I choose to focus my energy on the areas where I think I’ll do the most good/prevent the most harm.
In a post titled “The absurdity of ‘triage’ and the need for social change,” Ida challenged Elaine.
By definition…triage takes place after the harm has already happened, and is therefore incapable of dealing with the cause of that harm.
Ida uses the example of the television show M.A.S.H. to make her point.
…no matter how many soldiers the doctors saved, the wounded just kept coming in. This is because the doctors doing triage were working within the system.
Elaine’s approach, it is argued, is a response to effects (i.e., the harm caused by oppression), and fails to address the causes of the oppression that results in harm. Surely this is descriptively true, but Ida is making a normative claim that is disputable by stretching the M.A.S.H. analogy.
The necessity of physicians in the Armed Forces is an effect of exigencies: in war, the wounded need medical attention. Physicians, then, are responding to a need within a system replete with needs. These other needs will be responded to by other individuals. In the war analogy one such need is a challenge to the systems that makes war itself a necessity. There are multiple fronts responding to a heterogeneity of needs. Doctors aid the critical, those in direct need of having their bodily harm pacified or healed. This is their front.
What would Ida have these physicians do? Indeed, they aren’t challenging the “war machine” that causes the harm, but they are responding to a significant need nonetheless. This response can’t reasonably be challenged ethically. Physicians don’t take the harm for granted, quite the opposite. They simply don’t theorize whether or not the harm should exist in the first place because that isn’t the need they are responding to. A reasonable argument could be made that these physicians, because they see and directly respond to the harm, are the best placed to effect further changes down the line; to the level of some ultimate cause. (This begs the question for Ida and others: What is the ultimate cause? You label it oppression, exploitation, or violence, but these are all reducible to other causes: economics, ideology, religion, biology. Which are in turn reducible yet again.)
The same is true in the animal rights movement. There are different fronts: some will respond directly to the harm, while others will challenge it indirectly by criticizing the inner workings of the machine. Ida seems to imply that Elaine is accomplishing her primary aim (i.e., working to prevent harm) because she instead shifts the focus to the causes of the effect. This, of course, assumes that Elaine’s method doesn’t go to this end as well, which is dubious at best. It is an empirical matter that seems to be the crux of many anti-“welfarist” groups. Ida needs to present evidence that Elaine’s campaigns don’t result in challenging the causes of the harm. I know Elaine would disagree forcefully.
Ida’s latter dispute with “triage hierarchies” reveals her quixotism. She writes,
In the “triage” framework, some forms of exploitation are seen as the “worst abuses” – such as battery cages or crates – some are written off completely – honey bees, for example – and others we are told can wait – like so-called “free-range” operations.
Triage is necessary because in reality we are dealing with finite resources. Physicians on the battlefield must construct hierarchies because externalities demand it. Otherwise the result would be ineffectiveness. Likewise in the animal rights movement. People who are located differently within the battle as it were have resources that can be exhausted. Therefore, they must necessarily address something specific and this will place it above others on the practical scale. Since Elaine is responding directly to harm it follows that she ought to evaluate different harms and challenge the most extreme.
Ida doesn’t seem to recognize this and I think it is because she relies on a philosophical slide. She assumes that Elaine’s practical decision is actually normative. That doesn’t follow. Elaine is not grouping beings on a normative scale of “importance,” she is addressing the amount of harm caused to these beings. There also isn’t a normative element that suggests other harms are acceptable. They are simply less severe than X and Y. Harm is the analytic focus. The normative claim is that harm is bad, which isn’t disputable because it seems to be the first premise of the animal rights (and human rights) movement. Elaine is forced to make practical evaluations given her position within the opposition movement. Again, she is responding to certain needs.
Ida ends with,
Social change starts with believing another world is possible. “Triage” belongs to the world we wish to leave behind.
I don’t think Elaine would disagree. I certainly don’t. However, the physician performing triage in war shouldn’t leave helpless, suffering, and dying people on the battlefield without aid because she prefers to re-imagine the world in which all this harm never happened in the first place. That isn’t the need she is responding to.
Crossposted @ That Vegan Girl