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The Compassion Industry

Note: Keep in mind while you read this article, that the animal condition is an unconscious transposition of the human condition. This is, in other words, a mirror image of our own reality. Just think of the fake conservatives or the fake Green party, for example, they pretty much function like PETA.

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Ethicists, animal lawyers, veterinarians, vegetarians, and animal protection groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and even environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), all of whom are theoretically sympathetic to the cause of animals and nature, are, paradoxically, stops along a “quest for innocence” that is, in most cases, merely a farce responding to egocentric ambitions. (1)(2)

According to Italian ethnologist Sergio Dally Bernardina, “the eminently symbolic task of all these social agents comes down to clearing the name of the collective by maintaining the illusion that not all humans agree on the cruel fate reserved to other species, other people, and nature in general.” (3)

Their official image is that of the activist, or the specialist in animal ethics, but it would perhaps be more accurate to compare them to the figure of the priest, or that of the prophet. […] The community asks them to give up meat. Some of them do so only in part, feeding abundantly on fish, shellfish and other living creatures considered less sensitive. Others, like monks who take a vow of chastity, practice total abstinence. The most inspired, in the manner of the saints and medieval mystics, attain a considerable thinness that is well suited to their role as symbolic mediators. These mediators are supposed to define the frameworks of access to animal resources (and thus to the very life of the resource in question). The fundamentalists – that is their role – are asked to proscribe all trade with animal meat. The others are more flexible. Their argument, which is profoundly utilitarian (which may be surprising given the Franciscan style that distinguishes the brotherhood), focuses on the notion of animal welfare. (4)

This comedy serves, among other things, to resolve the moral tensions caused by our lifestyle by making people believe that change is imminent. In exchange, the activists who are put on show gain in self-esteem, and so does the community, for they are its emissaries, in the spirit of this text by Friedrich Nietzsche from The Antichrist:

Having sacred tasks, such as improving, saving, or re-deeming mankind – carrying the deity in his bosom and being the mouthpiece of imperatives from the beyond – with such a mission a man naturally stands outside all merely intellectual valuations: he himself is sanctified by such a task, he himself is a type of a higher order! (5)

Thus, what is at stake is not so much change as the hope or idea of change, with the ephemeral feeling of well-being that it provides at a small price. Seventeenth-century cynics like La Rochefoucauld were well aware of this cultural machination, which they defined as “the tribute that vice pays to virtue.” These movements represent, in other words, a form of sentimentalism, which brings about far less actual change than hope for change. (6) Meanwhile, it’s business as usual.

The well-intentioned animal activist is born through his ability to identify with suffering animals; he recognizes himself in them. His efforts to change their condition, although sincere, are also an indirect attempt to put an end to his own suffering. (7)(8)(9)(10) But, as he loses himself in action, as he forges friendships with other militants, as he obtains certain results in terms of sympathy capital, as he climbs the ranks of power, his self-love increases to the detriment of his cause. (11)

The story of the thief who cries robbery

To better understand the phenomenon, let’s take a close look at the journey of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the most in-vogue “animalitary” group in the world, with 9 million members and millions of dollars in donations each year.

PETA was founded in 1980 by Ingrid Newkirk and her associate Alex Pacheco. Originally, this organization was pure, hard-core abolitionist, radically opposing any and all forms of animal exploitation, without exception. As the following citations show, they would have been the first to denounce the exploitation of animals as pets, without compromise:

You don’t have to own a squirrel or a starling to enjoy them. Someday we want to put an end to pet shops and animal farming. Chicago Daily Herald, March 1, 1990

As the number of dogs and cats (artificially created by centuries of forced breeding) dwindles, pets would eventually fade out, and we would return to a more symbiotic relationship — the remote appreciation of animals. Ingrid Newkirk, Just Like Us

Let us allow the dog to disappear from our brick and concrete jungles – from our firesides, from the leather nooses and chains by which we enslave it. John Bryant, Fettered Kingdoms: An Examination of a Changing Ethic,  PETA, 1983.

The bottom line is that people don’t have the right to manipulate or to breed dogs and cats…If people want toys, they should buy inanimate objects. If they want companionship, they should seek it with their own kind. Ingrid Newkirk, PETA, Just Like us.

All forms of exploitation and abuse are wrong. Ingrid Newkirk, Wikipedia. The free encyclopedia.

From the beginning, PETA focused on high-profile interventions. Its leaders especially targeted research laboratories in which vivisection was practiced. With the help of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), which it fully endorsed at the time, PETA succeeded in infiltrating a number of research centers operating in atrocious conditions and then in forcing them, to temporarily close. These results won them considerable media coverage, which translated to a substantial increase in new supporters and, of course, donations.

Little by little, as they gained visibility and power, the heads of PETA relied more and more on their member support. Although in the beginning PETA refused to negotiate on their principles, as they gained notoriety, their dependence on members required making compromises. When they realized that their most faithful supporters were dog and cat owners, Pacheco and Newkirk stopped recognizing pet ownership as exploitation and abuse. To save their image, they also cut ties with the pet-loving Animal Liberation Movement (which has since then been rehabilitated). Thanks to these political adjustments, they managed to attract many new supporters. (12)

Ingrid Newkirk, the highly visible CEO of this multinational non-profit, has since tirelessly traveled the globe, staging sensational demonstrations and campaigns but without any genuine, worthwhile results. No one in the media would organize a debate on the unfortunate animal condition without inviting Newkirk, who plays her role marvelously. Well-articulated like any committed militant, she has an answer to every question, and her opinion is always sought out by the right-thinking currents of society. She has acquired enormous notoriety and sympathy capital. This represents a spectacular turnaround, further rewarded by juicy corporate donations and a heap of marginal benefits that cannot be measured solely in monetary terms. (13)

One thing has led to another, and PETA has adopted reformism, or small-steps politics. Their objective has become sitting down with authorities to find solutions that will relieve animals of some misery within the framework of continued exploitation. For example, following long negotiations, PETA succeeded in obtaining a promise from the poultry industry – yes, a “promise” – that the perimeter of battery cages would be increased…by two inches! Or was it two centimeters? It doesn’t really matter! (14)

Ingrid Newkirk

In this way, PETA mutated from its original abolitionist stance into a movement for the defense of animal welfare. Behind a more muscular rhetoric, they share the objectives of welfarists: to improve the animal condition within the status quo. So, when you hear the words “animal liberation” or “abolition,” you should understand “slight improvement of the animal condition”; “putting an end to suffering” means “reducing suffering,” which is vague terminology with no substance, and which could be taken to mean anything; and “animal rights” has come to mean “animal welfare.” (15)

What is less recognized, however, is the fact that PETA—along with the Animal Liberation Front which advertises on its website one of America’s largest pet promoters, PetSide—has meanwhile become the most ultra-sophisticated promoter possible of the pet industry and pet shops such as PETCO, which fully endorses PETA. Its alibi: the defense of other categories of animals. Go to their website, if you are curious, and you will find their policy on pets which they fully condone as long as owners get them neutered to stop overpopulation and obtain their pet by adoption, two superficial measures which viciously worsen the problem because they fail to address the root causes: the fake human-animal studies on the positive benefits of pets, which are used to promote the pet business. By a strange twist of fate, Ingrid Newkirk becomes a notorious dog lover: “I don’t have the luxury of having a dog myself because I travel too much, but I love walking and cuddling somebody else’s dog.”

Predators of a New Kind

Caught up in their own game, such predatory groups have four major concerns: keeping the secret of their real activities, hiding their multiple collusions with the corporate world that exploits animals on a large scale, finding ways to draw money from their sympathizers, and controlling the information given to journalists to better manipulate public opinion. In order to accomplish all this, notes investigative journalist Olivier Vermont, author of the book The Hidden Face of Greenpeace,

[…] these organizations must conserve their façade of efficiency at any price. They do so by orienting their activities towards the sensational and short-term, in order to bluff not only their own militants, but also those who support them financially. Operating mostly in secret, they can go so far as to fool the public regarding the actual results of their campaigns by awarding themselves fictitious crowns of laurel. (16)

Thus, creating an illusion of rigor and demonstrating a certain panache, even insolence, is a primary tactic used to convince the public that an organization’s function is authentic and legitimate. But for all their show, these groups fail to question some of the sacrosanct dogmas that underlie the battles they fight such as the fake studies on the human-animal bond that are used to promote the demand for pets, the very thing they are supposed to be fighting. To sum up their philosophy: We have to be outraged enough to be credible; after all, people aren’t total idiots. We have to give them their money’s worth, but without bringing up the underlying causes of the problem that even we do not want to look at!

Having your cake and eating it too

As a general rule, because our attention is naturally drawn to the obvious, the true issues escape the radar. This renders them far more persuasive than if they were explicitly stated. Herein lies the most demoniacal aspect of this logic: when we react strictly downhill to consequences without bothering to go uphill and question the legitimacy of their root causes, the founding credo, we only condone and reinforce the source of the problem. (17)

Consider the message behind this slogan, whose aim is to promote “responsible” pet ownership: “Adopting an animal is for life!” On the surface, it caters to the desire to make society kinder towards animals. However, by silently buying into the fallacies of the human-pet bond, it does more to nullify the wanted effect of saving animals and to amplify the dreaded effect of consumerism, with all its inseparable atrocities.

This is how people who aim to protect animals end up instead smilingly contributing to the heinousness of the industry. Their involvement within the accepted confines of the present system only gives strength to its basic building blocks. Thus, paradoxically, those who defend animals PETA-style only worsen the problem they are trying to solve, precisely because they do so with the exact same frame of mind that created the problem in the first place. This explains, in a nutshell, why the animal condition has deteriorated over the past 300 years and why it will continue to do so. As Henry David Thoreau says in Walden,

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve.

A commonplace strategy of denial

In general, those who play the Better Man are bona fide but unaccustomed to thinking outside this ready-made logic, their consciences having been skewed by a superficial way of thinking that misinterprets reality. Some know but do not want to know that the game is falsified. Out of fear of the void that would be left upon losing that which makes them shine, through cognitive dissonance , they succeed in obscuring the truth, refusing to be conscious of it.

In the words of French philosopher, Blaise Pascal:

Man aspires to greatness and sees himself as wretched; he wants to be happy and is miserable; he wants to be perfect and sees that he is full of imperfections; he wants to be loved and admired by other men, and sees that his faults merit only their hatred and scorn. The predicament in which he finds himself produces the most wrongful and criminal passions imaginable, as he harbors a deep hatred for that truth which con-vinces him of his faults. (18)

References and Notes

  1. Luc Boltanski, La souffrance à distance: morale humanitaire, médias et politique (Suffering at A Distance: Humanitarian Morality, Media, and Politics), Métailié, 1993.
  2. Sergio Dalla Bernardina, L’éloquence des bêtes (The Eloquence of Animals), Métailié, 2006.
  3. Ibid, p.185.
  4. Ibid, p.186.
  5. Friedrich Nietzsche, L’Antéchrist, Gallimard, p. 24, 1974, cited on p. 15 by Sergio Dalla Bernardina, work cited.
  6. Patrick West, Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes It Really Is Cruel to Be Kind, 2002, Civitas.
  7. Faking it: The Sentimentalization of Modern Society, Edited by Digby, Anderson, and Mullen, Social Affairs Unit, 1998.
  8. Éric Conan, « La zoophilie, maladie infantile de l’écologisme » (Animal-Mania, Infantile Disease of Ecologism), Esprit, no 155, pp. 124-126;
  9. Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, Perennial Classics, 1952.
  10. Sergio Dalla Bernardina, work cited; Luc Boltanski, work cited.
  11. Jeff Greenberg et al, “Why Do People Need Self-esteem? Converging Evidence That Self-Esteem Serves an Anxiety-Buffering Function,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1996, 63 (6), p. 913.
  12. Gary Francione, Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement, Temple University Press,1996: a cogent demystification of the animal right’s movement. One should know that Francione, a declared abolitionist, has 5 pets, he’s for adoption and doesn’t miss a chance to show-off his love of pets; Alan, Second Nature. The Animal-rights Controversy. Toronto: Stoddart, 1991; Luc Boltanski, “L’opacité du désir” (The Opacity of desire), work cited.
  1. Ibid.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Olivier Vermont, La face cachée de Greenpeace: infiltration au sein de l’internationale écologiste (The Hidden Face of Greenpeace : Infiltration at the Heart of the International Ecological Movement), Albin Michel, 1997.
  5. Olivier Reboul, Langages et idéologies, Presses Universitaires Françaises, 1984.
  6. Blaise Pascal, Pensées, Gallimard, 1977, p. 499.
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