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Underground Non-Advocacy – PETA UK

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PETA UK and Veganuary have done a splendid job over the last few weeks promoting confusion and inconsistency on the London underground. At best, their efforts have gone unnoticed; at worst, some people have actually read their posters and perhaps even gone to the source. Now before you decide to skip the rest of this piece and go straight to the comment section (where you’ll perhaps take great pleasure in gracing me with an all-capitals “BUT THEY’RE DOING SOMETHING” message), I suggest taking a closer look at what it is that these groups are actually saying and the information the public are presented with upon reaching either the PETA or Veganuary websites. In this piece we’ll be focusing on PETA UK, with a second piece arriving shortly after focusing on Veganuary.

To begin with, let’s take a look at the content of the posters themselves. An article in the Daily Mail highlights one of the problems with PETA UK’s efforts through inadvertently pointing out that PETA is making a distinction between flesh and other animal products. PETA’s posters read “I’m me, not meat” with an image of either a chicken, a cow, or a pig underneath. The focus on meat does nothing but feed the false societal distinction made between flesh and other animal products. It implies that there is a moral difference between them, and that the consumption of flesh somehow represents the worst exploitation with all other animal uses being better. This is not an idea we should be perpetuating. There is as much suffering and death in the production of other animal products (dairy, eggs, etc) as there is in the use of animals for flesh. They all end up in the same slaughterhouse. They all have their fundamental rights violated by being treated as property; as things, with no recognisable value other than that which an owner grants them for a given purpose. It doesn’t make any difference that the posters say “go vegan” – the normative message sent out is that meat is the problem. Being as society already makes the false distinction between flesh and other animal products, the poster merely strengthens that belief. The presence of “go vegan” does nothing to challenge it; if anything, it merely confuses the public as to what veganism actually means.

Aside from the problematic content, the campaign itself – in conception and execution – is fundamentally flawed. The problem with these sorts of poster campaigns is that there is little space to present a clear message that actually cuts to the core issue. They run the risk of appearing gimmicky and, instead of educating people, just annoying them and turning them off. Consider that we live in a society dominated by animal welfarism, where the conventional wisdom dictates that it’s ok to kill animals so long as they are treated “humanely” in the process. People, by and large, know what animal the flesh they’re eating comes from. They don’t need it pointing out to them and they are most likely – as per the dominant welfarist paradigm – perfectly content with consuming that animal so long as they believe the animal is treated “humanely.”

In this regard, people will merely interpret these posters as stating the obvious and instead of being educated as to why they should take veganism seriously as a matter of fundamental morality, have nothing to take away other than an empty “go vegan” slogan. Is it any wonder that the public perception of vegans is that we’re all a bunch of narcissistic hippies that have no basis for our position other than to chant, sing, and plaster underground walls with “go vegan”? There is nothing in the message for an onlooker to internalise and instead, these posters merely give people another reason to dismiss veganism as a baseless and meaningless position; an exercise in idiosyncrasy and personal choice instead of a fundamental respect for moral principles.

If for whatever reason an onlooker felt compelled to follow the poster to its source, what would they find? Unfortunately, this is where it gets worse.

The campaign is spearheaded by PETA UK but the poster only makes reference to PETA. If someone were to search for PETA on google, they could reach either the UK page or the international page respectively. Both are equally as confusing and problematic.

When you first reach the international PETA page, you’re confronted with a cacophony of single-issue campaigns, donate buttons, and ambiguous welfarist phrases asking for “animal liberation” and “compassion.” If you click on the “Why Should Animals Have Rights?” article, you’re taken to a page promoting Peter Singer’s book, Animal Liberation – a book that explicitly promotes speciesism and the idea that the only interest animals have is the interest in not suffering. The book explicitly leaves open to interpretation the morality of killing sentient beings and instead concludes that we need only take into consideration the suffering of animals. It also explicitly denies equal inherent value between humans and animals and does not maintain that sentient beings have a fundamental right not to be used as resources; as a work of utilitarianism (where moral rights do not exist and the right action is determined by review of the consequences), it can’t. Indeed, if one of the hapless underground travellers happened to end up reading Animal Liberation and other works by Peter Singer such as Practical Ethics, they would be told that sentient beings – in light of lacking a supposed preference for continuing to live, like humans – are nothing but vessels for pleasure and pain and that we can justify bringing them into existence to kill them so long as we replace them with other vessels in the process. Yes, that’s right. If a non-vegan on the underground were to end up on PETA’s website, they would be directed to a man who believes that bringing into existence and killing “happy” animals is defensible. In essence, they would be directed right back to the welfarism from whence they came. A cycle of never-ending confusion.

If they were to end up on the UK PETA website, they would again be bombarded with single-issue messages and large donate buttons, but also an article documenting the “Ground-Breaking Victories for Animals in 2016.” The so-called “victories” include opposing factory farms, exposing down cruelty, helping animals in labs, fighting for animals in circuses and on racecourses, getting fur off the high street, and then finally, “promoting vegan living.” All this does is give the impression that you can do right by animals through other means than being vegan. Through single-issue campaigning and the subsequent coalitions that are formed between vegans and non-vegans (as discussed elsewhere in detail), all excluded animal exploitation is promoted as morally better and veganism – the only way to fulfil our moral obligations to animals – is merely passed off as one of the options. This is the message that people will receive when following up on a PETA poster. Veganism is not talked about as what we owe animals if we believe them to have moral value; it’s dressed up in a box of anthropocentric platitudes whereby you can go vegan if you wish to feel “kind” or “compassionate.” You can take a “pledge” for 30 days where the only reason given for being vegan is to reduce “cruelty.” Again, if someone were to follow up on that notion on PETA’s website, they would find Peter Singer and the world of “compassionate” animal exploitation.

At best, this campaign will be ignored by the majority of people and perhaps piss some off. At worst, PETA are bringing into existence further generations of confused “advocates.” This confusion will lead people to continue promoting veganism as nothing more than a “compassionate choice” for those who are strong-willed enough to make the “sacrifice,” and that you can still do right by animals whilst exploiting them yourself as a non-vegan and by supporting single-issue campaigns and pedestalizing non-vegan celebrities.

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  • Lisa

    Geesh, what a moaner! I applaud those animal activists who actually get stuff done (even if it’s not 100% perfect) rather than those (like the author) who sit behind a screen criticizing.

  • Morgan

    Totally agree with Lisa. Scrolling down through other articles by this author and every single one is a negative judgement about how anyone trying to do good is getting it all wrong and making things worse. Self righteous rants on the other hand, really help animals a lot.

  • Alan O’Reilly

    Good article Ben Frost. “But they’re doing something” is most certainly not better than doing nothing when that “something” is, first, not what it purports to be and, second, actually confusing and counterproductive. Why this is the case is exactly what the article comprehensively illustrates. PeTA is neither an animal rights or vegan advocacy organisation; it is an animal welfare organisation which presents veganism as just one way to “reduce suffering” rather than the moral imperative necessary to eliminate animal exploitation.

    • Lisa

      I fail to see how anyone could say a billboard campaign which encourage people to see animals as individuals rather than as burgers is “confusing” and “most certainly not better than doing nothing.” Should we really just sit at home and speak to no one for fear of not getting the abolitionist messaging exactly right? I’m not trying to criticise but I must say I found your viewpoint – not the PETA campaign – “confusing and counterproductive.”

      • Alan O’Reilly

        The reasons for my comment are given in the article itself, as I stated. Your straw man doth not an argument make, PeTA and its campaigns do not remotely resemble “abolitionist messaging”.

      • You nailed it.

  • What happened to this website? When did it become blog after blog of Gary Francione vomit? Sorry Mr. Frost, Francione’s dense and dividing academic essays won’t fit on a subway poster. I and many others went vegan because of PETA. People will continue to go vegan because of PETA. People will only continue to despise vegans (and animal rights organizations) because of this divisive nonsense.

    • Alan O’Reilly

      David, I assume you are acknowledging that PeTA are not an animal rights organisation. Congratulations, you have just destroyed your own argument. People go vegan because they learn about veganism and neither you or anybody else will learn about it from PeTA.

    • ecorazzi

      January 4th, 2016! 🙂

    • Tobias Leenaert

      well put. francione vomit indeed…

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