Thursday, April 11, 2013

On PETA Critiques: Dogs and Cats for Capitalism

I believe in animal welfare.  I believe in and practice ethical hunting and fishing practices.  I believe in pasturing animals and feeding them biologically appropriate food, organic if I can get it.  I support legislation that could make my meat more expensive, but would make conditions better for animals.  I believe in no animal testing for cosmetics or simple curiosity and phasing out animal testing for pharmaceuticals.  I also will mention that when I think about social justice movements that willfully crap on other social justice movements, I think about PETA.  PETA is perfectly comfortable using racist, misogynistic, homo/transphobic, and otherwise oppressive images to sell animal rights, a philosophy I do not adhere to anymore.  I believe PETA is irredeemably problematic.

What I don't believe is distracting people by making the issue about dogs and cats.

PETA has a euthanasia policy.  If you bring a dog or cat to PETA's doorstep, nine times out of ten even if that animal is adoptable their staffers are going to kill them.  This is fact.  It's not something I'm making up to slander PETA.  They even admit it on their website.  For some perspective, though, remember that animal shelters in the United States kill around 4,000,000 animals a year.  PETA kills around 2,000.  This is because companion animal overpopulation is an ever-present issue that can't be solved by building more animal shelters.  There simply aren't enough homes for all adoptable animals, and building yet another shelter will simply place a bandaid on a gushing wound.  Focusing on PETA's involvement is a massive red herring.

But I'm not here to tell you you should support PETA's euthanasia policy, and I certainly am not trying to get you to support PETA, which I already labeled an oppressive and problematic organization.  Rather, I think it's important that people understand why so many people are outraged about the euthanasia policy; in fact, why people even know about the euthanasia policy despite it being somewhat unremarkable.  This was a targeted, coordinated attack by industries that regularly profit off of animal cruelty.

The website "PETA Kills Animals" was created by the Center for Consumer Freedom.  The name itself is misleading; the CCF is not run by consumers or in the interests of consumers.  It's a lobby group representing food- and tobacco-related industries.  Its startup funding was provided by that champion of health and wellness the Philip Morris company, and its subsequent funders include Coca-Cola, Wendy's, Anheuser-Busch, Tyson, Monsanto, and Pilgrim's Pride among others.  Despite its tagline stating that it's fighting for consumer "choice," what the CCF does is attempt to keep consumers in the dark so that they don't have the opportunity to make those choices.  For example, they fiercely oppose labeling genetically modified organisms on packaging as well as labeling calories on restaurant menus.  Despite your opinion on GMOs or calories, these betray the organization's lack of interest in consumers being the ones making choices.

In other words, the reason you know about PETA's euthanasia policy is because PETA disrupts unregulated capitalism.  Now, PETA certainly has a capitalism-preserving agenda (just read any of their vegetarian starter kits and play "count the brand names"), but it does hinder the ability of these industries to abuse animals without at least some accountability.  Corporate desire for unregulated capitalism is the seed from which accusations of this manner grow.

Dogs and cats are used as a distraction because they play into peoples' preconceived, speciesist, and capitalism-preserving notions of what animal rights and welfare are supposed to fight for.  If you point the finger at PETA for euthanizing animals, you can ignore breeders who pump out inbred puppies to sell for profit.  More importantly, though, by fixating our attentions on dogs and cats these front groups prevent us from analyzing where the animal products we eat come from and whether or not we're comfortable with that truth... regardless of whether or not we go vegetarian.

But it goes even deeper.  Not only are they using dogs and cats to distract us from the abuse of other animals, they're distracting us from recognizing the oppressive nature of PETA campaigns, something PETA has in common with the corporations fighting against it.  Use of misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia, slut shaming, religious bigotry and assumptions, and deception are the status quo of the advertising industry, so the CCF rarely brings these subjects up except to backhandedly ridicule the idea of speciesism being accepted as a form of oppression.  The most problematic elements of the PETA doctrine are ignored in favor of more and more people complaining that they kill dogs and cats and don't build animal shelters.

I have more things to say about the animal rights movement, many of which aren't necessarily supportive.  What I do want to get across with this is that PETA, and animal rights in general, should not be criticized using an oppressive capitalist lens, especially one that fully ignores the purpose of the organization, whether or not you agree with that purpose.