Comments on a Contested Comparison
Many animal activists have compared the utterly callous treatment of animals in modern industrial societies to the treatment of the Nazis’ human victims in the Holocaust. Activists who avail themselves of these comparisons typically do so with an eye to impressing on us that the utterly callous “processing” of billions of animals in settings such as, for example, confined feeding operations, industrial slaughterhouses, aquafarms and laboratories resembles the Holocaust in its momentousness and horror. This chapter contains a nuanced discussion of this strategy, starting with a criticism of animal activists’ use of Holocaust likenesses that is grounded in an account of ways in which invidious comparisons to animals have historically figured in specific methods of racist domination. The chapter’s main negative claim is that, given the relevant histories and their contemporary after-effects, the strategy of referring to the Holocaust to expose wrongs to animals is objectionable. The positive emphasis of the chapter is on showing that it doesn’t follow that we need to abandon the concerns that originally lead some animal activists to invoke the idea of the Holocaust and, further, that we can understand the impulse driving these individuals (even if we don’t agree with them) if we follow up on the work of authors who try to impart a sense of the kinds of challenges we face in trying to bring the worldly lives of animals, as well as the wrongs inflicted on them by human beings, into focus in a manner relevant to ethics.