PeTA and Slavery

This story is not exactly breaking news, but I’d like to say something about it. PeTA filed a lawsuit alleging that SeaWorld enslaves killer whales.

Now I realize I’m not breaking new ground here by being a vegan that criticizes PeTA. Hell, there’s already a website for that (although it seems to be defunct). Nothing new here. But I wish that it just stopped with PeTA. I wish I could say that the error originates and ends with PeTA.

There are probably a lot of anti-speciesist vegans out there that think PeTA’s lawsuit is misguided on tactical grounds. How could there not be? But a lot of those same vegans probably don’t disagree with the assertion that SeaWorld having killer whales IS slavery. This is because they find any distinction between humans and non-humans to be essentially unjustified. Therefore, the concepts of murder, genocide and slavery can all be applied to animals in their minds. Well, most people find that offensive. Most (probably all) legal systems find the assertion ludicrous. But if you buy into a rigid anti-speciesism worldview, it makes perfect sense.

I find this to be problematic. It’s a problem when the movement that cares about animals uses language that alienates people to the cause. There are certainly non-vegans and people that don’t “believe in” animal rights that are sympathetic to the idea that we shouldn’t keep killer whales in a huge fish tank so that they can entertain us. But you lose their support when you try to use the 13th amendment, the legislation that freed slaves in the United States, as a publicity stunt.

“The lawsuit is the first of its kind in contending that constitutional protections against slavery are not limited to humans.” Of course it is. No one else has ever had enough disposable money to bring a lawsuit so sure to fail. There is essentially ZERO chance that the protections of the 13th amendment will be extended to animals. Can you imagine the precedent that it would set? Can you even imagine how much money is at stake?

Again, I wish that the logic used by PeTA was unique to PeTA. But it isn’t. A lot of vegans and AR people think this way. It’s a problem.

And for the record, I have no love for SeaWorld, zoos, circuses, rodeos etc. etc. I would never give my money to any of them.

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8 Responses to PeTA and Slavery

  1. Colinski says:

    Why do you insist writing PETA with a lower-case “e”? Why wouldn’t “ethical” be upper-case?

    • Just because they do. I don’t really know why either. I’m guessing it’s just an aesthetic choice to make their logo more distinctive. Or maybe it’s their way of saying that ethics aren’t really their focus. Who knows?

      Side note: don’t you just love Justin Bieber?

  2. This is a publicity stunt for which I think I’m sympathetic. Like all their campaigns, it sounds ridiculous but opens the door to get people thinking about why. This time though, not at the expense of another.

  3. Well, there’s no direct, apparent victim, no.

    But I think the greatest harm that PeTA does for the “movement” is that they make vegans and AR people look like a bunch of nutters. Ask any regular old Joe Schmo off the street the first five words that come to his mind when you say animal rights and it’s almost guaranteed that he’ll say PeTA. Same as if the prompt word was vegan or vegetarian. The link is just so strong.

    So when they see PeTA do ridiculous crap, they attribute that kind of foolishness to veg*ans and AR people in general. For all the good that they do (and they do some good things), I think it’s probably outweighed by the bad image they give veg*ans and AR people. The average person just does NOT respect PeTA and I can’t blame them.

  4. The bad image they give animal advocates based upon negative press for the sake of press is problematic, I agree. The bad image we receive based upon more constructive press for the sake of press I’m willing to wear. The question primed is: “Why is animal captivity different than human captivity? Let’s talk about that”. This is the sorta stuff PeTA should stick to.

  5. Yeah, I don’t have a problem with them, or anyone, trying to start a conversation about the ethics of keeping animals in captivity for our entertainment. Not at all.

    But when they start trying to use laws meant to protect/liberate humans, that’s when it just gets a little too loopy for me, and for most non-vegans. It’s crap like this that makes people ask half-jokingly (but also half-seriously) “what, should animals have the right to vote and a drivers license?”

    It’s a frivolous lawsuit that is sure to fail and it makes people that care about animals look like a bunch of disconnected idiots. I can’t find much to get excited about in that.

    • CAW says:

      It’s frivolous because it is nearly guaranteed to fail, not because the question (what is the meaning and scope of the 13th Amendment) isn’t interesting, important, and worth asking. It’s little different than asking why we can’t bring a common law habeas petition on behalf of cognitively advanced primates (see Stephen Wise). The difference is the lens through which we analyze the problem: constitutional or common law. The work of amendments in the Constitution does not stop with what they were initially meant to do. For various reasons, we expand their scope or interpret them differently over time.

      I don’t like PETA and this lawsuit was poorly conceived. But it is not at all outrageous to suggest that the 13th Amendment, which is very short and open-ended, can be read to encompass non-human animals in some fashion. There is an academic and legal theory side to this which is totally legit. Sadly, there is a pragmatic side (which you’ve hit at), that makes animal rights people look loopy.

    • Fair enough. BTW, I particularly don’t care about looking like a “disconnected idiot”. It’s more of a tactical issue anyway then and further commentary would be conjecture more than anything helpful or constructive. Good post though, thanks!

holler!

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