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Perpetuating The Animal-Confusion Movement: Faunalytics (Part I)

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For the last 9 years, Faunalytics has released an annual blog post detailing the “analysis & takeaways” of the current year’s “Animal Tracker” results. The Animal Tracker is a survey that Faunalytics conducts each year on U.S. adults, supposedly tracking their “attitudes and behaviour” towards “animal protection issues” and “animal advocates.” Faunalytics is supported by the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the American Anti-Vivisection Society, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Animal Welfare Trust, the Humane Society of the United States, and a host of other traditional welfarist groups. With this in mind, it should be no surprise to us that the results each year from their Animal Tracker say absolutely nothing at all—they merely propagate a sense of hopeless ambiguity and encourage the mainstream animal movement to keep on doing exactly what it’s been doing for umpteen decades now.

There are numerous issues with its methodology that one could spend hours dissecting. For the purpose of this piece, however, the only thing worth mentioning is that Faunalytics only gets an average of around 1,000 respondents each year, which it claims is spread evenly across ages, genders, races, and class. Given that its response rate is only 26%, it is difficult to imagine how this is possible, as it has no control over who responds. It seems quite a stretch to suggest that the 26% of respondents represents each group equally. Not only that, but from the 1,019 respondents this year, Faunalytics then extrapolated the data to account for the entire population of U.S. adults. Faunalytics itself is aware of the limitations, but this does not stop it from producing “results” from the data. For example, it claims that there could well be issues with self-reporting or responses that differ from true opinions. Perhaps most crucially, it admits that “it is possible that non-respondents have different opinions or behaviour than survey respondents.” In other words, the results can’t reliably tell us anything. All they tell us are the opinions (subject to numerous limitations) of the 26% respondents who actually bothered to engage with the survey in some way.

So we’ve established that the “results” can’t really be taken seriously in the way that Faunalytics is portraying them. To use a term that is becoming ever more popular, they are merely engaging in pseudoscience. For the sake of argument, however, let’s assume that the results are valid and take a look at the content of the research. What we find is that, even if the “results” were reliable in representing the positions of the masses, they would actually stand against everything that Faunalytics itself promotes. They would suggest that Faunalytics desperately needs to abandon the traditional new welfarist approach and embrace abolitionist vegan education.

The “research” is comprised of a series of ambiguous questions. The first asks “do you personally support or oppose the animal protection movement’s goal to minimise and eventually eliminate all forms of animal cruelty and suffering?” There were four possible answers to this question from which people could choose: strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose. They found that 81% of respondents said they support that goal, with 39% strongly supporting it. Now, if these results were valid, they would tell us that 81% of the respondents possess moral concern for animals and take animal interests seriously—to the point that they want to “eliminate all forms of cruelty and suffering.” The rational response to this is to say that the majority of people are primed and ready to hear an unequivocal vegan message; they possess a strong moral concern for animals and simply need to be informed of what that concern means. If they agree that animals matter morally—if they agree that unnecessary suffering and death is wrong—they can be shown that there’s no way of making sense of that concern without being vegan. They can be educated to see that all animal use constitutes that very same “cruelty and suffering” that they wish to “eliminate.” The “research” tells us that 81% of respondents would be receptive to vegan education, yet Faunalytics says the opposite. It merely directs readers to its donate page, where one can send money to help promote the various animal welfare groups responsible for perpetuating speciesism in the first place, and the likes of Melanie Joy with her “carnism” who believes that the differences between rights and welfare don’t go beyond semantics. The actions of Faunalytics merely serve to perpetuate the systems of oppression that never allow moral concern to come into fruition.

The second question involves gauging the “knowledge” of respondents and asks “how knowledgeable do you feel about issues that affect the welfare of animals in the following circumstances?” The “circumstances” were as follows: animals in circuses and rodeos; animals in laboratories; animals in pounds and shelters; animals in zoos and aquariums; animals kept as companions/pets; animals raised for food; endangered species; horses and dogs used in racing; and wildlife on public lands. You might be wondering how any of this is relevant to educating people about veganism. Well, it isn’t. In a nutshell, the “research” supposedly showed that women are more knowledgeable about all forms of animal exploitation; people between the ages of 18-29 are more likely to say that they’re “knowledgeable” than those who are older; those with a “less formal” education are more likely to report having less “knowledge” than those with a higher education; Black people are “less knowledgeable” on the various forms of exploitation than Latinx/Hispanic people; those living in the Midwest U.S are overall “less knowledgeable” than those in other areas of the country, and those living with companion animals are supposedly “more knowledgeable” about all issues as opposed to those who don’t.

What does this show? Absolutely nothing. It doesn’t make a blind bit of difference how “knowledgeable” the person you’re educating is about the particulars of greyhound racing or slaughterhouse procedure; the only thing that matters is whether or not they have moral concern. Aside from creating more arbitrary lines between different groups of people (which I’m sure the mainstream “animal movement” will love for the purpose of targeting campaigns to particular groups under the guise of “effectiveness”), it gives the impression that in order to do right by animals, you need to know every detail about the various ways we exploit them. This could not be further from the truth. Such compartmentalisation of issues suggests that these issues are not related, but separate entities of their own; that there’s somehow a difference between exploitation X and Y, one that is relevant for the purpose of “eliminating suffering” in that particular case. This does nothing but perpetuate the idea that any issue involving animals exists in a vacuum, whereby it can be tackled with a single-issue campaign or by another similar form of speciesist advocacy that merely ensures that the arbitrary lines will remain forever drawn, and that nobody connects them to see veganism as the rational response to our unjust animal use.

Following the same theme of the second question in drawing arbitrary lines and splitting animal exploitation into “categories,” the third question asks “how important to you is the protection of animals when it comes to making the following personal choices?” The “choices” are as follows: attending circuses or rodeos; buying clothing; buying food; buying consumer products; getting a new pet; going hunting or fishing; going to dog or horse races; and voting for a political candidate. The “results” follow much of the same trends as in the second question, but it really doesn’t matter. All this question does is further entrench the idea that animal exploitation can be split into sections and graded, as if there is a moral difference between them for the purpose of education. Doubt, guilt, and an overwhelming sense of helplessness are what fuel the mainstream movement’s machine. Without bringing out those emotions in people, there would be no donations or support for fundraisers. The mainstream movement has created a cycle of oppression: one from which it profits greatly. Confuse the public, draw arbitrary lines, propagate a sense of powerless, and then bam, put a big DONATE button in front of them and watch them all placate their consciences as the money flows in. Next month, hit them with something different in a newsletter, and the cycle continues. Faunalytics appears to know this. Otherwise, what would be the use in such ambiguous and arbitrary questions? What is the purpose if not to help welfare organisations hone in on certain demographics and create cycles that run even smoother and more profitably than they already do? It’s nothing but a fancy business scheme that, unfortunately, many of the mainstream movement’s less discerning “advocates” seem to lap up like it’s a free for all at Willy Wonka’s (vegan) chocolate waterfall. These questions have diddlysquat to do with teaching people effective ways to educate the public. They’re just market research for businesses dressed up in faux-egalitarian tuxedos.

The fourth Animal Tracker question supposedly concerns “contradictions in public opinion.” It asks participants whether they “agree, disagree, have no opinion, or don’t know” in response to a series of statements related to animal exploitation. Without boring you further with the details of each question, I’ll just jump straight to the interesting parts of the “study.” They found that 52% of respondents believe we have an obligation to avoid harming all animals; 50% of respondents believe that farm animals deserve the same consideration as pets and other animals; but 64% of respondents also believe that using animals for food is necessary for human survival. Right there is a huge demographic of people who are beyond the stage of mere moral concern and who are most likely willing to make drastic changes in order to live in accordance with those core beliefs that they already have. But how do we tackle the 64% (of which may or may not be comprised of respondents from the other two categories) who believe consuming animal products is necessary? That’s easy – abolitionist vegan education for a mass of people who are quite literally on the brink of recognising fundamental nonhuman interests and the role that veganism plays in respecting those interests. Is this what Faunalytics suggests advocates do? Of course not—more welfare reform, single issue campaigns and donations, please.

The fifth and final question is split in two. The first part asks how much of an impact the respondent thinks the “animal protection movement” has had on U.S. policies, and the second part asks whether the respondent supports or opposes the “animal protection” movement’s goal to “minimise and eventually eliminate all forms of animal cruelty and suffering.” Faunalytics has been clever enough here to be as ambiguous as possible. As far as the respondent is concerned, “minimise and eventually eliminate all forms of animal suffering” could mean anything. Remember, from the welfarist point of view, animals can be exploited and killed without suffering and without a violation of fundamental rights. Also, from the perspective of law, “cruelty” and “suffering” have no meaning other than being indicators of whether or not the certain practice or exploitation represents an efficient use of resources—if it does, that “cruel” treatment is considered necessary treatment. The data collected from that question—while already meaningless given that it’s a flawed study—is even more meaningless given that there is no way of knowing how the respondent interprets a concept such as “cruelty.” It may mean no animal exploitation, or more likely (given our welfarist society), it will mean “humane” animal exploitation. Faunalytics neglects to consider this and instead uses the data to support further regulatory agendas. Funnily enough, the data from the first part of the question (concerning the movement’s “impact”) actually indicates that 56% of respondents feel that the “animal protection movement” isn’t doing that much at all. Further, 81% of those who responded “support” the movement’s “goals.” These, of course, comprise ambiguous “goals” such as the one working to “eliminate cruelty.” But think about it: if the majority of respondents don’t believe the movement is doing that, yet 81% of them believes that we should “eliminate cruelty,” that would again prove the abolitionist point that educating the 81% who disagree with “cruelty”—to see that all use constitutes the very same “cruelty” that they reject—is the most effective way for us to bring about a vegan world as quickly as possible.

Find Part II of this essay, here.

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