A “Victory”? For Whom?

Dear Colleagues:

It was reported yesterday that the American figure skater, Johnny Weir, has decided not to add white fox to the left shoulder of his free skate costume after he received “‘hate mail and death threats’ from animal rights activists.”

Some animal advocates are calling Weir’s decision a “victory.”

I find this puzzling.

First, like all single-issue campaigns promoted by new welfarists, this incident suggests that there is somehow a morally relevant distinction between fur and other animal products. As Weir himself pointed out:

“Every skater is wearing skates made out of cow,” Weir said.

“Maybe I’m wearing a cute little fox while everyone else is wearing cow, but we’re all still wearing animals.”

Weir’s observation is, of course, correct. And I suspect that there will be a great deal of wool worn as well. This is why single-issue campaigns like this have the effect of confusing, and not educating, the public.

In any event, Weir announcing that he is not going to wear the fur trim is like one person at a steak dinner announcing that s/he is not going to eat the egg custard served for desert. So what?

Second, and more important, Weir’s decision had nothing to do with his rejecting fur on moral grounds.

Weir claims to have received “‘hate mail and death threats’ from animal rights activists”:

“I hope these activists can understand that my decision to change my costume is in no way a victory for them, but a draw,” Weir said in his statement. “I am not changing in order to appease them, but to protect my integrity and the integrity of the Olympic Games as well as my fellow competitors.

“Just weeks away from hitting my starting position on the ice in Vancouver, I have technique and training to worry about and that trumps any costume and any threat I may receive.”

This is not any sort of victory for animals. In fact, it is a defeat. We never succeed when any “victory” is based on violence or threats of violence. Violence is inherently wrong and it is strategically foolish as it reinforces the characterization of “animal people” as crazies who threaten people into submission. That understandably fuels public resentment and frustrates serious discussion about animal exploitation.

Perhaps Weir was concerned he’d get a pie thrown at him while he was skating. Weir’s concern was not baseless. This past week, PETA threw a pie at Canadian Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea. In any event, Weir made a simple, calculated practical decision, not an ethical one and he let the world know that.

If the paradigm is ever going to shift, we need to effect a revolution of the heart. In my view, the central focus should be creative, nonviolent vegan education. Single-issue campaigns just reinforce the public perception that the animal rights position is incoherent: what is the difference between fur trim and leather skates or wool clothing? And we will never get anywhere with violence or threats of violence. The problem is violence; violence will be no part of the solution.

THE WORLD IS VEGAN! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
©2010 Gary L. Francione

P.S. I cordially extend an open invitation to Priscilla Feral, who is President of Friends of Animals, which is the group that issued the open letter to Weir, to discuss the Weir matter and the wisdom of single-issue campaigns generally with me on a podcast. And, of course, I also remain open to discuss cordially matters of new welfarism with Wayne Pacelle, Ingrid Newkirk, or the heads of other large groups, as well as Peter Singer and Bernie Rollins.

I want to emphasize that I in no way question the sincerity of any of these people. Indeed, I am sure that they are sincere in their beliefs. I just sincerely believe that the new welfarist/single-issue approach is mistaken and I think that discussion can help to sharpen issues.