Karen Davis on Holocaust Comparisons

Karen Davis recently wrote a lengthy response to critics who complain about animal rights activists comparing the condition of animals slaughtered for food to the victims of the Holocaust. A Tale of Two Holocausts argues that, if anything, animals actually suffer more than human beings, and that the term “Holocaust” could be said to have been misappropriated by the animals’ oppressors.

Brian O’Connor has an interesting analysis of Davis’ work, of which the following prefatory remark is worth noting before looking at the particulars of Davis’ claims,

“A Tale of Two Holocausts” is tedious and pedantic, and weaves together cliched themes of Animal Rights moral equivalence with the fallacious logical operators of the sort “what if” “could well be” “some say” “can’t show otherwise” “‘can’ equals ‘should'” that wouldn’t pass muster in any peer reviewed journal other than a post-modern rag specializing in the ivory-tower equivalent of “alien abduction” conspiracy theories (“You weren’t there — I was abducted. Prove me wrong!”). “Two Holocausts” differs little from other such tracts either in its challenged logic or in pretentiousness, neither of which is an asset. But don’t take my word for it — plod through the entire thing yourself.

To put it a bit more bluntly, its a boring, rambling piece that, as O’Connor points out, relies on a lot of weasel words to doesn’t form any sort of coherent point. But there are some interesting things Davis has to say along the way.

The first thing that stands out is Davis’ assertion that not only is it appropriate to compare the condition of animals with the suffering that human beings suffered during the Holocaust or any number of other genocides, mass murders and ethnic cleansings, but animals may actually suffer more more than humans in such situations. That’s right, a herd of cattle destined for slaughter may suffer more than a family of Jews murdered by the Nazis.

Davis writes (emphasis added),

Notwithstanding, it is reasonable to assume that animals imprisoned within confinement systems suffer even more, in certain respects, than do humans who are similarly confined. This occurs in a similar way that a mentally impaired person might experience dimensions of suffering in being rough-handled, imprisoned, and shouted at that elude a person capable of conceptualizing the experience. Indeed, one who is capable of conceptualizing one’s own suffering may be unable to grasp what it feels like to suffer without being able to conceptualize it, of being in a condition that could add to, rather than reduce, the suffering. It is in this quite different sense from what is usually meant, when we are told that it is “meaningless” to compare the suffering of a chicken with that of a human being, that the claim resonates. The biologist, Marian Stamp Dawkins, says that other animal species “may suffer in states that no human has ever dreamed of or experienced” (Dawkins 1985, 29). Matthew Scully writes in Dominion of the pain and suffering of animals in human confinement systems:

For all we know, their pain may sometimes seem more immediate, blunt, arbitrary, and inescapable than ours. Walk through an animal shelter or slaughterhouse and you wonder if animal suffering might not at times be all the more terrifying and all-encompassing without benefit of the words and concepts that for us, after all, confer not only meaning but consolation. Whatever’s going on inside their heads, it doesn’t seem “mere” to them. (2002, 7)

. . .

[After the 9/11 attack] I compared all this to the relatively satisfying lives of the majority of human victims of 9/11 prior to the attack and added that we humans have a plethora of palliatives, ranging from proclaiming ourselves heroes and plotting revenge against our malefactors to the consolation of family and friends and the relief of painkilling drugs and alcoholic beverages. Moreover, whereas human animals have the ability to make some sort of sense of the tragedy, the chickens, in contrast, have no cognitive insulation, no compensation, presumably no comprehension of the causes of their suffering, and thus no psychological relief from their suffering. The fact that intensively raised chickens are forced to live in systems that reflect our dispositions, not theirs, and that these systems are inimical to their basic nature (as revealed by their behavior, physical breakdown, and other indicators), shows that they are suffering in ways that could equal and even exceed anything that we have known. Industry sources note, for example, that hens caged for egg production are so overwrought that they exhibit the “emotionality” of “hysteria,” and that something as simple as an electrical storm can produce “an outbreak of hysteria” in four-to-eight-week-old “broiler” chickens confined by the thousands in buildings (Bell and Weaver 2002, 89; Clark, et al. 2004, 2).

You will notice the abundance of qualifiers that O’Connor sites as rendering the essay all but pointless. Animals may, could, might, etc. Of course they also may not, could not or might not, so why bother with simple conjecture after conjecture?

Davis’ claim that an animals inability to conceptualize any pain it feels might make that pain worse is odd given that conceptualization of pain is generally viewed as increasing the severity of the pain, and genocide, mass murder and ordinary every day murder has frequently incorporated said conceptualization to increase the horror of murder. Consider, for example, the civilians kidnapped by terrorists in Iraq and publicly paraded on video before being beheaded. Along with the physical pain of such a gruesome murder, those poor souls have had to endure torture and the psychological pain of their own conceptualizations of what was likely to happen to them.

We see this in our culture when human beings talk of death that occurs almost instantaneously or when an individual is unconscious as being a more “peaceful” death than one that occurs with the full conscious awareness of the individual. This is certainly an odd idea if being able to consciously conceptualize pain and death minimizes the pain relative to not being able to conceptualized pain and death.

Davis also addressed the odd subject of “Who ‘Owns’ the Holocaust?” Here Davis suggests that the Jews — oppressors of animals, after all — may have improperly appropriated the term “Holocaust” for their own purposes.

Davis writes (emphasis added),

The word holocaust is not species-specific, and therefore Jews have no ownership rights over it. From whatever source the word “Holocaust,” as it is now employed, came from, Jews have taken it over from the Greek word, holokauston, which in ancient times denoted their own and others’ cultural practice of sacrificing animals, to designate the Nazi extermination of the European Jews.4 Conceivably, those animals could complain that their experience of being forcibly turned into burnt offerings (and to please or sate a god they would not necessarily have acknowledged as their god) has been unjustly appropriated by their victimizers, who are robbing them of their original experience of suffering. Through PETA’s “Holocaust on Your Plate” exhibit, the animals reclaim their experience, past, present, and future. Taking the animals’ view it may be said of them, as Bruno Bettelheim said of the millions of Jews and others who were systematically slaughtered by the Nazis, that “while these millions were slaughtered for an idea, they did not die for one” (Bettelheim 1980, 93).

Ah yes, the Jews unfairly appropriated the word Holocaust from the animals, and are continuing to oppress the animals by thereby diminish the suffering they cause to animals. You just can’t make this stuff up.

There is one final thing of note in the essay. Davis feels the need to quote from left wing activist Ward Churchill who, according to Davis’ notes, wrote the forward to Steven Best and Anthony Nocella’s collection, Terrorists or Freedom Fighters: Reflections on the Liberation of Animals. Here’s what Davis says of Churchill,

In A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas 1492 to the Present, Native American scholar Ward Churchill writes that the experience of the Jews under the Nazis “is unique only in the sense that all such phenomena exhibit unique characteristics. Genocide, as the nazis practiced it, was never something suffered exclusively by the Jews, nor were the nazis singularly guilty of its practice” (Churchill, 1997, 35-36). Furthermore, Churchill argues in his Forward to Terrorists or Freedom Fighters: Reflections on the Liberation of Animals: “Given that the key to the ‘genocidal mentality’ resides, as virtually all commentators agree, in the perpetrators’ conscious ‘dehumanization of the Other’ they have set themselves to exterminating, it follows that removal of the self-assigned license enjoyed by humans to do as they will to/with nonhumans can only serve to better the lot of humans targeted for dehumanization/subjugation/eradication” (Churchill 2004, 2-3).

It is interesting that Davis would cite Churchill and that Best and Nocella would choose him to write the forward to their book. Churchill is infamous for, among a lot of other things, statements he made that were as outrageous as Davis’ about 9/11. In an essay entitled “Sometimes People Push Back,” Churchill compared the victims of the 9/11 attack to Nazis,

Well, really. Let’s get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they [the victims of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center] were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire – the “mighty engine of profit” to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved – and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to “ignorance” – a derivative, after all, of the word “ignore” – counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in – and in many cases excelling at – it was because of their absolute refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I’d really be interested in hearing about it.

Davis, Best, Churchill — what a lovely group of like-minded individuals.


A Tale of Two Holocausts. Karen Davis, Animal Liberation Philosophy and Policy Journal, Volume II, Issue 2.

“Some People Push Back” On the Justice of Roosting Chickens . Ward Churchill, 2001.

The Baby Or The Dog: Which Would You Save If You Could Only Save One?

If there were both a dog and a baby dying, and you could only save one, which would you choose?

People are always asking variations on this dilemma in the context of animal rights because for most people the answer is simple — our moral intuitions tell us that regardless of what sort of moral principles or system we subscribe to, the answer is clearly the baby.

Animal rights types tend to disagree. Tom Regan was famously asked if he were aboard a lifeboat and had to throw either a dog or a baby overboard, which one he’d choose. He answered, “(If) it were a retarded baby, and a bright dog, I’d save the dog.”

That was bad enough, but University of Texas-El Paso philosophy professor Steven Best apparently won’t even be bothered with concerns over whether or not the infant is retarded and/or the dog is especially bright.

According to the Daily Iowan, Best recently appeared at the University of Iowa and,

His statements generated a flurry of questions and criticism from the audience, which was made up of doctors, psychology students, animal-rights activists, and medical students. “If you saw a baby dying and a dog dying, which would you save?” one audience member asked.

“You need to be more specific with your question,” Best replied. If a house with his dog and someone he didn’t know was burning, he said he would save his dog, prompting another wave of gasps.

Best was talking at the University of Iowa — and I’m not making this up — as part of that university’s celebration of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. According to the Daily Iowan,

Demanding the “total pursuit of animal emancipation,” he praised the front’s actions and compared the freeing of animals to the Boston Tea Party and the Underground Railroad. Best said no progress can come about without a large movement, even if it means violence, but called death threats toward researchers “problematic.” He contended that the Animal Liberation Front was not violent.

“The animal-rights movement is growing whether you like it or not – it’s unstoppable,” he said in his opening remarks at the IMU. His lecture, “The New Abolitionism: Civil Rights, Animal Liberation, and Moral Progress,” drew an audience of more than 100 as part of the UI Martin Luther King Human Rights Week.

“Real violence is what people do to animals,” he said, acknowledging that his definition differs from King’s. “Violence is not always right – yet it’s not always wrong, either.”

The sad thing is that the people in attendance were apparently shocked that such views are held by people in academia. In fact I’ve had a number of academics complain in e-mail that I’m invoking a straw man when I claim that it won’t be long before you have biologists and others at universities under siege from animal rights terrorists, while across campus animal rights philosophers and others will provide an intellectual defense that such violence is, in fact, peaceful protest.

Hopefully these folks will wake up before its too late.


Animal-rights speaker provokes disbelief. Julie Zare, The Daily Iowan, January 21, 2005.

Academics In Defense of Animal Rights Terrorism

Over the past few years, I have received no small amount of criticism for this 1999 article about the spread of animal rights law courses at institutions of higher learning. That article concluded with this prediction,

Alan Ray, Harvard Law SchoolÂ’s assistant dean for academic affairs, defended the course by saying, “It took a 13th Amendment to the Constitution for us to outlaw slavery at a time when people were treated as property because of the color of their skin. There are occasions in the law for taking a very fundamental look at the treatment of other living things.”

With PrincetonÂ’s hiring of Peter Singer and Harvard’s hiring of [Steve] Wise, the day will not be too far off when our universities will find scientists on one end of campus victimized by animal rights terrorists while legal professors on the other side of campus teach students that the violent activists are simply modern day abolitionists.

In one sense I was wrong — there are no law professors, to my knowledge, who make that claim yet. However, the last five years have seen a number of professors at universities come out in support of animal rights terrorism.

The most prominent and prolific of these is the University of Texas at El Paso’s Steve Best who chairs that university’s philosophy department. Best is also affiliated with the Center on Animal Liberation Affairs and is the editor of that organization’s Animal Liberation Philosophy and Policy Journal.

In article for Satya defending animal rights terrorism, Best outlines his beliefs,

It is obvious that not all violence is justified, but it is equally obvious that not all violence is unjustified. Self-defense is one example where it is acceptable and prudent to use force against another person if necessary. Beginning in 1974, the ALF declared war against animal oppressors and the state that defends them, but the ALF did not start the conflict. It entered into a war that animal exploiters long ago began. If one party succumbs to a war initiated by another party, it employs violence in self-defense and so its actions are legitimate. Acting as proxy agents for animals who cannot defend themselves, ALF actions in principle are just.

Without getting into a detailed analysis of Best’s views, note that this is simply the same tired argument made by anti-abortion extremists only with “animals” substituted for “unborn children.” Yawn.

Later Best argues that rather than being condemned for violent acts, ALF, SHAC and other groups should be commended for showing restraint,

. . . But, as nonviolent groups (I do not define property destruction and psychological intimidation as violence), the ALF and SHAC never attack or injure human beings, however righteous their anger against animal exploiters; they attack property, not people. Given the gravity of the situation for the animals they represent, such direct action groups should not be criticized for using excessive force but rather commended for exercising moderation and restraint.

The journal Best edits runs articles like Tim Phillips’ Who is the Legally Defined Terrorist: HLS or SHAC? which argues that,

It is an Orwellian irony that violence and dangerous science are commonly considered beneficial while the resistance to this activity is considered terrorism. Delving beyond these considerations and focusing on the current government definitions unexpectedly shows that HLS is an international terrorist organization, and that SHAC is using counterterrorism in its attempt to save countless animals and protect human lives. The dominant view of animal testing fails to accommodate cases of this kind, in which animal rights activists are praiseworthy individuals an animal research is terrorism. Because animals are capable of becoming victims of terrorism and SHAC is not responsible for any illegal actions against HLS, there is no excuse for the current private and state protection of HLS. The cruel and dangerous practices HLS employs for profit warrant not only our attention, but our action as well.

Phillips is apparently a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, Morris and that institution’s public relations department chose to include the publication of Phillips’ article in its weekly bulletin highlighting the recent accomplishments of its faculty and students.


Thinking Pluralistically: A Case for Direct Action. Steve Best, Satya Magazine, April 2004.

Who is the Legally Defined Terrorist: HLS or SHAC? Tim Phillips, Animal Liberation Philosophy and Policy Journal, Issue 2, 2004.

An Example of How Animal Rights Extremists Rationalize Violence

Animal rights activist Ari Moore, who says he is a member of both People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Farm Sanctuary, has a post on his weblog in which he rationalizes his desire to engage in violence to further the animal rights cause. Moore’s thoughts on violence are inspired by an issue of Satya magazine that offered a platform for advocates of animal rights terrorism, including the University of Texas at El Paso’s resident terrorist apologist, Steven Best.

Moore writes of his acts of wanting to move beyond his acts of animal rights-inspired graffiti,

I was at a place right before I read the first issue where I was going to step up my anti-speciesist graffiti by throwing red model paint at fast food restaurants and stores that sell furs and/or lots of leather. It hardens to a dark red gloss that looks a lot like blood and is very difficult to remove. I’d also affix a statement explaining the action, perhaps stuck in the paint so it would be difficult to remove. Time was, I would not engage in any action that caused fiscal damage. Over time, I began writing on and stickering over advertisements on phone booths, advertising walls (disgusting marketing development in New York), subway posters and the like. After a while, throwing red paint started looking like a good next step.

I thought I had everything well thought out but now my thinking is even more developed, though I still haven’t decided whether I’m going to stop with the fiscal damage or step it up even further, perhaps join the ALF. (Shhh, it’s secret.)

Moore then goes on to describe the two basic competing ideas he ran through — how would any such action benefit animals and how would the intended audience perceive it. You’ll note that in his analysis he doesn’t waste a single word on the rights of his proposed victims. They simple don’t count,

The issues as I see them are this: I have to keep two things in mind, the benefit to the animals I’m working for, and the impact on my audience — people. While theoretically, stealing farm animals and burning the farm buildings to the ground would save not only the present inhabitants but prevent them from being quickly replaced by yet more animals, this would most likely have a terrible impact on the credibility and image of the animal rights movement, and could possibly be so damaging that in the long run more animals would end up suffering while we repaired the damage. Conversely, while a purely non-violent, pacifist approach that excludes all property damage and vandalism would make for a very respected and trusted movement in the public eye, this restraint would be a form of passive violence (i.e. if a psycho rapist is threatening to harm children, you get in there and you push the fucker away, pacifism be damned).

You have to love that last sentence — by not committing an act of violence against McDonald’s or a furrier, Moore would in fact be committing a large act of violence against animals by failing to help them. Although acts of terrorism are clearly not on par with those committed by groups dedicated to killing as many people as possible, such as Al Qaeda, they do at least share with such groups ridiculous attempts at rationalizing their actions. If Moore commits an act of violence it’s not his fault or responsibility — its actually his victim’s fault for putting him in a position where if he does nothing he is guilty of a “form of passive violence.”

Moore restates this basic idea a couple paragraphs later by claiming that extreme situations require extreme methods,

On one side of the debate there are total pacifists, many of them making rash generalizations about how violent so many animal rights activists are, and on the other side there are those who use violence against property (but not against any sentient being, unless you count intimidation as violence) to varying degrees.

I have to admit that I’m feeling more in line with the latter folk. When Malcolm X used the words “by any means necessary,” he wasn’t advocating random violence, but self defense. The violence carried out against people of color, women, the poor and the homeless demands that we exercise our right to defend ourselves — or in the case of animal rights, to defend those who can not defend themselves. Extreme situations require extreme methods. In the words of Ingrid Newkirk as quoted by Steve Best, Ph.D. in Satya:

If a concentration camp or laboratory is burned, that is violence, but if it is left standing is that not more and worse violence?Â…IsnÂ’t the chicken house todayÂ’s concentration camp?Â…Will we condemn its destruction or condemn its existence? Which is the more violent wish?

So how will does all of this work in everyday situations? If I throw red paint at McDonald’s, some worker may get pissed off the next day because he has to go scrape it off, and a few people may feel guilty when it occurs to them that what they’re eating is rotting corpse, but they may then close off and get angry instead of changing their actions. But perhaps a lot of people walking by will wake up a little, be startled into thinking about something they don’t usually think about. Maybe the people eating there who feel guilty will decide not to eat there again. Maybe the workers will question what it is they’re being paid to do, and what it is they’re eating. Maybe vegans passing by will feel validated in knowing that other people feel the same way they do, and maybe they’ll be inspired to do some direct action themselves.

Fascinating. Moore has gone from saying that acts of violence may be justifiable because to stand by will allow greater acts of violence to occur, to suggesting that acts of violence may be justified if the acts are publicized and end up validating others who agree with him. This, of course, is exactly the argument that racist extremists use to justify vandalizing the homes of minorities — such vandalism both acts to intimidate the victim (and like Moore probably don’t see intimidation as being violence) as well as validates the opinions of other potential racists in the community. (And, like animal rights extremism, usually tends to produce a backlash much bigger than both).

Moore concludes his essay with a flourish,

So I believe that in some cases non-violence is needed, and in others, considered and careful use of violence against property is needed — a diversity of approaches, always keeping the benefit to non-human animals and the impact on humans in mind. It’s just occurred to me that these two considerations are essentially ahimsa: the most good and the least harm. So I knew this all along. I just had to read a lot and think a lot to get to the answer in a more roundabout way.

Which is simply a long-winded way of saying that, for Moore, the ends justify the means. What a shocker there.


Yet more vegan evolution. Ari Moore, May 7, 2004.

Anthony Nocella on Animal Rights

Infoshop carried an odd interview this week with a supporter of animal rights terrorism, Anthony Nocella. Nocella is the co-editor, with Steven Best, of Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals.

Much of the interview is tied up with Nocella’s statements about anarchic philosophies and how those relate to the animal rights movement.

But Nocella has some very odd views of what humans should and should not be allowed to do with animals. For example, here are two quotes from different parts of his long interview which underscore his views (emphasis added),

I strongly believe that all action should be based on the premise that the end does not justify the means. [Except, apparently, when it involves animal rights violence.] Thus, even if a child is happy at a circus, that child should not enjoy happiness at the expense of a bear being taught to dance in a tutu with the aid of an electrical prod. And a human should not have a heart transplant at the expense of a baboon being experimented on.

. . .

Furthermore, I am not an extremist. I am logical and balanced. I have dialogued with members of the FBI, CIA, UN and National Security Studies in the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. I am willing to hear all sides of a conflict and am not hear [sic] to judge. I respect people that hunt for their meat, such as Native Americans, and the people that eat road-kill. I just do not support anyone that enslaves or kills non-human animals for profit, such as slaughterhouses, research facilities, circuses or animal prisons — aquariums and zoos.

So what matters is not whether animals are sentient or can feel pain or are self-aware, but rather what sort of economic transactions which occur after they are killed? I wonder what he thinks of tofu being bought and sold lie a crass commodity in supermarkets!


Interview with Anthony Nocella. Infoshop.Org, April 26, 2004.