Editorial: Remembering the aim
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1995:
“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it,” George Santyana
observed of would-be world-changers circa 1905. “Fanaticism,” he added, “consists in
redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim.”
He was half right. As sociologist Bill Moyer illustrates, reform movements fol-
low a certain cyclical course, willy-nilly. The three great movements for animals have each
closely followed Moyer’s Movement Action Plan trajectory, beginning in the U.S. just after
the Civil War, when the humanitarian focus shifted from abolishing slavery. After Henry
Bergh founded the American SPCA in 1869, the first U.S. humane group with an explicit
mandate to defend animals, other animal-focused humane societies and antivivisection
societies formed in every major city, until humane momentum shifted again, toward abol-
ishing child labor, instituting orphanages, and introducing temperance.
Most of the animal issues that still concern us were put forward in the 19th centu-
ry, though the times permitted few reforms. Renewed effort came post-World War II,
when humane groups were relieved of the need to provide basic human services. Called the
animal welfare movement, this second push roughly dates from Christine Stevens’ forma-
tion of the Animal Welfare Institute in 1952 to the passage of the Laboratory Animal
Welfare Act of 1966. The epoch began with just one national animal advocacy group of
note, the American Humane Association, but ended with a constellation, including the
Humane Society of the U.S. (1954) and the National Catholic Humane Society (1959, now
known as the International Society for Animal Rights). The animal welfare movement also
brought the first groups formed explicitly to solve problems––notably the North Shore
Animal League (1954), which introduced high-volume adoption marketing in lieu of
euthanasia, and Friends of Animals (1957), responsible for popularizing neutering surgery.
The animal rights movement exploded out of a brief lull coinciding with the peak
of the Vietnam War. During that lull the baby-boomers came of age, schooled in sympathy
for animals by Walt Disney and the National Geographic Society and in protest tactics by
the antiwar movement. As outlined at right, failures of institutions to prevent cruelty led
to ripening conditions for protest. Early victories won through strategic alliances empow-
ered further activism. The movement takeoff coincided with the early 1980s, as groups
multiplied and showed increasing strength. By 1986 the movement entered the parallel
phases of frustrated feelings of powerlessness and transition, the process by which groups
either permanently exclude themselves from assuming power through what Moyer calls
“negative rebel behavior,” or mature into effective change-making through civic leadership.
These phases can be mutally destructive. Feelings of powerlessness come when goals of
protest are accepted by the public but denied by the powerholders––as when poll after poll
in the late 1980s showed most Americans including farmers and hunters agreed that animals
should have basic rights, even as the USDA continued to exclude rats, mice, and birds
from the Animal Welfare Act definition of “animal,” and therefore from even minimal pro-
tection. Tactics of the powerless typically include recourse to violence, antagonizing pow-
erholders (and majority public opinion), just as transitionary leaders––who may be charged
with “selling out”––manage to make their case that the argument for reform has moral force.
Familiar with Moyer’s MAP, Kim Bartlett, now publisher of ANIMAL PEO-
PLE, and Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, in September 1989 arranged
for Moyer to explain to more than 60 animal rights movement leaders how to make the
essential transitions successfully, upholding principle while avoiding self-limiting and self-
defeating fanaticism, which could and would stoke an inevitable backlash.
As Douglas Helvarg put it in The War Against The Greens, his recently published
history of the so-called wise-use movement, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
The demand begins as a plea for moderation from powerholders who feel driven to change
faster and more radically than they want to––even though they may acknowledge the need.
Typically, movement leaders, scenting blood, press in for the kill, forgetting the political
maxim that winners are wise enough not to create humiliated and disenfranchised losers.
The long PETA campaign against the National Institutes of Health provides a pivotal exam-
ple. Between October 1981 and July 1985, PETA shut down the laboratories of prominent
primate researchers Edward Taub and Thomas Gennarelli, through a combination of legal
actions and public protest. Clout proven, PETA was in position, as signaled by NIH hints
of willingness to give the monkeys taken from Taub to a PETA-approved sanctuary, to set
aside further confrontation and take a place at the bargaining table, opposite the biomedical
research establishment, with the NIH as broker for negotiation of a new deal for laboratory
animals based upon the principles of the December 1985 amendments to the Animal
Welfare Act. The price would have been helping NIH save face with its uneasy scientific
constituency. NIH could take praise for making the system work, albeit under duress; it
could not afford appearing to have capitulated to a group that declared the Taub and
Gennarelli cases were just the prelude to closing all laboratories. By attacking the NIH
itself, instead of seizing the moment to cut a mutually advantageous deal, PETA in effect
alienated the umpire, perhaps permanently excluding itself and the animal rights movement
from the opportunity to make negotiated gains. Precious little has been achieved on the bio-
medical research front in the decade since.
Likewise, after Henry Spira through a five-year campaign persuaded Procter &
Gamble to phase out animal testing, and to spend nearly $3 million a year in an ongoing
push to find alternatives, PETA, In Defense of Animals, and HSUS initiated boycotts,
still in effect, seeking to force cessation of all animal testing, now. Former P&G president
John Smale responded by proposing a $17 million campaign to discredit the animal rights
movement. Cooler heads within P&G leaked the proposal to Spira and the editor of ANI-
MAL PEOPLE, after which it was dropped, but the gist of it was later implemented by
another longtime target of animal rights hostility, U.S. Surgical Corporation.
Subsequent egregious examples of snatching defeat from victory include the 1990
March for the Animals in Washington D.C.; the decade-long campaign to challenge hunter
harassment laws; and the push for pet breeding bans.
Moyer warned that as movements gain majority favor, marches and rallies begin
turning off more potential supporters than they attract, while sapping resources from more
productive work. The March drew 24,000 people, a third as many as the organizers pre-
dicted, making the cause look small. It drew minimal publicity, on a slow news day. Yet
it cost about $7.2 million, more than the budget at the time of any animal rights group.
Moyer also warned against negatively directed tactics. The hunter harassment
campaign challenged hunters to organize in response to animal rights protest, rather than
seriously trying to persuade anyone not to hunt; and the objective, even if won, could only
be measured by the non-existence of hunter harassment laws, which at the outset of the
campaign already didn’t exist in 44 states. They now exist in every state but Hawaii.
The push for pet breeding bans, meanwhile, violated both the first and second
rules of successful politics: never make enemies needlessly, and never make a foe of a
friend. Founded on the erroneous contention that animal shelter euthanasias were up, when
they were down almost everywhere, it negated a dramatic positive achievement. It also tar-
geted a group, pet fancy-breeders, who were not only not significantly contributing to pet
overpopulation, but also had long actively fought pet overpopulation through parallel sup-
port of breed rescue groups, low-cost neutering clinics, and humane societies. The breed-
ing ban campaigns had some positive effects, as many fanciers and registries increased
their efforts against pet overpopulation. Pro-breeding ban groups including HSUS, PETA,
and the Fund for Animals, however, still pay a high price for intemperate rhetoric. Most
notably, they passed the role of leadership on pet issues to NSAL, the San Francisco
SPCA, and one group begun to fight breeding bans, the National Pet Alliance, now distin-
guished for doing much long overdue demographic research on the dog-and-cat surplus.
This passage is in keeping with the maturation of the animal rights cause, but also marks an
abdication of moral authority by the core of the movement. Yielding moral authority on
pets is especially damaging to the cause, since pets are the chief source of direct human
interaction with animals, and empathy for a pet is most often where empathy for all animals
begins. Groups whose positions on pets lack appeal and credibility aren’t likely to draw the
support they might on other issues, where they may speak with more authority.
Significantly, neither NSAL, the SFSPCA, nor NPA has ever even pretended to
be an animal rights group. They just work to help animals, independent of self-encumber-
ing ideology; and that, not strident rhetoric, is what plays in Peoria.
The future of the movement
The animal rights movement is now old, but still has momentum, which could be
used, together with friction raised by the newly empowered wise use movement, to win the
reduction of meat to condiment status, if it is eaten at all; the abandonment of sport hunt-
ing; the end of the fur trade; more popular and effective means of protecting wildlife habi-
tat; and perhaps much else. We are at the outset of a new growth phase for pro-animal
activism, if leadership can leave the rhetorical shell of past growth phases, making use of
new understanding. Politicized polemic is obsolete; animal concerns are both backed and
opposed from both right and left. Nor have animal people anything to gain by mass align-
ment under one banner with any other cause. Limited alliances with environmentalists and
conservationists are often productive, yet cruelty in the name of ecological goals equally
often warrants opposition––and some such goals, especially of so-called hunter/conserva-
tionists, are actually anti-ecological, despite general acceptance by the eco-establishment.
Concern over human population growth, a rising cause related to environmentalism, like-
wise has some application to reforming animal agriculture, preserving habitat and protect-
ing species, but when coupled with “rat-is-a-pig-is-a-dog-is-a-boy” rhetoric, easily comes
across as mere misanthropy, to the detriment of both causes.
And then there is the abortion issue, where the rights-based posture of a Carol
Adams, a distinguished anti-meat crusader, directly opposes the ethical teachings of many
of our great religions––including strong factions within each religion which are equally anti-
meat and equally respectful of animal life.
Certainly concerned animal people can and should advance the other causes they
feel to be just; but as citizens, not as animal people per se. The very strength of this cause
is the degree to which it cuts across all other social divisions.
Avoiding misanthropy is paramount, as individuals and as a cause. “Love your
enemy,” Jesus said, because others have good reason to mistrust those who hate them. We
must earn the trust of those we would teach by convincing them that we care about people,
too. If dog and boy are equal in their capacity to feel pain, it is as senseless to rhetorically
bludgeon the boy to teach him kindness as it is to beat the dog to teach him not to bite.
Finally, if animal advocates are to maintain moral standing, it is essential to
maintain high moral standards, not to be confused with neurotic obsession. A society still
unaware that eating fish and chicken involves even more cruelty and ecological harm than
eating red meat certainly doesn’t care much, if at all, that one activist is a vegan while
another is “only” vegetarian. Most people do care, however, if they find out their tears for
animals have been jerked by lies; if they find out their donations to help animals have been
spent mainly on further fundraising; and if they discover charity heads are paying them-
selves six-figure salaries. Compromise was never among the seven deadly sins, but six of
them equate with venality, and can be the undoing of both leaders and movements.