In the news today was an article on the resurgence of people buying fur coats in Britain. I was surprised by this as in the 1980s and 1990s there were massive campaigns against this cruel, abominable trade. New fur clothing became taboo, the animal welfare argument in this arena had seemed to have been won, only for the issue to come around again, Why?
The article was published in a British newspaper, which contained a lengthy comments section which was filled with criticism of this phenomenon on animal welfare grounds. The comments section was later taken over by trolls. Internet trolls have been around since the early days of the internet, I’ve never quite seen the point of deliberately creating arguments and seeking to rile people up, when this surely has a negative effect on the trolls well being.
In the comments section, there was also genuine debate. Having dabbled on internet forums, these are often places where much misunderstanding occurs anyway, even without the trolls. I think that this is due to people not knowing the background of the commentators and many false assumptions are made. Perhaps especially in a generally British forum where sarcasm levels run very high, which is harder to detect in a solely written format. These misunderstandings are perhaps due to different positions on spectra.
The spectra of opinions on animals welfare are perhaps much like any other spectra. You have the two extreme ends, with small but passionate minorities: Those that believe all farming of animals is wrong and those that support all animal farming with no regard for animal welfare. Both of these extreme positions are coherent and defensible as creeds and you can respect adherents for the moral consistency. However the majority of people, probably, like myself, lie somewhere in between. Unlike a normal bell curve distribution, there are peaks at the two extremes. So when those in between people debate without knowing each other misconceptions arise. It seems that people adopt lifestyle positions without researching the facts, how they act and what they believe become different, which is much harder to defend in an argument.
In the case of fur, it has many similarities with the meat and dairy trade. There is traditional hunting of animals for their pelts to provide clothing for those who live at high latitudes, from sustainable populations of prey animals. I personally approve of this, but with the wildernesses of Russia, Canada, Scandinavia and invasive possums in New Zealand, it cannot provide enough fur to satisfy the demands of the world fashion market. Fake fur has been developed, so this should be the mainstay of the market. Fur lasts a long time, so I think vintage fur clothing can be re-sold. What I strongly object to is the intensive farming of animals for their pelts, in cages where often the animals can’t even turn around. The issue is that the farmed fur trade is very much near the extreme end of low animal welfare and one the vast majority generally find unacceptable.
A difficulty for my position is distinguishing ethically sourced fur from the cruel stuff, again much like the meat and dairy sector. This was the argument in the 80s and 90s; As you couldn’t source the fur, you had no idea if people were openly supporting cruelty to animals or not, so the argument ran that it was better not to wear real fur at all, rather than risk offense.
Some would argue that it is simply the fashion industry. This being the industry that profits from people buying more clothes than they need, made affordable to those in the Western world by being manufactured in sweat shop factories, akin to the Victorian mills of the industrial revolution in the 19th century. Has models who are unhealthily thin to be coat hangers and tell young women that making yourself thin is somehow acceptable. This is one of the reasons I’ve never really been into fashion and happy to wear somewhat raggedy clothes on an everyday basis. Really, I don’t understand why there aren’t more charity shops for exchange of clothes, as much fashion clothing is often only worn a couple of times. Being a chap, my choice in charity/ vintage cloth shops is relatively poor.
is it perhaps a generational thing. I wouldn’t suggest that the younger generation are less moral, but maybe how morality is expressed has changed. I am often disappointed with my generation in failing to achieve all that much progress in moral issues against corporate power. However what my generation did perhaps achieve was the acceptance of individuality. My generation cherish individuality, the freedom to pursue our dreams and to be ourselves. Listening to people in their late teens and early 20s, I am so impressed with their acceptance of other peoples sexuality and diversity of lifestyles, they seem to feel less obliged to do things they don’t want to. To some extent this only came about because my generations challenged traditional views and those people that rigidly adhered to them.
Perhaps this individuality has been taken to an extreme beyond the motivation behind it’s development. my generation did view the world as a society, there was a feeling that we wanted to make the world a better place, here we failed.The younger generation have come to accept more that the world/ corporate power can’t be changed. There is less a sense of the possibility of the mass of the democratic public simply saying no to something in sufficient numbers with enough vigour to bring it about. That people feel that there is no longer a society to look after if you are able, a sense of local and international community. That one can perhaps only act at an individual level or within a peer group. Hence, whilst there may be as much despair at people wearing fur, people are perhaps less willing to challenge people who wear it. With the powers that be, monitoring us all on the internet and in our daily lives with CCTV, everyone is perhaps too afraid to challenge immorality.
What happens if no-one challenges immorality, if there is no cost to anti-social behaviour. I believe in animal welfare because I believe how people treat other sentient beings reflects on how we treat each other. It is only a small step between keeping an animal in a cage to having no qualms about a child being injured whilst working for a pittance in a factory on the other side of the world. Isn’t it time society stood up again for something? Fashion should be about fun, style and looking good, not draping yourself in the skins of mistreated animals.