Friday, 31 August 2012
The Los Angeles Weekly newspaper from July 27-August 2 featured an article about the fur ban in West Hollywood. The article interviewed the people behind the seemingly successful fur ban: an animal activist named Ellen Lavinthal and John D'Amico, the mayor of West Hollywood.
From the perspective of animal activists, this fur ban seems like a great thing and I am not one to dispute that I want fur gone from stores forever as well. However, reading this article, I started perceiving the usual welfarists, self-serving, hypocritical view points. I am not faulting the Los Angeles Weekly interviewer who is obviously not an animal activist and falls into the majority speciesist (and therefore, doesn't see how his dog and his leather shoes are part of the same issue). However, this ban is based on a hypocritical premise. Here we have a (well meaning) activist, Ellen Lavinthal, who pushed a ban on fur by teaming up with the upcoming Mayor of West Hollywood eager to be elected. I can't tell, from the article, if Mrs. Lavinthal is Vegan. I may surmise that she may be (according to her comment about owning a Stella McCartney faux leather purse) but it is not clear.
The mayor himself is a typical example of the speciesist society at large as his disconnection says it all: "I do own leather shoes and eat poultry and fish, and I am confident that not selling fur in West Hollywood is not just good public policy, it's good for our economy, too. It sets us apart in another new and exciting way... I am still excited about how this changes the discussion and how this can potentially change people's behavior. Do I think I am hypocritical? I do not". Yes that is disconnection. So is this ban about making West Hollywood look cool or is there a real concern for animals? From our animal activist's point of view, that is certainly the case; from the political side of things, it is about reputation. West Hollywood is after all big on "image" and "looking good". Reputation matters more than the lives and suffering of countless animals.
As good as a fur ban may seem, it is in fact useless, as all single issue campaigns are when they are not done in the larger context of Veganism. According to the article, some of the fur sellers are already setting shops outside of West Hollywood to continue with the cruel business. This ban has not stopped fur sale whatsoever, it just slowed it down briefly. Going after the animal abusers does not change the system. If you cut the supply in one place, the demand is filled in another place as Pr. Gary Francione has pointed out many times. These so-called victories can also easily be overturned with new votes once the current Mayor is out of office. In essence, if all the money that was spent on this single issue campaign had been spent on Vegan education in the area, the number of people buying fur would have naturally gone down because more and more new Vegans would refuse to buy it. Gary Francione, also interviewed in this piece, correctly points out that 30 years of anti-fur campaigns have not made fur go away.
No one really talks about the real issues here; the big animal corporate groups provide only the usual window-dressing and well-meaning advocates think they make a difference with small "victories" which accomplish nothing in the long term. Please note also the PETA-like sexist cover of the newspaper which is another symptom of the problem (but that's a discussion for another blog). The real issue is that animals are still considered properties. As such, animals will always be exploited. The only answer is Veganism which kills the demand. The ban sends the message that some animal products are bad while other are good. Is there a difference between leather and fur? The Mayor thinks so and most people don't realize their own disconnection. Does it help people to see how all use of animals is a moral problem? It doesn't.
I respect Mrs. Lavinthal's dedication but she, like the big welfarist corporations (HSUS, PETA, etc..), is wasting her time and money by not educating people on real change. This ban will likely be overturned soon enough. Bans or new laws also never guarranty compliance from the industry. More often than not, the industry in fact doesn't really comply and just give the impression of the opposite. What Mayor John D'Amico says above is a clear indication that he is as disconnected as all the non-Vegans who live in West Hollywood and most of the welfarists. Ellen Lavinthal gets upset at Gary Francione because of his rejection of this campaign: "So let's not do anything? It's shocking that someone would say that. Most laws are incremental". And what exactly has she accomplished? She just displaced the problem by making the industry move a few miles out of West Hollywood? How is it a victory for the animals? Pr. Francione also correctly points out the hypocrisy of the ban as it doesn't apply to all fur products.
As long as animals are considered properties, you can try to change all the laws that you want, it will never work. Consider that you can "depreciate" a horse (obviously a sentient being) on your tax return as if it was a piece of furniture. That says a lot about human's views of animals. The only way to change people is by instead educating them (those willing and open minded) about Veganism which is the only way to transform a society for the long term. We waste our time if we go after those who are profiting from the abuse of animals (and those who don't but get a kick out of it). The more Vegans we create, the more changes the rest of the population will be willing to accept. We have to create a ripple effect of Vegan education which is so powerful and convincing that people can no longer ask the question: "Why should I go Vegan?". We are slowly getting there but it is the only viable way to make a real difference for non-humans and humans alike. Why is it slow? because of campaigns like this one who confuse people and make them believe that fur is bad but their burger is still ok. Let's stop going to the suppliers, let's educate the ones who create demand in the first place: the public.
I applaud Ellen Lavinthal for her passion. I just hope that she connects the dots more fully and realizes that her efforts could be better spent in a different and more efficient way.
See the LA Weekly Issue here