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.

Christina Louise Dicker Reviews Joan Dunayer’s Speciesism

In the March-May 2005 issue of Vegan Voice, Christina Louise Dicker reviews Joan Dunayer’s recent book, Speciesism. Like other activists, Decker is smitten with Dunayer’s extreme, if consistent, animal rights philosophy.

Dicker highlights the expansive nature of the types of creatures that Dunayer would grant rights (emphasis added),

Dunayer’s arguments are hard-hitting and rock solid as she uses plain and simple language, supported by a myriad of examples, to clarify every aspect of the discussion. . .

. . .

The author convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that our fellow species on this planet are not our inferiors. She argues that “any form of consciousness should suffice to confer legal personhood,” and when discussing the grounds for such a statement she carefully explains how consciousness and sentience (rather than complexity and intelligence) are the only relevant methods to assess a creature’s right to justice.

I’m assuming, based on Dicker’s use of quotation marks, that the section highlighted above is Dunayer’s formulation. Regardless, it is absurdly broad.

Dunayer has previously argued that it is wrong to use indirect human measures of consciousness to assign rights. Dunayer criticizes Steven Wise, for example, for Wise’s refusal to grant rights to honeybees on the grounds that bees are invertebrates. Dunayer says this creates a nonsensical hierarchy of species.

But if any form of consciousness should suffice, then we are in the same boat with every species. For example, I am fairly certain that my fern is not conscious. However, in arriving at that view, I am inferring it from the fact that the plant does not exhibit minimal signs that I would argue are necessary at a minimum for consciousness, such as acting intentionally (which is not to say that every being that acts intentionally should be considered conscious — though Dunayer seems to take that view — but rather that creatures that don’t act intentionally would seem to be automatically excluded from the set of beings that is conscious).

But if “any form of consciousness” qualifies, the same objection applies — how dare we apply our human-mammalian-animal prejudices to deciding whether or not my fern is conscious?

Rather than simplifying things, Dunayer’s views taken together appear to create a number of problems for those who would embrace them. And yet, embrace them she does as Dicker seems to explicitly recognize where Dunayer’s position leads. She writes, (emphasis added),

Throughout the ages, one of the most effective methods of achieving social reform has been education, followed by action. My prediction is that Joan Dunayer’s work will have a snowball effect as other considerate human beings to [sic] accept, adopt, and then promote the goals outline in this book. The potential impact of this amazing text is ready to prove once again that the proverbial pen has the power to change the world.

A book like Speciesism promotes a thoroughly positive step forward for the future of our planet, since the rebounding effects of the abolition movement will bring about improvements for other global problems, such as environmental degradation and human overpopulation. It envisions a day when people stop heralding the “sanctity of human life” and start proclaiming “the sanctity of all life.”

My prediction is that Dunayer’s book won’t be read outside of a small circle of extremist animal rights types and will have no impact on the wider debate about society’s treatment of animals, in large measure because of the extreme view which Dicker articulates that advocates for “the sanctity of all life.” That view takes an already fringe view and cranks up the nuttiness by a factor of 10. Its absurd to talk about the sanctity — and presumably rights — of all living things. Even vegans need to regularly kill living things in order to survive, unless Dicker and Dunayer favor Newkirk’s dream of a world absent humanity, because that’s ultimately where the abolitionist version of the animal rights philosophy leads.


Review of Speciesism by Joan Dunayer. Christina Louise Dicker, Vegan Voice, March-May 2005.

Ingrid Newkirk on ALF

While surfing the web the other day I ran across an interview with Ingrid Newkirk published on an Australian animal liberation site. The interview was originally from the Australian publication Vegan Voice and dates back to 2001.

Anyway, the interviewer asks Newkirk several questions related to accusations from Gary Francione and others that in reaching accommodations with Burger King that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals had softened its abolitionist stance. Newkirk dismisses such suggestions and adds that the U.S. media do not seem to think PETA has abandoned its radical pose (emphasis added),

We have an abolitionist approach, but I always say that while our heads are in the clouds and we fight for total liberation, our feet are firmly planted on the ground. For example, I don’t think people should ride horses (which has been too radical for even an animal rights feminist publication to print in the U.S., believe it or not), but if I see someone beating a horse I’m going to try and stop them even if I can’t take their horse away from them. I must say, the press doesn’t share this idea that we are namby pamby: They know that if there’s a rat or cockroach involved, PeTA is the group here that will stick up for that poor blighted animal publicly (we are currently defending sharks due to the hysteria over the recent attacks!) and we will always stick up for the A.L.F., so they call us and we do.


Ingrid Newkirk – taking on the critics. Vegan Voice, 2001.

Karen Davis: 9/11 Attacks May Have Reduced Pain and Suffering of Chickens

United Poultry Concerns’ Karen Davis recently posted an open letter to Vegan Voice, an Australian vegan magazine, denouncing Peter Singer for allegedly disparaging chickens in a recent book review that touched on the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Singer, you may remember, argues that morality consist of reducing suffering in sentient persons. Singer has long hedged about where exactly the line between persons and non-persons should be drawn, but has speculated that a chicken might be an example of a creature that is not a person because it may not have a sense of its own existence over time.

That in itself was enough to enrage Davis, who insists that when chickens at her sanctuary “yell and otherwise beg and demand to be let out of their enclosures,” this is all the evidence anyone needs that chickens have a sense of their own existence over time.

But where Singer really crossed the line in Davis’ eyes was when Singer recently argued that it was wrong to draw a moral equivalency between the deaths of thousands of people in the 9/11 terrorist attack and the deaths of millions of chickens. Reviewing Joan Dunayer’s book Animal Equality: Language and Liberty, Singer rejected Dunayer’s claims that people should use the same terminology for the suffering of animals as they use to describe the suffering of human beings. Singer wrote,

Reading this suggestion just a few days after the killing of several thousand people at the World Trade Center, I have to demur. It is not speciesist to think that this event was a greater tragedy than the killing of several million chickens, which no doubt also occurred on September 11, as it occurs on every working day in the United States. There are reasons for thinking that the deaths of begins with family ties as close as those between the people killed at the World Trade Center and their loved ones are more tragic than the deaths of beings without those ties; and there is more that could be said about the kind of loss that death is to begins who have a high degree of self-awareness, and a vivid sense of their own existence over time.

Davis will have none of this, offering two closely related arguments — (a) that, if anything, the suffering experienced by chickens is worse than that experienced by humans in the 9/11 attacks, and (b) that the 9/11 attacks may have produced a net reduction in pain and suffering, since it likely killed several thousand meat eaters.

Davis writes,

For 35 million chickens in the United States alone, every single night is a terrorist attack, if the victim’s experience counts and human agency is acknowledged. That is what “chicken catching” amount to in essence. And it isn’t just something that is “happening” to these birds but a deliberate act of human violence perpetrated against innocent (they have done us no harm), defenseless, sentient individuals.

While I would not dream of using arguments to diminish the horror of the September 11 attack for thousands of people, I would also suggest that the people who died in the attack did not suffer more terrible deaths than animals in slaughterhouses suffer every day. Moreover, the survivors of the September 11 attack and their loved ones have an array of consolations-patriotism, the satisfaction of U.S. retaliation, religious faith, TV ads calling them heroes, etc–that the chickens, whose lives are continuously painful and miserable, including being condemned to live in human-imposed circumstances that are inimical and alien to them as chickens, do not have available. They suffer raw, without the palliatives.

As Davis sums up near the end of her letter, she in fact does think “it is speciesist to think that the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center was a greater tragedy than what millions of chickens endured that day and what they endure every day.”

If a chicken killed for food is morally equivalent to a human killed by a terrorist, then the obvious question is whether or not the victims of the 9/11 attack were truly innocent, and Davis has no problem at all leaping to the logical conclusion of that line of thinking. She writes,

Doubtless the majority, if not every single one, of the people who suffered and/or died as a result of the September 11 attack ate, and if they are now a life continue to eat, chickens. It is possible to argue, using (Peter Singer’s) utilitarian calculations, that the deaths of thousands of people whose trivial consumer satisfactions included the imposition of fundamental misery and death on hundreds of thousands of chickens reduced the amount of pain and suffering in the world.

Some animal rights activists care more about the suffering of animals than people.


An Open Letter to Vegan Voice Re: Singer’s Disparagement of Chickens. Karen Davis, December 26, 2001.

Review of Joan Dunayer’s Animal Equality: Language and Liberty. Vegan Voice, Dec. 2001 – Feb. 2002, Peter Singer.