Monday, April 7, 2014

The Science of Authority

In the Spring issue of Chickpea Magazine, I have contributed a piece that explores a social psychological phenomenon known as food-in-the-door. This phenomenon is increasingly pulled on by welfarist organizations to legitimate their reformist positions.  The assumption is that activists can get their foot in the door by selling higher welfare products, vegetarianism, or other forms of reductionism to the public. Following that, it will be much easier to transition people into veganism.

I have been critical of this kind of vegan science because it is generally conjured up to contend with criticisms that welfare reform does not work.  Though welfare reform has been the priority of the animal "rights" movement since the early 1800s, animal oppression has grown exponentially since that time.  Animal oppression has only been reinforced because reforms make the speciesist system more efficient and they create the illusion that animal suffering is being dealt with. Welfare measures shape the public imagination about Nonhuman Animal use.

Welfarism does not work, but advocates pull on science to legitimize their ineffectual approach.  For instance, Nick Cooney presented his charade of social psychology to the Animal Rights Conference in 2012, titling it "The Facts" (worryingly, this is the same title he gave to his now removed public response to accusations of sexually assaulting a woman).  This framework is important. Science is often drawn upon to bring legitimacy to policies, behaviors, decisions, etc.  Once you can show that science is on your side--your position becomes legitimate, right, and, for all intents and purposes, irrefutable. Actually, Cooney's claims stand on shaky ground.  They would make anyone professionally trained in social science cringe.

Science is supposed to advance our society by challenging taken for granted assumptions and ignorances that impede us. Welfarists simply pull on the authority of science without the substance to back it up.  Instead of moving us forward, welfarists use science to support the status quo. It is also used to obscure ulterior motives (welfare reform may not liberate animals, but it generates a lot of fundraising).  Think about it--if global animal oppression is on the increase and non-profits have failed to make meaningful change, how could we really be expected to believe that the science backs up non-profit tactics? If the science of non-profiteering worked, we should have seen some progress by now.  The evidence is in:  Nonhuman Animal oppression is skyrocketing, as is the wealth of HSUS, PETA, Farm Sanctuary, and other non-profits.

Importantly, Cooney has no advanced degree in Social Psychology. Melanie Joy, another popular social psychologist activist, has a PhD from an obscure, poorly ranked graduate institution and is an adjunct professor with no scientific publications. She and Cooney each operate a welfarist organization that depends heavily on skewed science to protect reformist goals and fundraising sources.  Neither she or Cooney, our two most prominent authors in vegan social psychology, have published with an academic press (which requires peer-review and scientific rigor).  Despite lacking sufficient credentials, these are the people who are defining the "science" for us. My intention is not to be mean, but rather to encourage readers to be skeptical of the assumptions we have about credibility in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement.

I invite you to check out my essay with Chickpea Magazine where I reimagine how social psychology might be applied in ways that works in the interest of Nonhuman Animals, not non-profit organizations and their staff.  As you navigate the contentious space of animal activism, be aware of how science is socially constructed.  Science is supposed to be objective and value-free, but this is never the case. Science is political.