Lee Hall’s On Their Own Terms

otot-223x300Lee Hall’s newest book, On Their Own Terms: Bringing Animal Rights Philosophy Down to Earth makes a case for free-living animals. Ms. Hall has a history of undertaking the rights of the oppressed, and is currently the Vice President of Legal Affairs forFriends of Animals. This book seems to parallel the work ofFriends of Animals (FoA) in emphasizing that it is wildlife that has the best chance of having rights and being made free of human intervention.  FoA works for domesticates via spay and neuter programs, runs a primate sanctuary which is home to hundreds of formerly traumatized animals, and provides a Marine Animal rescue organization on the West Coast. They have been outspoken about intervening on behalf of local wildlife and have opposed the use of contraceptives for free living animals, insisting that they should only be used for domesticates, who exist solely due to human intervention and cannot sustain themselves without human assistance. Purpose-bred animals such as those used in factory farming are not the primary focus of FoA nor are they the primary focus in Hall’s book.

Hall’s book is easy to read and well organized. She discusses the differences between Utilitarians (Peter Singer) and Abolitionists (Tom Regan and Gary Francione) and suggests that more is needed than what was proposed by any of these theorists, while giving a nod to the abolitionists for their contributions.  Where her books seems to make the most profound addition to literature on this topic is in the challenge she makes to all of us: to imagine the world where animals might be released from the status of property and allowed to live on their own terms. She even suggests (rightly so) that humans need to maintain limitations on their own population numbers and habitat needs to be set aside solely for animals, with humans not interfering with the animals who live therein.

Lee Hall Challenges Animal Rights Activists

Hall charges Whole Foods Market with falsely giving consumers “peace of mind” while they contribute to commodifying animals with their “humane” certification methods for the flesh of animals they sell, and calls on the carpet  (without naming names) some of the large animal protection organizations who partner with animal exploiters. When animal advocates are taught by one organization to kill (euthanize) animals they “rescue,” Hall rightfully challenges how this is in keeping with animal rights. Hall does not champion for larger cages, but wants to see the end of cages altogether. There are some ideas in the book that need challenging, however. Ms. Hall states on page 42: “Some young activists – confused, no wonder, by the derogatory use of the word welfare – avoid caregiving entirely.” While I have never encountered anyone who avoids working on behalf of animals for this reason, they well may exist.  But most advocates seem very clear that the animal rights movement has divided into two major segments: those who believe in using the existing power structures to try to effect minor but more immediate changes in living conditions on behalf of animals who will be used by humans, and those who believe vegan education is essential for increasing animal awareness towards a shift in pardigm towards freeing animals from bondage. Ms. Hall seems to agree that this kind of shift needs to take place as well, (while meanwhile trying to protect existing free-living animals where possible) but wants us to expand our thinking about what the shift might mean. She quotes Harold Brown, (p. 234) “We seek safety, comfort, companionship, shelter, good food — just like all beings. Yet for thirty some years, the movement has been delivering a message of pain, suffering, horror, shame and guilt.” An excellent point, and one that activists may want to consider carefully.

One of the most poignant sections of the book tells the story of Lobo, an elusive wolf living in the wild, avoiding trappers .  He was (p. 79) “the handsomest wolf I have ever seen,” his hunter admits.  The tragic story of the predator who grows to respect the being he is hunting, who increases his understanding of the significant relationships and the individual personality and courage of such an animal, touches the heart. It is a graphic depiction of the metamorphosis of a human being from dominance to understanding with the consequent metamorphosis for Lobo from free-living animal person to surrender and death — and is not a vision that will soon leave this writer. Lobo surrendering to the ultimate destruction and subjugation is an all-too-clear message that the world needs to recognize, now. But will they?

Hall Interjects Theory and Research

Hall spends much time on the hypothetical scenario of two men and a dog in a lifeboat. As Regan has said about this issue (p. 87), “Personally I think the attention showered upon my treatment of such cases is vastly disproportionate to their importance in my general theory.” The only reason that the dog would even be in the boat would be due to human intervention – but, Hall relates, (p. 88) since “animals are not considered persons, so when push comes to shove, they go overboard.”  As a metaphor, this is indeed what happens to animals, who are killed in shelters by the millions as human overpopulation continues unchecked.  However, at times Hall arrests the theories of Regan and Francione to an earlier time, omitting the evolution of their ideas that has taken place in recent years. All in all, despite its usefulness in delineating particulars between competing theories,  I admit the lifeboat parable is my least favorite part of the book.

Hall also introduces some interesting research that has shown that authoritarian type personalities have preferred food items they believed contained beef, whether the item was vegan or not.  The identification of animal flesh with strength is just one more obstacle that needs to be overcome, and it helps advocates to know that this is often the case. Hall is generous in the bites of information that are meted out to her readers. It makes the possibilities of new discovery on each page enticing, indeed.

Lee Hall’s In Their Own Terms Asks for a New Vision for Tomorrow

Hall charges that the term “rights” for purpose-bred animals is “a contradiction in terms,” (p. 105) since they exist only because of human intervention. Yet one wonders: if one is not to become speciesist, does any particular being deserve to live more than another? While it may be important to quit breeding animals into existence, do we not owe a large debt to those that are already in existence?  It would seem problematic that nothing natural will transpire, short of disaster, without human intervention to change the existing structure. It would be humans who would need to arrest their own population growth and it would be humans who would voluntarily need to agree to leave portions of the earth alone, out of bounds and free from human exploitation.  Hall sees clearly that animals have a right to live freely, and with this vision she elaborates and suggest we all need to envision how that would look, this new world with animals living without human intervention.  The problem, however, would be at the margins — when animals hunt near human populations, or humans invade into animal habitat.  Hall seems to think that living dangerously would somehow enhance the experience, but it is not an enhancement most people would be willing to accept. Would such a world mean only the smaller, less dangerous animals would be left to inhabit this Brave New World? Hall’s book does not appear to be her didactic formulaic vision of the future, but rather a challenge to us all to begin envisioning what is possible.  And that, in addition to vegan education, is what much of the today’s animal rights work is about.