I’d like to share an ongoing conversation I’ve been having with the editor of my local paper in regard to writing about animal rights for the paper. He’s a great, understanding guy and a good editor, so I have nothing against him at all. I just cannot do what he’s asking by positioning the views of animal exploiters as legitimate and valid as part of a “debate” on animal rights. As I explain to him in the following emails, there is no animal rights debate. There is only one clear, logical, rational and reasonable “side”. Anyway, the emails, starting with my original email to the paper’s editor:
Since I spoke with you, I’ve been trying to think of something to write for the paper. I got the feeling you didn’t want me to write about things related to animal rights, but that’s all I’m really interested in writing about.
You also said that if I did write about animal rights, it had to be “balanced” for the sake of journalistic integrity.
I’ve thought about that, and I don’t understand how I could be expected to present animal exploitation as a legitimate, valid “perspective”. If I were to write a piece about human rights, I’m fairly certain you would not expect me to present the viewpoint that human slavery and exploitation are valid “viewpoints”, quoting those who profit off it, or if I wrote about rape, I am again fairly certain you would not want me to include the “opposing viewpoints” of the rapists.
But when animals are the ones being exploited, all of a sudden it’s a matter of “opinion”.
If I were to write about why people were protesting the rodeo, I would not interview someone who feels that animal abuse and torture–rodeo–is okay because it’s entertaining, or a cultural tradition, or it creates jobs, or any other such nonsense. Those are not valid and legitimate reasons for exploiting and harming animals, and I refuse to present them as such. Either exploitation of living, sentient beings is wrong, or it isn’t. It can’t be okay for one group but not for another. Just as it is not okay for homosexuals to be denied the right to marry, and it is not okay for black people to be forced to sit at the back of the bus, it is not okay for non-humans to be denied the right to not be exploited at the hands of humans. To say someone doesn’t matter because they are homosexual, or black, or non-human is not morally acceptable. And I refuse to write anything that implies or suggests otherwise.
As such, I regret to say I can’t write for the paper. Best of luck with it.
He responded with the following:
Thanks for the note and the article. I think there has been some mis-communication between us, but I hope we can clear it up.
I would like to run your note in the June issue. (please confirm I can run it largely as is). It will be on our OP-ED page as a personal ‘opinion piece’.
It’s a strong argument, and one that I would be proud to have in our paper. This may confuse you a bit, but even though I (personally) think your argument is strong, I also think it is a bit limited in understanding. And yet, I would love to run it for our readers to see.
I think this goes to the heart of our misunderstanding. I run opinion pieces on page 5, and you are always welcome to present your point of view to our readers on that page. What I was referring to in our conversation were non-opinion pieces in the rest of the newspaper. In those articles, I hope that we as journalists will present the debate in full, with all sides represented, so that the reader can make up their own mind as to their point-of-view.
I do not always agree with the comments of people I interview, and their comments don’t always represent the idea I am trying to get across to the reader. BUT, I trust that the reader can read the entire debate and come up with a more informed understanding of the issue. I trust that people will decide for themselves, which for me, is the highest ideal for a journalistic writer. We are primarily concerned (here at the paper) with democratic debate and promoting the idea that people should have informed opinions, regardless of the opinion they have.
I don’t expect us to agree on this point nor others to agree with me (which is why I would like to run your article–so everyone can share our debate).
In the future, I hope we can work together to find ways to present your point of view in a way that works with the newspaper’s mandate. Page 5 will work this month. Perhaps we can find other opportunities in the future.
One idea to consider: In martial arts, we often use our opponent’s momentum against them. In journalism, we often run comments from our ‘opponents’ to show their lack of balance and failure to argue responsibly. The same could be said of animal rights debates. Why not show (interview) the other side of the debate to use it against them? It is often a devastating strategy.
And then I responded with the following:
So, just to be clear, since I am misunderstanding what you mean by “balance” in articles, if I want to do a non-opinion piece on prostitution, it’s okay with you if I interview a few pimps to get their perspectives about why they feel it’s okay to use violence and drug addiction to coerce women into dangerous and exploitative situations so the pimps can profit off them? For the sake of balance, we have to include the perspective of the pimps, as they have pretty heavy economic interests in keeping women on the streets and as such, their “perspective” on prostitution is legitimate. And if one of these fine, upstanding citizens talks about how women are trash and are here to serve men and make them money, that’s definitely an appropriate comment to include in the article, because readers can make up their own minds.
I get your point about demolishing opponents in debate. However, there is nothing to debate in regard to animal rights. The crux of the matter is that while most normal people agree that we should not cause unnecessary pain and suffering to other animals, they do so at every meal, every time they go to rodeos, zoos and aquariums, every time they wear leather and fur, etc. All of that is unnecessary. Even biomedical research using animals–which people LOVE to throw out there as a “necessary” use of animals–is not necessary and is harmful to human health.
The bottom line is that if you think it’s not morally justifiable to cause animals pain and suffering that is not necessary, you cannot exploit them for any purpose. You cannot keep them as “property” because so long as they are your property, your interests will always trump theirs. Always, even when your interests are trivial (as in you like how they taste) and their interests are life and death (as in you slaughter them so you can eat them).
How does someone debate that? We don’t need to eat them. We don’t need to wear them. We don’t need to ride them or keep them as pets. We don’t need to keep them in zoos and aquariums. Rodeo is absolutely, unequivocally unnecessary. To say that it is okay to cause unnecessary pain and suffering to some animals, like cows, pigs and chickens, but not to others, like dogs and cats, is called speciesism and is the same thing as saying it’s okay to enslave black people but not white people. Not okay, and not worthy of being printed in a paper.
You keep setting up animal rights as though it’s a debatable “issue”, and it’s not, any more than women’s rights or the rights of gay people or ethnic minorities are “debatable”. To say that animals should be used however we want simply because they are not human is not a justifiable position to take. Again, there is no debate here. There are not two rational, reasonable, defensible “sides” in animal rights. There is only one.
People can have all the “perspectives” they want–many men believe women are garbage and should be treated as such. Many people believe that rape is okay if she’s dressed like she wants it or she’s drunk. Many people think Aboriginals are trash and don’t deserve rights. These are all “perspectives”. But not one of them is debatable. Or legitimate. Or valid.
The only “perspectives” I’ve come across that are anti-animal rights are from the exploiters–people who profit from using animals however they see fit (including those who eat and wear animals). The only ammo they have for “debating” is their own self-interest. Not acceptable, any more than the “perspective” of a pimp who profits off prostitutes is acceptable.
Sorry to be so long-winded, but I feel that your understanding of animal rights is quite limited and I felt the need to clarify how it is impossible to position animal rights as something “debatable” or as an “opinion” or “perspective”. The only–and I mean, ONLY–thing that one could possibly debate is whether or not animals are members of the moral community and therefore worthy of moral consideration. But again, most people already feel that they are, at least mammals, birds, fish…some people struggle with insects and other forms of animal life. That’s a whole other topic.
I’m always happy to write about animal rights, but I will not, under any circumstances, include the “perspectives” of the exploiters and users as valid or worth considering. I already know their “perspective”–exploiting animals for personal gain is A-OK in their books. I want to educate others, not legitimize something that cannot ever be legitimate. I guess anything I write will have to be confined to the Opinion page. I’ll have to live with that, even though it’s NOT an “opinion”.
Feel free to use what I’ve written, here or before, but please don’t alter it. I understand that space is an issue, but I write what I write for a reason. If you need something shortened or adjusted, I’d appreciate it if I could be the one to do that.