Friday, October 10, 2008

California’s Proposition 2

In a few weeks, California voters will decide the fate of an animal “protection” measure known as Proposition 2, the Standards for Confining Farm Animals initiative statute.

The measure would take effect in 2015, and would set minimum space requirements for chickens, veal calves, and breeding pigs; allowing them to stand, turn around, and stretch their limbs. It would mostly affect the state’s egg-laying chickens—now housed in battery cages—since producers have already eliminated the use of crates and cages for newborn calves and pregnant sows.

Many people, including those who think of themselves as animal rights supporters, believe Proposition 2 is a reasonable measure worthy of their support. I probably would have felt the same way three years ago when I was collecting signatures needed to get a similar proposition on the ballot in Arizona.

One winter evening while gathering signatures at a large outdoor public event, someone remarked to the volunteer I was working with: “What’s the point? They’re going to be killed anyway.” We both thought that was an insensitive and illogical attitude. Yes, they are “going to be killed anyway,” but why not still try to make their lives a little better?

A year-and-a-half went by before I again gave what he said much thought. But when I did, it dawned on me that while he may have been coming from a different perspective, he had an excellent point. Why are ethically motivated vegans and major animal protection organizations wasting time and money on efforts to regulate exploitation, rather than putting those resources toward abolition? The problem is not the size of the cages. It’s not about cubic inches or efficiencies of production verses degrees of cruelty. This is about basic morality. We should not be breeding, enslaving, and killing these animals in the first place. It is unnecessary and unjustified. Any and all efforts by individuals and organizations that purport to be advocates for animal rights should be directly focused on reducing and ultimately ending this horrific behavior.

Not only does proposition 2 represent the wrong approach, it’s morally bankrupt. Proposition 2 reinforces the property status of nonhumans, adds legitimacy to their continued exploitation and oppression, while conferring little or no benefits to them. It sends the message to consumers that it’s okay to exploit animals, up to and including killing them, as long as it’s done “humanely.” But calling unnecessary killing “humane” does not make it so. We should not seek to regulate something that is fundamentally wrong to begin with. As a civilized society, we don't regulate rape or human slavery. We prohibit such behavior. The fact that there is currently insufficient political will to outlaw the raising and killing of animals for food doesn’t mean that Proposition 2 represents an acceptable interim alternative. Nor does it mean that it’s the only alternative.

Vegan/abolition education programs reduce demand for animal products by informing people of the negative ethical, environmental, and health consequences of flesh, dairy, and egg consumption. Veganism is the day-to-day implementation of non-violence. It’s peace and justice in action. Veganism is both the goal, and the path to that goal.

If the big animal advocacy organizations that are behind Proposition 2 would abandon these types of efforts and instead steer their dollars and talents to vegan education, perhaps we can begin to see some real results.


Jayne said...

I agree with you but I'm afraid that it will take baby steps to get to the ideal. Unfortunately Prop 2 is just a baby step, but it is a step in the right direction. The opposition looks at people like you and me like we are completely insane and for us to suggest that the world become vegans, like us, will wipe away our credibility.

Ken Hopes said...

Suggesting that people become vegans won’t wipe away our credibility, but the dissemination of a dishonest, confusing, and mixed message, will. If our intention is to convince people to become vegans, it makes no sense to instead argue for something else. Yes, it’s radical in the context of the predominant cultural norms, but the arguments are sound. If they weren’t, then I wouldn’t believe them myself, and I’d still be eating animals.

I think a major problem is that the vegan/abolition viewpoint is not being presented to the general public. The big corporate news outlets don’t cover animal rights from the abolitionist perspective. Articles about Proposition 2, like the one I read last night on MSNBC, don’t mention arguments such as I presented. That could change in a big way if organizations like PETA, Farm Sanctuary, and HSUS used their vast resources to present these views in a variety of creative ways.

In the meantime, it remains a grassroots effort. We need to be read and heard. We need to add comments to online articles and blog posts, write emails to newspapers and magazines, and talk to people around us. I know it’s not always easy, but that’s my idea of “baby steps.”

As for Proposition 2 being a step in the right direction, I would have to disagree.

Reformed fast food mascot said...

Another problem is people who might otherwise have considered giving up consuming animal products will think the “animal welfare” guidelines mandated by bills like this make it a morally tolerable compromise.

Dan Cudahy said...


You are completely correct that [the] major problem is that the vegan/abolition viewpoint is simply not being presented to the general public and that our arguments are perfectly sound (i.e. valid logic from true premises).

I couldn't care less if or that the barbaric opposition, whose arguments are absurd, thinks nonviolence and leaving animals alone is "insane".

As long as vegans refuse to stand up for our sound viewpoints, the opposition will continue to exploit our moral timidity.