Bearing Witness To Narcissism
A lot of people are angry about a piece I wrote the other day concerning the Norfolk Animal Save slaughter parade. Unfortunately, the various responses and outcries from those involved merely confirmed my fears about the mindsets and attitudes of the people taking part in such events. The general theme has been one of obstinate self-assurance; a refusal to engage substantively with the arguments put forward in my article on account of either a complete ignorance to the prevailing welfarist paradigm or a refusal to understand how such efforts perpetuate our culture of welfarism and “happy exploitation.”
When the emphasis of our advocacy is on “bearing witness,” or how the animals are “treated,” or “exposing” some form of animal use, we simply ensure that the conversation never shifts from issues surrounding treatment. We keep the public focused on the idea that the treatment of animals is somehow relevant when determining the morality of use. As mentioned before – and completely ignored in the responses to my previous article – the issue of animal exploitation is not “invisible” as many of these people like to maintain. The premise of such “Save” events is to supposedly “expose” and document “cruelty,” but the reality is that the public are not stupid. They know where their food comes from and they’re perfectly okay with it. Their default position is what the default position of every person in western society has been for the last 200 years now – animal welfarism. The idea that it’s okay to kill animals so long as they are treated “humanely” in the process. “Exposing” people to “cruelty” – within the context of an animal industry that requires “necessary” suffering and death by law in order to function profitably – does nothing but reaffirm to people that animal suffering is the primary issue and not use. The perpetuation of that idea in recent years is what has been responsible for the growth of the “happy exploitation” movement, because people believe that by purchasing supposedly “higher welfare” products they are fulfilling their moral obligations to animals. This is why the focus on suffering is so detrimental and why these “vigils” and “saves” are so problematic with the message they implicitly promulgate.
It is unfortunate that advocates are unable to stand back from themselves and consider these ideas. It is unfortunate that advocates are more interested in discrediting these views on account of the fact that I was not present at the vigil – as if that in itself answers my objections or is even relevant to the arguments I have put forward. Certain individuals who have responded to me have participated in fur demonstrations outside high street fashion stores, where their argument against fur was to say that the animals used for fur were not “byproducts of the meat and dairy industry” and that these animals were raised “solely for fur.” I don’t need to have been there either to tell you that that’s an overtly speciesist message drawing an arbitrary line between animals in the meat and dairy industry and those in the fur industry. Indeed, it’s telling people that their leather shoes and their wool coats are better in a moral sense than fur.
In any event, these sorts of self-serving diversion tactics are what people to seem to fall back on when they are unable to respond to an idea or position with a substantive argument.
As in my original piece, I maintain that as far as the animals are concerned, these “vigils” and “saves” do nothing but drag out the misery of the animals by holding them longer in trucks than they usually would be and where the outcome is inevitable death – as it always has been.
It is unclear to me how the animals benefit from what one commenter described as an “unforgettable sense of respect for these animals that[sic] would have otherwise been transported completely unnoticed to their deaths.” It seems to me that the only party benefiting from that “sense of respect” here is the humans. The animals are minutes away from being slaughtered – there is no context here for a “sense of respect” to even apply in a way that is helpful. They are all going to die and suffer tremendously the moment they enter that slaughterhouse – just as they have been their entire lives. The idea that this “unforgettable sense of respect” is even remotely helpful to the animals in their final moments is not only unfounded, it’s cheap and it’s offensive. They have suffered the ride in the truck and they’re still suffering just the same while the selfie-snapping humans get a few minutes to feel an “unforgettable sense of respect.” Well that’s great, isn’t it. It doesn’t make a blind bit of difference to the animals, but at least the humans get to feel better about it:
I have spent many of my previous years building relationships with animals at various animal sanctuaries and helping them through trauma. Let me tell you, there is no way on earth that your “sense of respect” is helping these animals in their final moments. You cannot begin to comprehend their terror, their confusion or their utter misery. The idea that your “respect” in this context – peeking through bars, taking photos, crying around trucks – is doing anything but prolonging their suffering is quite frankly an insult to their value as sentient beings. Beings who are deserving of so much more.
Another commenter states: “what you “think” about vigils is irrelevant. If you want to form an educated opinion then please go to one for yourself, meet the people and learn about the movement. If you think that bearing witness “gives veganism a bad name” then you really do not understand the basic premise of what a social justice movement actually is. The reality is that many people are not brave enough to go, and that’s fine I felt the same, but please don’t get in the way of people who are changing the world because you are too scared to do it yourself.”
Once again, we are told that we can’t take a position on something unless we witness that something first hand. By that logic, I can’t have an opinion on Donald Trump because I’m not an American and I didn’t attend his inauguration. I also can’t have an opinion on “animal advocates” who believe that torching slaughterhouses is an effective form of advocacy because I’m not there when they set the slaughterhouse on fire. If this particular commenter lives by her own standards, I’m surprised she can form an opinion on my position as she was not with me when I wrote the original article. Her own logic dictates that she should “bear witness” to me writing articles before she can have anything to say about them.
For the reasons I’ve discussed above, I hope it is clear that such measures are not “changing the world” at all. Quite frankly, the idea that someone can berate another for not being “brave enough,” or claim that they should not “not get in the way” of those “changing the world” because they are “too scared” to stop a slaughter truck for 3 minutes is the most narcissistic, ill-placed self-congratulation I have ever had the misfortune of “bearing witness” to.