Yearly Archives: 2010

IndyMediaLive–Tuesday, October 5

Dear Colleagues:

I will be a guest on IndyMediaLive on Tuesday, October 5. The show airs on WRIR 97.3 FM in Richmond, Virginia from 12:30 p.m.- -1:00 p.m. The host is Rebecca Faris

I will be discussion the abolitionist approach, veganism, and nonviolence. I hope you have an opportunity to listen. The show streams and is archived at the site.

If you are not vegan, go vegan. It is very easy, better for health and for the planet. And, most important, it’s the morally right and just thing to do.

If you are vegan, then educate others in a creative, nonviolent way.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
©2010 Gary L. Francione

Abolitionist/Vegan Theory in Canada

Dear Colleagues:

This weekend, I will be doing two presentations in the Toronto area.

On Friday, October 1, at 3:30 p.m., I will be discussing, as part of the University of Guelph Philosophy Department Speaker Series, the welfarist view that nonhuman animals have a lesser moral value than do humans. According to welfarists going back to Bentham and continuing through to Singer and to most of the large animal welfare groups, animals (with the possible exception of certain humanlike animals, such as nonhuman great apes) have an interest in not suffering but do not an interest in continuing to live. The reason offered to justify this view is that animals are not self aware in the same way that normal humans are. Welfarists maintain that the primary moral issue is animal treatment and not animal use. It is this thinking that accounts for the “flexitarian,” “happy meat” movement.

I will argue that welfarist notions about animal cognition and self awareness are themselves speciesist and beg the question at issue about the equal moral value of all sentient beings and whether the property status of nonhumans can be justified.

The Department of Philosophy presentation is free and open to the public.

On Saturday, October 2, I am presenting a paper on animal rights and the problems with animals as property, as well as nonviolence, at the University of Guelph School of Veterinary Medicine, 11th Annual Animal Welfare Forum.

Many animal advocates spend their time talking only with other like-minded animal advocates. That is not going to move things along. We need to be talking with the general public, including those, like veterinarians, who embrace a welfarist approach but who reject a rights/abolitionist perspective. On Saturday, I will be engaging people who are committed welfarists and I hope to at least stimulate them into thinking about the practical limits of welfare reform and the moral problems with animal use (however “humane”) as a general matter.

Admission to the Veterinary School event is free, but is registration is encouraged given limited space.

If you are not vegan, go vegan. It is very easy, better for health and for the planet. And, most important, it’s the morally right and just thing to do.

If you are vegan, then educate others in a creative, nonviolent way.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
©2010 Gary L. Francione

Singer’s Position on Fish is Fishy

Dear Colleagues:

In a recent article, Peter Singer argues:

We need to learn how to capture and kill wild fish humanely – or, if that is not possible, to find less cruel and more sustainable alternatives to eating them.

An alternative? How about vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, and grains?

As I have argued here and elsewhere, Singer assumes that the use of fish (or other animals) for food—if the animals are treated “humanely”—is not per se morally objectionable because, according to Singer, fish do not have a sense of the future and, therefore, they do not have an interest in continuing to live but only have an interest in not suffering.

Singer’s position that only those beings with a humanlike sense of self awareness have an interest in living (as distinct from not suffering) is speciesist. A fish values her/his life just as I value mine and you value yours. The fish may think differently about her life than I think about mine. So what? She prefers or wants or desires to keep on living. Just as I do. Just as you do. Just as any sentient being does.

Moreover, Singer once again chooses to ignore that because animals are property, welfare standards will not, with rare exceptions, rise above that level needed to ensure that animals are exploited efficiently. We rarely improve welfare standards unless there is an economic benefit involved. The economic realities keep welfare standards very low. Animal welfare simply does not work as a practical matter.

In the article, Singer also states:

Regulations for slaughter generally require that animals be rendered instantly unconscious before they are killed, or that death should be brought about instantaneously, or, in the case of ritual slaughter, as close to instantaneously as the religious doctrine allows.

Not for fish. There is no humane slaughter requirement for wild fish caught and killed at sea, nor, in most places, for farmed fish.

It is beyond shocking to me that Singer suggests that regulations that supposedly require “humane” slaughter are anything more than attempts to make humans feel more comfortable about the horrors of slaughterhouses. If Singer has ever been to a slaughterhouse—whether a conventional one or one designed by PETA award winner Temple Grandin—and he thinks that the words “humane” and “slaughter” belong together, he was not paying attention to what goes on at the killing floor. Time and time again, we have seen that stunning and exsanguination are often not even performed properly and even if they were properly performed, calling such torture “humane” on any level and in any way is deeply disturbing.

Finally, because Singer and other welfarists see veganism only as a way of reducing suffering and not a requirement of justice that prohibits us using animals as human resources, however “humanely,” they cannot propose veganism as anything other than a “flexitarian” standard and they support “happy” exploitation, which they commend as “compassionate.” Singer maintains that consistent veganism is “fanatical” and that we can morally afford the “luxury” of eating “humane” animal products.

If you are not vegan, go vegan. It is very easy, better for health and for the planet. And, most important, it’s the morally right and just thing to do.

If you are vegan, then educate others in a creative, nonviolent way.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
©2010 Gary L. Francione

Sit Down, Shut Up, Be Happy, Write a Check, and Watch the Show

Chris Hedges has written a terrific essay, “Retribution for a World Lost in Screens.” Although Hedges does not discuss the animal issue, his essay can help us to understand the present animal “movement” and why it is failing. Hedges argues that in our modern computer-focused culture, we no longer seek the ability to understand or empathize; we seek only self-gratification, the illusion of empowerment, and entertainment. Anyone who does not paint a smiling happy face on any problem and a propose a quick fix is dismissed as “negative” and “pessimistic.”

We are presiding over the ruthless treatment and killing of billions of sentient beings that is unparalleled in human history. It’s happening on our watch. Instead of rising up as a unified nonviolent force to say “no” to this unimaginable suffering and death, we seek to turn this moral black hole into entertainment. We have galas hosted by nonvegans with streaming video that allows us to see a group of pathetic narcissists receive awards, naked women who sit in cages “for the animals,” and animal welfare leaders who join with institutional exploiters and assure us that the “worst” aspects of animal exploitation can be addressed through meaningless reforms so we can just relax and be happy because it’s all going to be fine—as long as we donate, of course.

We have constant entertainment from “conferences,” which are nothing more than trade shows for large animal welfare corporations, to “walks for the animals,” so that those concerned can get together and feel good about expressing their support for “humane” treatment and “compassion” and to protest “abuse”—notions which are vacuous and with which no one disagrees with anyway as an abstract matter. We are offered contests to design T-shirts with slogans about factory farming and movies about “visionary” slaughterhouse designers who receive awards from “animal rights” groups.

We are told that saying “no” to participating in animal exploitation by being vegan and advocating veganism as a clear moral baseline is neither necessary nor desirable. It is not necessary because welfare reforms and “happy” exploitation can address the problem in a more “practical” way. It is not desirable because we do not want the public to be unhappy and any solution that requires real change might interfere with the relentless quest for entertainment and easy solutions. The public can do just fine by being “conscientious omnivores” or “compassionate carnivores” and eating meat or animal products with a “humane” label sponsored by this or that large animal organization.

Criticism of the bloated, ineffective entertainment machine called “the movement,” which is a misnomer because it’s moving nowhere but backward, is not tolerated. It interferes with our desire to believe the corporate welfarists who tell us that we can cure the moral cancer by writing a check, shutting up, sitting down, and watching the show. It’s like someone talking in a movie theater when we are trying to watch and enjoy some mindless movie. It interferes with the entertainment. And in our society—and within “the animal movement”—that is the gravest sin of all.

If the planet survives and history judges us about anything, it’s not going to be that we should have contributed more to animal welfare corporations so they could have had bigger campaigns about cage-free eggs or crate-free veal. It is going to be that in the face of the ruthless destruction of the most vulnerable among us—human and nonhuman—we just watched the show.

If you are not vegan, go vegan. It is very easy, better for health and for the planet. And, most important, it’s the morally right and just thing to do.

If you are vegan, then educate others in a creative, nonviolent way.

Ethical veganism is a powerful way of saying “no.”

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
©2010 Gary L. Francione

Animal Welfare, Militant Direct Action, Mantras, and Blind Faith

Dear Colleagues:

Many of you express frustration that when you seek to engage other animal advocates in discussion about the abolition vs. regulation debate or the nonviolent vegan education vs. militant direct action debate, you find that the defenders of welfare reform or violence have nothing of substance to say.

The explanation is that belief in welfare reform or violence is not based on reason; it is based on blind faith that resembles a cult mentality. With respect to the welfarists, you can lay out a carefully reasoned argument to show that welfare does not work and, because of economic factors, cannot work. You can show how welfare reform has historically failed. You can show how contemporary welfare campaigns are deeply flawed in all sorts of ways. You can offer reasoned analysis.

Welfarists have absolutely nothing to say in response except to repeat the mantra: “but we have to do something now to help animals.” You can respond by replying that welfare reform does not, as a factual matter, help animals “now” and you can show empirically how this is the case. You can show how welfare reform has historically made, and continues to make, the public more comfortable about animal exploitation. Their response is just another mantra: “you’re being divisive.” This translates as: “we have nothing to say in reply so just shut up and support welfare because you’re interfering with our fundraising by raising questions.” Or they say, “you’re being negative.” This translates as: “you disagree with welfarism and ‘happy’ exploitation and, therefore, you must be wrong.”

You can present the arguments in favor of veganism as a moral baseline or against single-issue campaigns. Welfarists do not respond with reasoned analysis. They simply re-assert the arbitrary distinction between flesh and other animal products; they simply re-assert that fur is different from wool or leather. They utter mantras, such as, “but many of us were vegetarians before becoming vegans.” So what? Most animal advocates were involved in welfarist organizations that continually present veganism as difficult or daunting and portray vegetarianism as a coherent moral position. Is it any wonder that many vegans were vegetarians first? And does any of this have any relevance to whether, as a matter of foundational principles, veganism ought to be the moral baseline? No, of course not.

Another popular welfarist mantra is, “save your criticism for the exploiters.” But the welfarist ideology, including the promotion of “happy” meat and “humane” animal products, is exploitation. So the mantra fails completely to engage the argument; it just denies, without any substance, that welfarism and “happy” exploitation are exploitation.

Reasoning has no place where the currency is blind faith and where any critical analysis is regarded as heresy. It’s a good thing that burning at the stake is no longer permitted or the high priests of animal welfare would be engaged in a modern Inquisition.

Those who promote violence engage in similar cult-like behavior. They incessantly utter the mantra, “we must use violence against the exploiters.” Putting aside moral and philosophical issues raised by violence as a general matter, you can explain to them as a practical matter that the real exploiters are those who create the demand for animal products in the first place. The institutional exploiters are certainly culpable as well but they are responding to the public demand for animal products. It’s like contract murder; the institutional exploiters do the actual killing but those who consume animal products and generate the demand are, in effect, hiring the institutional killers to do that killing. In criminal law, the person who hires the killer and the killer are both guilty of murder and anyone who can think clearly can understand why both are equally culpable under the law.

You can point out to the pro-violence people that if ten slaughterhouses are closed through direct action today, ten more will pop up tomorrow, or ten existing slaughterhouses will increase production capacity as long as demand stays the same. You can observe that they, the supporters of militant action, are exploiters in that many of them are not even vegans. You can observe that promoters of violence, who are often also defenders of animal welfare reform, fail to understand that those who promote “happy” meat and “humane” exploitation are promoting exploitation.

The response? They just re-assert their mantra that violence is necessary. No reasoning; no critical analysis. They offer nothing more than the assertion of meaningless slogans, usually in a loud voice and almost always accompanied by tons of jargon and juvenile name calling.

So, to the extent that you experience frustration in dealing with welfarists or with supporters of violence, understand that you are not dealing with reason. You are dealing with blind faith. You are dealing with cult mentality. Unfortunately, you cannot have reasoned discussion with many of these people because reasoning and reasons simply do not matter to them and do not inform their thinking. Their usual response to substantive arguments to which they cannot respond is to offer meaningless slogans or launch an ad hominem attack of one form or the other.

The bottom line is that the logical arguments and empirical evidence are clear: animal welfare does not work and promoting violence to address the matter of animal exploitation demonstrates complete ignorance of the cultural mechanisms and economic reality of that exploitation.

Animal exploitation is pervasive. The only way it will ever change is if we shift the paradigm away from animals as things, as property, and toward the paradigm of animals as nonhuman persons who are real members of the moral community. That is not going to happen in any meaningful way as long as animals are sitting on our plates and on our tables or on our backs or our feet or in the products we use. We need to say “no” to animal exploitation in our own lives and we need to educate others through creative, nonviolent vegan education.

If you are not vegan, go vegan. It is very easy, better for health and for the planet. And, most important, it’s the morally right and just thing to do.

If you are vegan, then educate others in a creative, nonviolent way.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
©2010 Gary L. Francione

The Meaning of “Humane”

Dear Colleagues:

We always hear the word “humane” used in conjunction with the state of affairs that will exist if only this or that welfare reform, which is the subject of this or that campaign by this or that large animal welfare corporation (and for which your contribution is needed “for the animals”), is adopted.

As anyone who reads this blog or my other work knows, I think that the standard of the “humane” treatment of animals, which are chattel property, will generally be limited to that level of protection necessary to exploit the animals in an economically efficient way. To say it another way: with rare exceptions, we spend money to protect animal interests only when an economic benefit results.

A review of the history of welfare reform indicates that most of the reforms that have been implemented fit this model and that these reforms do little more than increase production efficiency. The reforms do very little to increase the protection we give to animal interests. The primary benefit of “humane” reforms is that they make humans feel better about exploiting animals.

So let us be clear that when we propose that a reform will make animal treatment more “humane,” what we really mean is:

1. the reform may result in slightly less torture than exists at present but animals will still be tortured (and in many cases, the reform will not even result in less torture);

2. the reform will generally make animal production more efficient by reducing production costs;

3. the reform will do nothing to move animals away from property status and will, in fact, enmesh them further in it;

4. the reform will make humans feel better about animal use.

It’s a win-win proposition. Producers benefit by increasing profitability and being able to claim that they “care” about animals (look at Whole Foods). Animal groups can solicit donations both for the campaign and as a reward for the supposed “victory,” and can play hero.

Only the animals lose.

If you are not vegan, go vegan. It is very easy, better for health and for the planet. And, most important, it’s the morally right and just thing to do.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
©2010 Gary L. Francione

Viva!’s Reply and My Response

Dear Colleagues:

I posted an essay about the remarks of Viva! as reported in The Sunday Mail (a U.K. paper), concerning the sale in the U.K. of meat from animals slaughtered in the halal method.

A “Reply from Viva!” was posted on Opposing Views, where my essay was reprinted:

Reply from Viva!

Gary, you may be interested to know that The Daily Mail did not talk to Viva!. What they did was take a quote from our website. Ritual slaughter without pre-stunning has been proven to be crueller, but we are against all slaughter. Humane slaughter, of course, does not exist.

At every opportunity we try and push veganism as the most ethical choice to protect animals. However, you have to understand that the media has it’s own agenda. If we had spoken to The Daily Mail at the time (we have spoken to them since), we could push veganism until we’re blue in the face. They will print what they want to print. Please keep that in mind before criticising us or other groups in the future. Thank you.

- Justin Kerswell September 21, 2010 11:06AM

I confirmed that this reply was, in fact, from Viva!

Here is my response:

Dear Justin:

Thank you for your reply. Unfortunately, it does not address my concerns except to reinforce them.

Islamophobia and Halal Slaughter

Assuming what you say is true (and I do) and that The Sunday Mail did not talk to Viva! and took the quote from the Viva! website, then the matter is actually more serious in that the xenophobic remarks attributed to Viva! cannot be characterized as some statement taken out of context, but rather represent a considered policy statement from Viva!’s website. In light of the rampant Islamophobia in the U.K. (and elsewhere), it might be a good idea to remove that statement from your website. It does no good to say that Viva! supports multiculturalism when it makes remarks like these, particularly given that we both know that animals who are stunned are often, if not usually, not stunned properly. So I am confused as to why you think it useful at all to draw a distinction between halal slaughter and conventional slaughter.

Moreover, the statement attributed to Viva!, which you do not disclaim: “Consumers can do their bit by boycotting places that persist in selling meat from unstunned animals,” sends an explicitly clear message that the problem is halal (or kosher) slaughter and that the solution is to boycott meat from unstunned animals. A much better statement would have been: “Consumers who care about these issues should consider whether they should be consuming any animal products at all because all animal products are the result of the torture and unjustifiable killing of nonhuman animals.” As I say, Viva! missed an opportunity to educate here. Again, given that stunned animals are often not stunned, the distinction you draw fails on its own terms and not only in terms of the larger context that the problem is animal use and not particular animal treatment or animal exploitation by a particular group of people.

Viva! and Veganism

Your statement that “[a]t every opportunity we try and push veganism as the most ethical choice to protect animals” is simply not accurate.

The fact is that Viva! actively promotes vegetarianism on its websites (as Viva! has branches in several countries) as a morally coherent alternative to being an omnivore and characterizes veganism as something optional that people can do if they choose to go further. To the extent that Viva! distinguishes flesh from other animal products, it perpetuates the idea that there is a morally coherent distinction among them and we both know that is nonsense. Dairy and other non-flesh products account for as much, if not more, suffering than flesh and all animal products, however produced, are the result of animal death. Promoting vegetarianism rather than veganism is logically no different from promoting eating meat from spotted cows instead of meat from brown cows. The reasoning that Viva! employs is precisely the same that has been used to support the campaigns in favor of things like not eating veal. There is no difference between veal and other animal flesh or between flesh and other animal products.

The Viva! UK website sells books that contain recipes with animal products and advertises restaurants/inns that serve animal products. How can you say “[a]t every opportunity we push veganism” when you sell books with recipes containing animal products and promote places that serve animal products? That’s a rhetorical question. By promoting these books and businesses, you make a clear statement to the public that there is a distinction between flesh and other animal products.

Not only does Viva! promote the notion that vegetarianism is a coherent alternative to being an omnivore, Viva! also perpetuates the nonsense that going vegan is difficult or “daunting” (Viva!’s word as used in a comment by Viva! on its Facebook site) and that vegetarianism is some sort of gateway. This sort of position does nothing but reinforce the propaganda that veganism is some extreme position that can be achieved only by the Herculean. It is precisely that sort of position that puts the public off veganism and contributes to the large number of “animal people” who have never gone vegan. If we are clear that veganism is the moral baseline, then we ought to state that and those who are not ready to go vegan will take whatever interim step they choose but at least the message will be clear.

If Viva! really promotes veganism, why does it make statements on its website that “Viva! opposes all slaughter and we promote vegetarianism as the only truly effective way to prevent animal suffering”? We will not stop suffering merely by becoming vegetarian. If veganism is really your agenda, and not some optional (and “daunting”) lifestyle change, why do you make such statements, which merely confuse people? As things presently stand, any reader of Viva! websites would come away with the impression that vegetarianism is a perfectly fine moral position; that meat is “worse” than dairy; and that veganism is an option–and a difficult and “daunting” one–but not a moral baseline. How many Viva! members patronize the restaurants/inns that you advertise on your site and consume milk and cheese at those places? How many Viva! members have purchased non-vegan cookbooks from Viva! and have made meals with animal products?

Those who really do seek the abolition of animal exploitation should stop participating in the “veganism is sooooo difficult” propaganda and reject the notion of vegetarianism (or other single-issue campaigns) as a “gateway” to veganism. (For more on this topic, please listen to my Commentary on the topic and read my follow-up essay, my general essay on “gateway” arguments, and my essay, “Vegetarianism First”, which was published in “The Vegan.)

Finally, your sites emphasize factory farming as the problem, as if the issue were how these products are made and not that they are made at all. This contributes to public confusion about these issues and reinforces the notion that the issue is treatment and not use.

My Requests to Viva!

1. In sum, I remain concerned that, particularly in the current climate, your comments about halal slaughter are Islamophobic and I ask that you clarify these statements on your website to make clear that the problem is not halal slaughter but all animal use. I ask that you put all exploitation in the same boat and not design a separate boat for Muslims (or Jews).

2. I request that if veganism is your real agenda, that you come out and say so and stop perpetuating the fantasy that meat is in some way “worse” than dairy or other products.

3. I request Viva! stop characterizing veganism as some difficult or daunting thing. It is not. In fact, veganism is really quite easy and, these days, people can find vegan alternatives to just about any animal food that they like. How about a Viva! “veganism is easy” campaign?

I reiterate: if you make veganism a clear moral baseline, those who are concerned about this issue may choose to do less but at least they won’t be able to point to Viva! and claim, quite accurately, that you have placed a stamp of approval on the choice to continue to consume “less bad” animal products.

4. I ask that Viva! please stop selling cookbooks that promote the use of animal products and stop advertising restaurants/inns that serve animal products.

Thank you.

Gary

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

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Postscript added September 26, 2010:

In an aditional reply by Viva! posted on Opposing Views, VIVA! states:

In every instance our definition of vegetarian is vegan – in-so-much that we advocate veganism as the most ethical of all diets, but recognise that people get there at their own pace.

That assertion is factually incorrect. Viva!’s materials and websites constantly and consistently make a distinction between “vegetarian” and “vegan.” Viva! does not define “vegetarian” as “vegan.”

Moreover, if Viva! wants to advocate veganism, there is no need for linguistic confusion–just use “vegan.”

And as I stated above, we can recognize that people will “get there at their own pace” but not concede that the “there” is anything less than veganism. At present, Viva! is sending the message that there is a morally coherent distinction between flesh and other animal products. There is not.

Finally, I see that as of today, Viva! is still selling cookbook that have non-vegan recipes and promoting restaurants/inns that serve non-vegan food. That speaks volumes.