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  1. M.
    M. September 5, 2007 at 10:05 pm |

    As a Jew, I really have to disagree with the sentiment that the PETA holocaust ads were anti-Semitic. Comparing animals plight to Jews’ is not the same thing as comparing Jews to animals. Further, your statement seems founded in the same sort of “we disagree with your argument, so we’ll shut down the discussion by calling you anti-Semitic” rhetorical tactic Zionists use against pro-Palestinian Jews. (Yes, we do exist.)

    Second, I used to work at a vegetarian restaurant, and I was always struck by how racially diverse it was. There is a solid animal rights contingent among our Black customers, and they repeatedly said that it was motivated, in part, by their history with slavery.

  2. Marksman2000
    Marksman2000 September 5, 2007 at 10:05 pm |

    Back with a vengeance, Zuzu?

  3. evil fizz
    evil fizz September 5, 2007 at 10:20 pm | *

    The only way you can be offended is if you think it’s OK to treat non-human animals as property.

    I love how this is said with no inkling of understanding as to how someone could believe this (and consequently be offended).

    I was at Penn (whose student body is roughly 40% Jewish) when PETA set up their huge ass Holocaust ads all over the courtyard near the student union. Shockingly, telling people that their grandparents, great aunts and uncles, and other extended family members can appropriately be analogized to slaughtered pigs does not go over well either.

    How can you care so much about animal suffering and so little of that of humans: slaves, their descendants, those who died in the Holocaust, and so on?

  4. baby221
    baby221 September 5, 2007 at 10:29 pm |

    Yeah, I think there’s just really no dialoguing with these people. Something of a lost cause.

  5. norbizness
    norbizness September 5, 2007 at 10:37 pm |

    I will admit that the thread in question got me to think about trying to minimize the number of dogs kept in shelters and ultimately euthanized by not subsidizing the efforts of breeders.

    As for the rhetorical overreach and the subsequent “The only way you can be offended is if you think it’s OK to treat non-human animals as property,” I can only assume that such a position obliterates the line between adoption and purchase and renders all pet “ownership” invalid. But my hamster is going to have a hell of a time of it in the wilds of East Austin.

  6. MathInLA
    MathInLA September 5, 2007 at 10:42 pm |

    Yep. I have no problem with maintaining a privileged separation between human beings and other species. Especially when making the comparison feeds into suffering for more people. Call it a genetic imperative to view my species’ problems before another; call it a spiritual or philosophical recognization of self-nesss and being, whatever.

    Of course, being a gamer, especially in transhuman space, I’ve put emotional thrusts into arguments for fictional bioroids and other actual _sapient_ species, but…

    And, also of course, none of this excuses the abominable conditions created by industrialized agriculture and the poaching/illegal pet trades. I can be infuriated by what people who take big cats as pets do to the poor things, especially when they outgrow the ranges most people can afford, and despise stuffing chickens into cages smaller than they are, without having to equate them with human beings or a theoretical other sapient species.

  7. Ailei
    Ailei September 5, 2007 at 10:53 pm |

    Yes, but. The whole ‘but! but! dogs in shelters!’ thing wouldn’t even apply to me. It wasn’t a choice of a) dog from shelter, or b) purebred. I wasn’t setting out to just get a dog – I had one already, thank you, and I’ve had her since birth because she’s a mutt whose pregnant mother we took in off the street (one of several dogs we’ve rescued right off the road and found homes for, by the way). I love that dog to death, and I wasn’t getting another dog to get another dog, I was getting my mastiff, for a lot of reasons, some academic (really!), some personal (that monster of a dog with his primitive guardian instincts makes me feel SAFE here alone with my kids), some almost spiritual. Heavens, next on the list, after my sainted elder dog passes (hopefully still a few more years!) is an Irish Wolfhound. I don’t want ‘a’ dog, I want ‘that’ dog. But I guess that’s just the same as choosing which oppressed minority I want to send to the gas chamber today. Pfft.

  8. Yuri K.
    Yuri K. September 5, 2007 at 10:59 pm |

    There’s some appeal about joining PETA from a position of privilege – it lets you feel like you’re absolved for all of your other sins. If animal ownership/breeding/farming is on par with slavery, then clearly PETA’s opponents are not only the equivalent of Nazis and Southern planters, but their superiors on the heirarchy of evil. What’s 6 million Jews and 500 years of black slavery compared to 10,000 years of probably a trillion ‘victimized’ animals? Not only enslaved and slaughtered but bred for consumption!

    It gives you back the moral superiority you lose by benefitting (indirectly, as contemporary whites do) from historical slavery.

  9. Nomen Nescio
    Nomen Nescio September 5, 2007 at 11:01 pm |

    my dogs are my property, by law. though as a day-to-day matter, that’s hogwash; my dogs are family members to me, and that’s that.

    but to my dogs, all that above is gibberish; they have very little concept of “property” (scarcely any of which overlaps with my own), and what notion they have of “family” utterly pales next to concepts i mostly lack. they care much more about the notions of pack membership and pack rank.

    they don’t experience “slavery”, or even really “family”. they experience being members in a four-head, two-human, two-husky dog pack. that’s what matters to them, and they would care not one whit for ms. Newkirk’s ideas even if they could comprehend them.

  10. ankathry
    ankathry September 5, 2007 at 11:14 pm |

    “Only people who think their lives are more important than non-human animals’ lives can be offended by the comparison of human slavery to animal slavery.”

    Well, she’s right in that this is a fundamental ideological difference. I don’t think there is a way to respond to that.

    What I would point out is that ideological extremism doesn’t make an effective ad campaign, unless your goal is to preach to the choir. If this was PETA’s intent, well, congrats, job well done. But how many people did they convert to the cause? And how many less extreme animal rights proponents did they alienate from their organization? To me it’s self-indulgent, just poor strategy.

  11. M.
    M. September 5, 2007 at 11:22 pm |

    Yeah, I think there’s just really no dialoguing with these people. Something of a lost cause.

    Of course there’s no dialogue — you’re shutting down the conversation by calling them racist anti-Semitics.

    Think about the insane numbers of people who try to find fatal flaws in Peter Singer’s work on animal rights. Yet, to quote Art Caplan, the only real argument they have is that “it’s yucky.” And everyone in bioethics agrees that “it’s yucky” isn’t an argument.

    The fact that they haven’t been able to do that yet speaks volumes.

  12. kt
    kt September 5, 2007 at 11:26 pm |

    Not to make this all about PETA, but I think a lot of feminists who are also advocates for animals (including myself) wholeheartedly disagree with PETA’s tactics and in some sense their approach to the animal rights movement in general. They have done some deplorable ads exploiting women in order to make a point about fur consumption or the treatment of circus animals.

    That said, I think there are quite a few feminist writers (e.g. Carol Adams springs to mind) who make the connection between the way women are treated in patriarchal societies and the way animals are treated. I think there is a lot to be learned from these parallels, and we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss questions of animals and perhaps looking at their plight through a feminist lens (though I don’t this is done effectively by attacking someone about posting pictures/videos of her dog).

  13. K
    K September 5, 2007 at 11:31 pm |

    I am surprised at your surprise regarding the notion the that the treatment of non-human animals under patriarchy and capitalism is somehow separate from the treatment of women. Many feminists scholars and theorists have explored and argued for the significance of this connection. That you reject it out of hand suggests the limitations and biases of your own “feminist” ideology. Insistence on categorical differences without thoughtful examination–such as the fact that there is no agreed upon scientific basis for a categorical difference between human and non-human animals–not language, not tool use, etc.–is rarely productive and is arguably what created the need for “feminism” in the first place.

  14. Sally
    Sally September 5, 2007 at 11:32 pm |

    Of course there’s no dialogue — you’re shutting down the conversation by calling them racist anti-Semitics.

    I wouldn’t call that “shutting down debate” so much as “responding in the way that PETA knew and wanted us to respond.” PETA’s schtick is to court publicity by being deliberately offensive. They are, in fact, offensive, but they’re also boring.

    (Mostly posting this to see whether Zuzu has banned me or whether my last post got lost in the ether…)

  15. Sally
    Sally September 5, 2007 at 11:33 pm |

    And looks like the ether is to blame!

  16. Mael
    Mael September 5, 2007 at 11:52 pm |

    Okay, I wonder what Elaine thinks of cats, and people who own cats. Are cats to be fed? Semi-feral city cats, shelter cats, pet cats: they all depend on humans for food. Food that, coincidentally, comes mainly from other domesticated animals humans also consume for food.

    So, is there a hierarchy, in her mind? Killing cows is okay to save the cats? Or is the correct decision, for her moral outlook, to let all cats regress to feral and fend for themselves?

    Because option A is not really coherent, and option B is, well, tantamount to mass extermination. What are the alternatives?

    Sure, rescuing animals from shelters is the preferred option, but not sponsoring breeders at all would mean the demise of some breeds. My cousin has a Maremma Sheepdog, a 2000 yr old breed. If not for the breeders, they would have become extinct when their primary function as a sheepdog became economically obsolete. Is it wrong to save a dog breed at the expense of shelter puppies?

  17. preying mantis
    preying mantis September 6, 2007 at 12:15 am |

    “I will admit that the thread in question got me to think about trying to minimize the number of dogs kept in shelters and ultimately euthanized by not subsidizing the efforts of breeders.”

    I don’t think that’s something that’s ultimately going to have much of an effect, though. We’re talking about common animals that are easily bred; the barrier to doing so is low enough that simply the perception of easy profit can and will induce people to behave irresponsibly with regularity. And assuming that the animals really are purebred, if the breeder shuts down and they wind up in a shelter, they’ll probably get new homes rather quickly.

    It’s the mutts, the random strays, the abused, the ill, etc., animals that tend to get stuck there and put down. While some of them would have gone home with someone had that litter of golden retrievers not been dumped off by a would-be breeder who couldn’t find buyers, a lot of them wouldn’t, because they’re just not what 95% of the people through the shelter’s doors are looking for. It can be hard enough trying to deal with behavioral or health problems in an animal you know and love, but trying to convince someone to take that on with an animal they just met is damn near impossible.

  18. Mandolin
    Mandolin September 6, 2007 at 12:30 am |

    “As a Jew, I really have to disagree with the sentiment that the PETA holocaust ads were anti-Semitic. Comparing animals plight to Jews’ is not the same thing as comparing Jews to animals”

    As a Jew, I really have to disagree with your sentiment that the PETA holocaust ads were not anti-Semitic.

    Ooooh, it’s a game that’s fun for everyone (Jewish) to play! Who wants to negate me now?

  19. Holly
    Holly September 6, 2007 at 12:53 am |

    I suppose the idea is that a comparison of Jews and blacks with animals is similar, from the animal liberation point of view, to a comparison of gay guys with women. For a long time, and still very commonly for some kinds of morons, the main way to mock gay men was to compare them to women in one way or another, claiming that gay men are flamboyant, effeminate, frivolous, gossipy, etc. This is not only homophobic stereotyping, it’s also very misogynist, and it’s somehow mistaken to just object to the homophobia while supporting the misogyny, right — to say something like “how dare you say that gay men are like women? In fact, we’re very masculine and aren’t disgusting and womanly like frivolous, silly women at all!” The real problem is that femininity and anything having to do with being a woman is degraded and devalued, and made into a way to insult men.

    So since animal liberation activists regard animals as being on an equal moral footing with human beings, historical racism comparing black people to animals is not just insulting to black people — in fact the fundamental problem, to them, is that humans are looking down on animals and using “animal” as an insult just like most of us understand it’s bigoted to use “fag” or “don’t jew me” or “ann coulter looks like a tranny” as a derogatory insult even against people who don’t belong to those groups.

    Now, of course it’s possible to present a very thoughtful and insightful comparison and interconnected analysis of the oppression of, say, women and gay men, that won’t insult anyone except maybe Focus on the Family. And you could probably do the same thing about animal liberation and genocide or slavery, writing about how we treat animals that we eat or use for medical research or manual labor, and how human beings have been slaughtered (or used for medical research) and enslaved in the past. I don’t think any and all comparison and contrasting is off-limits, personally; I guess I could see how you might feel that way if you believe 100% that animals are inferior forms of life that don’t deserve moral treatment or rights. But I’m ambivalent enough about that to say it’s fair game.

    The problem of course is that PETA’s presentation of these issues is about as far from a thoughtful, insightful analysis as you can get. They’re all about shock tactics and getting people to gape, stare, react with outrage, etc. In some ways their tactics aren’t that different from the attention-seeking trolls that were plaguing feminist blogs a while back — and similarly, they’re not afraid to deploy racism, fatphobia, pornographic imagery, etc. all to push whatever buttons they can, upset and offend and outrage people. It’s more or less the same game.

    That said, I agree with kt — I know quite a few vegans and pro-animal-rights sorts of people who absolutely detest PETA because of their tactics, even though they might have similar ideology around animals. They’re worse than an embarrassment for animal rights communities, they’re a serious liability.

  20. Tony
    Tony September 6, 2007 at 12:56 am |

    I agree that the PETA ads are insane and make inappropriate comparisons.

    However, what of the substance of the argument, you convieniently did not respond to it: isn’t there a point to be made by these people who claim animal breeding is a form of slavery?

    Furthermore, I am sort of troubled by your argument because it leads me to believe that anyone who says anything other than human bondage is slavery is immediately branded a racist because they have made a comparison to people slavery.

    But forget the comparison: If I believe pets from breeding are slavery, does that make me a racist, even if you make no comparison to people?

    And what of it, is breeding a form of slavery?

    I’m not taking a position on this one, it’s a slippery slope in my mind, because you can find evil in just about any activity nowadays.

  21. Lizard
    Lizard September 6, 2007 at 1:07 am |

    I’ve never commented at Feministing, but I admit that my first two private reactions to Monty’s arrival were 1) “Unbelievably adorable!” and 2) “Oh, dear, another puppy from a breeder.”

    I’m extremely passionate about animal issues, women’s issues, and racial issues, just to name a few. And I worked in shelters for 20 years, seeing firsthand the faces of the pet crisis in this country. When I experience disappointment at someone’s (not necessarily Jessica’s) choice to buy rather than adopt a pet, it’s a disappointment that I don’t equate to any other; you’d never catch me posting nasty things equating breeders to slaveholders or Nazis, because a) it’s ridiculously inflammatory and offensive, and b) it’s not remotely the point to me.

    Quite simply, when I know someone’s inspiringly progressive in so many ways, I want him/her to be progressive in others. I want him/her to be willing to make socially-conscious choices even when they require extra effort. It surprises and disappoints me when, say, my hardcore liberal feminist friends defend their veal consumption for reasons that wouldn’t pass their intellectual or logical smell tests in any other realm. I’d have a similar reaction if I saw a left-wing queer activist driving a Hummer. I don’t think polluting the atmosphere is the same thing as oppressing gays, or that the two are necessarily similar in their degree of offensiveness (apples and oranges!); I just find it odd that someone would be so conscientious about one cause and so uninterested in another.

    Jessica’s obviously a great puppy-mom; she wouldn’t be gushing so sweetly about Monty on her blog if she weren’t! I’m certainly not angry or upset about her choice, and I’m thrilled that she and Monty found each other. But maybe I can be forgiven for being quietly wistful that all her blog readers aren’t getting that same adorable, “aww”-inspiring glimpse of an adopted puppy or dog….and perhaps feeling inspired or reassured about becoming pet adopters themselves.

    I do understand, by the way, the argument that if you want a Karelian Bear Dog, you’re unlikely to find one in your local animal control facility. However, most people fall in love with the idea of a particular breed because of the qualities that breed tends to possess, and if you go to a decent shelter and say “I want a dog that’s small, smart, furry, and great at catching a Frisbee,” there’s a fair chance that you can get pretty darned close. So I’m suppose I’m not entirely willing to accept at face value the “But I want a ___” explanation without exploring alternatives. (There are great breed-specific rescues all over the place, too!)

  22. Vanessa
    Vanessa September 6, 2007 at 1:29 am |

    There’s ways to object to factory farming and puppy mills without being a complete asshole.

    Also, (and maybe I’m just a little sensitive on this subject because I’m actually procrastinating writing a paper on genocide – as we speak!) it’s hard to read about slaughter after slaughter of children, women, and men while the world watched idly by and feel any agreement with the people shouting “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CHICKENZZZ! AND THE COWWWZZ!!!”

    What about the people of Darfor?

  23. Vanessa
    Vanessa September 6, 2007 at 2:04 am |

    What about the people of Darfor?

    Hmmm…what about the people who can spell? Make that Darfur. Sorry.

  24. Hector B.
    Hector B. September 6, 2007 at 2:24 am |

    I tried to discuss this with Elaine, but her mind is closed.

    1. Conscientious breeders take their dogs back when their owner can’t keep them. They would freak out if an owner dropped them off at a shelter. That’s how I got three dogs over the years.

    2. If you destroy the market for well-bred dogs, the only source of dogs is puppy mills (factory-farmed dogs, produced like broiler chickens) and their pet store retail outlets, and backyard breeders (people too negligent and uncaring to spay/neuter their pets). The puppy mill dog I adopted from a shelter had mental, emotional and physical health issues. Considering how much her health care cost, she was the most expensive dog I ever had.

    The Petaphiles’ energy would be much better used to shut down a pet store, or better yet, a puppy mill.

  25. Manju
    Manju September 6, 2007 at 3:01 am |

    Great discussion. But more importantly, Monty is cute.

  26. Hector B.
    Hector B. September 6, 2007 at 3:39 am |

    Most shelter dogs have at least one “pedigree” parent. Pedigrees mean nothing when the mother is bred twice a year, usually to her father, by some Amish family trying to feed their kids, and the pups are shipped off to the pet store too young and never socialized. The puppy mill is supplying a product, for a price. The farmer has to make money, as does the wholesaler and the retailer. The profits have to cover the cost of dead stock, too.

    I admit, if the pet store pup lives to adulthood, it is pretty hardy after that.

    Does your shelter offer health guarantees with the dogs you place? What if the dog needs surgery for hip dysplasia? How about slipped stifles, or collie eye?

    Conscientious breeders work to eliminate health problems from their breed, as well. Pet stores and puppy mills feel no such responsibility. And they produce the dogs that ultimately end up in the shelter.

  27. baby221
    baby221 September 6, 2007 at 3:53 am |

    Of course there’s no dialogue — you’re shutting down the conversation by calling them racist anti-Semitics.

    Tell ya what — when the pets of this world begin to form political collectives to raise consciousness around the issues facing them as bound citizens unfairly denied their rights owing to some obsolete speciesism, I’ll consider that their suffering may be on par with Black slavery in America or the Holocaust. Until then, yeah, it’s pretty fucking ignorant to suggest that Paris Hilton’s poodle is somehow in just as dire straits as someone in a concentration camp.

  28. Rich
    Rich September 6, 2007 at 6:42 am |

    So… what about dog fighting? Or chicken fighting? Are we talking about degrees of cruelty here? Or do animals just not count at all? How about I just feel like going out to beat my dog to death because I had a bad day? Thinking “The other is not like me, and therefore subject to my whims” is the same mindset that creates slavery and patriarchy. Changing that mindset doesn’t require that we all become vegans. I think it does require changing the mindset of privilege in every aspect of life (said the 20-something white male), including animal cruelty. It’s not as big a deal. But it still counts.

    I agree with Judy Brown about pure breeds. I have some cousins who are really into purebred dogs, and they are without exception neurotic, unhealthy animals.

  29. M.
    M. September 6, 2007 at 7:42 am |

    Well, please explain how comparing black people or Jews to animals isn’t offensive to them, given the context in which those comparisons are usually made.

    First of all, we’re not a universal block. There are many, many Jews — myself included — who believe in animal rights and think PETA has a valid point, just as there are many blacks who do. Frankly, I find your lumping all Jews together as one homogenous Other by referring to us collectively as “them” far more offensive.

    Second, similes are not equal signs: saying blacks and Jews are like animals is not the same as saying animals are like blacks and Jews. In the first, animals is the standard for comparison; in the second, humans are. The first is meant to degrade people; the second is made to uplift animals.

    It’s similar to a common argument about childrearing made by a number of Critical Race Theorists. The problem is that white parents say to their children, “black children are just like us” instead of “we’re just like them.” The first sentence buttresses whiteness as the norm while reinforcing the blacks’ Otherness; the second subverts both the norm of whiteness and blacks’ Otherness. The same is true with AR.

  30. M.
    M. September 6, 2007 at 7:45 am |

    As a Jew, I really have to disagree with your sentiment that the PETA holocaust ads were not anti-Semitic.

    That’s fine. But do you have an argument to back up this assertion?

    Given the fact that you folllowed this with, “Ooooh, it’s a game that’s fun for everyone (Jewish) to play! Who wants to negate me now?” I gather that you don’t. Consequently, the only logical conclusion I can draw is that this is just another statement intended to shut down any legitimate conversation.

  31. M.
    M. September 6, 2007 at 7:50 am |

    Of course there’s no dialogue — you’re shutting down the conversation by calling them racist anti-Semitics.

    Tell ya what — when the pets of this world begin to form political collectives to raise consciousness around the issues facing them as bound citizens unfairly denied their rights owing to some obsolete speciesism, I’ll consider that their suffering may be on par with Black slavery in America or the Holocaust. Until then, yeah, it’s pretty fucking ignorant to suggest that Paris Hilton’s poodle is somehow in just as dire straits as someone in a concentration camp.

    First of all, this is a non-sequitur.

    Secondly, I have two graduate degrees and am currently working on the third. I may be many things, but “ignorant” — especially on this topic, which was the subject of my master’s thesis in Bioethics — is not one of them.

  32. Brad Jackson
    Brad Jackson September 6, 2007 at 7:52 am |

    Well, I for one, do think its OK to treat non-human animals as property. They aren’t sentient, they aren’t people, so yeah, no problem there at all from my POV.

    Slavery is the treating of a sentient being as property. Therefore my cat isn’t my slave, though she is my property.

    I don’t think that “sentient” is particularly tied to “human”, though at the moment we’re the only sentient species we know of. Eventually it seems likely that either we’ll uplift other species to sentience (chimps are a prime candidate) or meet sentient non-humans, and when that happens then naturally treating them as property would be slavery.

    But cows? Chickens? Dogs? Nope, no question, treating them as property is perfectly fine.

    I think that the conditions in the factory farms are an obscenity and must be changed. I find puppy mills abhorent. But I don’t hold those positions because I think that non-human animals should be treated like humans, have the same rights as humans, or that treating them as property is inherently wrong.

    You want to be a vegan, or a vegetarian? I’ve got absolutely no problem with that, and I won’t say a word against you. But claims that those personal dietary choices reflect a superior moral state are preposterous and based on false premises.

  33. kt
    kt September 6, 2007 at 9:02 am |

    it’s hard to read about slaughter after slaughter of children, women, and men while the world watched idly by and feel any agreement with the people shouting “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CHICKENZZZ! AND THE COWWWZZ!!!”

    What about the people of Darfor?

    Its unfortunate that you have to mutually exclude these topics, as though people could not simultaneously be concerned about genocide and animal rights. A lot of people (myself included) would argue that both the exploitation and murder of people and that of animals are the result of similar systems of oppression. At the very least, as Rich points out, they are derived from similar mindsets of privilege.

    Tell ya what — when the pets of this world begin to form political collectives to raise consciousness around the issues facing them as bound citizens unfairly denied their rights owing to some obsolete speciesism, I’ll consider that their suffering may be on par with Black slavery in America or the Holocaust. Until then, yeah, it’s pretty fucking ignorant to suggest that Paris Hilton’s poodle is somehow in just as dire straits as someone in a concentration camp.

    I don’t think anyone here suggested that. Its too bad that we have to resort to petty biting comments instead of dealing with the real issues. Not to mention its a pretty terrifying position that a group would have to form ‘political collectives’ before you would afford them the right to, at the very least, life. Regardless of whether their suffering is on par with slavery or the Holocaust (which we can’t actually know), its quite apparent that it there is suffering going on in factory farms, fur farms, science labs, cosmetic labs, etc.

    I really find it unfortunate that instead of opening up dialogue between progressive communities, both sides resort to denigration of those on the other side. Shouldn’t we be trying to engage with those in movements who are fighting similar foes (i.e. oppression), instead of mocking their commitments or attacking them personally about their choice of companion animals?

  34. CScarlet
    CScarlet September 6, 2007 at 9:27 am |

    Dogs are not independent creatures, they are pack animals. What are the owning pets = slavery people suggesting happen in their ideal world? Dogs and cats cannot survive in the wild. Domesticated dogs have evolved alongside humans for so long that they are no longer wild animals that have these capabilities. Most of them would die. If they didn’t die, they’d cause havoc in the ecosystem they’d disrupt.

    Dogs are like babies and small children, if we have to make a human comparison. No, they are not the property of their parents. But they need to be fed and given water, they need to be kept safe from the elements, they need adequate health care which they cannot procure for themselves, they need to be taught and to learn, they need socialization and love. Babies and toddlers grow into adults that can do these things for themselves. Dogs don’t.

  35. Kali Tal
    Kali Tal September 6, 2007 at 9:30 am |

    The whole PETA thing is pretty disgusting, and they’re on awfully shaky moral ground because they regularly kill the animals in their shelters (see http://www.petakillsanimals.com/) — healthy animals that no-kill shelters could certainly have placed. Those deaths are apparently okay in PETA’s eyes, while the death of hamsters sacrificed in the cause of fighting disease and bettering human health are not. Go figure.

    I can weigh in here as a Jew (and a Holocaust scholar), as well as a feminist and an antiracist, and a person who has had a lifelong relationship with dogs, wolves and wolf hybrids. Of course comparing the maltreatment (or perceived maltreatment) of animals to the wholesale genocide of peoples like Jews (or Gypsies) in the Holocaust, and like Africans in the forced diaspora of slavery is offensive.

    I say “of course” because I freely admit that I privilege human life over animal life, and that I believe even the most loathsome human being’s life is more valuable than that of even my dearest and most beloved dog. Personally distraught as it would make me, I would sacrifice my dog to save a person I didn’t know. I love my dog dearly, but not more than I love the principles to which I adhere.

    And that’s what this comes down to — a question of morality. Not the fundamentalist right’s concept of morality, which is immoral nonsense, immediately and demonstrably incoherent and inconsistent. Instead, it’s an ethical position derived from a set of clear principles that I can very comfortably defend:

    Human life is of primary importance (no murder, no death penalties); human rights to life-sustaining food, water, housing, and medical care are inherent, as are the rights to self-determination and free exercise of thought and speech, the right to an education and equality of opportunity. Similarly, human responsibility is also crucial — responsibility for the health and welfare of others through the mechanism of community; responsibility for securing the rights of minorities; responsibility for creating a sustainable future that includes the health and diversity of the planet… including the animals on the planet.

    In my experience, PETA people tend to refuse to acknowledge their moral foundations, preferring instead to hide behind the argument that animal lives are just as important as human ones. But when you push them, they can’t articulate why that is the case, nor can they really describe the ideal world that would result if everyone on earth followed their instructions. PETA people are upset at fur coats, but not usually at insecticides — they do, in fact, draw an equally arbitrary line between the animals (usually mammals) that they think are important and the ones (insects, fish) that they don’t think are so important, and they’re totally unable to cope with the fact that each life necessarily depends on the deaths of other creatures. Nor can they cope with ideas about interdependence of species (for example, the notion that dogs and people evolved together in symbiotic relationships).

    My experience with PETA people is that they don’t really know much about animals — they have all sorts of stories and fantasies about them, but they (despite claims to the contrary) have very little respect for animals. Vickie Hearn was the best of the animal-savvy moral philosophers. A Wittgenstein scholar as well as a trainer of search-and-rescue dogs and of dressage horses, her book Adam’s Task: The Moral Life of Animals is as clear headed a reflection as I’ve ever encountered. Like her, I have no patience for those who let their ideas of what animals should be get in the way of seeing animals for who and what they are. It’s probably good that PETA people don’t believe in pets, because all their animals would be horribly neurotic.

    A life-long cooperative working relationship with dogs and wolves has taught me that at the level at which they live (which is not a human level), canines are capable of thinking, of self-organizing, of making judgments about right and wrong, of memory and narrative and a certain amount of self-consciousness (by which I mean they are capable of thinking about what they are thinking). They are also capable of great emotion, though their happiness or sadness or boredom is not the same as human emotions of the same name.

    Those who live with animals and have a rational, healthy respect for their pet’s otherness understand that most relationships between pets and people are at some level consensual. If you’ve ever tried to get a recalcitrant dog to come when called, or a stubborn horse into a trailer, you know that’s true. It’s a totally different situation than the involuntary enslavement or wholesale murder of entire groups of people, and the comparison is indeed offensive.

    I am in complete agreement with those who want to reduce needless animal suffering, but I am interested in reducing that suffering on a level that lasts from their births to their deaths, and I don’t mind if they die if their deaths serve a purpose, like feeding me or other people. What I do mind is if they live in pain or terror up to the moment of their deaths. I don’t condemn a wolf for killing and eating a deer and I don’t condemn people for killing and eating a cow, even though we could both conceivably survive on beans and rice.

    PETA, though, doesn’t stand for anything I can get behind and they have been, as a number of people have mentioned, anti-woman and racist in their promotional campaigns, self-serving in the causes they promote, and hypocritical in living up to their own standards. To me, they’re just another group based on the same hype that sustains New Age religion: they make privileged people feel good about their privileges, and relieve them of the difficult responsibility of making the world better for other human beings AND for animals.

  36. Sarah in Chicago
    Sarah in Chicago September 6, 2007 at 9:56 am |

    Well, I for one, do think its OK to treat non-human animals as property. They aren’t sentient, they aren’t people, so yeah, no problem there at all from my POV.

    *nods* that’s my opinion too.

    I also agree that sentience is a good yardstick for ‘animal’ status. I think we may find eventually that some species such as some whales, dolphins, and some primates might actually qualify as sentient to a degree, and hence shouldn’t be seen in the same sense as animals, ie that which are non-sentient.

    This, of course, doesn’t preclude being humane towards the non-sentient, as hey undoubtably feel pain, and torture is a fundamentally inhuman thing. But treat them on a par with the sentient? Sorry, not buying that one in the slightest.

    Not to mention I really love seafood … and bacon … and fried chicken … damn, now I am hungry and it’s not even 9am.

    Therefore my cat isn’t my slave, though she is my property.

    lol, while I agree … if my cat WERE my slave, I have to say, she really does a bad job at it … trying asking her to do ANYTHING, and you’ll get a look of scorn, with probably one eye open before she rolls on over and asks me to pet her now.

    Hell, I feed her, get her toys, clean up her litter-box, buy her treats, wipe up hairballs … I’m the one working for HER.

    But claims that those personal dietary choices reflect a superior moral state are preposterous and based on false premises.

    *nods* completely, if I were vegetarian or vegan, I’d actually be insulted to be lumped in with the people making these ridiculous claims.

    [sorry for quoting half your post, just agreed with it all *smile*]

  37. other orange
    other orange September 6, 2007 at 10:02 am |

    I’ve often asked particularly rabid PETA devotees, what should we do with dogs ? And they look at me like I’m insane. But dogs were bred for reliance on human beings. Hunting dogs don’t hunt- they retrieve. We dulled their instincts and replaced their pack; what are we supposed to do with dogs ? Let them roam the streets freely, to be hit by cars and starved ? That’s PETA’s amazing plan for domesticated animals ?

    Comparisons between blacks and Jews and dogs is so insulting it hurts. It’s bizarre. How can you even begin to structure an argument about self-aware, self-determined races and creeds versus animals that were bred to serve as companions ? A comparison between dogs and children, while still off-the-mark, I could see: dogs and children both need adults to maintain their health, protection, care, and education. But dogs and adult human beings (while I adore my dog, and treat him as a family member) as groups cannot be compared.

  38. Shinobi
    Shinobi September 6, 2007 at 10:03 am |

    I guess my thoughts on the treatment of animals stem from the idea that domesticated animals are the responsibility of humankind. We have selectively bred many of them to the point where their survival is limited without our support. We have also created environments that are hostile to uncontrolled animals. (Busy streets, fences, dangerous equipment.)

    Especially with dogs, whom we have been breeding for a very long time I feel like we need to shoulder some of the responsibility of caring for these animals humanely. That does not mean that I think they are people, but I do think that we are responsible for their lives and should rise to that responsibility.

    In terms of adopting vs. buying I would always adopt. I would always encourage the people around me to adopt. Unless you have a specific reason for wanting a certain breed (allergies, working farm etc.) it seems silly to spend so much money on one animal that you could save several.

    My aunt and uncle spent 3k buying a bermese mountain dog that no one in their house can control. I spent $250 to adopt a purebred siberian husky, and he’s the best dog in the world. In an ideal world people would just go to the shelter and find a dog they love and bring them home.

    However in a non ideal world people will want specific dogs because like my aunt and uncle their kids picked them out of a book, or they like they way it looks etc. And they want a puppy, because who doesn’t want a puppy. I don’t see why reputable breeding shouldn’t be encouraged, especially for dog breeds that have shown very useful traits as working dogs.

  39. evil fizz
    evil fizz September 6, 2007 at 10:13 am | *

    Think about the insane numbers of people who try to find fatal flaws in Peter Singer’s work on animal rights. Yet, to quote Art Caplan, the only real argument they have is that “it’s yucky.” And everyone in bioethics agrees that “it’s yucky” isn’t an argument.

    If you’re agreeing with the correctness of preference utilitarianism, this partially true. Also, Leon Kass seems to be of the opinion that “it’s yucky” is a perfectly valid philosophical argument, he just calls it the Wisdom of Repugnance. (Not that I agree with Kass, but he’s definitely part of the bioethics establishment.)

    Out of curiosity, where’s your MBE from?

  40. Will
    Will September 6, 2007 at 10:18 am |

    I think the way Elaine sees this issue is that if animals weren’t considered subhuman, comparing their condition to that of humans wouldn’t be offensive. I think her problem is refusing to take the history of comparing humans to animals into account. Sure, in an ideal world, maybe we wouldn’t ever have thought animals lowly enough that calling a human being an animal devalues their humanity. In this world, however, we have, and that rhetorical history is in place no matter what—every subsequent comparison of blacks to animals will echo with the words of a slave-owner.

    It’s the same reason it’s still not acceptable for whites to use the n-word or for straights to use “fag.” Every use of that language, no matter how well-intentioned, no matter that in an ideal world it wouldn’t be a problem, recalls millions of devastatingly hurtful uses of that language. That impact is a powerful tool, as with “queer,” but it’s an extremely dangerous and hurtful tool when used with disregard.

  41. M.
    M. September 6, 2007 at 10:30 am |

    What, I’m supposed to use “us” to refer to groups to which I don’t belong?

    Of course not. Given your posts about transgendered issues involving Othering, I had just hoped you’d be equally sensitive Othering to other groups. “Some Jews” and/or “black people who share Steve’s perspective” instead of “[all of] them” would have demonstrated such a sensitivity.

    I see no real functional difference. The conditions of the chickens and the cattle *were* being compared to that of humans, which minimizes what the humans endured.

    Taking the pictures and concluding that the holocaust was acceptable would be minimizing what humans endured. Taking the pictures and comparing it to animals’ suffering to say that animals’ treatment is not acceptable is not minimizing what the humans endured. It’s a subversive rhetorical strategy that undermines animals’ Otherness. If you think about it, Othering is ultimately at the core of slavery, the Holocaust, and factory farming.

    It may seem terribly clever to someone like Ingrid Newkirk, but it pissed off an awful lot of people who don’t find the comparison at all uplifting.

    It wasn’t designed to uplift people. It was designed to subvert people’s tendency to Other animals. And the fact that it pissed off so many people demonstrates that it did that rather well.

  42. Hot Tramp
    Hot Tramp September 6, 2007 at 10:40 am |

    Oh, I see it’s time to play Progressiver-Than-Thou. “You’re not really progressive because you breed pets!” “You’re not really progressive because you compare people and animals!” Come on, people. This is rooted in a fundamental difference of worldview, not who really really really wants to make the world a more happy shiny liberal place.

    I do not consider myself an animal rights activist: I own pets, I eat meat from time to time, and I don’t think animals should have the same status as humans in our society. From my perspective, yes, the PETA ads are problematic in that they recall racist comparisons of Jews and Blacks to animals.

    However, I get that that comparison is meant to a) be provocative and uncomfortable to look at, and b) force us to examine our hierarchical ranking of animals and humans. It’s only bad to compare Blacks and Jews to animals if we view animals as inferior to humans. Animal rights activists do not view them that way. And the ads expose that assumption and ask us to reevaluate it.

    Is it offensive? Obviously. Was it perhaps more offensive than productive? I think that’s obvious, as well. No one said PETA was good at what they do. But nothing productive comes from labeling the ads racist and then considering the matter handled. We have to look at the underlying fundamental differences of perspective that caused the conflict in the first place.

    Similarly, it’s very silly to accuse someone of being unfeminist because she bought a bred pet. I agree that breeding is ethically problematic when so many equally companiable pets are euthanized in shelters every year — the choice to buy a bred pet is essentially an aesthetic one, and consigning some dogs to die because they’re Not Cute Enough really rubs me the wrong way. But what the hell does that have to do with feminism? Or even issues of human oppression? Nothing, if you’re on this side of the issue of whether or not humans and animals have identical rights.

  43. Rachel
    Rachel September 6, 2007 at 10:45 am |

    Think about the insane numbers of people who try to find fatal flaws in Peter Singer’s work on animal rights. Yet, to quote Art Caplan, the only real argument they have is that “it’s yucky.” And everyone in bioethics agrees that “it’s yucky” isn’t an argument.

    Way to oversimplify things, M. Personally – and I think I’m not alone in this – I object to Peter Singer’s work on animal rights because he thinks animals should have more rights than people with disabilities because people with disabilities are inherently worth less than animals. Not because his work is “yucky” – because it’s abhorrent to me, as an advocate and as a person with a disability, that (1) I have less humanity than an animal because of my disability, and (2) my friends and clients with severe disabilities should have been aborted as a general policy because of their disabilities.

    Now, I may very well have less humanity or worth than an animal. But it’s got nothing, I mean nothing, to do with my disability.

  44. Tom
    Tom September 6, 2007 at 10:46 am |

    I can understand comparing the pointless suffering inflicted on animals to the pointless suffering inflicted on humans. Serial killers often begin by torturing animals. How we treat animals says a lot about how we treat humans and I don’t think it’s neccessarily insulting to compare slaughterhouses to the holocaust or slavery.

    However; it’s seems that PETA doesn’t give a shit about the suffering of humans; the comparisons are nothing more than callous, calculated political point-scoring. Their response to the criticism is dismissive of slavery and the holocaust and they thereby undercut the very comparison they’re trying to make.

  45. Will
    Will September 6, 2007 at 10:50 am |

    It’s a subversive rhetorical strategy that undermines animals’ Otherness. If you think about it, Othering is ultimately at the core of slavery, the Holocaust, and factory farming.

    I understand that you’re using Other as a term of art here, and I’m guessing at the details of how, but I wonder why it’s a good idea to undermine animals’ Otherness. It seems like that only operates within the standard that the Other is something to avoid, perpetuating that standard, and enabling its future use against another subjugated group. Wouldn’t it be far more subversive, and effective, to celebrate the Otherness of animals? After all, it seems that there is something irrevokably Other about animals, much more so than jews or blacks. Trying to close that gap seems to clash so violently with most peoples’ experience of animals that they simply reject it. What if one were to validate that experience of the Other, but realign it as an experience that should engender respect and care?

  46. RKMK
    RKMK September 6, 2007 at 10:53 am |

    My family has always had cats, and I’m not sure if the politics with cat breeders and dog breeders are on par. But we’ve always gone to the shelter to get them; it wasn’t a hard choice, we’re from a small town and it’s not like there are purebred cat breeders around every corner, but beyond that, we’re softies for the idea of rescuing something that’s been abandoned. We had three family cats growing up (two of them had unfortunate run-ins with cars), my sister has gotten two since she moved out, and my parents recently took in an older stray who was about three years old, and had just had her third litter. I got my own snuggleboo, Max, at the Toronto Humane Society last fall, and I’m currently fighting the urge to go get another one because I know they’re having trouble with overcrowding, and Max gets lonely by himself during the day – I’m just worried about my current space restraints, and how I would get the new baby to the vet for shots when I won’t have roommates with a car next year – and Christmas at the ‘rents could become a rather chaotic menagerie. I also think it’s absolutely insane when I hear someone paid something like $1000 for a designer labradoodle (like my cousins). My head about explodes.

    That said.

    In my second year of university, I lived with three other girls, one of whom brought her “perma-kitten” Gina to live with us. Gina was fully-grown, but very small, and a purebred Burmese. And she was the most darlingest baby I’ve ever known. I loved that cat; she slept with me every night, curled up with me while I read, never cried, only wanted to give and receive love and affection. I’d never had contact with Burmese cats before – only some yowly Siamese – but I researched them after living with Gina, and discovered that Burmese as a breed are renowned for their loving and affectionate temperaments.

    Now, I love Max, but after a few months of kitteny snuggles and affection, he’s gotten rather independent. I don’t mind; that’s his personality, and I respect his space. And I don’t feel the need to search out a purebred for my next kitten. On the other hand, in a couple of years, when I’m more stable financially and happen to come across a good breeder who just had a litter of Burmese kittens? I’d be hard pressed not to get one.

    So I can understand wanting to get a puppy from a (good) breeder, if that particular breed really appeals to you for some reason; there’s a certain Russian-roulette aspect to picking out something from the shelter, and some people either are used to or greatly prefer some traits that a particular breed is known for, or do not want to take a risk with behavioural problems (i.e. have small children).

    And that said, I don’t particularly get how any of this applies to how “good” a feminist I am.

    Great discussion. But more importantly, Monty is cute.

    Agreed. That’s what it all boils down to, in the end.

    Great to have you back, zuzu. You were missed.

  47. Vanessa
    Vanessa September 6, 2007 at 10:56 am |

    Its unfortunate that you have to mutually exclude these topics, as though people could not simultaneously be concerned about genocide and animal rights. A lot of people (myself included) would argue that both the exploitation and murder of people and that of animals are the result of similar systems of oppression. At the very least, as Rich points out, they are derived from similar mindsets of privilege

    I’m probably being a little unfair in that you’re right, it’s not like there’s a finite amount of concern that can be had, but it kind of begs the question – where’s the outrage, then? Why is Michael Vick’s dogfighting situation (which was a horrific and creepy crime and he deserves to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and if he was bitten by a dog on the way to jail I’d consider it poetic justice) such a huge new deal and Darfur is not?

    I was watching Bill Maher last week (yes, I know) and they were talking about that whole scandal. One of the panelists whose name I forget and am too lazy to look up said something along the lines of ‘Over 200 people were murdered in Atlanta while this whole scandal was going on, where’s the huge public outcry about that?’ I guess that’s my general take on the subject.

  48. Lizard
    Lizard September 6, 2007 at 10:57 am |

    Similarly, it’s very silly to accuse someone of being unfeminist because she bought a bred pet.

    Sure, just as (to borrow my own analogy from earlier) it’s very silly to consider someone anti-gay because he bought a Hummer. They’re two different issues that, to my mind, both fall under the “progressive” umbrella. And it’s always a little strange and sad to me when someone’s passionate and well-versed about one cause yet content to dismiss another with little more than “But I want that breed” or “But I like bacon.”

    Again, I’m not demonizing Jessica–I have no idea how she arrived at her decision to acquire her puppy. May she and Monty live long and prosper. I’m speaking in generalities.

    Brad Jackson:

    But cows? Chickens? Dogs? Nope, no question, treating them as property is perfectly fine.

    Your property, though, is yours to destroy or neglect without consequences, for the most part. If we use the same terminology to refer to our pets and our Corningware, we open the door to animal abuse and dogfighting. Surely there’s a middle ground between “property” and “equal.”

    You want to be a vegan, or a vegetarian? I’ve got absolutely no problem with that, and I won’t say a word against you.

    How magnanimous of you.

  49. M.
    M. September 6, 2007 at 11:01 am |

    Also, Leon Kass seems to be of the opinion that “it’s yucky” is a perfectly valid philosophical argument, he just calls it the Wisdom of Repugnance. (Not that I agree with Kass, but he’s definitely part of the bioethics establishment.)

    I know Kass thinks it’s valid, but as far as I can tell, no one else does. (Granted, it’s been a while.)

    Out of curiosity, where’s your MBE from?

    I’m also a Penn grad — BA/MA ’03; MBE ’05.

  50. M.
    M. September 6, 2007 at 11:03 am |

    Rachel:

    he thinks animals should have more rights than people with disabilities because people with disabilities are inherently worth less than animals.

    This is a radical misunderstanding of his work. Going into it would be a bit tangential, though, but I’ll grab a good explanation of this after class.

  51. Will
    Will September 6, 2007 at 11:03 am |

    If you think about it, Othering is ultimately at the core of slavery, the Holocaust, and factory farming.

    Sorry for the double post, but I can’t let this half of the quote go. I don’t think you’re right, M. At the very least, you’re oversimplifying. Othering is necessary but far from sufficient in any of these situations. Slavery and factory farming are about free-market capitalism more than they are about Othering—people didn’t trade slaves because they had it in for Africans, they traded slaves because they made back double their investment in one trip across the Atlantic. I’ll agree that the holocaust was primarily about Othering, but jews had been Othered for millennia before the holocaust. If you can offer any evidence that Othering is avoidable, I’d love to see it. In the absence of that evidence, it’s worth assuming that the best solution is to work to change the way we react to the experience of the Other.

  52. evil fizz
    evil fizz September 6, 2007 at 11:21 am | *

    he thinks animals should have more rights than people with disabilities because people with disabilities are inherently worth less than animals.

    This is a radical misunderstanding of his work.

    It may be a bit of a misunderstanding, but I don’t think you could call it radical. Singer is certainly of the opinion that the value of life is based on cognitive capacity. On his scale, some animals will rate higher than humans with cognitive deficits and those still in infancy. No, he does not argue that animals are deserving of more rights, but without question, Singer devalues people with disabilities. His is a calculus of suffering that doesn’t equalizes the suffering of different species.

    I don’t happen to agree with him and I think that the problem a lot of people have with Singer is not that he fails at logical consistency. It’s a disagreement of first principles.

    [/threadjack]

  53. K
    K September 6, 2007 at 11:35 am |

    I am surprised at your surprise regarding the notion the that the treatment of non-human animals under patriarchy and capitalism is somehow separate from the treatment of women. Many feminists scholars and theorists have explored and argued for the significance of this connection. That you reject it out of hand suggests the limitations and biases of your own “feminist” ideology. Insistence on categorical differences without thoughtful examination–such as the fact that there is no agreed upon scientific basis for a categorical difference between human and non-human animals–not language, not tool use, etc.–is rarely productive and is arguably what created the need for “feminism” in the first place.

    I’m surprised you can’t see that directly equating human slavery with dog breeding is offensive and racist. Not to mention, hello, dismissing the offense of people whose ancestors were slaves as merely being that of people who don’t accept that animals are just the same as people?

    And, incidentally, it doesn’t even require “feminist” (nice scare quotes there) analysis for anyone with half a functioning brain to see that this is a half-assed criticism relying on nothing but a passing reference to Peter Singer and a whole lot of emotion.

    I’m sorry–I don’t believe I referred to Singer. I mentioned *feminist* theorists and scholars and was thinking of writers such as Donna Haraway (who has a great book on dogs, btw, and she has purebreds), Carol Adams, and Mary Midgely. Check it out. Frankly, I don’t see how you can accuse others of emotion-based argument when your own is based on sanctimonious, reactionary, over-simplified inflammatory accusations of racism, etc.. No one is *equating* anything here–M, for example, is making a much more subtle case.

  54. Sailorman
    Sailorman September 6, 2007 at 11:35 am |

    I think that some people believe analogies are “one way”. That they think saying “hey, that rotten cauliflower reminds me of Cheney!” somehow doesn’t ALSO mean that Cheney resembles a rotten cauliflower..= (which he does, so maybe it’s a bad example.)

    I’m not saying the PETA stuff isn’t offensive–it is–but I wonder whether it comes from a mental inability to understand the reversals of analogies, rather than a deliberate attempt to liken Jews, blacks, or any other human to pigs.

  55. lou
    lou September 6, 2007 at 11:47 am |

    People mention that dogs, and possibly cats, would not survive if humans were to let them go or die out.
    The same holds true for cattle. Not used for meat or dairy and sent out to live on their own, they’d die in about 50 years. In fact, the new book on what the world would be like without humans says cows would be the first to miss us.
    How does PETA feel about that? good riddance?

  56. Karna
    Karna September 6, 2007 at 11:47 am |

    yeah, the issue really comes down to, do you consider animals people or not. I mean, on the one hand, if you do, then yes, the ads make sense. I personally don’t. it’s the same logic as your post on the monkey lawsuit ad a while ago. if you consider monkeys as people, it’s not an issue. the ad(and your response) is based on the idea that most people don’t. I don’t think that’s a bad thing-I’m always going to worry more about people than animals. . . I don’t know where I’m going with this, just, I guess that the issue is more about basic definitions than an attempt to trivialize the suffering of humans.

  57. Will
    Will September 6, 2007 at 12:10 pm |

    what is more Othering than classifying a group as subhuman?

    Well, they aren’t really classifying a group as subhuman by comparing that group to animals, because they don’t see animals as subhuman.

  58. sylvie
    sylvie September 6, 2007 at 12:12 pm |

    just a quick note – I am very glad you are back. I always enjoyed your posts, and was troubled by your leaving (troubled by the finals straws, as it were, not to imply that you were unjustified). your wit and insight are greatly appreciated.

  59. Bridgetka
    Bridgetka September 6, 2007 at 12:25 pm |

    But cows? Chickens? Dogs? Nope, no question, treating them as property is perfectly fine.

    Wow. You don’t see a difference between taking a baseball bat to your car and taking a baseball bat to your cat? They’re both your property, after all. The law apparently thinks there’s a distinction (at least for companion animals), seeing as how the former would get you funny looks and the latter would get you a court date.

    On the subject of the law’s bizarre distinction between companion and agricultural animals: why is it, that if I kept a bunch of dogs in a box that was too small for them to even turn around in, up to their hocks in maggot-ridden feces from birth to age 1, didn’t get them veterinary care when they inevitably became sick, then put them in an unventilated truck with no food or water for a twenty hour cross country trip in 90 degree heat, dragged them out of their box, and then slit their throats, I’d go to jail, but if I did the exact same thing to a bunch of pigs, I’d get a government subsidy?

  60. Hector B.
    Hector B. September 6, 2007 at 12:25 pm |

    the new book on what the world would be like without humans says cows would be the first to miss us.

    This is the thing that has struck me about PETA: essentially they want no human-animal interactions at all, a sort of interspecies apartheid. However, when humans live with animals, the lives of both are enriched. Anyone who has worked with a dog will understand.

    Now, people will wonder how it can enrich an animal’s life to be eaten. To eat animals ethically, you have a responsibility to make sure the animal’s life is pleasant as long as it lives, and make sure its death is as painless as possible. Remembering that all living beings will die, not necessarily painlessly.

    But PETA argues if some animals are mistreated, then everything you do with animals is bad. So, no more zoos: if you want to see wild animals, take an African safari, or cruise up the Amazon. No economic use of animals at all. And pets are next on their list.

  61. Mandolin
    Mandolin September 6, 2007 at 12:30 pm |

    Given the fact that you folllowed this with, “Ooooh, it’s a game that’s fun for everyone (Jewish) to play! Who wants to negate me now?” I gather that you don’t.

    Why would I bother to respond to you in a way that backs up the argument? I could. I’ve written articles on the subject. However, it wasn’t the logic of refuting the comparison that was teh point I was trying to make.

    The point I was trying to make — and made — is that you were using some transparently bad argument. You attempted to marshall your Jewish identity in such a way so as to imply that her critique of the ad was invalid and yours is better. That’s a stupid maneuver, and I called you out on it. If your crit is better than hers because you’re a Jew — than mine is equal to yours because I’m a Jew.

    Don’t play power games and then whine when your obviously flawed logic is pointed out.

  62. activistgradgal
    activistgradgal September 6, 2007 at 12:30 pm |

    A little off topic, but–

    At least two posters here have claimed that animals are not “sentient.”

    Did you mean to use a different term there? (Or maybe you’re using it in a different way than I’m familiar with?).

    sen·tient (sĕn’shənt, -shē-ənt) pronunciation
    adj.

    1. Having sense perception; conscious: “The living knew themselves just sentient puppets on God’s stage” (T.E. Lawrence).
    2. Experiencing sensation or feeling.

    Wikipedia makes a point to distinguish “sentience” and “sapience”:

    Sentience refers to utilization of sensory organs, the ability to feel or perceive subjectively, not necessarily including the faculty of self-awareness. The possession of sapience is not a necessity. The word sentient is often confused with the word sapient, which can connote knowledge, consciousness, or apperception. The root of the confusion is that the word conscious has a number of different usages in English. The two words can be distinguished by looking at their Latin roots: sentire, “to feel”; and sapere, “to know”.

    Sentience is the ability to sense. It is separate from, and not dependent on, aspects of consciousness

    On that definition animals (well mammals at least) are definitely sentient so their lack of sentience can’t be what makes it okay for them to be property. Their lack of sapience can’t be it either (actually, I would say that at least some non-human animals like the great apes are almost surely sapient) since human babies aren’t sapient, but surely that doesn’t make it okay for them to be property (at least, not in any usual sense of the term “property”).

    It seems to me that human infants and non-primate mammals have similar moral status in terms of being property. They aren’t persons and thus are not capable of having most rights–like the right not to be killed–though I would say they have a right not to be tortured. Since human infants and cats/dogs aren’t persons, if someone does attempt to own them this can never be the same kind of moral wrong that was involved in slavery (which was an attempt at revoking of others’ personhood). So I do think the PETA analogy doesn’t work and I can see why it is offensive. Still, I do think that anything which is not a person is property and I think most everyone would have serious moral issues with human infants being thought of as property. (Of course, most human infants will eventually become persons, while animals will not, and that complicates things–but I don’t think too much can rest on being a potential person…after all, fertilized eggs are potential persons…)

  63. Hector B.
    Hector B. September 6, 2007 at 12:38 pm |

    Why is Michael Vick’s dogfighting situation (which was a horrific and creepy crime and he deserves to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and if he was bitten by a dog on the way to jail I’d consider it poetic justice) such a huge new deal and Darfur is not?

    This is an excellent question.
    1. Darfur is far away, and Americans can’t relate
    2. We can’t comprehend the magnitude of the suffering in Darfur.
    3. The suffering in Darfur has been going on so long that ending it seems hopeless.
    4. Vick mistreated dogs in our country.
    5. We can all imagine the suffering of these dogs, aided by the explicit depictions of what Vick did to them
    6. Vick’s cruelty was revealed only recently, and his punishment seems swift and sure.
    7. In our society, we expect a higher standard of behavior from athletes.
    8. Athletes are in the media spotlight.

  64. Activist Mommy
    Activist Mommy September 6, 2007 at 12:41 pm |

    OK, I’ll take the other side. :)

    I get what they are trying to say. The slavery of any living creature, human or not, based on your belief that you are superier for whatever reason is wrong. In that sense slavery of animals is as bad as slavery of humans. Of course not everyone agrees, and not everyone agrees on what slavery of animals means. I have cats and ahve been told that by keeping them as pets that I am “enslaving them” Personally it seems more like they are enslaving me, after all I’m the one cleaning and feeding them while they sleep in my favorite chair all day. ;)

    In that sensxe I don’t think they were trying to compare blacks and jews to animals, just the act of slavery is the same no matter what the slave may be.

    Also I think what they intended to do is exactly what you are doing. They made ads that they knew would shock people in order to get people talking about it. Like the saying goes “there is no such thing as bad publicity.” I don’t think they were sitting around planning on insulting/offending people to be racist, but to get people stirred up and talking about PETA. The more it is talked about, good or bad, the more press they are getting.

    I do like PETA because they get the word out on animal rights. And yes, I can support human rights and still have a place in my heart for animal rights. Do I like they way they get their message across? Not at all. But in today’s culture we have become so sensationalized that it is the shocking, in your face ads that get noticed more. And if that is their intent they are doing it.

  65. Activist Mommy
    Activist Mommy September 6, 2007 at 12:43 pm |

    By the way, welcome back. :) Your voice was missed around here.

  66. Rachel
    Rachel September 6, 2007 at 12:47 pm |

    This is a radical misunderstanding of his work. Going into it would be a bit tangential, though, but I’ll grab a good explanation of this after class.

    No, it certainly is not. Singer has said, publicly and in debates with Harriet McBryde Johnson, that he thinks people with severe disabilities (a) should be aborted as a general matter, or at least killed in infancy, and (b) have less worth because of their cognitive abilities or lack thereof.

    Or, what evil fizz said.

  67. Mandolin
    Mandolin September 6, 2007 at 12:53 pm |

    “In that sensxe I don’t think they were trying to compare blacks and jews to animals”

    It makes no difference what they’re “trying” to do. Since when is intent the central issue when we’re talking about racism? They undertook a massive propaganda campaign in the form of what I gather they felt was an art project. Artists are responsible for the shit we produce, yo.

    A central form of the oppression of Jews and blacks has been comparison to animals. PETA wants to make a point about human and animal suffering being the same? Why don’t they go after the white dudes whose rights have NOT been in question based on their questionable human status. Otherwise, PETA’s just feeding into the racist shit in the same way they feed into the sexist shit and the fatphobic shit.

    PETA also handled the campaign in a graceless and unethical way. When one Jewish man who had been in a concentration camp recognized his own fucking picture on their billboards, and asked them to use a different image, they declined. They knew what he felt they were saying about him, and they were willing to let the banner wave above an old man’s head, retreading the same ground he heard in the concentration camp: “You are meat. You are meat. You are meat.”

    If they want to make their point in a way that’s responsible to sexism and racism, they could do that. They could make something shocking that didn’t rely on standard tropes about race and sex and fat. But laziness goads them to the same place as radio shock jocks. Easy targets are easy for a reason. And both Imus and PETA have the same excuse: “Well, why does it matter?” My joke / my cause are more important than the feelings of some black women, some filthy Jews.

  68. evil fizz
    evil fizz September 6, 2007 at 1:04 pm | *

    Wow. You don’t see a difference between taking a baseball bat to your car and taking a baseball bat to your cat? They’re both your property, after all. The law apparently thinks there’s a distinction (at least for companion animals), seeing as how the former would get you funny looks and the latter would get you a court date.

    This assumes that property is defined by being able to do whatever you want with a given object or intangible. That’s flawed.

    but if I did the exact same thing to a bunch of pigs, I’d get a government subsidy?

    No one here is defending the practices as they currently exist in commercial agriculture. There’s no need for strawmen.

  69. Will
    Will September 6, 2007 at 1:08 pm |

    And it’s naive to expect the people so classified to just accept that.

    Yes, but…

    I suspect that this is one of those things that, unless you agree on where animals fall in the hierarchy, you’re never going to see eye-to-eye.

    …I honestly think that this isn’t an issue of whether animals are equal. You (not you, zuzu, but in general) can think animals are people too, and still decide not to use rhetoric that compares them to slaves, because even if everyone accepts that animals are equal to humans, that rhetoric was once used in a really, really demeaning way. I’m pretty queer-positive, but I don’t use “fag” with some people because of the damaging connotations it has for them. Even though they know I’m queer-positive, and they’re queer-positive, that understanding doesn’t change the hurt some rhetoric can cause. Even if you know I think animals are people, and you think animals are people, that understanding also doesn’t change the hurt some rhetoric can cause.

  70. Will
    Will September 6, 2007 at 1:16 pm |

    I just read that, and realized how combative it sounded. At the end of the day, we agree, so I’m sorry about the flamey tone.

  71. Mandolin
    Mandolin September 6, 2007 at 1:23 pm |

    ” You (not you, zuzu, but in general) can think animals are people too, and still decide not to use rhetoric that compares them to slaves, because even if everyone accepts that animals are equal to humans, that rhetoric was once used in a really, really demeaning way. I’m pretty queer-positive, but I don’t use “fag” with some people because of the damaging connotations it has for them. Even though they know I’m queer-positive, and they’re queer-positive, that understanding doesn’t change the hurt some rhetoric can cause. Even if you know I think animals are people, and you think animals are people, that understanding also doesn’t change the hurt some rhetoric can cause.”

    Fuck yes, Will. Fuck yes, fuck yes, fuck yes.

  72. M.
    M. September 6, 2007 at 1:35 pm |

    Will:

    Sorry for the double post, but I can’t let this half of the quote go. I don’t think you’re right, M. At the very least, you’re oversimplifying. Othering is necessary but far from sufficient in any of these situations. Slavery and factory farming are about free-market capitalism more than they are about Othering—people didn’t trade slaves because they had it in for Africans, they traded slaves because they made back double their investment in one trip across the Atlantic. I’ll agree that the holocaust was primarily about Othering, but jews had been Othered for millennia before the holocaust. If you can offer any evidence that Othering is avoidable, I’d love to see it. In the absence of that evidence, it’s worth assuming that the best solution is to work to change the way we react to the experience of the Other.

    Re-read my comment: “at the core” =/= necessary and sufficient.

    Secondly, Othering may not be avoidable, but you can train yourself to get past it. And it seems subersive rhetoric is almost always a requirement for that.

  73. M.
    M. September 6, 2007 at 1:41 pm |

    I think you must have me confused with piny. I don’t write much on transgender issues, because I don’t know nearly as much as piny on that topic.

    Sorry about that. Most of the blogs I read are done by individuals, so I keep thinking of Feministe in that way.

    In any event, what is more Othering than classifying a group as subhuman?

    They’re not classifying any group as subhuman — they’re classifying a group as human. (And it’s not coincidental that a number of racial and ethnic minorities have had to use similar rhetorical strategies over the past two centuries.)

  74. pennylane
    pennylane September 6, 2007 at 1:41 pm |

    This argument feels uncomfortably like the “can feminists shave their legs” discussion where it becomes personal very quickly. And I suppose these are issues that go to the ethics of personal practices. It might be useful to separate out Jessica’s personal choice from the overall commercialization of domestic animals generally and dogs in particular. I consider myself a supporter of animal rights though I rarely voice it because of the vociferous and often personal responses I get from people who often invoke PETA, a group I happen to loathe because of their means and what I think is a fairly unreflective position on the human/animal boundary. I think it IS a fair discussion to have whether animal rights are or should be a feminist issue just as we might talk about the environment or Darfur or any other issue. And it should be a question about structural issues (conceptions of the human/animal boundary, capitalism, etc.) rather than picking on an individual for their choices. And that goes both ways.

    And just as a point of fact (because I spend far too much depressing time in local shelters), purebreds are NOT necessarily snatched up quickly. At our local SPCA this week we had to put down a purebred GSD, half a dozen AmStaffs and a Dachshund, all of whom had been in the shelter for over 4 months. Their primary fault was being old. It’s amazing what you find in shelters for no discernible reason-if anyone is looking for a really sweet, already neutered Dogue de Bordeaux…

  75. jeffliveshere
    jeffliveshere September 6, 2007 at 2:06 pm |

    People have an obligation to treat animals humanely because they’re living beings. We don’t have an obligation to consider them equals.–zuzu

    But of course your conclusion is exactly what is at issue for some of the people comparing human slavery with animal slavery–at least some of them do think that we have an obligation to consider them equals in terms of treating them like property. I think you’re begging the question: Do we have an obligation to consider animals equal to humans in the realm of ownership of other living beings?

    Now, you may have good reasons for answering ‘no’ to this question–but it seems strange that you wouldn’t want to recognize that this is what is (in part) at issue, and instead just keep repeating your conclusion.

    Second, similes are not equal signs: saying blacks and Jews are like animals is not the same as saying animals are like blacks and Jews. In the first, animals is the standard for comparison; in the second, humans are. The first is meant to degrade people; the second is made to uplift animals.–M

    I see no real functional difference. The conditions of the chickens and the cattle *were* being compared to that of humans, which minimizes what the humans endured.–zuzu

    I think your conclusion that such comparisons minimize what the humans endured is, again, what some people are questioning–some animal rights activists literally think that people’s rejection of these sorts of comparisons minimize what the animals endure.

    That said, I think Will is spot-on when he says:

    I think the way Elaine sees this issue is that if animals weren’t considered subhuman, comparing their condition to that of humans wouldn’t be offensive. I think her problem is refusing to take the history of comparing humans to animals into account. Sure, in an ideal world, maybe we wouldn’t ever have thought animals lowly enough that calling a human being an animal devalues their humanity. In this world, however, we have, and that rhetorical history is in place no matter what—every subsequent comparison of blacks to animals will echo with the words of a slave-owner.

    As a side note, I highly recommend Mary Anne Warren’s book: Moral Status. It’s a slim volume that covers a lot, and gives a sort of system for valuing beings (and even inanimate objects) and making moral choices. She covers a lot of the same ground Singer does, but doesn’t make some of the (as I perceive them) huge blunders that Singer makes.

  76. Roy
    Roy September 6, 2007 at 2:17 pm |

    Their lack of sapience can’t be it either (actually, I would say that at least some non-human animals like the great apes are almost surely sapient) since human babies aren’t sapient, but surely that doesn’t make it okay for them to be property (at least, not in any usual sense of the term “property”).

    I don’t know… it sure seems to me like most people treat infants and children like property. Children have next to no right to self determination- they exist in a world where their parents are held responsible for making choices for them, and where their parents are sometimes held responsible for the actions of the child. You can’t buy or sell children, per say, but you can give up your child or let someone else adopt the child, without the child’s say.

    Children aren’t property in the way that, say, my shoes are, but I don’t think that the way that society views children is that different from the way we view pet ownership. The pet owner/child’s parent is expected to honor certain rights- not to abuse, to feed and offer shelter- but enjoys a level of control that we would never tolerate over another Person.

  77. Thomas
    Thomas September 6, 2007 at 2:44 pm |

    First, Roy, this time when the thread erupts into 700 comments and countless Godwin’s Law invocations, you can’t say you’re surprised.

    Second, custodial supervision is not property. In fact, for almost all people who cannot manage their own afairs, in Western-style “developed” societies, we place the responsibility for a person who cannot manage hir own affairs in the hands of a custodian, who is generally requires to act in the best interest of the other. Now, we may not enforce that as vigorously as we should, but it’s a fiduciary role, and there is usually a mechanism to say that the custodian has breached faith.

    Children’s parents can lose custodial rights if they fail to act adequately. In cases of divorce, the custodial parent or parents is usually determined on broad principles grounded in the “best interest of the child.” When adults suffer dementia, custodians can be appointed. As New Yorkers learned in the Brooke Astor case, that custodian too can be removed if they fail adequately to serve the interest of the incompetent person. If I am seriously injured today, I have a Power of Attorney and a Healthcare Proxy, and another will manage my affairs until either I can resume making decisions or I die. In each of those cases, the custodian has broad powers, but at least in theory is bound not to use the power in self-interest.

    To analogize, when one has control over money but most use in for another, one is a trustee. When one has control over an entity but must direct it for the benefit of another, one is a fiduciary. Now, IAAL, and it is crystal clear that, however likely one could get away with acting selfishly if one is a trustee or fiduciary, no lawyer anywhere ever will tell you that a fiduciary or trustee is the same as an owner.

    And just to make sure I am firmly in the saddle of my high horse, there was a case in NY state about ten years ago where parents had their children removed from their home because they were sadomasochists and the judge thought that made them unfit parents. (The couple was popularly knows by the pseudonym Houghton — if you know the real name, keep it under your hat, as they’ve been through enough.) When a judge can take your kids away because you”re a bad influence on your kids, they’re not your property. A judge can take away someone else’s trust fund from you if you decide to blow it on ice cream sandwiches and really good scotch but your own money is yours to spend on any ice cream sandwich or bottle of scotch you want.

  78. Thomas
    Thomas September 6, 2007 at 2:50 pm |

    To close the loop on your parallel, Roy, if I have a pet, I can give it to whomever I want without regard to qualifications. I can’t do that with a child. I can put it down without asking anyone’s leave, assuming the vet will do it; I can’t do that with a child. I can decide that a pet would be a better hat than a companion; the law regulates how I can effect the pet’s death (maybe), but otherwise will not prevent me from making a sculpture or ornament from the body. Not true of a child.

    So there you go. We’re held, however imperfectly, to act for the best interest of our children. Pets we can alienate how we like, subject to some restrictions not really more burdensome than the restrictions we face in the use of land, hazardous chemicals, or interests in companies doing business abroad.

  79. Will
    Will September 6, 2007 at 3:11 pm |

    Re-read my comment: “at the core” =/= necessary and sufficient.

    I still think slavery and factory farming are “at the core” free-market capitalism issues, and that (as Africans’ participation in the slave trade indicates) Othering is just a convenient means to a fat profit in those cases, not an integral aspect at all. But this argument could turn into a “yes”-”no” debate very quickly: what’s important is that I still don’t see any reason to “train ourselves to get past” our experience of the other—which seems like playing a rigged game—rather than validate our experience of the Other as useful and human, and celebrate that experience. What (I think) you and (I know) the PETA ads suggest is that we should assimilate the Other into the Self, identifying Their experience as fundamentally the same as Ours. That’s useful in the short term, but in the long term, I think it only reifies our rejection of anything not-Self.

  80. Betsy
    Betsy September 6, 2007 at 3:20 pm |

    Hi Zuzu, and welcome back! As a feminist Jewish vegetarian (yay, simplistic identity politics!) I have to say that while I totally support efforts to minimize animals’ pain and suffering,and I think there should be much stricter rules about how meat animals, for example, must be treated, it is obviously absurd to equate animals and humans.

    And to answer Tony’s question (“isn’t there a point to be made by these people who claim animal breeding is a form of slavery?”): No. Check the dictionary. Slavery, by definition, is human bondage. That’s the horror of it. It would be like saying that eating beef is a form of cannibalism – no it’s not; by definition, cannibalism means eating people. It’s not that complicated.

    (Sorry if someone’s already said this; I didn’t have time to read all the comments since I’m working right now.)

  81. Bridgetka
    Bridgetka September 6, 2007 at 3:24 pm |

    No one here is defending the practices as they currently exist in commercial agriculture. There’s no need for strawmen.

    Did I accuse anyone in this discussion of doing so? I asked a rhetorical question, although if anyone can shed light on why the law differentiates between pigs and dogs in terms of abuse, I’d genuinely like to hear it. And just because no one in this discussion has explicitly defended commercial agriculture, there are a hell of a lot of people in the real world who do, not the least of whom are members of Congress who bend over backwards for Big Agra’s lobbyists every day.

    This assumes that property is defined by being able to do whatever you want with a given object or intangible. That’s flawed.

    Then what is property, if not something you own and can do as you please with? And it’s obvious that legally there is some ill-defined status between person and property, seeing as how when, to use my previous analogy, you take a baseball bat to your neighbor’s car it’s a crime against your neighbor, but if you take a baseball bat to a stray cat, which has no owner, you will still be arrested for a crime against the cat–you can’t get away with it just because the cat has no owner. I don’t see why we can’t define this category better, endow it with certain standards of welfare, and avoid the rather troubling (to me, anyway) implications of having CDs and oven mitts and toilet bowl scrubbers in the same category as sentient beings capable of suffering.

    7. In our society, we expect a higher standard of behavior from athletes.

    Do you live in an alternate reality, by chance? I think the Vick thing is such big news because he’s a celebrity and we love to watch celebrities go down–not because we expect pro-athletes to be paragons of virtue. They get away with shit all the time [Onion link] because they’re deified in our culture. There have been whole books written about this phenomenon. “Oh, he beat the shit out of his wife. He may have to spend this three games series against Minnesota on the bench, hooooboy!”

  82. Sarah in Chicago
    Sarah in Chicago September 6, 2007 at 3:49 pm |

    It would be like saying that eating beef is a form of cannibalism

    Ah, Betsy? Don’t encourage them ;)

  83. Will
    Will September 6, 2007 at 3:49 pm |

    Then what is property, if not something you own and can do as you please with?

    Wikipedia has one answer–the short of it is that there are more tailored definitions.

  84. Em
    Em September 6, 2007 at 3:51 pm |

    PETA people are the ones who end up on the Dog Whisperer b/c they treat their pets like humans and not like–wait for it…..dogs.

  85. Hector B.
    Hector B. September 6, 2007 at 3:59 pm |

    I think the Vick thing is such big news because he’s a celebrity and we love to watch celebrities go down–not because we expect pro-athletes to be paragons of virtue.

    Although people may love to read about their exploits, no one is condemning Nicole Ritchie, Lindsey Lohan, or Paris Hilton. Kobe Bryant got in a lot more trouble for having sex with a visitor to his room than Nick Nolte did for using date rape drugs to have sex with a teenager. People have one standard of behavior for entertainers, and another for athletes.

  86. kw
    kw September 6, 2007 at 4:17 pm |

    I haven’t really thought this through, but it seems to me that some of the things that make humans distinct from other mammals are reasoning power (and understanding of abstracts) and culture. Enslaved people understand what freedom is, why they should have it, and why others have it and they don’t. They also realize that their culture and communities can be harmed because they are enslaved – in the case of slaves who weren’t born into slavery, they have already been ripped from their culture. Animals, no matter how much they feel pain, or dislike being trapped, don’t have the same sense of being enslaved. To claim that animals are enslaved reduces the issue of “slavery” to just the physical restrictions, not the mental ones.

  87. M.
    M. September 6, 2007 at 5:06 pm |

    I still think slavery and factory farming are “at the core” free-market capitalism issues, and that (as Africans’ participation in the slave trade indicates) Othering is just a convenient means to a fat profit in those cases, not an integral aspect at all.

    And I agree that capitalism is central to slavery and factory farming. But if Othering is just “a convenient means to a fat profit” and isn’t central, then you would have seen people Othering their own children/siblings/cousins/etc. for profit. I’m not a slavery scholar, but if I remember correctly, that didn’t happen.

    /threadjack

    PETA ads suggest is that we should assimilate the Other into the Self, identifying Their experience as fundamentally the same as Ours. That’s useful in the short term, but in the long term, I think it only reifies our rejection of anything not-Self.

    How? The more I study bioethics, the more it seems that morality is an odd marriage of empathy and mythology.

  88. Roy
    Roy September 6, 2007 at 5:17 pm |

    Thomas: Excellent points all. The obligations of a parent towards a child certainly surpass the obligations of a pet owner towards a pet. I still think that pets are generally viewed as being something more than property- pets are, to my knowledge, the only property that can be confiscated if you “abuse” it- but certainly, it’s true, less than children.

    And to answer Tony’s question (”isn’t there a point to be made by these people who claim animal breeding is a form of slavery?”): No. Check the dictionary. Slavery, by definition, is human bondage.

    Eh. I’m not sure that’s the best way to solve this debate, because the dictionary gives a number of definitions to “slavery” including:
    2: submission to a dominating influence.
    And “Slave” is no better:
    1: a person held in servitude as the chattel to another
    2: one that is completely subservient to a dominating influence

    If you use “person” and “human” interchangably, or don’t think that non-humans can possibly be persons, then you could try to use the dictionary to prove the argument, but it’s not going to get you far. A lot of people don’t think that person and human are necessarily the same.

    And, ultimately, I doubt you’re going to solve a debate like that, anyway, because I suspect that animal rights groups are going to point out that definitions like that are necessarily speciest, and therefore part of the problem, not evidence that there isn’t a problem.

  89. jeffliveshere
    jeffliveshere September 6, 2007 at 5:25 pm |

    I’m not even sure what that has to do with the point in the post, which is that making comparisons between human slavery and responsible dog breeding is offensive.–zuzu

    It has to do with the point of the post because such comparisons are only offensive if one thinks human beings have a higher moral status than animals do, which some animal rights people (presumably some of the ones complaining at Jessica, perhaps) don’t agree with you about. Now, if you want to make a case that human beings have a higher moral status, that’s great, and potentially doable–I was just pointing out that it needs doing, at least as far as some of those arguing with you are concerned. (All the while being fully aware that it may seem like something that doesn’t need doing, if one thinks that being human automatically gives us a higher moral status than any other animal.)

    Simply repeating that it’s offensive begs the question of whether or not it is offensive, at least to those who have different moral intuitions about this stuff than you do.

    In fact, you seem to be trying to show that human beings have a higher moral status than animals because we can recognize when we’re being harmed, which is one way to try to justify that we have a higher moral status:

    Those who were — and are — slaves are quite aware of their plight, quite aware of the moral implications of one human being asserting ownership over another, quite aware that the only way that this is justified in society is if they’re considered lesser somehow. A dog doesn’t much care if you bought him from a breeder or if you got him from a shelter, as long as you are responsible in your care of him.–zuzu

    Unfortunately, once you bring in awareness of oppression/harm and use it as *the* guiding principle about this stuff, you’re headed down a rough road, because there are lots of human beings who can be harmed without knowing about it, and without understanding the larger scope of morality on various levels. Under the view you set forth here, a human being who is severely mentally disabled could be owned like a pet because she doesn’t have an awareness of harm to herself or of morality in general. And that generally goes against most of our moral intuitions (arguments about Peter Singer to the side).

    Which is why I like Mary Anne Warren’s account, which brings in a multi-faceted account of how we judge moral status, instead of attributing it based only on sentience, or only on self-awareness, or only on having-human-dna, or only on being alive, or only…you get the idea.

  90. Lizard
    Lizard September 6, 2007 at 5:42 pm |

    PETA people are the ones who end up on the Dog Whisperer b/c they treat their pets like humans and not like–wait for it…..dogs.

    You don’t really believe that, do you?

    Can we have this discussion without resorting to ridiculous and inaccurate stereotypes of animal-welfare and animal-rights advocates?

  91. RKMK
    RKMK September 6, 2007 at 5:59 pm |

    It has to do with the point of the post because such comparisons are only offensive if one thinks human beings have a higher moral status than animals do, which some animal rights people (presumably some of the ones complaining at Jessica, perhaps) don’t agree with you about. Now, if you want to make a case that human beings have a higher moral status, that’s great, and potentially doable–I was just pointing out that it needs doing, at least as far as some of those arguing with you are concerned. (All the while being fully aware that it may seem like something that doesn’t need doing, if one thinks that being human automatically gives us a higher moral status than any other animal.)

    I still have no idea how this 100-post wankfest (and the one at Feministing, and the other growing thread) sprung from Jessica having the absolute gall to share her glee at getting a new puppy and post a video of the beloved furrball in question.

    In other news, I just got home and had an earnest discussion with Max, my cat. I asked him if he felt I was oppressing him, and if there was anything I could do to help him feel more validated in his personhood.

    He (as per usual) regarded me with high disdain, and flopped over to take a nap.

  92. DaisyDeadhead
    DaisyDeadhead September 6, 2007 at 6:06 pm |

    Yeah, already went through all this on my Michael Vick thread.

    Also, count me in as another vegetarian who thinks PETA should fuck off.

    Holly, good comments, as usual.

    Brad:

    Well, I for one, do think its OK to treat non-human animals as property. They aren’t sentient, they aren’t people, so yeah, no problem there at all from my POV.

    So, no problem with dogfighting and cockfighting, then, right? Just some people’s form of entertainment…what is everyone getting so upset about?

  93. DaisyDeadhead
    DaisyDeadhead September 6, 2007 at 6:10 pm |

    Okay, did my last comment evaporate?

  94. Em
    Em September 6, 2007 at 6:13 pm |

    You don’t really believe that, do you?

    Can we have this discussion without resorting to ridiculous and inaccurate stereotypes of animal-welfare and animal-rights advocates?

    I was being only slightly facetious. And please don’t make the mistake of assuming I mean ‘animal-welfare advocates’ when I say ‘PETA.’ I said PETA for a reason.

  95. Thomas
    Thomas September 6, 2007 at 6:27 pm |

    Roy, I think pet ownership is a special kind of ownership: by law, we’re not bound to act in their best interest, and can sell them or kill them for our convenience. But we can’t be cruel to them, because people don’t like animal cruelty. That’s a pretty unique restriction, I agree.

    My thinking is that we simply don’t allow cruelty to animals because it too easily trains callousness to human suffering. To watch or participate in it can deaden our sensitivity to the suffering of others. In fact, I think that’s a pretty good reason to restrict cruelty to animals; and one can (virtually must, on my account; I won’t threadjack but my comment at Zuzu’s other blog lays out the philosophical underpinnings) oppose dog- and cock-fighting on those grounds rather than a rights theory.

  96. Betsy
    Betsy September 6, 2007 at 7:07 pm |

    Sarah in Chicago – Hahaha. Good point. I should be more careful.

  97. jeffliveshere
    jeffliveshere September 6, 2007 at 8:01 pm |

    I still have no idea how this 100-post wankfest (and the one at

    Feministing, and the other growing thread) sprung from Jessica having the absolute gall to share her glee at getting a new puppy and post a video of the beloved furrball in question.

    In other news, I just got home and had an earnest discussion with Max, my cat. I asked him if he felt I was oppressing him, and if there was anything I could do to help him feel more validated in his personhood.

    He (as per usual) regarded me with high disdain, and flopped over to take a nap.–RKMK

    I’m not sure why my comment in particular (the one you quoted) = wankfest, but I think the above ignores what I said just after the part you quoted:

    Unfortunately, once you bring in awareness of oppression/harm and use it as *the* guiding principle about this stuff, you’re headed down a rough road, because there are lots of human beings who can be harmed without knowing about it, and without understanding the larger scope of morality on various levels. Under the view you set forth here, a human being who is severely mentally disabled could be owned like a pet because she doesn’t have an awareness of harm to herself or of morality in general. And that generally goes against most of our moral intuitions (arguments about Peter Singer to the side).–jeffliveshere

    That your cat doesn’t know/understand/comprehend/write theses about/blog about the moral status of humans or other animals doesn’t mean that we don’t need to make choices regarding the moral status of humans and other animals.

    And for the record, I wasn’t responding to Jessica’s getting a dog, or how she did it…I was responding to zuzu’s arguments in this post, which included (in my view) a lot of stuff which begged the question.

  98. Bitter Scribe
    Bitter Scribe September 6, 2007 at 9:55 pm |

    Or you can just ignore my criticisms and right [sic] me off as a loon, like you normally do.

    The second one.

    PETA acts pretty high and mighty for an organization that slaughtered abandoned dogs and throws their bodies into Dumpsters.

  99. Lloyd Webber
    Lloyd Webber September 6, 2007 at 10:29 pm |

    My Question is: What arguments exactly did Animal right’s activists use during the time of slavery? Probably something like: Animals are so much better than those damn “negroes” How dare we treat the two equally? God, I hate not only PETA but pretty much most animal rights’ activists. That kind of lack of perspective and dare I say it, fundamentalism makes me sick

  100. M.
    M. September 6, 2007 at 10:50 pm |

    What arguments exactly did Animal right’s activists use during the time of slavery? Probably something like: Animals are so much better than those damn “negroes” How dare we treat the two equally? God, I hate not only PETA but pretty much most animal rights’ activists. That kind of lack of perspective and dare I say it, fundamentalism makes me sick

    You may find doing your homework on the subject — rather than just spinning strawmen out of the air — is far more productive. 19th century anti-vivisectionists were overwhelmingly abolitionists. (Although frankly, the American anti-vivisection movement didn’t gather much momentum until after the Civil War.)

  101. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth September 6, 2007 at 11:00 pm |

    I’m a little late to the table in this discussion, but: At a meeting of the Women’s Law Caucus today at my law school, a student from the Animal Defense League stood up and invited all of us to join her group, because women are treated like animals. I’ve never connected the issue of animal rights with the issue of human rights. Namely, because of the difference I see between humans and animals.

  102. yugenue
    yugenue September 7, 2007 at 1:13 am |

    I still don’t see any worthwhile argument here that says that it causes any suffering to buy an animal from a responsible breeder. The responsible breeders I have met and/or worked with, among other things, are *not* breeding to make a profit (they often take losses, in fact); are careful to certify the health of their animals before breeding them; will take animals they have bred back and care for them, rather than have them go to a shelter; do not breed their animals very often; generally specify that you get the pet you adopt desexed (and often they do it ahead of time); require that you do *not* do certain things designated as cruel, like (for cats) declawing or letting the animal roam outside unsupervised; screen potential pet owners; and try as hard as possible to make sure that owners’ expectations of the pet are realistic (ie, it’s a lab. Labs have lots of energy. This is not a lap dog. or, Ragdoll cats are known for being very docile and cuddly, but they have individual personalities and you have to take that into account).

    Most importantly in my experience, responsible breeders do everything in their power to socialize their animals, match animals to homes, provide healthy animals, and promote animal welfare generally (many breeders donate time and/or money to shelters and rescue programs).

    Responsible breeders also, as has been noted above, preserve breeds. Norwegian Forest Cats, for example, were mostly wild until during/after WWII when their habitat was disrupted to the point of scarcity, and people took them in and started breeding them to preserve them.

    There really, really is a difference here when people are talking about responsible breeders versus backyard breeders or puppy mills.

    And in terms of shelter animals versus animals from responsible breeders, the main differences do not have much to do with people just wanting animals that “look” a certain way. To me the point of getting an animal from a good breeder is that you will know as much as possible what to expect. The breed itself will have traits that you can plan for ahead of time, and the breeder will have socialized the animal and been with it as it grows up so they can tell you what the animal is like and what it’s experienced and etc. Having had cats from the street, from the Humane Society, and from breeders, I have to say that the purebred cats have been by far the healthiest, most stable, most sane animals I have ever lived with. Of course, we did a lot of research, contacted a lot of people, and were very picky about who we bought from– ie, we took it seriously and sought out responsible breeders. And there is a certain peace of mind in knowing that if anything should happen to us the breeders will take back the cats and ensure that they have a good life– they will not end up in a shelter under any circumstances. It’s not all about the superficial.

    To be clear, I am not in any way intending disrespect to shelters or shelter animals. But I think it’s important for shelter advocates to realize that responsible breeders are *not* in conflict with them. Mills and backyard breeders are. And there is a difference.

  103. Tony
    Tony September 7, 2007 at 1:52 am |

    Betsy Says:
    And to answer Tony’s question (”isn’t there a point to be made by these people who claim animal breeding is a form of slavery?”): No. Check the dictionary. Slavery, by definition, is human bondage. That’s the horror of it. It would be like saying that eating beef is a form of cannibalism – no it’s not; by definition, cannibalism means eating people. It’s not that complicated.

    Betsy, with all do respect, maybe you are the one who needs to read a dictionary.

    can•ni•bal•ism /ˈkænəbəˌlɪzəm/–noun
    1. the eating of human flesh by another human being.
    2. the eating of the flesh of an animal by another animal of its own kind.

    slav•er•y /ˈsleɪvəri, ˈsleɪvri/ –noun
    1. the condition of a slave; bondage.
    2. the keeping of slaves as a practice or institution.

    (I don’t see human as a central part of the definition of slavery).

    It is a red herring to immediately cry foul when someone compares breeding to slavery without addressing the core of the point.

    Slavery is a condition of bondage. Now, if I were to say “having pets is a form of slavery,” I’d be making a valid argument if I could back it up. If I say “having pets is no better than stealing Africans from their homelands, working the men to death and repeatedly raping the women Thomas Jefferson-style,” I would be making an obscene comparison because I am equating animal slavery to human slavery. As Jill points out in a later post, that is flat out wrong and incomparable.

    However, the first point, that “having pets is slavery” nonetheless remains a valid argument if people care to make it. By simply tossing in human bondage to divert attention from the core of the assertion without ever addressing it is a fallacy.

    Even Jill’s post, though eloquent, failed to address the core assertion: that pet ownership via a breeder is slavery.

    On its face it is a correct statement because slavery is a simple word: existing under a condition of bondage.

    Take away the human connotation and how do you respond to the argument?

  104. evil fizz
    evil fizz September 7, 2007 at 11:04 am | *

    On its face it is a correct statement because slavery is a simple word: existing under a condition of bondage.

    So what exactly here makes something slavery as opposed to, say, pet guardianship? If the dog isn’t treated any differently based on whether one talks about owning it, being its guardian, being its master, what exactly is the issue here?

  105. Mandolin
    Mandolin September 7, 2007 at 12:56 pm |

    I thought the idea was that the dogs being bred were the ones who were slaves?

  106. RKMK
    RKMK September 7, 2007 at 2:25 pm |

    I’m not sure why my comment in particular (the one you quoted) = wankfest, but I think the above ignores what I said just after the part you quoted:

    I’m sorry – I shouldn’t have picked you out, in particular. I was just reading the thread, and copy/pasted that excerpt to illustrate that this whole brouhaha stemmed from a past that said, literally:

    “I’m upstate on a weekend vacation and don’t have my camera wires up here to bring you any new pics, but I think you’ll enjoy the alternative. Monty versus the bone.”

    My wonder wasn’t and shouldn’t have come off as directed at you personally. Again, I apologize.

    That your cat doesn’t know/understand/comprehend/write theses about/blog about the moral status of humans or other animals doesn’t mean that we don’t need to make choices regarding the moral status of humans and other animals.

    On the contrary, I’m quite sure that my cat understood every word. He just finds the pedantic quibbles of mankind far beneath him. (Church of Caturday Saints, anyone?)

    (Or, I was being facetious, in an attempt to lighten the tone around here…. and, perhaps, to make a small but necessary point.)

  107. Seth
    Seth September 7, 2007 at 9:11 pm |

    Insensitivity hardly seems like a crime when you consider depravity our race is capable of. However lame you think their methods are, they are not raping or shooting anyone. They are not torturing anyone—at least not physically. Why not let them have their misguided attempt to lessen the suffering in the world? If it insults your intelligence, be the bigger person and let it go. If you simply can’t do so, then instead of whining about them, show them the error of their ways. Of course, you might have to communicate with them… to do so, you could try to find something in the argument that you both agree upon. Y’know, “common ground to start from,” and all that. For example, neither of you want to see people cutting puppies and kittens in half just to see what will happen, right? Right? If I’m not right… you gotta turn yourself in, man!

  108. I’ve never been any good at this at Vortex(t)

    [...] animal rescue organizations), and then to post pictures and video of her dog on the website. This has created quite a kerfuffle. (The post that started it all is here; some of Elaine’s responses [...]

  109. Dog Breeding and…Black Slavery? « The Blog and the Bullet

    [...] by Jack Stephens on September 10th, 2007 Zuzu, at Feministe, blogs about a post on Feministing in where blogger Jessica posted a video of her puppy and was attacked for it because [...]

  110. Animal Rights as a Feminist Issue « no snow here

    [...] Apparently there has been some debate on Feministe and Feministing, two mainstream feminist blogs, about animal rights. What is most interesting about these debates is that those in favor of animal rights are being painted as crazy extremists while those in favor of maintaining an exploitative relationship to animals attempt to shut down discussion by playing the “this is not a feminist issue” card (hmmm…where have we heard that argument before?). [...]

  111. Tatterdemalian
    Tatterdemalian November 2, 2007 at 12:28 pm |

    The blindness will get worse before it gets better. This comment thread is proof of it: PETA freaks arguing with the high priests of the Cult of Eternal Victimhood over a stupid advertisement whose only real-world effect was convincing lumpen proles like me to vote Republican, because if they lose, one of you loons might end up in charge. Eventually the wealthiest people in Manhattan will be gunning each other down, not over money or power, but over which side of their toast they butter, before anyone will be willing to step back and say, “WTF are we doing this for?”

    If even then.

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