Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Nick Cooney Q2: Do Anything

In your book, especially the first portion, you speak extensively (and convincingly) against the attitude of “do something, do anything!” From your knowledge of psychology and sociology, why do you think this is such a common (and often intractable) problem, especially within the animal advocacy community?

Great question. A lot of animal advocates do feel that as long as they are doing something, anything to help animals, they can feel good about themselves and can rest assured that they are doing the right thing. I certainly felt the same way for the first couple years of my time as an animal advocate: what's important was that I was standing up for animals, adding my voice to those who were condemning circuses, fur, animal testing and so forth. What's important was that I was on the right side.

But creating social change is not that easy. Really doing good is not that easy. As an analogy, think about a parent raising his or her first child. Would they be a "good parent" if they just stood by the child's crib holding a sign for an hour each week telling the child that they loved it? Of course not. To be a good parent, they need to take the time to read books on child nutrition and child psychology, and learn all the details and complexities of how to raise a happy, healthy child. Most of us, placed in the role of parent, would be willing to put that time and effort in.

We need to be just as thoughtful about our work to create change for animals. In other words, we need to be focused on results. We need to realize that the important thing is not how much we say we love the child, it's how the child turns out. The important thing with animal advocacy is not that we're on the right side, or that we're doing "something" to help animals, the important thing is what actual results we've had for animals. How many animals have been spared a lifetime of suffering as a result of our own personal work over the past few months? How many have been saved from death? And, is there a way that we could be helping numerically more animals?

The problem with slogans like "do something, do anything," "practice random acts of kindness," etc., is that they are completely focused on how we feel, and they completely ignore what's happening in the world around us. If we're living out the phrase "do something, do anything," we're letting ourselves be steered by our self-centered desires to feel good about ourselves. It's profoundly disrespectful to those who are suffering right now. To a pig confined in a filthy gestation crate, it doesn't make a difference in her life whether or not you "do something, do anything". It only makes a difference in her life if you create an actual change - by getting someone to stop eating meat, getting a company to do away with gestation crates, etc. As Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, "The revolution is not a question of virtue, but of effectiveness."

Bottom line: if we we're really concerned with helping animals (and I think all of us reading this are), let's re-double our efforts to stay focused on RESULTS, and doing the work that will create the most real-world results for animals.