Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Big problems

In a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof discusses our moral obligations with regard to world poverty and muses on what leads people to turn the other way. He draws from the work of philosopher Peter Singer, who many of you may know from his writings about animal ethics.

Kristof points out that people are less likely to help when a problem is framed as very large and less specific. He cites the title of an upcoming essay by psychologist Paul Slovic: "The more who die, the less we care." Kristof writes that "humanitarian appeals emphasize the scale of the challenges — 25,000 children will die today! — in ways that are as likely to numb us as to galvanize us."

This should ring a bell for animal rights advocates. We all know that the numbers are staggering -- ten billion animals slaughtered every year in the United States alone, and many more when including fish. Perhaps we would do well to avoid overemphasizing the sheer scale of the problem. Instead, we could focus on how our individual choices are linked to animal cruelty while including positive arguments as well.


  1. couldn't agree more! Stalin said something like "one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic"...and he would have known!

  2. Agreed! You've probably read "The Sexual Politics of Meat" by Carol J. Adams, but if not, it's a must-read for every vegan activist! In that book, she talks about how we take the individuality out of the individual animals by de-subjectifying/objectifying them. People care about individuals. Show them how animals are individuals. Tell them one poignant story, and then say (for example), "This is happening every time you sit down to eat a bowl of dairy ice cream."