Monthly Archives: June 2009

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

A Smart Idea About Community Education

Dear Colleagues:

Elizabeth Collins, an abolitionist advocate and podcaster from New Zealand, shared with me an idea about creative, nonviolent abolitionist vegan education. I pass it along to you.

Elizabeth is in the process of constructing a stall that she will use to provide community education about animal rights and veganism. She wants to use the videos from this site—Theory of Animal Rights, Animals as Property, and Animal Rights vs. Animal Welfare—but finds it impractical to take her laptop into the streets. So she is going to print each slide and create albums or “flip books” that will allow people who come to her stall to read relatively brief and accessible presentations about the central ideas of the abolitionist approach. She and her colleagues can answer any questions or provide any desired further discussion. She is also distributing our abolitionist pamphlet and other abolitionist vegan literature.

For those who want to use our videos to do community education on animal rights and veganism but where the videos cannot be projected or shown on a computer, these albums or “flip books” seem to be an excellent solution.

Becoming vegan and educating others about veganism are the most important forms of activism in which you can engage. Share with others the simple idea: Go vegan. It easy, it’s good for your health and the well being of the planet, and, most importantly, it’s the right thing to do.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione

Taking Care of our HOME

Dear Colleagues:

On Friday, June 5—World Environment Day—a remarkable documentary called HOME was released in over 50 countries in movie theaters, on TV, and on the Internet.

HOME is the story of the earth and the evolution of sentient life, and how human beings have, in a fairly short time, brought our planet to the brink of disaster.

I urge you to watch this documentary, which will be available until June 14 at YouTube. Encourage your friends and family to watch. It’s free and worth every single second of the 93 minutes of its length. The narration is intelligent and those who know little about ecology will come away with considerable expertise. Those who are already knowledgeable will learn even more.

The photography is absolutely stunning. Every frame is something that could easily be a photograph on your wall.

As far as the animal issue is concerned, HOME is better by miles than Al Gore’s document, An Inconvenient Truth, which was a surprise given that some of HOME’s sponsors produce animal products. There is explicit criticism of intensive agriculture and discussion about the inefficient use of resources (grains, water) used to produce meat. Although the film certainly does not advocate veganism, that is the logical implication of its message. As I have argued for longer than I care to remember, anyone who cares at all about the environment should be vegan even if she/he does not care about the moral issue involved in animal exploitation.

HOME is a desperately needed wake-up call. We humans—especially those of us who live in rich, industrialized nations—need to understand the sheer insanity of the lifestyle we consider as “normal.”

Watch HOME.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione