Is it speciesist to support animal welfare regulations?

Over at this blog (see end of comments) Gary Francione has said he's writing an essay tentatively called "The Welfare/Regulationist Approach is Deeply Speciesist."  He says he will be done in a few days or next week, by which time I'm not going to be around to read or respond (real life responsibilities are going to get in the way).

The tentative title got me thinking though.  It's certainly true that some who pursue a welfare/regulationist approach are speciesist.  Suppose you watch video footage of factory farms and slaughterhouses, and you think "Got it!  We'll just make the stalls a little bigger and then this will all be OK." If you think that's a sufficient response, you've pretty much got to think "They're just animals" or something a little more sophisticated, but along those lines. Certainly, footage of people being treated in some comparably cruel way  would make us feel total horror, and we'd instantly commit ourselves to getting them released.  Slow, small welfare changes would seem petty, like a waste of time.

But now, consider all the animal activists who support regulations.  They are not in that speciesist state of mind.  They are not attending to factory farms and slaughter houses, and thinking "A few changes will make this just fine."  They are attending to a much bigger picture.  The picture consists of the factory farms and slaughter houses and a wider society where the above speciesist response is very deeply entrenched and nearly universal.  "We have to regulate this while also pursuing liberation" isn't a first order response to animal farming, it's a second order response to the way others regard animal farming.  Where the first order response is speciest, the second order response is (in my view) just plain realistic.

Ah well, back to other things. I look forward to reading Prof. Francione's essay -- when it's out, and when I'm back at my desk.


Nathan Nobis said...

It seems to me like it's good to distinguish perspectives based on, on the one hand, their ideal or morally acceptable *ends* and, on the other hand, their views about what *means* are acceptable and likely fruitful in bringing about that end.

Some folks would be fine with an end of young animals being killed 'humanely.' Others argue that that's not enough, that it's wrong to raise and kill animals for food in almost all circumstances.

How to best attempt to bring about that end seems mostly an empirical question to me.

Jean Kazez said...

It's partly an empirical question, but "mostly"? Common sense morality certainly says otherwise, assuming animals are members of the moral community. When we are aiming for some type of social justice for humans, it's certainly not "mostly" an empirical question how to get there. Take, for example, how to achieve gender equality in Islamic countries. Should activists try to achieve a certain reform? It's certainly not mostly an empirical question whether to do so--if that means a question about the most effective means to achieve the ultimate goal. We think individual women today have rights to certain things, regardless of whether respecting those rights would accelerate or slow down achievement of the ultimate ends. Maybe some transgressions are useful, since they motivate people to work toward the ultimate goal. If I knew that was the case, I still wouldn't allow the transgression to continue. Victims don't want to be used in that way, even to advance legitimate goals. I would not think animals should be used for liberationist goals either, though in that case it's not a question of respecting their overt wishes. They can't think about it, so we have to imagine what we would want in a similar situation.