A House Divided: Addenda

Two quick points that touch on the larger debate between abolitionists and welfarists:

a) Both abolitionists and welfarists sometimes take issue with the slavery analogy to animal rights. This objection can assume many forms, but it usually has something to do with the idea that slaveowners knew that slaves were human and thus did not have a species barrier to overcome, as animal rights advocates do today. If this is an opinion that you hold, I would urge you to read a book that I was recently reminded of by a friend. It’s called Birthing a Slave: Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South, by Marie Jenkins Schwartz. In it, you will find powerful evidence that masters treated slave and cattle reproduction with remarkable similarity, thus suggesting that, in the southern mindset (and in many northern minds), the difference between a black slave and a white freeman was as fundamental as that between humans and non-humans today. It’s a point that I believe powerfully supports use of the slavery analogy.



b) Abolitionists routinely make the point that welfarists have been doing their work for decades but have seen scant progress. Today, however, Mark Bittman reported that meat consumption in the United States is on course to drop by 12 percent since 2007. Bittman does not attribute this drop to welfarist pressure per se, but there’s ample reason to link at least some of this decline to the growing mainstream awareness of animal welfare, an awareness for which the efforts of PETA and HSUS can certainly take some (but by no means all) credit. That said, it’s probably a waste of time to try and measure in any quantitative manner the impact of either welfare or abolitionist approaches. Not only is it impossible to link improvement to one or the other with any definitive evidence, but there’s no way to measure what may have happened to the consumption of animal products has efforts not been made at all to raise awareness about animal welfare and animal rights. As I see it, yet another reason to build a bridge between these approaches.



About James McWilliams
I'm a historian and writer based in Austin, Texas. This blog is dedicated to exploring the ethics of eating animals and animal-based products.

2 Responses to A House Divided: Addenda

  1. Carolle says:

    Powerful connection. Thank you.

  2. Elaine says:

    When I hear people complain about the slavery analogy it’s usually because for them slavery carries so much pain that it hurts to think about. It becomes distracting and is a barrier to a deeper understanding/acceptance of animal rights.

    Like all analogies, it’s not a perfect fit. It should be abandoned whenever it inhibits progress.

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