Is there anything that you want to eat that badly?

Dear Colleagues:

I never fail to be amazed when I hear people—including well-known promoters of animal welfare—claim quite remarkably that animals do not have an interest in continued life; they just have an interest in not suffering. They do not care that we use them; they care only about how we use them. As long as they have a reasonably painless life and a relatively painless death, they do not care if we consume them or products made from them. I have discussed this issue in a number of essays on this site (see, e.g., 1; 2; 3) and in my books and articles. It will be a central topic in my forthcoming book, The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation?, which I have co-authored with Professor Robert Garner and that will be published by Columbia University Press this fall.

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Another Welfarist “Revolution” That Wasn’t

Dear Colleagues:

As you know, I do not believe that welfare reforms provide significant benefits for nonhuman animals even when these reforms are implemented. But they often are not even implemented. That is, there are campaigns and fundraising efforts and declarations of “victory” (accompanied by parties complete with celebrities) but the supposed reforms often never even come about.

A good example of this phenomenon is found in the announcement on June 24, 2009 that Smithfield Foods will delay the ten-year phase-out of gestation crates for sows for financial reasons. Although alternatives to gestation crates have been demonstrated by agricultural economists to increase production efficiency in the long term, the short-term capital costs of converting from the crate system are apparently causing Smithfield to delay the ten-year phase out plan.

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A Disturbing Partnership

Dear Colleagues:

In much of my writing, I have argued that the promotion of the “happy meat” approach has led not only to making the public more comfortable about consuming animal products but it has resulted in the creation of a disturbing partnership between animal advocates and institutionalized exploiters. This topic is one of the many issues debated by me and Professor Robert Garner, who defends the new welfarist or “protectionist” (as he prefers to call it) position in our book, The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation?, forthcoming from Columbia University Press this fall.

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And Another…

Dear Colleagues:

The Associated Press has reported the following story:

(AP) A 23-year-old woman who got a friend to kill her Jack Russell terrier was charged with skinning the puppy to make a belt out of its hide.

Krystal Lynn Lewis and Austin Michael Mullins, 26, were being held Friday in the Muskogee County jail on $25,000 bail each. They were charged with one felony count of cruelty to animals.

“We’re talking about a 6- or 7-week-old defenseless puppy,” said sheriff’s deputy George Roberson. “That’s pretty heinous and sadistic.”

A Muskogee County judge ordered a mental competency hearing for Lewis.

Lewis wanted the puppy, named Poplin, killed because it was a gift from a female ex-lover with whom she doesn’t get along, said Muskogee County sheriff’s deputy George Roberson.

Roberson said Mullins shot the terrier 10 times with a .22-caliber pistol. Lewis skinned the animal at her apartment and nailed the hide to a board.

It was obviously wrong to kill the dog to make a belt (or for any other purpose). But what about the cows and other nonhumans who provide the belts or shoes that almost everyone wears?

In the case of the dog, we charge a felony and set bail at $25,000. In the case of the cow, we don’t give the matter a second thought. Why don’t we see both as “heinous and sadistic”?

This is yet another example of the confused and deluded way that we think about animals. We need to educate others to get them to see that they should have the same reaction in the case of the cow as they do to that of the dog.

There is no rational explanation or moral justification for a different reaction.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione

Yet Another Example of Moral Schizophrenia

Dear Colleagues:

For many years now, I have been using the expression “moral schizophrenia” to describe the confused and deluded way in which we humans think about the moral status of nonhuman animals.

This morning, I saw an example of moral schizophrenia that even I found quite remarkable.

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Poor Che Guevara

Dear Colleagues:

Although I am opposed to all violence, and, therefore, I do not approve of the violence that Ernesto “Che” Guevara used to liberate Cuba from the U.S. backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, I found it profoundly sad to see the latest PETA campaign that features Che’s granddaughter, Lydia Guevara, posing semi-nude in a PETA campaign ad promoting the “vegetarian revolution.”

This ad trivializes the struggle for social justice that Che believed in and for which he gave his life. Can you imagine Che Guevara “going naked for liberation rather than be a U.S. puppet?” No, of course not.

In 2007, PETA put out its State of the Union Undress, a video of a woman doing a full striptease “for the animals” that ended with a quotation from Dr. Martin Luther King.

In my comment on the PETA video, I stated:

The idea that PETA thinks it appropriate to end a striptease video with a quote from Martin Luther King about injustice is further indication that PETA is willing to trivialize anything and anyone in its relentless attempt to promote itself. Perhaps PETA should recall that Dr. King significantly advanced the cause of justice through intellect, tenacity, dignity and courage and without ever “going naked” to win civil rights or engaging in any of the sensationalism and tawdry cheapness that has become PETA’s trademark.

This is the problem with all of PETA’s pathetic attempts to liken its campaigns to civil rights struggles or other struggles for social justice. The people involved in those struggles were serious people who made serious sacrifices and tried to effect fundamental changes in the way that people think. PETA is doing nothing more than seeking publicity and donations for itself. That is unfortunate.

Moreover, it is tragically ironic that PETA is using sexist imagery when Che Guevara, a committed Marxist, rejected sexism.

But I guess that in the end, it does not really much matter as I suppose that most of PETA’s membership has no idea who Che Guevara was. To the extent that people in other parts of the world remember Che, they will, like me, feel profound sadness at this campaign. And unfortunately, many will use this silly publicity stunt as an excuse for dismissing animal rights as a serious issue.

Che Guevara was not a vegetarian. Perhaps, had he lived, he would have come to see animal rights as a serious social issue. I doubt, however, that he would have been prompted to do so by PETA’s campaigns.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione

Context Makes All the Difference

Dear Colleagues:

Professor Gary Steiner alerted me to an interesting video from the Onion News Network. It involves a “news” story about a young gymnast who is “euthanized” by her parents after she suffers a minor, but career-affecting, injury.

By applying the language that we hear when injured race horses are “put down” in a context involving a human, we get an interesting insight into how even those who claim to “love” animals often commodify them and regard them exclusively as means to our ends.

We also hear expressed the idea that the problem is suffering and that as long as the actual infliction of death is without pain, no separate moral question is raised. That is, the act of killing does not, in itself, result in harm. We easily see the problem in applying this in the human context. Even if you killed a human painlessly and did so while she slept and was unaware that her death was imminent, you would still have harmed that person. Sure, you would have harmed her more if you tortured her first and then killed her. But you do harm her just by killing her without any pain or suffering.

When it comes to animals, most of us fail to see this point. We think that the problem is suffering—not death. We think that it is acceptable for us to use animals as long as we treat them “humanely.” That is the whole premise of the animal welfare approach: it is morally acceptable for humans to use animals as long as we minimize the suffering involved. This idea is promoted by many animal advocates and I have written about it before on this blog (see this essay for example) and in my other writings (it is a central theme of Animals as Persons). It is precisely this notion that leads animal advocates to support campaigns to promote “cage-free” eggs rather than spending their time and resources on educating people about why they should not eat eggs at all. Campaigns for welfare reform make sense only if the use of animals is morally acceptable and the issue is only how we treat the animal we use. Many welfarists are explicit in claiming that killing animals—if done painlessly—does not raise a moral issue. As the Onion video demonstrates, we would regard that as absurd in the human context.

It is only because we are speciesist that we are unable to see that it is equally absurd to deny that the killing of a nonhuman animal—even if the animal does not suffer—involves imposing a harm on the animal.

Go vegan and use creative, nonviolent means to teach others about veganism.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione

Making a Vegan Education Kiosk

Dear Colleagues:

The abolitionist approach, as it is discussed and developed on this site and in my work over the past 20 years, maintains that going vegan and using creative, nonviolent methods of educating others about the importance of ethical veganism, are the most important forms of social activism available to those of us who want to shift the paradigm away from animals as property and toward animals as persons.

Many advocates who agree with the abolitionist approach have no problem with the first step of this program: they go vegan. But the second step stumps them. What can they do in the way of creative, nonviolent vegan education?

One purpose of this site is to share with you some of the marvelous things that other advocates have done in this regard. For example, several days ago, I talked about the “flip books” containing the individual slides from our videos that Elizabeth Collins is going to use in her community education efforts.

Today, I bring you some practical information on how to build a vegan kiosk–a sort of vegan education station–so that you can show videos and distribute literature. Adam Kochanowicz of The Vegan News-Vegan FM, with help from his Dad, shows, in 6 minutes, how, with little money, to build and set up a vegan education stall that can easily be brought to and set up at the many community events that provide such a perfect venue for such efforts.

This is a terrific little video. Watch it. Build a kiosk. And educate, educate, educate! That is the only way that we will change the world.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione

HOME Parties: More Nonviolent Activist Education

Dear Colleagues:

Last week, I blogged about HOME, an extraordinary documentary about how human greed and materialism are destroying our planet. Although HOME was (and as of today still is) available on YouTube, it is also available on DVD at most video stores. After watching it on a computer screen and then seeing it play on a large screen TV, I can assure you that the experiences are qualitatively different. HOME is aesthetically beautiful when it is played on a 17-inch Mac screen. But when it is on a 40 inch flat screen, the experience is overwhelming.

Anyway, we have had two “HOME Parties.” We invited small groups of acquaintances to come over and watch the film, which is about 90 minutes long. During the viewing, we provided a variety of veggie treats. Afterward, we had a discussion focused on each of us interpreted what we saw, what message we took away, and what sorts of things we can do in our own lives to walk more lightly on the earth. In both cases, the discussions drifted toward animal agriculture as well as the general relationship between materialism and violations of the rights of humans and nonhumans alike.

Although none of our guests were vegan before coming over (several were vegetarian), it was clear that the film and subsequent discussion stimulated them to think further, and I would not be surprised if some profound personal changes started during these HOME Parties. As I mentioned in my initial post, HOME does not convey an explicit pro-vegan message, but it is difficult not to see veganism as the implied message on at least ecological grounds if not on grounds of inherent value, which is what I discuss in my work on animal ethics. But even in this respect, a post-film discussion can easily go in the direction of the relationship between ecological concerns and inherent value concerns.

Opportunities to engage in creative, nonviolent vegan education are all around us. HOME attracted more than 1 million YouTube viewers in one week. It is an excellent vehicle to explore many serious moral issues involving humans and nonhumans.

HOME Parties also provide a great way to introduce your friends and neighbors to great vegan food so that they see that they can eat nonviolently and not have to sacrifice great taste.

Think about doing a HOME Party. It can provide a great opportunity for education, stimulating discussion, and fun.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione