News, Information, and Knowledge Resources

MORE THAN WORDS: Should the animal rights movement make use of ‘deliberative’ activism?

The advancement of animal rights is a matter of life and death for billions of sentient beings. Given the sheer urgency of the matter, it is not surprising that direct action activism often-times feels right for animal rights activists: It feels right to do something, rather than to engage in an exchange of reasons with their opponents.

FRIDIRIKE SPANG: To date, animal rights activists rely primarily on non-deliberative activism, such as strikes, protests, boycotts, demonstrations, leafleting, rescue actions, etc. In contrast to such non-deliberative forms of protest, recent work by Robert Garner and Lucy Parry emphasizes the potential benefits of deliberative democratic structures for the animal rights movement…  This paper addresses the question of whether the animal rights movement should make use of “deliberative activism”, i.e., activism based on deliberative processes, including both public and private political conversations…

This paper aims to contribute to this endeavor by putting deliberative activism under scrutiny. More specifically, this paper evaluates three proposed benefits of deliberation for the animal rights movement: 1) deliberation can change (moral) minds; 2) deliberation can counter the “ideological hegemony” of the animal industry; 3) de- liberation can avoid both alienation of stakeholders and reputational damage to the movement. I argue that whether the animal rights movement can reap these benefits depends to a large degree on whether the deliberative processes in question are designed to support recognition respect, that is, respect for each other as persons…

However, concerns at whether animal rights activists want to use deliberative activism in the first place have been raised in this regard. The advancement of animal rights is a matter of life and death for billions of sentient beings. Given the sheer urgency of the matter, it is not surprising that direct action activism oftentimes feels right for animal rights activists: It feels right to do something, rather than to en- gage in an exchange of reasons with their opponents.

Indeed, D’Arcy raises the concern that animal rights activists may not consider a deliberative exchange of reasons to be sufficient for achieving their goals. He states that “direct action animal advocates are, in general, far less confident than many deliberative democrats that reason-giving in the context of public discussion can be a sufficient vehicle for advancing social justice”. Or, as Peter Sankoff puts it, “when someone concerned about animals looks at the state in which so many of these beings suffer today, it is undoubtedly difficult to accept that the answer to the problem is simply more talk”.
While such reactions may be understandable on the part of animal rights activists, it is important not to be misled by feelings of urgency.

Rather, the urgency of the issue is precisely the reason why we need to carefully evaluate which strategies are the most effective. I have argued in this paper that deliberative activism can be effective for animal rights activists, but only if deliberation is designed to support recognition respect. Respect- based deliberative activism can not only cause a change of mind in the participants but also avoid potential dis- advantages of non-deliberative activism, such as mutual alienation and reputational damage.

This does not mean, however, that animal rights activists should always favor deliberative over non- deliberative activism. Both kinds of activism have their benefits, and each may be suitable depending on the specific goal. If, for example, the goal is to raise large-scale awareness for the suffering of non-human animals, direct action activism, such as the streaming of under- cover footage on social media channels, is likely to be more effective than a deliberative setting, which is inherently confined to smaller groups. In contrast, if the goal is to affect policy-making more directly, respectful deliberation between relevant stakeholders can go a long way within the deliberative system.

Moreover, Sankoff demonstrates that animal welfare is supported more effectively by the law when the legislative process is accompanied by public deliberation on the topic. Therefore, even though deliberative activism may not always seem appropriate given the urgency of the matter, in the end, “more talk” is precisely what can propel the animal rights movement towards its goals.

Another concern is that animal rights activists may be unwilling to engage in deliberation with their opponents because they are unwilling to accept any outcome other than a consensus on their own position. Put differently, for animal rights activists, the question arises: If the goal of deliberation is to compromise on the rights of non-human animals — or even to change their own mind on the issue — why should they participate in the first place?

To address this motivational problem, animal rights activists must understand the benefits of deliberating with their moral opponents. As Parry states, “if it could be shown that a deliberative approach to animal advocacy could secure a better outcome for animals than the current or non-deliberative approaches, animal rights activists might be more open to embodying something closer to deliberative ideals”.

Based on the arguments of this paper, it is important to inform animal rights activists that respect-based deliberative activism can a) reduce their interlocutors’ emotional aver- sion to engage with arguments in favor of animal rights, and, therefore, b) increase the likelihood that their interlocutors will truly listen to their arguments and potentially change their minds; c) counterbalance the ideological hegemony of the animal industry, and d) avoid both alienation of important stakeholders and reputational damage to the animal rights movement.

When giving animal rights activists an understanding of these distinct benefits of deliberative activism, it will be likewise important to raise awareness of potential pitfalls. Above all, it needs to be emphasized that recog- nition respect is fundamental to reaping the presumed benefits. It needs to be clear that without respect for each other as persons, deliberative activism may not work or even be counterproductive for the animal rights movement.

On the positive side, recognition respect will likely come easily to animal rights activists, given that it already tends to be an important aspect of their daily life. After all, which animal rights advocate does not have a parent, friend, or co-worker whom they dearly respect as a person but whose views on non-human animals they find reprehensible? Given this practice in simultaneously experiencing deep respect and strong disagreement, I suspect that many animal rights activists are already well- prepared to maintain a respectful attitude when deliberating with their opponents. SOURCE…


You might also like