Yearly Archives: 2007

Postmodern Feminism and Animal Welfare: Perfect Together

Recently, there was a debate on the excellent and always lively Vegan Freak Forums between what may generally characterized as “postmodern feminists” and “radical feminists.” Postmodern feminists acknowledge that a woman’s choice to commodify herself sexually may represent an act of empowerment and cannot be assessed in any definitively negative way. These feminists are often pro-pornography, or are at least not anti-pornography. Radical feminists are more inclined to reject the commodification of women as inherently problematic. They are generally anti-pornography and are particularly opposed to pornography in which women are depicted as recipients of violent or abusive treatment. They regard most gender stereotypes as harmful to both women and men and seek to undermine these stereotypes. Postmodern feminists often argue that “feminine” stereotypes can help to empower women.

This debate has some interesting and important parallels with the debate on abolition vs. welfare. Indeed, postmodern feminism and animal welfare are the same theory applied in different contexts.

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A “Bright Spot”?

A Media Release (October 25, 2007) from Animal Rights International (ARI) President Peter Singer announced that ARI has placed billboard-style ads on New York buses for a month. These ads apparently show how battery eggs are produced. In the Release, Singer explains how terrible battery cages are. Singer states: “‘Battery cages are being phased out in Europe—why are we lagging behind?'” Singer claims that “there is a bright spot in this dark picture”:

Cage-free eggs, while presently only about five percent of sales, are the fastest growing segment of the market. As more people become aware of the enormous suffering inflicted on caged layers, they often choose to spend a few extra pennies for a more humanely produced egg. ARI hopes that by reminding New Yorkers that breakfast comes at a price for hens, many will spend a little more to get them out of the cages.

The ARI/Singer Release is problematic in at least three respects.

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A Classic of “Moral Schizophrenia”

A central theme of my work for the past decade or so has been the exploration of our cognitive confusion—our “moral schizophrenia”—when it comes to nonhuman animals. Recently, I commented on how entertainer Ellen Degeneres sobbed on her television show about a dog that she adopted and gave away while, at the same time, promoted her dead-animal luncheon menu on her website. Football player Michael Vick was excoriated for his involvement with dog fighting by a public that thinks nothing about eating nonhumans tortured every bit as much as one of Vick’s dogs.

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Adventures in (Ir)Rationality

We humans claim to have some sort of “special” characteristic that justifies our exploitation of nonhumans. One such supposed characteristic is that we are supposedly rational and they supposedly are not. When we consider that it is humans who build nuclear weapons and who destroy the very environment necessary to sustain life, including our lives—just to identify two irrational human behaviors—the rationality claim rings rather hollow. But every now and then, particular examples of what a strange species we are really hits me. I want to share a recent experience with you.

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Ellen Degeneres and Iggy the “It”

On October 16, popular U.S. entertainer Ellen DeGeneres told her talk-show audience–and the world–that she adopted a dog, Iggy, in September. She claimed that Iggy did not get along with her cats, so she gave him to her hairdresser, who has two daughters who wanted him. This apparently violated the adoption contract used by the rescue group, Mutts and Moms, from which Ms. DeGeneres adopted Iggy, because the contract apparently required that she return him to them if she no longer wanted him. The rescue group took Iggy from the hairdresser’s home. Ms. DeGeneres broke down and sobbed as she made a plea that Mutts and Moms return the dog to her hairdresser’s children.

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Equality and Similarity to Humans

Paola Cavalieri, co-editor with Peter Singer of The Great Ape Project: Equality Beyond Humanity, wrote an essay about the recent shooting of a chimpanzee, Johnny, a chimpanzee in his 40s, at Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire, north of London. According to Cavalieri, Johnny was shot because he was described by zookeepers as “‘a bit of a thug.'” The Times claims that Johnny and another chimpanzee, Koko, had escaped and Koko “gave herself up to a keeper in a nearby field” whereas Johnny apparently did not, and the decision was made to shoot Johnny for reasons of “public safety.”

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Some Thoughts on Vegan Education

I am going to try to tackle in a preliminary way a subject that generates a fair amount of controversy and about which I get quite a bit of email. The subject, broadly speaking, is how vegans should relate to omnivores given that ethical vegans regard the use of animals as involving serious violations of their rights not to be treated as human resources. Do ethical vegans have an obligation to be confrontational with omnivores and to relate to them the way in which we would relate to those who engage in serious crimes against humans?

In one sense, you can anticipate my answer to this question given that I argue that the primary obligation of animal advocates is to engage in creative, nonviolent vegan education.

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