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Animal hierarchy won’t end unless animal rights groups stop perpetuating it

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We live in a society fraught with hierarchy. When it comes to the distinction between the animals we love and the animals we use, there’s an imaginary line drawn in the sand. We consider our dogs to be family members, yet we look at pigs as bacon. Through marketing and the blind following of tradition, we have made it so some of the animal kingdom is ours to use and abuse for no reason outside of preferences. Indeed, we look to normalize the enslavement and commodification of the non-human animals we share this planet with. This bias is evident not only in the choices we make, but in the strong convictions we uphold when challenged. We protest the Yulin Dog-Meat Festival with such inconsolable anger, and yet refuse to see how our own actions are mirrored with a chicken or lamb in place. No matter where we find ourselves in the world, we have come to accept the top of the food chain argument, compartmentalizing our desires to on one hand have what we’re used to and on the other, live an ethical life. We hide our own actions behind humane labelling, and put blinders on to just how bad we’ve made life for all animals on the wrong side of our choosing. But more troubling than all the confusion and misrepresentation of what animals deserve from us, is how animal rights organizations participate in keeping the hierarchy alive. Through single issue campaigns, welfarist groups successfully perpetuate the idea that some animals are more valuable than others. If we ever hope to end the hierarchy, we have to understand that all animals are deserving of freedom from exploitation.

Some people have favourite animals, spirit animals, and pets they wouldn’t dream of using. The average person will consider the qualities of an animal when ranking them, assigning protection for those deemed smartest, cutest, or most deserving. Once arbitrary teams have been decided on, and our favourite breeds or performers picked, those left waiting to be called on are classified as less valuable. Chickens and sea creatures quickly come to mind as those so commonly dismissed as unaware, unfeeling, or unnecessary. People also latch on to representations of creatures they have yet to have experience themselves, and this often bodes poorly for the animal. Most everyone is told to fear snakes, be disgusted by rats, and avoid bears at all costs. But like our speciesism that validates farm animals being served for dinner, these prejudices work against animals. So what happens when an animal rights organization sets out to get the attention of supposed animal lovers? They play to these same strengths and weaknesses in our assumption of animals, and in the process, throw a number of animals under the bus.

There’s no denying that the big ticket organizations use a hierarchy to dictate which animals will lead the next press junket. There’s nothing to say that the orcas in Sea World are anymore deserving of our attention than the seals, but we accept that they need help because we’re told they’re bigger and sadder in a major motion picture. It’s marketing and branding dressed up as heroism for those least fortunate. It’s easy to find groups that highlight only the cutest and friendliest looking animals on their picket signs, flyers, and advertising. Like the non-vegans they preach to, they still hold prejudices against some animals and play favourites with others. Almost every add will feature a photogenic baby animal, be it chick, piglet, or calf. They represent innocence and fragility, something frequently exploited to gather sympathy. The well groomed and colourful feathers of a turkey might make an appearance, if Thanksgiving is around the corner. Sure, we pick and choose our animals for the season or reason, but it doesn’t go unnoticed. Farm animals are placed in one box, wild in another. And whether it’s a conscious effort or not, we form cliques in the animal kingdom and assign which are best for t-shirts, and which are best for letting someone else worry about. The reality remains that animals people feel are smarter, cuter, or generally better will lead to more attention and larger donations for these efforts.

By perpetuating speciesism in campaigns, and in rejecting that helping animals should be a moral choice and not an emotional one based off of our preconceived notions, these organizations make people feel okay about using less valuable animals. They’ll congratulate people for not wearing fur, and leave them comfortable with buying wool. Single issue campaigns will celebrate the end of baby chick culling, and leave the conversation of full grown chickens for another press conference. Time and time again, organizations will utilize the popular vote to reach their financial goals, and leave the less immediately desirable animals to foot the bill. Whether conscious or unconscious, welfarist organizations and the people who support them are contributing to the very problem their intended activism hopes to counter; animal use.

We need to understand and educate others on the topic of morality. Until the message transforms from being just “save the elephants,” to “all animals deserve fundamental justice,” nothing will change. Pretending that our oversized picket signs don’t cast a shadow, is to neglect that promoting anything less than veganism supports the exploitation of some. Vegan education means empowering people to choose never to use an animal, whether they’re smart, dumb, cute, ugly, or otherwise. Our activism cannot be about how the animal can serve us, or whether we can relate ourselves to them. It can’t exist only within the perimeters of limited thinking that has enveloped societies mind at large. It’s a simple concept, and it is no harder for a non-vegan to understand than a vegan. All animals matter morally, and the least we can do for them is stop using them. That means no more fur, no more Sea World, and no more Kentucky fried chicken. But it also means no more exploitation for shrimp, the bees, and rattlesnakes. Time is always better spent on making one more vegan for this world, than gathering signatures, donations, or the collected agreement of many to stop doing one wrong thing. We don’t have time to work our way slowly down the list of all the things humanity has done wrong to animals. We have to give our consideration to the animals that share the same sentience, the same desire to live, and the same right to freedom as our pets and as the well known faces of poster-children for the cruelty of each industry.

Helping animals means rejecting the hierarchy that is constantly inflicted on them. Going vegan means rejecting exploitation, and that includes the victims that organizations pick and choose for their needs. Single issue campaigns pretend that one protest can have a domino effect on the industry, but abolition knows that one person can make bigger waves with the right information. Please vote with your time, dollars, and approval to promote veganism and the crucial necessity that we begin giving equal treatment to all animals, today. Speciesism is to blame for people’s choices to boycott one act of animal use while supporting another, or devote their voices to ending one act of animal use over another. If we are to see any change in our lifetimes, we have to stop arbitrarily assigning value to animals altogether, and focus our efforts on changing the conversation from how to help one to how to help them all.

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  • Mark Caponigro

    Each single-issue campaign deserves to be judged on its own merits, and not swept into a huge category deserving mass condemnation. It needs to be demonstrated that the people involved in such campaigns really believe in a speciesist hierarchy, or really appear to be recommending such a hierarchy.

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