Defining Our Goals As A Movement
In my last post, I wrote that “the essential goal of the animal protection movement is to eliminate animal suffering or, in more realistic terms, to reduce animal suffering as much as possible.” While I think most advocates would agree with that goal, some would argue that anything short of total elimination of animal suffering would be a failure. However, one thing I think we can probably all agree on is that it will become increasingly important to define our overall goals as a movement, even if we don’t agree on the specifics.
In our work with the Handsel Foundation, Faunalytics has researched the habits of small organizations focused on spay/neuter. Most of the groups that we interviewed did not have clearly established goals and even fewer of them made serious efforts to measure their impact. This was in part due to lack of resources, of course, but also insufficient knowledge of how to plan and measure their efforts. Instead, many of those working on spay/neuter seemed to default to the attitude that every additional surgery will have a positive impact. This may be true, of course, but it rings a bit hollow without clear goals and a strategic way of measuring that impact.
The same can be said of the broader animal protection movement. Individual organizations and some coalitions may have clearly defined goals, but as an overall movement that kind of clarity is lacking. Instead, we seem to default to the notion that all work for animals is good work. Again, this may be true, but I would argue that it’s because we currently have so few advocates and such immense challenges to face. As the movement and number of animal advocates grows -– and as we begin to overcome some of those challenges -– I think we will need to be more strategic in establishing collective goals.
In my admittedly utilitarian world view, the framework for defining those goals is rather simple: advocates should spend most of their resources working for those animals who are used in the greatest numbers and those who suffer the most. The former group is relatively easy to define for most types of animals; advocates have a pretty good handle on how many animals are used/abused/killed/etc. for human purposes. But how can we tell which animals are suffering the most, and should we even try? Would it be too presumptuous, too anthropocentric? Or is it essential to making informed decisions about where to prioritize our efforts?