2 - Introduction
Changing the Game (ebook): Why the Battle for Animal Liberation Is So Hard and How We Can Win It
It's Time to Change the Game
Trying to win animal liberation by persuading the whole world to turn vegan is a task for eternity. Telling meat eaters to "Just Say No" and waiting for them to do it, one carnivore at a time, is an expensive, labor intensive, time-devouring exercise in futility. If we insist on staying with this approach, Sisyphus will have his obstinate rock planted securely atop the mountain long before we have convinced the humans on our planet to give up their addiction to dead animal parts.
Looking at our track record, the effort to liberate animals by convincing everyone to go vegan is making no progress. Surveys conducted periodically by independent polling firm Harris Interactive reveal that the number of vegetarians in the United States (including vegans) has remained stable at just under 5% of the adult population for at least the past dozen years, despite intense vegan advocacy throughout that period.
The Harris findings are confirmed by the Gallup Poll, which concludes that:
Vegetarianism in the U.S. [in 2012] remains quite uncommon and a lifestyle that is neither growing nor waning in popularity. The 5% of the adult population who consider themselves to be vegetarians is no larger than it was in previous Gallup surveys conducted in 1999 and 2001. The incidence of veganism is even smaller, at a scant 2% of the adult population.
The problem is not that vegan advocacy has no effect. Anecdotally but undeniably, animal rights and vegetarian groups are winning people to the cause every year. So why is the number of vegetarians not increasing?
One explanation, according to a CBS News poll, is that three-quarters of all vegetarians eventually go back to eating meat. Our efforts to persuade people one at a time to give up animal products are simply keeping pace with attrition.
But whether you accept this explanation or not, the hard fact still has to be confronted: The number of vegetarians in United States remains stuck at a paltry five percent of the population or less, of whom fewer than half are vegans.
An Asymmetrical War
The reasons for the inability of vegan advocacy alone to move us toward a society in which animals' rights are respected are examined later in this book, but the threshold issue is the monstrous imbalance between the weakness of our public address system and the power of theirs. We are running hither and yon, pleading with people through a cardboard megaphone. Our opponents—especially the food industry—address the public through state-of-the-art systems with multiple speakers, sophisticated mixers and thousands of watts of amplification.
The animal abuse industries saturate the media—electronic and print—with colorful, attractive, slickly-produced, scientifically-tested advertisements celebrating the joys of consuming meat, eggs, and dairy. The streets are lined with restaurants whose signs proclaim the delights of food made from animals. Everywhere you turn, you see and hear that meat, eggs, and dairy are superhighways to happiness. In the face of this flood of enticements, we tell people to "Just Say No" by adopting a vegan lifestyle. And since our vegan message is all but frozen out by the corporate media, we are reduced to leafleting on street corners and college campuses; tabling at fairs, festivals, and concerts; putting up websites and blogs; holding marches and demonstrations; and scrambling for every second of air time and every column-inch of print that we can hustle.
The institutions of society, public and private—from the multi-billion dollar corporations that produce and distribute animal products, to our schools and universities; from government agencies to the news and entertainment media; from churches, synagogues, and mosques right down to our families—all promote the consumption of animal products, and they do so in a fashion that is little different from the political indoctrination one encounters in totalitarian dictatorships. Totalitarian political states are characterized by bright, heroic-looking images of Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong or Kim Jong-un that assail your senses and your mind everywhere you turn. Our totalitarian commercial state is characterized by bright, appetizing images—on television, in magazines, on our favorite websites—of delicious-looking Chicken McNuggets and Grand Slam omelets that assail our senses and our minds everywhere we turn. Every ad for an animal product and every restaurant that features animal products is an expensive, professionally crafted piece of anti-animal, anti-vegan propaganda. We are up against a ubiquitous, sophisticated, and effective form of brainwashing.
But as if their nearly limitless wealth and access were not advantage enough, the animal abusers have the further edge of delivering a message that the public wants to hear. People enjoy animal products, and so they are predisposed to be open to the siren song of meat, eggs, and dairy in a way that they are most often not immediately open to its vegan counterpart. (See Chapter 1)
One popular definition of neurosis is "continuing to do the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result." And yet, in the face of prolonged stagnation, many in our movement insist that our only strategy must be to explain over and over again why everyone should become vegan. We have been doing this for more than three decades, and there are still no more vegans in the country than there were a dozen years ago. "But we're telling the truth," they assure us. "If we just keep repeating it, sooner or later we are bound to get a different result."
No, we are not. If we want a different result, we will have to do something different. Continuing to rely on shouting our message through our little megaphone while the animal exploitation industries pump theirs through a powerful sound system is playing a game that gives our opponents all the advantage. If we want to liberate animals, we will have to change the game and begin playing by rules that make a different result possible.
The oppressors, with the power-wielding institutions of society on their side, try to impose rules that make effective campaigns impossible. For their part, the activists ought to be trying to establish rules that reduce the oppressors' advantage. But all too often, animal advocates simply accept the oppressors' rules and try to play a game they cannot win, apparently believing that this is the mark of honesty, integrity, courage, or some other virtue, and that virtue always triumphs in the end. It would be grand if this myth was true, but it is not. History shows us that the battle is always to the strong and the race to the swift—unless the weak and the slow can find a way to change the rules so that strength or speed is no longer decisive.
This is the whole point behind asymmetrical or guerrilla warfare, in which outnumbered and lightly armed insurgents rely on stealth and surprise to inflict damage on a larger, but unwieldy, army with greater firepower—a technique pioneered in the modern world by American colonists in their War for Independence. Metaphorically at least, the animal rights movement is waging an asymmetrical war against the animal exploitation industries. If we want to win, we must engage our larger, wealthier, politically more powerful opponents in ways that offset their natural advantages. When the game favors your opponent, you have to change the game.
Among the earliest historical figures to understand this principle and take advantage of it was the Judean shepherd boy David. The game, as everyone understood it should be played, called for two warriors wearing fifty or sixty pounds of armor to go lumbering onto the field and hack at each other with swords so heavy that only a weight lifter could swing one. The Philistines knew these rules favored them, because in their ranks they had a giant, Goliath, who stood six-feet seven, with muscles to match. One look at Goliath told David that this set of rules condemned him to death. And so—without asking anyone's permission—David changed the rules. He wore no armor, so that his quickness and agility would not be impaired. And instead of a soldier's broadsword, he took a shepherd's slingshot, a weapon with which he practiced in the fields every day.
One well-aimed stone to a chink in the Philistine's armor, and Goliath lay dead. David triumphed because he refused to play a game he could not win.
The epigraph to this book was written as straightforward business advice by a high-tech entrepreneur and investment capitalist. But if I may treat it as a metaphor, the animal rights movement is a small, fragile, underfunded start-up whose success depends on taking customers away from the big companies that abuse and slaughter animals. In order to win, we need to find some leverage. We need to play by rules that give us every possible advantage. Otherwise, we will continue to be marginalized by the massive power of our opponents. If we're serious about liberating animals, it's time to change the game.
Challenge, Environment, Response: A Framework for Analyzing Strategy
The success or failure of social justice movements depends on three factors, only one of which is under activists' control.
Using this challenge, environment, response matrix, Changing the Game offers this analysis of the animal rights movement.
- The inherent difficulty of the challenge;
- The environment in which the movement must operate; and
- Activists' response to the challenge and the environment.
- Animal liberation is the most difficult challenge ever taken on by a social justice movement. The magnitude of this challenge, which I will discuss in Part One, forces us to a strategy of asymmetrical warfare.
Since its launching in 1975, the modern animal liberation movement has encountered an environment hostile to social justice, an environment produced by an era of conservative free-market dominance that has lasted nearly forty years. In Part Two, I will examine this era and its effect on the animal rights movement. I will further argue that this "dark age" is coming to an end, to be replaced by a period of rapid social progress similar to the 1930s or the 1960s. In this atmosphere, we will have an unprecedented opportunity to change the game by joining the political left to create a universal rights movement that will multiply our influence and power many times.
In Part Two, I will also look at the rise of China, India, Brazil, and other nations of the East and South to political, economic, and intellectual dominance, and suggest ways that the animal liberation movement can thrive in the wake of what journalist Robyn Meredith has termed a "tectonic transformation" in the world order.
- Like other social justice movements, animal liberation is characterized by two distinct responses to injustice. One wing of the movement insists that everyone campaign for the ultimate goal and only the ultimate goal; the other believes that success cannot be achieved without negotiation, compromise, and other less confrontational, more roundabout tactics. In Part Three, I will explore these two strategic orientations, employing an analytical framework created by sociologist Max Weber and elaborated on by progressive feminist historian Aileen Kraditor. I will argue that the second path, which is being increasingly followed by animal rights groups, represents a promising approach to changing the game by pursuing tactics that garner more public participation and less institutional resistance than pure vegan advocacy. I will further argue that we should pursue both approaches simultaneously.
To head off possible confusion, I want to say a few words about vocabulary. First, I do not use "animal rights" in the technical sense that implies acceptance of natural rights philosophy or deontological ethics; rather I use it to mean the belief that there is moral parity between human and nonhuman persons. This has been the common-language meaning of the term for nearly four decades, and it has the added advantage of paralleling the common-language use of "human rights." For most people, including me, granting animals rights means that exploiting and killing them for human benefit is morally wrong and ought to be contrary to law and condemned by society. When I mean to refer to natural rights philosophy or deontological ethics, I will say so.
I treat "animal rights" and "animal liberation" as synonymous terms and use them interchangeably. Claims that would distinguish "rights" from "liberation" are simply propaganda in an internal ideological dispute. The distinction is not even agreed upon, much less meaningful or useful. Peter Singer, for example, uses the term "liberation" to mean something more conservative than "rights," while the Animal Liberation Front uses it to mean something more radical.
I use "animal welfare" to mean the belief that human beings enjoy moral priority over nonhuman people and may, therefore, exploit and slaughter them for human benefit, but that we should not inflict upon them any suffering that is not intrinsic to their use. Also, animal welfarists may regard some uses of animals—such as vivisection or sport hunting—as unjustified on the vaguely utilitarian grounds that the suffering inflicted is out of proportion to the benefit derived.
Moral equality demands linguistic consistency, a point made by Joan Dunayer in her book Animal Equality. Using separate vocabularies for humans and animals condemns animals to moral inferiority. We must accept animals as persons and identify them in our language with human beings rather than with plants and inanimate objects. As sentient, sensitive, intelligent beings, they share with us what is most important. Animals are people, not things. This is why I refer to animals as "she" and "he" rather than "it," and use the relative pronouns "who" and "whom." For the same reason, I try not to use "person," "persons," or "people" in any context where they explicitly distinguish humans from animals.
Likewise, identical facts require identical names, whether we are talking about human or nonhuman persons. If humans "eat," animals must eat, not "feed." If humans "love" those with whom they are bonded, animals must love those with whom they are bonded, not "imprint upon" them. If holding human beings captive against their will is "imprisonment," then holding animals captive against their will must be imprisonment. If forcing human beings to perform service for a master is "slavery," forcing animals to perform service for a master must be called slavery. And if killing an innocent human being is called "murder," killing an innocent animal must also be called murder.
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