Some Thoughts on the Abolitionist Approach

Dear Colleagues:

Here are some simple thoughts that embody the abolitionist approach and philosophy. They may be useful to you in your own thinking about things as well as in your discussion with others:

1. Speciesism is morally objectionable because, like racism, sexism, and heterosexism, it links personhood with an irrelevant criterion.

Explanation: We do not object to speciesism in a vacuum. We reject it because it is like other forms of discrimination. What all forms of discrimination share in common is the use of an irrelevant criterion to exclude people from full membership in the moral community. Racists devalue those of different races based solely on skin color; sexists devalue women solely because of sex and gender; heterosexists deny full membership in the moral community to gays, lesbians, transgenders, etc. simply on the basis of sexual orientation. Speciesists deny full membership in the moral community based solely on species.

All of these forms of discrimination are morally unjustifiable. We reject speciesism because it is indistinguishable from these other forms of discrimination.

(Please note: Although Peter Singer ostensibly rejects speciesism, he maintains that because nonhumans do not have the same sort of minds as do humans, they do not have an interest in continuing to live and we do not harm them if we use and kill them “humanely.” I find this a form of speciesism. Click here.)

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Source Materials on Donald Watson

Dear Colleagues:

Donald Watson (1910-2005), co-founder of the Vegan Society in the U.K. and the person who coined the term “vegan” in response to the consumption and use of dairy and other animal products by “vegetarians,” was a remarkable person who was very far ahead of his time.

In 2002, George D. Rodger of the Vegan Society did a four-hour interview of Watson. He has graciously provided the unabridged transcript (various abridged forms have been published/posted), which was approved by Watson. Please feel free to pass this on but only in its complete form.

We also have available the first issue of The Vegan News, which inaugurated the Vegan Society in 1944.

For those interested in the history of veganism, these are invaluable materials.

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

PLEASE NOTE: I no longer support The Vegan Society as I believe it has abandoned the progressive vision of Donald Watson and no longer promotes veganism as a moral imperative.

Commentary #9: Using Sexism to Promote Animal Rights

Dear Colleagues:

Would Martin Luther King have had an “I’d Rather Go Naked than Sit in the Back of the Bus” campaign?

Of course not.

He would have recognized that such a campaign would trivialize the important message of civil rights.

Why don’t animal advocates recognize that sexist campaigns similarly trivialize the issue of animal rights and give people yet another reason to dismiss the animal rights issue?

That is the topic of our ninth Commentary.

Gary L. Francione
©2009 Gary L. Francione


Some Thoughts on the Meaning of “Vegan”

There is a great deal of discussion about what “vegan” means.

“Veganism” means at the very least not eating any flesh, dairy, or other animal products. In this sense, “vegan” means “vegan diet.” Donald Watson, who originally coined the term “vegan” used the word in this way when he made statements such as: “Wherever Man lives, he can have a vegan diet.”

Different people may have different reasons–ethical/spiritual, health, environmental–for eating a vegan diet. Those who pursue a vegan diet may also, and for various reasons, eschew the use of other animal products in contexts beyond diet. For example, someone who pursues a vegan diet may also not wear animal products on her skin for health reasons–products applied to the skin get into the body. Someone who pursues a vegan diet for environmental reasons may also not wear a particular animal product because of the effect on the environment of the production of the product.

Those who adopt a vegan diet for ethical/spiritual reasons may also fall into different groups. Some see their vegan diet as a way of reducing animal suffering. That is, they do not think that it is wrong in and of itself to kill animals for human use but that it is wrong to inflict suffering on animals and so they avoid eating or using animal products. If there were a painless way to raise and slaughter animals for human use, these ethical vegans would not object to animal use. These people are not necessarily–and usually are not–committed to the abolition of animal exploitation and pursue regulatory reform that they believe, mistakenly in my view, will reduce animal suffering.

“Ethical veganism,” which I use interchangeably with “abolitionist veganism,” goes beyond a vegan diet and rejects direct animal consumption or use of any kind. An ethical vegan has a vegan diet and rejects consuming animal products but also does not wear or use any animal products. An ethical vegan rejects the commodification of nonhumans as property. An ethical vegan is committed to the abolition of animal exploitation. Moreover, ethical vegans recognize that an animal-based agriculture harms other humans as well as non-humans and sees the connection between human rights and animal rights. Ethical veganism is the moral baseline of the animal rights movement. Ethical veganism represents a commitment to non-violence in one’s daily living.

In my experience, ethical veganism is the only sort of approach that results in consistent behavior. Vegans for health reasons alone often “cheat” just as those who are on any diet for heath reasons often do. Vegans for environmental reasons may not only lapse but may decide that an animal product has fewer adverse environmental consequences than non-animal products. Someone who sees veganism only as a way of reducing animal suffering may eat or use an animal product if she thinks that more suffering will be caused if she does not. For example, some, such as Peter Singer and others, maintain that we ought to eat animal products if our not doing so will cause others to think that veganism is too difficult and thereby be dissuaded from thinking about veganism. These vegans then become “flexible” vegans which, in my view, means that they are not really vegans. An ethical vegan sees veganism as a general approach to life–a philosophy of living–and not as merely a matter of lifestyle.

A final (for now) comment: health and environmental concerns may have a moral aspect. For example, those who pursue a vegan diet may do so because they believe that inflicting physical damage on their bodies by consuming animal products is a form of violence (harm to the self) and is immoral. Those who pursue a vegan diet or who eschew the use of animal products for environmental reasons may do so not because of a utilitarian concern to preserve the environment but because they believe that the environmental consequences directly affect humans and nonhumans and violate the rights of these sentient beings. An ethical or abolitionist vegan, who sees any consumption or use of animal products as violative of animal rights, may also shun animal products for reasons of health and environment.

In sum, people may be vegans for different reasons. In my view, ethical or abolitionist veganism is the only approach that results in consistent behavior. We should, however, be clear that no form of veganism is consistent with eating any animal products. That is, following a “vegan diet” is the minimal meaning of “vegan.” In my view, a “vegan” is someone who does not eat, use, or wear any animal products. But it is also accurate to say that a person who eats no animal products follows a “vegan diet.” The absence of animal products is explicitly being limited to diet. As a said above, I do not regard “flexible” vegans as vegans and, by definition, they do not even follow a vegan diet.

I will be writing at greater length about this topic soon.

If you are not vegan, go vegan. It is incredibly easy to be vegan. It is better for your health and for the planet. But, most importantly, it is the morally right thing to do.

Gary L. Francione
©2009 Gary L. Francione

Sexism and Misogyny in the Movement

Dear Colleagues:

For two decades now, I have argued that using sexism and misogyny supposedly to promote animal rights is a very bad idea. Perpetuating the commodification of women is not only inherently immoral but will do nothing to change social thinking about the commodification of nonhumans. PETA has been doing various versions of the “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaign for years now. And what result has it had? The fur industry is stronger now than it has ever been. Even those who once went naked for PETA are wearing fur again.

I have just seen a video ad produced by Wakker Dier, which means “Animal Awake,” a Dutch organization described as “Europe’s PETA counterpart.” Wakker Dier hired Dutch Playmate and fetish model Ancilla Tilia to play the part of a stripper who gets clubbed and mutilated.

PETA pushed its sexist campaigns further with its frontal nudity video. And now we are seeing outright graphic violence.

If you believe that any of this is going to do anything to raise consciousness about animal exploitation, I respectfully but strongly disagree.

These antics are intended as nothing more than entertainment for the movement; they do nothing to convince the public of the importance of the issue of animal exploitation. In the many years that I have been doing animal work, I have never had anyone come to me to say that they had been moved to consider the animal issue because they saw a naked woman in a cage. Indeed, this is precisely the sort of thing that makes progressive people think that the animal rights movement is a pathetic joke to be dismissed and ignored.

The commodification of nonhumans is very similar to the commodification of women. But society has no problem with the commodification of women. Instead of opposing sexism and misogyny, a large segment of the movement actively promotes it. As long as we continue to think of women as meat, we will never see the problem with using animals as meat.

I urge you to think about this issue and to consider active opposition to sexism and misogyny in the movement. It is inherently wrong and it is doing nothing–absolutely nothing–to help animals.

Gary L. Francione
©2009 Gary L. Francione

Commentary #7: An Up-Close and Personal Encounter with Moral Schizophrenia

Dear Colleagues:

I refer to the delusional and confused way that we think about animals as a social/moral matter as constituting “moral schizophrenia.”

I had a recent encounter with moral schizophrenia in dealing with a deer who had been hit by a car and the hunters who stopped to help the deer.

In this Commentary, I describe and discuss what happened.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione


Hey, Is That Milk on Your Balaclava?

Dear Colleagues:

As you know, I am opposed to all violence. See, e.g., A Commentary on Violence (podcast), A Comment on Violence, More on Violence and Animal Rights, and On Vivisection and Violence. That has been a consistent theme in my work for many years. I oppose all violence—including violence against property. Those who claim that there is such a thing as destroying a building or engaging in a break-in that does not result in harm or the risk of harm to sentient beings (humans and nonhumans alike) are simply deluding themselves.

For the reasons that I have stated on numerous occasions, I regard violence as the problem and not as any part of the solution and I encourage those who are concerned about animal exploitation to go vegan and to engage in creative, non-violent vegan education.

I just took a look at the website of the Animal Liberation Front, which I had not looked at in a while.

It is really quite remarkable.

According to the Alf “credo”:

The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) carries out direct action against animal abuse in the form of rescuing animals and causing financial loss to animal exploiters, usually through the damage and destruction of property.

The credo also says:

Any group of people who are vegetarians or vegans and who carry out actions according to ALF guidelines have the right to regard themselves as part of the ALF.

Okay, let me see if I have this right. If you are a vegetarian—if you consume milk, ice cream, cheese, eggs, etc.—you have the ALF’s blessing to destroy property in its name.

Now I do not think that you should be engaging in violence even if you are vegan, but it is beyond bewildering to me that anyone could suggest that people who are actively engaged in animal exploitation themselves by not being vegan could think it even remotely acceptable that they should be engaged in acts of violence against other people involved in animal exploitation.

But wait. There’s more. There is a Saints Alive link that features many non-vegan (or non-vegetarian) celebrities and public figures, including those who have promoted or endorsed animal products.

And they have links to almost every welfarist organization that promotes “happy” meat/animal products.

So people who exploit animals and who support other animal exploiters claim to be militants with the right to engage in violence against other animal exploiters. The level of confusion here is profound.

I have often argued that those who support violence cannot coherently claim that we ought to target institutional exploiters because it is we, the consumers, who create the demand for animal products. The solution is education to shift the moral paradigm. There is no other realistic solution. The pro-violence people get violently angry when I make that argument and they call me all sorts of names and, unfortunately, some of them threaten and harass those who express support for nonviolence.

I now see why. They would all have to put on their balaclavas and do violence against each other if they accepted my position.

Go vegan. It’s easy; it’s better for you; it’s better for the planet; and, most importantly, it’s the morally right thing to do. And, at least as far as I am concerned, animal rights and ethical veganism represent a commitment to non-violence.

Gary L. Francione
©2009 Gary L. Francione

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