Monday, April 20, 2009

The Problem with PETA

The thread on the latest PETA post has gotten long. Very, very long. And then I fell off of the grid for about a week, and no longer feel compelled to post my thoughts there. That doesn't mean that I'm not compelled to answer the questions my continually hounded friend asks, though, so I'm going to once again use him as a jumping off point to write a blog post. My friend ponders,
I was wondering if you think it's equally offensive when Peter Singer compares animals to black slaves, or when he compares apes to the mentally handicapped (another traditionally marginalized group).
I haven't read Peter Singer since sophomore year of college; without the text in front of me (or a strong memory of that text), I'm unprepared to make a judgement about whether or not it is equally offensive, or even offensive in its own right without needing a comparison with PETA. I would hazard to guess that Singer's own comparisons would in all probability be at the very least slightly offensive, for the same basic reason as the PETA ads: it takes a group of people, a group traditionally thought of as deficient or less in some shape or another, and turns them into objects in the course of furthering one's own cause. It is at best a "greater good" argument, and I'm not a big believer in the "greater good"; utilizing some populations for the greater good still leaves those populations being treated as simply tools, and that is unacceptable. It is unacceptable because in order for there to be a workable greater good, then the individual must be recognized as being a vital part of that good. It can't just be the individuals liked best by one organization or another, or the individuals fought for by one organization or another. The greater good is simply not a moral 'good' if individuals or groups are left behind in order to facilitate that victory. In the paraphrased words of one of my favorite characters, "Me and mine gotta be objectified so you can live in your better world?" I don't think so.

This is a problem that has been present in political and social organizations probably since the start of political and social organizations. That does not excuse the practice. Again, I have no recollection of Singer's allusions. But the problem with PETA is that while it may be true, as my friend contests, that:
Often, PETA’s goal in producing these ads is to compare the objectification of people to the objectification of animals – trying to link racism or sexism to “species-ism,
PETA is utilizing that objectification to further its own cause. The problem is that PETA is taking advantage of already present social inequities in order to make their point. This is an issue, because although their goal may be to link racism and/or sexism to species-ism, they are still complicit in creating and distributing sexist and racist images. They are still playing upon those social ills with no conscious - or at the very least public - recognition that by doing so, they are perpetuating those same social inequities. Their goal may be to draw more feminists and anti-racists into the fight against 'species-ism' - ignoring, for a moment, that feminists and anti-racists are more likely than not to have at the very least pondered these connections even if they have not accepted those connections' veracity - and their intent may not be to directly contribute to the continued sexist and racist images and lines of thought that are present in society; nevertheless, intention has very little impact on what is actually imparted. They create racist and sexist imagery, and there is no disavowals present in regard to those images. Which leads directly to this question:
Is there something about the nature of advertisements that makes these comparisons more offensive?
Without comparing the images or advertising to anything else, the medium - and how that medium is used - does go a long way to making the advertising offensive.

PETA's ads are like when hipsters (or others) 'ironically' use racist terminology; it is cloaked in the idea that because the person or organization using the terminology is 'progressive' or 'with it' or 'hip' or 'cool', then somehow the meaning behind the original terminology or image simply fades away or becomes unimportant. The opposite is more true. Being 'progressive' or 'with it' or 'hip' or 'cool' means recognizing the power of those images and that terminology, recognizing how intent does not shape the work independent of the societal reading of such a work, and recognizing how utilizing that terminology or image for one's own ends is the very opposite of progressive, or hip, or with it, or cool. And in both the hipsters' case and PETA's case, I suspect that knowledge is very much present - but that they feel they can play both sides of the fence on the issue.

While PETA claims to be drawing a line between racism and sexism (as well as racialized sexism) and their pet project of species-ism, they are also happily trading in on the titillation of those very images. In short, they are trying to pull in the progressive groups they are objectifying, as well as those who will not see the images as sexist or racist in the first place - or who won't care. A good friend of mine (heretofore known as My Good Friend - or MGF for short) put it best when he said, "When I see the ads of the lamb with leprosy, I want to help. When I see the ads of the hot women, I want to help to meet hot women". Like hipster racism (using racist words/imagery ironically disparage others' racism but to also get away with being racist), PETA is involved in activist sexism/racism. And that is the problem.

Part of it is definitely a media problem; it would be hard to both use a naked body to draw parallels to one's own cause and also disparage the use of such a body as well in a 8 1/2" by 11" glossy. That doesn't mitigate the problem, though. PETA chose the format; PETA chose the message; PETA chose, through certain ad campaigns, to further degrade their cover of simply trying to draw that line between oppressions. PETA chose to use the pictures they use, with no evidence of even trying to deconstruct the traditional pin-up model. Instead, they play quite cogently into that image with nary a hint that isn't exactly what we as the audience are supposed to take away from it. PETA designed the campaigns like PETA Striptease Quiz. My friend (not MGF, though I certainly consider him a good one), continues with this:
You have to place the ad in the context of PETA's larger argument, and that argument isn't racist by any means. In fact, it's an argument against marginalizing and dehumanizing certain groups. PETA is holding up the dehumanization of black slaves as an example something that's wrong - and that we should all recognize as wrong. That's the starting point.
Where is that point in the Striptease Quiz? When has PETA ever tried to continue the conversation past its original, sexualized, imagery? Where is the progress of thought? PETA's larger argument is flawed for a myriad of reasons, but none strike quite so quick as the fact that there is no larger argument presented in their images, in their ads, or in their demonstrations. They begin and end with the exploitation of marginalized bodies; without a continuation of that idea - in the places everyone sees - the 'larger argument' isn't one. The 'larger argument' loses its viability. Because the larger argument then becomes just a skirt to hide behind. If PETA's end goal is to broaden the conversation, then it is also partially PETA's responsibility to keep moving that conversation forward. They have continually failed in that duty; they have continued to simply pay lip service to the idea that the argument is "against marginalizing and dehumanizing certain groups" while marginalizing and dehumanizing the same groups that are and traditionally have been among the most vulnerable. That is PETA's problem. I doubt they are going to solve it any time soon.

24 comments:

John said...

It does seem a bit ridiculous for PETA to play the racism and sexism cards, only to downplay their importance in favor of specieism. I'm willing to bet that if PETA had a choice between eradicating one of those prejudices at the expense of the other, we'd be freeing the chickens and selling the wimmin-folk at market.

It's a bit bait-and-switch, isn't it? "Hey, does this atrocity being committed against women offend you? It should! Now, channel that outrage into equal rights for cows!"

MediaMaven said...

That PETA striptease quiz is really, really stupid. The pink background and incredibly girly style all around make it certain to drive away anyone who isn't a twelve year-old girl, and the entire presentation ruins the material. There's no connection between a striptease and animal rights, and by doing such an offensive quiz (even the music, with its oohs and ahs) they are cheapening their message, if it gets out at all. You get as many chances as you can to answer, guaranteeing that you will (slowly) remove the girl's clothes, but you won't learn anything.

I don't see the point of it at all, as the people who would actually stay on the site are small. It's too embarrassing all around.

The medium issue, too, in the context of the larger argument, is low on the list of issues PETA has. If their ad campaign didn't work it print, it could work through other forms, but that's clearly not the case, and PETA makes horrible advertising and message choices regardless of medium.

petpluto said...

It's a bit bait-and-switch, isn't it? "Hey, does this atrocity being committed against women offend you? It should! Now, channel that outrage into equal rights for cows!"Two things:

1) How could I have forgotten about the term bait and switch?! (grr) Arg! It was used in Dr. Horrible! I'm a terrible fan.

2) The cow thing is why I love you.

On a wholly separate note, I'm totally making a mental note to call you tomorrow. Hold me to it; I want to hear about the Twitter thing!

On a somewhat related note to that last point, candy is the devil.

That is all.

james oh said...

I love and salute you for providing a platform to voice out the social inequities issue here.

I strongly believe that this is the world phenomena - is so oblivious yet many opted to disregard the issue so as to carry on their lives. As such, there is a great urgently for us to do something to rectify the current situation.

As a result, it draw me in this discussion and offer some of my thoughts here.

Meanwhile, I can see that there are lots of people out there are capitalized make use of every opportunity to deceiving others so achieve the individual agenda. Needless to say, some are even make them appear to be the real hero fighting for good cause. But in practice, they don't walk as they preach yet swift enough to accuse others for claim for their individual mileage.

Sad to conclude that one lies lead to many lies. Immoral becomes norms, the moral becomes abnormal
or obsolete.

mikhailbakunin said...
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mikhailbakunin said...
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mikhailbakunin said...

“[T]heir intent may not be to directly contribute to the continued sexist and racist images and lines of thought that are present in society; nevertheless, intention has very little impact on what is actually imparted. They create racist and sexist imagery, and there is no disavowals present in regard to those images.”
Can we even evaluate people’s actions without first considering their intentions? In my mind, this is a fundamental tenet of morality – intentions matter.

Many of PETA’s ads present images that objectify “traditionally marginalized” groups for the purpose of challenging that objectification – presenting it as something that is inherently wrong. You’re arguing that any advertisement that features “racist” imagery – regardless of the intention of the advertiser – contributes to racism. This argument sounds strikingly similar to the argument leveled against “comprehensive” sex education – just showing it is the same thing as promoting it.

I think a bit of background might help put some of PETA’s ads into context.

PETA was founded in 1980, and its early marketing approach really evolved out of its association with Peter Singer. Singer was one of the first ethicists to link the objectification of animals to the objectification of traditionally marginalized minority groups. He published Animal Liberation in the 1970s, and the book quickly became the manifesto of the Animal Rights Movement. Singer, as you know, is a utilitarian and his arguments rely heavily on the concept of moral equivalence. PETA has based its entire case for “animal rights” on the idea of moral equivalence – which is why its advertising often juxtaposes human suffering with animal suffering.

PETA’s central argument is an argument for moral equality between animals and humans – an attempt to draw ethical parallels between the objectification of humans and objectification of animals. To suggest that PETA must make this argument without referencing historically marginalized groups seems absurd to me.

Like I said, PETA has produced some advertisements that objectify women (or men) simply to attract attention. The “Striptease Quiz” sounds like a good example of this, though I honestly haven’t seen it.

But we can’t fit all of PETA’s advertising into this one narrative; we have to look at the intent of each advertisement. Often, it seems like the most pilloried ads aren’t really sexist or racist at all. Ads comparing factory farms to concentration camps, for example, aren’t condoning anti-Semitism or promoting the objectification of certain minority groups. Instead, they’re attacking this kind of human cruelty.

On the other hand, ads that feature Pamela Anderson in the buff are clearly promoting the objectification of women.

There is an important distinction here that you seem to be dismissing.

petpluto said...

Many of PETA’s ads present images that objectify “traditionally marginalized” groups for the purpose of challenging that objectification – presenting it as something that is inherently wrong. You’re arguing that any advertisement that features “racist” imagery – regardless of the intention of the advertiser – contributes to racism. This argument sounds strikingly similar to the argument leveled against “comprehensive” sex education – just showing it is the same thing as promoting it.Many of PETA's ads featuring humans do not challenge objectification - that is the whole problem. They typically engage in the same types of objectification as the dominant society in order to further their own cause. They may claim that they do it as part of a larger argument - sexism and racism are bad! So is speciesism - but their ads generally do not promote that reading.

And honestly, I don't see how this argument could be compared to one made to arguments made against comprehensive sex ed. Sex, when done right, is a good and healthy and fun activity for all those involved. Racism and sexism really never is, especially when done right.

I think a bit of background might help put some of PETA’s ads into context.I know PETA's background; I just haven't read any of Singer's work beyond One World back in sophomore year, so I was uncomfortable making definitive statements about Singer's own work rather than the work of PETA.

PETA’s central argument is an argument for moral equality between animals and humans – an attempt to draw ethical parallels between the objectification of humans and objectification of animals. To suggest that PETA must make this argument without referencing historically marginalized groups seems absurd to me.Like I said in the post, one of the problems with PETA is that their ads, whatever the reason behind the production, are too simplistic, due in part to the medium in which they are produced. Rather, the ads are one-note, and that note tends to be the one that gains the most controversy. In that way, PETA doesn't create an argument or further the argument; they just want to get in the news.

I also have to say that there are real problems with appropriating another group's atrocities in order to further one's own agenda, in terms of respectful activist work. There are a couple of reasons for that, and I'm not well-versed enough in them to mount a full fledged dissertation about it.

However, I can say that utilizing one group's pain, especially when members of that group are likely to be around to be triggered again, is at best callous. Their KKK demonstration is a good example of this; the KKK as a group is still active in many areas. They are still around, they still demonstrate, and they converge in my state on a lot of MLK days. They continue to bring real fear to all sorts of minorities. And yet, that continued trauma is not considered by the members of PETA. The fact that they could be dredging up a flight or fight instinct in groups they are trying to reach all for the glory of some publicity demonstrates how low concern for *humans* really is.

There is an important distinction here that you seem to be dismissing.It's actually not something I'm dismissing; I think there are very few actually good PETA ads, though the bad ads in question may be bad in different ways. I tried to make some of those distinctions in this post, but I may have failed.

Regardless, I also think that by continuing to engage in sexist and sexualized racist campaigns, even if PETA's larger argument held any water, it would have long ago been so degraded by their willingness to utilize aspects of society that dehumanize it would almost cease to matter. I don't doubt that some of the members of PETA honestly believe they are working toward a 'greater good'; that doesn't mean they are. It doesn't mean that their ads *aren't* highly problematic.

Also, if you want to see the Striptease, it is linked.

mikhailbakunin said...
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mikhailbakunin said...

"Many of PETA's ads featuring humans do not challenge objectification - that is the whole problem. They typically engage in the same types of objectification as the dominant society in order to further their own cause. They may claim that they do it as part of a larger argument - sexism and racism are bad! So is speciesism - but their ads generally do not promote that reading."


Why don't their ads promote this reading?

When PETA juxtaposes an image of a human in bondage with an image of an animal in bondage, do you think that most readers interpret that as an endorsement of bondage? Or an endorsement of racism?

I don't know anyone who interprets these ads this way, even among those who are offended by them. Most people who I talk to see PETA's advertising for what it is - a campaign against cruelty.

I'm not really sure what you want PETA to do. Post a disclaimer of some kind?

It seems like this is just the nature of advertising - it doesn't lend itself to lengthy explanations. Advertising is supposed to be eye-grabbing and emotional; it's not really supposed to make a coherent argument. It's there to elicit a knee-jerk reaction.

"However, I can say that utilizing one group's pain, especially when members of that group are likely to be around to be triggered again, is at best callous."

I think it can be offensive and a bit callous. But that doesn't make it racist, and it doesn't make it wrong.

Like I said, many black Americans are highly offended at any suggestion that the Gay Rights Movement is somehow equivalent to the Civil Rights Movement.

Getting offended doesn't make you right. Being callous doesn't make you wrong.

petpluto said...

I think it can be offensive and a bit callous. But that doesn't make it racist, and it doesn't make it wrong.If nothing else, it undermines the argument that we should treat animals with the same respect as humans if they continually display a lack of respect and empathy for humans.

Why don't their ads promote this reading?Because a majority of their ads feature naked or semi-naked chicks in passive and suggestive poses, and if you happen to be a minority you might be lucky enough to get some animal print action going down?

When PETA juxtaposes an image of a human in bondage with an image of an animal in bondage, do you think that most readers interpret that as an endorsement of bondage? Or an endorsement of racism?I think it does what I said it does, which is to perpetuate how we see the bodies in question. It doesn't have to endorse something to play into the cultural themes already in place.

Like, the Holocaust ad. Ignoring for a second that there are still Holocaust survivors walking around who may not react well to seeing those images blown up on the side of a building, the use of that ad also ignores the fact that there are still Holocaust deniers - and they aren't exactly forced to the fringes of society, doing things like working in the White House and being Roman Catholic priests. It also ignores that anti-Semitism is still a problem, and that although a person may think that the Holocaust was bad, they can still feel like Jewish people are less than.

Which is a problem of the ads that utilize those sensationalistic images as a whole. They take the marginalized, and they say, "Animals should be as high as humans". But which humans do they use to make their point? Not the people who have traditionally had all of the rights of men, and who still do - white men - but people who are still struggling for equal rights.

It is like what John said:

It's a bit bait-and-switch, isn't it? "Hey, does this atrocity being committed against women offend you? It should! Now, channel that outrage into equal rights for cows!"That is a problem.

It seems like this is just the nature of advertising - it doesn't lend itself to lengthy explanations. Advertising is supposed to be eye-grabbing and emotional; it's not really supposed to make a coherent argument. It's there to elicit a knee-jerk reaction.Which is a problem if your defense of your ads is "there's a larger argument at work".

petpluto said...

On a whole other note, I swear I'm leaving lines between the quote and my response; they're just not showing up.

mikhailbakunin said...
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mikhailbakunin said...
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mikhailbakunin said...

Yeah, there’s something screwy with the HTML formatting on this comments page! I wound up deleting and reposting my comments a few times.


“I think it does what I said it does, which is to perpetuate how we see the bodies in question. It doesn't have to endorse something to play into the cultural themes already in place . . . . [T]he Holocaust ad ignores the fact that there are still Holocaust deniers”

I’m not trying to be flippant, but this seems like a totally unreasonable critique. The advertisement implicitly acknowledges the horrors of the Holocaust, and your argument can just as easily be applied to images in the Holocaust Museum or in a history book.


What matters here is the intent – why the advertiser is using this imagery. The only way to see these images as perpetuating anti-Semitism is to ignore or distort PETA’s obvious intentions.


“Which is a problem of the ads that utilize those sensationalistic images as a whole. They take the marginalized, and they say, "Animals should be as high as humans". But which humans do they use to make their point? Not the people who have traditionally had all of the rights of men, and who still do - white men - but people who are still struggling for equal rights.”

That’s because it wouldn’t make sense to link animals to groups that haven’t been marginalized or dehumanized. An image of an animal confined to a cage juxtaposed with an image of a white dude in a Ferrari doesn’t really get the message across.


If this is a bait-and-switch, as John suggests, then so are the arguments in favor of gay marriage, which link the Defense of Marriage Act to anti-miscegenation laws. Advocacy groups do this kind of thing all the time – connecting their cause to the cause of another marginalized group.


“Why don't their ads promote this reading? Because a majority of their ads feature naked or semi-naked chicks in passive and suggestive poses, and if you happen to be a minority you might be lucky enough to get some animal print action going down?

You can’t use the substance of one PETA ad to justify your reading of another. This leads to false assumptions. As MediaMaven explained, “that's looking for something that doesn't exist. It's biased thinking.” Knowing that some of PETA’s ads – or even a majority of them – have sexist overtones shouldn’t lead us to assume that all of PETA’s ads featuring women are sexist. And it certainly shouldn’t lead us to assume that other PETA ads are “racist” or “ageist” or “classist.”


Each ad needs to be judged on its own merits, looking at the specific intention of the advertiser.

petpluto said...

Each ad needs to be judged on its own merits, looking at the specific intention of the advertiser.I prefer to take a holistic approach. I also think that it is important to not only look at the specific intention of the advertiser, but at how those intentions of the organization as a whole come across through the myriad of advertisements they produce.

PETA's ads featuring people like Pamela Anderson demonstrate something about their particular philosophy. It says that they have no problem utilizing humans as objects - as meat - to further their organizational goals. It says that they feel as if they can play into societal norms that devalue women - and minorities - in the effort to pull more people to their cause. Given that, given how willing they are to devalue human beings while simultaneously attempting to lift animals up to that plane of existence in the minds of the general populace, I think it is appropriate to question their motives across their advertisements.

That’s because it wouldn’t make sense to link animals to groups that haven’t been marginalized or dehumanized.An image of an animal confined to a cage juxtaposed with an image of a white dude in a Ferrari doesn’t really get the message across. If you're looking to grant animals the full rights of personhood, it would. There are other ways to create ads than just the typical PETA method. Which is what part of the problem is.

Knowing that some of PETA’s ads – or even a majority of them – have sexist overtones shouldn’t lead us to assume that all of PETA’s ads featuring women are sexist.Knowing that they have sexist overtones - that they willingly play into the debasement of human beings - does affect how we should view the organization. Either they are morally bankrupt and don't care that in an effort to raise the rights of animals they are contributing to the continued devaluation of women, or they honestly don't think women and minorities are as valuable - or as worth as value - as white men. And if it is the first one, then their use of symbols of the KKK and images of the Holocaust are suspect, and if it is the latter then their premise that animals deserve equal rights with humans is suspect.

mikhailbakunin said...

To be honest, the more I look at PETA’s advertisements, the less I trust your argument. The majority of their ads seem pretty low-key to me.

It’s true that a number of ads feature naked women, but there are also many ads featuring naked or semi-naked men, and several ads featuring nude couples. It doesn’t seem like most of these men are in active poses – though, to be fair, I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “active.” Is standing still and crossing your arms “active”?

There was at least one ad with Pamela Anderson wearing the same outfit as Alicia Mayer, so I don’t think it’s fair to suggest that PETA only displayed minority women wearing the skimpier “veggie” outfit. (In fact, even without this photo of Pamela Anderson, I think it’s a stretch for you to assume the disparity was racially motivated – the women who wore the more revealing outfits were both models, while the women who wore cocktail dresses were actresses.)

Perhaps more importantly, PETA has disseminated ads that are unabashedly feminist.

There are so many PETA ads out there that I think it’s unfair to construct a single narrative to explain all of them, which is essentially what you’re doing.

Again, I don’t think you’re wrong to point PETA’s hypocrisy in certain instances. But in at least a few cases, you seem to be reaching for examples of sexism or racism – using your narrative about PETA to justify your hypersensitivity. Like MediaMaven explained, this is pretty much the definition of bias thinking.

petpluto said...

Perhaps more importantly, PETA has disseminated ads that are unabashedly feminist.They took Rosie the Riveter, whittled her down, and exposed her midriff. How is that not a problem? Looking at the two images side by side, the differences are highly problematic. Just because the image of Rosie has been appropriated by feminists as a feminist image does not make ever image based on Rosie a feminist image. In this case, it is most decidedly not one.

It doesn’t seem like most of these men are in active poses – though, to be fair, I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “active.” Is standing still and crossing your arms “active”?Yes, those men - aside from David Cross - are in what would be termed 'active' positions. There is a difference in how men and women are posed in the PETA ads when they feature nudity. I actually wrote a post that featured that point a while back; I'm not going to hyperlink it because hyperlinking still confounds me, but I'll put it at the bottom of this response. The problem here may be with the technical terms utilized when studying an image from a sociological perspective. I'll try to dig some articles/books out for you that go farther into explaining the importance of how women and men are framed in images; but for now, the theory is that certain images reinforce sex roles - men are framed to look larger, emphasizing their muscles and their active lifestyle, and women are framed to look smaller and more passive, emphasizing their traditional role of eye candy.

There was at least one ad with Pamela Anderson wearing the same outfit as Alicia Mayer, so I don’t think it’s fair to suggest that PETA only displayed minority women wearing the skimpier “veggie” outfit.That is a good point. In my research, I didn't find that ad.

(In fact, even without this photo of Pamela Anderson, I think it’s a stretch for you to assume the disparity was racially motivated – the women who wore the more revealing outfits were both models, while the women who wore cocktail dresses were actresses.)This may well in fact be a better hypothesis.

http://artattheauction.blogspot.com/2008/09/peta-people-are-at-it-again.html

mikhailbakunin said...

In your earlier post, you wrote:

Because what PETA's ads do is force us to focus on the sadistic positions they have often placed women in; I suppose the logical leap for them is that this is just as bad as what is happening to the animals. But for those of us who place human beings and their suffering and their death on another plane, that connection does not come quite so quickly if it comes at all. For those of us who value women and their autonomy, the ads do very little other than to cause us to react in revulsion.

I have no doubt that the overall aim of PETA is a good one; that doesn't mean that I am going to stop eating meat or eating my ice cream, because I won't.


I totally agree with this. I think the logical leap is for us to view these ads not as condoning sadism, but as repudiating it. That doesn't mean that that's what people are going to take away from it.

I also suspect that PETA's marketing tactics are ultimately ineffective. But it seems like the more outrageous their ads, the more celebrity talent they attract.

I'd really like to know why they think these tactics work so well. They must do some kind of market research, no?

petpluto said...

"They must do some kind of market research, no?"

Who knows. I have to hope that they do; but I also suspect they throw out any and all criticisms of their works and just believe that those who have a problem with aspects of their advertising are just not as hip to the jive. Plus, I wouldn't be surprised if they believed all publicity was good publicity.

"I totally agree with this. I think the logical leap is for us to view these ads not as condoning sadism, but as repudiating it. That doesn't mean that that's what people are going to take away from it."

I agree; my problem with PETA is that in trying to utilize that logical leap, they're also debasing humans. Treating women like meat, even if it does get through to someone that treating animals like meat is wrong, is still treating women like meat - and playing into that societal aspect that is so harmful for women. And if it doesn't get through to someone that treating animals like meat is wrong, then you're debasing women and turning them into objects with no ostensible gain. Which is my problem with 'greater good' arguments. Because even if one could make a totally flawless argument about how the ends justify the means, the ends still have to occur. Without that, you're just left with extremely crappy means.

mikhailbakunin said...

"And if it doesn't get through to someone that treating animals like meat is wrong, then you're debasing women and turning them into objects with no ostensible gain. Which is my problem with 'greater good' arguments. Because even if one could make a totally flawless argument about how the ends justify the means, the ends still have to occur. Without that, you're just left with extremely crappy means."

I think this is where we differ.

It seems like I'm much more utilitarian in temperament than you - and I'm definitely more open to these kinds of 'greater good' arguments. I have two, often conflicting, ideological impulses - one skeptical of grand narratives, the other eager to achieve some kind of moral consistency.

I can appreciate how the “Are Animals the New Slaves?" ad may dredge up painful memories of past injustices. But if we're striving for moral consistency, I think this ad raises some powerful questions. Why isn’t animal suffering morally equivalent to human suffering? Why do we place more value on the potential hurt feelings black Americans who may see this ad than on the lives of animals?

I don’t think the fact that these ads can be misinterpreted is a good reason to attack them. If anything, the strong emotional reaction against even the suggestion that animal suffering may be morally equivalent to human suffering bolsters PETA’s argument.

If the ads are ineffective – or even relatively ineffective – that certainly undermines their purpose. But if they are effective, I think you can make a pretty good utilitarian argument that they were worth it.

That is, if you value animal life. In general, I’m really not sure that I do . . .

mikhailbakunin said...

"And if it doesn't get through to someone that treating animals like meat is wrong, then you're debasing women and turning them into objects with no ostensible gain. Which is my problem with 'greater good' arguments. Because even if one could make a totally flawless argument about how the ends justify the means, the ends still have to occur. Without that, you're just left with extremely crappy means."

I think this is where we differ.

It seems like I'm much more utilitarian in temperament than you - and I'm definitely more open to these kinds of 'greater good' arguments. I have two, often conflicting, ideological impulses - one skeptical of grand narratives, the other eager to achieve some kind of moral consistency.

I can appreciate how the “Are Animals the New Slaves?" ad may dredge up painful memories of past injustices. But if we're striving for moral consistency, I think this ad raises some powerful questions. Why isn’t animal suffering morally equivalent to human suffering? Why do we place more value on the potential hurt feelings black Americans who may see this ad than on the lives of animals?

I don’t think the fact that these ads can be misinterpreted is a good reason to attack them. If anything, the strong emotional reaction against even the suggestion that animal suffering may be morally equivalent to human suffering bolsters PETA’s argument.

If the ads are ineffective – or even relatively ineffective – that certainly undermines their purpose. But if they are effective, I think you can make a pretty good utilitarian argument that they were worth it.

That is, if you value animal life. In general, I’m really not sure that I do . . .

petpluto said...

I don’t think the fact that these ads can be misinterpreted is a good reason to attack them.I think the fact that the ads have a tendency to undermine human worth is, though.


if they are effective, I think you can make a pretty good utilitarian argument that they were worth it. I'm suspicious of any argument that tries to make practicality morality. If something doesn't work, I immediately wonder why it would be on a different moral level if it did. That kind of basis for action, where the aftereffects are the determining factor of the moral worth of the action, is more than worrisome and not something I can endorse. Which is definitely where we differ.

Come over to my side. We have cookies.

mikhailbakunin said...

I do love cookies.

So, you're against utilitarianism in general? Or just conflating morality with practicality?

Or are you saying that you think they're the same thing?