What the Animal Rights Movement Can Teach the New Atheists (repost)

REPOST: I'm reposting this because there were some interesting new comments today just about the blue section.


I'll cut to the chase. What it can teach the new atheists is that it's good to debate strategy. It's not selling out "the movement" for some non-believers to question the tactics of others. Yes, I'm returning to the topic discussed (ad nauseum?) here, and here.

An interesting thing about the animal rights movement is that it is factionalized. There are very intense disagreements about how to proceed. Here's a little tour of factions.

The most radical faction is Abolitionist. These folks want a complete end to using animals for our purposes; they think animals ought to be reclassified as "persons" under the law. As far as strategy goes, they are for working toward these ultimate goals, and nothing else. They object to more moderate efforts to reform the meat industry, for example. They think these reforms just reassure people and remove the incentive to completely stop the exploitation of animals. (Follow the link, if you're interested--I think this is an intriguing website.)

A little less radical is the PETA faction, led by Ingrid Newkirk. In ultimate goals, they differ little from the abolitionists, but they are more pragmatic. They're right behind anything that makes life even incrementally better for animals. They're very well known because they're theatrical and confrontational. They make a scene. But they're also fun, and lots of celebrities want to help them publicize animal abuse. They can claim credit for many, many victories in the last 20 years.

Less radical still is the Humane Society approach. They agree with PETA and the abolitionists on the majority of goals. Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the Humane Society, is a vegan himself. The Humane Society takes a complete different approach to strategy than PETA does. No outrageousness, no celebrities, no confrontation. They carefully preserve an image of mainstream compassion, but extend that beyond its traditional boundaries. Like PETA, they deserve credit for many victories.

Quite a lot less radical is an organization like the SPCA. They do share some of the goals of the other organizations. They are opposed to factory farming, just like all of the above. But most of their work focuses on high caste animals--by which I mean our pets.

A few months ago, Ingrid Newkirk visited my Animal Rights class. Of the many, many things that impressed me about her, one thing that especially impressed me is that she wanted the class to see the movie I Am an Animal before she visited, so the students would know something about her and PETA. The movie portrays her sympathetically, and yet it includes significant footage of other animal rights leaders criticizing her and PETA. There's criticism from Wayne Pacelle and even from PETA cofounder Alex Pacheco, as well as leaders of other animal rights organizations. There's lots of footage of PETA being outrageous (and footage of outrages against animals).

In the movie and in front of my class, Ingrid didn't say the other animal rights leaders didn't have enough evidence to challenge her. She didn't complain about how "animal people" are a maligned minority and should stick up for each other. She never insulted her critics or called them names. She had the courage of her convictions and simply responded to the criticisms. She believes in PETA's strategies and can give a very cogent defense of them.

Warring unbelievers should take note!


Faust said...

Nice write up.

amos said...

You did say that there is a radical abolitionist faction to the animal rights movement. In fact, most atheists are not especially radical in their atheism. Atheism is a personal option for most people, as is a vegan diet, an option generally lived out in silence and without proselytism in both cases. I don't see much difference between the varieties of atheism and the varieties of animal rights people, except that for entirely contingent or accident reasons, we've run into lots of more radical atheists lately.

Jean Kazez said...

Yes, well most atheists are sort of SPCA or Humane Soceity-ish. Not confrontational or outrageous. But I think some are more PETA-ish.

Actually I like PETA. The stuff they do really works. I am not convinced the equivalent antics in the realm of religion are as effective.

amos said...

Most people have a soft spot about animals, although they may eat tons of meat, so in general they probably wouldn't feel hostility towards an animal rights activist, unless that activist is very very radical. Someone who eats a vegan diet, once again unless he or she is very very hostile towards those who have other dietary options, would most likely be seen by the general public as eccentric rather than threatening. Atheism, on the other hand, starts with a bad press among the general public.

Anonymous said...

Do you like animals? Please help and add this link to you site:

Help Animals


Tea Logar said...

All we need right now is a group of atheists who forcefully "free" the children from that Mormon Texas ranch, demolish a few churches, attempt to kill the pope, and publicly tell the world that the religious people should be put into concentration camps. Maybe THEN people can finally get the whole "those horrible militant, violent, aggressive new atheists" thing in perspective.

Tea Logar said...

Really, Jean. "Actually I like PETA. The stuff they do really works. I am not convinced the equivalent antics in the realm of religion are as effective."

WHICH equivalent antics? Is it burning down churches (instead of research labs), or merely walking around naked to promote atheism?

Jean Kazez said...

My main point is that there are different animal rights factions, and there is vigorous debate about strategy, with nobody taking affront when factions criticize each other. So...the point really wasn't to make analogies.

But..why not? PZ Myers is a little bit the Ingrid Newkirk of atheism because he's confrontational, attention-seeking, "in your face"...as opposed to seeing common ground, mutually respectful dialogue, etc. His recent field trip to a creationist museum (with 300 students from "the secular alliance") is a PETA-ish stunt.

PETA does not burn anything down. They do colorful, outrageous things to get people's attention. They challenge conventional ideas about how we treat animals by being provocative and unconventional.

I am a big fan of Ingrid Newkirk, so to my mind the analogy is flattering to PZ...up to a point. The reason why it's not entirely flattering is because different things work in different domains. There are lots of reasons why PETA stunts have been so effective against the meat industry. It's not clear that outrageousness about religion, creationism, etc., can be as effective.

Tea Logar said...

It may not be true, but I've heard from different sources that PETA sponsored eco-terrorist groups and gave money to arsonists. They have high-ranking people in their organization who don't think that the possibility of human victims should stop the activists from blowing up research labs. And that they did stupid things, like "freeing" farm animals by letting them roam out of their "prisons"... and then let them to their own devices, right then and there. Like I said, this may be false, I don't have any conclusive evidence. Does anyone know more about this issue?

Besides, PETA is an organization that does "actions" on the streets of major American cities. PZ only has a blog that one can't just "stumble upon", which is what happens when PETA holds protests on your block. These are not supposed to be bad things about PETA, but it sure shows how very different their approach is from that of PZ.

Ophelia Benson said...

"What it can teach the new atheists is that it's good to debate strategy. It's not selling out "the movement" for some non-believers to question the tactics of others."

What strategy? Strategy in aid of what? What "movement"? What tactics? Tactics in aid of what?

The whole idea assumes that "the new atheists" constitute a "movement" to achieve some particular goal or set of goals. Well what would those be? I don't think there are any that all "new atheists" would agree on except the goal of, you know, being an atheist. The goal of being an atheist is achieved by being an atheist - there is no strategy to discuss.

Perhaps we could assume for the sake of argument that most "new atheists" would agree on goals such as making space for atheism in public discourse, ending the polite tactful unilateral silence of atheists, abandoning the closet, ending the double standard by which theists can make baseless claims without fear of contradiction while atheists are not allowed to question baseless theistic claims on pain of being called harsh names and misrepresented. Okay, let's assume for the sake of argument that those are "new atheist" goals. That means it would be silly to discuss a "strategy" that entails doing exactly the opposite of the goals. The way to make space for atheism in public discourse is to talk about atheism in public, not to continue the policy of politely not talking about atheism in public that has allowed everyone to assume that atheists are supposed to be closeted for so long. Strategy is one thing and just ceasing to try to do what you are trying to do is another.

Now perhaps you are assuming that the goals of "the new atheists" are the same as the goals of the authors of Unscientific America. But that's a large assumption. It's a much larger assumption than the assumption that the goal of animal rights activists is to gain more rights for animals.

amos said...

This a real break-through. Up until now, the argument has been over whether the authors of Unscientific American, the hateful twins, are correct about their strategy. Now your position changes, and you affirm that your goals are not necessarily those of the toothpaste duo. (By the way, their smile irritates me too.)

Jean Kazez said...

Animal rights groups are not all simply for animal rights. That's way too simple. Some are for ending all experimenting on animals, some not. Some are for ending pet ownership, some are not. There are lots of differences. So I don't think it can really be that animal rights people talk to each other in a civil manner because they all come together around a single set of goals.


Ingrid Newkirk is quite open about these things, both in her writing and in that movie. She says she does not disapprove of people who steal animals from labs, etc. (with damage just to property), yet she has committed herself to taking a different approach in her own life.

In any event, I'm talking about non-violent stuff when I say there's some similarity between PETA stunts and PZ's.

Ophelia Benson said...

amos my position hasn't changed at all - I've said many times that the twins' goals are not necessarily the goals of the putative new atheists, or of all of them, etc. I've been saying that for years - I said it to Matthew Nisbet too. Part of my objection has always been their bizarre assumption that their particular goal trumps every other possible goal and intention and reason for doing anything.

"So I don't think it can really be that animal rights people talk to each other in a civil manner because they all come together around a single set of goals."

That is SO not what I said - and it's so completely irrelevant to what I said - it so blithely ignores the (obvious) point of what I said -

that I give up, as I'm sure you'll be delighted to hear.

It is kind of depressing that you shift your ground every time.

Jean Kazez said...

Folks, The "twins" talk has to go. Not here, please. One of the fringe benefits of having a blog is getting to make the rules.

Ophelia, I gather you're saying the two cases are different, because all animal rights organizations are aiming at the same goals, while atheists just want to be atheists and don't have shared goals.

To the extent that atheism has become a more unified movement in the last five years, I do think there's agreement on certain aims. I can't think of anyone writing about atheism recently who doesn't want--

(1) More respect for atheists

(2) Clear separation of church and state

(3) Teaching of science without interference of religion

(4) An end to religious beliefs and practices that lead to violations of human rights.

amos said...

There's a 5th point that I sense in the so-called new atheists: that atheists should be themselves, be authentically atheists if they feel like it, feel free to speak their minds about atheism, whenever they want to, as theists generally do. That 5th point seems to come into contradiction with what Mooney advocates. For some new atheists, point 5 might be a more important priority than assuring that you don't offend religious believers and turn them off to science. That has absolutely nothing to do with the debate over whether showing the incompatibility of religion and science will turn believers off to science, which is an empirical, sociological question, while opting for point 5 as a priority is a question of values.

Jean Kazez said...

Ah, but all of (1) - (4) are a matter of values, and very important values.

A big part of the reason why religion is being critiqued so intensely these days is because of the conviction that some religions cause terrible things to happen to people. I think that conviction was really the beginning of "the new atheism"--it's what Sam Harris's book is all about.

Then there's the part of the critique that has to do with interference with science-education. That matters, morally, because an uninformed electorate doesn't deal intelligently with climate change, endangered species, and many other problems. I would think that is an important concern for most people writing about atheism.

#1 is definitely on the agenda too. It's not just--let's expresss ourselves--but let's change society so that atheism becomes a respectable option. Let's get to the point where atheist aren't effectively barred from public office.

If you're serious about all those goals, then you're going to want to strategize.

amos said...

I never said that points 1 to 4 don't involve values nor am I sure which of the 5 points is a priority for me, although probably point 4 would be my priority in real life. I just want to point out that up until now our debate has revolved around an empirical question: whether Mooney is right that hardline atheism will turn believers off to science. Now, Ophelia suggests that she doesn't share Mooney's priorities: that is a question of values and very different than our long argument over how believers will or will not react to being told that science and religion are not compatible. I don't share Mooney's priorities myself, but I do believe that believers will react negatively if told that science and religion are not compatible. Really, I only wanted to point out that the whole debate is much more complex and multifaceted than it appeared to be in the beginning.

Jean Kazez said...

I was careful to point out that there are differences between the values of different animal rights factions as well as shared goals. I think the mix of sameness and difference is about the same among atheists. Yes, Ophelia expressed a different opinion. I did notice that!

The point is that when you have differences both about goals and about strategies, you can still have reasonably respectful debate. People can even make serious accusations against each other, without things degenerating into juvenile name-calling.

amos said...

It certainly is possible to have a reasonably respectful debate. My mention of the twins was perhaps out of order, but in my defense, I will mention that Mooney isn't participating in the this specific conversation nor is it probable that he will read the blog. Furthermore, I said it with a slight touch of irony, which would be difficult to unravel for those who don't know me and even for those who do, but in any case, I will abide by the rules of the blog.

Jean Kazez said...

We ought to have a discussion sometime about the ethics of name-calling and how a mere name conveys such a sense of loathing or dismissal. I'm not quite sure why that is...but that's why it bothers me. I guess I could go for it if the person in question was somehow truly evil, but it's beyond me to understand why anyone would see these people that way. As to their teeth--well, we should all be so lucky. It ought to be illegal to be so cute...

amos said...

I certainly don't loathe anyone in this discussion. Actually, I used the word, the "twins", to convey a certain ironic distance, but it would take pages and pages to unravel myself, if I could. As I've said before, the Mooney wars are not mine: whether science is taught in the schools is not a subject which keeps me awake at night. I join in out of idle curiosity and out of interest in the cast of characters, more than in the theme itself. Everyone has his or her personal gods and demons, and this whole debate, in fact, the entire subject of the new atheism, doesn't touch mine, although the subject of parenting, for example, does. I simply comment on the subject that is being discussed at the dinner table, but not only don't I share the positions of any of the contending parties, I don't frame the world in the way that the contending parties do. The posts on parenting give me more opportunity to unravel myself. In any case, I have no personal animosities towards anyone involved in this debate, perhaps because it is not my debate, it doesn't concern me, except insofar as I play at being a responsible citizen, a role that doesn't touch me deeply.

Jean Kazez said...

Loathing OR dismissal. I think the "twins" thing is more about dismissal. I don't think I heard the irony...maybe you needed a smiley face :-)

I probably wouldn't care about science education except that we have a big problems in the US with science-denial and I think that has serious has serious repercussions. But yes, it's time to move on to something else.

amos said...

Jean: I don't even understand my own irony. There's no reason why you should be expected to understand it. If I have one firm ethical principle, one command of the Socratic daimon, it's that I do not do "smiles" or place "ha, ha" after jokes that no one can be expected to understand.

ben nelson said...

Jean, thanks for the post.

I'd like to complicate your analysis a bit, because the analogy isn't perfect.

a. For the analogy to work, we would need an example of an Alpha-atheist abolitionist. The closest I can find would be Mario Bunge, since he advocates revoking academic freedom for the wide swath of his colleagues that he considers charlatans, and dismantling of theology departments for public universities. This makes me queasy. But even he says that religion belongs in a philosophy classroom, so it isn't a comfortable fit.

b. Sympathy for animals is what motivates people to agree with animal rights. Arguments for atheism are what motivate people to agree with atheism. Arguments are, by necessity, more confrontational to diffident persons than appeals to sympathy.

That's why matters of strategy must shift, by necessity, to the "middle" levels (PZ, Sokal, etc.) in order to have any chance at success. And that's also why people, like Russell (lately), have gotten annoyed at the constant strategy-talk. Letting strategy-talk dominate the discussion makes for a bad strategy, when the thing we need and crave is for the philosophy talk.

c. Some, like M/K, do not have any analogy to anyone on the list, since they are not secular activists in any sense -- in fact, they seem at times to be hostile to secular activism. The SPCA, like the institution of science itself, is on the front lines so to speak. Their purpose is not outreach, but the pragmatic consequence of them doing their work is to benefit their cause.

Jean Kazez said...

I'm not going to go to the wall for this analogy. Actually, I find it interesting to think about both why it's good and why it's bad.

But (just for fun)--I'm going to make M&K The Humane Society. How can they not be "secular activists" if they're assidulously trying to stop religion from smothering science? That's certainly part of their agenda--see especially Mooney's previous books, which he certainly hasn't renounced!

The comparison is to the HS because they are pragmatic, eager not to offend, and determined to bring about those improvements to animal welfare that are realistically achievable, given society as it is. I see M&K in similar terms.

But back to why the analogy is imperfect....and this is something I find interesting. Among "animal people" you do find "team spirit," and that's probably why there is very intense debate without total loss of civility. The team spirit is based on shared feeling. However much Wayne Pacelle may bash Ingrid Newkirk, or Gary Francione may bash Peter Singer, all know that they have a level of concern for animals that makes them teammates.

That's not so among atheists--despite all the shared goals I think most have, there isn't that sort of emotional glue. So things degenerate. I'm curious why there isn't that glue.

Another interesting analogy is with the gay rights movement. There again, you've got the glue, and team spirit, and I'm pretty sure things don't degenerate, despite major differences of opinion about goals and strategies.

So--why no team spirit among atheists? I have some theories about that...but I need to think about them some more (while I spend the afternoon doing some menial labor!).

ben nelson said...

But Jean, how often do you see The Humane Society condemn PETA for being violent, on those occasions where PETA has just given their opinion? M/K are *eager* to offend, say, Dawkins -- so eager that they'll criticize his new book without having read it. (Also, it pays to remember that we're not criticizing Mooney. We're criticizing Mooney AND Kirshenbaum as a team. So it doesn't matter what Chris has written before. Indeed, he has now seemingly abandoned the positions he endorsed before.)

Unless you can reconcile this disanalogy, I submit that M/K sorts don't really belong on the scale of secular activists. They're not trying to be activists for secularism, but are trying to be activists for science alone -- that's the entire motivation behind arguing for a methodological/philosophical naturalism distinction. In fact, by vociferously condemning Dawkins et al., they seem to be outright against secular activism.

I'm not a fan of the "glue" analogy unless we're talking about societies that have a shared basis for interaction. The animal rights activists at least debate each other; M/K et al don't debate, they snipe at a distance.

There's a different analogy which has to do with cult of personality. If you want to unite an aggregate into a common society, you need to villify your opponents and/or deify your leaders (using those terms in a playful sense). By design, the secularists are not in the business of deification (Dawkins is an exception, of sorts, in that he has undeniable credibility). This makes secular activists more prone to villify than to deify. (Exception: folks like Sagan almost sounded pantheistic in the sense of wonder he has about the universe, though he'd be the last to call this "god".)

Jean Kazez said...

Ben, Ah, now we're deep into M&K-ology. I'm tired of that, but are you sure you've really got your facts straight?

I don't know where they accused anyone of violence. Obviously, "the new atheists" aren't committing any acts of violence.

No, they didn't criticize a book they hadn't read (which would be silly). They expressed the worry that Dawkins had narrowed his readership by becoming so closely associated with atheism.

Yes, Mooney has changed his mind about some things. No, there's no sign he's changed his mind about how fundamentalist religion can smother science. The new book actually reiterates that theme.

Secularism means many things. One thing it means is letting science be independent of religion. Yes, they're working toward that. So they could be called "secular activists."

I'm afraid I just don't buy the idea of these people as "snipers". No cult of personality? Then why this amazing rallying around PZ Myers? Why is exposing some of his wilder moments tantamount to "sniping"?

I think that's enough M&K-ology for the day...and maybe forever!

ben nelson said...


1. Their LA Time article was called, "Must science declare a holy war on religion?". They describe Coyne as "assaulting" the Faith Project, because he criticizes it. Etc. Sure, it's language for the purpose of sexing up the point, but it's there. Whether or not you think it ought to be taken seriously is a choice.

2. They praise his argumentative abilities, not his cogency. If the book is a cogent one, then it will sell evolution to somebody or other. If not, not. How can you tell if it's cogent or not? Well, responsible scholars do that by reading it with your target audience in mind, and not making a priori assumptions about how rational argument is unpersuasive to everyone. But they're happy to skip a step.

3. Then we agree. Note the point: secular is not the same as science. The distinction between the two accounts for the lack of common cause, and this is the point I set out to make, and I trust have made successfully, short of some semantic misfiring (see 4).

4. My phrase "secular activism" is meant to be distinct from secularism. Secular activists advocate a secular outlook and push for secular public policy. The accommodationists are directly hostile to secular activism -- that is their point. And they may do this while themselves being secular.

5. a) Under what conditions would you be willing to call a person a "sniper" as opposed to a debater? Comprehensiveness of their critiques, surely? Well, in the episode you mention, they quote Myers out of context, making it seem as though his reaction to hurtful, abusive zealots was a condemnation of all religion. That's especially disturbing, since I'm sure they could have found *some* condemnation of all religion somewhere by Myers and been fair to him in context. But they opted out.

b) You may have a point about PZ being a minor deity, like Dawkins and Dennett, due in large part to their credibility. But it seems to me that there is a quality to the movement that favors the iconoclast.

amos said...

Everyone is in favor of team spirit as long as the team is following the strategy that they prefer. I know little about the animal rights movement, but I did meet some members of the gay liberation movement, back in the early 70's, when the movement was young, the so-called Effeminists (I'll have to google them), and they spent most of their time attacking other gay groups. The civil rights movement in the U.S. was marked by deep divisions, no team spirit, between black power groups and moderates (otherwise known as Uncle Toms). In 1972 I doubt that the leader of the radical fringe of the anti-war movement, Mr. Ayers, felt any team spirit with Senator McGovern, the candidate of the moderate wing or vice versa. I participated in the human rights movement in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship, and our group, Codepu, spent most of our time attacking moderates for being the "bourgeois opposition", until a splinter group from Codepu appeared, more radical than the original Codepu, and then we attacked them for being completely unrealistic. No team spirit. That is, in my experience a lack of team spirit, sometimes known as a united front, is generally lacking in social movements. At times one group becomes totally hegemonic and dominates other groups to the point that it appears like a team, but it's more like a corporation with a CEO. What's more, team spirit can err: there's no guarantee that the team is going in the right direction. Of course, after the victory, the winning faction was always right, although at times one faction wins just because it has more money or resources or fire-power. So, in my opinion, the factionalism among atheists is par for the course, so to speak, among movements that want to change things.

Jean Kazez said...


I just hope the people who are worried about language are also paying attention to their own, and taking a moment to decry the naughty, violent language Mooney used when he named his previous book "The Republican War on Science."

I hope you're right that cogency sells book, but the way of the world seems different. I don't think I'll ever buy a book by Rush Limbaugh, even if he writes something cogent. I'm afraid that in some people's minds, Richard Dawkins is the equivalent of Rush Limbaugh. Just completely the wrong flavor.

Yes, the appropriateness of the word "sniping" depends on how you regard their chapter and other writing. Since we disagree on that, we thus disagree about the word.

Iconoclasm--we finally agree on something! Yes, there's something to that. There's an iconoclastic spirit to a lot of atheist writing. That might relate to the issue about "glue" and team spirit.

Amos, On second thought....maybe the degree of nastiness has to do with the internet. Maybe it's one of those "nasty blogosphere" issues people like to write about. That's a distinct possibility!

ben nelson said...


Yes, both are examples of sexed-up language, which we can ignore or condemn depending on what spirit we think they've been offered. To their credit, at least they avoid using phrases like "militant atheism", which is much like calling feminists "feminazis", since it's poor spirit indeed to describe a group of people who are only being explicit about their opinions and arguments with the rhetoric of radical fundamentalism.

Of course, your point about Dawkins being equivalent to Rush Limbaugh "in some people's minds" is not very much better than the M/K a priori assumption that reasons-based arguments are unpersuasive to all Americans. Which is part of what I was criticizing. So you commit the same error as the one I condemned above from M/K; though to your credit, at least you aren't in the process trying to arrive at conclusions over a book that has yet to be published.

I'm sorry -- what do we disagree on? The interpretation of PZ's statements?

Jean Kazez said...

Feminazi is offensive because of the word "nazi."

On the other hand, I don't see a problem with calling anyone a "militant" atheist if they're being militant. That word has a very ordinary metaphorical use...which of course has nothing to do with guns and tanks.

Of course, I don't think just being explicit about your opinions is being militant. But insults, mockery, the typical stuff at Pharyngula, calling religious people "creotards" and "fuckwits" and all that--that is militant.

The defense of all that seems to be "we owe religion no special respect!" But in fact all that nastiness falls below ordinary respect, not just below the sort of exaggerated respect that religion is sometimes taken to deserve.

I have no idea what error I supposedly made on the Dawkins issue. Their point is obvious and commonsensical. Dawkins has become a brand that only some people want to purchase. That is too bad, because he's a great science-explainer. What's the controversial issue here?

We disagree about their chapter 8. Not to get into a tedious welter of details--I like most of it, you apparently don't. So naturally, I don't have any problem with their discussion of PZ that would cause me to think it was appropriate to call them "snipers."

I have the feeling this tennis match could continue until we're both very, very old. Should we just say "done" and move on?

ben nelson said...

Well that's interesting, because I find feminazi cruel and mean-spirited both because of the Nazi reference, and because when used indiscriminately (which is usual) it implies that the people who fight for their own rights are to be regarded as offensive.

This usage of the word "militant" is baffling for just that reason. When Myers passionately reacts to an injustice being done by zealots to a student senator, it's a defense action, not an offensive one. You might as well go on by saying that Dawkins's considered opinions are a blitzkreig on the religious.

Of course, Myers goes over the line when he jumps the gun. It happens sometimes, and we can condemn it on ordinary conversational grounds. But Crackergate was not one of those times. If anything, he didn't do enough.

The controversial issue is that you're not taking diversity of opinion seriously, and neither do M/K. America is not a hegemony. It has many people of different temperament and character, some of whom are intelligent enough to form their own opinions, and who will be convinced by reasons presented in Dawkins's future book, supposing that it is going to be any good. The "Rush Limbaugh" analogy, which I take is your way of talking about the kingmaker/moderates in American society, is therefore not illuminating.

I found the entire book to be problematic, yes. But I was thinking more of their "Not Our Kind of Critics" attitude expressed on Intersection than UA itself. They have absolutely nothing to say to negative criticism, and they ignore it. The only exception I can think of is where they caught Coyne misrepresenting one of their minor claims. This is fine, but is well short of what you'd expect from a substantial, comprehensive rebuttal.

I'm perfectly happy to continue the discussion until I'm very old so long as it remains a reasonable one.

amos said...

Definition of militant:

Know thyself.

Jean Kazez said...

Ben, I attempted one last response to your points, but it gave me too much of the sense of deja vu, so I pressed the delete button. We have both had our say, and we just have to leave it there.

ben nelson said...

Whatever you prefer.

Anonymous said...

I read this discussion with interest, being both a freethinker descended from indigenous forest culture (completely outside the desert-agriculture traditions of the "people of the book"), and a person deeply committed to evolving my own attitude toward all living beings besides humans. In the past most of my activity was locked in the theatre of the Human Drama, partly because of my life's work. Then I retired early to learn something new, something more.

What disturbs me is that most of the discussion focuses here on mapping human ideas of where various attitudes fall, and then taking sides and niggling about details. Rather than the more difficult examination of what we believe and why in the larger picture. And where we wish to go from here.

In my mind the much more important issue is where and how we may evolve from where we're at, factoring human consciousness (and its limits) into the mix. Not what we were in the past and how to force the present into compliance with ideas we already have.

I have heard, for instance, atheists who say that we are entitled to do whatever we want with animals--eat them, shoot them, strip their fur from them alive--because "look at our teeth, we evolved as omnivores." I don't see how this pat dismissal of deeper and more complex issues, interpreting tooth design as an authoritative text, is all that different from Judaeo-Christian domination of animals justified by some 6,000-year-old books.

It seems to me that far too many people--theists and nontheists alike--are stuck in old desert-agriculture views, playing out ancient gripes and fantasies and stuck in old agendas (staying on top, controlling nature, securing whatever it is that some people feel they need to feel they are on top and in control, and I've known atheists who are just as domineering as some theists I've known).

It seems to me that we are facing an urgent need to re-examine the entire cosmos and our tiny place in it, and really come to account for why we feel we must remain the center of everything.

It seems to me that we face the challenge of whether to move forward or stay stuck in the past of humanity, so rife with desert-agriculture and its reductionist, simplistic, text-worshipping thinking.

Some atheists do this just as much as some theists, though the justification is framed a little differently by each (science and our supposedly unique consciousness, rather than god's special creation of one special species in the whole universe [us]). There are other ways to think. How many of them have we permitted ourselves to encounter, evolve, and practice?

In my experience, the most mind-boggling, transformative, and humbling learning experience has been the amount of intelligence, humor, culture, memory, kindness, curiosity, and decency that I've witnessed in other-than-human beings.

In my experience, biology has taught me not how powerful and wonderful we humans are, but what an astonishing phenomenon is the will-to-life-patterning of nonliving matter set into motion by cosmological and terrestrial evolution.

I dream every day of the day when we can leave the old idiotic turf wars behind and claim a much bigger being for ourselves. In the culture and traditions of my family, life is a fully engaged creative act, in which one is constantly seeking to learn and grow. This is an ongoing tradition, perhaps informed by oral stories of people's experience in various parts of the past, but never dictated by it.

This is a major difference between the very recent religions and cultures of written language, and the millions of years of human (and other species) cultures of direct, lived, shared memory, and direct, lived, shared experience. My concern for both atheism and theism is when doctrine, text, certainty, power, and social pressure replace the brilliant, risky, courageous endeavor that I think of as Evolution Embodied. Otherwise known as life.

Anonymous said...

I had to dig around a bit to find this. It is a viewpoint from Richard Dawkins on "animal rights." It is really about what he calls "the discontinuous mind," and I think it well addresses the discussion at hand:

Gaps in the mind

Jean Kazez said...

Anonymous--this post is about strategic issues. They're interesting and important, but I agree, they're not "of the essence." I think my book does grapple with the issues you bring up (so eloquently), including the nature of animals and how they are seen by indigenous cultures (and "the peoples of the book").

Thanks (if that's you again) for the link--I've never read anything by Dawkins about animal rights.

Alex Chernavsky said...

I’m pretty late to the party here, but the subject of abolitionism is near and dear to me, so I’d like to comment on this post. My comment is broken up into two parts, due to the character-limit.

Jean, with all due respect, I think your abolitionist summary is a bit misleading, in that your description makes abolitionism seem like some impractical, theoretical “pie in the sky” position. I’m an abolitionist because I think it’s the most philosophically cogent position to hold, and also because I think that in purely pragmatic terms, abolitionism has the best chance of success at eventually achieving animal liberation.

Incidentally, thank you for linking to the “Abolitionist Approach” website. If people read only one section of that site, I would recommend this one: “The Four Problems of Animal Welfare”.

You wrote: “[Abolitionists] want a complete end to using animals for our purposes; they think animals ought to be reclassified as ‘persons’ under the law.” The second part of the sentence is sort-of true, but nobody is waging a letter-writing campaign urging the government to pass legislation that would reclassify all sentient creatures as persons. Instead, I would characterize the abolitionist position as the view that veganism as the moral baseline for the animal movement, and creative, non-violent vegan education as the best strategy to achieve (eventual) personhood for animals. If the term “animal rights” is to have any meaning at all, then it surely means that animals have the right not to be eaten by humans.

I also disagree that PETA is more pragmatic than abolitionists. PETA gives the illusion of being more pragmatic, but there are at least two problems with their approach. First, PETA’s outrageous tactics serve only to alienate the mainstream and also cause the general public to view ALL animal activists with deep suspicion. On a few occasions, when I’ve told people that I’m involved with animals rights, they’ve narrowed their eyes and said to me, “Say… you’re not with PETA, are you?”. Putting up Easter billboards with a picture of a pig and a caption that says, “He died for your sins” doesn’t help anyone, most especially not the pig.

[See next post for part 2]

Alex Chernavsky said...

[Part 2]

Second, what PETA considers a victory is what I would call a step backwards. For example, PETA recently convinced the Canadian branch of KFC to change the way they slaughter chickens. PETA hailed this as a huge victory. Instead, what this really means is that the general public now thinks it’s morally acceptable to eat KFC chicken. People say to themselves, “Well, those PETA activists are all a bunch of radical bad-asses, and if THEY say KFC did the right thing, well then... it must be OK for me to eat KFC chicken”. (Also, the “better” form of slaughter may not be any more humane than the old form.) You can read more about the KFC disaster here.

You wrote, “[Abolitionists] object to more moderate efforts to reform the meat industry, for example. They think these reforms just reassure people and remove the incentive to completely stop the exploitation of animals.” This is true but not complete. As a purely empirical matter, it’s not at all clear that welfarist “reforms” do anything substantial to improve the lot of animals. See the “Humane Myth” website for more information. In any case, campaigning for welfare reforms is like urging Michael Vick to treat his dogs’ wounds with antiseptic ointment and provide comfy beds for the dogs to sleep on. Obviously, that’s not the answer. The answer is that nobody should be using dogs for dog-fighting, and nobody should be turning cows into hamburgers.

Finally, in a somewhat unrelated point, I think that you are far too sanguine in your characterization of HSUS, the ASPCA, and local animal shelters. I think these organizations reinforce the idea that dogs & cats (and other companion animals) are in a separate, higher moral category than other animals. See, for example, this humorous little blurb that ran in Reader’s Digest a few years ago. I'm involved in animal-rescue work myself, and I applaud others who do it, but I'm more than a little irritated by people and organizations that fetishize pets while turning a blind eye to the exploitation of other animals.

Thanks for considering my thoughts, late as they are.

Jean Kazez said...


I am intrigued with the abolitionist approach, after having taught some Francione last semester and getting student reactions. We read an article of his in Animal Rights (Sunstein and Nussbaum) and listened to two interviews, one with Erik Marcus on welfarism and the other with Jonathan Groubert about pets. Both are on the Abolitionism site--


The Marcus interview is here--


People did not find the argument about companion animals persuasive. Here's a curious fact--they were very bothered by all the dogs that could be heard in the background (seven, I think). We wound up discussing that at great length--if Francione disapproves of pet-ownership, why doesn't he emancipate his own dogs? There was also a lot of talk about how it could just be that dogs are of a kind such that their place in the world really is with human beings--so it's not exploitative to enter into caring relationships with them.

As to his more general orientation--I think people were shocked that he wouldn't support Prop. 2 in CA. Though I realize these are very small changes that were being proposed, they are better than nothing.

I think there's something very cogent about his point that you lull people into complacency by giving them slightly better "humane" options, instead of being emphatic about veganism. You won't like this--but I am simply pessimistic about creating an all-vegan world. I think a huge number of animals are going to be used for food for the foreseeable future, and they need to be better treated.

About PETA tactics and whether they are really "pragmatic"-- This is a very interesting issue, and I wonder if there's any research about it (do you know)? Ingrid Newkirk says that street theater shocks people and alienates some, but also entices lots of people to seek out information about the treatment of animals. That makes sense. Yet, the issue about alienation seems real too. Even in my animal rights classes, which people have signed up for voluntarily, there is a tendency for people to roll their eyes about PETA (which completely disappeared when my class met her in person--she was awesome).

Thanks for all your links and your thoughts. I am teaching animal rights again this semester and will cover Francione again, and certainly want to give his outlook a fair hearing.

Jean Kazez said...

p.s. The blurb is hilarious/horrendous. I must put that somewhere!

amos wallerstein said...

I'm not familiar with the abolitionist position, so maybe someone can help me. The abolitionists want animals to be treated as persons, according to the post. That makes sense for primates, dolphins, the usual intelligent suspects. I imagine that they don't demand personhood for cockroaches or ants. So where do they draw the line between person and non-persons?

Jean Kazez said...

I'm not sure what Francione's position is on "drawing the line." Hopefully Alex will come back and help us out!

Alex Chernavsky said...


Francione has addressed the issue of dog-emancipation. I'm surprised he didn't do it in the Groubert interview you referenced. Dogs are bred to be dependent on humans. They (the dogs) wouldn't fare well without human intervention, so "emancipating" the dogs wouldn't really work. Francione has said that although he doesn't think we should bring new dogs (or other pets) into the world, we do have a moral obligation to take care of the ones that are here already.

As for insects, well... they may or may not be sentient. In practical terms, though, the main focus of abolitionists is on animal-agriculture. The marginal cases, like insects, will have to wait, I guess. (I'm not speaking for Francione or anyone else here.)

Amos -- I'm not sure that intelligence is really so important for assigning personhood. Why is a dolphin more deserving of personhood than a cat? Any animal that has sentience and an interest in continued existence would seem to qualify for personhood.

Sorry about the brief answers. It's late, and I have to go bed.

Jean Kazez said...

Alex, I think Francione did make those points...I was very surprised students weren't satisfied. I think they thought it was illicit for him to enjoy having dogs, if he thinks its inherently bad to have dogs. Plus, we talked about whether his dogs could survive on their own--and had an amusing discussion of their being released like Buck in "Call of the Wild."

amos wallerstein said...

What do you mean by personhood?
I agree that one should not mistreat or be cruel to sentient beings, but that doesn't mean that they are persons. The next thing you know, cats will be demanding socialized healthcare. (That was a joke.)
It seems that there is a contradiction between treating dogs as persons and not letting them reproduce. Dogs want to reproduce, and I doubt that they will use condoms. Perhaps dogs also want to form dependent relationships with human beings.
Shouldn't one respect the tendency of dogs, if they are persons, to form dependent relationships with human beings. Actually, the idea that dogs shouldn't be allowed to be pets is very patronizing of dogs, of their autonomy, of their doghood or personhood, if you wish.

Jean Kazez said...

"Persons" contrast with "property." What's really crucial here is that Francione wants animals to stop being classified as property. This means a fundamental shift in our way of thinking.

Example: my kids are taking a social studies class about the great state of Texas. First topic--the state's resources. Animals are included along with the states minerals and vegetation. The kids are supposed to learn what products we get from them. So: just as you get stone from the state's quarries, you get milk from the state's cows.

Francione's view is that this is a fundamentally distorted way of thinking about animals. They should no longer be in the "property" category. That doesn't mean they ought to be given all the rights of human persons...but then, persons have varied rights anyway. Babies don't have the adult's right to vote, etc.

Re: dogs. We have deliberately bred a class of animals that's happiest in a state of servile dependence. I wouldn't say that's entirely unproblematic.

Alex Chernavsky said...

I don't think that cruelty or mistreatment are really the issues here. The issue is exploitation -- using animals as a means to an end. I think it's unethical to eat a cow, even if we can be absolutely certain that the cow lived a happy life free from mistreatment and was slaughtered in a painless fashion.

As to your other questions, I don't really know the answers, and I don't want to speculate (my training in philosophy is fairly minimal). I would refer you to Gary Francione's book, Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation.

My interest in abolition is really less philosophical than it is as a framework for addressing such down-to-earth questions as, "Is it ethical to promote the use of cage-free eggs?", or "Was PETA correct in giving Temple Grandin a prize for her work in designing 'better' slaughterhouses?".

Alex Chernavsky said...

Sorry, my last post was directed at Amos's comments. Jean must have posted just before I hit the "publish" button.

Jean Kazez said...

Sorry--I jumped on that. It so happens I am proofreading my book and fixing a paragraph about Temple Grandin. It would be good to discuss that question: was PETA right to give her that prize? I'll try to post something about that soon so the topic won't be buried in this thread.

amos wallerstein said...

Although dogs are now bred by human beings, the original dependence relationship between human beings and dogs seems to have been spontaneous. Your use of the word "servile" in the phrase "servile dependence" is very loaded. Is all dependence "servile"? It sounds like the way radical feminists talk about women who have opted to depend economically on a husband. For radical feminists, such dependence is by definition servile and degrading, even if the traditional housewife feels that she flourishes in her role. I agree that with Alex that exploitation of animals is wrong, just as is cruelty towards them.

Jean Kazez said...

Yes, in the "ur" scenario, wolves hang around the campfires of humans, and there's a pleasing mutualism. But today, animals are deliberately bred to have exactly the characteristics that are pleasing to humans. As I said I don't find this "entirely unproblematic". (Pretty tepid, really!)

The connection to women is slight. Servility in women is problematic, but comes about in a different way--so I would say "a horse of a different color." But I don't mind the word. Servility is an interesting phenomenon--discussed by lots of authors--and something worth worrying about.

amos wallerstein said...

I'm not a French poodle or for that matter, a pit bull fan myself. As for servility, I'm uncomfortable in restaurants where the waitors are servile and very very uncomfortable in homes where the maid serves the food.

amos wallerstein said...

Here I am again. I felt so confused this morning to be suddenly exposed to the new world of abolitionist animal rights that
I didn't ask all the questions that I could have. (Besides, I had to answer a long email from my sister.) Now, your children's social science class may divide the world into persons and property, but what about so-called wild animals, what about the fish in the ocean? That is, there are lots of living things that are neither persons nor property. Why not just say that animals should not be property instead of misusing the word "person", which already has a precise meaning? I could accept the argument that animals should not be considered property, but it seems strange to me to consider them as persons. By the way, "person" generally has a precise legal meaning, which could not include animals. Another point: while I am against servile dependence, I don't think that all dependence is servile nor do all pet dogs live relationships of servile dependence with those human beings with whom they have a relationship of dependence. Finally, agreed that dogs have been bred at times in perverse ways, but they are a reality. One could argue that human beings should stop breeding perverse races of dogs. I agree. But all the poodles want to reproduce, although not necessarily with other poodles. They have a sex drive and may have a maternal instinct/urge for all I know. Reproduction is surely part of what it means to flourish as a poodle or as a rottweiler. How can an animal rights activist deny poodles and rottweilers the right to flourish? Why not live with the races of dogs which we have produced? If you break it, you've bought it, as the saying goes. People have created certain perverse races of dogs; they are our responsibility.

Jean Kazez said...

Quickly (because of work pile-up)...

Wild animals actually are property--the ones in Texas are owned by the state. Even fishing sometimes requires a license.

I think the idea behind saying animals are "persons, not property" is not to give animals exactly the same moral status as adult human beings. All persons aren't equivalent. Babies have different rights than adults. Corporations are legal persons, but don't have the same rights as adults. Legal personhood for animals is not quite the insane thing it seems to be at first. It would need to be spelled out what rights came with "animal personhood." (I'm not defending this idea...just saying it's not nuts.)

There's some weird dog-breeding that goes on, like you say. I'm not sure it's bad on the whole for there to be companion animals. OK--gotta run. I am back to teaching and don't have as much time for blogging as I did over the summer.

amos wallerstein said...

Thanks. Back to school. Out of the many stupid Hollywood comedies that I saw with my children, the only one which I recall with fondness had that title, at least as translated into Spanish: maybe it was Back to College. Hollywood doesn't always succeed at touching all your weak points, but when they do, they do, better than anyone else. Have a good school year.