Fur and Freedom: in defense of the fur trade

January 18, 2016 - It is no use applying ordinary standards of moral seriousness to fashion, any more than it is useful to apply them to art. The most serious artist, like the fashion designer, will always be tempted to test a prohibition to see if this is an area in which a shock and a surprise can be delivered. And so fur, because of who dislikes it, is bound to attract new friends. Socially, nothing attracts like opposition.

Such sounds a part of the argumentation from author, blogger and former environment journalist Richard North in his comprehensive investigation into the British and international fur trade prior to UK ban on fur farming in 2001. The investigation examined cultural aspects of the discussion as well as animal welfare perspectives. As so many before and after him – including the very animal rights groups pursuing a ban on fur farming – North finds that a ban on fur based on the concept of “public morality” is morally inconsistent and constitutes a dangerous development in which ideals and principles are no longer applied in an equal and fair manner:

‘Public morality’ has been invoked as a novel ruse. It is a rather shocking new principle, since it could as easily be invoked in favour of any populist cause which claimed a moral dimension, but whose moral dimension was transparently inadequate to be argued seriously.

North also examines the idea that public morality equals public opinion, and points to the importance of informed opinion, for example illustrated by people who used to speak out against fur, only to wear fur later on when fur returned as a fashionable item. Such conversions are not the results of moral scrutinizing:

There is no sign that many of them did much thinking when they condemned fur, and the reinstatement of it does not seem either to have flowed from fresh study or research. They do not seem so much to have changed their mind as merely their behaviour. They have not so much adapted their moral thinking as reconsidered what is fashionable.

The report also contains a comprehensive walkthrough of the animal welfare argumentation available 15 years ago, and even back then, interviews with scientists reveal that it is unjust to characterise the animal welfare as poor. Consequently the UK ban on fur farming was based on a notion of “public morality”, which in itself could be seen as a matter of “fashion” as it is described in the foreword:

That the decision should come at a time when Parliament has become ostentatiously permissive in all matters pertaining to traditional morality, suggests that we are passing through a period of unusual hypocrisy, in which morality has become a matter of fashionable posturing rather than a submission to conscience.

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Fur and Freedom: in defense of the fur trade [PDF 213.7 Kb]