The President of the Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle, is promoting his latest book, A Humane Economy. Pacelle was on the Bill Maher show this week and espoused the central mission of the HSUS—improve conditions of animals, including farm animals. Regarding farm animals, Pacelle recited the HSUS party line: free chickens from cages and, to a lesser extent, end strict confinement of other farmed animals. That agenda sounds good at first, in a superficial way—how could better treatment be a bad thing? Is it not, as the HSUS contends, undisputedly better for a chicken to be able to walk around inside the metal building where it is consigned to live its life than to suffer confinement in a cage in which it cannot even move? I agree, but the fallacy is that those options—able to move or cruelly confined— are your choices. Not only is that agenda overlooking a more direct and genuine choice to campaign against the entire practice of raising animals and slaughtering them, the “improvement” approach is actively detrimental. First, the problem is that a perfectly clear message underlies the position of the HSUS about ending certain farming practices—namely, that raising animals for food is okay, there are just some practices that should be eliminated. The more Pacelle talks about improving conditions for farm animals, the more he reinforces the cultural and food industry standard notion that there should be such a thing as the farming of animals for their flesh and secretions, supporting the wholly erroneous conclusion that there is some way the food industry can raise a sentient creature for slaughter that is acceptable — not cruel, not miserable, and that does not culminate in a terrifying death. The second and related objection to the Pacelle / HSUS mission of “improvement,” is that every time he engages in that argument, an important opportunity is missed. So rarely is the general public treated to any idea at all about farm animals that any opportunity must be seized to jumpstart the typical conscience with the reality that the flesh wrapped up in the grocery store was a living creature with interests, feelings, intelligence, and a capacity for suffering. What would have lolled with pleasure in the sun, taken care of its young, walked over to a human to have its belly rubbed is now ground up into parts for humans to chew. Pacelle and Maher don’t go there; in fact nobody does, except on the internet for a self-selective audience.
Why are the HSUS and Bill Maher and the media generally keeping the meat industry’s horrible machine away from the public eye and ear? That will remain a rhetorical question, as I continue to wonder. There is one risk in making the public aware (not that such a risk is preventing the attempt of raising awareness): people (or some people) might become inured to it, the way we have apparently come to accept that there will be mass gun killings of children. If, no matter how brutal and bloody and cruel meat production is, one will adjust to find it acceptable, then the next approach is to hammer home to the public how much it is in its own interests to quit meat. There are three parts to the appeal to self-interest: health, the environment, and style. Get the guest on the popular talk show who will once and for all dispel the myth that meat and milk are part of a good diet; interview the scientists who have proven that the meat industry is the worst greenhouse gas contributor; play to people’s vanity by getting vegan celebrities to speak out about their fabulous meatless lifestyles—if people must dress or cut their hair like a celebrity, why would they not be motivated to eat like one?
Whether the revolution is based on showing the truth or cynically/realistically appealing to self-interest, “make conditions better” should never be the only message. But who will be the new messenger? Not apparently the HSUS or Bill Maher (who says he loves animals more than humans (proving what never needs to be proven that actions not thoughts count), not the celebrities who, as far as I know, have not organized a single protest, rally, public campaign, or awareness raising event. Who is in a position to make a difference and will try?
I want a messiah. There are so many organizations concerned about farm animals, yet they do not connect with each other to spearhead a vigorous campaign; there are so many vegan celebrities, but not one has taken on the task. My frustration at the lack of a leader brings to mind William Wallace in Braveheart, that highly fictional account of Scotland’s struggle for freedom. Wallace, knowing that he can only do so much on his own and desperate for Robert the Bruce to undertake what only the Bruce stands a chance of accomplishing, pleads with fervor, “Unite us! Unite the clans.”
Please, someone, unite us!