A Line in the Sand: Welfarism vs. Liberationism

Posted: May 29, 2014 in PALS NEWS
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Last week, DxE hosted its first annual convergence, during which reps from various branches in the US and even in Canada came to Oakland for three days of lectures, discussions, and of course, actions.  Unfortunately none of the PALS were able to make it; but y’all were with us in spirit!

In any case, I myself was unable to attend the lectures and discussions, as well as Friday’s actions, due to work and other commitments. Thankfully, I was able to join DxE on Saturday for two back-to-back actions: participation in Empty the Tanks via a satellite demonstration at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, and our monthly demonstration against Chipotle.  Six Flags Discovery Kingdom has a history ripe with animal abuse, having previously served as both Marine World (in the 60s-early 70s) and Marine World Africa USA (mid 70s-80s) prior to becoming Six Flags. At first this was a site of captive sea animals; when it absorbed the failing Africa USA in the mid-Seventies, it became the prison of exotic land animals as well.  Now, under the banner of Six Flags, rather than liberating these poor creatures the theme park has absorbed them and re-branded itself as Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. The park continually adds “animal attractions” (slaves) every year.  Wikipedia makes the following weak-ass claim in an effort to glorify SFDK’s exploitation:

“Most of the animals on display at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom were not born in the wild, but were raised at zoos and aquariums around the country. The park also cares for recovered or rescued animals that cannot be returned to the wild due to injury. Examples include an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin recovered from the Gulf of Mexico in 2003 and a California sea lion that was shot by a fisherman after it tried to steal his catch.

As liberationists, we cannot be fooled by such rhetoric.  Yes, animals born and raised in captivity unfortunately cannot be released into the wild, for their own safety (though at a young enough age, many can be rehabilitated and gradually re-learn how to survive in the wild). The same is true of injured animals.  However, an amusement park is not the place for these victims. This is what animal sanctuaries and reservations are for– places that closely emulate an animal’s natural environment and allow animals to exist purely as animals (rather than as performers or attractions: keeping odd hours, performing tricks or stunts, surrounded by overstimulated humans all day, etc.).  SFDK was once home to an orca named Shouka, who was later moved to Sea World San Diego; this was, presumably, the impetus for hosting the satellite demonstration against Sea World at SFDK.

Our second demonstration took place at a Chipotle location in San Francisco. The theme of this month’s action was “Violence, Unmasked.” We wore masks with blood on them and stood statuesque in the street and on the sidewalk, holding signs asking, “What is Chipotle hiding?” We then retreated en masse to the sidewalk, where we chanted and some people (myself included, in Spanish) gave speak-outs. Some time after my speak-out, I had a memorable conversation with a slightly inebriated gentleman from the UK. In spite of his inebriation, I could tell he was of considerable intelligence and possessed of intellectual curiosity, as he was quite knowledgeable about meat production laws currently in effect both here in the US and in the UK. One of the many noteworthy elements of our conversation is that it gave me a valuable opportunity to explain the difference between welfarism and liberationism. Here’s a paraphrased summary of how that part of our conversation went:


I agree with you, you know, I know that the meat legislation here in the US is bullshit, it’s so lax and easy to get around…but in the UK….[Insert facts about humane killing legislation in the UK.]

I understand that, sir, but the fact of the matter is that at the end of the day, those animals are still being slaughtered.

You’re never going to convince me not to eat…FOOD. I mean, I will always eat meat, the way that, you know, lions will always eat gazelles.

[Here I segued a bit into some of the contents of Chapter Two, explaining to this gentleman that while the lion needs the gazelle, we don’t need meat. I omitted, for the moment, any mention of whether it would be ethical to eat meat even if we needed it—which some at DxE argue we still shouldn’t, and about which I am frankly still on the fence. Thankfully I don’t have to decide, because I already know I don’t need meat. Of course, he showed me his canines…and I told him they’re for fruit…and he said Herbivores don’t have canines and I said Yes they do, like horses and he said Horses’ teeth are flat and I said Not all of them, they DO have canines, look it up sometime…Etc.]

Okay, right, well that’s your belief; but since I am going to eat meat anyway, I am very careful about where I get it from. The thing is, you all here, you are drawing a line in the sand—you’re saying, you HAVE to stop eating meat. This is not the way to pull people over to your side. Why are you doing this?

You’re right; we are drawing a line in the sand—and we mean to be. You sound like a welfarist to me. You’re saying that it’s okay in the end to kill an animal as long as it is done a particular way, right? Well, we are a liberationist group, which means that we are fundamentally opposed to killing in general. We believe there’s no right way to kill someone who doesn’t want to die—and NO animal wants to die.

But this isn’t WORKING, I’m telling you! Standing out here shouting at people, it’s not going to bring anyone to your side. It will pin people against you.

I understand that, and I DO worry about that sometimes myself! But it’s not about bringing people over; it’s about starting a dialogue. You’re talking to me right now, aren’t you? And you’re thinking about this. So even if you don’t agree with me, I believe this is working.

We are always very open to feedback, though, and if you have any ideas to share with us about other demonstrations we can do, feel free to reach out to us [Here I gave him a DxE card with our Web address on it.] We are open to trying new things, and if you have a way of getting this message across that you think would be less…aggressive? Or encroaching?…Let us know!


That last bit gave me a chance to express a little of why DxE does things the way we do, how we measure our success and to convey our willingness to try different methods and openness to critical feedback. Unfortunately I do not think this gentleman is going to stop eating meat; but at least he already has been, and will likely continue to, think about what he’s doing. And if he talks to even just one person about the conversation he had with me, that person will think about it, too. I was both amused and grateful when Assaf, a fellow activist overhearing our conversation, interjected to recite the very same point I had delivered minutes before he entered earshot: Well, you’re talking to her, aren’t you? And you’re thinking! We need to put this on the public agenda (more on that in Chapter Four)—to steer the conversation away from how non-human victims are being housed or fed and towards whether we should victimize non-human animals at all.

This conversation also harkens back to our demonstration in Vallejo, as rhetoric such as that employed by Wikipedia would likely sway many welfarists into thinking that SFDK actually provides a valuable and necessary service to the animals they enslave, whereas liberationists understand that even if the animals at SFDK have “big enough” tanks and “big enough” fields in which to roam, the fact that they do not belong there and would rather be somewhere else is inescapable.  The options aren’t strictly “The Wild or enslavement.” Animals that cannot survive in the wild nevertheless have a right to freedom and family: two fundamental features of a life of liberty that animals at ANY amusement park are decidedly denied. These animals are still treated as commodities and not as fellow sentient beings–regardless of how “nice” their human captors are to them.

If you vacationed at the most fabulous hotel you could possibly imagine and someone told you, “Sorry, you can’t ever leave; and your room is only big enough for one, so you can’t have any company. We can give you a bigger room, but you cannot choose your roommates and you’ll be stuck with them forever. If you get pregnant by one of your roommates, we’re going to steal your baby away as soon as we decide he/she’s big enough. Oh yeah, and other people are going to look through your window and bang on it and shout things at you for about a dozen hours every day,” would you want to stay there? Now pretend this isn’t the most fabulous hotel you’ve ever imagined but a rather dinky one that’s only a fraction of the size of your former home (remember, most but NOT ALL animals at SFDK were born in captivity!). Now pretend you have a family Back Home and they tell you, at either hotel, “Sorry, you’re never going to see them again.  They can’t come here and you can’t go there. Ever.” This is the point welfarists fail to realize or adequately appreciate. Comfort level is irrelevant; freedom and family, both of which come to all life forms via liberation, are what truly count.  You cannot truly choose to do whatever you wish (i.e. go on a super-long walk, go on a hunt, search for a new mate) when you are not liberated; and while you can physically produce a family (IF your captors set you up with a mate–who you may or may not actually like), your existence among family is never guaranteed. Someone else can come along and move you or any of your relatives whenever he/she wants to, and you have no say in the matter.  Your children, your brothers, your sisters, your parents–all up for grabs. Always.

A final note: This conversation was a perfect exercise in flexibility. He did just walk right up to the banner, standing in front of it; and due to his prior activities he swayed back and forth slightly, getting closer and farther and closer to my face as he spoke. At one point, Wayne attempted to steer him away from me, bless his heart. He expressed concern that others were concerned about their personal space—in other words, he sensed or anticipated discomfort on my part and tried to alleviate or prevent it.

I came over to the corner where Wayne had led our gentleman, as I could tell my new associate was offended; he had been mid-sentence when approached, which Wayne likely hadn’t heard over the chanting. I appreciate his efforts to ensure the comfort and safety of his fellow activists; but in my view, answering questions from the audience is paramount to both spreading the message and maintaining a positive public image. It is far more vital to me than whether a banner is in full view or not, whether or not I’m able to participate in this or that chant—and yes, even whether or not I personally am 100% comfortable! I will always, gladly, walk away from whatever I’m doing to answer someone’s question, or series of questions; or even simply to hear someone’s critiques. For in order to make any effort to criticize or interrogate a person, the critic or questioner must be thinking. And with any luck, at some point later that day or the next, that person will speak to someone else about it.

It doesn’t do to be dismissive or overly attached to “the task at hand.” The ultimate task at hand is reaching people, and there is no one set of rules that works for everyone. Sure, there are rules that work most of the time—fundamental social-change strategies such as those shared in Randy Shaw’s The Activist’s Handbook and similar titles; still, the importance of flexibility in activism—and in life—cannot be overstated.


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  1. Speaking about liberty vs [animal] welfare, I think I already know on whose side I am. As author of this article correctly noted – freedom and family (not strictly reproduction, but reproduction IS part of family life – complete with making cultural link between generations…) are essential. Yet, ironically in std. “animal sanctuary” of today both freedoms are denied! I’ve studied both more and less strict codes of operation – and even much more non-human-friendly initial revision talks about very severe restrictions, both in space non-humans will ever have and reproduction/family part. Sure, it was mostly centered on wolves, but in generic idea, definition and law as of today exactly define ‘animal sanctuary’ as some CLOSED space, you never can leave (if you are non-human animal!).

    We (Andrew Randrianasulu, Kenneth W. LeVasseur, Julian Aranguren – at very least ….) have different view. Back in early 1990-x Kenneth developed his program, completely forgotten by mainstream cetacean activists. But if you actually read it – you will find it includes most important features – it allow dolphins to 1) Leave control of humans , 2) raise their own family (you can’t overflow ocean!) 3) change human behavior completely, from one-way command stream, backed by food deprivation (still!) – to actual conversation between equals (non-forced of course).

    Read it at http://www.whales.org.au/published/levasseur/levass3a.html
    Make sure to read bibliography ! (as much as you can find – sometimes same author wrote newest paper/book, with refined views)

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