Objective Isms


Interesting post at Majikthise on the question of whether defining racism or sexism—and making determinations about when and whether something is racist or sexist—is the exclusive prerogative of the folks in the relevant discriminated-against group. The springboard for all this is PETA's appalling campaign (and this is someone who's a veg for ethical reasons writing) comparing animal mistreatment with slavery, about which Will Saletan has a typically smart piece at Slate today. (I agree with Saletan and Majikthise, incidentally, that while the PETA exhibit is offensive, it's not because it's racist.)

NEXT: Vassar Clements, RIP

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Gee Julian, I don’t see your or Saletan’s point. The PETA campaign is offensive because it doesn’t recognize that animals have some intelligence and shouldn’t just be objects of pity? I’m not trying to argue here; I am somewhat confused about what Saletan is trying to say. I would say the PETA campaign is offensive because of the relationship it is trying to draw between the strife minorites (like American blacks) have gone through and that which animals go through today. Dissrespecting the animals’ capabilites isn’t offensive, just somethng that the marketers may have overlooked when they designed this campaign. If it’s offensive then to you because of this, then perhaps your standards for what gives offense are pretty low.
    So, in short, some clarification is in order. Thanks!

  2. No. It’s offensive because, while I think factory farming is morally grotesque and animals are due moral consideration, to equate the mistreatment of a chicken to the brutal enslavement of human beings is an appalling equivocation between wrongful acts of utterly different magnitudes.

  3. Swede,
    I think that Saletan is proposing a new reason why the ad campaign is wrong. He says it’s not racist; Julian agrees. However, I don’t actually think that Saletan ever explains or even claims the ad is offensive; he just says “you can imagine why the exhibit has upset some people.” Then he goes on to postulate why the ads will fail (in this case, not because people will start to feel sorry for animals but will begin to respect them more).

  4. “to equate the mistreatment of a chicken to the brutal enslavement of human beings is an appalling equivocation between wrongful acts of utterly different magnitudes.”

    Bawk bawk ba-gawk! Ba-gawk ba-gawk! *proceeds to peck Julian’s eyes out*

    (Translation: Chickens are people, too, damn it!)

  5. Daniel and Julian,

    Thanks for the clarification, guys! I suppose, Julian, that what you find offensive and what a lot of people (including myself) find offensive about PETA’s campaign is a difference in degree. I find it offensive because how it seems to equate the blacks’ historical oppression with an “oppression” of animals while you find it offensive based not “just” on respect for blacks for humanity in general. I think I’ve got it now. Thanks again guys!

  6. PeTA engaging in a campaign that’s beyond tasteless in yet another shameless attempt to grab public attention?

    I’m shocked.

    No, really, I am.

  7. It seems to me PETA is saying people and animals are equivalent, and then bitching because people treat animals about the same way animals treat each other.

  8. PETA keeps doing things like this. I think it is because PETA decision makers are a small insular group with little awareness or understanding of how the majority of people think. They remind me very much of members of small insular religious sects who have this elaborate shared world view that nobody else understands.

    Of course, the cynic in me wonders if this isn’t an honest mistake but a calculated outrage intended to generate publicity. It certainly seems that PETA’s actions never appear to hurt their revenue stream.

  9. I deal with enough people throwing their moral superiority around because they don’t smoke, or they don’t drink, or – they don’t eat meat. Sorry, not buying it. You’ll have to pry this tasty chicken from my cold, dead, hands….

  10. Shannon, I would think it has to be your latter possibility. No matter how insular these people may be, no liberal/leftie/wherever-you-want-to-place-these-guys’-political-position worth her salt would be blind to how amazing POed civil rights and minority activists would be by these ads. It is completely for the outrage, because this way they get on the news. If they hadn’t done this ad so outrageously, do you think they would have had responses from the Souther Poverty Law Center?
    Now, whether they actually believe things like this or not is another question. It’s entirely possible that their borderline-wacko views and these PR weapons of mass destruction go harmoniously hand-in-hand.

  11. Hey PETA,

    Bite me!

    Ethical Meat Eater

  12. You know now I’m positive I could kick your ass.

  13. Saletan doesn’t seem to understand what rights are. Or rather simple things like categories – such as species.

    What I find offensive about PETA’s everything is that it is cheap and insulting.

    But this ad is less offensive than the efforts to take credit for legal work that others have done, in spite of, not because of PETA, and less offensive than PETA’s ELF funding.

  14. See, in my kind of society PETA members would be free to be vegan. In PETA’s kind of society I would be prohibited by law from being a Person Eating Tasty Animals.

    But then, that’s how it always is with these people.

  15. “I don’t like that term. I think it’s racist.”

    Supermodel/Cylon babe #6 after one of the crew of the Galactica called Cylons “toasters”.

  16. Eating vegetarian doesn’t necessarily indemnify you from carrying the guilt of needless animal deaths. Animals still die, but not as many and the deaths aren’t as obvious. Every time you plow a field to plant organic soybeans it kills ground squirrels, mice, rats, gophers, snakes, & native vegetation. And if you don’t do something to contain the varmints once you plant they eat some or all your crops.

  17. Aw, never mind that racism shit. Anybody else notice that Lindsay Beyerstein is one hot Jewess?

  18. I did notice that.

  19. Hair’s too short, but other than that, she looks good.

  20. don’t you guys have a comicon to hand out pamphlets at?

  21. Well, PETA is just trying to Raise Awareness, and that’s the key to Making It All Better.

    Don’t forget, September is National Chicken History Month.

  22. Julian:

    …while I think factory farming is morally grotesque and animals are due moral consideration, to equate the mistreatment of a chicken to the brutal enslavement of human beings is an appalling equivocation between wrongful acts of utterly different magnitudes.

    Some questions:

    And why “utterly different magnitudes”? Because of the higher relative value accorded human life. How would the moral calculus work out if we’re talking a not so brutal enslavement of human beings vs. the agonizing death of farm animals?

    If it is moraly sanctioned to kill animals to feed humans, is it also morally sectioned to adapt factory farming to feed lots of humans if that’s the only way to do so?

    Although I’m a libertarian, I am sympathetic to laws which deny the right of people to torture animals. But am I then being a hypocrite for not wanting to extend these laws to factory farming in the US, since people would still eat sans factory farming?

    When we grant, legally or just ethically, rights to animals but not equal rights, it becomes rather confused until we spell out how individual human rights of action are restricted by whatever rights the animals have.

    Ok, I figured the last part out. Since we can’t define rights for animals, we shouldn’t try to give them rights. What I’m saying is that cruelty to animals, on factory farms or where ever, shouldn’t be a subject of law, it should be the object of moral condemnation on the part of folks who feel that way. There should be a market for ethical judgments just like, and for all the same good reasons that there should be a market for most things.

  23. For people who don’t want to eat meat on grounds that they don’t want to buy food an animal was killed or harmed to make; I wonder I could start a successful business selling meat from animals which died of old age or something.

    Would the meat not taste as good because of the condition of the animal when it died?

    Would the extra cost make it prohibitively expensive?

    Some people like the taste of meat but don’t eat it because they feel bad about an animal being killed to make their dinner. Alot of those people would probably pay a little more for a guilt-free burger.

    Does anyone know anything about this idea at all?

  24. If PETA really wants to reduce animal suffering, they should start certifying “humane” farms. Note that this is different than the organic movement, which is a hokey religious-based movement that has a fear of all things “unnatural”, despite science or logic. I think many of us would be willing to pay an extra 15% or so for the knowledge that the eggs and bacon we had for breakfast were produced humanely, which is all it would take. The cost required for humane treatment is substantially less costly (and land-intensive) than the synthetic-chemicals-are-automatically-bad organic movement.

  25. From the Slate article:
    “Every week we learn something new about animal brainpower…Dolphins teach their young to use sponges as protection.”
    Is that because they lack the opposing thumbs to open the condom package?

    Just wondering.

  26. Well…if we aren’t supposed to eat animals, then can we eat PETA members? I bet they taste just like chicken!

  27. BoBo eat PETA member! BoBo like PETA member! PETA member taste good! Mmmm! ETA PETA!

  28. I get it.
    It’s ok for a wolf to eat a chicken but not ok for Ed to eat a chicken.
    So the morality of eating meat depends less on getting eaten than who is doing the eating.

  29. Yes, ed. Sort of like, it’s ok for a duck to rape another duck, but it’s not ok for you to do so. It’s ok for a lion to eat a child (well, it really sucks, actually, but you can’t blame the lion), but it’s not ok for you to eat a child.

    Was that so hard?

    Chad, I agree that certifying humane farms is a good idea, but I think PETA’s stunts serve a purpose, too. If this ad campaign featured photos of fuzzy wittle chickies with the text “Awwwww…,” would we be threading about animal rights?

    Rick, I think you give up way too easily on defining animal rights. Let’s start with, they have a right not to be tortured.

  30. I’m as opposed to torturing cute animals as the next woman, but animal rights isn’t one of my major interests.

    I’m far more intrigued by the idea that only folks in the relevant discriminated-against group have the exclusive perogative to make determinations about when and whether something is racist or sexist.

    If you’re a current or aspiring member of the cult of victimhood, then hell yes. If you are one of those people who think that charges of racism and sexism have been flung about so promiscuously and cynically that the words have almost lost their meaning, then hell no. I am in the latter group.

    Note: I’m not saying that sexism and racism (S&R)are imaginary offenses, and I’m not saying that sexism or racism (SOR) is okay, and I’m not saying that there aren’t any sexists or racists running around, and I’m not saying they should go unchallenged.

    I am saying that if the victims of S&R are the only ones who get to define either offense, then all of society becomes one big Berkeley campus – I am offended! I am offended by your offense! No, I am offended that you are offended by my offense!

    Which, come to think of it, might be the case already.

  31. If this ad campaign featured photos of fuzzy wittle chickies…

    I suppose we wouldn’t be threading if that were the case, but as someone who is somewhat moderate about animal rights this just goes to solidify my belief that PETA is an attention whore and not a serious organization. Whether or not this was calculated or an honest mistake, it makes one question the ability of a group like this to be at all competent. How no one at PETA objected to this is beyond me. (I thought I read somewhere that there was some kind of unaimous approval for the ad campaign) Unless they are trying to “rally their base” I believe any moderate animal rights ppl (like me) will only be turned off by an organization that already has a questionable descision making track record.

    The issue for me isn’t that its a “shock value” ad, its that its a shock value add without any substance. I mean I’m sorry, but equating animal treatment with the plight of slaves just doesn’t seem at all rational to me. (They would be better served sticking with their naked people campaigns 🙂 )

    I dont think it was racist, but it was quite insensitive.

  32. joe,

    Actually, laws which forbid torturing animals are one of the very few (only?) classes of laws restricting human action, that don’t protect person or property, that I wouldn’t instantly repeal if I could.

    It seems that there is a case for granting animals this minimum legal protection based on how much like us they are. But should these restrictions include the torture that animals endure in farming? Catching fish with hooks?

  33. Tom, you’re someone who already has an at least somewhat developed set of beliefs about the issue. I don’t think the ad was for you.

    PETA is working for a broad change in our society, not the furtherance of a well-defined set of policy objectives. This stunt, like throwing tea into a harbor, will achieve absolutely zero in terms of getting bills passed, or in bringing people who are already sympathetic to the cause in line with THIS party line rather than THAT party line. What it will do is get millions of people a rat-dog-boy’s ass about the issue talking about it.

  34. Rick,

    It depends on what you call “the torture they endure from farming.” Modern farming practices aren’t about a branding once in the animal’s youth, and a lifetime walking around the open range.

    I think there could be pretty broad agreement on what should be prohibitted. What goes on in a speeded up assembly line abattoir would shock the conscience of 90% of the population.

  35. Finally something I know a little about. I design and estimate costs for chicken farms as well as other agriculture buildings and structures.

    It depends on what you call “the torture they endure from farming.” Modern farming practices aren’t about a branding once in the animal’s youth, and a lifetime walking around the open range.

    It also depends on what type of farming and what area of the country your talking about. Some people seem to get shocked that the animals aren’t treated like pets, but then they’re not pets. They’re food.

  36. BoBo hungry. BoBo soooo hungry! BoBo eat Joe. (nibble) No, BoBo not THAT hungry. Joe taste like shit!

  37. joe,

    I know. Check out this Torture On The Farm cover story from American Conservative…

    “Fear Factories: The case for compassionate conservatism?for animals”

    Modern farming practices are a predatory enterprise, unnaturally propped up by political influence and government subsidies.


  38. I think the PETA ad is hilarious. I mean, think about the way people justified enslaving and killing other people… they almost always saw them as *less than human.* So is PETA pissed off that we see non-human animals as… less than human? Um, they are!

    By the way, although I’m a Person Eating Tasty Animals, I do oppose needless cruelty. I just think PETA is dumb.

  39. That title should read: “Fear Factories: The case for compassionate conservatism-for animals”

    I don’t know where that ? came from.

  40. Steve,

    Yeah, often PETA is so ridiculous, they probably harm the cause of kinder treatment for animals.

  41. I don’t think PETA is dumb; I think they are dangerous. Their position boils down to the proposition that animals are as good as or equal to people and should be treated as well. But implied is the obverse (converse?) that people are no better than animals and don’t have to be treated any better. Totalitarians have been thinking that way for centuries.

  42. “Modern farming practices are a predatory enterprise…”

    That has to be the dumbest line I’ve read in months.

    Of COURSE farming livestock is predatory. Jeebus Effing Kreest! Yo, Mr. Editor – YOU’RE NOT HELPING!!

  43. If any animal truly deserves to die, it is the chicken. A more obnoxious animal has never roamed the farmyard.

    For the record, I’ve been a vegetarian for a good 25 years. But I will not back down from this position.

  44. jw:
    The problem with totalitarianism isn’t that they accord humans and animals the same level of respect for their rights and interests. The problem is that the level of respect they accord to humans is far, far too low. I don’t believe that saying we should treat animals better in any way endangers the proposition that those who fail to respect the rights of humans are committing a moral wrong.

    If it is moraly sanctioned to kill animals to feed humans, is it also morally sectioned to adapt factory farming to feed lots of humans if that’s the only way to do so?

    No. While I don’t believe it’s morally sanctioned to kill animals to feed humans so long as there’s a way to feed humans without killing animals, I also don’t believe that sanctioning killing forces us to sanction torture to expedite the killing. Think of it this way: imagine I could prove to you that adding a torture component to the standard prison sentence would provide a significant deterrent to potential criminals. A bunch of people would be better off, and at the expense of people whom we already believe have given up some of their rights by committing crimes. The fact, however, that convicted criminals don’t have the same rights as you and I do to move about freely in society and make choices about their own lives doesn’t also mean that they necessarily lose the right to be free from cruelty and excessive pain. Animals may not have all of the same rights that you and I do, but even if we grant that they don’t have certain rights, that doesn’t necessitate the conclusion that the right to be free from torture is among the rights they don’t have. If it were the case that the human race would perish from starvation without factory farms, I might have to reconsider my position, but that scenario is preposterous enough to be irrelevant to the real-world debate about the treatment of animals.

  45. Amy,

    The problem with totalitarians is that they don’t accord humans ANY level of respect for their rights and interests. And people who can’t see any moral difference between animals and humans are not helping things.

    Look, animals do not have any rights nor are they subject to morality; their nature does not require it. Furthermore, their nature is such that rights would be detrimental to their interests.

    Life comes from Life. It is not immoral to eat or otherwise use living things per se. Would you condemn a bear for eating a salmon? Alive!? (happens all the time) Yet you would condemn a human for eating a salmon or the bear!

    The proble with PETA and all the other animal rights goons is that they accord animals and their interests a higher level of respect than their own species! They implicitly hate humans!
    And if they arrive at that conclusion from introspection…well why should I disagree with them?

    I do not endorse torture of animals or the gratutitous infliction of pain on any living thing that is able to feel it(though serial child killers might be a special case.) People who take pleasure in inflicting pain are monsters. On the other hand I am not going to stop eating other species (or even my own, if it came to that and the person was already dead.)

  46. The “you don’t condemn a bear for eating salmon” argument is profoundly silly. I don’t “condemn” the bear for eating a child (or a rock for falling on one, for that matter) either. That shows animals aren’t moral agents; it’s lazy to jump from that to the inference they can’t in some sense be moral subjects.

  47. Julian,
    It is not a “silly argument.” The point of the argument is that if one does not condemn a bear for acting according to its nature, then why condemn humans for acting according to theirs?! Both are omnivores…meaning that they eat flesh as well as plants.
    As for being a moral subject…I am not sure what you mean. But if you mean that they are or should be the purpose or beneficiaries of a human being’s morality, then I would have to disagree. The logical purpose and prime beneficiary of an individual’s moral actions is his own interest. Aka Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.

  48. And one other thing while I am on the subject: Why should one species grant or accord (or whatever) any more rights to another species than what that other species accords or grants to them? (or recognises)

  49. Julian,
    I think I see now what you mean by moral subjects. You mean that animals are a subject of OUR moral actions or judgement. Right? But in that sense so is the rock…and anything else we might deal with.
    What I meant by animals not being subject to morality is that their nature does not require them to have a morality. In fact, I do not think it possible for them to have one.
    As for condemning the bear for eating the child or a rock for falling on one…well no, of course one wouldn’t condemn them (though one might do alot of swearing.) By the same token would one condemn the child for destroying the rock or eating the bear?(or condemn an adult?)
    In deciding how animals should be treated should not one take into consideration the nature of the particular species? Is one to accord the same level of respect to an amoeba that one accords to a dog or cat? To a wild animal that one accords to a dometicated one?
    Perhaps the difference between the bear and a human is that a human would kill the salmon before he ate it(or at least, most of us would.) I think that is what is meant by the term “humane.”

  50. Amy:

    No. While I don’t believe it’s morally sanctioned to kill animals to feed humans so long as there’s a way to feed humans without killing animals.

    But since in my question that you cited at August 19, 02:33 PM I stipulated that: “(should a people) adapt factory farming to feed lots of humans if that’s the only way to do so?”, it seems that your answer must be “yes”.

    Also, it doesn’t follow that because convicted criminals don’t forfeit all their rights that animals have some rights. Criminals are people.

    Remember, if we give some right s to animals, those rights will be of the “negative’ kind, thus they restrict the actions of people.
    Now, there can be laws, which proscribe animal torture without actually giving the animals rights. The justifications for laws against marijuana consumption don’t involve the rights of marijuana plants not to be destroyed. But these anti-animal torture laws aren’t philosophically justified from a libertarian point of view any more than drug laws are.

    However, the way to justify laws against animal torture from a philosophically consistent libertarian perspective is to grant animals the one right, not to be tortured. It seems to me that the basis for giving some rights to animals would have to be their similarity to us. Granting any rights to plants seems quite silly for good reasons.

  51. jw:

    Why should one species grant or accord (or whatever) any more rights to another species than what that other species accords or grants to them? (or recognises)

    That doesn’t seem like a valid argument here because animals don’t have any concept of rights.

    Although; some animals do seem to operate with a rudimentary understanding of ownership. I’m thinking of my cats here.

  52. The trouble with using laws (the government) to pursue good causes, and a better idea with the prevention of cruelty to animals as an example.

    Most people are against the subjection of animals to cruelty. There are laws against it, yet it seems to go on en masse in the production of food:

    There’s this Torture On The Farm cover story from American Conservative that I cited up thread..


    …and also American Conservative did another story on the topic that can be accessed in their archives.

    What if, instead of laws proscribing animal cruelty and convoluted attempts to grant animals rights to justify these laws, there was only voluntary action to protect animals from needless suffering? I make it that we might well have less savage treatment of animals than we do now. How? Most folks think that since there are laws forbidding animal cruelly, the kind of shameful treatment inflicted on animals in the course of food production doesn’t’ occur.

    Now if there was only consumer pressure to protect animals, people would be more likely to listen to advocates and then apply market pressure on behalf of kinder treatment. Companies would compete to create awareness of how they treat animals more humanely. Kinder treatment of animals would become a market commodity.

    This very dynamic played out in auto emissions where emission levels easily outstripped government mandate and companies bragged about it in there commercials.

    A cleaner environment is now a market good as well and energy companies strive to carry on in more ecologically friendly ways so that they can use these cleaner results to win greater consumer patronage.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.