In which I defend some aspects of PETA: or, sub-addendum to Legenda 54

This observation will be construed as political. It is political. However, it is a comment, not a prescription. I am not advocating anything. You should do exactly as you please to do with regard to this matter. I assume that you will do so anyway. This was originally a point from the Legenda directly above this post, and which is coming in a bit. I want to state how I feel. But I don’t want to argue about it because it is unlikely that my opinion will change. That’s why this is in a post with comments closed. I am also not tweeting it, though you certainly may do so.

Being aware of this story won’t stop me from seeing the film. I would probably have seen the film eventually at some point anyway, but I became this involved with wanting to see it immediately because of my support for the career of Richard Armitage. The only thing that would stop me from seeing the film at this point would be learning that all Armitage’s scenes had been cut, or the delivery of some information about Armitage that I found so unpalatable that it would unequivocally and immediately put an end to my interest in him. I cannot state what that information is, but what I know about this issue suggests that this is not it.

I have tremendous admiration for Peter Jackson as an artist, and I have said before that if it weren’t for him, I’d never have understood why The Lord of the Rings is such a big deal. His visualization of Middle Earth opened up a whole world to me, and even though I have many friends of longstanding allegiance to The Lord of the Rings who really dislike Jackson’s films and can marshal detailed explanations about why, I disagree with them and never hesitate to tell them so. I will always be grateful that Jackson put on screen a vision that helped me learn how to interpret texts that I now understand are world class works of great literature. What I have to say about this does not mitigate my perception of that side of Jackson.

I also know that Mr. Jackson and his organization have a lot on their minds most of the time. I can accept that details get lost when people are busy, because that happens in my own life, too. In essence, it’s not that I think that Jackson is personally responsible for this. At the same time, his name is the main one stuck to this production, which means that he also has the responsibility for dealing with this issue. I appreciate that he took the time to respond.

But, finally: an animal is not a detail. An animal is a living being. Made by G-d.

As for myself: I grew up in farm country and know that, while most farmers take good care of their stock not least because it lies in their interest to do so, sadly, even those who keep livestock are not universally immune from mistreating their animals. I also grew up in hunting country and so I am not especially crunchy on this issue. My father taught me to hunt, I shot a deer when I was a teenager at his behest, and I have helped my family butcher. I have written about this. At various times in my life I have been kosher vegetarian or vegetarian, but never out of concern for animal welfare. I am currently kosher vegetarian at home to keep my kitchen clean for those Jewish visitors who care about this issue, and in the street I occasionally eat meats that are not prohibited, even if they have not been slaughtered according to the kosher laws, and sometimes milk-meat combinations, which could be considered particularly appalling. But I’m not a big meat eater anyway; if it weren’t for kashrut I’d be a flexitarian. I acknowledge that my own positions may make my opinion on this seem inconsistent.

I agree with those who have stated that Jackson’s statement doesn’t really clarify the issue satisfactorily. I would like to learn more.

I also agree with those who have stated that even if no abuse occurred on set, one animal accidentally dead because of inadequate stabling under obviously dangerous circumstances is too many.

But the issue I most wanted to address: PETA.

First, while I agree that there’s a tendency in this discussion to dismiss claims precisely because they are brought by PETA, which is not fair to the claimants, and while I frequently wince when I see what PETA does (I am horrified by assaults on people wearing fur), at the same time, I would like to state that while I do not approve of every action PETA takes, I also do not despise them. This is why: because they do bring attention to the issues when others don’t. People in our fandom who cared about this specific issue found out about it because of what PETA did and not because of less “extremist” organizations that might also have cared if they had bothered to, but did not. Powerful people often get a pass on their actions precisely because they are powerful, because someone doesn’t want to anger them, or because people think that someone so important should get the benefit of the doubt. PETA has found a way around the sort of consideration routinely given to the powerful that enables abuse, and I believe this to be a good thing.

Second, I am not impressed by the argument that PETA is “only” capitalizing on the attention coming to the films. It’s interesting to me that “capitalizing on publicity” is acceptable or even urged when one agrees with the agent acting to exploit a particular media situation, and not acceptable when one doesn’t. Surely, if “only” capitalizing on the publicity attention for something (as opposed to what — really caring about it?) is a strategy that should be avoided for some moral reason, then it must be immoral for everyone who does it. In fact, however, all organizations that want to call attention to their goals behave in this way. They seek out opportune moments to bring their causes to public attention. And, in fact, I do believe that people who belong to PETA really do care about animals, even if the way they express it bothers me. I can’t imagine any other reason why they’d make themselves so universally disliked. So if “really caring” about something is the threshold that an organization has to cross in order to have their exploitation of publicity be acceptable, I believe that PETA meets that standard and thus also qualifies to capitalize on relevant publicity.

Frankly, I would welcome more coverage of animal welfare affairs in the media that dealt with the activities of non-extremist organizations. I think that we are unlikely to see it, both because, apart from when the law is broken in a particularly egregious case of abuse and a law enforcement agency intervenes, I don’t believe the press is likely to care all that much — everyday matters that might be questionable do not appear there–, and also because many of the non-extremist organizations seem afraid of offending their donors by saying anything controversial. That is something I respect about PETA, perhaps because I wish so often wish that I could find the strength to stand up more firmly for my own convictions in public when I witness an injustice.

Finally, it’s hard for me to see how change could occur on this issue without the activity of “extreme” organizations. I understand the argument that angering people is not the way to facilitate change, and in some situations I agree with it. This is not one of them, however. Most of us in the industrialized world are quite alienated from the ways in which treatment of animals facilitates our lives, and in my opinion, it never hurts when all of us are alerted to the fact that our behavior has consequences for other living beings. Do most people in the U.S. know that their cosmetics are tested on rabbits? I didn’t know that until PETA alerted me to it. Do most people know that animals left at animal shelters can be euthanized if they don’t find new homes, unless it is a no-kill shelter? I didn’t know that until PETA alerted me to it. But these are the kinds of things I want to know, to be able to consider among the factors that influence my life choices. The twentieth century is filled with examples of people who only succeeded in changing social injustices by taking “extreme” positions that called attention to their causes.

In essence, PETA as a group takes on the function of an apocalyptic prophet. We might not like what we hear from it or what it says to us or what our ignorance about its concerns says about us. We hear what it says and we’re not left cold: we’re troubled, angry. OK. What we should not be is dismissive. That we don’t like what it says, or wouldn’t say it that way ourselves, doesn’t mean its message is irrelevant to us, that the people who espouse its causes are worthy of our scorn.

[Comments closed.]

~ by Servetus on November 25, 2012.

3 Responses to “In which I defend some aspects of PETA: or, sub-addendum to Legenda 54”

  1. […] industry, and I found what I observed of his labor politics in 2010 nothing short of appalling. I still wonder about PETA’s accusations, although I admit that I didn’t follow the story to its resolution. In sum, I suspect very […]


  2. […] isn’t an expression of a belief that Forbes’ opinion in itself is illegitimate — I’ve said things about animal rights activism before and why I think it is necessary to the political sphere even if I disagree with the opinions of its […]


  3. […] born. I will be permanently suspicious of produce picking conditions in the U.S. because of them. In a similar way, PETA drew the question of animal testing into my view, even if I don’t endorse or agree with everything the group has done. Although I still use […]


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