The transformative justice of Animal Rights

By John Carbonaro

(The opinions expressed in these essays do not necessarily reflect the position of ARAUNY).

Retributive justice is a systematic infliction of punishment justified on grounds that the wrongdoing committed by a criminal has created an imbalance in the social order that must be addressed by action against the criminal. An ‘eye for an eye’ characterizes this approach.

Restorative justice is a systematic response to wrongdoing that emphasizes healing the wounds of victims, offenders and communities caused or revealed by the criminal behavior. When restorative justice is applied beyond the domain of criminal justice, it is called transformative justice.

Restorative justice tries to maximize forgiveness, hope, accountability, and positive outcomes for all parties, especially but not limited to communities which have experienced the most harm and could benefit the most from harm reversal. Redemption is the critical ingredient, and redemption, of course, is always better when it is earned redemption, so this philosophical approach is not necessarily tied to an apology-based perspective.

PETA bowed under pressure from ‘offended’ people and apologized/withdrew the ‘Holocaust On Your Plate’ campaign, which I think was regretful. It has been made clear that the exploitation and murder of disempowered groups (Jews/animals) by dominating groups (Nazis/humans) may be stopped through eliminating hierarchies of power. Jewish people thought that they were being compared to animals themselves. The comparison was in the treatment itself, stemming from the pervasive wellspring of domination. Efforts towards a balance should embrace vegan-restorative justice (not retributive-violent) ideals. This balance could be personal healing and societal healing, the foundation to begin transformative justice for the planet.

I’ve been looking at some sites about individual’s thoughts on the death penalty when someone they know is murdered. Often, the surviving victims of murdered loved one leaves them opposed to the death penalty. Having gone through the trauma, they do not wish to be associated with any more death.  This is the window of opportunity to extend this anti-death wish to animals. But if they do not associate death of a loved one with the death imposed on other innocent, sentient beings (just as capable of being loved), the potential for a healing connection could be lost. Then where will the healing empathy occur?

It is important to remember though, that without compassion to humans embedded somewhere in the anti-cruelty message, the moral identical-ness of the situation can be lost.

Some people will not drop their defenses/reasons for exploiting animals because to do so would cause them to suffer (guilt, family disloyalty, personal value incongruity). To fully comprehend what you are a part of has a potential to be overwhelming, but as many of us have found, it is far better to deal with.

I work with people who self-harm, and amongst some of their reasons is to create ‘diversion’ pain. It serves to distract from the much-worse emotional pain, as well as puts them in control of creating the pain.
Being Ok with cutting up other beings, scapegoats if you will, can also be a further projection/displacement of self-directed feelings. Who knows where this pain stems from, and it doesn’t come close to explaining a whole society’s behavior. Perhaps though, it is a conflicted pain that many children learn to manage when they realize that they are feeding on the same animals whom they have a heartfelt regard for. Becoming vegan and doing outreach can be a personal form of self-restorative and transformative justice for themselves.

Most animal rights organizations are not seeking a retributive justice for animals. Most do not condone violence (physical or emotional) to balance the violence (done by much of society) to the non-human animal community. As Toffler’s quote states: retributive (violent/retaliatory) justice can come back on the movement, ultimately affecting the animals we are trying to liberate.

A.R.A. (Animal Rights Activists) can seek to bring to the surface the universal wrongdoings in part by characterizing all living beings and communities as being in a victim role, as well as offenders & criminal behaviors in terms of harm being carried out on one another.

A.R.A. can seek restorative justice by addressing a) the healing process of vegan-ethics b) animal concerns that are currently beyond ‘criminal law’. The latter’s efforts also place them in the category of seeking transformative justice in the world.

A.R.A., if seeking restorative justice, seek to restore balance, especially (but not limited to) a) the communities that have experienced the most harm, b)those that could benefit the most from harm reversal (animals, people displaced from their land by rainforest-clearing, children who are made unhealthy by high animal-fat diets, etc.).

While some people are seeking animal activists to apologize for their actions as a form of restorative justice, activists must instead continue to seek transformative justice for the communities exposed to the greatest harm in number and intensity: non-human animals.

Redemption, not apologies, is key. Will society earn redemption through the ethical transformation, not only for other species, but for the life of our planet, whom we are criminally negligent towards?