Farewell, Satya

When The Animals’ Agenda stopped publishing in 2002, Satya took over as the primary journal of the new welfarist movement, promoting the fantasy that incremental animal welfare reform could provide significant protection to animal interests and pretending that there was no inherent conflict between the abolition and regulationist approaches to animal ethics.

And now, Satya has gone the way of The Animals’ Agenda and has stopped publishing with its June/July 2007 issue. Although in its final year, Satya devoted some of it pages to criticizing the regulationist approach, which is stronger today than it has ever been, Satya remained until the very end a magazine that, as a general matter, embraced the welfarist approach.

I sincerely wish Beth Gould, Cat Clyne, Martin Rowe, and all at Satya best wishes for the future. I am just sad when I think of what Satya could have done if it provided a clear voice for abolishing animal exploitation rather than collapsing under the weight of an incoherent foundering impulse that so many “animal people” feel—to “do something” about animal suffering without a theory of how this change can occur.

In Satya publisher Beth Gould’s farewell letter, she claims that Satya was designed as a forum “to change minds using nonviolence.” Gould continues:

It is difficult to maintain such ideals when evidence of cruelty abounds. It is tempting to fight, to take up arms and to argue, especially when the tangible victories are so scarce. More animals die today, needlessly, painfully, than did 13 years ago, when our first issue came out. Our movement is more fractured. More people are willing to spend their time arguing about theory than creating positive change. But there are more of us than ever. More people willing to stand up, every day in the face of injustice.

I have several responses to Gould’s observations:

First, violence is never an appropriate response to the problem of animal exploitation. Animal advocates should see the animal rights movement as an extension of the peace movement. Yes, there is presently a great deal of violence toward animals. There is presently a great deal of violence in the world as a general matter. There is more racism, sexism, and heterosexism than ever before. The one thing of which I am certain of is that more violence will not result in less violence. We should all reject violence. Violence only leads to more violence, as the present state of the world so sadly demonstrates.

Second, Gould needs to ask herself why the victories “are so scarce,” why things are worse than they were 13 years ago, when Satya began. Perhaps she will find the answer in the pages of Satya, which has relentlessly promoted welfarist reform as an answer to the problem of animal exploitation. The victories are scarce because animal welfare simply does not work. For the most part, animal welfare protects animal interests only to the extent that it is economically beneficial to do so. This ensures that any victories will be meaningless. And the past dozen years is compelling proof that animal welfare does little more than make animal exploitation more efficient.

Third, Gould complains that “[m]ore people are willing to spend their time arguing about theory than creating positive change.” This is curious to say the least. Gould, like many animal advocates, does not seem to understand that in order to identify change that is “positive,” we need a theory. How are we to know whether we should campaign for “cage-free” eggs or promote various “humane” labeling programs without a theory to identify whether these things constitute “positive change”?

The animal movement has never had robust and open discussion of theory. I agree with Gould that our discourse should avoid “anger” and “recrimination,” but I disagree with her that we can identify “positive change” in the absence of theory. And the movement is not “more fractured.” The problem is that it is more homogenous than it has ever been.

Fourth, Gould says: “But there are more of us than ever. More people willing to stand up, every day in the face of injustice.”

This sounds good, but what does it mean? If Gould means to say that there are many people who are concerned about animals, she is correct, but so what? There have for several hundred years now been a good number of people who care about animals.

But caring, whatever that means, is not enough.

The animal movement will never make any difference until it explicitly embraces veganism as its unequivocal baseline and rejects the notion that we can discharge our moral obligations to animals by being “conscientious omnivores.”

Becoming a vegan is the one abolitionist thing that each of us can do today. Right now. Veganism is the only coherent response to the matter of animal exploitation, and veganism also addresses issues of human health and environmental degradation in important and productive ways. Veganism is a central part of a nonviolent approach to life. Each person who becomes a vegan truly represents a “victory” and if we concentrated our efforts on clear, unequivocal vegan education, those “victories” would be much less “scarce.”

Gary L. Francione
© 2007 Gary L. Francione