(US/ca/va) Radical Activism and the Future of Animal Rights
- [Pacific Standard - opinion]
Last week, thousands of animal rights activists converged on
Arlington, Virginia, for the 33rd annual Animal Rights National
Conference. Over 90 presenters from 60 organizations discussed
strategies central to the goal of reducing animal exploitation. The
event garnered scant coverage from the mainstream press—always
does—but it nonetheless brimmed with a rare kind of selfless ambition
coming from very decent people who want animals to be treated with a
modicum of dignity.
While the media paid little attention, there’s no doubt that meat
industry moles were trolling the halls of the Hilton with their ears
pricked for the merest mention of an idea that might pierce the
brainbox of a public so culinarily apathetic that, to date, it has
voluntarily consumed seven billion cans of Spam. Mass consumption of a
gelatinous rectangle of a ham-like product reflects a collective
unthinking decision that the industry wants to protect with every
cynically contrived resource at its disposal.
Although the meat industry has no clue otherwise, it has virtually
nothing to fear. Its paranoia is misplaced. The “animal rights
movement”—a motley coalition that incorporates a multitude of
approaches to helping animals—is currently a Babel of dysfunction. Not
unlike the Greek hero Achilles, it is at once colossally powerful but
ultimately hobbled by a weak spot both miniscule and fatal.
That colossal power emanates from hundreds of thousands of everyday
activists who justifiably believe that conscientious consumers can,
through a wide variety of measures, take gradual steps toward removing
animal products from their diet. These true believers do the grunt
work of activism: they hand out pamphlets, write books, blog, make
documentaries, start campus veg societies, publish vegan recipes, open
vegan food carts, work for animal sanctuaries, run veganic farms, and
do basically anything they can to encourage consumers to contemplate
the face on their plate.
I consider myself a member of this noble tribe. The heel of the
movement, by contrast, consists of a handful of radicals, mostly
academics, who do little more than set an unrealistic benchmark of
success and effectively crucify activists who do not join them in
dreaming the impossible dream. It’s a mess of an arrangement; the
tyranny of the minority at its very worst.
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