Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

Enforcing Protective Laws

pig at ps

I am never sure exactly what I think of protective laws, welfare laws. Better than nothing? A waste of time? Not enforced anyway, so what’s the point? A place to start?

All of those, I suppose.

The truth is that there aren’t many laws, and what laws there are have extremely limited scope and poor enforcement in addition. It is easy to be cynical about the laws preventing downed cows from going to the slaughterhouse – mostly it is to prevent a possibly “diseased” animal from entering the human food market – and it is discouraging to realize that chickens aren’t even covered by the farm animal welfare act, despite that (or, really, because) chickens make up the greatest number of individuals being raised for food, by far.

So, do we turn our back on the laws, on legislation in general? What is our end goal, really? For the whole world to be vegan, ideally, but in our ideal vegan world are there laws about this? I think there would be. I think there have always had to be laws against things, such as rape and murder, stealing inheritances from vulnerable elderly folks, and leaving dogs in hot cars, even if the majority of the population believes these acts to be morally corrupt. And, okay, yeah, I have to suspend my distrust of the government in general to make this argument, but is it more naive to think that people will do what is right simply because it is right, or that the government will properly legislate and enforce laws in this ideal vegan world?

I don’t know. pattrice talks quite a bit about capitalism, about the exploitation of humans and non-humans being so intertwined with capitalism, that one can only be broken when both are. I can see her point, but somehow I find it impossible to imagine a world without these behemoth governments standing on our backs.

Honestly, I’m not sure if it is worth our time to fight for legislation, but I do think it is important that we know what the protective laws are. If we see them being broken, we can actually make a citizens arrest. What does that gain us? Well, it depends.

The most obvious is that it could save a life. Think of the dogs (or cats or babies or alzheimer patients) left in hot locked cars, a deadly situation. That there are laws against this means we can take action, and the police will (or should) aid us in the attempt to rescue the individual(s).

Also, as long as there are laws in place (few and limited as they are) for farmed animals, it makes sense to force the farmers to follow them. There are few animal advocates doing this, but there are some. Animal Acres Sanctuary, outside of L.A. is one of them. They have a team of investigators going to stockyards and getting footage, forcing certain welfare laws to be followed. Most of the time this means suffering animals get a humane euthanization. Better than dying of dehydration 20 hours later, I suppose. Sometimes it results in rescues. They believe that with enough infractions against some of the stockyards, some of them might be shut down, or severely penalized.

It is also worth it to know the zoning ordinances; there is one stockyard that is not in compliance with the zoning ordinances in the area, and will potentially be shut down because of it.

When I went to the session at AR07 on enforcing these laws, I was going partially in support for Frank, one of the primary investigators at Animal Acres, who I had met the day before when I’d visited the sanctuary and watched their videos. I didn’t agree with everything on those videos, I felt like they focused too much on cruelty, and as so many have been saying lately in their blogs, when we focus on the cruelty, we seem to be implying that if it wasn’t cruel, it would be okay. Is cruelty-free slaughter possible? Honestly, I don’t care. Cruel, inhumane, or not, I do not think that we have the right to treat other sentient beings as property, deciding for them what their lives will be. Or not be.

Yet, I don’t have to agree with everything in the videos to respect and admire the investigations they are doing – it isn’t easy, but I do believe someone needs to do it.

I know one of the arguments against protective laws is that they more firmly entrench animals-as-property in the judicial system. I think this is a valid concern, especially as relates to welfare laws (as opposed to laws banning cock fighting, for one example), and in some ways it is a concern for me with investigations in general. Yet I also know that some lawyers are using these very laws, these protective welfare laws, to inch their way towards getting “pets” recognized as more than property.

My doubts remain about the laws themselves, but I am convinced that the investigations are worth supporting.

What I didn’t expect to learn in this session was how this relates to Sea Shepherd, international whaling laws, and the reality of the high seas. It seems so obvious now, but it wasn’t obvious to me until Paul Watson began to speak. There are laws against whaling, against so many things that are done out there on the vast oceans, yet who is enforcing them? Sea Shepherd is, and sadly, that is it. This year that might change, but so far the international governments have shown a sad lack of conviction by turning a blind eye to what Japan and other countries are doing to our oceans.

The oceans are vital to the health of the earth. Protecting them is vital. And that means, in part, enforcing the protective laws that already exist.

And the interesting thing, to me, with regards to the laws protecting the whales and other creatures of the sea is that it isn’t an issue of property at all. I don’t believe these are welfare laws, and if anything is abundantly clear, it is that Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd are directly saving lives as they enforce the protective laws.

It makes me wonder, it makes me think again about the laws. What good will it do to get countries to agree to signing pieces of paper that directly impact our future if no one bothers to see that those laws are actually followed? I can’t say that laws are of no worth, however, not when they give the Paul Watsons of the world a chance to be (legal) pirates of the high seas, saving animals.

ocean la

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6 responses to “Enforcing Protective Laws

  1. Paul Baylay August 9, 2007 at 5:48 am

    If I can throw my two cents onto the table here and say that common sense should prevail above and beyond any law. The laws are there as guidelines but shouldn’t rule out our own ability to realise what is right and what is wrong. The Japanese government in its heart knows that whaling is wrong but seeks to feed the needs and desires of its own people in this moment and not beyond. The whaling lobbyists lobby the Japanese government much in the same way that the oil companies pull the strings in Washington and the tobacco companies call the tunes in Berlin. Human endeavours and spirit means as long as there is a demand for animal products in any form, then someone will always deliver. Its a zero sum gain and everybody wants to make money without thinking of the consequences of the next generation be it animal or human.
    That’s my two cents…

  2. Deb August 9, 2007 at 6:06 am

    The corporations out for a buck are definitely one of the reasons that people and animals are exploited as a matter of course. Of course those corporations are run by people.

    A common misconception about the whaling and the dolphin killings is that it is being used to feed people. A small percentage does, the majority does not. This has been documented.

    One theory as to their reasons for the illegal and pointless killing is that massive killing of whales (endangered or not, the Japanese whalers don’t discriminate) is done to try to take pressure off of the oceans’ fisheries, which have been overfished by humans to the point of collapse. (this point of collapse is not a doomsday prediction, but the reality of what is happening now and has been happening for 30 or more years) Of course this is based on no logic and no biological understanding, and only hastens the demise of the fisheries, the ocean, and adds to the growing pressure on the global climate. (Think plankton and algae.)

    All of that is one reason why there should be international pressure on Japan. Their illegal whaling affects all of us, whether we want to think of these things or not. It is international law that the Japanese government is breaking, and it is the entire earth’s population that is affected by the destruction of the ocean. That makes our governments complicit in Japanese whaling, complicit in the oceans’ demise.

    Australia has promised to stand up for the whales and the oceans (and therefore us) this year. We’ll see if it happens.

  3. surplusvalue August 15, 2007 at 10:36 am

    Thought provoking, as always.

    I’m unsure as to where I stand on this. I guess, for me, I don’t think it is worth the time to fight for protective laws or their enforcement. Aren’t laws meant to be a reflection of social values and expectations? At the moment, we know there is a large disparity in what people value, and their behaviour. That is the root of the issue, and I think it is probably best if we struggle for that.

    People suggest that there is no reason why we can’t do both, but that isn’t necessarily true. In the words of Francione, we have limited time, effort and resources available. Don’t get me wrong, if people want to do that with their time, then sure; who am I tell to tell them to do otherwise. After all, as the quote goes: one struggle, many fronts.

    With regard to saving lives through knowing what protective laws exist so as to better enforce them etc, I wonder what is the point. Almost like animal-rescue groups to a degree. I don’t mean to slant those groups, I just wonder at what point should we save individual lives over “the movement”, or vice versa. This isn’t a dichotomy – just strategy, to use a very cold and cruel word.

    This will certainly seem harsh, but I struggle with the idea of saving individual lives. Every life is unique, and has inherent value, and thus we should do what we can to save that life and nurture it, but where should we draw the line? I really don’t know. If we don’t do what is in our power to save non-human animals do we become like those omnis who justify their actions by saying “but we’ll never end it… so why bother”? If we ignore – in a manner of speaking – the current lives of non-human animals do we become that? To what degree should our methods approach the current and the future. As I said before, a multi-faceted approach is necessary – I’m just struggling with how I feel about it personally.

    I do agree with pattrice: social structures – capitalism – are an equally large part; a segment of a whole. As unimaginable as it may seem that that which we face will crumble, I don’t think we can think of it any other way. To what extent capitalism plays a role in the exploitation of both humans and non-humans, I’m undecided. Sure, it maintains and perpetuates it to ever increasing numbers, and therefore, its dismantling is instrumental in what we seek, but is it at the core? Would the property status cease to exist without out it? I’m not talking some Utopian fantasy here, rather I’m considering would it slowly dwindle without capitalism as ecology and our experiences as a whole are attributed more value?

    Sorry to go so drastically off topic, I ramble way too much.

  4. Deb August 15, 2007 at 11:19 am

    That was actually perfectly on topic, as far as I’m concerned.

    I think there is always the question as to what drives social values. Some people believe that as long as it is legal, it is okay. Make something illegal, and it changes their viewpoint. It is most likely a mix of education and law reforms that form part of social change, but I’m not going to claim that I’m qualified to really discuss the issue. This is just me doing some hand waving. Actually, I went to a session on this. I’ll post about it, probably, after reviewing my notes.

    It really was Sea Shepherd that got me thinking harder about these laws. What good does it do to protect one individual? Well, protect a whale, or many whales (and we’re kidding ourselves if we ignore that they’re protecting hundreds every year, if not more) and you’re protecting chunks of the ocean. The ocean is a huge cog in the earth’s climate system, and so this impacts many things. Other ocean dwellers, but much more than that. Are they really saving just one whale, or just one hundred whales? There is a much bigger impact than this.

    And they’re now working with the Ecuadorian government, which is frankly amazing. Again, a significant piece of the environment will be protected by Sea Shepherd. Based on international law, which they will be enforcing.

    So it is hard for me to dismiss this.

    Furthermore, there is a lot of footage and education that can be done in the process of enforcing these laws. And education needs to be part of every strategy, else there really is no point. It was Sea Shepherd educating the Ecuadorian government that made such a huge difference, after all. Education in addition to the work they were doing enforcing international laws.

    I do still have mixed feelings about the whole issue, but one thing I know – Francione can talk abstractly about property status, the law, and strategy, but when I’m sitting there talking to an individual of whatever species who has been saved because of the enforcement of these laws, it is really hard to say it doesn’t matter.

    It is the starfish story, all over again.

    Who are we to say that an individual’s life doesn’t matter in the overall picture? It is oddly utilitarian to try to argue that, which I know is not what Francione meant or intends.

    Capitalism may crumble (in our lifetime?), social values will hopefully eventually change for the better. But right now we’re facing today’s reality. We have some tools we could use, such as these laws that are already in place. It seems foolish to ignore them, in my opinion. I don’t personally spend my time on this, but I support the people who do. And if they can get stockyards shut down in the process of enforcing these laws, if they can get governments on board in protecting the oceans, I see a lot of hope in that.

    It just isn’t abstract when you’re looking the animals in the eye. I recommend everyone spend some time with animals rescued from abusive situations so that unnecessary abstraction is avoided. We need to see it from both perspectives to see clearly.

  5. surplusvalue August 17, 2007 at 4:22 am

    That statement from Francione was initially in regard to welfarist campaigns. It wasn’t my intent to take it out of its context nor necessarily cite him as the author of the idea, I was just wondering about where we should focus our efforts, and how we do indeed have limited time and effort etc to do it. So I apologise if it got misconstrued in the way I said it.

    However, beyond all that, I do agree with you on how theorising in the face of many other things can become irrelevant. Your mention of utilitarianism is probably central to what I was thinking about in my ramblings above.

    Who are we to say that an individual’s life doesn’t matter in the overall picture?

    Exactly. I think we’re in agreement on using whatever legal avenues are available to us to save lives. I’m not sure there is a valid reason as to why we shouldn’t; indeed, it is foolish to do otherwise. I guess I was thinking more in regard to not so legal means. Every individual’s life matters in the overall picture, so what role should we take in other actions? Utilitarianism probably pokes its dirty head into the discussion here, which is what I was stuck thinking about.

    We need to see it from both perspectives to see clearly.

    Very true. I think that’s at the crux of why we are vegan after all.

  6. Deb August 17, 2007 at 7:52 am

    Sorry, that was me sort of thinking out loud and not very clearly, with regards to Francione. I knew that his statement was in reference to welfare campaigns, knew you meant it that way (I have read enough of his stuff that it didn’t seem out of context I guess), it just sent my mind off in that direction. Because while I mostly agree with him, it does seem that sometimes…well, it is just my own opinion, but sometimes it does seem like we can only sit back and focus purely on the bigger picture at the expense of individuals. And when I say that, it does sound utilitarian, and I know Francione is anti-utilitarianism (based on his arguments against Singer’s philosophy), so I know that’s not his intent.

    I guess for me, in the end, I don’t think there is one answer to most questions. Too many variables, and when we are asking how we, as individuals, can be most effective, it gets really complicated. We should review often, because this answer isn’t even going to be the same for ourselves consistently through our lives.

    As for legal vs non-legal, I was talking about purely legal actions in this particular post. It does bring up interesting issues though, because a lot of social change has come about in part because of civil disobedience, which is by definition performing illegal acts. The lunch counter sit-ins, for example, during the civil rights movement. Civil disobedience used to change laws, eventually.

    It is one of those topics that leads to a million other topics, I think, but in the end we will focus on what is the best use of our time for us. In that, I definitely agree with Francione. I’m not sure if he would agree with me that there is a use to enforcing the protective laws, but I strongly feel that such enforcement is an excellent use of time and energy for some people, as long as it is combined with education.

    But then I think education should be a large part of every tactic, otherwise it is going to be mostly spinning your wheels, saving some individuals without working towards the larger change.

    pattrice said something recently to me that has been churning in my mind, something about abstraction, and the danger of it. And without realizing it, I think that is part of what I strive to do with my pictures – show the individuals affected by the theories, tactics, big picture views we are talking about. I just hadn’t realized it consciously.

    Thanks for your thoughts and discussion, SV. Since I tend to think out loud, interaction like this always helps me clarify my thoughts.

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