Editorial: Animal rights, Republicans, and Original Sin
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1996:
“Four new trends will greatly affect the course of environmental politics in the
1990s,” writes Competitive Enterprise Institute director of environmental studies Jonathan
Adler in his recently published opus, Environmentalism at the Crossroads. “They are: the
growing influence of deep ecology and its radical preservationist policy prescriptions; the
environmental ‘backlash,’ as represented by the property rights and wise use movements;
the emergence of the environmental justice movement and the tensions it has created within
organized environmentalism (as members of racial and ethnic minorities demand representation);
[and] the challenge to conventional environmental policies by free market environ –
Adler omits the animal rights movement––either a major failure of vision or a
symptom of the failure of animal rights activists to politically capitalize on major gains in
public opinion and shifts in the norms of socially accepted behavior. Animal rights advocates
should care about Adler’s perspective because, like it or not, the Competitive
Enterprise Institute is among the major think-tanks influencing the Republican Congress,
and Adler’s errors, whatever they are, are likely to be echoed in Republican policy-making.
Notably, although the words “animal rights” don’t appear in Adler’s index, he is
aware of the major animal rights organizations and issues, along with the major organizations
representing other animal protection perspectives––and evidently cares not a bit about
the differences in the “rights,” “welfarist,” and “conservationist” positions, which seem
self-evident and important to many people within animal causes. Discussing the ivory trade
and whaling with a bias toward consumption, Adler lumps Friends of Animals, the Fund
for Animals, and the Animal Welfare Institute together with the pro-hunting World Wildlife
Fund and National Wildlife Federation. All to him seem to be “radical preservationists,”
despite the acceptance of “sustainable use” of wildlife, rejected by the former trio, as the
guiding philosophy of the latter pair.
Significantly, hunting too is omitted from Adler’s index. Adler attacks the global
moratoriums on ivory sales and whaling from a purely utilitarian perspective that notes selfinterest
on the part of organizations using images of elephants and whales in fundraising literature,
but overlooks the proportionally much greater self-interest of government officials
in nations which still have coveted wildlife: an animal protection group can always find
another campaign issue, but the officials of nations lacking the clout and stability to control
their own borders have no economic reason to leave animals unpoached when they know
that if they don’t cash in, someone else will.
Apparently, Adler regards animal protection in general as just one theme within
deep ecology––and a fading theme, at that. This would seem at odds with such facts as the
growth of vegetarianism, opposition to wearing fur, and the decline of sport hunting so that
today, for the first time ever, more Americans are vegetarians than kill animals for fun.
But Adler’s book reached ANIMAL PEOPLE the same week as a study by subscriber
Harold Herzog of animal rights movement media coverage as measured by citations
in The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, 1975-1994, and Newspaper Abstracts,
1989-1994. Herzog discovered a pattern in the Reader’s Guide citations closely following
the grievance/takeoff/transition/growth-or-stasis phases of mass movements as outlined by
sociologist Bill Moyer of the Social Movement Empowerment Project and discussed in
detail in the April 1995 ANIMAL PEOPLE editorial. The number of citations more than
tripled, from four to 13, in 1976, coinciding with the U.S. publication of Peter Singer’s
Animal Liberation, but tapered off again until 1981, when a surge in citations followed the
formation of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the first heavily publicized
actions of the Animal Liberation Front, exposing the abuse of primates at the University of
Pennsylvania’s Head Injury Lab. The movement rated 32 citations in 1983, 32 more in
1984, then lost momentum fast as PETA became quagmired in confrontation with the
National Institutes of Health over the Silver Spring monkey case, while the ALF squandered
public sympathy by turning from exposure of abuse to arson and vandalism. Animal
rights causes rated just 20 citations in 1986; 23 in 1987. When antifur activism and the
tuna/dolphin controversy rose to fore, the movement rebounded, claiming 45 citations each
in 1988 and 1989; 60 in 1990. The numbers since have fluctuated: 40, 33, 39, 25.
The shorter survey of Newspaper Abstracts citations showed a similar pattern: 163
in 1989, more than doubling to 338 in 1990, then tapering off: 245, 208, 191, 142.
As Andrew Rowan of the Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy points out in
the just-published Animal Policy Report 9(3/4), “There are many reasons to be cautious
about taking the trend in magazine and newspaper articles as a sign that the hold of the animal
rights movement on the interests of the American public is declining. For example,
donations to animal rights and animal welfare groups continued to climb through 1994.”
But too much easy money may be the problem. As ANIMAL PEOPLE o f t e n
points out, animal protection groups have learned how to raise funds by endlessly recycling
old issues, old campaigns, old photographs, and old statistics, consistently ignoring major
victories––and opportunities––because gains and opportunities don’t bring in as much loot
as familiar horror stories. Unrecognized by most of the participants, the 1990 March for
the Animals was the funeral march of a movement whose leadership failed to mature with
the cause. That March was a political and economic fiasco––and is now to be emulated by
another such March this summer, led and promoted by the same people. This year’s March
has generated so much excitement among animal rights partisans that except for press
releases from the organizers themselves and open letters from Rutgers Animal Rights Law
Clinic cofounder Gary Francione, who urges that it be boycotted for being “welfarist,”
ANIMAL PEOPLE has received exactly four pieces of mail to date making any mention
of it––and only one from anyone outside the Washington D.C. region who plans to attend.
Adler, in short, may be right about the influence of the organized animal rights
movement while grossly underestimating the breadth of pro-animal public opinion, especially
among the young. Lifestyle indications such as the trend toward vegetarianism suggest
that the animal rights movement has already had more influence on environmental outlook
than deep ecology per se, whose Malthusian aspect has more in common than partisans
admit with the paranoia of wise-use survivalism. Opinion surveys meanwhile indicate
that the public is quite able to incorporate such animal rights precepts as not eating animals
and not wearing fur into daily life, without accepting the misanthropy and self-indictment
inherent in deep ecologistic animal rights doctrine, as espoused by PETA and other groups
taking a fundamentalist perspective.
One could argue that deep ecology was an outgrowth of animal rights philosophy,
not the converse, and that the notion that animals have a right to decent treatment has
gained acceptance even as the central notion of deep ecology, that humans are an abhorent
aberration in the natural process, has been rejected, along with most other dogmas rooted
(consciously or not) in the medieval religious construct of Original Sin.
Where have all the confabs gone?
Non-leather shoe distributor Frank Zigrang, of Heartland Products Ltd., probably
holds both the lifetime and single-year records for animal rights conferences attended.
Since 1986, Zigrang has criss-crossed the U.S., marketing his wares to every conference he
can get to. Thus, when Zigrang says the number of such conferences is markedly down, he
knows whereof he speaks.
“Minnesota hasn’t had an animal rights conference since the 1980s, I believe,”
says Zigrang. “Illinois last hosted one at least four years ago. Chicago used to have some,
but not in recent years. There might have been one or two in St. Louis, but that’s been it
for Missouri. Wisconsin had one last year, but they won’t be holding one this year. Iowa
hasn’t had one for four or five years. I’ve never heard of any, at least not lately, in
Michigan, Indiana, Nebraska, or the Dakotas.”
Instead of broad-based conferences attracting participation by multiple groups, the
conference schedule these days, though busy as ever, seems to be dominated by the annual
conferences of single groups, which tend to be held in the biggest population centers––and
tend to be hard for people living in other areas to attend. These people, points out Zigrang,
are usually the activists and humanitarians most in need of the sort of social contact and
face-to-face exchange that good regional conferences provide.
Zigrang also notes that in contrast to the highly popular conferences of the
American Humane Association, National Animal Control Association, and Doing Things
for Animals, oriented toward people with professional involvement in animal protection,
the best animal rights conferences of years past were oriented toward students and other
people just beginning to become involved. They had low registration fees, or none. They
offered lots of different things for concerned individuals to do. And, claims Zigrang, “At
least half the people I met at those conferences had never been to an animal rights event
Zigrang doesn’t buy arguments that conferences are just temporarily down because
of the emphasis national groups are putting on the World Animal Awareness Week and
March For Animals events scheduled for this June in Washington D.C.
Rather, says Zigrang, “The number of conferences began dropping off after the
first March for the Animals, in 1990, and I think it was because the nationals were sucking
all the money out of the state and local groups and not sending enough back.” Direct-mail
fundraising replaced face-to-face contact as the focus of animal rights group recruitment;
direct-mailers more and more recycled lists of people already known to be donating to animal
rights groups; recruitment of new participants, in Zigrang’s view, sharply fell off,
even though residual sympathy for animal rights as a cause has only continued to increase,
according to public opinion polls, especially among the young.
“You have students and other people who want to get involved in animal rights but
are not being given any activities at the grassroots level,” Zigrang complains. “The nationals
have abandoned the locals, including the college campuses. Maybe they weren’t making
enough money from holding conferences, but if you don’t hold the conferences now,
you’re going to suffer erosion of your donor base in the long run.”
Zigrang, as a successful entrepreneur, knows both the difficulty and the necessity
of establishing a positive image for his company. He knows he has to start creating the
Heartland image in a potential customer’s mind long before he can expect to make sales.
That’s why he advertises in ANIMAL PEOPLE––and attends conferences. He makes
most of his actual sales from catalog mailings and from his World Wide Web catalog edition.
But people usually write for the catalog, or look for it on the Web, because they’ve
seen Zigrang’s ads, or have met him in person.
Zigrang thinks the decline of conferences is no way to run either a business or a
movement. “Heartland will do fine,” he told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “If I can’t find customers
one way, I’ll try another. It’s the animal rights movement I’m worried about.
Regional conferences were one of the best ways the movement had of recruitment. Not
holding them is just committing suicide.”