It's a Matter of Respect

I'm home from one trip and about to embark on another, so obviously I'm too busy for blogging--there's cleaning and packing to do, right?  Right, but that would be so boring....

Some long drives in the past week gave me time to think about animal welfare regulation just a little more.  In my past posts, I attempted to think about the ethics of welfare regulation "ad hominem" -- in the technical sense (see sense #2, here).  That is, starting from my opponent's premises.  My opponent draws a very sharp line between rights and welfare. Being raised as food violates a pig's rights, and then there is the separate question of the pig's welfare--how miserable or happy is the pig, hour to hour? My opponent is bothered by over-attention to welfare issues, because the rights violation is the underlying problem. 

Now, I think even with this sharp dichotomy, there's a good case for welfare regulations, as I initially argued here (before I saw the Francione-Friedrich debate), but that post was, as I say, "ad hominem" (in the technical sense!) -- I was going along with an approach to animal ethics that isn't actually my own, and thinking about where it leads (and doesn't lead).  But what about how these issues look from my own standpoint?

The primary thing we owe to animals (I argue, in my book Animalkind: What We Owe to Animals), is respect. Animals in extreme captivity are disrespected because they can't be themselves--pigs can't be pigs, fish can't be fish.  A calf who can't so much as turn around is treated not as an animal but as a meat machine (to use Ruth Harrison's excellent phrase).   We may need to supplement respect-talk with compassion-talk, but I think respect is primary.  And it's appropriate even when we are uncertain what an animal is feeling.  Do animals habituate to horrible environments and stop feeling or caring?  Even if they did, that wouldn't make those environments OK -- they're still disrespectful. 

Suppose a zoo gives the animals more space, or an animal farm releases a pig to a group pen or pasture.  On my view, this isn't a superficial change-- a change to mere welfare, as opposed to rights -- it's a change to what really matters.  It's more respectful.  The animal is now at least more able to exercise his or her natural capacities.  Now, very small changes aren't worth huge amounts of effort or money, so on this respect account, we can still debate how to focus animal advocacy.  But an increase in liberty is a meaningful change, not a surface change.

Now, imagine we gradually make life better for a pig. We respectfully increase the size of the pen, then we respectfully allow the pig out doors, and we respectfully allow herd behavior, etc.  We don't clip ears or dock tails, and so on.  Nevertheless, the day comes when the animal is slaughtered and turned into barbecue (aside: Dear Michael Pollan, I am not enjoying the description of a pig barbecue in part I of your new book Cooked).  How can any of the previous improvements be respectful if the last stage is so disrespectful?

You could try to make a case that killing animals doesn't harm them, but I think that's false (see Animalkind, p. 128-31).  No, it's clearly harmful and disrespectful to kill an animal for the pleasure of a good barbecue (even assuming this pleasure runs pretty deep -- and we should allow that it does).  But respect comes in degrees--you have done far more of what you should, if you allow an animal to exercise his or her natural capacities prior to death.  I don't think the purpose of the whole system (using animals for our benefit) annuls all the apparent progress.  And in any case, the whole system doesn't have to be completely brought down, in the name of respect.   I'm prepared to countenance situations in which respectful people will pursue their own good at the expense of animals--i.e. situations in which harming or killing is a necessary evil. (Animalkind embraces this "necessity" standard and gives examples of justifiable use.)

Anyhow, the point is that on some views in animal ethics, we can help animals in two radically different, incommensurable ways--by securing their rights and by improving their welfare -- with one way running deeper than the other. But on other views, there's just one basic parameter--such as respect.  So we do better by animals on the very same parameter, whether we give them more liberty or go much further and save them from all exploitation. This sort of "one parameter not two" approach can take many forms.  The respect approach in my book is one; the capacities approach in Martha Nussbaum's book Frontiers of Justice also eschews any sharp rights/welfare distinction; and of course utilitarians take a one parameter approach, with that one parameter being well-being (rights, they say, are "nonsense upon stilts").

Because I think in terms of respect, I don't really feel at home with the whole welfare vs. rights debate -- it's not really my debate.  For that reason, this could very well be my last post on the subject.  Time to get back to ... well, all sorts of philosophy-stuff on my desk, but mostly packing.


Watch and Enjoy!

Fabulous take down of the Texas legislature. I love this woman!

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.


Dueling Analogies

Alright, one more post on animal welfare regulations (like Prop. 2 in California, which requires animal housing large enough so the animal can turn around).  In my last post I talked about five cases in which progressives have supported both "revolution" for victims of an injustice and reform.  I argued that victims want both and are entitled to both.  Animals are entitled to both too, if they matter as individuals (and yes, they do).  The analogies were these--
  1. Amnesty International works for better conditions for prisoners on death row (reform), while also working to abolish the death penalty (basic change).  
  2. Feminists work for driving rights for women in Saudia Arabia (reform), while also aiming to change the underlying sexist social structures (basic change).
  3. There used to be packed orphanages in the UK (and elsewhere) because adoption wasn't legal -- children were consigned to these places with no exit.  Children's advocates worked to make orphanages kinder places (reform) while also working to legalize adoption (basic change).
  4. While waiting for child labor to be outright abolished (basic change), you could of course work for shorter working hours (reform).
  5. It's perfectly reasonable that anti-slavery abolitionists worked to stop parents and children being separated in auctions (reform), while at the same time working to abolish the whole institution of slavery (basic change).
Elsewhere (see the comments on this post), I see a completely different set of analogies being used to argue against animal welfare regulations.  Some of the anti-regulation analogies are these (roughly--I've paraphrased)--
  1. A law against sow crates is like an anti-bellum law limiting lashes to 40 instead of 42.
  2. Persuading people to buy more humane products (e.g. pork produced without sow crates) is like persuading a rapist to rape less violently.
  3. Advocating more humane treatment of farm animals is like advocating more humane treatment of people in death camps during the Holocaust.
My analogies are better for these reasons--
  • In all of my cases, the reform is significant.  The prisoners clearly do want more time outside their cells, more phone calls, etc; women care about being able to drive; orphans want fewer beatings; child laborers want shorter hours; slave families don't want to be broken up.  This is important because I think animal can tell the difference between being able to turn around and not being able to turn around -- it matters to them. Anti-regulation analogy #1 is flawed because I very much doubt you can even tell the difference between being lashed 40 times rather than 42. 
  • In my scenarios, the reformers want reform and more.   Everyone knows AI wants an end to the death penalty; everyone knows feminists want full equality for women, not just driving rights; etc. etc. We need this in a good analogy, because the pro-reform animal organizations and advocates are just as clear that they want reform and more.  In the anti-regulation analogies, we seem to be invited to imagine advocacy groups who want reform but nothing more.  I think that's why we recoil.  We think "How appalling to just want to make slavery, rape, and death camps more humane!"  Fill in the details so that the reform groups want reform and more, and now these reformers don't seem so bad -- in fact not bad at all.  Think about a covert German anti-Nazi group with influence on gas chamber designers. They shouldn't exert influence to make death easier for millions?  No--that just can't be right.
  • In my analogies there's no implied approval.  That's important, because supporting reforms of the animal industry doesn't imply approval.  Some who support reform are adamantly opposed to animal consumption. In the anti-regulation analogies, implied approval is at least hinted at.  What's the idea in case #2? Will  rape counselors sit down with rapists and just ask them to tone it down a bit?  With more realistic details, the implied approval and absurdity disappears.  Suppose we try to deter violence by imposing harsher punishments for aggravated rape instead of punishing all rapists alike.  Now separately targeting the "how" and "that" of rape doesn't seem so absurd! In fact, this is exactly what the criminal justice system does.  And (surely) rightly so.
So--I'm not impressed with the anti-regulation analogies. I think they're flawed.  But perhaps "enough with the analogies". I support Prop. 2 for the sake of pigs, and not because pigs are analogous to death row prisoners, orphans, slaves, or anyone else. I think I can grasp the critical considerations without the aid of comparisons, which inevitably both illuminate and obfuscate.  If we must have analogies, though, let's have the right ones.


Animal Rights Reading List

I've been blogging more about animal issues lately, though these days I'm mostly focused on working on my book (er, manuscript until it has a publisher) about parenthood.  One reason why: because I'm gearing up to teach my course on animal rights again in the fall.  The course is cross-listed as both an upper-level philosophy course and a "cultural formations" class, which means (basically) it's supposed to be interdisciplinary. This year's books are (in case anyone's interested):

Jean Kazez, Animalkind: What We Owe to Animals
I'm using this for its survey content, not so much to turn students into Kazezians.
 Victoria Braithwaite, Do Fish Feel Pain?
 Nice way to delve deeply into questions about animal minds.
 Will Kymlicka and Sue Donaldson, Zoopolis
Super interesting book. Should dogs become citizens?  What is a citizen?  Looking forward to discussing this and a multitude of other good questions raised by the book.
Michael Faber, Under the Skin
This excellent novel could be read as an argument against human meat-consumption, but is the argument any good? Coming this year: the movie version starring Scarlett Johansson.  If there is a god in heaven, it will come out on time for class discussion.
Susan Armstrong and Richard Botzler, The Animal Ethics Reader
There's lots to choose from in here, and the collection is pleasingly interdisciplinary.  (Negatives:  The font his terrifyingly small. Even my youthful students complain.  The articles are excessively edited.  No, not another elipsis!)


Francione vs. Friedrich

Several years ago I wrote a series of posts countering Gary Francione's opposition to animal welfare legislation (Should Humane Farm Reform Be Opposed and The Thirsty Cow, for example).  The point I made, in various ways, is that someone who recognizes animals as having rights ought to support humane reforms.  Last week I made the argument again (The Rights Argument for Regulation) and now I see this was the subject of a debate between Francione and Bruce Friedrich (of Farm Sanctuary) at a national animal rights conference in June.  Friedrich's case against Francione is masterful. You can watch here.

One of Friedrich's main (and most compelling) points was that in analogous situations involving human beings, activists pursue both reform and basic change.
  • Amnesty International works for better conditions for prisoners on death row (reform), while also working to abolish the death penalty (basic change).  
  • Feminists work for driving rights for women in Saudia Arabia (reform), while also aiming to change the underlying sexist social structures (basic change).
There are lots and lots of examples like this.  Some more that come to mind--
  • There used to be packed orphanages in the UK (and elsewhere) because adoption wasn't legal -- children were consigned to these places with no exit.  Children's advocates worked to make orphanages kinder places (reform) while also working to legalize adoption (basic change).
  • While waiting for child labor to be outright abolished (basic change), you could of course work for shorter working hours (reform).
  • It's perfectly reasonable that anti-slavery abolitionists worked to stop parents and children being separated in auctions (reform), while at the same time working to abolish the whole institution of slavery (basic change).
When we think of these human cases, it's very clear what the victims of these injustices want from us--they want humane reforms and they want abolition of the basic evil involved.  The day to day misery matters to victims, just as the underlying injustice does.  Friedrich says, and I agree:  we ought to see situations involving animals in just the same way.  It's speciesist to do otherwise.

Francione objects that reforms will satisfy the welfare-sensitive consumer, enticing her to buy more animal products, and so creating even more victims.  Friedrich challenges this both on empirical and moral grounds.  He says humane reforms have actually caused a decrease in demand for animal products (he cites this Kansas study*).  But he wisely also objects to seeing this as a decisive issue. 

To avoid speciesism, we have to keep the analogies in mind.  Are we really going to reject prison reforms for fear that voters will become more comfortable with the death penalty? Are we going to oppose shorter working hours for children to avoid postponing the day when child labor is abolished?  Should we let the Saudi Arabian women continue being prohibited from driving to maintain high levels of outrage about basic gender injustice in that society?

No, these choices would obviously be morally atrocious. We can't use victims of injustice, not even for the noble purpose of ending the injustice.  We can't do that to human victims, so why can we do it to animal victims?**

Perhaps the problem is that Francione sees animals (unlike humans) as having just one right--the right not to be treated as a resource.  A veal calf in a narrow stall who can't turn around is treated as a resource. But equally, a veal calf in a group stall who can turn around is treated as a resource.  As far as rights go -- given the way Francione thinks about rights -- there's no progress there.  The calf is a little less miserable, but the rights situation is unchanged.

But this is a very narrow way of thinking about rights.  For one thing, the right not to be treated as a resource surely flows from a more basic right-- perhaps the right not be used solely as a means.  Suppose Amnesty International decides to turn a blind eye to terrible conditions on death row, thinking this will speed abolition of the death penalty.  Prisoners wouldn't be treated as a resource (nobody's going to turn them into dinner), but they would be treated (by AI) as a means.  There's a rights violation in either case.  It's similarly a rights violation to deliberately turn a blind eye to mistreatment of animals in order to lower consumer demand for animal products.

Even that -- the right not to be treated solely as a means --  isn't all there is to it. We think animals shouldn't be treated solely as a means because they are volitional, sentient beings with desires of their own.  What could be more inconsistent with that than tying up or caging animals, making it impossible for them to move?  If animals have rights, liberty rights have to be considered basic. 

So there's a rights argument for animal welfare regulations after all.  There's a rights argument that can hold up even if more liberty for animals meant more demand for animal products from welfare-sensitive consumers and therefore more animals raised and killed for food.


* About the Kansas study.  From this summary, it looks as thought the study lumps together all kinds of "animal welfare media coverage".  This could be coverage of impending welfare regulations like California Proposition 2. It could be coverage of atrocities in a meat-packing plant.  If all this coverage combined lowers animal product consumption, it doesn't follow that coverage of Prop 2 type regulations alone would lower animal product consumption.  That's what Francione contests -- he says Prop 2 type regulations will increase demand for animal products. This study very possibly (I need to read the whole thing) neither confirms nor disconfirms his position. 

**  Would rights have to be respected no matter what -- even if the demand for animal products doubled or tripled after regulations were tightened?  It makes sense to think about it in terms of the human parallels. If working for a reform will double or triple the basic injustice, or postpone rectification of the basic injustice for 100 years, or some such ... well, most rights are "prima facie". Other considerations can trump the obligation to respect them and work for them.  But in such cases, we've got to have good verification of a large negative effect. I don't think we have that in the case at hand.


The Rights Argument for Regulation

After recently having a lively debate with someone about the ethics of regulating the farm animal industry, I found myself trying to set up my argument formally (in my mind).  So why not share?

(1) Most farm animals live in abysmal conditions and die miserable deaths.

(2) Some regulations do/would offer significant improvement to the lives of farm animals (e.g. regulations that improve the slaughter process; regulations that would abolish sow crates).

(3) Individual animals benefitted by such improvements have a prima facie right to them from people who control their living conditions, irrespective of whether those improvements would save any lives (prima facie means: so long as that right is not outweighed).
Analogy involving people instead of animals:  suppose in a Korean orphanage, the living conditions are awful (tiny beds, horrible food, no affection, etc.) and half that enter wind up dying.   If children have rights, they have a right to better food, bigger beds, etc., even if those improvements won't increase the adoption rate and reduce the death rate.  Likewise, if animals have rights at all, they have a right to reasonable living conditions when humans control their living conditions, even if improvements won't change the basic fact that they're being used and killed for food.
(3) Farm animals' rights to reasonable living conditions (from people who control their living conditions) can be outweighed, if (a) respecting their rights would create a huge increase in demand for animal products, thus significantly increasing the number raised and killed for food or (b) respecting their rights would eliminate a huge decrease that could otherwise be predicted; the rights are not outweighed if these increases/decreases are small.

Analogy involving people instead of animals: suppose we respect the rights of the kids in the orphanage, and that assuages the concern of some would-be adopters, who thus don't adopt.  There's a small increase in children who die in the orphanage.  Or alternatively, imagine that without the improvements, there would have been a decrease in children who would die.  These consequences are surely not a reason to leave the kids in their tiny beds, eating horrible food, and receiving no affection. The kids in the orphanage, we are assuming, have rights!  We could only begin to think of preserving the squalor if improvements would have hugely negative consequences--for example, leading to half as many adoptions, twice as many deaths.  Such is the nature of rights.  Respecting them doesn't always dovetail with maximizing utility.
(4)  Improving the conditions of farm animals won't create a huge increase in demand for animal products, if any increase at all; and improving conditions won't preempt a huge decrease that could otherwise be anticipated.
Discussion: (a) Improving conditions won't generate a huge increase in demand; such an increase presupposes that there are now a large number of people not eating animal products because of the way animals are treated.  But the very small number of vegans and vegetarians says otherwise.  (b) Improving conditions won't preempt a huge decrease that could otherwise be predicted.  All the evidence is that affluence is the main driver of animal product consumption.  When people have more money, they consume more animal products--until some high level of affluence is reached, at which point they taper off a bit.  The tapering of the very affluent might be reduced, with better conditions for farm animals, but that can't be expected to have a major effect on the total level of consumption.

(5)   Farm animals have a right to improvements in their living conditions, and that right is not outweighed by considerations having to do with impact on consumption.
Discussion:  This is how rights are understood in other social justice realms.  Because death row prisoners are rights holders, their living conditions must be improved now, even if that could delay the day when the death penalty is abolished, thereby increasing the total number of executions.  Inmates who have a voice in the matter want the better living conditions and release from prison and abolition of the death penalty. It would take heroic self-sacrifice to endue terrible living conditions, for the sake of saving others from it, possibly in the far future.  It ought to be assumed that animals, if they had a voice, wouldn't be more heroic than death row inmates. In fact, they'd be less so, given the greater ability of humans to dedicate themselves to abstract principles, total strangers, and goods in the far future.  Like we say prisoners have a right to better food, bigger cells, and more humane killing methods now,  anyone who believes in animal rights should say the same of pigs, cows, and chickens.

Of course, you can also argue for regulations from a utilitarian perspective, but there's nothing especially utilitarian about supporting regulations.   A rights perspective allows it ... no, in fact demands it.