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Social Science

Animal Testing: The Irony of Veterinary Training

Animal Testing: The Irony of Veterinary Training

By Barbara Sharon Glick

From as early an age as I can remember, I loved animals, and decided to be a vet by the age of 5. In my senior year of high school, in pursuit of this goal, I took a course covering animal testing entitled "Scientific Research." We were given rats on whom we did all sorts of gruesome experiments, killing them with chloroform before we cut them open in the guise of animal testing. I imagine some of them were not dead when we did that, and how much they suffered as we exploited them. At the time, though, I thought I was working toward my goal of helping animals and continued on this ironic path.

Animal Testing

Animal Testing

I majored in Animal Science at Cornell, a common major for those wanting to go to vet school. From 1975-76 I worked on the Cornell Dairy Farm, a huge complex and testing place for the latest practices in intensive animal farming. I thought nothing of the fact that the calves I bottle fed in hutches were stolen from their grieving mothers or that the ice cream I served up at the campus dairy bar was made from stolen milk. I didn't recognize the cruelty of the dairy industry even while I was immersed in it. Despite the fact that I was so clueless, I did realize how odd the name of one of my text books was: "The Science of Animals That Serve Mankind." Today, I know that all animals exist for their own purposes, not to serve humans. It just took me a while to realize this even though I have been a social justice activist my whole life. 

In October 1969 I organized a bus to the March on Washington against the war in Vietnam. I have been involved with many social justice issues over the years. Before I became the animal rights activist I am now, I was heavily involved with environmental activism, and eventually I realized that I can do that via the animal rights movement and also fight for the animals. Although for many years I went to circus, zoo, and fur protests, it wasn't until a few years ago that I understood that in order to love animals we should not eat them, wear their wool, eat their eggs, drink their milk, or exploit them in any way. 

In 1977 my first "real" job was with the Farmers Home Administration (FmHA), an agency of the USDA which no longer exists. FmHA financed farm purchase and operations as well as homes in rural areas. I moved to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where chicken farming was booming. My county was the home of Purdue headquarters. I remember meeting Frank Purdue in the opening of the "latest and greatest" style chicken houses (aka jails). My job was to approve loans for the purchase of farms, for construction of chicken houses, and for operating loans. I had absolutely no idea how immoral that whole industry was!

Last year, I attended the DxE Forum, which featured a session on open rescue. As a result of that and of the increasing role this work is having in our network, I rescued two chickens from Kaporos in Brooklyn, NY in October 2016. And to think that at one point in my life I had a job that financed the chicken farming industry! I like to think that rescuing those two chickens was just the start of making up for my former involvement in the chicken industry.

Now that I know how immoral it is to use another, I feel compelled to actively work against this violence. I plan to help save more lives this year and on. I am beyond grateful to be involved with Direct Action Everywhere, a truly supportive group of dedicated activists, I have learned and been inspired by so many, and I appreciate that we continue to study social sciences and emphasize developing the skills we need to become the most effective activists we can be. I will proudly fight side by side with these amazing activists for animal liberation.

Want to get involved? DxE is a grassroots network focused on empowering you to be the best activist you can be. Here are some steps you can take. 

  1. Sign up to our mailing list and share our content on social media. 
  2. Join a local DxE community (or, better yet, come visit us in Berkeley).
  3. Take the Liberation Pledge. And join us in building a true social movement for animals.

"An Opiate to the Conscience": Welfarism as a Step to Animal Liberation?

"An opiate to the conscience": welfarism as a step to animal liberation?

By Brian Burns

The American Colonization Society said that its moderate message, which sought to bring slaveowners and abolitionists closer together, would  eventually  lead to the end of legal slavery in the US. Why do modern historians say the opposite?

The American Colonization Society said that its moderate message, which sought to bring slaveowners and abolitionists closer together, would eventually lead to the end of legal slavery in the US. Why do modern historians say the opposite?

Advocates of welfarism often claim that while the “humane” use and murder of animals is not the end goal, advocating for welfare reforms while not challenging the notion of animals as property will make the public more sympathetic to animal rights, and thus move us towards animal liberation. Whole Foods CEO and self-professed “ethical vegan” John Mackey, for example, unapologetically frames Whole Foods as a groundbreaking progress-maker for both animals and public consciousness in response to an open letter by James McWilliams calling for the company to stop selling meat.

Is this correct? Is there historical evidence showing that a moderate message which appeals to those in the “middle of the aisle” will eventually push them closer to one end? To examine this question, I discussed trends in the antislavery movement in the US from the mid-1810s through the 1830s as part of a DxE open meeting on welfarism . Most of the information presented was gathered from Paul Goodman’s book, Of One Blood.

“An Opiate to the Conscience” - The American Colonization Society of the Early 1800s

From the early 1800s, the antislavery movement in the United States was dominated by a large, government-backed group called the American Colonization Society (ACS). As Paul Goodman writes, “The most important function of the ACS was to ensure sectional harmony by offering a platform sufficiently broad and vague on which both slaveholders and nonslaveholders, professed abolitionists and anti-abolitionists, North and South, could stand” (Goodman, 18). Despite its stated purpose - to improve the welfare of slaves in the South and convince their masters to free them to an ACS-created colony in West Africa, “the ACS renounced any intention of interfering with slavery in the United States. (Goodman, 16).” In fact, the society was extremely hostile towards those agitating against slaveowners: “It insisted that any agitation that placed masters under moral scrutiny or political pressure or questioned their Christian benevolence would chill the inclination to manumit … Nor must one ever speak too harshly of slavery itself, the suffering of the victims and the cruelty of the master, lest slavery become a moral issue for public discussion” (Goodman, 18-19). 

The American Colonization Society, far from pushing the public towards abolitionism, reduced both Southern and Northern tension surrounding the issue of slavery. From our talk on the psychology of welfarism, we know that discomfort and cognitive dissonance are essential to motivate people to change their deep-set beliefs - and the ACS was extremely efficient at reducing both of them. Goodman writes, “In the North, apathy and indifference toward slavery were the toughest barriers… For most, until abolitionist agitation pricked their consciences, [slavery] was a distant abstraction” (Goodman, 124). Despite the organization’s widespread popularity both in the South and North and consensus at the time that it was pushing towards abolition, the resolution of tension and feel-good consciousness created by the society were, according to Fogel and many others, some of the “toughest barriers” towards the end of legal human slavery in the US. 

The Importance of Agitation

By “abolitionist agitation,” Goodman refers to the explosion of grassroots antislavery activism in the 1830s. Sparked by activists who felt silenced by the ACS (many of whom were former members of the society), independent chapters of self-styled “immediatists” began to pop up around the country, learning from each other via long letters and word of mouth. The action taken by these activists was radical and dangerous: William Lloyd Garrison’s public burning of the US constitution, which he called a “covenant with death”, almost left him dead after a lynch mob attempted to murder him (ironically he was saved by the police, who seized him and threw him in jail for his protest). Goodman writes that “Abolitionism grew, by contrast [to the ACS], in the teeth of elite hostility, intense popular prejudice, and physical violence, and it required an exceptional organizational and ideological commitment.” 

Despite these obstacles, however, the radical abolitionist movement was extremely successful, growing from four to 1348 independent chapters in just six years - a 34,000% increase in activism (Goodman, 124). This exceptional growth coupled with a strong message and provocative activism had extreme influence on public dialogue and political action on slavery, pushing public tension to ultimately to the brink of the Civil War. And as the antislavery societies rose across the US, the ACS was put on the defense, eventually discredited as a racist organization opposing rather than acting for progress.

What Can We Learn? 

Despite its profound power, agitation can be extraordinarily difficult as social animals. The nice, middle-of-the-road approach is often much more appealing, and often may seem to be the more effective way to enact change, since it does not elicit backlash. No surprise then, that companies such as Whole Foods have capitalized on its appeal to consumers by offering the same products of violence - meat, dairy, and eggs - sold in a more “compassionate” way. 

Unfortunately, the appeal of “moderatism” is precisely the reason behind its failure; in order to motivate people to reconsider their deep-set beliefs, one has to make them uncomfortable by presenting very different alternatives, and disrupting routine to force attention to these alternatives. Sometimes, seeking to reform the periphery of the system without attacking its root is the best way to ensure it survives and thrives. Such was the case in the American antislavery movement in the early 1800s, and such may be the case in the animal rights movement today.

What if Everything We Think We Know about Social Change Is Wrong?

What if Everything We Think We Know about Social Change Is Wrong? (VIDEO)

by Brian Burns

Despite the explosive growth of grassroots movements in recent years ( #BlackLivesMatter, Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, to name a few) and their extraordinary effects - in the last case, literally toppling governments - many in the animal rights movement ardently oppose protests of any kind. Citing dubious studies or anecdotal evidence, three assumptions have come to dominate modern thinking on animal advocacy:

  1. Change individuals. Focus on creating vegans one by one.
  2. Change behavior. Peoples' behavioral and economic choices, especially their dietary ones, should be the main goal of advocacy, not their beliefs.
  3. Be nice. In order to effectively create these changes, we should not provoke or disrupt, but rather lead by example and appeal to peoples' already-held beliefs.

But what if everything we think we know about social change... is wrong? In a recent talk at Northwestern Law School where he was previously a professor, DxE organizer Wayne Hsiung presented the work of some of the greatest thinkers in behavioral economics, sociology, and social justice to present a very different model of social change. Citing mathematical sociologist Duncan Watts on network science and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the power of nonviolent direct action, Wayne outlines why DxE's approach differs from the mainstream:

  1. Create activists. Activists, unlike isolated vegans, unite to form powerful coalitions to broadcast the message of animal rights, and in turn inspire more activists in cascades for change. Case study: Duncan Watts' experiments with online networks.
  2. Change beliefs, especially social norms. "Morality is higher than economics," in the words of economics Nobel laureate Robert Fogel, and peoples' beliefs have powerful effects on their behavior, and the beahvior of others. Case study: Robert Fogel's analysis showing that antebellum slavery was challenged and defeated by a powerful political movement in spite of its growing economic power.
  3. Challenge and provoke. Protest disrupts violent routines, demonstrates activists' determination, and broadens the circle of debate. Case study: the work of Cornell sociologist political scientist Sidney Tarrow, who says that protest is "the strongest weapon of social movements".

In the second half of the presentation, I explain how DxE puts these insights into action in our flagship campaign, It's Not Food, It's Violence. Each result has a practical analogue that DxE puts into practice.

  1. Build a network for activism. We create strong, empowered communities for animal rights. This includes DxE Connections (a peer to peer activist support network) DxE Meetups (weekly meetings where community members share experiences, skills, and insight), and an international support network (including a new organizer mentorship program) for communities around the world to unite for animals.
  2. Challenge ideas. We focus on changing culture and social norms by challenging deep seated beliefs about speciesism and the humane myth - ideas often lost in meatless-mondays gradualism.
  3. Take nonviolent direct action. We go inside the very places where animals' bodies are mutilated and sold, and deliver the strong message that the animals deserved. While difficult and subject to ridicule, the evidence is clear that provocation is powerful.

All this information is presented with much more detail (and even some humor!) in the talk hosted by Northwestern Law and sponsored by Vegan Chicago. Give it a watch!

Why the HRC study of former vegetarians is wrong

Why the HRC study of former vegetarians is wrong

by Wayne Hsiung

What do gunshots and retroviruses have to do with a recent study on vegan messaging? 

What do gunshots and retroviruses have to do with a recent study on vegan messaging? 

The Humane Research Council released a study a few days ago claiming to show, among other things, that meat reduction is a more effective strategy than veganism. The first and most important point to make is that this is an example of what social scientists call a "reductionist" approach. Looking through the lens of individual consumers, as the brilliant sociologist Duncan Watts has instructed us, is like trying to understand forest fires by examining individual sparks or individual trees. The properties of the ecosystem as a whole -- in particular, the existence of highly flammable and connected kindling -- are what cause forest fires, so looking at the characteristics of individual components of the ecosystem simply won't provide any answers. Similarly, the changes activists are seeking to cause involve the interactions between many individuals -- moderated through network variables such as social norms and legal rules -- and looking at individual motivations will simply lead us down the wrong path. The best research on systemic change, in turn, shows us that, instead of focusing on individual-level vegan outcomes, we should be trying to build empowered networks of activists. We have to, in short, build up the kindling. 

But there are also two very important technical limitations that should give us pause in giving any weight to the conclusions drawn from the study. I'll try to describe both problems in layman's terms. 

1. The study is "sampling on the dependent variable."

HRC claims to test how various messages (i.e. various "treatments") affect the success of veg*n advocacy. But, importantly, they only look at people who were successfully converted, rather than all people exposed to a message. This is what scientists call "sampling on the dependent variable," and it statistically distorts the study in a fundamental way. 

A comparison may be helpful here. Say, for example, I were comparing the lethality of AIDS (a slow progressing disease), on the one hand, and gun shots (a fast progressing "disease"), on the other, but I only looked at people who died or nearly died as a result of each "treatment" rather than the entire universe of people who are exposed to AIDS or a gunshot. I might erroneously conclude that AIDS is much more dangerous than gun shots because all the people who have a near-death experience with gun shots seem to recover (naturally, because they are otherwise healthy people) while those who have a near-death experience with AIDS seem to continue on to death. But that ignores the fact that there are plenty of people with AIDS who never even get to the point of a near death experience because we have so many drugs to control the disease. It's essentially a treatable chronic condition in the West. We would have basically said, "Oh my gosh, AIDS is so deadly!" but only because we've ignored all the people who get AIDS, but never reach the point where they're on the precipice of death. 

Looking at only people who were successfully converted to veganism "slowly" is similar to looking at only people who have a deadly experience with AIDS. *Of course* it will look like the treatment at issue is powerful because, well, you're only looking at people for whom it's had a powerful effect, while ignoring the many others (millions others, in both cases) for whom it's had no effect. (For those interested in a numerical example, see the bottom of this blog post.) 

2. The study doesn't test causality. 

The HRC study is essentially a series of self-reported correlations. Any professional scientist will tell you that there are an infinite number of models to fit any particular set of data. For example, say I wake up, then I see the sun rise. Did I cause the sun to rise? Did the sun wake me up ahead of time because it wanted to show me its bright colors? Was there a magical elf who wanted to tell a story of me waking up, then the sun rising, who caused both to happen? Or was the correlation entirely random? 

You cannot distinguish between any of these theories with correlations. The correlations are still interesting, as they do limit the sorts of causal theories you should test. (For example, if I see the sun rises every morning after I get up, I should probably not test a theory that predicts the sun only rises in the evening when I go to sleep.) But the best way to look at these results -- and the way any professional economist would look at them -- is that this provides some raw data upon which we can actually perform some interesting experiments. For example, one could try to perform an instrumental variable analysis that would replicate the effects of a randomized controlled trial (the gold standard in empirical science) if we could find a variable that's correlated with the independent but not dependent variable. I don't know what that instrumental variable might be, however, as the data is not yet open to the public. It also doesn't solve the former problem -- sampling on the dependent variable -- so my hopes are fairly slim.

Upshot? Great effort. But it's probably best for social science to be performed by professional social scientists at research institutions. Frankly, even most of that research is spurious. (One of my former advisers used to tell me that only 1 out of 20 articles in even the best journals actually had any result to trust.) It's unreasonable to think we can do any better, as a movement, with our limited funds and expertise. 

Numerical Example (Note that this is hypothetical and used only to illustrate the problem) 

- 100 people exposed to "go fast" message
- 100 people exposed to "go slow" message

- 50 people converted with "go fast"
- 5 people converted with "go slow"

Relapse after one month
- 15 people relapse after going fast
- 1 person relapses after going slow. 

HRC-equivalent analysis:
- We looked at the 55 people who are current or former vegetarians, and we found that 15 out of the 16 who relapsed within a month, i.e. 94%, transitioned to veg*ism quickly. This shows us that people are going too fast and that we have to change our message to "go slow." 

Correct analysis: 
- We looked at 200 people who were exposed to two different messages: go fast and go slow. The go fast message appeared to be 1000% more effective than go slow. However, relapse occurred very quickly, and those who changed under the "go fast" treatment appeared to relapse at slightly faster rates (30% compared to 20% relapse within a month) than those who changed under "go slow." This could be because the go fast message was less robust. It also could be because those who change quickly in one direction, i.e. towards veg*ism, also change quickly in the other direction. The overwhelming number of former vegetarians who transitioned to vegetarianism quickly, in turn, could simply indicate that the "go fast" message is much more effective than "go slow." Further analysis is warranted to make any definitive conclusions. 

Understanding Causes

Understanding Causes

by Wayne Hsiung

You often hear people in our movement say, "You can't do that! It will make animal rights activists (including me) look bad!" This is one of the many "common sense" propositions that activists are so sure about that they don't even think to question it. But as one of the most brilliant social scientists of the last generation taught us, by examining reams of data on human beliefs an behavior, common sense is often a bad guide when we are trying to understand the complexity of social behavior. 

For example, let's take a look at a series of statements that were recently made to me about PETA. 

A. People associate the AR movement with PETA.
B. People have a negative view of PETA and its extreme tactics.
C. Therefore, people have a negative view of the animal rights movement.

Damning case, right?

Wrong. Because, unless there is some test (whether statistical or otherwise), we have not proven causality. Now, you might say, "Well, there's no need for a test because causality is obvious!" But it's actually not, in most cases, because there are literally an infinite number of causal models for every pattern of data, and many of them may be just as plausible as the "obvious" model upon further examination.

For example, the good cop, bad cop effect (which has empirical support) may actually imply that, even if A and B are true, people's perceptions of other activists are in fact improved by PETA's tactics and negative reputation. "Thank god you're not one of those PETA types! (Oh, and since you're one of the nice ones, please tell me what you have to say... and what you want me to do.)" 

Even if the good cop, bad cop effect does not apply in this case, causality may run C > B > A rather than A > B > C, i.e. people may have a negative view of PETA and its tactics precisely BECAUSE they have a negative view of the movement and its ideology -- not vice versa. 

We need to distinguish between these theories. But, too often, we -- even the best and most effectiveness-minded minds in our movement -- fail to do that. 

Want to read more about using science in activism. Check out our prior blog post -- Science or Science-y -- here

Hungry to Learn (East Coast Tour - Part 4)

Hungry to Learn

by Wayne Hsiung

(This is the fourth in a multi-part series about DxE's East Coast Speaking Tour. Read all the blog posts from the tour here.)

About 16 years ago to the day, I decided to go vegan.

By starving myself.

There was a huge amount of research coming out about the benefits of so-called “caloric restriction” at the time, a diet with 20-30% fewer calories than a normal human being. The prevailing theory was that caloric restriction put your body into “emergency mode.” It was a signal to our DNA, “You haven’t had the chance to reproduce. Don’t age or die!” The resulting self-protective measures prevented not just aging but heart disease, cancer, and dementia (a particular concern for me, since I had a relative at the time who was suffering from mental decline).

I hated pretty much all vegetarian foods.  But I wanted to be: (1) ethical; and (2) healthy. Severe caloric restriction seemed an obvious way to accomplish both. I would eat a huge bowl of broccoli for lunch, a bowl of raw and unflavored tofu for dinner, and perhaps have some Fiber One as an after-dinner snack. I drank massive amounts of water, but never touched juice or even soy milk. And the occasional once-a-week granola bar was a treasured treat.

I lost 40 or so pounds (from a very fit 175 -- my current weight -- to a ridiculously slim 135), and my parents/grandparents thought I had gone insane. Not only was I giving up meat -- the dietary sign that our family had finally made it in the world -- but I was losing a terrifying amount of weight. But it didn’t matter to me because I was accomplishing my goals. I would live, I thought to myself, to the age of 120!

Or would I?

Our ability to understand even a single human being’s body is shockingly limited. Nutritional science, for example, has taken centuries, with thousands of experiments, to give us a very limited understanding of the impacts of various diets on human health. Antioxidants were once thought to be a cure all to everything from heart disease to cancer, but the most recent evidence suggests, in part due to the body’s adaptive mechanisms, they don’t do anything at all. Fruit juices that were once considered part of a healthy diet are now seen as major contributors to the diabetes epidemic. And fats, especially saturated fats from animal products, were once deemed the bane of human health -- and waistlines -- but the latest evidence shows that all the fears were probably overblown. 

In short, when it comes to complex systems such as the human body, our science is painfully limited, and constantly subject to revision.  That has been true, sadly for my 16-year-old self, of caloric restriction. The promising early studies have not held up to further scrutiny. I’ve subsequently put back on most of the weight… and satisfied my family members that I am not, in fact, insane.

But what is true of the study of the human body is perhaps even more true of the human brain. With 100 billion neurons firing in a dizzying array of patterns and sequences, each seemingly different than the last, the complexity of human brain puts nutrition science to shame. We lack even the most basic understanding as to what causes phenomena such as love, addiction, or even consciousness, and a true breakthrough may be thousands of years away.

And yet we remain startlingly confident in our ability to predict how the brain and mind work, as manifested in not just individual behavior, but social change. This confidence, as the brilliant Duncan Watts puts it, is false.

“The social world… is far messier than the physical world, and the more we learn about it, the messier it is likely to seem. The result is that we will probably never have a science of sociology that will resemble physics. “

In everything from the best methods to stop war and encourage peace, to the expected outcome of a business merger, to trying to ensure a couple will stay together, to determining how to stop people from smoking, our ability to make predictions about the social world is astonishingly bad. Yet, because our common sense evolved to help us make sense of such questions, we are confident that we have solutions. But the conventional wisdom has it backwards. Rocket science isn’t so hard (despite the everyday person’s perception of its difficulty); social science, as I’ve written previously, is.

I’ll develop these ideas further in later blog posts. (I know I still owe many of you a sequel to “Science or Sciency-y.”) But I bring this point up now because the difficulty of the problems we face has been a common theme of the tour. In meeting with incredibly smart and open-minded leaders such as David Coman-Hidy at The Humane League, Rob Wiblin of the Centre for Effective Altruism and Animal Charity Evaluators, and Dawn Moncrief of A Well Fed World, I’ve really appreciated the common understanding of the difficulties we face as social justice activists -- and the resulting need for creative strategies and careful strategy and analysis.

I learned, for example, that David believes that some of the most important aspects of his work are, in fact, unmeasurable -- the community building dimension, for example, of THL’s chapter model. I learned that Rob is increasingly interested in movement building approaches to effective activism -- notwithstanding CEA’s traditional emphasis on individual-level change. And I learned that Dawn is involved in a dizzying array of projects, from giving out PB&J sandwiches to the hungry to offering grants to promising animal rights groups internationally. I learned, in short, that a lot of people are thinking hard, being creative, and recognizing the complexity of the problems we face.

Perhaps even more, however, I learned that it’s important for us to connect with one another. Casey Taft, the founder of Vegan Publishers and a professor at Boston University Medical School (where he works on stopping domestic violence) is not necessarily the first person you’d think to ask, in trying to understand social change. But insights he has developed as one of the world’s pioneers in stopping domestic violence can, in fact, be applied to animal rights, as he powerfully argued in a recent article.

The insight we can glean from listening to Casey is an example of a broader phenomenon: the importance of cross fertilization in obtaining good answers to difficult problems. There are numerous examples of this in my own field economics. Behavioral economics (resulting in at least two Nobel Prizes, and many more to come) was a result of cross talk between economists, psychologists, and sociologists. Paul Krugman’s Nobel Prize winning trade theory was developed from insights stolen from the scholarship on geography. And even the now discredited rational choice paradigm was the result of interactions between mathematics, physics, engineering, and economics. In short, on hard problems, we need to seek out perspectives from different areas of knowledge to get better at what we do.

And I think this is especially true when those other areas of knowledge contradict our own. This is why I was so excited to discuss DxE’s campaigns with Bruce Friedrich, one of the leaders at Farm Sanctuary. Bruce is most recently famous for debating Gary Francione on the value of welfare reforms. His prior position at PETA led him to undertake a number of campaigns, e.g. advocating controlled atmosphere killing, which brought down the ire and wrath of the radicals within our movement. Bruce, in short, is not a natural party for conversation for a group like DxE. 

But that makes his insight (and yes, his criticism) especially important to entertain. And in our conversations with Bruce, two things became apparent.

First, if our goal is network building, it is absolutely vital to emphasize that our model of activism -- building a movement for nonviolent direct action -- complements many of the strategies taken by other groups. If we are successful -- as I fully expect we will be -- our activism will make the lobbying, outreach, and education that Bruce does exponentially more effective. Indeed, in many ways, that is the entire point of nonviolent direct action: to create so much energy behind an issue that less assertive methods can finally sink in the way they should!

Second, while the It’s not Food, It’s Violence campaign has created an impressive international mobilization, it’s important for us to think strategically about how it fits into the longer term objective of building empowered networks for change. And, perhaps just as importantly, it’s important for us to explain this strategy to the world. How are we to get from A to Z, without taking steps B, C, and D?

There were a number of other important criticisms leveled at DxE by Bruce. But the key point, for me, is that there is much to learn from even those with whom you disagree -- especially when they have as much experience and wisdom as someone like Bruce (who, in his younger years, served 2.5 years of collective prison time for civil disobedience as a peace activist), and when our objective -- total animal liberation -- is one and the same.

That does not mean we have to give up our strategy, much less our values. Bruce himself would be the first to acknowledge that, if there is a genuine ethical concern, it ought to be directly raised. (We had some intense conversations on the ethics of killing.) But if we want to find right answers, to change others, and to learn ourselves, we have to be willing to talk… and yes, even build bridges with people with whom we might disagree.

We are stronger together. We are smarter together. And it is only together, that we will achieve our greatest dreams. 

What Animal Rights Activists Can Learn from the Failures of the War on Poverty

What Animal Rights Activists Can Learn from the Failures of the War on Poverty

by Wayne Hsiung


We have seen massive economic growth, globally, in the past 50 years. Yet, for the poorest and most oppressed, little seems to have changed. As Thomas Pogge, Director of the Global Justice Program and Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs at Yale University, points out, this is especially galling because those of us in the developed world would have to shift such a tiny amount of our income, 2.7%, to totally alleviate severe poverty. 

But despite significant attempts by do-gooders to increase, and make more effective, charitable donations, the long-term problems remain unsolved. Why? Pogge offers an answer:

[A]id on its own cannot overcome the powerful headwind generated by a supranational institutional order designed by the rich for the rich... Only by changing the rules that generate and maintain vast global inequality can we actually realize the proclaimed ambition of our political leaders to end severe poverty by 2030. We must address its root causes, rather than treating its symptoms under the guise of charity.

Aid that goes to the poor, in a world where the rules of the game are skewed against them, ends up getting swallowed up by inefficient bureaucracies, corrupt dictators, or impossible on-the-ground problems (e.g. saving a child from malaria only to have her die the next day from cholera). Without an effort to change rules -- the many forms of which social scientists call "institutions" -- even promising symptomatic interventions are doomed to fail. 

There are lessons here for animal rights activists. Too often, we focus on symptomatic efforts -- changing one person, reforming one form of abuse for one particular species -- without thinking about the root causes -- political, social, and cultural -- of species oppression.

And there are tensions between systemic and symptomatic interventions, not only because resources spent on symptoms cannot go to cures, but because the very way we frame a problem will influence our conception of what it means to find a cure. A physicist will find answers that sound in physics -- she will look at the interaction of atoms and molecules, the operation of basic forces of physical science -- even if the right answer can only be found by looking to biology. 

Similarly, a vegan consumerist will find solutions only in vegan consumerism, even if the right answer can only be found by looking to animal liberation. If we focus too much on individual-level interactions (How do I create an individual vegan?), we may miss out on other variables of our system -- so-called emergent properties -- that are more important if we are to create real and permanent change (How do I create legal, moral, and social rules that condemn violence against animals?). The strategies, messaging, and tactics to affect these latter variables, in turn, might be very different from what we would seek if we were focused only on individual-level change. 

The upshot? As with the war on poverty, creating real and permanent change for animals will require us to change, not just individuals, but the rules under which those individuals operate. And that effort requires far more creativity, strategy, and yes, even radicalism than the mainstream animal rights movement currently acknowledges. 


How Two Nobel Prize Winners (and one Iron Giant) Shaped DxE

PALS (Phoenix Animal Liberation Squad) interviews Wayne Hsiung on the Origins of DxE, Creative Disruption, and How Two Nobel Prize Winners (and one Iron Giant) Shaped the DxE Model

by DxE

PALS organizer Saryta Rodriguez is writing a book about the animal rights movement. But she recently published a sneak preview of an interview about DxE.

In the interview, Saryta explores the origins of DxE, the importance of "disrupting business as usual", and the influence of two Nobel Laureates in establishing DxE's model of activism. 

Here's an excerpt: 

SR: What inspired you to start this particular coalition? Why not just join any of the many pre-existing animal liberation organizations out there? What did you hope to bring to the table that others perhaps do not?

WH: There are a million animal groups out there; but what makes us different is primarily that we are squarely focused on movement building. Most animal rights groups attempt to shift particular actors (whether corporate or state) or the public. While we don’t neglect those objectives, we also are keenly aware of the importance of building a stronger and more robust movement to effect real change. I was influenced in this by my studies of intervention into human rights causes. It turns out that most attempts to fix problems have little to no effect. The reason, as Nobel Prize winner Douglass North found, is that institutions—particularly “soft” institutions, such as culture and trust—are the ultimate cause of (and solution for) most social ills.

Check out the full interview here

Social Change is a Sticky Staircase

Social Change is a Sticky Staircase (and Other Reflections on the Chipotle Campaign)

by Wayne Hsiung

Activists at a recent Chipotle protest in San Francisco. 

We set out the case for the Chipotle campaign in a recent talk: Chipotle's Seven Deadly Sins. But for those of you who want to dig a little deeper, here is a Q&A with some information about our campaign's strategy and goals. Enjoy! 


What do you think of efforts to increase humane treatment of animals and increase vegan options, as compared to an overall strategy for achieving animal liberation?

Incremental reforms are necessary, but they should be sustainable and part of a long term movement strategy. Unfortunately, that's often not the case. Consider the Humane Slaughter Act of 1958. The Act, which is far more ambitious in scale and scope than any animal welfare legislation considered by Congress since, was passed with widespread public support, so much that President Eisenhower is reported to have said, "If I went by mail, I'd think no one was interested in anything but humane slaughter." But, without a broader liberation movement behind it, the Act has had little effect in stopping violence against animals. Violations of the HSA are routine, inspectors often feel powerless to enforce it, and there has been a massive increase in animal abuse since its passage.

The difficulty is that the world we face, as animal advocates, is like a sticky staircase rather than a slippery slope. Incremental reforms are easily reversed or ignored -- the strands of the sticky staircase pull you back to the last step -- because prevailing norms and structures undermine a reform's continued relevance. Whenever we consider a reform, we have to ask ourselves two questions:

  1. Is this reform sustainable in a speciesist world (or, instead, does it depend on institutions and actors -- such as the USDA or Chipotle -- that have an interest in undermining our movement's momentum)?
  2. Does this reform help build a movement for animals that will foster new progress (or, instead, does it pacify outrage about animal abuse and lead to institutional backsliding)?

When we ask these two questions, I think we'll find that conventional efforts to improve treatment and increase vegan options are problematic precisely because they lack any strategic long-term mooring. The two efforts, incremental reform and long-term strategy, must go hand in hand for either to be effective.


What is your response to Chipotle's claim that the company shares some "common ground with your group"?

The classic distinction between direct action and other forms of activism is the distinction between confrontation and compromise. As advocates of nonviolent direct action for animals, we have to be vigilant about compromising our values to the status quo. We have to, as William Lloyd Garrison put it, be as "harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice." The truth is there is little common ground between animal advocates and a multinational corporation that murders millions of animals. We want the world to someday see animal abuse as equivalent to human abuse, and we can only do that by calling out corporations such as Chipotle for what they truly are: engines of violence.


What is your response to those who say that animal rights activists should not protest companies like Chipotle because it is making an effort and has vegan options--in short, that activists should protest the bad/worse companies and that Chipotle is better?

The first response to this question is that Chipotle is not a better company. Indeed, that is exactly the point of the campaign! Chipotle is the third largest publicly traded restaurant company in the world. It is increasing its violence against animals faster than virtually any other corporation on the planet. And it profits immensely off of claims of humane treatment. For example, it instantly doubled its sales of carnitas after it switched to a supposedly "natural" supplier, and began marketing its meat as "responsibly raised." 

But as industry reports, mainstream media, and even independent class action lawyers have found, Chipotle's marketing claims are a fraud. In fact, brutally violent acts such as debeaking and castration are standard practice in "natural" or "humane" farming. The company still sources from so-called factory farms, which drive animals insane from confinement. And, most importantly, killing can never be a "responsible" or "humane" act. Killing is not a kindness; it's horrific and brutal violence. 

When you look at Chipotle's cultural impact (i.e. its effect on memes), the picture gets even worse. Chipotle is leading the world in spreading pro-meat propaganda -- financing a documentary called American Meat, putting up billboards that simply say "MEAT MEAT MEAT", and hosting huge festivals with hundreds of thousands of attendees who hear about how we can cultivate a better world by killing animals. Fifty years of research in psychology and social change has shown us that ideas matter. And Chipotle, perhaps more than any other company, is laying the ideological foundation for the mass murder of animals. In short, even if all of the marketing claims were true -- and they're not -- that would not make Chipotle a "good corporation." It would still make Chipotle one of the worst.

The second response to this question goes to a fundamental question as to what the animal rights movement is about: is it about helping vegans perpetuate a consumer lifestyle? Or is it a social justice movement focused on stopping violence against animals? If the latter, the vegan options at Chipotle are irrelevant. Chipotle is one of the largest and fastest growing animal killers in the world, regardless of whether it has vegan or humane options. Indeed, if the so-called humane options are offered as part of the prevailing "What we eat is a personal choice" narrative, then those options can actively undermine our momentum. Instead of being inspired to protest companies like Chipotle, potential activists and allies are pacified by the vegan bribe. "You choose meat. I choose tofu," they say to themselves. Left unspoken, however, is the stolen choice of the individual whose body was violently and involuntarily taken to sustain that compromise.

There is a long history of corporate interests attempting to co-opt a movement with false concessions, and it is often the companies that engage in moral posturing (the Enrons and BPs of the world) that have the most to hide. We can't allow our movement to be co-opted or deceived by cheap marketing tricks. If all it takes to convince us to put down our signs and our bullhorns is a cheap vegan burrito, then our movement will never muster the mettle it needs to succeed. But the momentum behind our campaign, in a very short period of time, tells me that our movement does have what it takes. We're tired of apologizing and compromising and begging for even the most meaningless reforms. We're ready to speak and act directly for what we believe: the right of every animal, human or non-human, to live a life free from violence.

Third and finally, it's important to note that campaigns are not collaborations. They are adversarial in nature. You would not stop to praise your opponent in an election campaign, the moment you scored a political point. Neither would you back down in an important lawsuit , simply because your opponent made a minor concession or change. There is this quite admirable notion in the progressive left that all activism (indeed, all politics) should be done with a friendly face. But this has little basis in the science or history of social change. Indeed, it is contradicted by the example of successful animal rights movements such as Israel's, which has jolted an entire nation and tripled the population of vegans in merely one year. To succeed, we have to be, not meek and accommodating, but strong, confident, and unrelenting in pursuit of our goals. (Bill McKibben makes a similar point about climate change activism. The plague of the climate change movement is that it has never, until now, had an enemy.) 

Corporations are not sensitive souls that need constant praise to continue on the right path. They are ruthless, profit maximizing engines that are legally obligated to focus only on shareholder returns. To sustain any concessions -- and even more importantly, to sustain public dialogue -- we have to keep their feet to the fire. Indeed, if you are concerned about the vegan option, then our campaign is perhaps the best way to ensure that it stays on the menu


Some people say that protesting against companies like Chipotle -- i.e. companies who have embraced humane treatment of animals and offer vegan options -- will confuse the public.  What is your response?

The truth is that our entire movement's message is too often confused. We say that we believe in animal rights, but we are not confident enough to say that we believe in a world where every animal -- even those that are traditionally ignored such as farm animals -- is safe and happy and free. We yell and scream when defending one species that is cute and cuddly, but smile and apologize when advocating for another species that is even more brutally abused. And, too often, we compromise our mission and our values for the sake of temporary and superficial victories.

The irony is that, if we stick to our basic values, the message is powerfully clear. "It's not food. It's violence." That's not a difficult message to appreciate. And in the context of human oppression, no one would argue that being opposed, for example, to Apple's sweatshops is "confusing" because Apple also sometimes sources from non-sweatshop conditions. (In fact, Apple is one of the most responsible corporations on ethical sourcing.) Doing one good deed, for manipulative marketing reasons, does not absolve a company from responsibility for doing many other bad ones.

In short, the confusion over the Chipotle campaign is a product of our lack of presence and confidence. But if we can develop a real presence in progressive politics -- by saying clearly and strongly and constantly that violence is wrong, period -- the message of our movement suddenly becomes very clear. Indeed, inspiring that dialogue within our movement is one of the most important (albeit unstated) objectives of our campaign. As a movement, let's take on our opponent's strongest case and still be confident that we can win. Let's be absolutely clear about what we believe: that violence against animals is always wrong.


Are you calling for people to boycott Chipotle?  Why or why not?

Boycotts are a tactic and not a value, and they are a tactic that is only effective when you have sufficient support to either affect a company's bottom line, or trigger public dialogue.

We did some preliminary estimates that suggested that, even in a best case scenario, a boycott would affect less than 0.05% of the company's revenue. There are simply too few animal rights activists to make any dent, via boycott, on a company this big. And while passively deciding not to buy from a store can be a meaningful symbolic action (I personally do not eat at Chipotle, or any other restaurant that serves dead animals, for this reason), it's a small part of what makes a great campaign great. As a tactic, it lacks the emotional impact, drama, and energy of a truly inspirational campaign. 

So I would much prefer that supporters speak or act against the company. Organize a protest. Tell your friends about humane washing. Or even just mention to the manager that you're an aggrieved customer, if and when you buy a burrito. Staining the company's reputation in the public sphere -- through creative and nonviolent protest -- can affect not just the tiny handful of activist consumers but the millions of non-animal rights activists who shop at Chipotle all over the world and, more importantly, trigger a much-needed dialogue on the status of non-human animals. 

(Video) Why Protesting Chipotle Might Be the Most Important Thing in Animal Rights

Why Protesting Chipotle Might Be the Most Important Thing in Animal Rights

by Wayne Hsiung

Prominent voices in the movement have attacked our nonviolent campaign as an "assault" and talked about how they love Chipotle so much that they want to give the CEO a hug. But this is precisely why the "It's not Food, It's Violence" campaign is so important. It dispels the illusion conjured up by a violent corporate empire (now the third largest publicly traded restaurant company in the world), and replaces it with a bold vision of a better and more truthful world. 

Check out the video to learn about:  

  • The numerous, bald-faced lies told by Chipotle about their "love" and "respect" for animals -- lies that have led to scrutiny even by consumer activist lawyers with no connections to the animal rights movement
  • How a public relations firm that was responsible for the defense of Big Tobacco set out the insidious plan of action being used by Chipotle and its ilk to divide our movement. 
  • How Chipotle performed the exact same trick ("We love animals! Check out our Gardein burrito!") on our movement in 2010, by offering a vegan option to gain wonderful press, only to drop the option the moment the "warm glow" dissipated
  • The centrality of the "Food with Integrity" marketing to Chipotle's explosive growth
  • How the campaign, if successful, would be roughly equivalent to ten years of operation by the most effective vegan advocacy groups in the world, even under the most conservative statistical assumptions.
Chipotle's ads are brilliant. But the company forgot an important disclaimer. 

Chipotle's ads are brilliant. But the company forgot an important disclaimer. 

There's so much more to say, especially about the path forward. But if you're wondering, "Why Chipotle?", take a look. And please share with a friend! 

Slides here