Ingrid Newkirk, PeTA's co-founder and president appears to be publicly apologizing for PeTA's disgusting "Holocaust on Your Plate" campaign, an outrageous effort by PeTA to liken the Nazi policy to exterminate 6 million human beings to eating meat. But Wesley J. Smith correctly tags Ms. Newkirks effort as a classic non-apology apology, which is nothing more than a carefully calculated PR stunt.
Do take a moment to read Ms Newkirk's piece to get a sense of where she's coming from.
For my part, I'll use Mr. Smith's piece as a jumping off point:
Ingrid Newkirk, the alpha wolf over at the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), has just issued a classic non-apology "apology" for PETA's odious "Holocaust on Your Plate" Campaign, which explicitly compared eating meat to participating in the gassing of millions of Jews.
The purported equation between the Holocaust and normal practices of animal husbandry wasn't presented between the lines by PETA. Nor was it implied subtly in the hope that the viewer would infer a similarity. Rather, comparing Auschwitz to your corner butcher shop was the explicit and unequivocal theme of the entire international pro-vegan campaign.
First there were the photographs. PETA juxtaposed pictures of emaciated concentration-camp inmates in their tight-packed wooden bunks with chickens kept in cages. Worse, in a truly despicable comparison (on several levels), a picture of piled bodies of Jewish Holocaust victims was presented next to a photograph of stacked dead pigs.
The text of the campaign was even worse. In a section entitled "The Final Solution," PETA made this astonishing assertion:
Like the Jews murdered in concentration camps, animals are terrorized when they are housed in huge filthy warehouses and rounded up for shipment to slaughter. The leather sofa and handbag are the moral equivalent of the lampshades made from the skins of people killed in the death camps.
For two years, PETA presented the Holocaust on Your Plate Campaign throughout the United States and much of the world. In almost every city and country where PETA activists turned up to promote Holocaust on Your Plate, Jewish groups and others angrily protested. But PETA doggedly stuck to its propaganda. Then, unexpectedly, on May 5, Newkirk issued an "apology for a tasteless comparison."
So, has PETA really recognized the error of asserting a moral equivalence between genocide and stock yards? Not in the least. PETA's is an apology that doesn't really say "We are sorry." In fact, Newkirk takes great pain to justify the entire Holocaust on Your Plate approach:
The "Holocaust on Your Plate" Campaign was designed to desensitize to different forms of systematic degradation and exploitation, and the logic and methods employed in factory farms and slaughterhouses are analogous to those used in concentration camps. We understand both systems to be based on a moral equation indicating that "might makes right" and premised on a concept of other cultures or other species as deficient and thus disposable. Each has it own unique mechanisms and purposes, but both result in immeasurable, unnecessary suffering for those who are innocent and unable to defend themselves.
Since the group clearly still believes in its advocacy, what does PETA admit it did wrong? [My emphasis . . . ed.]
Exactly. PeTA preaches that humans are no more worthy than non-humans. Or, to put it another way: from an AR point of view, if it's unethical or immoral to do something to a human it is no less unethical or immoral to do it to an animal. No hunting, no animal experiments, no eating them, no using them as beasts of burden, no breeding them, no keeping them as pets . . .
Let's return for a minute to Professor Steven Best, his dog, a stranger, and a burning house.
Professor Best, as you will recall, is on record as having declared that if his dog and a stranger both were trapped in a burning house, he'd save his dog rather than the stranger because his dog gave him pleasure, and the stranger — well — was a stranger, who neither gave him pleasure nor grief (screw your kid, spouse or parent — let them fry — unless Professor Best knew them and they pleasured him more than his dog).
Professor Best was simply following his "ethic" — really a "Me First" attitude masquerading as an ethic — to it's logical conclusion: a human and a dog are equally worthy of life, so in choosing between which one to save there is no reason not to base the decision on whim, the flip of a coin, or one's personal preferences.
In her non-apology apology, Ms Newkirk is arguing from exactly the same premise that Professor Best does — that each life, whether human or animal, is morally equivalent and humans shouldn't privilege themselves over animals: if you wouldn't do it to a human, you shouldn't do it to an animal . . .
Why? Because animals, she would claim with all the force of a personal, unsupported opinion, have "rights" (except the right of reproduction — PeTA advocates spaying and neutering, which violates the very core value of the Animal Rights movement . . . go figure . . .).
As I've pointed out before (and doubtless will many times in the future . . .), it is not a self-evident truth that animals have rights. Nor is it self-evident that a non-human life is equivalent to a human life.
If Ms Newkirk wishes to claim otherwise, she has every right to do so, but any such assertion remains unsupported personal opinion in its purest form until she can offer answers to some obvious questions.
Where do these rights come from? Are they bestowed by some supernatural agent? Are they equivalent to the Christian soul? If she believes an animal's "rights" are the product of the spirit world, how did she come to commune with the spiritual rights-giver, and what proof can she offer skeptics that she and others of her faith are not false prophets?
And if rights are solely the products of the human mind, why should the criteria she champions trump the criteria that you, I, the Pope, the Grand Wizard of the KKK, Kim Jong-Il or Vladimir Putin might select?
Ms Newkirk is arguing that the parallels between gassing 6 million Jews and eating meat are of great moral significance, while the difference between humans and non-humans is, morally speaking, irrelevant.
But Newkirk's argument only works if you accept her unsupported premise that a human and a chicken, dog or rat are of equal moral importance, and none should be privileged over another.
And once you play that game, then you save your pet animal rather than a human stranger from a burning building.
Back to Mr. Smith:
Resorting to that old standby of the unrepentant who know that public relations problems necessitate the appearance of contrition, Newkirk apologizes merely for the "pain" PETA's campaign caused to Jews. Newkirk's is thus a classic non-apology "apology."
But when you look deeper, it isn't even that. Newkirk's pseudo mea culpa emphasizes PETA's continued support for the book Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust by Charles Patterson, which gave PETA the idea to launch the Holocaust on Your Plate Campaign in the first place. (Treblinka was a notorious Nazi death camp.) And what is that book's message? You guessed it: As the foreword puts it:
In Eternal Treblinka, not only are we shown the common roots of Nazi genocide and modern society's enslavement and slaughter of non-human animals in unprecedented detail, but for the first time we are presented with extensive evidence of the profoundly troubling connection between animal exploitation in the United States and Hitler's Final Solution.
So, it is quite clear that PETA continues to believe that "the leather sofa and handbag are the moral equivalent of the lampshades made from the skins of people killed in the death camps." The group just wants to be able to claim that because it apologized for Holocaust on Your Plate Campaign, it should no longer have to defend itself about the matter in interviews and during debates.
But be clear: This is merely a public-relations tactic. The leopard has not changed even one of its spots. PETA remains firm in its belief that killing an animal is morally equivalent to killing a human being.
What can I say? Mr. Smith understands full well what Ms Newkirk is up to, and calls her to task for it. Well done, Mr. Smith.
I'd like to make one final point.
If Ms Newkirk were serious about apologizing, she could well apologize for selling an attitude (marketed as an ideology) that can so breezily justify saving one's pet from a burning building rather than another human being, on the grounds that each life is of equal worth, neither to be privileged over the other. It is that poisonous attitude that underlies her unspeakably loathsome faux parallel between eating meat and gassing human beings.
But that won't happen.
Neither will she apologize for a whole host of offensive and painful PR antics PeTA has used to push the AR agenda: shamelessly exploiting the tragedy of Mayor Rudy Giuliani's prostate cancer; an add that exploits a shark attack on a child; an add campaign that exploited the tragic deaths of Canadian girls to push PeTA's anti-meat agenda; contributing money to the terrorist Earth Liberation Front and to the cause of ALF/ELF arsonist Rodney Coronado, and a myriad more including comparing meat eaters to cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer and indoctrinating and manipulating kids.
UPDATE: 5/12/05. I've just learned from an attentive reader that PeTA did apologize for trying to make hay of Mayor Guilaini's prostate cancer. Still, how they could have figured that campaign to have been a good idea in the first place leaves me wondering, and I'm reminded of an adage: "Don't ask for permission, ask for forgiveness." Color me cynical . . . at least when it comes to PeTA . . . In any event, I regret my mistake and apologize to my readers.