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Jeff Perz Interview

May 29, 2010

Jeff Perz

29 May 2010

Jeff Perz is a Canadian animal rights philosopher and activist living in Australia. His activism has involved the use of portable audio-visual kiosks placed on the streets In this way, Jeff has shown the public video images of
non-human animals being exploited and killed for human consumption
while simultaneously presenting rational arguments for animal rights
and a vegan lifestyle from an abolitionist perspective.

His Master’s thesis is entitled Core Self-Awareness and Personhood and argues that all self-aware beings are moral persons and ought to be legal persons.

Jeff has written several animal rights articles, which may be read here.

ARZone:  I consider myself an abolitionist. I define this by my desire to abolish all animal use and abuse completely, without exception. I also believe, in order to do so, direct action is an acceptable way of accelerating this. I believe direct action has a place and is necessary, to remove animals who are suffering NOW from their current circumstances. Could you please explain why you feel my opinion is wrong, and why you feel your approach is superior?

Jeff Perz:  Thanks very much, for your eloquently worded question.
When you speak of “direct action” above, you appear to be limiting it to removing animals from situations of exploitation. If this is indeed all that you mean, my view is that sometimes rescuing animals is morally acceptable or desirable, sometimes it is not clear whether a rescue is acceptable and other times rescues are clearly immoral.

I will start with the rescue situations that I am ambivalent about. Onthe one hand, there are individual healthy animals in need of rescuing, and it would be cold to turn one’s back on them. On the other hand, rescuing healthy animals will cause more animals to be bred into existence to replace those rescued. In other words, the act of rescuing one healthy animal is casually connected to the response of the exploiter, who will respond to the demand that the rescuer has created, phone his supplier, and ask that more animals be bred into existence, used and killed. The rescuer is the cause of this suffering and death NOW. So, I am of mixed minds when it comes to rescuing healthy animals.

Regarding rescue situations that I believe are morally acceptable or desirable, these would involve “unhealthy” animals, or animals that the exploiter does not want for whatever reason. If the animals are so unhealthy that they would be discarded by the animal exploiter, then I support efforts to rescue them, so long as nothing is paid for them, not even $1. These situations do not create demand for breeding more animals into existence, whom would then be exploited and killed. Rescues are clearly unethical when not enough consideration is paid to the well-being of the animals. For example, cases of releasing minks from mink farms, where the minks have died of dehydration, starvation, or have been hit by cars. All of that said, it is a better use of an activist’s time to do vegan education than to rescue animals. Vegan education saves* many more lives. One could spend days (or more) planning and executing an open or covert rescue. Perhaps that would save 10-50 animals. Or, instead, one could spend that same time doing vegan education. Helping just one person in her 20s to go vegan would save*(i.e. prevent _thousands_ of animals from being bred into existence, exploited and killed) NOW. As Francione notes, we’re in a zero sum game: every minute spent doing a rescue is one minute less that we could have been doing vegan education, saving more lives. So, in general, this is the reason why I believe direct action via rescue is not the best approach to abolish all animal use. That said, I do not actively oppose all rescues, as I explain above.

Could you please give us your opinion on the keeping of companion animals. Doesn’t this violate the most basic right any animal should be afforded of not being treated as property?

Let me answer with a human analogy. Suppose the question was asked, “Could you please give us your opinion on providing sanctuary to runaway (human) slaves?

Doesn’t this violate the most basic right any runaway slave should be afforded
of not being treated as property?” The answer, obviously, is “no.” So, for cats, dogs, etc., this means that we can rescue them from shelters. We can care
for and provide sanctuary to the animals that exist now. But we must stop
breeding new cats and dogs into existence.

What’s your opinion of vegans taking advantage of medications or procedures which have been developed through vivisection, or the use of animals as commodities? Is this not inconsistent with living a vegan lifestyle and taking an animal rights position?

Thanks for this question. I believe someone from PeTA (which I oppose) effectively answered this question decades ago. Gary Francione gives a variation of this answer in the appendix to Introduction to Animal Rights. I am opposed to (human) slavery and the use of prisoner labor. Yet, many of the roads in the Southern U.S.were originally built by slaves and continue to be maintained by prisoner labor. If we live in the U.S. South, should we avoid driving on these roads? I believe the answer is “no, but we should become strong advocates against the use of prison labor.” Similarly, if I had to choose between a medication with no animal ingredients but it was tested on animals, vs. dying, I would choose to take the medication and live. Then I could do more vegan education, which includes anti-vivisection education. Thus, I don’t think there is any inconsistency.

That said, I strive to avoid all animal-tested products, including medication. When I can, for example, I will take feverfew herb instead of aspirin or whatever.

There are many people who are most effectively convinced of the necessity for veganism by rational argument.

However, there are also many people who are most effectively persuaded by emotional impact, such as that delivered by films like Earthlings and similar video footage.

Indeed, I know at least a few, if not several people, some who are now abolitionists, who went vegan directly as a result of the emotional impact of watching Earthlings or similar video.
The criticism of films showing emotional impact is that they focus on treatment instead of use per se. The concern is that many people will react to such films by wanting more regulation, either as part of, or instead of, abolition. As an abolitionist with significant formal training in rational argument who has experience showing video of the cruel treatment inherent in virtually all animal exploitation, do you think such videos are an effective educational aid for abolitionists? Do you believe adding such “emotional impact” to rational abolitionist argumentation is more effective than rational abolitionist argumentation alone?

First, let me paraphrase Gary Francione’s view: There is no right or wrong answer to your question. My view (and my personal experience) is that, if gory videos of animal use are shown with no commentary, then the default position of the viewer will prevail. In other words, she will say or think the images of animal use are “horrible, I don’t agree with that. But conditions could be greatly improved and I agree with the humane use and killing of animals.” Then,this person will go on eating factory farmed animals, simply because the mere possibility of improving conditions of use exists. To avoid
this scenario, I do the following. If conducting a workshop or formal
film night, I will begin by presenting a clear, rational and easy to understand argument for why regulating animal use does not work, and why doing so is immoral. Then I will show the video. Afterwards, I will re-cap the argument I began with and then open it up to questions and discussions with the audience. After being shocked, and after empathizing with the animals in the video, the audience is generally hungry for a way to make sense of it all.

They need reasons for maintaining the status quo, or reasons for changing and going vegan. In other words, empathy and emotion need to be accompanied by easy to understand reasoned analysis.

Also, in informal situations where I am simply showing videos on the street, there is no opportunity to give an introduction.

In these cases, I make my own abolitionist pamphlets that explain everything, and I am there to answer people’s questions. Unlike in conventional protests that generally have aggressive atmospheres, which encourage passersby to walk past as quickly as possible and avert their eyes,
showing videos of animal use on the street causes large groups, semi-circles of people, to gather around the screen. (This is only true if the population density in a given area is at the right balance.) There is a quiet, somber atmosphere. People approach me, the activist, with an open mind. Lastly, some people respond more to reason, some more to empathy and emotion, but most people need both.

There has been some debate online during the week regarding a video which was filmed by “Mercy for Animals” of an Ohio dairy farm and some of the extreme atrocities carried out by their workers and owner. The undercover video displayed some of the worst cruelty imaginable, including severe and relentless beating of cows and calves, in the head and face, using crowbars and other tools.

The debate has involved some activists suggesting that to place any importance on this video would be to suggest all other dairy cruelty was less significant, and more acceptable, in comparison. Some activists have suggested that not to place emphasis on this video is a wasted opportunity to educate people who choose to consume dairy, of the atrocities that occur in every dairy farm, every single day, for every single cow.

Do you see these videos as potentially beneficial for vegan education? Why or why not?

I prefer not to use videos that involve scenes of illegal activity within industries that exploit animals. For example, activity that violates the Humane Slaughter Act and other laws. Beating cows is illegal because it is a waste of worker time and causes carcass damage (although that doesn’t matter in the case of cows used for dairy, whose bodies are later ground up). As Dan Cudahy recently said, “The horrific treatment of these innocent beings is merely a symptom of the disease of using them and of speciesism. The use *cannot* be regulated; use must be abolished.” I agree with Dan.

I don’t support using videos of illegal animal exploitation. I do support using extremely violent abhorrent videos of legal animal exploitation–so long as the images depict commonplace, standard industry practice. See my reply to
Carolyn’s question above. I also support using videos of so-called “free range” and “hobby” farms.

When you wrote “Exclusive Non-Violent Action: Its Absolute Necessity for Building a Genuine Animal Rights Movement”, did you realise how controversial this essay was going to be, as i was reading Daniel Peyser thoughts on this. Daniel Peyser wrote: “I argue that his essay, its premise, contents, and conclusion, are wholly incorrect”. What is your reply to this, and did you do enough research?

Yes, I realized there would be disagreement with my article, as passions tend to run high on this issue. And yes, I did do enough research. Here is my reply to Peyser

I invite you to read my reply to Peyser linked above, and then e-mail
me later (via Carolyn of AR Zone) with your reaction. But let me also say this now: Aside from Francione’s point that violence focuses on the wrong side of
the demand-supply equation, and therefore does not save the lives of
any animals, I would add the following. If I were sitting in an animal rights campaign office, how should I choose to spend my limited time and money?

Consider these three options:

(a) Spend 8 hours per day seeking out people who are in the process ofseverely beating their dogs, and then I intervene and violently defend the dogs. Although option (a) would be an inefficient use of time, it IS analogous to self-defense, or the defense of others.

(b) Spend 8 hours per day planning the murder of a vivisector or slaughterhouse worker.

Option (b) is NOT analogous to self-defense, or the defense of others, because the animals who were supposedly saved by the murder of the human could be saved by another means. Namely…

(c) Spend 8 hours per day encouraging the public to go vegan, including not eating or consuming the products of slaughterhouses and vivisection labs.

The fact that option (c) ALWAYS exists and is viable and effective means that option (b) is always unethical. Why? Consider this analogy:

You are visiting a prison. A three-time murderer is in a cell with an open door. He looks at you, picks up a knife, says “I am going to kill you” and slowly but determinedly starts walking in your direction. You can defend yourself by pushing a button that will close and lock the cell door before the prisoner can get out. Alternatively, you can defend yourself by shooting the prisoner dead. The latter option is unethical because it is not a genuine instance of
self-defense. Similarly, murdering a vivisector or slaughterhouse worker is unethical because it is not a genuine instance of the defense of others. Just as many animals (many more, in fact) could be saved by doing vegan education. The above is true when the decision is made at the animal rights campaign office, or the “level” of a social justice campaign. In other words, the decision is not a response to a random event that is isolated from animal rights advocacy.

Again, as Francione argues, no animals are saved by murdering
vivisectors or slaughterhouse workers because the same number of
animals they would have killed will be killed by someone else, perhaps
at a different, distant facility.

May I quote your definition of violence from this article from Abolitionist-Online?

“Violence is the intentional infliction of physical or psychological harm upon a sentient being. Property destruction may or may not be violent, depending on the circumstances. “If someone burns down another’s home and cherished possessions whilst the home is empty, this form of property destruction is psychologically violent towards the people who lived in that home; they feel extreme loss, anger and fear. “On the other hand, if someone destroys a vacant construction site where a slaughterhouse was to be built, this act of property destruction is not psychologically violent. Some might object to this, “perhaps arguing that the stockholders in the company will lose money, this will affect their ability to meet their needs and they will experience worry, panic or something else that could be described as psychological harm. This concern, however, is “exaggerated. Whether an act of property destruction is psychologically violent is a matter of degree and is open to interpretation. “Gandhi destroyed the property of the Government of South Africa when he burned the permits that all Indians in that country were required to carry. Although property destruction is not necessarily violent, “it may nevertheless be counterproductive to building an animal rights movement at this point in history.”

How have you developed this definition since 2005, if at all – maybe with more thoughts about the nonhuman animals who die in fires even on vacant construction sites – The apparently increased problems of defining psychological violence (Singer, for example, argued against ~any~ action that may cause psychological harm in the 1980s) – And particularly the issue you raise about ~timing~ at the end of the quote?

I stand by the above definition. I defend the above definition in my October, 2008 reply to Peyser, linked above in my answer to Lorna’s question.

That said, from a previous conversation with you and others, I recognize that putting this definition in to practice may be difficult.

When you say that psychological violence may be difficult to define, I interpret that as meaning there will be “grey areas” or cases where we are unsure whether something is psychologically violent. The same problem, to a lesser degree, exists with the definition of physical violence. Whether we are talking about grey areas with respect to physical or psychological violence, my answer is the same: Avoid instances of violence that are clearly violent and agreed to be such. In cases where we are unsure, we should err on the side of non-violence, and further develop our views through constructive
debate. Any difficulty in defining physical or psychological violence, or putting our definition into practice, does not mean that we shouldn’t strive to live by the ideal of non-violence. We should strive to be non-violent in deed, word and thought. Regarding your point that property destruction by arson kills insects and rodents, I maintain that this is violent and, as such, is immoral.

When I said that property destruction is not necessarily violent but it may nevertheless be counterproductive at this point in history, I was referring to a point that Francione has made. Namely, we currently live in a society where the violent exploitation of animals is considered as normal as drinking water and breathing air. In this context, even non-violent property destruction is viewed as absolutely crazy by the vast majority of people.

Consequently, property destruction has the effect of making abolitionist vegan education (directed at the public) more difficult.

I feel we have to be careful about our thoughts on “psychological violence”

In theory, that could prevent us doing virtually anything…for fear of causing upset in others. That was the very point I made in my response to Singer in the 1980s. Violence is wrong – but there are limits to what can be defined as violence – do you agree?

I agree that we have to be careful about defining psychological violence, and putting it into practice.

In my reply to Peyser, I used an analogy of Gandhi’s: Slapping someone on the face is physically violent. But if the slap is intended to keep the person awake, because the person has been bitten by a snake, then the slap is non-violent. Similarly, Gandhi upset the British colonizers of India with his non-violent resistance. But this upset was temporary and transformative for the better. For example, Gandhi’s arch opponent when Gandhi was in South Africa was General Smuts.

Smuts later thanked Gandhi.

In sum, I agree with you Roger that we don’t want our definition of violence (or psychological violence) to prevent us from doing non-violent action. In light of my reply above, however, I don’t think it does. Perhaps I need a tidier definition of psychological violence.

You’re obviously a strong advocate for abolition and non violent vegan education. My question to you is this: How do you react to people who are adamant that animal liberation must come now, today, and it must come by any means necessary. How do you respond when those people suggest abolitionists are merely “dietary vegans”, and have little care for animals which are held in terrible conditions now?

I ask these people what their reasons are. Then we debate the merits of their reasons vs. the merits of my reasons. Before starting reasoned debate, however, it is often very helpful to make it clear that I fully understand the other person’s point of view. For example, I might say something like “It sounds like when you think of animals undergoing horrible suffering right now, you feel a sense of urgency. So, you would like me to see why you support violent resistance to animal exploitation. Is that right?” Then, the person will answer, and I will continue to empathize with her point of view until she feels completely understood by me. Then, the person will be receptive to having a reasoned debate, without anyone getting offended or walking away unsatisfied. I have stated some of the reasons I used.  Other reasons are found in my two articles on non-violence, one of which is linked above.

Regarding the false claim that abolitionists are merely people who advocate a plant-based diet, I simply reject that definition and explain that I define veganism as follows. Veganism is a political stance, which rejects violence and speciesism. In practice, veganism means not eating any animal products, not wearing any animal products, not using any products that contain animal ingredients or products that were tested on animals, not patronizing animal entertainment and not using animals in any other way. This prescriptive (moral and political) definition of veganism must then be linked with rational arguments for veganism, abolition and the basic rights of animals.

How beneficial do you think the Internet has been for abolitionist advocacy? What do you think of the effectiveness of blogging, social networking, and educating and/or debating (as the case may be) on public forums?

This is a difficult question for me to answer. A clear benefit of the internet for abolitionist advocacy is that activists can easily communicate with one another, network and organize together. In other words, the internet provides us with more opportunity for solidarity among abolitionists, and allows us to assist each other more in ourefforts. We can also reach a wider audience, and — as Francione notes – the flow of information is no longer restricted by gatekeeper organizations like PeTA. My partner has helped *many* people go vegan simply by debating on public internet forums. So that is a great benefit of the internet.

All of that said, the internet is not the savior of animal rights advocacy, or of social justice generally. I highly recommend that everyone here at this guest chat today read the book “Necessary Illusions” by Noam Chomsky. In a nutshell, Chomsky rightly concludes that ALL media reflects the interests of the powerful; in our case, animal exploiters and the public who empowers the exploiters. To paraphrase Chomsky: media corporations do not sell newspapers, etc. In fact, they lose money on the sale of newspapers. Rather, media corporations sell human beings. They sell audiences. They sell privileged, wealthy audiences to advertisers. So what would you expect to be in newspapers? Whose interests will be supported?

It is acceptable for a newspaper to express the view that the war and occupation in Iraqis justified–for whatever spurious reasons. On the other hand, it is also acceptable for a newspaper to express the view that the Iraq situation is not justified, because it fails to achieve the goals of “stability” (i.e. stabilizing economic exploitation), “freedom,” safety from WMDs, etc.

In other words, “fight it better.” But what never happens, what is never acceptable, is for a newspaper to oppose the war/occupation of Iraqon the grounds that it is inherently immoral — with a list of cogent, compelling reasons. For, if a newspaper did this, where would the oil industry be? What would the companies that advertise gasoline-fuelled automobiles do? What would the airlines do with their ads, which sell jet-fuel powered flights? The list goes on. They would pull their ads and the newspaper would die. A relatively recent example of this is Bill Maher’s TV show, “Politically Incorrect” being cancelled due to complaints from advertisers. Maher was talking aboutIraq and oil too much. But it usually never gets that far; journalism school indoctrination makes sure of that, the culture of journalism makes sure of that. Or, executives, managers or editors will be fired, threatened or subtly pressured as a result of their decisions.

The alternative to the above model is building independent, advertising
free, media institutions. Indy newspapers, indy radio, etc. have existed for decades. PBS television in America and ABC television in Australia are commercial free. Yet even they are pushed and pressured by the government–which is in turn controlled by corporate interests.

So let us build stronger, more effective independent media institutions. When they get strong enough, there will be strong opposition from the powers that be. We must resist and struggle against this suppression. The internet is an excellent medium for independent media. But the vast majority of the public does not go to Indy media websites. They do not go to abolitionist animal rights websites. Rather, most people go to mainstream media websites. Most people watch commercial TV, look at commercial billboards, listen to commercial radio and read commercial newspapers — which all direct them to commercial media websites.

But, as Leonard Cohen says, “there is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Let us use the internet and other mediums for independent communication to carry out our abolitionist strategy; namely, vegan EDUCATION. Education requires one kind of medium or another. Let us be the most effective educators we can be. We don’t have the budgets of multimillion dollar public relations firms, but we do have one thing on our side: the truth.

Do you ever get discouraged by people who know all the facts about why they should become vegan but still don’t? How do you deal with this? how do you keep your spirits up?

That depends: do they agree with the facts and arguments for veganism, or not?

Yes, they do

First, I think the arguments we give them should be of the highest quality we can provide. I often summarize Gary Francione’s argument in Introduction to Animal Rights. If they agree with that argument, but still don’t go vegan, then I say something like… “I have given you an argument for going vegan, and for why non-human animals have basic rights, just as humans have basic rights.

“You say you agree with the reasons I’ve given you. That means the conclusion of going vegan automatically follows.” “But if, for whatever reason, you cannot go vegan right now, why not try going vegan every Monday? (or, as Francione suggests, one meal per day)

“Then, after enough time has passed, being vegan every Monday will become easy. Then, when you’re ready, you can increase it to 2 days per week.”

“Eventually, in this way, you can become totally vegan. Note that, while you are in the process of decreasing the animal products in your life, you are still not living in harmony with your values. You said you agreed with the argument I gave you and its vegan conclusion. But, eventually, you can become vegan.

At that point, your actions will be consistent with your view that animals have rights, and veganism is essential to respecting those rights.” Then I say “How do you feel about starting this process out by going vegan every Monday?” If they agree with the argument I previously gave then, in my experience, most people are receptive to this gradual approach. RE: keeping spirits up I remember that it’s not about me; my spirits. It’s about non-human animals. Also, I get empathy from people in my life, which makes me feel better.

A few people have said to me on knowing of your appearance on ARZone that your critique of Dunayer was rather unkind. In particular they wonder whether you have in a sense prevented Dunayer continuing in animal advocacy. I’ve been asked to ask you whether you regret attacking Dunayer and whether you make a distinction between “Animal Equality” and “Speciesism.” (As you’ll know, I think the former is a fine text.)

In my view, the two articles I wrote in response to Joan Dunayer’s book _Speciesism_ objected to the reasons and arguments that Dunayer presented. In the same way, one could object to the reasons and arguments that Peter Singer uses. This is not a personal attack on Singer or Dunayer. Rather, it is objecting with reasons.

I hope Dunayer continues to do animal advocacy.

I also regard Dunayer’s book _Animal Equality_ as a fine text.

I don’t agree with the premise behind the above question that I “attacked” Dunayer. I objected to her statements with my own reasons.

The major reason why I wrote the negative review of _Speciesism_ is this: I provide evidence and arguments that Dunayer misrepresents and distorts Francione’s views. Based upon these distortions, Dunayer makes recommendations to animal rights activists. These recommendations, therefore, may not be effective in helping non-human animals and furthering their rights. My review was intended to un-do that consequence of Dunayer’s book. In a perfect world, I would love to see Dunayer publish a 2nd edition of _Speciesism_ that removed the misrepresentations of Francione. I would then be happy to use her book and recommend it to others.


ARZone exists to promote rational discussion about our relations with other animals and about issues within the animal advocacy movement. Please continue the debate after a chat by starting a forum discussion or by making a point under a transcript.


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