Why Progressives Should Care About Animal Rights
Continued from previous page
An understanding of human nature, along with the recognition of the primacy of suffering, leads to two guiding principles that we've found useful in freeing our advocacy from prejudice:
First, to maximize the amount of good we can accomplish, we should strive to set aside personal biases as much as possible. We should challenge ourselves to approach advocacy through a straightforward analysis of the world as it is, motivated solely by a desire to alleviate suffering to the greatest extent possible.
If the amount of suffering in the world weren't so vast, other considerations would be warranted (e.g., maximizing pleasure). But as long as so many are suffering so horribly, eliminating as much suffering as possible must be our primary motivating factor.
Second, it's vital we recognize that we all have limited resources and time. It's a simple fact that when we choose to do one thing, we're choosing to not do another -- there's no way around it. Instead of choosing to "do something, do anything," we must challenge ourselves to pursue actions that will likely lead to the greatest reduction in suffering.
There are a myriad of worthy pursuits, and of course we appreciate anyone working to make the world a kinder place. However, given the above principles, we challenge everyone -- including ourselves -- to constantly strive to maximize the efficacy of our actions.
Striking at the Root
There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root. -- Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Perhaps you've heard the story of the person who finds babies floating down the river a few times per day, day after day after day -- saving some, missing most of them. Every day, she waits by the river, knowing there'll be babies to save. Sure enough, every day she pulls some of the drowning babies out of the river, and she feels good about her efforts -- saving lives, every day -- even as she mourns the many who drown.
Finally, one day she thinks, "Who on earth keeps tossing these babies into the river?" She walks upstream, finds the person doing it, and stops him. In that moment, she's saved all of the babies who would have been tossed into the river in the future, and becomes free to dedicate herself to something else that would be helpful in the world.
There's much triage work to be done in our society -- there are many drowning babies, as it were. And obviously the work of saving them is good. But we're convinced that if we can stop people from tossing babies into the water in the first place, we'll be more effective.
In concrete terms, we choose not to focus our incredibly limited time and resources on individual animals, however valuable and rewarding that work is. Rather, we seek to challenge the very structures of oppression against animals and to work to dismantle the system that says animals are commodities we can eat.
To do this as effectively as possible, we must set priorities and, given our limited resources, make some difficult, rational choices.
Peter Singer asks us in " The Singer Solution to World Poverty" to consider the case of a man who just bought a new car. He paid $50,000 for the car and doesn't have it insured yet. His car stalls on a set of railroad tracks, and, before he can push the car off, he sees a small girl also on the tracks, oblivious to an oncoming train. He has to choose between moving his car or saving the girl.