Friday, 4 March 2011

Norm Phelps Weighs In At Last: "[blahblah111!!!!Gooo0OOOO]"

[W]e must respect one another's choices. - Norm Phelps

[The] insistence that animal rights advocates abstain from supporting reform campaigns [is] distracting and divisive... [W]e must all hang together or the animals will all suffer and die separately.
- Norm Phelps

Norm Phelps, a religious icon or at least "the former spiritual director of the Fund for Animals," has scribbled down an essay, "Science Weighs In at Last: Campaigns for 'Welfarist' Reforms Cause People to Buy Significantly Less Meat," which is ostensibly a commentary on a scientific study, "Impacts of Animal Well-Being and Welfare Media on Meat Demand." The former essay positively reeks of Norm, in the sense that it is marked most unmistakably by his distinctive style by which - to anticipate our conclusion - he shows himself really and truly to warrant the title of "spiritual director." In the following, then, we explore his latest essay.

We will begin at the beginning, that is to say, with Norm's style christened by us – not without a certain liberty, for who can know what goes on in the minds of such people? - his "spiritual directorness." This spiritual directorness is characterized in its essence by two mutually reinforcing tendencies: first, there is his tendency, underlined by his allegations against them, to say astonishing things about abolitionists; and second, there is his tendency to say astonishing things about welfarism, underlined, for example, by his interpretation - which is somewhat idiosyncratic - of the aforementioned study.

To address the former point first, in depicting abolitionists in - how can we put it? - "spiritual" terms, that is to say, as belonging to a "denomination" with a "rigid strategic orthodoxy," and in addition favoring "theoretical" elegance over "welfarist reforms that ease the suffering of animals," he exemplifies his spiritual directorness. For this depiction - some may call it a mendacious caricature - is astonishing, and appears to be loaded with associations which are never fully explained or exemplified, and which, if he were not a "former spiritual director," we would say he insinuates knowingly and deliberately in an effort to discredit abolitionism. However, since he is, he would surely not be capable of doing a such thing, would he? Yet, at the same time, it must be said that he does wheel out these allegations indiscriminately as his stereotyped response to any criticism of welfarism.

What could be the purpose underlying Norm's allegations? Could it be, oh say to scapegoat abolitionists for the failures of welfarism after all attempts to defend "'single issue campaigns' for reform" miscarried - in much the same way as (other) reactionaries scapegoat minority groups for the failures of right-wing government? How assess this interpretation? On the one hand, he is a "former spiritual director" who dispensed spiritual wisdom - albeit in return for a salary - so it may not be right; but then again, referring to abolitionists, he does say this:

[The] insistence that animal rights advocates abstain from supporting reform campaigns [is] distracting and divisive... [W]e must all hang together or the animals will all suffer and die separately.

So, just to be clear about it: Norm is here claiming that not some, nor yet many, but indeed "all" the animals "will suffer and die" if we reject welfarism - or, to put it the other way around, if we support abolitionism. That, we feel, is a sufficient illustration, in and of itself, of the attribute by which we have claimed his writing on the abolition / welfare debate as a whole, in its totality, is marked, namely its spiritual directorness.

Now, to take the second point, that in saying astonishing things about welfarism Norm further exemplifies his spiritual directorness: in his essay, he comments on a study, as we said, which claims that meat consumption has increased. And yet of the results of this study he says:

The findings are clear and unequivocal: 'As a whole, media attention to animal welfare has significant, negative effects on U.S. meat demand.' (Kansas State University) In other words, publicity regarding the welfare of farmed animals—the preponderance of which is generated by campaigns for "welfarist" reforms—causes the public to buy and eat less meat. And they buy less meat overall; they do not simply switch from one type of meat to another.

In Norm's interpretation, then, meat consumption has decreased "overall" owing to welfarist reform, the latter, a tactical necessity, being a glorified success; whereas, in fact, in the study it actually claims that there has not been a reduction in demand "overall," but merely a reduction in the rate of demand-increase expected by agricultural economists. The study states (on p. 9) the crux of the matter as follows:

Our model suggests that pork and poultry demand increases over the last decade would have been (ceteris paribus) 2.65% and 5.01% higher, respectively, if media attention in 2008(4) was at equivalent levels as 1999(1).

And again (in a summary of the original article):

Using the estimated longrun elasticities it is suggested that pork and poultry demand increases over the last decade would have been 2.65percent and 5.01 percent higher, respectively if media attention in the fourth quarter of 2008 was at equivalent levels as the first quarter of 1999 [p.2].

Not a reduction in any absolute sense, then, but only in demand increase.

We are now in a position to detect some confusion in Norm's interpretation, of which, however, he must be innocently unaware, but which nonetheless is compulsively present throughout it. Perhaps we can illustrate the precise nature of this confusion by an analogy. Suppose, for example, that the murder rate, told by some study, increased by 25% from one year to the next and yet the police had been expecting it to increase by 50%. Now would anyone other than perhaps "spiritual director[s]" say that the murder rate had significantly decreased "overall"? And if someone did say so, what would he be trying to accomplish? Perhaps to impart a spurious imitation of success to the police's policy, which had in reality failed to decrease the murder rate - in other words: to confuse, obfuscate, or whitewash it.

Moreover, again in fidelity to his tendency to say astonishing things about welfarism, Norm says that the study claims that consumers "do not simply switch from one type of meat to another," whereas, in fact, it actually claims that consumers simply do not consume more meat from what it (rather absurdly) calls the "meat complex," a term that ranges over three meats: beef, pork, and poultry. That is a definition, then, that is non-exhaustive, in the sense that it does not encompass all meats, indubitably in consequence leaving open the possibility - which this former "spiritual director" disregards - that consumers could have switched either to some other type of meat, such as fish, or to non-meat animal products, i.e., eggs or dairy.

It may be said in reply that although welfarism has not effected a reduction in demand "overall," it has reduced the rate of demand-increase. Suppose for the sake of the argument that this were so; would it follow that we should support welfarism? That slide is not justified by logic, since even if welfarism had effected such a reduction it would still not be of as great efficacy in reducing demand as abolitionism. To see this quite clearly one need only consider that welfarism, with its non-abolitionist message, can only ever secure collateral wins, whereas abolitionism, by contrast, is causally responsible for creating new vegans, that being achieved directly by its clear and unequivocal message: animal exploitation, in all its distressing manifestations, is wrong. Furthermore, from this it is not to be inferred that welfarism is merely ineffective or vegan-lite, in the sense of simply convincing proportionally fewer people to become vegan than abolitionism does; for "'single issue campaigns' for reform" are correlated - as show by the study - not with a decrease, but an increase, in meat consumption. This being so, it follows that welfarism is actually counterproductive; it moves us backwards, not forwards - and it is by the fear of the exposure of this that Norm's reactionary scare tactics, in all their luridness, are produced.

So, to sum up: increased, meat consumption has; decreased, meat consumption has not - and this despite or because of welfarism, into which hundreds of millions of dollars has been poured. And accordingly vegans have a difficult choice to make between supporting welfarist advocacy, and giving up such advocacy for abolitionist advocacy: all those vegans who want animal use to carry on increasing (though perhaps at a slightly reduced rate) should support "'single issue campaigns' for reform"; but all those who want to reduce animal use "overall," in an absolute sense, with the aim of abolishing it once and for all, should support nothing but veganism.

And, with that, we shall bring this commentary to a close; but not before welcoming Norm Phelps, "former spiritual director," into the CCHF (Clowns' Corner Hall of Fame), where he joins the author of TLBAMN (Total Liberation By Any Means Necessary), Steve Best: illustrious company, indeed.

P.S.: Norm speaks of the idea that progress toward abolition will necessarily be incremental, in the sense of occurring gradually and not all at once. This is an important, if obvious, idea, which - when he says, "Each step forward must become the starting point for the next step forward" - Norm unfortunately degrades to the level of an expression of sickly sentimentality[2]; and this in conjunction with "[We] must respect one another's choices" unavoidably leads us to think of Norm as a spiritual CEO, someone who would, we feel, definitely have a spiritual secretary.

[1] Norm was "the former spiritual director of The Fund for Animals." We wonder how lucrative that position was for him.

[2] Such sickly sentimentality is a constant feature of much new welfarist writing (see, e.g., Anthony Nocella), and is intended, we think, to have a sterilizing effect on new welfarists' propagandistic accusations against abolitionists.