(originally posted on Facebook here)
Some animal rights activists from Direct Action Everywhere disrupted a debate about whether it’s moral to eat meat at Stanford this evening. Priya Sawhney spoke, Wayne Hsiung was also there.
I think this was a terrible idea.
I support confrontational activism sometimes. I’ve been to several DxE protests: I still can’t meet the eyes of any of the employees at the Chipotle on 4th Street just in case they remember me being asked to leave by the police. The key advantage of confrontational activism is that it shifts the Overton window and brings issues to the public consciousness when they aren’t really being thought about. The other big advantage of confrontational activism is that you get lots of media coverage: the animal rights activists often get quoted surprisingly sympathetically.
The downside is that you seem pretty crazy, and people might think you’re unreasonable. I am sympathetic to arguments that this isn’t a problem, because normally the people in a Chipotle aren’t thinking much about animal rights anyway and so their opinion can probably only shift in a strictly improving direction.
And I think that this was a clear case where the downsides outweighed the benefits.
The talk was packed: I couldn’t attend because so many Stanford students were interested that they didn’t have space for non-students. Hundreds of people there to discuss the question of whether it’s ethical to eat meat! Not whether we should treat our animals nicely before we kill them, but whether we should kill them at all!
And to make it even better, look at our speakers! The debate had two Stanford debaters on the pro-eating-meat side. And on the other we had Bruce Friedrich, a famous animal rights activist, and John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods. This feels like a debate which gives a great advantage to the pro-animal side.
People were there to discuss the exact question we wanted them to be talking about. This seems like exactly the kind of event where we don’t want to suddenly yell in people’s faces with the message that animal rights activists are crazy and unreasonable and hate their enemies so much that they can’t even sit still when their enemy is on their side in a public debate!
Apart from the fact that I think this was a bad idea consequentially, I’m also annoyed at DxE for acting so directly against the wishes of another animal rights organization. This is deeply uncooperative and won’t help DxE’s image as crazy and unstrategic.
Starting a social movement is like summoning a demon. It’s powerful and might help you with your aims. But once you summon it, it’s hard to unsummon it, and it will tend to push along according to its incentives. I’m worried that DxE errs too far on the side of disruption and attention getting, at the expense of other groups in the animal rights movement. This makes me far more uncomfortable with the prospect of them becoming influential in the future.
After I posted this as a comment on one of Wayne’s posts about this, he deleted it and several other critical comments. I am quite disappointed in his behavior here.