Sunday, October 07, 2007

Slaves and Slaughterhouses...

The following editorial will be in the Prince tomorrow morning:

If you attended the Princeton Animal Welfare Society’s screening of the film Earthlings last week, you are now aware that 28 billion animals are tortured, exploited, abused, and eventually slaughtered for human consumption in the United States each year. But if you’re like most Princeton students, you didn’t go to the screening, and probably aren’t aware of that fact, much less been forced to think about it.

As of this week, though, every Princeton student passing by the Frist North Lawn will be forced to consider these issues, thanks to a series of panels set up by PAWS juxtaposing historical abuses of human beings with on-going abuses of animals, and comparing the justifications for each. The fact that the average student has not been to one of PAWS’s more sobering events, yet will be forced to think about animal welfare thanks to the Animal Liberation Project display, in and of itself shows why the eye-catching, controversial tactics employed by the demonstration are an unfortunate necessity to draw attention to an otherwise ignored issue.

That said, PAWS respects the position of individuals concerned about comparing the suffering of animals to the suffering of human beings, particularly those panels that show animal slavery alongside human slavery. That’s why PAWS reached out to a variety of campus groups before the demonstration arrived, giving them an opportunity to engage in dialogue with us about this exhibit. One of the most common fears expressed to us was that PAWS is suggesting that some groups are “no better than animals.” This concern is, of course, particularly acute for the campus’s African American community, who have experienced a legacy of discrimination that included the claim that they are more similar to animals that other human beings.

These concerned students are right about one thing – we are comparing humans to animals – but wrong to say that in doing so we are being racist or degrading. Sure, African Americans appear in the demonstration – as do Asians and whites, men and women, children and adults. The point of this demonstration is not to make any one race or group of human beings out to be more “animal-like” than the others, but instead to say that we are all animals, insofar as we all want to live lives of dignity, free from suffering. We are not trying to degrade anyone – humans or animals – but instead trying to raise all beings up to the level where their rights and interests are respected.

I know as well as you do that child laborers, slaves, political prisoners, and other groups depicted in the exhibit are not the same as chickens and pigs. We know, too, that all human beings differ from one another. In the end, however, it should not be our differences that matter, but our commonalities. What all human beings share is a desire to avoid suffering and live a life of our own choosing. Whether or not you accept it, the truth is that we share this desire with non-human animals as well.

Slave owners – just like animal exploiting meat-eaters today – justified their actions by seizing upon irrelevant differences like skin color or gender to draw lines between the exploited and the exploiter, the powerful and the powerless. Today, few people accept that the lines that divide us into categories of race, gender, or sexual orientation have anything to do with our right to live unfettered and our obligation to treat others with respect and dignity.

This demonstration is about tearing down one more barrier that has been used to justify discrimination – species. When we challenge the justifications for speciesism, we simultaneously combat racism, sexism, heterosexism, and other noxious forms of discrimination by attacking the ideology that underlies them all. This ought to be a cause that all of us, especially students from disadvantaged or minority groups, should be able to get behind.

It is easy to understand why so many people – even those genuinely committed to living an un-prejudiced lifestyle – have such a hard time with this exhibit. As I pointed out at the beginning of this editorial, few of us have ever been forced to think critically about our consumption of animals. This demonstration demands that we do by pointing out that meat eaters can justify their behavior only with the same delusional thinking that has led to centuries of abuses of human beings. Such a strong demand for change is bound to be a little disconcerting.

Individual change, however, is the only way that prejudice can truly be overcome. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “We must become the change we wish to see in this world.” If you want to see change, if you want to see an end to prejudice, then you live non-discrimination in your life. You can take a step to reject the ideology behind speciesism, racism, and sexism tomorrow, all at once: stop consuming animals. Becoming a vegetarian is change for the better of humans and of animals, embodied three meals a day.


  1. I saw your display and the images were very disturbing, especially the piglet getting his testicles ripped out (standard industry procedure, I hear!) - - but animals aren't people - it's just a pig! shouldn't we worry about the humans that are *still* being abused first?

  2. The beauty of the animal rights movement is that the best thing you can do for animals is also the easiest. It requires no extra time so you need not worry that you're ignoring human problems. Simply stop eating animal products. Everything else is supplemental, but going vegan is by far the best thing you can do to help animals. Try it sometime; it's not nearly as hard as it may seem.