Land of Confusion

We all know that one person CAN make a difference.

If there is one person I really feel empathy for and wish I could help, it is the animal activist.

They are faced with a number of unenviable decisions to make with regards to their advocacy today and in the future.

The decisions that they make today could, given the benefit of hindsight, be the wrong one some time down the track.

Whilst the intent of this article isn’t to tell you what you should and shouldn’t be doing with regards to your activism, and where and how you choose to spend your time, I will try and help you get some clarity around the confusing terms you may hear, or at the very least give you the right questions to ask in the future.

Animal Rights

This has to be most often confused or misused term out there. Today’s mainstream media tends to label anyone who holds a placard at a pro-animal protest as an animal rights activist, and groups like the RSPCA and Animals Australia as animal rights groups.

To some extent they are right, and they are also wrong.

It really comes down to what rights they are advocating for.

The RSPCA’s Five Freedoms[1] could be described as an animal rights position, though to today’s vegan activist, this is nowhere near enough, and they are campaigning for the right of non-human animals not to be commodified, exploited or abused. The same rights that are extended to humans.

It isn’t about the right to vote, or keep and bear arms (cows with guns[2] does come to mind), or any one of those other fanciful claims that seem to surface when the subject is mentioned.

Unfortunately for the animals, the position held by today’s animal rights groups falls somewhere in between the two. More often than not, they tend to be more at the RSPCA’s end of the spectrum than actually heading towards non-human animals having any sort of tangible rights.

If the group you are in, or thinking of joining claims to be an animal rights group, ask them what animal rights they are actually advocating for, and see where that aligns with your beliefs.

The two following terms, welfare and abolition have become so distorted and confused by virtually everyone, and yes, I have been guilty of it in the past too.


How do you really define animal welfare, and what is an animal welfarist?
The term welfare originates from the Middle English phrase wel faren to fare well.

If I support the RSPCA’s enforcement of minimum standards, I am an animal welfarist.
If I leave a container of water outside for the birds or other animals, I am an animal welfarist.
It could also be argued that if I support the increased regulation/reform of currently accepted practices of animal use that I am also an animal welfarist. Though personally, I am more inclined to say that they are regulationists, as their efforts may possibly have an impact on the welfare of animals some time down the track, and very little, if any on the animals today.


If you talk to the Francionists out there, they will tell you that they are the only ones who can use the term, and that unless you adhere 100% to the doctrine, you will be branded a new welfarist. Though their use of new welfarist implies that there is an old welfarist and is actually meant to be derogatory and insulting in much the same way that those who disagree with our female PM, Julia Gillard, are branded misogynists.

Mind you there are even a few Francionists who think that they are the gatekeepers of all things vegan, and readily pass judgement on what activities are and are not vegan. Though that one is a whole new article…

If you have a look at the Merriam-Webster definition of the term abolition[3], it states:
1 : the act of abolishing : the state of being abolished
calls for the abolition of the death penalty

By that definition, those groups that want to see an end to the live export trade could legitimately call themselves abolitionist.
The same goes for those groups looking to end caged egg production systems, pigs in gestation crates, etc.

Once again, it comes down to actually asking question of those in the particular groups, and just like the term animal rights, not taking things at face value. If they claim to be abolitionist, ask them exactly what it is that they want abolished.

In much the same way that there is a huge spectrum to the term animal rights, there is a huge spectrum to the term abolitionist. Starting with those that want a particular practice abolished, and ending with those who want to see ALL forms of animal use abolished.

What next?

Once you have asked the questions, and got a satisfactory answer which is to you liking, the next thing to do is have a look at the information that they publish.

A groups who’s goals and objectives are equal rights for both human and non-human animals will state this on the brochures and leaflets that they hand out. The same goes for those that claim to be abolitionist, from the perspective of ending animal use.

These positions will be clearly stated as their clearly defined Call To Action, and giving them a starting point where further information can be obtained.

If the group claims to be one or both, animal rights and abolitionist, and the message isn’t clearly displayed on their literature, then questions need to be asked about why it isn’t.

The excuse of it being off putting or scary doesn’t really wash, because if it is indeed that scary and off putting, why did they adopt that position in the first place?

Regardless of what you choose to do, all that I am asking and imploring of you is that you don’t become a sell out to your beliefs or values.

Don’t fall for the misconception that you need to be part of a group to be effective or make a difference.

You don’t.

We all know that one person CAN make a difference.

Are you willing to be that one person?

1: Five Freedoms For Animals
Retrieved 22 November 2012

2: YouTube:
Cows With Guns – The Original Animation

3: Merriam-Webster: abolition
Retrieved 23 November 2012

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