Animal advocates rarely discuss a post-advocacy vision. Animal exploitation is embedded in present-day human lifestyles in too many ways to easily imagine a world without it. But we need to do that. First, we need to do it for ourselves, so that we are not always and only thinking of the horrendous lives so many animals experience now.
Secondly, we need to be able to articulate a positive vision to others, not just tell them what they shouldn't do. When an entire culture is complicit in and dependent upon immoral and unsustainable behavior, denial and the inability to conceive of change are inevitable. Advocates have to be ready with a message people want to hear: We can do this, and here's why it's going to be great.
When we do discuss a better future for animals, we usually start with the next step from the present case, rather than with where we ultimately want to be. That’s right and necessary as far as it goes, but a longer view is just as necessary. I’ll discuss why a little later.
Here is what the most animal-threatening human behaviors of today might look like in a future where animals matter:
Environment & Wildlife
I begin with this because it impacts everything else. In the post animal-exploitation world, free solar power, or something even better that we don't know about yet is universal. Humans recycle everything, waste nothing, and treasure and protect the complexity and diversity of natural ecosystems. There is no need for mining or deforestation, and no pollution. Humans have reduced their population to a level that supports abundant resources for all in small, widely dispersed, non-urban enclaves, leaving most of the planet free from human interference exclusively for the habitation of other species. Understanding of the habits, reactions, and communications of non-humans have vastly improved, and all humans are educated from early childhood on how to interpret and respond appropriately to wildlife encounters to ensure positive interactions.
Food & Farming
With the recognition of animal personhood, eating non-human flesh has become as inconceivable as cannibalism. All humans eat a wholly plant-based diet. Farming in an animal-friendly world is unrecognizable. Animals are absent as "products" or laborers, and farming techniques are efficient, non-disruptive and localized. Farmers routinely include a percentage for wild animals and insects in their yield planning, and food that shows no signs of having been shared with other creatures is rejected by consumers as unacceptably and unattractively artificial.
War & Weapons of Mass Destruction
Although often overlooked, the toll of human conflict on wild, companion, and farm animals is heavy. An animal-friendly world must be a peaceful one.
Travel & EntertainmentAnimal-enslaving, animal-lethal, noisy, and polluting modes of travel are obsolete, as are roadways that form barriers. Mechanisms to prevent accidental transference of species and diseases between ecosystems are built in to all forms of transit. Technology permits distance observation of non-humans without physical intrusion into their living space. Needless to say, chasing, frightening and harming non-humans would never occur to post-exploitive humans as a form of entertainment.
With reduced human population density, adequate resources for all, the abolition of war, plant-based diets, and the elimination of pollutants, human disease and illness has been vastly reduced. Using animals as sub-human research subjects has long since been recognized as barbaric. Animal research is only conducted for the benefit of the animals themselves, under the same (much improved) ethical standards used to protect human research participants.
This is the most challenging aspect of my re-imagination. Sharing a home with non-humans has so enriched my life that a future without such relationships seems barren. Some argue that "domestic" animals are a human-created abomination that have no place in an animal-positive environment. But we can’t very well argue against human supremacism while reserving for ourselves the right to decide their fate.
Furthermore, if there are non-human animal advocates, surely companion animals are the most effective of them. It is arrogant to assume that thousands of years of interdependency have wrought change only upon the non-human side of the relationship.
In the post-advocacy world, animals who like to live with humans are free to come and go at will, so that their relationships are always a matter of choice. We also need to resolve the paradox of providing for the dietary needs of some animals at the expense of others. Vat grown flesh, which otherwise has no place in this vision, might be useful here.
We know surprisingly little about the animals we live most closely with, least of all about how to communicate with them. To approach anything like equal and consensual inter-species relationships, we must relentlessly question assumptions about the limitations of non-human experience that are rooted in self-interested biases.
Perhaps reconceiving our human lives as one of many manifestations of nature, rather than apart from and superior to it, will reduce our yearning for a natural connection via animal relationships. Perhaps, but I’m skeptical. We are drawn together by what we have in common - curiosity, admiration, affection, playfulness, and a shared sense of enjoyment of the physical.
Paths to Change
This all seems idealized and distant. Do humans have the capacity to realize such a vision? If so, how do we get there from here?
There is an argument in animal advocacy (as in many other forms of advocacy) about whether to begin with conceptions or with behavior, but neither can work effectively in any larger sense without the other. On the one hand, we have seen that the undoable can become the unthinkable. For the first time in recorded human history, for example, slavery is now illegal everywhere. However, stopping behavior all too often becomes the end instead of the means, since it can be accomplished without the discomfort of questioning deeply held beliefs. But where such beliefs linger on, they find new ways to manifest. Eliminating slavery has not eliminated racism, nor exploitation.
Animal advocates can learn from this example, to push the envelope alternately and incrementally on both the behavioral and psychocultural fronts. Advances in each sphere can serve to launch the next round of change for the other. We have a long way to go, but that needn't depress us. Rather, it should inform our expectations. We can do this, but it's going to take generations, and we should plan accordingly.