Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Helpful Note for Reporters: Why I Am Not an "Animal Rights Activist" (and neither is that guy, no matter what your lazy editor let you call him)

Dear Journalists:

Activist: An especially active, vigorous proponent of a cause, especially a political cause.

Animal rights:
The idea that the most basic interests of non-human animals should be afforded the same consideration as the similar interests of human beings.

Okay, are we clear here? No? I wish I could say I'm surprised. I'll expand. There will be some three-syllable words (including "syllable") so pay attention.

An animal rights activist is someone who expends substantial time and energy in the political and social arena advancing the proposition that a dog, chicken, ebola, non-human primate, cuttlefish, etc. has moral claims on human beings that are ethically indistinguishable from the moral claim that one human being has on the conduct of another human being.

Someone who just kind of vaguely thinks that "equal rights" for cute animals is a good idea and doesn't do much about it -- no rallying, canvassing, protesting, letter-writing, petition-circulating, Thanksgiving dinner-ruining, lobbying, campaigning, megaphone-wielding -- is not an "activist." Not eating at McDonalds is not activism.

This guy -- probably an "activist."

Someone who likes animals, loves animals, works with animals, makes a career of animals, volunteers with animals, rescues animals from adversity, is not on that basis, either a political/social activist or a believer in the political/philosophical doctrine popularly referred to as "animal rights."

Indeed, most people who work closely with animals (as careers or as part of a serious avocation) and understand the difference between the radical philosophical doctrine of "animal rights" and the mainstream proposition that people ought to treat animals humanely explicitly do not support the doctrine of animal rights. This appears to have something broadly to do with actually hands-on mastery of skills and knowledge about specific kinds of animals interfacing with an appreciation of what repercussions a gormless equivalency would have on those animals' actual lives. In other words, animal experts for the most part reject (the popular notion of) animal rights because they like animals too much and understand them too well to abandon them to the enthusiasms of knowledge-free activists who are in love with their own notions about what is good for animals.

This guy -- not an "activist"

Environmentalism -- even when the environmentalist is absolutely an activist, and is trying to do things like protect condors from DDT or wolves from Sarah Palin in a Piper Cub -- is not "animal rights." Aldo Leopold hunted his whole damned life, before and after the revelation of the fierce green fire.

A daft looney who makes her tiny dog wear tafetta dresses, insists that a clinically insane Capuchin monkey that has been ripped from his real mother's breast is her "son," or lives holed up with 80 cats (in squalor or not) is not an animal rights activist. She's just a daft looney who finds animals to be convenient as well as helpless to avoid her deranged projections.

Here's a partial list of animal-related professions and, shall we say, avocations, whose practitioners are typically not "animal rights activists," despite journalists' proclamations to the contrary:

Veterinarian -- not an animal rights activist
Horse lover -- not an animal rights activist
Search and rescue dog handler -- not an animal rights activist
Cat-show hobbyist -- not an animal rights activist
Zookeeper -- not an animal rights activist
Breed rescue volunteer -- not an animal rights activist
Humane enforcement officer -- not an animal rights activist
Wildlife rehabilitator -- not an animal rights activist
Dog trainer -- not an animal rights activist
Prosecuting attorney -- not an animal rights activist
Doting pet owner -- not an animal rights activist
Government kennel inspector -- not an animal rights activist
Neighbor who complains because you are beating your cat -- not an animal rights activist
Animal shelter employee -- not an animal rights activist
Forest ranger -- not an animal rights activist

Are you getting this down in your little reporter notebook? Too many to remember? Let me make it easier for you:

Stop calling everyone who works with animals or tries to make the world better for them an animal rights activist. Because it pisses us off.

Unless someone tells you (you can ask)* that he is an animal rights activist, he probably isn't.

Even if he does tell you that this is what he is, you should follow up with two lines of inquiry:

1) Does this person engage in sustained activism -- political or social conduct that is more than ordinarily frequent, vigorous, and intense -- in order to advance...

2) ... the notion of legal, political, and social equivalency of the interests of non-human animals relative to those of members of homo sapiens?

Unless you can answer yes and yes upon exploring those two questions, cool it with the "animal rights activist."

You should probably use a grain of salt when anyone in the entertainment industry or the Why-the-hell-is-this-idiot-famous industry gets naked on a PeTA billboard. Activist? Maybe. Whore? Definitely. Career in need of a boost? Ding ding ding ding ding ... The same whore is going to order medallions of veal for dinner tonight and will be sporting a baby panda-skin hoodie the first time the "It" designer throws one at her.

I'm not going to get into further details here. I'm not going to explain that animal "rights" is a misnomer when applied to this political/philosophical camp, because the doctrine is actually a form of unreformed radical Utilitarianism that rejects the notion of rights for anyone and substitutes a pleasure/pain calculus that does not respect individual boundaries. I'm not going to give you a condensed history of the animal welfare movement or explain the difference. I'm not going to dust off my political philosopher hat and explore what a rights-based construct of our obligations towards non-human animals might entail. (It would probably be a Rawlsian/Kantian framework, with some touchiness in the hard details.) I'm not going to lay out all the reasons why PeTA is not, in fact, an organization with any expertise about animals or a sliver of moral standing to speak for them,** or why veganism is not the same thing as eating while mindful of one's environmental impact or effect on animal welfare. I'm not going to expose HSUS and ASPCA and Best Friends Animal Sanctuary as unprincipled fund-raising mills that snatch food from the mouths of puppies and kittens in animal shelters nationwide.

I'm not even going to promise to find the next "journalist" who invokes "Fluffy and Fido" in his next pet-related article and beat him until his liver turns black.

Another day, another savage mauling. For today, just knock it the hell off with the "animal rights activist."


* Our former neighbor Larry actually introduced himself that way. Swear to Dog, his first words to us when we moved in to Baldwin were, "Hi, I'm Larry, I'm an animal rights activist."

Seriously, how does one respond to that?

He was walking his nice little shepherd mix, Duchess, at the time. Duchess was wearing an improperly-fitted chain collar that Larry didn't know how to use, so it was a true "choke collar." And remained so. Poor Duchess. PeTA didn't approve of training her. She never got off that leash.

** And thus, why any reporter who quotes PeTA about any animal welfare issue is a lazy sack of shite who should have his space-bar thumbs cut off and fed to the ferrets.


  1. The only thing you didn't mention was the "gone to the dogs" phrase which all journalists seem to think is mandatory in covering any story about dogs.

  2. I don't particularly want to be called an animal rights activists either. Someone on the blog today called me an irresponsible idiotic jackass. I'm good with that.

  3. It may not be productive, but it sure feels good, occasionally, to beat your head against the wall. Just to take the edge off the frustration.


  4. Your mention of utilitarianism reminded of the last time I heard someone explicitly mix philosophy and animals:

    Don't take him too seriously, you might strain something.

    I'm apparently not an animal rights activist either - I guess the closest I come is an "animal cooking activist" or something like that. (People Eating Tasty Animals?)

  5. No one takes McMahon seriously. He does enough of that for everyone.

    Seriously, New York Times is really in a tailspin lately.

  6. You made my day.

  7. i don't know how to tell you how much i love this. thank you.

  8. May I never end up on your bad side.

  9. The expression "animal rights" is a misnomer. What those who profess those sort of views mean to say is that they are "animal supremacists", that is, that the needs of non-human animals should, in every case, outweigh the needs of humans. Oppose them or accept a world of medicine stopped in its tracks, starvation in third world countries and among the poor in all countries and less freedom in ours.

  10. ferrets?/ how about wolverines??
    "I would like to feed your fingertips to the wolverines.. I am afraid we are out of badgers"

    LOL first skit ever on Saturday Night Live.
    Great Blog.

  11. Linking to this post right now.

    If I had a dollar for every time someone referred to me as an "animal rights activist" or as "big on animals rights" well, let's just say I could take a nice vacation.

    I'm also considering carrying a pamphlet with me to make things a bit easier "Animal Rights vs. Animal Welfare."

    Great post.

  12. Brava!
    Clearest explanation I've ever read.

  13. And because I am a dog breeder, to most of the world I am also a puppy mill.

    Except to the ACTUAL mills and commercial breeders, who call me an "Animal Rights Activist", because I happen to think that raising puppies in rabbit hutches isn't good animal husbandry.

  14. As you know, I'm not too keen on raising RABBITS in rabbit hutches.

    Another thing that makes me an animal rights activist, I guess.

    (And yeah, after a nonproductive fall and winter, the leporarium is now *producing* big time. Like bunnies, they are.)

  15. Genius!

    I could write a whole blog on this subject. But I won't because that would make me one of those loonies you were talking about. There are enough of those in this town as it is.

  16. It might amuse you to know that, after my attention was called to this post, I linked to it on the Greater Derry Humane Society Facebook page, which I manage. I added a few comments of my own. And lost two followers because of it.

    Oh, and gained five more...there is hope for the human species yet. :)

  17. Just looked at that FB thread, such as it was.

    "Irony" is also a three-syllable word, but it seems to have escaped the individual with the reading comprehension problem.

    I don't think I was particularly dissing AR activists in this post. If I *was* an AR activist, I'd also be pissed about every Tom, Dick and hairy dog owner being ID'd as one of me when clearly they are not.

  18. I got tossed off a competition obedience list once, having been mistaken for an AR activist.

    Dimwitted reporters sadly don't have a corner on the failure to distinguish between reasonable concerns for animal welfare and the fantastic stupidity associated with taking dogs (or lesser critters) to be equal to human children in both value and entitlement.

    Thank you for this post. I might be willing to go naked in public if that would compel the universe to read it, but I'm not really the activist type.

  19. Ruth, the difference between lazy-ass "journalists" and hypervigilant list owners is that the list owner knows that there is a difference between an "animal person" and an "animal rights activist."

    He just fails to identify the relevant field marks.

    The "journalist" doesn't know there is a difference, and doesn't care. Animal stories are, by definition, fluff pieces, trivial, unimportant. They are not important enough to merit getting the facts straight, about the animals themselves or the silly people who believe that they are important.

  20. Late to the party, but what the hay.

    As opponents of dog 'breed' banning, we are often referred to in the news as 'animal rights activists'.

    That's how lazy and ignorant they are.

    "AR activists" lobby for and support breed banning.

    But worse, we are dog owners' rights activists which would be the exact opposite.

    Laughed my head off, best post ever. Hope so journos actually read it.


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