Naked chicks in PETA ads: the ethics of getting your point across.

There's been some blogospheric blowout (see here, here, and here for just a taste) about a recent PETA ad that many viewers find gratuitously sexist. To me, the ad and the reaction to it are most interesting because they raise a larger issue about how we promote our values and how we choose our allies. From Michael Specter's article on PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk in the April 14, 2003 issue of The New Yorker:

Newkirk seems openly to court the anger even of people who share her views. "I know feminists hate the naked displays," she told me. "I lose members every time I do it. But my job isn't to hold on to members, as much as I'd like to--it's to get people who just don't give a damn about this issue to look twice.'' The truth is that extremism and outrage provide the fundamental fuel for many special-interest groups. Nobody ever stopped hunting because the National Rifle Association supports assault weapons; many of those who oppose abortion are appalled that people in their movement commit acts of violence, yet they are not appalled enough to support abortion. The same is true with peta, and Newkirk knows it; a vegan isn't going to start eating meat or wearing fur simply because she disapproves of a naked calendar.

(Bold emphasis added.)

As hard as it may be, please put aside your pre-existing view of PETA for the moment and consider this strategy:

You're running a group that is committed to bringing people over to position X. For various reasons, there's a big population that is quite accustomed to not even thinking about the issues around position X.

Do you try to grab them with a reasoned argument in favor of position X? That might work for the part of the population who pay attention to reasoned arguments. But there are many people who have gotten surprisingly proficient at tuning out reasoned arguments. (Remote controls and computer mouses make it so easy for them to drift off to something less tiring.)

So you have to get their attention with something they don't see every day -- perhaps a young woman taking off her clothes. Then, once you have their attention, you can try to engage them on position X (and that may involve a bit of shock and/or emotional appeal, too).

As the head of this group trying to bring as many people as possible over to position X, should you be at all concerned that your attention-grabbing strategy is likely to alienate a good number of the people who came over to position X on the basis of reasoned arguments (say, because the attention-grabber runs deeply counter to position Y, which many of the folks who were rationally persuaded of the goodness of position X also hold)?

Or, is it fine to count on the reasoned arguments to keep the people who also hold position Y firmly in support of position X as well? (In other words, the folks you've persuaded, say, to become ethical vegans will persist in that position because the reasoned arguments got them there, and they won't suddenly reject their own rational judgments simply because you might indulge in some objectification of women to reach the meat-eaters with a higher capacity for resisting reasoned arguments.)

Is appealing to the lizard-brains of the as-yet-unpersuaded an acceptable cost if the result is a larger number of people who hold position X? (Are people brought over to position X via appeals to their lizard-brains likely to be as robust in their support of position X as are those brought to that position by reasoned arguments?)

And here's the tough question for allies: What do you do about the group that is trying to win more support for position X (a position you hold) by tactics running counter to position Y (which you also hold)? Is it tenable to abandon a position because of the unethical behavior of people or groups who support that position? Is there any other good (and effective) way to put pressure on the pro-X group to stop using anti-Y tactics?

I'm interested in what you all think about this. However, I'm going to insist that we keep the conversation on the specific issue of tactics outlined here -- NOT on the ethical status of animal experimentation or meat eating, NOT on other particular bits of PETA strategy or activism that may be bugging you, NOT on where the philosophical views of Peter Singer or Tom Reagan lead us.


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By Scott Simmons (not verified) on 30 Jan 2007 #permalink

The problem with their tactic has to do with the way that people make choices, and when sexy adverts work and when they don't. Choosing not to eat meat/buy leather/etc is a decision centered around morals, and requires people to give up certain things that they (probably) like, forever. There is a considerable, persistent cost associated with this decision. Therefore the only way to persuade someone to assume these costs indefinitely is to outline the reasons *why* it is moral. That way, every time they get the urge for a Big Mac, they can resist due to x, y, and z reasons. A naked woman, while nice to look at, isn't a persisent-enough image to effect those same results. Sexy ads work when there's nothing to give up but your money, as you are buying an image. Ads that want to affect your behavior long-term either have to a) explain why (ie, you could go to jail) or b) show gruesome or affecting pictures of the results of the wrong choice. PETA usually goes with choice 'b,' which is more effective than a sexy ad. Sexy ads may get you to look a the message, but no one will become a vegan cause of a pair of tits. You can DL that from the internet for free and still eat that steak.

Yes, the pro-X group who adopts an anti-Y tactic is not going to make the person who is independently committed to position X change that position. But the borderline person, ambiguous on X, who is commited to Y will now have an emotional reason not to adopt position X. And if I am pro-X and pro-Y, I am going to send my support elsewhere. Thus the pro-X group loses support of pro-X/pro-Y people, loses some otherwise on-the-fence pro-Y people to X. There are costs.

In the specific case of PETA, I am pro-Y, and not inclined to X beyond being humane.

Personally, I found this last ad campaign with the naked chick less offensive than some PETA offerings in the past. For example, there was the Holocaust on a Plate campaign. Given my views on Holocaust denial and my use of a certain undead Führer to mock people who make overblown Nazi and Hitler analogies, you can guess how offensive I found this campaign, given the way it likens the victims of the Holocaust to animals. Then, a little less than two years ago, there was the PETA exhibit that explicitly compared the use of animals by humans to slavery and the lynching of blacks. (The reaction against that ad campaign was so vehement that even PETA flinched and discontinued the campaign.

Either of those campaigns were easily far more offensive than the naked "State of the Union" address, at least to me.

Is it tenable to abandon a position because of the unethical behavior of people or groups who support that position?

Promoting a position while practicing ethics substantially different from those of the cause's most vocal proponents requires a great deal of effort - much more than promoting a cause which requires less ethical dissonance. At some point, one will begin to ask, is it worth it to promote a cause which forces me to spend the majority of my energy on conflict resulting from ethical dissonance, or would my energy be better spent on a different cause, where ethical dissonance is less intense?

In other words, I don't think of this as a tenable / untenable question; I think that occasional abandonment of causes whose promoters actions create too much ethical dissonance is an inescapable consequence of having finite power.

I think Martin Luther King demonstrated that it's often better to impress people with your consistently ethical stand, rather than to use unethical means to attract attention to an issue of ethics.

Is it always better? If it means attracting attention to a more important cause, why not use an unethical method of doing so? It could be more effective in the short run -- and if you believe bad things are happening at an unacceptable rate, it may be the only way to attract people's attention in time.

What if a similar strategy were being used to attract attention to a more "worthy" cause -- say, global warming? If we can save a few million people from dying in droughts, floods, and hurricanes, then wouldn't it be worth it to show a few square inches of real live flesh?

Personally I'd have no problem with that -- if it worked. Therein lies the crux of the problem. It's entirely possible, as Dr. King has demonstrated, that a more ethical marketing approach could be more effective. We simply don't know.

Another question: Why do we see vociferous protests of this strip-tease, but nothing similar when PZ posts Jane Fonda doing the same thing? I'd submit it's because they don't like PETA, not because the PETA ad is an egregious case of objectifying women.

There's always a third way, if not a fourth and fifth. The problem is that too many people conflate transgressiveness, which is often necessary to get people thinking in new ways, with obnoxiousness.

In Jill's subsequent roundup at Feministe of PETA ads, a depressing sameness and lack of creativity was quite evident. Reading through them, all I could think of was the much more transgressive, and yet less blatantly obnoxious, skit portrayed in this clip on YouTube. In that clip, the metaphorical violence is not directed solely at women, but rather 80 percent against men. The people portrayed as being treated like animals are not unattainable exotic-looking people, but more the TV version of run-of-the-mill. The greater transgressiveness -- and thus greater power -- of the skit lies in the fact that while PETA-style debasing of women is part of the background noise of society, we are not nearly so jaded as regards violence against banal office workers.

Long story short: it's not a choice between blatant offensiveness and wonkish appeals to reason. There is always a choice of other methods.

Orac, this is part of why I'm talking in Xs and Ys here -- there seem to be a fair number of other dearly held positions (including anti-racism as well as anti-sexism) that PETA will "transgress" in order to get your attention for their position X.

(Note that I'm also doing my best to stand clear of the whole ranking-of-positions issue, wherein one has to decide the relative value of positions X and Y whether than finding a good way to support both of them.)

...many viewers find gratuitously sexist.

Hmmm ... as opposed to "appropriately sexist"??

So you have to get their attention with something they don't see every day -- perhaps a young woman taking off her clothes.

Ah ... well, now - speaking as a 60 year old married (happily) male, I can see as much of this on the Internet as I want. I'll admit to not seeing much of this live ... okay, seeing none of this live, but the display itself means nothing.

I'll speak for myself only, as opposed to trying to project my reactions onto others. This tactic is a negative. I hope that my reaction to issues of any importance is reasonably logical. Sure, I'll look at the ... boobs? tits? hooters? breasts?, but that's of no significance in deciding whether I donate money to the cause.

Does it work overall? I really have no idea. I hope not, but I may well be wrong.

But if you wanted me to read your excellent blog entries even more than I do and you used the tactic of posting a picture of ... no, no, no. What am I saying???

I'm ashamed of myself. I'll be quiet now.

By Scott Belyea (not verified) on 30 Jan 2007 #permalink

Bringing the ethics issue closer to home, is it ethical to post with a title containing "naked chicks" when you don't have any pictures?

By Mustafa Mond, FCD (not verified) on 30 Jan 2007 #permalink

Mustafa, isn't OK to drop "naked chicks" in the title if it gets people sucked into thinking hard about an ethical issue?

[The current location of my tongue: the interior of my cheek.]

Ehn, if the management of PETA were stupid enough to think that more people would support PETA because of exposure to Hypnotic Bare Boobs than they'd lose due to offense, PETA would have gone under by now.

The purpose of these publicity stunts is to reassure existing members that PETA is relevant and Out There, Fighting the Good Fight. PETA is an advocacy group making no tangible progress, so it has to rely on keeping the flock faithful. Stunts like the ones described are delicate matters because if large numbers of their members aren't adequately placated by the claims that the manner of the stunt gets attention that somehow advances their cause, they will leave - and there's no influx of Boob-zombies to take their place.

By Eric the .5b (not verified) on 30 Jan 2007 #permalink

I think you have illustrated the problem with holding a position on the basis of reason, and not effect. Clinging to position X beause it was rationally derived in spite of anti-Y tactics (e.g. tactic XXX) assumes that the rational derivation of a position confers a benefit exeeding the damage that proX, antiY people can do to position Y by taking your support for granted.

In otherwords, there must be some point where you draw the line against the promotion of X at all costs, otherwise X will eventually walk all over the rest of the alphabet. Where you put that line will determine where tactic XXX falls.

As for what you can do as a proX, pro Y person, that is tricky. If X is the only value that the X promoter holds, then only an antiX statement will have any effect on her. So you would need to find a responce which has the highest apparent or symbolic damage to X, with the lowest long term antiX effect.

Or, you can just lie.
for example, find a friend of yours who practices antiX behaviour regularly. collect evidence of that behavior, and use it to convince the X-extremists that as a result of their antiY activity, you have chosen to convert your family from a proX to an antiX lifestyle.

Well, I've carefully reviewed the video several times and have formulated an opinion on your question.

.... which has nothing to do with the video, actually. I think your question applies (i.e.,is important or an important kind of question) in smaller setting, negotiating in groups where you need a majority (or plurality) and there is a reasonable expectation of X and Y being opposed. PETA is an extremist group that cannot hope to be mainstream, but can have a galvanizing influence. I know we are not supposed to talk about their tactics etc (and I'm not actually) but context is important.

What PETA is doing here is basically outfoxing FOX. And it will work to some degree, I think.

Also, by the way, I am totally unclear on why Y (naked chick effect) is unquestionably an objectification issue. That version of Y is probably a knee jerk reaction. The video is silly, playful, a take-off on the objectification issue, a parody of it. Have you watched it?

Condescending attitudes like this make great allies. Yes, I am too stupid to realize how important their message is. They should feel free to manipulate my attention span.

If there are naked pictures on this year's 1040, I will also be done with my taxes before March.


This is another reason I'm talking in Xs and Ys above -- I don't necessarily want to wrestle with a debate about whether this particular video is sexist (and to what degree) or "harmless".

However, since you ask: I did watch the video, and if it was meant to be a parody, I myself don't find it a successful one. It struck me as one more stream of images portraying a woman as little more than a bearer of body parts (as opposed to an actual, fully human person who happens to have body parts). There is, I suppose, a possibility of the video helping an animal or two, but as far as societal views of women go, it's feeding the negative.

Why should I find a naked woman in an ad offensive? It's not like women are seen as autonomous human beings in any other context, so why should PETA be held to a higher standard? Let's give a "Hell Yeah!" for pornified conflation of women and animals.

By Frumious B (not verified) on 30 Jan 2007 #permalink

I forget which is X and Y, but while questionably dubious act Y may bring attention to cause X, it doesnt really give give good attention. More like a hey check out those X freaks, rather than hey, i never thought about it, but cause X is righteous.

Anyway, for the record im vegan, a person for the ethical treatment of animals and anti-PETA. People know the cow dies to make the burger, but they dont know-know. and i dont think PETA is gonna change anything with naked women.

I've always thought PETA was a bunch of crazy tree-hugging (and animals too?) hippies; I imagine most people feel the same way. This ad does not exactly dispel that. People don't think about the issue not because PETA is not doing enough, but because they really don't care.

my short(er) answer is no, when it comes to social justice work (of any kind), the ends do not justify the means. (if only because the ends are the means.) if you've managed to get people to "think about animal rights" but in the process you've reinforced their view that objectifying women is acceptable, what exactly have you accomplished? and where is the "ethical" in that? you definitely haven't come any closer to the ultimate goal of animal rights, which is to stop objectification and exploitation of other living beings, period. yes, i know ingrid newkirk has this idea that somehow just getting people to "look twice" is worth any amount of unethical tactics... that that's a goal in and of itself. but this is why i don't support her and peta, even though i'm a long-time vegan and animal right-er.

my long and more specific answer consists of two comments:

So you have to get their attention with something they don't see every day -- perhaps a young woman taking off her clothes. Then, once you have their attention, you can try to engage them on position X (and that may involve a bit of shock and/or emotional appeal, too).

a young woman taking off her clothes as in those ads is something they don't see every day? really?! i think that, actually, the whole point of those ads is that this is something people see every day around them, that they should be completely comfortable with these kinds of images (a la "hot chicks are an american tradition") and therefore will relate to the message conveyed - that animals are "people" just as much as those women (ok, not people, who have a right to dignity, but close). at a basic level, all such ads manage to do is reinforce the idea that women and animals, as both something "other" than full human beings, are equally fair game for exploitation and cruelty; i'd argue that someone who can only be appealed to through misogyny is pretty unlikely to then be "engaged" towards anything resembling true compassion. at most, those targeted will think that animals are more deserving of their respect even than women (who admittedly are very undeserving). which may be fine by peta (who's only "ethical" when it comes to non-human animals) but it isn't by people who support animal rights because they see this as a social justice issue. peta does not equal the animal rights movement.

which segues into my second comment:

(In other words, the folks you've persuaded, say, to become ethical vegans will persist in that position because the reasoned arguments got them there, and they won't suddenly reject their own rational judgments simply because you might indulge in some objectification of women to reach the meat-eaters with a higher capacity for resisting reasoned arguments.)

yes, but there are lots of people who have become ethical vegans completely independently of peta and find their own work a lot harder to do because of peta - it's very difficult to persuade others that not all vegans think like peta, that animal rights is not what peta says it is, that ethical really means ethical, and so on. indeed, all the vegans/animal rights people i know in real life oppose peta's "ends justify the means" approach, believe that it's hurting the movement, and make a point to distance themselves from peta completely. because, again, the movement is about compassion and reducing harm, not just about at best getting people to be "vegans" in the peta vein - meaning they don't use animal products and are ready to, say, throw paint on women wearing fur, but otherwise couldn't care less about interlocking opressions and social problems. ultimately, the only way veganism can have an impact and save animals in significant numbers is to succeed in spreading compassion as a value as widely as possible. but while vegans won't go unvegan just to spite peta, sure, there are plenty of people who might see the animal rights angle if you present it as a stance to minimize suffering and maximize compassion, but will be put off by the association of animal rights with peta, who are blatantly exploitative. i think that peta is harmful or useless at best. they've been around for a long time now... and have these tactics of theirs worked at all? the "i'd rather go naked than wear fur" campaign has been incredibly visible over the years and yet fur is as popular as ever. meat consumpation is up, not down, in the world. it's true that veganism is becoming more popular, but as i said a lot of real-life dedicated, ethical vegans actually oppose peta, so i'm not willing to give peta credit for that (besides, if it was out of the spotlight, there's plenty of other groups and people who could then step in)...

anyway, i'll stop here with my way more than 2 cents.

Is it tenable to abandon a position because of the unethical behavior of people or groups who support that position?

It seems like you could potentially answer this one by referring back of your previous post about the concept of an argument: Just because there is an invalid (or otherwise faulty) argument for X doesn't mean I should begin to believe that X is false. Assuming I have independent reasons to believe X, I can still be perfectly justified in believing that X is true.

Whether or not you ought to stop supporting the group making the bad argument for X is a different question, I suppose. But I'm inclined to say yes.

But maybe I can look at that with a logician's-eye view too. It seems as though the situation is that we have propositions X and Y, where X is consistent with both Y and not-Y. Given that, there's no reason for me to endorse a group which claims both X and not-Y, given that X doesn't have not-Y as a logical consequence. I'd be better off finding another way to endorse both X and Y, wouldn't I?

At great personal sacrifice, I finally got around to watching the video.
The weird thing about it is that it felt like PETA was making fun of itself rather than making ANY point.

In brief synopsis, there was a women who was going over PETA happenings in the last year alternating with pictures of Congress. Every time she'd make some big point, she'd strip off some clothing and a bunch of congressmen who really have no interest in PETA's goals would applaud. The main speech ended with the woman saying PETA people would get naked more often followed by a loud applause. So here you have video where the speaker might think people are applauding at the content of the speech, but in reality they are applauding a stripper. Therefore, it seems that PETA's point is that even if people ignore your actual message, you'll always get old men to applaud naked women. Very inspiring.

As an aside, what about PETA's goals are social justice? They are strongly against all animal research no matter how many lives it might save. They also don't criticize "animal rights" people who use violence.

I think all the Xs and Ys make it too difficult to say one way or the other which approaches are OK; you have to judge the Xs and Ys on a case-by-case basis. You've assumed that the principled believers aren't going anywhere -- they might leave PETA for another vegan group, but they aren't going to de-veganify. You only need to expend a certain amount of effort to round up all the principled believers, since most people don't care about anything serious like veganism.

After that easy work, your only option to get more support is convince some of the uninterested to care for at least a little while, and if they do support you somehow, it's fine to get their attention by offending your core group a little (again, a little; this is why what is X and Y matters). Both you the organizer and your core group, assuming they're not just a bunch of poser show-offs, care a lot about X -- say, animal rights. If you really think that meat is murder, you can't object to a policy that results in more animal lives saved, assuming the policy doesn't violate others' rights or neglect duties -- serious rights and duties, I mean, not like a mother's "right" to a kiss goodbye from her kids before school, or one's "duty" to ensure that no one ever gets offended. If the only cost paid is playing into a guy's horniness, that's surely outweighed by lives saved.

The same goes for a union organizer, let's say: he's organized all the workers he can and collects dues. What if they need a new hall or library -- would it be unethical to solicit an employer who's known to break strikes with scabs? Well, assuming the organizer or members actually give a damn about their cause, they'll take the money even if they have to name the hall / library after the strike-breaking employer.

In sum, I don't see the "ethical" issue involved. PETA organizers aren't behaving "unethically" in the sense of violating rights or neglecting duties -- "reprehensibly" or "offensively" is closer to what the tongue-cluckers mean. Once stated this way -- "Is behavior that's reprehensible, though not unethical, justified in furthering a noble cause?" -- I can't see any other answer than "of course." People who want to pride themselves on always behaving above reproach should ditch their vanity: membership in club X is not supposed to be about broadcasting one's moral superiority (though a cynic would say this is exactly the point of many such groups), but rather to help out those in need.

Another brief remark: the assumption that PETA's tactics won't work due to easy availability of pornography is missing a subtler effect of the ads on the male viewers. Sure, the guy who previously didn't care about animal rights isn't going to say, "Wow, naked girls -- I can't see those anywhere else, so I'd better pay attention!" What PETA is really suggesting to the guy, as I see it, is that "If you join PETA, you'll get to hang out with hot girls whom you can impress by adopting a vegan lifestyle and donating to PETA in their presence."

Guys will do and say all sorts of perfectly nonsensical things if they think it'll increase their chances of having a girlfriend, or a one-night-stand, depending on the guy. Rational guys will feign an interest in astrology when trying to pick up a flake, for instance. So, PETA is saying, "Rather than figure out which new ridiculous thing to do to impress girls, we've figured it out for you. Become a vegan, and you've already got an 'in' with hot girls such as these. If you read our literature, it will be easy to tell these girls what they want to hear."

The guy would be completely faking it just to impress whatever attractive girls he met at a PETA gathering, but again, who cares if he's not a true believer if he's donating to PETA and not eating meat or wearing fur? That, again, should be the foremost concern of animal rights people, not priding themselves on behaving like angels.


In sum, I don't see the "ethical" issue involved. PETA organizers aren't behaving "unethically" in the sense of violating rights or neglecting duties -- "reprehensibly" or "offensively" is closer to what the tongue-cluckers mean.

and whether you "see an ethical issue involved" depends, of course, on your definition of "ethical"; for me, propagating misogyny and the relegation of women to the sex class falls clearly within violating rights and neglecting duties, and is unethical behavior. as i said, i completely agree that peta's intent is to appeal to people's misogynistic tendencies in order to "pull them in" - but we seem to be drawing different conclusions about that. because misogyny is more than just "not behaving angelically": it's a social justice issue, and it matters even in the animal rights framework (if you're ok with the dehumanization and objectification of women you're not extending compassion and respect to all). agnostic, you're arguing that the ends definitely DO justify the means; peta believes the same thing. i don't, and it has nothing to do with being an angel. (i don't think only angels could treat women with respect.)

moreover, as i detailed above, the fact that someone is donating to peta and not wearing fur doesn't mean the vegan/a.r. cause has been really furthered. it means that peta has another member to support their campaigns and not wear fur etc., but each of these people who are vegans and do believe animal rights trump any other social justice issue are very likely offset by others who might be interested but choose to keep away because, with their tactics, peta is essentially sabotaging the whole idea of animal rights (as alice walker puts it, "the animals of the world exist for their own reasons. they were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.")... i am absolutely convinced that if peta and those who think like them were the only ones in the movement, harm and suffering inflicted on human and non-human animals would never ultimately decrease - it wouldn't even be about that at all. thankfully, they're not, and it is.

"The guy would be completely faking it just to impress whatever attractive girls he met at a PETA gathering, but again, who cares if he's not a true believer if he's donating to PETA and not eating meat or wearing fur?"

But there you have the problem. Would he REALLY not eat meat just to get the chick? Or would he just lie about it? Lying about it takes a lot less effort, and would probably work just as well.

Given the number of longish responses here, it seems that PeTA's tactics sometimes do lead to increased discussion, which is probably the short term goal in an ad like the one being discussed here.

The writers who have pointed out the importance of deciding such things on a case by case basis seem to have a point.

How many drug buyers are going to stop buying them because the pharmaceutical companies use unethical television ads and cook their test data?

How many supporters of animal research will abandon their support after learning that the oversight system is a failure? and that universities allow animals to suffer?

How many supporters of animal research will abandon their support following meta analyses demonstrating that the modality is suspect?

How many people will continue to eat animals no matter what is learned about their minds and emotions?

How many Catholics quit the church after finding out that priests diddle the choir boys?

How many people will vote for Kucinich after every other presidential candidate voted for the war and full funding?

I'm not too sure what sways people's opinions other than fear or greed or hearing an endless repetition of anything (Buy more xyz!) Madison Avenue seems to understand this well. The ethics of the way the message is presented seems a very small part of the reason people might change their behavior.

I agree, the vast majority of people who already believe position X and position Y will not abandon position X because PETA violates position Y. However, I would argue that a substantial number of people who came to believe in position X through rational arguments will abandon animal advocacy, meaning they'll be a lot less likely to leaflet or table or vocally advocate for their beliefs because they do not want to be associated with groups like PETA which violate position Y (and perhaps A, B, and C as well). Since PETA is such a vocal force it speaks for the movement as a whole and many rational people don't want to be associated with that. Being vegan is a pretty small drop in the bucket-- to have a substantial effect that vegan needs share his/her beliefs with others. Specifically, PETA needs its activists that are already committed to the vegan lifestyle to go one step further and advocate for their cause. When they offend the rational part of their base they are shooting themselves in the foot, not by turning those people away from veganism, but by turning those people away from activism. I think this is a more significant concern than whether or not the people who already believe X keep believing it.

Furthermore, are their tactics working? I don't know anyone who has come to be vegan/vegetarian or believe in animal rights because of PETA's more offensive stunts, but maybe I just don't know enough people.

By Sharlissa (not verified) on 31 Jan 2007 #permalink

Ruth -- good point. If the guy is aiming for a one-night stand, he probably would just lie. But if he's looking for a longer-term relationship, then he would have to adopt a more vegan lifestyle, since it'd be easy to get caught. You figure, though, that the target audience of PETA ads is looking for a longer-term relationship, since guys who can easily procure one-night stands don't need much help.

Ruxandra -- you're right that I delimit "unethical" in a much more narrow way, while you allow a broader definition. I think a narrow construal is more called for, though, for two reasons:

1) A too-broad definition can't make the obvious distinction between an ethical dilemma and a reprehensibility dilemma. It's clearly an ethical dilemma whether PETA should rob banks to finance animal rights protection, murder those in charge of meat and fur industries, kidnap the relatives of such people as a negotiating tactic, etc. Showing naked girls to horny guys is just nowhere near this part of the ethical galaxy; indeed, it's another galaxy altogether (that of "good taste" or "decorum").

2) A too-broad definition is a more unruly beast: despite your best intentions, it is likely to do more harm than good, as more and more comically pusillanimous items are tacked onto the list of what's unethical. To the extent that PETA discourages furs and leathers, they are encouraging purchasing clothing made in the third world more than the first (where Neiman Marcus products are made), yet this will have the unintended effect of pushing more people to buy sweatshop-produced clothes. Should PETA wear only honest-produced clothes in order to avoid offending anti-sweatshop activists?

Again, because these more fuzzy areas allow greater inter-individual disagreement, somewhere out there is an activist group who has a bone to pick with some aspect of your lifestyle. If you allow the broad definition, you won't be allowed to do all that much.

I also disagree that showing naked girls to horny guys is misogynistic -- that's a pretty strong word, which means "hateful of women." It's not as if the ads portray women as bungling morons who deserve a stern lecture from The Patriarch for burning the meatloaf. Again, "pandering," "in questionable taste," etc. -- perhaps, but definitely not misogynistic.

We also disagree on what the point is for PETA and similar groups: I take a utilitarian view -- whatever decreases suffering of animals (or orphans, or whoever), without violating rights & neglecting duties, is the point, not necessarily changing people's minds so that they become true believers of The Cause. Take the case of slavery or women's rights: the commendable, lasting successes in alleviating injustice in these cases didn't result just from proselytizing, but from imposing their will on the offenders via governmental action.

Sure, activists converted some to their side by rational argument, but the main successes -- the new constitutional ammendments -- resulted from an appeal to something other than reason. But the fact that the legislators who drafted and signed these ammendments that now guarantee to equal treatment of all people, should we let this get us down since it wasn't the result of converting their minds to The Cause? Hell no: all we should care about is that we won.

agnostic, i'm sorry but i don't see much point in debating with you - on this topic most of all - as long as you insist on dismissing a social justice issue and trivializing it. i understand that you refuse to accept that those ads, which demean and dehumanize and exploit women's bodies, could be guilty of anything more than "questionable taste" (it's not even poor taste, i see, only "questionable"). that's fine. actually, i think tastefulness doesn't even enter into the discussion. injustice can be quite sophisticated, too, which doesn't make it any less unjust. and at the same time i, personally, don't object at all to the nudity itself. i object to the exploitation of that nudity. but i understand that your argument is largely based on the fact that those ads are "definitely not misogynistic" because you say they're not. well, i say they are! and i think you're in complete agreement with peta if you can't see the larger picture of what such images and tactics are about, what kind of societal problem they're both showing and reinforcing. why is it ok that women are the sex class? why don't you have a problem with the power differential that's automatically introduced by this very trivial matter of "showing naked girls to horny guys"? the idea of "showing naked girls to horny guys" as a way to promote "ethical treatment" doesn't exist in a vacuum. it exists in a misogynistic culture - and it's about so much more than "showing naked girls to horny guys." and it's misguided.

but this was precisely what i was talking about: peta and those who support them believe that the ends justify the means, all publicity is good publicity and that an "ethical" movement can be built around utilitarian principles. but in my opinion such ideas are not about ethics or social justice, and the tactics themselves are counterproductive in the long run because in social justice there's no such thing as "the ends justify the means." speaking of which, since you mention slavery and women's rights, i'd like to mention the fact that at one point in time american suffragists were trying to appeal to the larger public with the argument that (white) women should have the vote rather than black men - it was perfectly logical and utilitarian, you see. but thank god there were people who didn't stand for it! ... and, still, the racism and classism of the early and not-so-early days of the women's movement has been very hard to shake off - it remains a problem to this day. opressions and injustices interlock, and anyone who's in a "rights" movement needs to see that they do, and never try to lift up some group on the backs of some other group, even rhetorically.

zwa: i agree with basically all of gary francione's views, but i have some issues with specific parts of his discourse, especially some of the parallels he uses. i'm writing this before i go read that link, but i hope he doesn't draw again on the rape analogy to make his point about the need for abolishing, rather than regulating, animal abuse... there's lots to say there.

yes, what gary francione says there, all the way. :)

"Ruth -- good point. If the guy is aiming for a one-night stand, he probably would just lie. But if he's looking for a longer-term relationship, then he would have to adopt a more vegan lifestyle, since it'd be easy to get caught."

Are you serious? Do you really think that a guy who is actually looking for a long-term relationship would pick a naked hot chick, and then change himself for the sake of the relationship? What planet do you live on?

A guy looking for a long-term relationship will look for a woman who shares his own outlook on life. Guys who want naked hot chicks are not looking for long-term relationships.

Any minority group that wants its message out resorts, sooner or later, to an extreme act that is aimed at shaken the sensibilities of the majority group. Such tactics are used by terrorists, especially religious ones who are willing to ignore their own religous beliefs to get the attention they seeking, and many other groups. In most cases, those minority groups have a few charismatic, powerful leaders who use these characteristics to persuade the rest of their flock to commit the exterme acts. That is how an ethical issue worth fighting for can be drowned in unethical actions aiming at achieving an ethical goal. Of course, many times it happens among majority groups, too. Hugo Chavez of Venezuella was elected in democratic elections (an ethical goal) and now has succeeded in consolidating (unethical) dictatorial powers. Thus, whether we deal with a minority or a majority group, the leader(s) of that group, his/her personality traits and the degree by which the leading position fog his/her senses is the one that determines the nature of the actions the group takes.

By S. Rivlin (not verified) on 01 Feb 2007 #permalink

Is there any other good (and effective) way to put pressure on the pro-X group to stop using anti-Y tactics?

A good way is to show the pro-X group that by using anti-Y tactics, they loose their credibility and grounds on a value system under which the group originally was perceived as pro-X by it members.

"Is it tenable to abandon a position because of the unethical behavior of people or groups who support that position?"

Damn straight it is.

There are a lot of situations, perhaps most of them, where the choices are all somehow wrong. A moral being makes a choice anyway and takes on the consequences, for good or for ill.

My concern is more that some people who are open to reasoned, ethical persuasion, but have not yet adopted position X will be turned off by such tactics. They may dismiss position X in thinking that people who support position X all run counter to position Y or use silly tactics. So it may turn off people who could be reached but haven't been yet.

The other worry is that while people who are not open to reasoned arguments might pay attention to the theatrics/nudity, they might not be convinced, or might not be reachable. So just getting people to look is not the same as reaching them.

FWIW I myself did quite a few naked protests for PeTA back in the day when I volunteered for them. I have had people in my life tell me that I changed their views by patiently talking with them and sharing information. Nobody ever said I convinced them to go vegan by taking off my clothing--though I might not necessarily hear. Our fur campaigns at that time were largely aimed at women, but the crowds gathering around to watch seemed majority male, so we might have been missing our target audience. I was not convinced that everyone gaping even knew or cared why we were there.

To peta the means always seem to justify the end. I am appalled on how such a "humanitarian" group can be so concerned about animals but not give a sh-t about human beings. You have absolutely no compassion when it comes to people who obviously have food issues. How dare you put an obese person on your ads and say "Save the Whales" We try to teach our children grace and kindness and then we have adults making fun of overweight people! You should be so proud. I will never support your group again.

By Laura McGlothlin (not verified) on 19 Aug 2009 #permalink