So, I am aware that this post may not garner me many new friends. PETA is an extremely polarizing organization, one that seems to either engender irrational hatred or profound allegiance. I find I fall somewhere in the middle and though PETA would likely denounce a great deal of what I do (horseback riding) and what I think (I eat meat, though only meat from small, local farms), I would like to think that there is common ground between my beliefs and theirs.
The thing that really bothers me, and what has moved me to write this post, is that the majority of animal lovers that I have met throughout my life are staunchly opposed even to the existence of the organization. And that really, really bothers me. I find it supremely unfair to denounce PETA as a terrorist organization which acts out of ignorance. The fact is that the members of PETA are very clear in their beliefs and they are not without merit. Their purpose is to act as animal rights advocates, believing that humankind does not have the right to use animals for any purpose whatsoever. And that is a perfectly fair standpoint. I challenge anyone to read Peter Singer's book, Animal Liberation, and not come away with at least the slightest notion that maybe we are all wrong about the present state of the world and that animals are entitled to the full range of rights that humans have. His arguments are very calmly and solidly laid out. AND THEY MAKE COMPLETE SENSE. PETA has done nothing more than take his arguments and hard-sell it worldwide.
Look, I made choices at some point of my life which have completely negated any ability for me to be a card-carrying member of the group. My riding is exploitation. Probably the way I entice my cat to perform tricks for friends is exploitation. And, perhaps most importantly, the fact that I eat meat is the worst kind of exploitation. I realize all of that and I honestly can't fully disagree with them. Part of me thinks they may be right, but I can't give up the riding and in my heart I believe that riding is a relationship, not subjugation.
So, in short: PETA would hate me, but I don't hate PETA. That's the thing that I don't get: how you can love animals and completely denigrate this group. They are merciless, brutal. They will bombard you with images that most humans should not have the stomach to view. They take absurd, overwrought actions (remember the human breast milk ice cream campaign?) and are not remotely bothered by exploiting beautiful, naked women in pursuit of their goals. But in the end, they are the only group with the balls to publicly challenge deep, long-held beliefs about the conditions and welfare of animals. Shock tactics work precisely because they scorn politeness and manners, because they touch on taboo subjects. More than ever, animals need advocates. For every blood spattered, fur-wearing celebrity picture, there are hundreds and thousands more pictures of starving and abandoned animals. People would rather focus on the shocking and obnoxious aspects of PETA without acknowledging the message behind it. You can't tell me that those tactics don't offer some good, if only by challenging us not to accept the status quo just, you know, because... Advocacy shouldn't have to always be polite and mannered. Sometimes you just can't get a point across any other way than by startling them. Humans will always be more inclined to fret over human rights. It's only natural. Animals will always appear to be afterthoughts. And that's why PETA is so important -- to jar you into changing that train of thought.