For many years, I have been making the point that we cannot morally distinguish speciesism from other forms of discrimination, such as racism, sexism, and heterosexism. I am always on the lookout for explicit connections and one came across my desk this week.
According to an article called Playing Chicken, Jason Atkins, a former Marine and insurance fraud investigator, has started a website that will transmit broadcasts of cockfighting, which is now illegal in all of the states, from a ring in Puerto Rico. If you click on the site, there is a promotional trailer showing scenes of fighting cocks and scantily clad women introducing the events. And Atkins has another site that features “broadcasts of bare knuckles, no rules Brazilian jujitsu matches dubbed ‘Rio Heroes,’ and what Atkins says is a sport made for America, ‘Girls and Guns,’ in which women wearing bikinis accessorized with double-thigh holsters and high-healed [sic] combat boots compete in a shoot-off of weapons that could easily outfit an American combat platoon in Iraq—everything from M-249 SAWs to Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifles.”
Sometimes, just when you think that it can’t get worse, it does.
Gary L. Francione
© 2007 Gary L. Francione
These words, written by philosopher George Santayana, seem to resonate with particular relevance these days, as we see a world engulfed in violence.
But Santayana also has something important to say to the animal movement.
Most of the large new welfarist animal organizations, both in the United States and Great Britain, claim to endorse veganism but will not promote it as the baseline of the movement because of the concern that veganism will appear to be too “radical” for the general public. So, these organizations promote “happy” meat and animal products that carry the Certified Humane Raised and Handled label or the Freedom Food label, or comply with the Farm Animal Compassionate Standards of Whole Foods, now on both sides of the Atlantic. And Peter Singer reminds us that being a consistent vegan is “fanatical” and that we may actually be obligated not to be vegans if to do so will upset others.
Those of us who maintain that veganism should be the clear and unequivocal moral baseline of the movement are told sternly by the new welfarists that society is not yet ready to hear the vegan message. We should focus on “cage-free” eggs and “free-range” meats instead.
And how does Santayana’s message apply in this context?
In 1944, Donald Watson founded The Vegan Society in the U.K. He coined the word “vegan” to describe someone who consumed no animal products. In the very first issue of the The Vegan News—63 years ago—Watson wrote:
A common criticism is that the time is not yet ripe for our reform. Can time ever be ripe for any reform unless it is ripened by human determination?
Watson pointed out how the opponents of slavery did not wait for the time to be “ripe” and that the proponents of clean water and sanitation met fierce opposition and did not wait for the “non-existent moment” when the time was “ripe.”
On August 2, I posted a blog essay entitled, A Note About Michael Vick. Vick’s behavior was obviously reprehensible. I wrote the blog because I was tired of hearing Vick criticized by self-righteous people who eat meat, attend rodeos, hunt, or participate in the many forms of animal exploitation that, unlike dog fighting, are accepted as legitimate activities by most people but that cause as much suffering to the animals involved.
Frankly, I did not think that there would be much of a response. After all, I have been making the same point for some years now in my writing—we suffer from a sort of “moral schizophrenia” where animals are concerned. On one hand, we treat some nonhumans, such as dogs and cats, as members of our families and become incensed in reaction to stories about the torture of such animals. On the other hand, we ignore entirely—indeed, we participate in—other animal uses that result in the torture of other animals whom we do not regard as “special.” This was a central point in my book, Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog?
Well, I was wrong about the reaction to my blog essay.
Although we should all avoid using pharmaceutical products in favor of more natural approaches to health, it may, on occasion, be advisable or even necessary to take a pharmaceutical product.
Putting aside other problems with these products, they often are not vegan in that they contain various animal products as “inactive” ingredients. For example, many tablets contain stearates or glycerin, which often come from animal sources, or lactose, which is a milk derivative. And standard capsules are, of course, made of gelatin.
I often hear vegans say that in such circumstances, they have no choice but to depart from their vegan principles and take medicines that contain animal products. This is not true. Even in situations in which a pharmaceutical product may be required, it is not necessary to use a product that contains animal ingredients.
I am asked frequently about my views on those who advocate violence against animal exploiters.
My response is simple: I am violently opposed to violence.
I have three reasons for my position.
First, in my view, the animal rights position is the ultimate rejection of violence. It is the ultimate affirmation of peace. I see the animal rights movement as the logical progression of the peace movement, which seeks to end conflict between humans. The animal rights movement ideally seeks to take that a step further and to end conflict between humans and nonhumans.
The reason that we are in the global mess that we are in now is that throughout history, we have engaged and continue to engage in violent actions that we have sought to justify as an undesirable means to a desirable end. Anyone who has ever used violence claims to regret having to resort to it, but argues that some desirable goal supposedly justified its use. The problem is that this facilitates an endless cycle of violence where anyone who feels strongly about something can embrace violence toward others as a means to achieving the greater good and those who are the targets of that violence may find a justification for their violent response. So on and on it goes.
There has been an enormous amount of coverage of the alleged dog fighting operation sponsored by Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. Vick and three other men were indicted on federal felony charges claiming that Vick had sponsored illegal dog fighting, gambled on dog fights and permitted acts of cruelty against animals on his property. The talk shows are filled with talking heads from the “humane community” condemning dog fighting and calling for Vick to be punished if he is, indeed, guilty. Nike and Reebok have suspended products endorsed by Vick.
Please let me be very clear: I think that dog fighting is a terrible thing.
But I must say that the Vick case is rather dramatically demonstrating what I call our “moral schizophrenia” about animals. That is, if one thing is clear, it is that we do not think clearly about our moral obligations to animals.
In this country alone, we kill over ten billion land animals annually for food. The animals we eat—even those supposedly raised “humanely”—suffer as much as the dogs that are used in dog fighting. There is no “need” for us to eat meat, dairy, or eggs. Indeed, these foods are increasingly linked to various human diseases and animal agriculture is an environmental disaster for the planet. We impose pain, suffering, and death on these billions of sentient nonhumans because we enjoy eating their flesh and the products that we make from them.
Since we have launched the new site, I have been receiving dozens of questions every day. Unfortunately, I am not able to answer all of them personally, but I do appreciate your interest in the abolitionist approach.
There are, however, some questions that I feel compelled to respond to because they go so directly to the philosophy that I am trying to promote.
Last week, someone wrote the following:
I understand that speciesism is problematic because it is like racism and sexism because it attaches a negative value to species in the same way that racism attaches a negative value to race or sexism attaches a negative value to the status of being a woman. But you also often liken speciesism to heterosexism and I think that there is a difference here because unlike race or sex, which have no inherent moral value, sexual relations between members of the same sex may be considered as immoral because such conduct is not natural.
This is not the first time that I have heard this position expressed and I want to address it and explain why I think that heterosexism cannot be distinguished from racism or sexism.