The IssueThe letters flow into Anonymous headquarters: "you need to invest your entire budget in a television film that will show the atrocities in chicken coops and dairy barns!" writes Tal. Lital bursts into the office next, exclaiming: "enough with public education! We can only stop violence with violence!" and meanwhile, Avital is on the phone: "why are you discussing farming?! We need to approach people with issues that are easy for them to take in – health, circuses, animal testing for cosmetics... Anything else has got to be only second priority!"
Who's right?Let's assume that we are all against any animal suffering caused by humans. We also recognize that the vast majority of the most serious animal cruelty occurs in the food industries; we also must admit that these industries are so powerful that we can only minimize the extent of the damage they cause to animals by convincing animal product consumers to change their eating habits.
So what’s the answer?!?It can be found in different places. The problem is that for every Tal there are other Tals, who speak his language. Tal stopped buying milk products when he saw a film about the modern milk industry; Lital started caring when she held in her arms some rabbits that had been released from a lab, while Avital was influenced by the "health food" trend that was spreading in her office. "Whatever it was that changed my mind – that's what's going to touch other people's hearts" say the aspiring revolutionaries. And they're right, but not completely. The problem is that a personal experience blurs the lines between what someone might think will affect people, and what angle animal rights activists should actually be taking in order to affect the largest number of people. If the issue that needs to be tackled was totally clear, we would also have very clear solutions to it. Which leads to:
The Split Personality of the Industrialized World: Empathy vs. Detachedness
In this day and age, most western people unintentionally cause steady suffering to animals of different species. Although sadistically torturing or killing animals went out of style over the past 200 years, what's left in the case of most people is collaboration – albeit from a distance – with cruelty and death, by consuming animal products. Consumers usually know very little about the circumstances of the animals whose bodies these products come from, during their lives or deaths; very few even pause to consider the fact that these animals even existed in the first place. There are those who don’t feel the slightest hint of empathy for these animals, and see them as no more than objects to be used by humans. These types of people will continue to behave completely normally, no matter how much gory evidence they are presented with.
This type of pig-headedness has also been going out of style, though. Nowadays, there are few people in the western world who remain completely indifferent to animal suffering once they are directly exposed to it. Then again, there is a rather substantial amount of people (mostly men) whose hearts would not soften even when faced with their victim's pleading gaze. But most have long ago given up on the image of the butcher, or the hunter; they would most likely change their habits – if only they encountered death and suffering face to face. These are the ones who would rather not hear, or see, anything related to it, because it's just easier: their only contact with the "animals" occurs between the supermarket and their plates, when these animals have been transformed into something resembling nothing more than food. This is why most people have a significant gap between their emotional sensitivity ("There's blood on that, gross!") to their level of actual awareness ("Wait, what's wrong with drinking milk?"); a gap between their self-image, morality-wise ("I'm a kind-hearted person!") to their daily immoral actions ("is the schnitzel ready yet?")
Therefore, the mission of the animal rights movement is to point these gaps out, and turn them into a known issue: to expose people to the cuts and bruises on raw meat, to make them see who’s been paying for the crushing bars that caused the bruises, or for the knife that cut into the flesh – and to let people’s natural empathy run its course. It’s a project that demands displaying the facts. It’s recommended and acceptable to soften the blow with a philosophical discussion about ethics, too, as it’s highly unlikely that a person who tried to rationally justify his meat consumption, for example, and was then convinced that he was mistaken, would go on to become a vegetarian solely because of that experience. Committing to such a drastic change in behaviour demands a certain emotional standpoint that has already existed, and wasn’t created by this theoretical discussion. Hence, the discussion is there to fill in the gaps between existing emotions and the facts. The long term goal is, of course, to spur even deeper emotions in people. But this a project more suited for a stronger and more extensive movement than the one which we are currently a part of. For the time being, it’s more sensible to make use of people’s already existing empathy.
That said, we're looking for the area with the largest gap between sensitivity and alienation: the types of people who can be expected to make the most drastic change after they discover the life story of the products they consume. In order to influence people on a larger scale, we have to observe people and categorize them into groups, and not look at individuals. Putting people into inflexible boxes, however, reduces the uniqueness of every person, which also poses a problem. On the other hand, if we didn't categorize people, we would most likely find ourselves focusing most of our energy on the handful of people who are closest to us, and we would never reach those who might actually listen to us more attentively. We'd also risk getting into an exhausting conflict with the most prominent and influential characters in this area – those who make money from these harmful industries (owners of slaughterhouses or restaurants serving meat, animal experimenters, etc.), or those who very vocally defend these industries and their own consumption of animal products; these types of people are almost completely impossible to influence, so it's more practical to redirect our efforts away from them.
There are people to talk to!
First, we aim to reach youth more than any other group, because it is their finger, so to speak, that lies on the trigger of the gun pointed at the animals of the future; this finger is flexible enough (especially if its owner happens to be female!) to stop, and throw the gun away: a teenager can easily identify with the suffering of a chicken, if thoroughly exposed to it. At the point when one is crossing the threshold between the innocence of childhood and the conformity of adulthood, ethics is not a word to be sneered at. Ethics that oppose the widespread norms (such as respecting the basic rights of chickens) aren't as discouraging as they seem to others, because the values of a person only tend to really settle once that person set him/herself into a defined place in society (usually through career and marital status). Mutual support is important for those who wish to adopt values that aren't generally accepted by society, and therefore it's important to spur interest in animal rights activism through consistent activities at school or youth groups, and to assist those who are interested in building a social network for themselves. Reaching out to individuals on the street or at events is less effective. One should also understand and consider some of the conventionally desirable characteristics: style of speech and dress, strategy. And it’s important to also mention health and finances: with parental consent, the moral decision of a teenager has to go through self-proclaimed experts in medicine and nutrition.
Our second group is mothers: the most influential group of people when it comes to consuming animal products, since in the sexist reality of Israel, women, in general, are the ones who buy and cook food for men and children. Their finger lies on the trigger of the gun pointed at the presently caged animals. It’s a very busy and impatient finger: “animal rights? If you had children, you wouldn't worry about it!” but a spare moment is all it takes (slogans, clear instructions for action, and available, credible references) and of course, with the winning combination of physical and financial health, the father might, from a distance, show some interest, as he is especially sensitive to harsh words such as “cholesterol”.
Is there a third group to aim at – that of young children? The sensitivity found in teenagers, who can empathise with the pain of a far away animal of a different species, must have developed at some point. People aren't equipped with innate empathy, not even for those closest to them. It's an acquired ability, and the process of acquiring it is just as accessible to boys as it is to girls. Instilling this empathy in children is quite a significant educational project, which exceeds the power of the animal rights movement. Since educating children to be sensitive is something that is already done by the different education systems, it's more worthwhile to act from within these systems (through teaching, lectures, giving out information material, etc.), by focusing on two unique tasks: to direct childish eyes to recognize that empathy for others doesn't mean just people, but also other species; and to teach them that even if something doesn't look like an animal ("that's not a cow, that's beef!") it's actually one of those "others" who deserves empathy.
The younger the people are, the more open they are to new ideas, in any level of society; the methods and effectivenes of educating children in preschools or even elementary schools are very similar in different cultures. Growing up in a specific society, being educated and beginning careers in specific fields – these are the causes of the distinctions between cultures. The people who pay the most attention to our messages are those who consider themselves "refined", or those who are educated towards relatively free professions (and hopefully with some shanti attitudes from India). "Relatives" of the animal rights movement should be mentioned too: the "Green" advocates of the environment (especially advocates of "green" consumerism), "pet" lovers, and human rights activists. All these can be expected to seriously consider the messages of the animal rights movement, unless they are not presented correctly, in which case our "relatives" will become aggressively defensive.
The "greens" take part in the animal rights movement through their criticism of the damage done by technology, and some are also against capitalism and consumerism. But if this doesn't convince the environmentalists to stop buying animal products, it demands a lot of effort just to defend the typical excuses for buying them; it puts people on the wall, trying their best not to get drawn in. They might, for example, steadfastly hold that they are naturally omnivores (of factory farmed animals!). That said, the ecological ramifications of the food industry will speak to them, along with a discussion of the industry in terms of environmental ethics. Household pet lovers know that humans are not the only animals with emotions and personalities. But if we try to tell Rexy's owner, for example, that Rexy is just like a cow – a potential steak – the shock might push him away. Without personally looking into a the eye of a chicken, free or tortured, all the empathy and compassion will only be directed towards Rexy. And as for the humanistic humanitarians – their sense of righteousness is just having trouble with bursting out of the bubble of Homo-sapiens, because it's already been nurtured and ripened inside the narrow limits of a single species. Hence, our aim is to expose them to the inconsistencies of this type of discrimination, seeing as they are already capable of understanding its significance.
It's important to mention one more particularly neglected group, when it comes to the battle for animal rights in Israel: the religious community. In all the important religions, there are traditions of compassion, which can be discussed in terms specific to that religion. Despite the secular nature of the animal rights movement in Israel nowadays, it's a good idea to recruit the right people to properly phrase the message, and to distribute it in religious communities, especially in relation to its spiritual aspects: the religious world attaches more significance to ethics than the capitalistic-secular world; in addition, these communities have internal mechanisms for spreading ideas and critiquing behaviour, which are much more influential than the corresponding mechanisms in the secular community.
Furthermore, the predominantly influential people in our society – politicians and business people – should also be mentioned. Considering that a single public comment from any of these people can save, or kill, a considerable number of animals, it's highly recommended to insist on trying to convince them (short speeches: lots of emphasis on economics, less on ethics). Though this doesn't come from an irrational hope that someone higher up will try to initiate a completely radical change, just to correct some of the injustices which shouldn't exist in our current socio-economic order ("unfortunately, the minister is unable to deal with the way meat chickens are raised, but he promises to work towards eliminating the cruelty of cock fighting"). Questioning the existing order of things won't come from the higher ups; it has to come from somewhere in the middle – by collectively adjusting consumption habits.
The means justify the means!
The difference between drawing attention to the torture of elephants in circuses, and the torture of cows in a modern dairy farm doesn't just depend on who the audience is, but also how the explanation is phrased. The fundamental distinctions between the different explanation methods depend on elements of time and attention: how long the target audiences are exposed to these ideas? how focused are they? Do people grab fliers from you at the supermarket exit? Is your street stall set up right in the middle of the idle path of a relaxed Friday afternoon? Have people come especially to hear you lecture for an hour and a half? The differences of time or attention almost directly correlate to the level of radicalism that can be acceptably incorporated into a discussion. The more your activism resembles hurriedly handing out fliers, the less information can be distributed, the fewer unknown topics can be brought up, and the fewer solutions can be given to an audience. Contact with a momentarily available audience demands self control. The mission is to eventually reach a patient, focused audience (yes, that's a hint that lectures should be organized!), with whom the consumption of meat, and even eggs and milk, can be openly discussed.
In any case, aggressive explanation has no place even in the best of circumstances. Even serious ethical interest in the matter can easily be extinguished by wrath, accusations and being overly aggressive or rude. Shocking people with horrifying images can push them away, so these should only be used to prove facts or to illustrate certain claims, and not in order to somehow yank the vegetarianism directly out of someone's intestines. Traumatizing a person will only make him change if you make him fear for the wellbeing of his own skin, and the skins of those closest to him – not of feathered or furry skins. Therefore, the careful, logical and sensitive approach is the most desirable strategy. Another very significant factor in the effectiveness of a discussion is age, dress and style of speech: since the subject of animal rights is considered "soft" and has an image of not being a serious topic, extra effort should be put into appearing to have high social standing. In some cases, however, when the audience is from a specific background, it is possible that a person from a similar background will be deemed most influential for that particular group of people.
An important factor which strongly affects the preferred contents of a discussion is the presence of external influences, which mediate between you and your audience: journalists and editors in the media; writers of education programs regarding animal abuse and teachers who have received information material from Anonymous; jurists and politicians who formulate legal suggestions; and many others. You can trust these good people to restrain your message, so as to "not offend the public". Hence, the larger the newspaper, the more national the education system, the more powerful the governmental level – the larger the chance that the critical message will deteriorate, or even completely transform into an opposite message: the media might convey a protest through the eyes of the harmful industry ("the new McDonald's joint fell victim to a violent demonstration today"), the education system might teach students that only very rare sadist are cruel to animals ("and if you don't eat meat, you won't grow up strong!"), and the parliament might legitimize institutionalized cruelty instead of trying to restrict it (see: "Israel's Animal Protection Law: Animal Experimentation)
Therefore, when turning to influential members of society, it is highly recommended to avoid any in-betweens. It's not easy: We want to reach those in power as directly as possible, or, preferably, to occupy powerful positions ourselves: in the media, education system, justice system and the government. And if that's not possible, then, at least, to send them written, well designed and edited information, in the hopes of minimizing the damage to that information, at least in their hands.
Where does it lead us?After just a couple of months, it's not easy to find Tal, Lital and Avital. Every individual found an effective area of activism that suits him or her. Tal dashes between printing houses and the media in order to wrap all of Anonymous' projects in clear photos and accurate revelations, with engaging titles. Lital searches for precise facts and first-hand, photographed proof. As for Avital, she sets up street stalls with different types of information materials, on every "green day", "stop violence day", "day of love" and other special days. It's springtime at Anonymous. Hopefully, one day the light will also reach the insides of the cages.
Translated by Ayelet Abramson