PeTA has a history of objectifying women in their campaigns. It’s no big secret and it’s been the bane of most vegans. Reactions are not always dissenting though. Some shrug and say “Well they make big differences in other areas.” as though that somehow lets them off the hook. It’s how vegans deal with the cognitive dissonance of being connected to such unethical behavior displayed by the biggest organization supporting the vegan movement.
Their latest foray has them talking about launching a porn site with their newly registered domain name: peta.xxx. This leaves many, as always, scratching their heads on how exactly this furthers their goal. Before we start the typical water cooler jeers over PeTA once again let’s hold that thought and come back to that.
Everybody is wondering why PeTA does what it does, Skeptifem hit the nail on the head in the post: PETA launches a pornography site. This is the salient bit:
PETA is a utilitarian organization (meaning they believe that the positive outcome of activism is more important than being principled about the means of obtaining the positive outcome). They don’t care if you quit eating meat because of health or empathy or because you think aliens contaminate animal flesh with space bacteria. Any reason, so long as it is combined with action, is a win in their view.
A brilliant deduction but I’ll run with that ball. Utilitarianism is the mainstay of veganism. It is this that compels vegans to think that their tiniest daily actions compile somehow into animal liberation. It’s what drives them to stand on street corners handing out literature trying to make everybody else “go vegan”. The more vegan you are, the more moral you are. The more people you get vegan the more you have increased your veganositude. Erik Marcus even coined this effect as being an animal millionaire. It’s a tidy little equation that makes navigating the moral abyss less scary. All you need to do is weigh two options and decide where the most suffering lies, and avoid or fight against it. Life doesn’t always plays by those dichotomous rules though.
In this utilitarian context does it not make sense PeTA would see saving lives as less morally reprehensible as objectifying women? Can you exploit one animal to save another? Apparently the answer is yes because the suffering is much worse when animals are killed than when women are objectified. So when vegans gnash their teeth at PeTA’s sexist campaigns they can hardly blame them for the context they themselves help perpetuate.
People wonder: “How does this crazy stunt help PeTA’s cause?”. They then argue over it, make jokes with their friends, blog about it, the news reports on it…you see where I’m going here? The real goal here is not to launch a porn site to further the cause but to pull a ridiculous stunt to get people talking about it. If it wasn’t itself an ethical train wreck it might be a fine, clever tactic. But PeTA pulled the switch to derail that trolley so rubber-neckers would gawks slack-jawed just enough to hopefully jolt them up out of their daily routine and maybe recognize their cause. In the wake of this disaster, women are the victims. That’s ok though because the other train (ok, I’m beating this metaphor to freakin death!) had a bunch of farm animals’ lives on the line. Women have served their utility.
And this is what so many have missed about PeTA’s actions. It’s the utilitarian nature of the movement that drives them as Skeptifem continues:
This is very important when understanding how to get groups like PETA to stop exploiting the position of women in society to sell their message. They don’t care about the well thought-out arguments of feminists regarding how pornography harms women. If it gets people to stop eating meat, they will continue with their porn campaign.
PeTA claims their controversial campaigns are the bait that gets people in and that they wouldn’t do this if it was ineffective. Skeptifem says we should challenge them on this because “it doesn’t fucking work” anyways. But let’s, for the sake of argument say it actually does work. Is it still worth the ethical footprint they leave behind? The problem is much deeper than a simple PeTA tactic. To understand their strategy one must understand the utilitarian context for which they operate. It’s the same framework behind veganism. It’s how they justify the ethical pollution they pump out into the culture disregardful for the people they exploit. This is what vegan utilitarianism can get you. It turns vegans into tools and condones exchanging oppression of one for another. If vegans would like to maintain their foothold on ethical behavior they would do well to re-evaluate the culture they think they’re building.