One rallying cry of some animal welfare activists and organizations, “Until every cage is empty”, may sound good on the surface, however one of the problems with this approach is that it does nothing to address the central problem of animal exploitation as a whole. Rather, it represents yet another attempt by animal welfarists to bring about incremental change in animal use, an approach that has failed miserably for over 200 years.
Imagine if, in the days when slavery-related lynchings were common, anti-slavery activists had rallied behind weak, toothless slogans like “Until every noose is empty” or “Say no to whips!” (the equivalent of modern-day circus protesters holding signs emblazoned with “Say no to bullhooks!”) rather than directly addressing racism as a moral issue. Conceivably, such an approach might have led to the following position:
“Yes, I can see the effectiveness of working to specifically end the practice of lynching. I’m anti-slavery on the whole, of course, and consider myself an ‘abolitionist’, but if we can at least put a stop to lynching, that seems like a good thing. Lynching is really bad and seems worse in some ways than other manifestations of racism, so let’s get that under control and we can worry about the other million issues that surround it later. We need to take baby steps because not everyone agrees that racism is wrong.”
When you disallow an abuser to use one weapon, the abuser will invariably find another weapon or means of abuse not yet made verboten, and the status quo remains in place. Insisting that a right-handed spousal abuser administer beatings with their weaker left hand doesn’t even come close to solving the underlying problem.
Consider this: there isn’t a single cage, full or empty, in a “free-range” or “cage-free” egg production facility, yet untold numbers of animals are still confined there to be exploited and slaughtered when they are no longer productive. Essentially, the entire operation is a cage. Does a cage-free egg represent a “victory”, as organizations like H$U$, Mercy For Animals, Compassion Over Killing, Farm Sanctuary, The Humane League, PeTA, Vague-an Outreach (the list is endless – let’s just call them all what they really are – Donations Over Animals) would have us believe? Does emptying cages help when the results are still the same – exploitation and death? Does sending donor dollars to organizations such as these who are clearly in bed with the animal agriculture industry and assisting them in maximizing profits help bring about justice for animals in any way?
I think not. In fact, after a decade of living under the delusion that welfarism is effective as an approach to animal rights (and despite what animal welfarist organizations will state in their own defense), I have come to believe exactly the opposite. Rest assured that when an animal agriculture organization makes a “concession” to change some practice as asked or “demanded” of them by an animal welfare organization, it does so with its own profits clearly in mind and only stands to gain monetarily from “succumbing to the pressure” with a nod and a wink. The welfarist organization trumpets “Victory!”, sending the “good news” to its donors and asking for more money to continue this “important work”, and the donor dollars arrive in a flood. It’s a sick game, the animals always lose and justice is never achieved.
Our goal as animal rights activists should not be to eliminate the instruments of animal exploitation one by one, but rather to dismantle speciesism and change the paradigm that allows animals to be used and exploited for human purposes in the first place – and the clearest path to this goal is through clear, consistent, unequivocal vegan education. Having empty cages in warehouses is no better than leaving empty nooses swinging from trees. In fact, it keeps the ideas of these things alive in our collective consciousness and points the way to a slippery slope back to re-implementing their use. These instruments of exploitation should be forevermore in disuse until they become nothing more than dusty relics of our barbaric past and bad memories from a fading nightmare.
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