Monthly Archives: August 2009

New Welfarism Fails on its Own Terms

Dear Colleagues:

The abolitionist approach maintains that ethical veganism is a moral baseline; it represents the recognition of the moral personhood of animals and the rejection of the notion that animals are commodities for human use. Ethical veganism is an essential component of a commitment to non-violence.

The new welfarist approach rejects veganism as a moral baseline. Indeed, new welfarists regard it as “fanatical” and as a matter of “personal purity” to maintain that veganism is anything more than a way of reducing suffering. In this sense, veganism is no different than consuming “happy” meat/animal products or being vegetarian and treating animal flesh as morally distinguishable from other animal products.

In my last Commentary and in my writing, including other essays on this site (see, e.g., here), I have explained that new welfarists, like classical welfarists, regard animal suffering as morally relevant but they do not regard nonhuman animals as having an interest in continued existence. Therefore, they do not see the use and killing of animals as per se morally objectionable as long as animals have a reasonably pleasant life and a relatively painless death.

The abolitionist approach maintains that animal advocates should be ethical vegans and should engage in creative, non-violent vegan education. The new welfarist approach maintains that advocates should promote welfare reform that they claim will reduce suffering.

But even on its own terms, the new welfarist approach does not work.

Consider this excerpt from The Animal Activist’s Handbook, by Matt Ball (of Vegan Outreach) and Bruce Friedrich (of PETA):

Every year, the average American consumes about one-tenth of a cow, one-third of a pig, one turkey, thirty-five chickens, and about fifty aquatic animals (mostly shellfish). She or he is also responsible for the output of one laying hen and one-thirtieth of a dairy cow. Based on the raw numbers alone, the best incremental step a meat eater can take for animals is to stop eating birds. And that’s how we talk with people: we focus on cruelty to birds first. Once they’ve seen they can make a step, it’s much easier for them to move on to stop eating pigs, fish (especially farmed fish), eggs, cattle, and then dairy.

Few people adopt a vegetarian diet overnight. If we help more people change by accepting incremental evolution–preferably by no longer eating birds and fish first, then pigs, then cattle–we can help spare many animals tremendous suffering. Since most people will otherwise go about this the other way (giving up cows and pigs first) we do a real service to animals by focusing on cruelty to factory farmed birds first.

Ball and Friedrich argue that welfare campaigns that highlight the “cruelty to factory farmed birds,” will “spare many animals tremendous suffering.”

This position is problematic for at least three reasons.

First, let us talk about the matter of practical psychology. Although it is certainly admirable that Ball and Friedrich want people to take poultry seriously, the notion that people who are eating cows and pigs are going to develop a moral concern about poultry is simply unrealistic. Unfortunately, most people have a pretty low opinion of poultry. Many people are almost hostile toward poultry. If the background of the infamous Sarah Palin interview was a cow being slaughtered and not a turkey, the public reaction would have been far different. So even if you think incremental welfare reform is a good idea, this approach simply misses a very large boat.

Second, let us assume that a person does give up eating poultry completely. She may eat more fish or consume more eggs or other animal products and any offset to suffering will be counterbalanced accordingly. The new welfarist position assumes that for every animal product that is not consumed, those calories will be replaced by plant foods. There is absolutely no reason to assume that.

Of course, in the real world, an incremental welfarist approach will, if anything, lead people to eat less beef and pork and more poultry, eggs, cheese, dairy, etc. And this is precisely why the incremental welfarist approach leads to an increase in overall suffering.

Third, the new welfarists assume that a campaign focused on cruelty to factory farmed birds will result in people stopping eating poultry.

Why on earth would the new welfarists assume this?

Is it not more likely that these welfarist campaigns will result in consumers seeking out one of the “happy” meat alternatives promoted by PETA and Vegan Outreach? Both groups, along with other new welfarist corporations led by Peter Singer, support the Animal Compassionate standard of Whole Foods. We have been told that there are “no differences of opinion about how animals should be treated” between PETA and Kentucky Fried Chicken as long as poultry are gassed and not electrically stunned. Or how about those wonderful animal products that have the Certified Humane Raised and Handled label supported by the Humane Society of the United States, ASPCA, and other groups?

Isn’t the explicit goal of these labeling programs to make consumers feel more comfortable about consuming animal products? That is a rhetorical question. Of course that is the goal.

So why do the new welfarists think that campaigns about factory farmed birds will stop people from eating poultry when the new welfarists are right there offering them a “happy” animal product? Isn’t it more likely that consumers will move into the “happy” meat market that the new welfarists have created?

And anyone who believes that the “happy” meat promoted by these new welfarist organizations really result in reduced suffering probably also believes in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. The difference between a conventional battery egg and a cage-free egg is—at most—the difference between being tortured with electrical shocks while strapped into a padded chair rather than a chair without padding.

In sum, the new welfarists reject veganism as a moral baseline because they are concerned primarily with suffering. But their proposals for incremental welfare reform will not achieve a reduction in suffering.

New welfarism fails according to its own terms.

Go vegan. It’s easy; it’s better for you and for the planet; and most importantly, it’s the morally right thing to do.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione

Commentary #6: Aspects of the Vegetarian/Vegan Debate

Dear Colleagues:

Our first Commentary about vegetarianism as a “gateway” to veganism has provoked continuing controversy and in this Commentary, I address three issues:

1. Does my position that we cannot draw a moral distinction between flesh and other animal products mean that we ought to be confrontational or judgmental when we talk to people who are not vegans?

The short answer: no, of course not.

2. What do we do when someone says that they care about the issue of animal exploitation but they just are not going to give up animal products.

The short answer: that is generally a reaction that is really inviting more discussion.

3. Why do new welfarists so vehemently reject veganism as a moral baseline?

The short answer: a key principle of animal welfare theory is that it is acceptable to use and to kill animals as long as we do not make them suffer. Veganism is simply one way—among many others, including “happy” meat/animal products—to reduce suffering. Veganism has no greater significance than as a way of reducing suffering.

I hope that this Commentary clarifies some of the excellent questions that I have received.

Gary L. Francione
©2009 Gary L. Francione


Commentary #5: On Violence

Dear Colleagues:

I am opposed to violence. I regard violence as inherently immoral. I have written about and discussed that issue often, including in essays (1,2) on this site.

I recognize that many of you disagree with my opposition to violence.

But that is irrelevant. Even if you believe that violence can be justified, there are still compelling reasons to maintain that violence makes no sense whatsoever in the context of the struggle for animal rights.

I maintain that the only thing that makes any practical sense is creative, non-violent vegan education. That strategy is anything but passive; it involves our working actively and constantly to shift a fundamental paradigm—the notion that animals are things, resources, property; that they are exclusively means to human ends.

Until we build a critical mass of people who reject that paradigm, nothing will change.

In this Commentary, I discuss the matter of violence.

Gary L. Francione
©2009 Gary L. Francione


Commentary #4: Follow-Up to “Pets” Commentary: Non-Vegan Cats

Dear Colleagues:

A number of people have written to me in response to the Commentary on “pets” to ask about the issue of non-vegan cats.

It is my understanding that many cats can live healthy lives on a vegan diet but what if there are cats who absolutely need to consume animal products?

In this Commentary, I offer some ideas that I hope will stimulate your thinking about this issue.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione


Commentary #3: On Michael Vick

Dear Colleagues:

As you know, I have since 2007 been wondering about why anyone thinks that Michael Vick is any worse than anyone else who consumes or uses animal products. (See 1, 2, 3)

In any event, Vick was released from prison in May, 2009, and on July 27, 2009, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell conditionally reinstated Vick. The Philadelphia Eagles have given Vick a one-year deal with an option for a second year.

Judging from media reports and blog essays, many animal advocates are outraged and some advocates are calling for a boycott of the NFL

In this Commentary, I explain why I think the Michael Vick matter is not really about Michael Vick or dog fighting. It is about fundamental moral principles that we claim as a society to accept.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione


Some Comments on Vegetarianism as a “Gateway” to Veganism

Dear Colleagues:

As a result of my comments (here, on Facebook, and on the Podcast Commentary), I have been inundated with private messages that all have the same themes: (1) “but many vegans started off as vegetarians”; and (2) “advocating veganism is elitist.”

As for whether many vegans started off as vegetarians, let me say this clearly: That is not the point.

First, the relevant question is whether vegetarianism is a meaningful moral position. That is, can we draw a meaningful moral distinction between flesh and other animal products? If, as I maintain, we cannot, then we should not promote vegetarianism any more than we should promote as morally meaningful eating red veal over white veal, cage-free eggs over battery eggs, etc. If all of these products are immoral, then we ought to be clear and honest and say so.

Animal products other than flesh often involve more suffering and death than does flesh. For example, animals used for dairy are kept alive longer, treated worse (including, but not limited to, having their babies taken and killed for veal), and all dairy animals end up in the same slaughterhouse as animals used for meat. The vegetarian who continues to consume dairy is still complicit in animal suffering and death. What is the moral justification for promoting continued complicity in suffering and death? Indeed, if the vegetarian increases her intake of dairy, as many do, she may be responsible for more suffering and death than before she became a vegetarian.

Second, the observation that many vegans started as vegetarians, even if true, begs the question as to why that is the case. Many people maintain that they did not go vegan sooner precisely because of the emphasis on the moral desirability of vegetarianism advocated by large animal organizations. Promoting vegetarianism actually impedes going vegan.

It is clear: if you explain that there is no distinction between flesh and other animal products and why we should go vegan, and the person with whom you are talking cares about the issue, she will either (1) go vegan immediately; or (2) go vegan in stages; or (3) not go vegan and adopt some version of vegetarianism (or “happy” meat/product consumption). But she will at least understand that veganism is the aspiration toward which to work. She will understand that the line between flesh and other products is entirely arbitrary. If you maintain that going vegetarian is morally meaningful and that there is a distinction between flesh and other animal products, then you increase the chances that her progress toward veganism will be impeded.

In other words, you do not need to advocate vegetarianism. It is completely unnecessary, morally meaningless, and, as a practical matter, it impedes the transition to veganism.

As for the supposed “elitism” of veganism, I continue to find that comment bewildering.

Is there anything more elitist than believing that people are too stupid to understand the argument against animal exploitation and the lack of any meaningful distinction between flesh and dairy?

Is there anything more elitist than promoting the idea that it is morally acceptable to eat dairy, eggs, or other animal products and to continue the exploitation of the most vulnerable?

We would never label as “elitist” advocacy for a complete ban on rape (even though rape is, has been, and will continue to be a frequent occurrence in a patriarchal world). But when it comes to animals, advocacy of a complete ban on consumption and use is regarded as elitist.

What distinguishes the two situations?

That’s a rhetorical question. The answer is clear: species.

I am sorry that I cannot respond to all the private emails and Facebook messages. But I have said this as clearly as I can. I have no artistic ability and cannot draw pictures.

Go vegan. It’s easy; it’s better for your health; it’s better for the planet; and, most importantly, it’s the morally right thing to do.

And please remember: violence is the problem; it is not any part of the solution. Abolition, veganism, and non-violence are all different aspects of the same concept.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione

A Note on Moral Schizophrenia

Dear Colleagues:

In my book, Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog?, published by Temple University Press in 2000, I introduced the notion of “moral schizophrenia.” I have received comments about my use of this term and these comments fall into two groups.

Some people accuse me of confusing moral schizophrenia with multiple/split personality.

When I talk about moral schizophrenia, I am seeking to describe the delusional and confused way that we think about animals as a social/moral matter. That confusion can, of course, include conflicting or inconsistent ways of looking at animals (some are family members; others are dinner) but that does not mean that I am describing a classic split or multiple personality. Our moral schizophrenia, which involves our deluding ourselves about animal sentience and the similarities between humans and other animals, and an enormous amount of confusion about the moral status of nonhumans, is a phenomenon that is quite complicated and has many different aspects.

Some people think that by using the term, I am stigmatizing those who have clinical schizophrenia because it implies that they are immoral people. I am sincerely sorry—and I mean that—if anyone has interpreted the term in that way and that is certainly not what I intended. Schizophrenia is a recognized condition that is characterized by confused and delusional thinking. To say that we are delusional and confused when it comes to moral issues is not to say that those who suffer from clinical schizophrenia are immoral. It is only to say that many of us think about important moral matters in a completely confused, delusional, and incoherent way. I am certainly not saying that those who suffer from clinical schizophrenia are immoral!

To say that moral schizophrenia stigmatizes clinical schizophrenics is like saying that to talk about “drug use spreading like cancer” stigmatizes cancer victims.

I hope this clarifies what I mean when I talk about our moral schizophrenia when it comes to animal ethics. I also hope that it is clear that I am not using that term in a way that does or is intended to convey that clinical schizophrenics are immoral.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione

Addendum from responses to this posting:

Some critics argue that it is sufficient to say that our moral views about nonhuman animals are contradictory or confused. No, it’s not sufficient. When it comes to nonhuman animals, our views are profoundly delusional and I am using that term literally as indicative of what might be called a social form of schizophrenia.

Some critics claim that it is sufficient to use “delusional.” But delusion is what characterizes the clinical form of schizophrenia and anyone who objected to the use of schizophrenia as ableist would have the same, and in my view groundless, objection to “delusional.”

Some critics claim that schizophrenia is different from cancer because no one would think that having cancer is a good thing. I confess that this objection is puzzling. I am unfamiliar with anyone who argues as a general matter that cancer or clinical schizophrenia are desirable conditions to have. Yes, there are people who claim that their schizophrenia has led them to great insight; but the same is true of cancer victims. In any event, if “moral schizophrenia” is ableist, then so is the expression “drugs are a cancer on society” or “our polices in the Middle East are shortsighted” or “we are blind to the consequences of our actions” or “when it comes to poverty, our proposed solutions suffer from a poverty of ambition.”