neighborhood who allergic. Was that self-defense or mass murder?

Hall’s claims about the limited personhood of corporations made no sense. First, treating corporations as persons is very old, going back to the 19th century in the case of the United States. Second, it is eminently sensible and obvious since a corporations is simply a device for human beings to carry out collective action and should have the same general sort of rights and obligations as a person.

For example, the New York Times is a corporation that happens to publish a newspaper? Should the New York Times have the same rights to free speech as individual persons do? Should the government be able to limit what the New York Times publishes because it is, after all, just a corporation rather than a real, flesh and blood person?

To us another example, Friends of Animals is incorporated. Should it have the same rights as a living person would have to organize protests and disseminate its animal rights views?

Of course it should. To not treat corporations and other collective instruments of human activity as persons would pretty much prevent any sort of collective or cooperative action by human beings.

Hall doesn’t seem to make any substantive claims about corporate personhood — lame ranting about “money is personal survival” is simply that.


Raising the Bar. Lee Hall, January 12, 2005.

Steven Wise vs. Joan Dunayer

As I’ve mentioned previously, Joan Dunayer’s new book Speciesism is really striking a nerve among many animal rights activists and groups. Animal rights legal activist Steven Wise complained on AR-NEWS that Dunayer had distorted his arguments about which animals should receive legal status as people. Dunayer responded to Wise’s criticism by posting the text of her chapter that critiques Wise.

In the chapter, Dunayer complains about activists such as Wise who believe that animals who he believes are capable of accomplishing cognitive tasks comparable to what human beings are capable of should be granted legal rights. Dunayer complains that this itself is speciesist for a number of reasons including that it excludes such creatures as insects.

Dunayer begins generally making her case,

Another legal case challenging nonhumans’ property status is overdue. When rights advocates bring such a case, it should be based on nonhuman sentience, not human-like mental capacities. Most likely, however, the advocates will apply new-speciesist philosophy and argue that particular nonhumans (probably, members of a great-ape species) should be legal persons because they closely resemble humans in their cognition and behavior.

. . .

By ranking humans as a perfect 1.0 [on Steven Wise’s scale of autonomy] and all other animals lower, Wise also casts nonhumans as lesser: not of equal value, not entitled to equal consideration. As envisioned by him, “animal rights” doesn’t mean animal equality.

The specific case Dunayer takes Wise to task for is his refusal to accede to Dunayer’s claim that insects should have rights. Dunayer uses the example of honeybees,

As in Rattling the Cage, at a 2000 conference Wise dismissed the idea that insects might reason or ever should have legal rights. I told him I knew of much evidence that honeybees and other insects reason. He requested references. The evidence I supplied included the following.

When a honeybee colony requires a new hive site, scouts (all of whom are sisters) search for a cavity of suitable location, dryness, and size. Each scout evaluates potential sites and reports back, dancing to convey information about the site that she most recommends. A honeybee scout may advertise one site over a period of days, but she repeatedly inspects her choice. She also examines sites proposed by others. If a sister’s find proves more desirable than her own, the honeybee stops advocating her original choice and starts dancing in favor of the superior site. She’s capable of changing her mind and her “vote.” Eventually, colony members reach a consensus.

. . .

To his “amazement and horror,” Wise found such evidence compelling. He now credits honeybees with the ability to reason. He shouldn’t have been so surprised. Reasoning ability has survival value for insects as well as humans.

Nevertheless, according to Wise, honeybees don’t qualify for legal rights. Why not? They’re invertebrates. If they were vertebrates — like us — he’d give them an autonomy grade of 0.75 or 0.8, and they’d qualify for rights. Lacking the proper pedigree, they aren’t welcome in the exclusive club.

Dunayer goes on to make a clear distortion of Wise’s argument. She claims that Wise has a hierarchical view of species that entails believing that evolution is moving creatures toward more human-like characteristics,

Like other new-speciesists, Wise has a hierarchical view of species: human traits are the most advanced. . . .

. . .

The notion of higher and lower beings lacks scientific validity.

Saying that animals that are more like humans are more likely to deserve rights in our legal framework than animals that are more dissimilar, however, does not in any way presuppose that evolution is producing more human-like animals or that there is some sort of inherent hierarchy that exists beyond human categorization.

Dunayer could just as easily argue, using her logic, that all known systems of categorizing species are unscientific and worthless because evolution doesn’t care about whether animals are vertebrates or invertebrates or mammals or non-mammals — all evolution does is describe how certain organisms are likely to succeed while others are likely to fail and how that reproductive pressure shapes the genotype and phenotype of those organisms.

No, it doesn’t make sense to create a hierarchy that ranks the “evolutionary progress” of species, but it certainly makes sense to create a definition of intelligence and rank species based on how close they approximate that definition.

And, of course, since she’s thrown around the Nazi comparisons elsewhere in her book, it is only a matter of time before she invokes slavery and racism analogies,

Before African-American emancipation, a number of slaves sued for freedom on the grounds that they were white. Unable to prove whiteness, they had to demonstrate that they were so much like a white that they should be given “the benefit of the doubt.” . . .

. . .

Wise would subject nonhumans to the same sort of bigoted, degrading tests that enslaved humans had to “pass” in order to receive the freedom that always was rightfully there. Just as demonstrations of whiteness were based on deeply racist premises, Wise’s proposed demonstrations of humanness are based on deeply speciesist ones. Wise, you’ll remember, considers the ancestry of African gray parrots and, deeming it too remote from ours, counts it against them. In Wise’s scheme, nonhumans don’t get freedom unless their ancestry is sufficiently human (white) and members of their species have demonstrated a sufficient number of human (white) traits. They don’t get freedom unless members of their species have scored 0.7 or higher in humanness (whiteness).

. . .

With regard to legal rights, Singer has praised Wise for supposedly answering the question “Where should we draw the line?” The answer always has been far simpler than Singer, Wise, and other new-speciesist would have us believe. The line should be drawn between sentient beings and insentient things.

It would be interesting to see what, if any, living creatures that Dunayer believes do not have rights. Under her definition, presumably bacteria, viruses and other life forms don’t have rights, but sentience as she defines it would presumably include almost every complex animal.


Speciesism. Joan Dunayer, 2004.

Dunayer vs. Davis on Speciesism

Joan Dunayer was not impressed by Karen Davis review of her book, Speciesism and posted a lengthy critique of Davis’ review to animal rights mailing list AR-NEWS.

Dunayer elaborates on her anti-welfarism views,

Similarly, the managing editor of the conservative National Review opposes nonhuman rights but approves of PETA’s asking KFC (formerly Kentucky Fried Chicken) to implement less-cruel slaughter. “Why not ‘gas killing,’ as a gentler alternative to the other stuff?” he writes, calling such a change “just.” Killing innocent beings is far from just, wehther or not they’re gassed. These two men endorse “humane slaughter” campaigns because such campaigns aren’t rights-based. To the contrary, they’re based on violating nonhumans’ rihgt to life. Instead of seeking measures compatible with the attitude that it’s acceptable to kill nonhumans, advocates should consistently work to change that attitude. Without such change, slaughter will go on and on.

Dunayer also challenges Davis’ claim that, “There is absolutely no evidence to support Dunayer’s claim that working for ‘welfarist’ reforms retards liberation.” Dunayer vehemently disagrees,

This is false. In Speciesism I provide evidence such as the following:

1. Switzerland’s elimination of battery cages increased the Swiss egg industry’s profitability and its acceptability to consumers.

2. A 2000 Zogby poll indicated that most U.S. adults feel better about eating animal-derived food if they think the animals were treated “humanely.”

3. Vivisectors and other abusers continually point to “welfarist” laws such as the Animal Welfare Act and Humane Methods of Slaughter Act as evidence that nonhumans are treated “humanely.” These laws, which have failed to protect nonhumans from extreme suffering, give consumers false assurances.

4. As reported by the egg industry itself, “welfarist” campaigns against food-removal forced molting have resulted in the industry’s starting to switch to low-nutrition starvation that will be less offensive to consumers.

To a large extent, Dunayer is correct — the main successes the animal rights movement have had so far are simply animal welfarist improvements, and tend to reinforce animal use rather than lead to animal rights. On the other hand, Dunayer’s liberationist fantasies are also doomed, at least in the United States.


Corrections of Davis’s false and misleading statements in her Specieism review. Joan Dunayer, January 11, 2005.

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.

More Joan Dunayer on Animal Rights vs. Animal Rights Welfarists

In response to criticism of her book, Speciesism, and specifically its attacks on the more non-abolitionist elements of the animal rights movement, Joan Dunayer recently posted a long section of her book which deals with this topic to animal rights mailing list AR-News.

Dunayer charges that animal rights activists who work for reform of certain practices are hypocritical or, at the least, not true to their ideals,

Asking KFC or any other company to implement less-cruel slaughter of chickens conveys this message: “It’s alright for you to kill chickens, provided that you do it in the least cruel way.” As David Nilbert has stated, nonhuman advocates shouldn’t ask a company to sell body parts from chickens slaughtered less cruelly; they should demand that the company “stop selling fried body parts of chickens altogether.” . . .

“Welfarist” campaigning perpetuates a speciesist double standard between humans and nonhumans. As expressed by Francione, treating “the nonhuman context different from the human context” indicates “species bias.”

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.” In fact, I’d find the question bizarre and offensive. I’d regard any focus on better living conditions or more-“humane” deaths as immoral. It’s equally immoral to focus on better living conditions or more-“humane” killing of enslaves and slaughtered nonhumans.

. . .

Time, money, and effort always are limited. Activists should devote every available minute and dollar to reducing the number of victims and bringing the day of emancipation closer — by promoting veganism and building public support for nonhuman rights. Over the long term, the best way to reduce hen suffering is to increase opposition to hen enslavement, not to seek “improvements” in that enslavement.

Dunayer goes on to argue that animal rights activists who campaign for improved treatment of animals might actually increase their suffering,

Groups such as UPC and AVAR have campaigned against total-starvation forced molting. A ban on any or all types of forced molting would be “welfarist,” not abolitionist. Such a ban-actually a requirement that enslavers give hens adequate food and water-would leave hens to be killed when their egg laying declines.

The forced-molting issue epitomizes the tradeoffs that “reforms” often entail. A ban on forced molting would mean that many more chickens would be enslaved and murdered. “Laying hens” would pass through the egg industry at a faster pace: egg-factory owners who previously used forced molting would “dispose of” and “replace” them after a shorter period. The number of hens and roosters used as breeders also would increase. So would the number of male chicks born and killed.

Even so, Paul Shapiro, Campaigns Director of Compassion Over Killing, has argued that, overall, a forced-molting ban might reduce the suffering of chickens because forced molting causes suffering and prolongs the time during which a hen lives in horrendously cruel conditions. Whether or not the total amount of chicken suffering would be less without forced molting-which is impossible to determine-what are we doing when we ask that the longer suffering of fewer individuals be replaced with the shorter suffering of many more individuals? We never would say of innocent humans, “Please improve the conditions of those who are imprisoned and killed, but imprison and kill more people.” Do we really want more hens and roosters living lives of utter misery and more male chicks being born only to be suffocated or ground up alive? To a rights advocate, the whole idea of attempting to calculate which causes more suffering-torturing and killing fewer chickens over a longer period or torturing and killing more chickens over a shorter period-is morally objectionable. Either way, chickens suffer and die. Either way, their moral rights are completely violated. Remember: chickens shouldn’t be imprisoned in the first place.

According to an industry article on forced molting, the low-nutrition method of starvation was developed because “animal welfare interests” criticized the no-food method as “inhumane”; the new method “addresses the negative welfare connotation that fasting has with animal welfare organizations and consumers.” In other words, while continuing to starve hens, the industry now will claim to feed them. As a result, consumers will feel better about eating eggs.

Of course as Norm Phelps noted in his review of Speciesism, what Dunayer is calling for in practice is no improvement and no abolition, since liberation in Western societies is a non-starter. Lets hope all activists adopt Dunayer’s views!


Speciesism. Joan Dunayer, 2004.

Norm Phelps Reviews Joan Dunayer’s Speciesism

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.