Tag Archives: Science

Do You Know the Most Common Mistake in Animal Activism?

Effective Animal Advocacy

As a social scientist specializing in social movement theory as it applies to the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, I am often dismayed that so many vegan activists consciously dismiss the importance of research in their commitment to prioritizing activism. This likely reflects a general conservative suspicion with science (an ironic attitude given that science is such an important ally to social justice), exacerbation over the critical plight of Nonhuman Animals, or even plain ol’ human stubbornness.

I argue that this “Activism First” skittishness of science constitutes a serious blunder. The liberation of Nonhuman Animals will not come willynilly, through good fortune, or even with dedication and hard work. Tactics must be supported with research and guided by science to ascertain their effectiveness.

Unfortunately, the power, politics, and egos of social justice work frequently trump a genuine and necessary interest in what works, what doesn’t work, and what can be improved. As a researcher in this field who has studied extensively the science of social movements and the politics of anti-speciesism, my biggest piece of advice to vegan activists is to pause a moment and do some assessment.

I am certainly not making a case for elitism. Innovation in tactics should be fostered, and sometimes this will emerge from newcomers and the unstudied. However, it is a strategic failing when the majority of a movement’s activists have zero training in effective activism and few have bothered to read the scientific theory of social movements and social change. This is an enormous, unnecessary, and avoidable disadvantage.

To presume ourselves experts and leaders in social change without also adopting the role of student exemplifies human arrogance, entitlement, and privilege. Activists must be life-long students in order to be effective leaders. If Nonhuman Animals are counting on us, we are obligated to aspire to our best.

 

 

 


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.Readers can learn more about the science of effective activism and the importance of research in movement repertoires in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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Study Shows Objectified Women Less Likely to be Activists

PETA Naked Protest

 

A study published in Psychological Science finds that women who self-objectify are less likely to challenge the status quo of gender inequality. These findings could have serious implications for the Nonhuman Animal rights repertoire.

Anti-speciesism activism, in general, supports the notion that women are sexual objects that can be exploited for recruitment and fundraising.  Women (especially young, thin, white women) are repeatedly exposed to movement norms which expect them to take off their clothes and pose in sexually provocative ways “for the animals.” If these norms should begin to internalize and feed self-objectification for female activists, this could seriously disempower the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. Young women comprise the movement’s largest demographic, and should be nurtured rather than exploited to achieve effective social change.

Women who are objectified and consequently objectify themselves are less likely to affect liberation. As the research suggests, self-objectification is an important impediment to achieving social justice because “objects don’t object.” I have noticed that countermovement activity has attempted to frame vegans as weak, unpatriotic, weird, etc., but I have also noticed that vegan women have been eroticized. This is intentional: sexualizing others disempowers them. When women are reduced to sexual objects, this undercuts their political power and their ability to resonate. When they self-objectify in response to existing in a sexist cultural space, they are even further depoliticized. If the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is actively replicating this process, it could be doing the movement considerable damage (in addition to reinforcing sexism, an ethical problem in of itself).

Read more:

Rachel M. Calogero.  2013.  “Objects Don’t Object:  Evidence that Self-Objectification Disrupts Women’s Social Activism.”  Psychological Science 24(3): 312-8.

Abstract:

Integrating system-justification and objectification theories, the research reported here broadens the scope of prior work on women’s self-objectification to examine its system-justifying function. I investigated the relation of trait and state self-objectification to support for the gender status quo and engagement in gender-based social activism among U.S. college women. Study 1 established that greater trait self-objectification was related to more gender-specific system justification and less engagement in gender-based social activism. The data supported a mediational model in which gender-specific system justification mediated the link between trait self-objectification and social activism. Results from Study 2, in which self-objectification was situationally activated, confirmed the same mediational model. These findings suggest that trait and state self-objectification may be part of a wider pattern of system-justifying behavior that maintains gender inequality and thwarts women’s pursuit of social justice.

Read a summary from The Raw Story here.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about the dangers of engaging sexism in Nonhuman Animal rights activism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

 


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on February 13, 2013.

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Selling Cancer to Beat Cancer? When Nonvegan Foods Go Pink for Profit

Yoplait Breast Cancer Campaign logoVegan theory acknowledges not only the systematic violence imposed on vulnerable Nonhuman Animals, but also the tendency for this oppression to intersect with the suffering of vulnerable humans. One such instance occurs in the pink ribbon “find a cure” campaign.

There is a tendency for companies that peddle carcinogenic products to go pink to increase sales. Caring about cancer is commodified, with the well-being of both women and other animals undermined. For instance, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) was, at one time, donating proceeds from every bucket purchased of deep-fried chicken parts to fund cancer research. That is, KFC encouraged the consumption of chickens to fight cancer, although the consumption of these body parts are known to cause cancer.

In another example, dairy consumption is linked with increased breast cancer occurrence, recurrence, and mortality, but Yoplait brands its yogurt products as cancer friendly with its “Save Lids to Save Lives” marketing scheme:

The goal of Save Lids to Save Lives is to support the millions of people who have been impacted by breast cancer by raising awareness and funding to fight the disease.

If Yoplait’s goal really is to save lives (and not to bandwagon on a serious disease to profit from public fear and sympathy), then Yoplait might consider changing out its animal ingredients.

Instead, Yoplait works to make their carcinogenic product “synonymous” with fighting cancer:

For many, Yoplait has become as synonymous with breast cancer research as we are with yogurt. We are proud that over the last 15 years, our commitment to the cause has resulted in nearly $35 million from all our donation programs. Because of this, programs like Save Lids to Save Lives have given many women the support they need when they need it most. However, we can still do more.

I agree, we can still do more. How? First, there is a need to prioritize prevention over “cures.” Cure research is an extremely profitable enterprise, and for the amount of resources it entails, offers very few beneficial results. Much of this research is conducted through vivisection, a speciesist, archaic, and scientifically unsound approach (which also happens to be an extremely profitable enterprise).

Prevention programs require just a fraction of the billions expended on cure research. Importantly, these programs could aid vulnerable human demographics in avoiding suffering and death. They could also spare billions of Nonhuman Animals exploited to both create these dangerous products and test their toxicity.

Prioritizing cure research and trumpeting more consumption to support it is conducive to corporate interests, but a truly effective strategy for combating cancer would entail a focus on prevention. This must begin with structural support for food choices not shown to be carcinogenic (meaning there will be no place for fried chickens or dairy-based yogurt). For those who also wish to support cancer research, they might consider donating directly to animal-friendly cancer foundations, a much more efficient strategy than collecting yogurt lids.

 

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about the intersections of capitalism and speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


A version of this essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on March 20, 2013.

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If You Care about Animals, In-Vitro Meat is Not the Answer

In Vitro Meat

Posed as the perfect neoliberal solution to relieving speciesism while protecting markets and consumer desires, a number of non-profits have positioned themselves in support of in vitro research in pursuit of “lab grown meat.” However, I am critical of solutions that seek to address the inherent problems of free market capitalism with yet more free market capitalism.

Consider that in vitro meat, while theoretically sparing millions of nonhumans the torture of agricultural industries, completely overlooks the millions of other nonhumans raised in the food system who are not directly slaughtered for their flesh, as well as those who exist outside the food industry altogether. Indeed, the most glaring shortcoming of the in vitro scheme is that it overlooks speciesist attitudes as problematic in of themselves.

In vitro meat purports to meet the supposedly insatiable public demand for Nonhuman Animal flesh (a demand that is, incidentally, artificially controlled by industry) without the guilty conscience of knowing this consumption requires the killing of Nonhuman Animals or considerable environmental pollution. Yet, only a portion of the nonhumans humans exploit are specifically raised for “meat.” In vitro schemes beg the question as to what will happen to nonhumans who are indirectly killed for flesh when their bodies become unproductive in other industries.

Dairy cattle, veal calves, wool producing sheep, layer hens, and racehorses, for example, all go to slaughter when their bodies become “spent” and they become a burden on the industry. Unless dairy and eggs become obsolete, these animals will still be sent to their deaths regardless of in vitro markets.

And what of “leather” and “fur”? In vitro meat does nothing to reduce the demand for animal flesh used for fashion.

What of rodeos, zoos, and circuses? In vitro is totally unrelated.

And vivisection? Not only does in vitro fail to solve the problem of using Nonhuman Animals as test subjects, but it will inevitably require considerable amounts of pain and death to create in vitro meat.

In a nutshell, the in vitro meat scheme ignores speciesism. It ignores an ideology of oppression. Beyond excluding many other facets of animal exploitation, it also condones the consumption and oppression of Nonhuman Animals as a symbolic matter. To “okay” this behavior, even if it is not directly hurting the select few nonhumans represented, is hugely detrimental to the advancement of Nonhuman Animal rights.

Consider a campaign to reduce sexual harassment and violence against women in which non-profits and activists strategically offer blow up dolls or “real dolls” for men to insult, beat, brutalize, or otherwise have their way with. Surely, some women will directly benefit in having the wrongs usually inflicted upon them now inflicted on their non-sentient representations. But, one must consider the symbolic consequences that will inevitably arise in a society that has normalized objectifying, sexist, and violent attitudes towards women. One could not expect that the position of women would be advanced to any significant extent if representations of women (that are actual objects) are made freely available for the privileged to buy, sell, trade, consume, and dominate. Sexism and violence would (and do) continue against women. This happens because such a strategy only supports women’s subjugated status and aggravates their objectification. A society that symbolically normalizes oppression will facilitate actual oppression. That’s common sense.

 

Finished faces wait to be united with their respective Real Doll bodies. Real Dolls is a San Diego based company that makes hi-end silicone sex dolls. The dolls sell for about $7000 each and can be customized to the clients needs. .

Technology has provided a number of substitutes for women’s bodies, but normalizing this desire to own and abuse women has serious consequences for real women are still hurt at epidemic levels in a misogynistic society.

 

If activists are in the business of combating speciesism, then in vitro meat should not be included on the tactical platter. It’s only meaningful relationship to anti-speciesism is its potential to assuage the human guilt that inevitably arises from the unnecessary consumption of sentients. The core concern, that being the rights owed to Nonhuman Animals, is obscured. Incidentally, in vitro meat schemes also ignore the terrible damage that animal products inflict on the health of vulnerable human communities.

This willful obfuscation is a strong indication that in vitro meat is a manifestation of post-speciesism. Post-speciesism supposes that speciesism is a thing of the past, or is otherwise being attended to. Species difference is thus made irrelevant, and systemic discrimination is made invisible by the fantasy. It is an ideology that works to squelch political opposition and the potential for contentious action.

In vitro meat will reduce some violence against some Nonhuman Animals, but it will allow for many other forms of violence. It reproduces the notion that Nonhuman Animals are “food,” and the institutions slaughtering them as such will not realistically end simply because in vitro becomes available. So long as prejudice and discrimination against other animals remains unchallenged, their exploitation and death will continue indefinitely.

Considering the limited nature of activist time and resources, I suggest instead a structural focus that centers the promotion of veganism. The results will be far more socially rewarding: environmental destruction will be reduced, human health will flourish, and, more importantly, Nonhuman Animals will be afforded the equal consideration they deserve. Relying too heavily on scientific and technological advancements to solve social problems could prove disastrous (though they tend to be friendlier to the capitalist interests of non-profits and their funders). In vitro science is a display of domination and privilege with limited cultural potential for achieving social justice.

 


A version of this essay was originally published on The Examiner on July 17, 2012.

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Conserving What Exactly? Anthropocentrism in College Conservation Programs

Men fishing a river with a net University conservation programs often entail lethal Nonhuman Animal testing

 

Jonathan Balcombe, director of animal sentience at the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy, has authored a book that explores the “the inner life of fishes”: What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins. I have not yet had the chance to read the book, but having listened to him describe the research involved, Balcombe’s work will be, I think, very important.  His research is indicating that fishes do feel pain and do live emotional lives.  The evidence seems to suggest that fishes are persons:  self aware, pleasure-seeking, sentient beings with intrinsic value and a right to moral consideration.

Research in this area is critical for one all important reason: when science fails to acknowledge sentience, systemic violence can be (and often will be) justified in the pursuit of knowledge. In their fish biology graduate program, for instance, my brother and his classmates were taught that fish sentience is a downright questionable concept. They also routinely stalked, harassed, and killed fishes in the process of data collection. When he shared this with me, I was personally horrified. Why isn’t the public aware of this grisly methodology?

Nonhuman Animal rights activists spend a lot of time protesting the exploitation of other animals used in dissection and vivisection in science and veterinary labs on campuses, but few take much issue with university “conservation” programs. As a student, my brother spent hours in the field “shocking” fishes (placing an electric current in the water so that stunned fishes float to the top for easy “sampling”) to determine their health as a species.  Fishes who are unfortunate enough to be included in this sample are killed in order to determine their age.  A dear friend of mine also works with free-living animals (“wildlife”) and informed me that birds of the wrong species are regularly caught in their “sampling” net.  These birds are often mangled and suffer for hours until the technicians come to check the nets.  Students are instructed to crush the chests of these birds to destroy them.

Assignments, final projects, theses, and dissertations in “wildlife,” “fishery,” and “environmental” programs encourage (or require) students to enter natural spaces and trap, stress, and even kill other animals in the name of research.

Man posing with Sturgeon on a fishing boat Sturgeon “sampling” at Virginia Commonwealth University

At my alma mater Virginia Tech, a black bear study has been ongoing for decades.  Bears are kept captive on campus property for students to measure and monitor.  The program has become so famous in the area, it has come to resemble a zoo exhibition. As with many zoo exhibitions masked as conservation projects, the bear program at Virginia Tech is well positioned to attract revenue through new students and donors.  Perhaps most telling, black bears are considered “game” in Virginia, which suggests to me that this program might serve to protect hunting revenue more than bears. I’m not sure how appealing that narrative would appear on the campus tour.

Man measuring a bear cubA bear cub is “measured” at Virginia Tech

Institutional review boards are maintained at all universities that engage research on humans or nonhumans, but the fact is that a considerable amount of violence is enacted on Nonhuman Animals in the name of science and for the benefit of the university and its faculty and degree-seekers. Conservation rhetoric only serves to green-wash anthroparchal violence. Fishes and bears aren’t just data–they’re sentient individuals.  Keep in mind that there are nonlethal methodologies that can be employed to monitor free-living species. Resistance to alternatives speaks to the anthropocentric, domineering attitudes that are legitimated under the rhetoric of environmental protection. Conservation programs may superficially claim a respect for nonhumans and ecosystems, but the violence enacted on vulnerable bodies in the research process demonstrates that the true lesson is one of human supremacy.

 

The interview with Jonathan Balcombe I have discussed above can be accessed on ARZone.

You can read more about science as an institution of speciesist oppression in A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory(Palgrave 2016).


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on January 9, 2013.

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