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 supports 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