Yearly Archives: 2009

Commentary #8: A Discussion of Abolitionist Principles

Dear Colleagues:

There are some advocates who claim to be abolitionists but who support welfare reform or who support violence.

In this Commentary, I explain why welfare reform and violence cannot fit into the abolitionist approach.

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


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