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Social norms and farm animal protection

Animal advocates have long tried to change attitudes and convince the public that eating animals is wrong by focusing on individual attitudes and behavior at the expense of collective social behavior and norms.

NICOLAS DELON: ‘Advocates and scholars alike have long tried to change attitudes and convince the public that eating animals is wrong. The topic of norms and social change for animals has been neglected, which explains in part the relative failure of the animal protection movement to secure robust support reflected in social and legal norms. Moreover, animal ethics has suffered from a disproportionate focus on individual attitudes and behavior at the expense of collective behavior, social change, and empirical psychology. If what we want to change is behavior on a large scale, norms are important tools…

What impact their individual changes had on animal suffering is a distinct question (hint: little). Attitudinal change in a context of deeply entrenched anthropocentrism has rather low tractability. Moreover, individual consumers in large-scale collective action problems are largely inefficacious because everyone has at best a minuscule probability of affecting the outcome… The question is thus not how we can change attitudes but how norms affect behavior and how they can be altered. If behavior is to be changed on a large scale, norms are important tools…

98% of the animals Americans interact with have nearly no legal protection.Footnote 4 The federal Animal Welfare Act, which sets basic standards for the care of animals, simply exempts farmed animals… The farming industry is not like other industries, typically governed by regulatory schemes promulgated and enforced by agencies. Anticruelty statutes do not provide for specific welfare regulations, regulatory enforcement of welfare standards, inspections, or responsibility to any state or federal administrative agency…

Social norms both generate and rely on beliefs that a behavior is normal… There is evidence of the power of normalization in the case of meat-eating behavior. Jared Piazza et al. (2015) drew on psychologist Melanie Joy’s “Three Ns” theory of “carnism”—i.e., that beliefs that eating meat is necessary, natural, and normal are the main justifications that people give for eating animals… Research shows that “the main variable affecting behavior is not what one personally likes or thinks he should do, but rather one’s beliefs about what ‘society’ (i.e., most other people, people who matter to us, and the life) approves of”…

We can capture the persistence of eating meat as a social norm, sustained by empirical and normative expectations also expressed by legal and market norms… these normative features of omnivore practices constitute a drag on social change for animals… So how does change happen? C. Bicchieri reviews several tools of social change: law, media campaigns (including popular culture and trendsetters), economic incentives, and deliberation, which often perform the double function of changing perceptions of certain practices and their expectations about whether other people will still follow and/or endorse them’. SOURCE…

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