Why animal advocates should consider doing politics

This website is an archive. For Sentience Politics’s political initiatives in the German-speaking area, visit sentience-politics.org. For effective animal advocacy research, visit the separate organization sentienceinstitute.org.

press conference 2014
Sentience Politics press conference at the Swiss federal media center in April 2014

A number of considerations speak in favor of the political domain’s potential for highly effective activism:

While many arguments for veganism, when used to criticize private consumer choices such as meat-eating, fall on deaf ears or are met with hostility and emphatic refusal, the same arguments are often received openly, evaluated soberly and then accepted quickly when they are used to criticize public policies such as government subsidies for animal farming.

What goes for criticism goes for proposals of alternatives, too. It’s easier to rationally convince citizens to support government subsidies for vegan products than it is to rationally convince consumers to go vegan, even though the citizens and the consumers are the same people.

To be sure, rational arguments for veganism may have a hard time getting heard in the political domain as well. The point, however, is that they have a significantly less hard time there than in the private domain. At least, that is what our experience suggests and what studies on the gap between ethical attitudes and actual consumer behavior bear out. Many people are, as it were, “morally, but not behaviorally opposed” to causing animal suffering. Although their consumer behavior does not reflect their (maybe weak) moral attitude in the market domain, they’re likely to support, for example, the introduction of vegan options in public institutions in the political domain. Expressing our moral attitude with a vote takes less effort and allows us to “nudge” ourselves towards the individual choices that we’d like to make by modifying the institutional situation within which these choices are made.

But even if the resistance to pro vegan arguments were greater in the political domain than in the private domain, putting marginal effort into pushing them in the political domain could still be worth it. This is due to the potential for leverage inherent in (democratic) politics. If 51% of citizens (or institutional decision-makers) decide one way, their decision becomes law for both them and the other 49%, whereas the choices of 51% of consumers or private persons are in no way binding on the other 49%, and even the 51% are free to change their mind and choose differently whenever they feel like it.

Also (and maybe most importantly), the political arena provides a huge platform for spreading ideas and having them discussed throughout society.

Direct democracies such as Switzerland offer the option of popular initiatives: Collect 100,000 signatures at the national level or just a few hundred or thousand at the city or canton levels – and you get a binding popular vote on the law you’re proposing, accompanied by pro/con statements from all relevant political bodies and organizations as well as by a week-long public debate.

Parliamentary lobbying may be a very cost-effective activity too. If just one member of parliament supports our cause, many avenues open up for getting society to discuss important ideas. Members of parliament often have very direct and reliable ways of generating significant media attention: individual press releases, press conferences and interviews, press releases by organizations they are members of or by reputable committees they put together, motions in parliaments, speeches, etc.


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