Peter Singer: Then and Now

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I regularly quote Peter Singer, philosopher at Princeton, because I believe his early work on animal liberation to be the best work that has been done in the area. But what is often forgotten about Singer's early work is that it was also filled with emotionally charged terminology: "tyranny," "struggle," and, of course, "liberation."

Singer prefaced the the first edition of Animal Liberation with these rousing words: 


But, like so many  other activists, Singer has moved away from these strong condemnations of animal exploitation, as he has received more acclaim and popularity in mainstream circles. Karen Davis at UPC describes this change in an essay that is both poignant and tragic. 

For animal liberationists, Singer's transformation into an apologist for animal industry is now widely accepted. The more interesting question, to me, is why? Why do so many strong supporters of animal liberation devolve into something so much weaker, over time?

One possibility is that time dulls the emotions. Angry young people grow into calm and less energetic adults. Another is that he simply learned, over time, that his youthful outrage was impractical, either for him personally or (to give him the benefit of the doubt) for his advocacy.  

But I think the most important reason for Singer's devolution is his diminishing conviction that our moral position can sway the masses. 

If I am right -- and if building a movement of committed and confident activists is our first and most important objective -- then if we to redeem the Peter Singers of the world, we have to make them believe. Make them see that the world changes, far faster than most people think. That the animal rights movement can win, with even a small and dedicated minority.

In a word, to make them feel the power of hope