Challenging Peter Singer’s Paternity Claim

I

Peter Singer initially gained fame by popularizing utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s idea that just as race should not be used to exclude humans from the moral community and justify their enslavement, species should not used to justify treating animals as things. Singer borrowed the term “speciesism” from psychologist Richard Ryder and argued that using species to discount or ignore the interests of nonhuman animals was no different from using race, sex, or sexual orientation to justify discrimination against certain groups of humans. And Singer’s position as “father of the animal rights movement” was thereby secured. Gary Varner refers to Singer as “[t]he veritable Moses of the animal rights movement.” (Varner, Personhood, Ethics, and Animal Cognition, 2012, p. 33).

But is that title merited? And does Singer really reject speciesism or does he just promote a different version of speciesism?

Like Bentham, Singer is a utilitarian. He maintains that what is morally right and wrong is determined by consequences. Because rights require that certain interests be protected irrespective of consequences—a human can’t be used as a non-consenting biomedical subject even if the benefits of such use would be great—utilitarians, including Bentham and Singer, categorically reject the idea of rights. Singer categorically rejects the idea of animal rights. Singer claims that he uses the notion of “animal rights” simply as a rhetorical device; he is very clear that he ultimately shares Bentham’s view that rights are nothing but “nonsense upon stilts.” But to say that Singer’s paternity status as father of the animal rights movement is merely “rhetorical” is somewhat odd when we are talking about a rights movement. After all, the notion of a right is a legal and moral concept that by its very nature is irreducible to mere rhetoric.

A possible reply here is that Singer rejects rights for humans as well as for animals, so at least he’s being consistent. Yes and no. Singer does, indeed, reject moral rights for humans as well. But there’s a catch. Even though he rejects the notion of rights as categorical entitlements, he insists that, generally speaking, human beings are morally superior to nonhuman animals. He regards humans, or at least “normal” humans, as being self-aware and having a sense of self over time and hence an interest in continued existence. These characteristics support a presumption against using those humans exclusively as replaceable resources for the satisfaction of others’ needs and desires.

This presumption is rebuttable, of course, which is to say that it can be overridden if utilitarian considerations warrant it. If, for example, using one human as a non-consenting subject in a biomedical experiment would result in saving the lives of a million people, Singer would, other things being equal, have a difficult time as a utilitarian arguing that we should not use the human in the experiment. (This is precisely the kind of use that advocates of rights seek to preclude.) But otherwise, Singer’s presumption functions very much like a right—it protects the interest of humans in not being used exclusively as resources in all but cases where the balance of consequences is clear and significant.

And here’s where Singer’s claim to reject speciesism becomes problematic.

Singer believes that nonhuman animals do not have an interest in continuing to live in the way that “normal” humans do. According to Singer, “normal humans have an interest in continuing to live that is different from the interests that nonhuman animals have.” (New York Times, The Stone, May 27, 2015). That is because beings with the ability to be self-aware over time and plan for the future have a greater interest in living than beings who don’t. And Singer thinks that even if animals, or some animals, are self-aware in some sense, “they are still not self-aware to anything like the extent that humans normally are” (Singer, Practical Ethics, 3d ed. 2011, p. 122). So there is a qualitative distinction between humans and nonhumans, and this leads Singer to conclude that there is a moral difference between humans and nonhumans. Indeed, Singer sketches a moral hierarchy in which “normal” human beings are categorically superior to nonhuman animals.

Nonhumans, on Singer’s view, have no interest in not being used as replaceable resources. Singer thinks that “a being with the ability to think of itself as existing over time, and therefore to plan its life, and to work for future achievements, has a greater interest in continuing to live than a being who lacks such capacities” (New York Times, The Stone, May 27, 2015). For a human being to lose its life, on Singer’s view, is to suffer the loss of all the future opportunities for satisfaction that it is capable of contemplating. For a nonhuman animal to lose its life, in comparison, is essentially like going to sleep and never waking up—an animal cannot be said to “lose” anything by dying because it has no conceptual or linguistic access to its future.

For Singer, this translates into the view that the lives of nonhuman animals are of lesser moral value than the lives of human animals. Unlike humans, nonhumans can be used as replaceable resources, whereas “normal” humans possess a status that, even though Singer would deny it, is inseparable from the notion of inherent dignity that advocates of rights attribute to human beings. This privileging of humans leads Singer to make comments like: “[M]illions of chickens are killed every day. I can’t think of that as a tragedy on the same scale as millions of humans being killed. What is different about humans? Humans are forward-looking beings, and they have hopes and desires for the future. That seems a plausible answer to the question of why it’s so tragic when humans die” (Indystar, March 8, 2009).

Now, how is this not speciesist?

Singer’s response is that speciesism involves treating the interests of nonhumans in a way that is different from the way that we treat similar human interests. According to Singer, animals do not have an interest in not being used as replaceable resources because they are not self-aware. And even if they are self-aware, their self-awareness is, according to Singer, qualitatively inferior to the self-awareness of normal humans. So to treat nonhumans as replaceable resources does not present a problem of speciesism because there is no similar interest involved—humans have an interest in continued existence, whereas nonhuman animals do not. There simply is no arbitrary privileging of human beings here.

According to Singer, animals are not indifferent to how we use and kill them, but they don’t care that we use and kill them. Because animals are not self-aware, “it’s not easy to explain why the loss to the animal killed is not . . . made good by the creation of a new animal who will lead an equally pleasant life” (Singer, Animal Liberation, rev. 1990, p. 229). Animals are utterly indifferent to their futures because they cannot think conceptually about those futures; all that an animal can care about is its immediate circumstances. Thus, for example, an animal caught in a painful trap will certainly want to get out of the trap and have the pain stop, but s/he cannot have any interest in surviving and living even another day.

II

Why would anyone think that a cow, or a pig, or a chicken, or a fish does not care about whether we use and kill him or her but simply about how s/he is used and killed? When one of our dogs or cats gets ill, do we think that, by dying, s/he loses nothing because s/he did not have an interest in continuing to live in the first place? We would venture a guess that most of us would reject as absurd the idea that animals do not have an interest in continuing to live, and would consider it indisputable that animals are harmed when we kill them—however “humanely.”

So how does Singer justify a contrary conclusion?

The answer is found in the work of Bentham. Singer is Bentham’s modern proponent on many issues, and on this issue Singer stands shoulder to shoulder with Bentham. Before the nineteenth century, animals were excluded from the moral community because they were thought to be our cognitive inferiors on the grounds that, unlike humans, they did not reason, use abstract concepts, or engage in symbolic communication. Bentham argued that we could not use cognitive differences to justify excluding animals from the moral community. The only characteristic that was required for membership in the moral community was the ability to suffer. If an animal can suffer, we cannot, on the basis of species alone, ignore or discount that suffering.

But did that mean that Bentham thought that cognitive characteristics were completely irrelevant? No. On the contrary, Bentham thought that although the supposed cognitive inferiority of animals did not mean that we could use them for whatever purpose we wanted and treat them however we wanted, it did mean that animals were not self-aware. And that meant that we could continue to use and kill animals—at least for food—as long as we accorded appropriate consideration to their interests in not suffering.

Bentham objected to human slavery, but he did not object to the institution of animal property because he did not see humans and nonhumans as similarly situated: the former were self-aware; the latter were not. Singer agrees with Bentham: animals are not self-aware so that, other things being equal, we can use them in ways in which we would not use (at least most) humans.

III

We find this idea that animals are not self-aware and that, other things being equal, we do not harm them when we use and kill them, to be quite peculiar. Not only does this idea not accord with our own experience in relating to nonhuman animals; it is problematic on theoretical grounds. Indeed, we think that it’s downright speciesist.

We certainly agree that nonhuman animals think differently from the way that humans think because human cognition is linked with the capacities for conceptual abstraction and language. Humans are the only animals who use symbolic communication. So it’s probably true that only humans have the autobiographical sense of self that humans have. But so what? The question we are faced with is this: is humanlike self-awareness the only sort of awareness that results in having an interest in continued life sufficient to give rise to at least a rebuttable presumption against killing?

Let’s assume with Singer that most nonhuman animals live in a sort of eternal present. Does that mean that they are not self-aware? Consider a human with  a total amnesia in which the person is unable to recall memories of the past and form new memories and, therefore, lives in an eternal present.  We submit that it would be inaccurate to say that the person is not self-aware. There is certainly awareness of self in the present moment and then the next moment and so on. It is certainly the case that continued existence is in the interest of such a person—she or he prefers, or desires, or wants to get to the next instant of awareness—regardless of the manner in which she or he thinks about self and even if they don’t have an autobiographical sense of self.

The notion that animals are not self-aware is based on nothing more than the unargued assumption that the only way to be self-aware is to have the self-awareness of a normal adult human. That is certainly one way to be self-aware. It’s not the only way. As Donald Griffin, one of the most important cognitive ethologists of the twentieth century, noted in his book Animal Minds, if an animal is conscious of anything, “the animal’s own body and its own actions must fall within the scope of its perceptual consciousness.” In this respect, an animal’s consciousness is comparable to that of a human with transient global amnesia. It is on these grounds that Griffin concludes that “[i]f animals are capable of perceptual awareness, denying them some level of self-awareness would seem to be an arbitrary and unjustified restriction” (Griffin, Animal Minds, 2001, p. 274). The idea that one must be able to think in detached, abstract terms of an “I” who is having these experiences as part of one whole life trajectory is nothing more than a device for depicting human beings as unique and as superior to all other animals.

IV

Moreover, there is something seriously wrong with Singer’s view that we can nevertheless accord equal consideration to the interests of animals. We maintain that we can’t do it except, perhaps, as an abstract matter. And we’re not sure it can be done even then.

Animals are legally classified as property, namely, as things that have no inherent or intrinsic value. They are chattel that are owned by humans. This, combined with the generally accepted view (which Singer promotes) that animals are cognitive inferiors, makes it almost impossible for us to think of animal interests as similar to our own in the first place. And even if we were to think of an animal having an interest that is similar to a human’s, the status of animals as property provides a good reason always to decide in favor of the human interest where there is any sort of conflict between human and nonhuman interests. When we, as owners of animals, balance the interests of animals against our own interests, we will always privilege our own interests and devalue those of animals.

Interestingly, although Bentham was a utilitarian, he opposed human slavery as an institution. Why? The standard explanation is that he thought that slavery would inevitably become the “lot of large numbers” and slaves would invariably be treated badly because such treatment would be justifiable on utilitarian grounds as contributing to the happiness of the majority. But there is another explanation. Bentham recognized that the principle of impartiality, or equal consideration, could not be applied to slaves because the interest of a slave would always count for less than the interest of a slave owner.

Bentham did not recognize this problem in the context of animals. Neither does Singer. Bentham thought that an enlightened utilitarian society could continue to eat and use animals even while according animal interests due consideration: in effect, on Bentham’s view, killing and eating animals did not entail that animals were being “degraded into the class of things.” But the fact is that there is no way to respect the vital interests of animals as long as they are legally classified as things that we are entitled to use. It can’t happen. It’s a simple matter of economics. Animals are property. It costs money to protect their interests. Given the nature of markets, and particularly in light of “free trade” and international markets, we will, for the most part, spend that money only in situations in which we get a direct economic benefit. That is why animal welfare standards mandated by law are and have always been very low and prohibit only gratuitous suffering. For the most part, the owners of animal property are required to change their behavior only when they are arguably acting in economically inefficient ways. So, for example, we require large animals to be stunned before being shackled, hoisted, and butchered not because of any real concern for animals because not doing so increases worker injuries and carcass damage.

Perhaps in recognition of the limitations of animal welfare standards imposed by law, animal advocacy organizations, led by Singer, have in recent years changed their focus from law reform to working with industry to secure voluntary changes to improve animal welfare. In 2005, Singer led an effort involving just about all of the large animal advocacy groups to endorse and promote the efforts of Whole Foods Market to formulate a program of “humane” improvements. But like Bentham, Singer fails to appreciate both the interest that sentient animals have in not being killed in the first place and the reality of economics in light of the property status of nonhuman animals. At the very best, animal welfare efforts can do no more than result in the creation of niche markets for affluent consumers whose consciences can be assuaged by paying a higher amount for animal products that may involve slightly less cruelty than conventional products. This is not consistent with any sort of “animal rights” view.

V

The idea that animal life is of lesser value than  human life is one that permeates the welfare position as it has been developed by utilitarian philosophers, such as Bentham and Singer. But this position also surfaces in the work of rights theorist Tom Regan.

Regan rejects both utilitarian moral theory and the theory of animal welfare. He maintains that we have no moral justification for treating at least adult mammals exclusively as means to the ends of humans, so he does not rely on the lesser moral value of nonhumans to justify animal use as did Bentham and as does Singer. Regan does, however, argue that in a situation in which there is a conflict, such as a situation in which we are in a lifeboat and must choose whether to save a dog or a human, we should choose to save the life of the human over the dog because death is a greater harm for the former than for the latter. According to Regan, “the harm that death is, is a function of the opportunities for satisfaction it forecloses,” and death for an animal, “though a harm, is not comparable to the harm that death would be” for humans. Indeed, Regan would argue that we should sacrifice any number of dogs to save one human. (Regan, The Case for Animal Rights, 1983, p. 324).

Regan’s position is problematic because if death is a qualitatively greater harm to humans than to nonhumans, then there is a nonarbitrary way to distinguish humans from nonhumans. Although Regan rejects using animals exclusively as resources, his argument that moral patients (such as nonhuman animals) have equal inherent value is based on his view that there is no nonarbitrary way to separate moral agents from moral patients. So his position on humans having a qualitatively greater interest in their lives seems to undermine that position. At the very least, to the extent that Regan thinks that situations of true conflict ought always to be resolved in favor of humans based on species, his position invites mischief depending on how “conflict” is interpreted.

We do not agree that we can say that death is a lesser harm to nonhumans any more than we can say that death is a lesser harm to a human with amnesia than to one without it, or that death is a lesser harm to a less intelligent person than it is to a more intelligent one. In situations of genuine conflict, we think that choosing a nonhuman over a human is perfectly acceptable. But we also believe that if we took animal rights seriously, we would stop manufacturing conflicts between human and nonhumans that result from bringing nonhumans into existence to use as human resources.

VI

We conclude by noting that Singer says that we should not use animals in situations in which we would not use similarly situated humans. But it is clear that Singer allows for the use of nonhumans in situations in which we would never consider using any human being, be that human being “normal” or mentally disabled. From what we have said here, it should be clear that there are no legitimate reasons for categorically privileging human beings over nonhuman animals, any more than we would privilege a more intelligent human being over a less intelligent one. Thus New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is entirely right to acknowledge, as he has done repeatedly in his New York Times op-ed pieces, that he is being a “hypocrite” when he deplores our treatment of food animals but resists the call for veganism.

Singer advocates precisely the kind of speciesism that he purports to decry. Until we find the courage and honesty to acknowledge the unjustifiable violence against animals that Singer’s ideas sanction, we will continue to read articles in the pages of major newspapers with titles, such as “Saving the Cows, Starving the Children” (New York Times, June 26, 2015), whose authors insist, entirely speciously, that conflicts between animal and human interests are irreducible and that the life of a nonhuman animal comes at the cost of a human life.

Gary L. Francione, Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of Law and Katzenbach Scholar of Law and Philosophy, Rutgers University School of Law.

Gary Steiner, Professor of Philosophy, Bucknell University.
© 2016 by Gary L. Francione & Gary Steiner

Business As Usual: VegfestUK and the Animal Welfare Industry

Last year, 2015, I spoke at two VegfestUK events. I was invited to speak at four in 2016.

On January 31, 2016, Tim Barford, the owner of VegfestUK, and Alan V. Lee, Operations and Marketing Manager at VegfestUK, disinvited me from speaking at further VegfestUK events. On February 3, they issued another statement.

This essay is my comment on this situation.

Let me emphasize two things at the outset. First, VegfestUK is a for-profit business. I accept that they can have whomever they wish speak or participate in their events. I have no problem whatsoever with their deciding not to have me speak there.

Second, I have no objection to VegfestUK making a profit if  it promoted the right message. VegfestUK is not a non-profit or a charity. It’s not a charity that is taking in donations “for the animals” whose interests are compromised. I am very happy when businesses that sell vegan food or vegan clothing do well and I would have been happy to see an abolitionist VegfestUK do well.  The problem is that VegfestUK has decided to conduct that business to pander to those who promote “happy” exploitation and who reject veganism as a moral baseline. Vegfest has decided to go back to selling a new welfarist message. And in making that decision, Tim and Alan have made defamatory and otherwise unfair representations about me and other Abolitionists, as if this is somehow our doing. To continue the analogy, it’s as if VegfestUK has decided to stop selling vegan chocolates and is introducing milk chocolates and attacking and defaming those who want the vegan chocolates as the cause of the product switch.

I have a longstanding academic interest in the manner in which financial and other considerations having nothing to do with animals have resulted in “animal advocates” taking positions that compromise animal interests at the same time these “animal advocates” claim some moral high ground.

In my 1996 book, Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement, I argued that the “animal rights movement” had sold out in favor of what I called the “new welfarist” position—that promoting more “humane” exploitation will supposedly lead to no exploitation.

The new welfarist position, which is morally bankrupt as a theoretical matter and counterproductive as a practical matter because it makes people feel more comfortable about exploiting animals, has only gained strength in the past 20 years as more and more corporate animal organizations compete more intensely for donations and seek to increase their donor bases by promoting the idea that we can exploit animals in a “compassionate” way. The unifying theme of the new welfarist movement is that veganism is not a moral imperative—it is simply one way of reducing suffering.

What has happened with VegfestUK is another example of the problem that I’ve been discussing for 20 years and that I have identified as the primary cause of why the animal movement moves in one direction—backward.

Vegfest is a for-profit business but, as I stated in 1996 in Rain Without Thunder and have repeated many times since, the entire “animal movement”—whether charitable or non-charitable—is a business that sells out the interests of animals.

Never before in history have the so-called “advocates” of an oppressed group spent so much time and exerted so much effort in trying to convince the public that continued oppression of the victims it claims to represent is a matter of individual “journeys” and that continued oppression can be “compassionate.”

Never before in history has a supposed movement for justice been so very unjust with respect to those for whom it is supposedly concerned.

As this essay will show, VegfestUK has decided to reject the position that veganism is a moral imperative and to return to the new welfarist approach that it promoted exclusively until last year, and the motivation for this action is primarily financial.  The VegfestUK situation represents a dramatic example of the many problems that attend the new welfarist position.

My criticisms of VegfestUK are not personal. On the contrary. My criticisms go to the very heart of the ethical morass that the “animal movement” has become.

Tim Barford has permitted the posting on his Facebook page of screenshots of private communications of a personal nature from one of my moderators in an effort to disparage me. Therefore, I trust that he will have no problem with my use of screenshots of a non-personal, factual nature that have been given to me by others in response to the VegfestUK action, particularly as they show quite clearly what is really going on here, and that he and Alan V. Lee have been dishonest and disingenuous.

I would like to preface my remarks with something that I said to Alan in an email dated January 29. Alan has quoted from that email publicly and that’s fine. I am going to quote from some of his. I do want to reiterate part of what I said to Alan in that email: “I am terribly disappointed.”

And I certainly and sincerely am.

I. THE CRITICISM OF OTHER “ANIMAL ADVOCATES”

Tim Barford and Alan V. Lee accuse me of being critical of other supposed animal advocates.

They are 100% correct.

I certainly do criticize animal advocates who promote “happy exploitation” and reducetarianism, and who otherwise do not clearly promote veganism as a moral baseline or imperative.

I not only criticize these animal advocates—I consider it an obligation to do so.

In case Tim and Alan have not noticed, I have—for the past 20+ years—been relentless in my criticism of a “movement” that unceasingly compromises animal interests and sells out animals for the price of a donation. I believe that the “movement” has been a failure precisely because so many “animal advocates” promote everything but veganism as a moral baseline or imperative.

That is a major focus of my work and I will continue to call out those who engage in what I regard as a reprehensible approach that betrays nonhuman animals. But I have in the past and will continue in the future to engage in substantive criticism. I will provide reasons why I believe these animal advocates are engaging in problematic behavior.

Let’s look at four recent and specific criticisms that I have made to which Tim and Alan have objected and that were mentioned specifically by them in connection with their decision to disinvite me.

Roger Yates and “Intersectional” Speciesism

Tim and Alan are upset that I criticized Roger Yates, who runs something called The Vegan Intersectionality Project (which is also called The Vegan Information Project) (VIP). I pointed out that, in addition to his blatant and constant misrepresentations of the Abolitionist Approach, Yates received funding from, and expressed support for, an organization called VegFund. VegFund promotes a terribly problematic “happy exploitation” organization, Mercy for Animals, and endorses reducetarian promoter and anti-vegan advocate Matt Ball. The Executive Director of VegFund is a member of the Board of Humane Society International, which has its own “happy meat” label.

Even Alan V. Lee, who defends Yates for taking money from VegFund (as we will see later, Alan defends him because VegfestUK also receives money from VegFund), recognizes that Yates did not just take money from VegFund—he “actively promotes” it.

ScreenHunter_1721 Feb. 05 17.08

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Alan tried to justify Yates’ relationship with VegFund, explaining that he needed the money for “his gazebos, cupcakes, literature etc”:

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There are Abolitionists all over the world who do creative, nonviolent vegan advocacy and none of them takes a cent from—much less promotes—new welfarist groups like VegFund.

In any event, hours after I wrote on my Facebook page that Yates was accepting funds from VegFund and, even worse, was promoting VegFund on his “intersectionality” page, the VegFund logo disappeared from the VIP page. Yates is now complaining that he got a grant from VegFund in 2013 and he is claiming that it is my responsibility to ascertain whether VegFund was, for example, supporting Mercy for Animals back then:

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No, Roger, it is incumbent on you to know whether groups you promote are promoting “happy exploitation.”

And let’s be frank, Roger. It’s not a matter of whether VegFund promoted Mercy for Animals in 2013. You are using Mercy for Animals material in your own advocacy in 2016.

In order to get an idea quickly as to how problematic Mercy for Animals is, here’s Nathan Runkle, the head of Mercy for Animals promoting “happy exploitation” by mega-corporation Walmart.

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In my view, campaigns like this are reprehensible. They are blatantly speciesist and they explicitly promote animal exploitation.

And here’s a screenshot I took on February 18, 2016 of the video section of Yates’ Vegan Information Project Facebook page where Yates has a video of his group showing a Mercy for Animals video:

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That video directs people to a Mercy for Animals site where they see the following message right at the top—a message that makes it seem as though the problem is how animals are raised for food and not that they are used at all:

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Although Yates removed the VegFund promotion from his page after I pointed out the problem with VegFund, The Pollination Project is still promoted on every page of his website:

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Yates is apparently proud that he’s an “Official Grantee” of this group.

I had heard of, but knew nothing about, The Pollination Project. So I looked.

And I was shocked.

The Pollination Project is an organization that promotes and lists as its “Community Partners” a wide variety of welfarist groups, including The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Mercy for Animals, Vegan Outreach, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and many others. One of its Partners is the Sistah Vegan Project, which characterizes veganism as a moral baseline as “vegan fundamentalism.”

This is deeply troubling. Yates claims to be against animal exploitation but he accepts funds from and, worse, promotes a group that supports, and whose Partners include, organizations that condone animal exploitation.

One of the Community Partners of the group that appears on every page of Yates’ website:

ScreenHunter_1734 Feb. 14 14.55

As I explain and document here, HSUS promotes “happy exploitation,” sponsors events at which meat and other animal foods are served, employs a pig farmer as Political Director of the HSUS Legislative Fund, and has a President and CEO, Wayne Pacelle, who is on the Board of the Global Animal Partnership, the organization that formulates standards for the “5-Step Animal Welfare Ratings” program used by Whole Foods, which grades the level of animal suffering that the consumer wishes to purchase.

So if someone goes to Yates’ website and clicks the logo for The Pollination Project that appears on every page, they are taken to a website that promotes HSUS (as well as other groups that promote all sorts of problematic, speciesist positions).

If Yates were an anti-slavery campaigner, would he promote a group that listed as its “Community Partner” a group that promoted slavery?

I certainly hope not. But he thinks it’s just fine to do so where nonhumans are concerned.

That, in my view, is deeply speciesist.

(NOTE: After the publication of this essay, Yates removed his promotion of The Pollination Project from his page. The Mercy for Animals video remains on his Facebook page.)

Finally, Yates is a supporter of single-issue campaigns. As I have argued before, these campaigns necessarily promote animal exploitation.

Interestingly, Roger Yates was not that long ago in complete agreement with the Abolitionist Approach. Indeed, when my book, Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation, was published by Columbia University in 2008, Yates reviewed the book. He had this to say:

Gary L. Francione builds on the themes of his first three rights-based books, synthesizes them, adds new ingredients, and bring it all up to date in a striking restatement of animal rights philosophy for the twenty-first century. As the pioneer of the abolitionist approach to animal rights, Francione is an extremely important figure in animal ethics. This new volume is not only high-quality scholarship but also provides the theoretical foundations for a new social movement which takes rights seriously as its core claims about human-nonhuman relations.

Indeed, Yates was so closely identified with my theory that he was referred to as a “Franciombe” by some of my less mature critics. And now he is trashing the Abolitionist Approach. How very strange!

What could possibly account for his rather dramatic change of position? Yates should explain what changed his mind about my work from his assessment of it as providing “the theoretical foundations for a new social movement which takes rights seriously as its core claims about human-nonhuman relations.”

In certain respects, however, it doesn’t really matter why Yates is behaving in this most mysterious way. It just matters that he is now saying all sorts of things that are completely inconsistent with what he said before.

I stand by my criticism of Roger Yates.

VegFund: Promoter of Happy Exploitation Organzations

Tim and Alan are upset that, as part of my discussion of Yates promoting VegFund, I necessarily criticized VegFund, which promotes “happy exploitation” organizations and supporters of reducetarianism. Tim stated in writing that he was angry not only about my criticism of Yates, but also about my criticism of VegFund. As we will see below, that may well be due to the fact that VegfestUK also gets money from and promotes VegFund.

I stand by my criticism of VegFund.

The Vegan Society Senior Advocacy and Policy Officer Has a Non-Vegan Policy

Tim and Alan are upset that I criticized Amanda Baker, Senior Advocacy and Policy Officer of The Vegan Society, for maintaining that my position that veganism is a moral baseline or imperative involves white privilege and male privilege. According to Amanda, if you are a woman or a person of color and you don’t recognize a moral obligation to go vegan, then there is no moral obligation for you to go vegan and saying that there is such an obligation constitutes racism and sexism. The obligation to be a vegan, according to Baker, is context-dependent.

I disagree that the obligation to be a vegan is context-dependent. And my disagreement is not a reflection of racism, sexism or of any other form of discrimination. On the contrary, the Abolitionist Approach explicitly rejects all discrimination. My disagreement reflects an unequivocal rejection of discrimination against nonhuman animals as well as a rejection that any human concerns justify the property status of animals or the use of animals as human resources.

Putting aside that Baker’s position is incoherent as a matter of moral thinking, it is, in my view, a complete betrayal of the vision of Vegan Society co-founder Donald Watson.

I stand by my criticism of Amanda Baker.

Vicki Moran: Reducetarianism is a “Lovely Concept”

Tim and Alan are upset that I criticized Vicki Moran of Main Street Vegan for supporting reducetarianism. Here’s what Vicki said:

During my thirteen-year journey from omnivore to vegan, I wish I’d known the term reducetarian, and that I was already helping the planet, consuming fewer animals, and giving my own health a boost. It’s a lovely concept, leaving no one out and doing a world of good. Victoria Moran, author of Main Street Vegan and Creating a Charmed Life

Here’s a screenshot of Vicki’s comment:

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There is no way that Vicki’s endorsement can be read as anything but her stamp of approval on the exploitation and consumption of animals.

I stand by my criticism of Vicki Moran.

So Tim and Alan are right. I have criticized these groups and individuals. Indeed, I see it as my moral obligation to make those criticisms. And the criticisms are valid. No one who took animal interests seriously could maintain otherwise.

II. VEGFESTUK GOES FROM ABOLITIONIST TO NEW WELFARIST—IN THREE WEEKS

Frankly, the concerns and objections of Tim and Alan are puzzling.

It’s not as if Tim and Alan only recently became aware that I was taking these positions. Not only have I been making these exact sorts of criticisms for the past quarter of a century, but I made these exact sorts of criticisms when I spoke at VegfestUK in London in October. Anna Charlton and I made these exact sorts of criticisms when we spoke by Skype at VegfestUK in Glasgow in December. Anna Charlton and I made these exact sorts of criticisms in our book, Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach, a book that both Tim and Alan recently read and reviewed enthusiastically.

Here’s a photo from January of Tim reading Animal Rights and Alan reading Rain Without Thunder. Both books have pointed and direct criticisms of animal protection groups and individual animal advocates:

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So nothing new has happened.

Tim and Alan are making a big deal about the operation and moderation of my Facebook page. They are saying that something has changed recently and that the page now has criticisms of animal advocates. But that is just nonsense. The content of the page has not changed at all. I have been critical of those who promote new welfarism in any shape or form, or who promote new welfarist organizations, from the day that I started the page. If anyone is in any doubt on this issue, they can scroll through the page and they will see a very consistent criticism of “animal advocates” and groups that compromise animal interests.

My website has hundreds of essays, many of which discuss the problems with new welfarism and criticize specific groups and animal advocates.

The position of Tim and Alan is even more bizarre because not only have they been fully aware of my criticism of particular groups and individuals, they have agreed with that criticism until very shortly before their decision to disinvite me from all VegfestUK events.

VegfestUK Has Agreed With My Criticism of New Welfarist Groups

Alan V. Lee explicitly acknowledged on January 6:

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Alan recognized that those who feel alienated by the Abolitionist Approach are influenced by the large groups:

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Both Tim and Alan have made numerous comments (many written) to me and to other people that were highly critical of a number of animal advocates and organizations, including The Vegan Society and Viva!. Here are several just concerning Viva!:

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In this post, part of a discussion about Viva!, Alan again mentions corruption:

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Click to enlarge.  Again, I agree with Alan. The corruption is, indeed, flabbergasting.

I had referred to Viva! as the “UK PETA.” Alan agreed:

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In this exchange, Alan V. Lee agrees with the Abolitionist criticism of the Viva! “Tesco Tortures Turtles” campaign:

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In this message, Alan acknowledges that I and others have tried to reason with Tony Wardle of Viva!, who, to put it mildly, does not like me. He attacks me publicly in juvenile but nevertheless vicious and defamatory ways every chance he gets. Alan opines that money, prestige, and Viva!’s non-vegan supporters get in the way of productive communication.

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I could not agree more with Alan. In fact, I’ve said the exact same sorts of things about Viva!—and every other large corporate animal charity—many times.

Here’s a comment about both Viva! and The Vegan Society:

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Again, I could not agree more. The Vegan Society should, indeed, be called The “Vegan” Society. Perhaps “The Non-Vegan Society” would be even better!

Another comment about The Vegan Society and Viva!:

ScreenHunter_1729 Feb. 07 07.45

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On January 9, 2016, I published an essay that was critical of an Animal Aid campaign to stop the building of a particular pig farm. Alan V. Lee read the essay. As Alan can confirm, he agreed in writing with my position, stating that he was “gobsmacked” (one of my favorite British expressions!) at anyone who would “naively believe that this sort of campaign is a big step forward.” He added that “[d]onations trump logic all the time with these groups.”

I couldn’t agree more, Alan.

VegfestUK Agreed That My Criticisms Were Not “Attacks”

Tim and Alan have made a number of public statements in which they rejected the exact same “attack” claims that they are now making. That is, they have responded that what others claim are “attacks” by me are instances of reasoned criticism. Here’s one thread from November in which VegfestUK says, “He doesn’t attack—he offers criticism”:

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And here’s Tim claiming that the rejection of criticism by the groups and leading vegan spokespeople is “astounding.”

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In that very same thread, a new welfarist whom Tim is now defending claims that the Abolitionists are engaging in “vegan shaming” that “hurts and oppresses others.” Tim says exactly what I say: that the people who complain about being “shamed” are promoting animal exploitation and are merely being called on it.

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In November 2015, as Tim can confirm, Juliet Gellatley, the head of Viva!, complained to him that I was “attacking” Viva! Tim responded that I was critiquing Viva! and he urged her to engage the criticism rather than to cry “attack” or have other people in Viva!, such as Tony Wardle, engage in ad hominem attacks on me.

And now Tim is crying “attack” when there is only reasoned criticism with which he and Alan V. Lee have agreed in the past.

It’s truly bewildering.

In any event, I don’t “attack” anyone. I offer reasoned, documented, and substantive criticisms of speciesist campaigns, groups, and individuals, including individuals who deliberately misrepresent my positions. My concern is to highlight the lack of integrity and coherence of the movement, as evidenced by these individual examples.

When people don’t like what I have to say, they often call it an “attack.” Funny how Alan V. Lee recognized precisely that on January 24—one week before disinviting me and accusing me of “attacking” people:

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In November 2015, Tim stated to me in writing that he had “no objections at all to any posts criticising VS [The Vegan Society] Viva etc.”

Tim seems to have forgotten that he wrote those words.

Tim also seems to have forgotten about the fact that when Melanie Joy wrote an essay that characterized as “shaming” an incident where two activists interrupted the presentation of a new welfarist and accused the speaker of being a hypocrite who worked for a corrupt organization, VegfestUK published an essay written by none other than Roger Yates, who defended what those activists did and argued that criticism and protest are not “shaming.”

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It really makes no sense at all. Tim can’t seem to take the same position two days in a row. And it’s also bewildering that Roger Yates seems just fine with rather aggressive criticism of others, but when someone points out that he’s promoting new welfarist organizations, single-issue campaigns, and engaging in other conduct that even Tim has been critical of, he goes running and crying to Tim.

In their statement concerning why they disinvited me from VegfestUK, Tim and Alan complain that my criticisms, which are identical to the ones that they have defended in the past, result in “psychological damage” to those I criticize. I certainly do not mean to harm anyone. But I consider myself morally obligated to point out that certain animal advocates are taking overtly speciesist and counterproductive positions that harm nonhuman animals. If being confronted with their speciesism troubles these advocates then they need to do something about that. The solution is not for me to stop challenging them. This idea that people who are involved in what is supposedly a social movement (that many make a living from) suffer “psychological damage” when their positions are challenged is nonsense at a level that is mind-boggling.

To take the position that we have to sacrifice the clarity of ideology or basic morality in order to keep people happy is the very essence of new welfarism. And that’s the VegfestUK position in a nutshell. In this screenshot, Alan V. Lee makes the remarkable statement that he’s “not prepared to sell out my supporters for the sake of ideological purity.”

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He and Tim are, however, willing to sell out the animals.

VegfestUK Agreed With My Specific Objections to People They Are Now Defending

Tim and Alan have acknowledged that the people they are now defending and using as the pretext for disinviting me have misrepresented the Abolitionist Approach. Tim stated to me in writing on January 23 that some of the advocates that he is now defending have publicly made “unjust” comments about me and my work.

Alan V. Lee made the following statement in connection with misrepresentations of my views by Roger Yates and another new welfarist with whom Yates is associated, Carolyn Bailey, who attacks and deliberately misrepresents my work:

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Alan also stated that he could not defend the behavior of Yates and Bailey:

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So both Tim and Alan agreed that the advocates they are now defending have misrepresented my work and have attacked me, but my pointing out that those advocates have done exactly that has caused Tim and Alan to disinvite me.

On January 30, Tim cited my criticism of Amanda Baker of The Vegan Society (for claiming that veganism as a moral baseline was sexist and racist) as a reason why he was disinviting me. However, on January 23, he sent me an email stating that he did “not agree with” what Amanda said and that he had posted a request to Amanda on his Facebook page and asked her to respond to my criticism. Tim subsequently deleted that post.

After VegfestUK in London in October 2015, Tim and I talked by Skype. I raised my concerns about Vicki Moran promoting reducetarianism. He said that he agreed and he was not inviting her back for VegfestUK events in 2016. Alan wrote me an email on January 6 after I had posted a criticism of Vicki’s promotion of reducetarianism. Alan stated:

No doubt she’s a lovely person, but we have to make clear that journeys which involve animal exploitation are never never lovely – period.

I agree. I have known Vicki for 25 years and she is a lovely person but she is, for the reasons I have set forth here and elsewhere, including the comment I posted on January 6 and with which Alan V. Lee agreed, engaged in blatant speciesism in her promotion of reducetarianism. It’s really quite bewildering.

VegfestUK Has Suddenly Decided to Express Support for Welfare Reform, Single-Issue Campaigns, and Reducetarianism

As a direct result of being exposed to the Abolitionist Approach, VegfestUK purported to tighten its criteria to exclude any promotion of welfarism, single-issue campaigns, and reducetarianism.

I want to make the following very clear: I did not ask VegfestUK to change its criteria to focus on a more Abolitionist paradigm. I was happy that they did so and I offered my comments when asked. But I did not request or demand the changes in criteria. I did not make my appearing at VegfestUK in any way contingent on there not being new welfarist groups appearing there. That was their decision.

And now, they’re complaining about me because their welfarist friends are unhappy about the new criteria. That’s both absurd and unfair.

Alan V. Lee has had an ostensibly magical transformation. On January 3, he posted a condemnation of reducetarianism:

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Now, Alan embraces reducetarianism as well as supports welfare reform and single-issue campaigns:

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This is, to say the very least, a rather dramatic moral about-face.

Alan accepts the misrepresentations of the Abolitionist Approach from Tony Wardle, Associate Director of Viva!, in his comment after Alan had only three weeks before expressed his concern about corruption at Viva! (see screenshots above). Moreover, Alan had as recently as January 5, declared to be “nonsense” the very arguments by Wardle he now embraces:

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And there was this statement back in December 2015 when we were told that VegfestUK was uncomfortable with single-issue campaigns:

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And, in December, VegfestUK seemed to be very much aware of the problems of single-issue campaigns:

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And now VegfestUK is fine with single-issue campaigns. Indeed, after disinviting me, they invited Roger Yates to speak and Yates is now a champion of single-issue campaigns.

So VegfestUK has completely changed its position. And although Tim and Alan have publicly rejected welfare reforms and single-issue campaigns, they now accept them. And they now embrace reducetarianism.

After Alan posted his support for welfare reforms, single-issue campaigns, and reducetarianism, Tim told Alan that he’d “get pulled up by Vegan Police” for his statement endorsing new welfarism:

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It’s clear that Tim cannot muster an argument against the Abolitionist Approach, so he resorts to the tired accusation of “Vegan Police” leveled by new welfarists against anyone who argues for unequivocal veganism as the moral baseline of the animal rights movement.

Tim must feel pretty strongly about reducetarianism in particular. He called one of the moderators of my Facebook page a “sick fuck” for criticizing Vicki Moran’s promotion of reducetarianism as a “lovely concept.” Here’s a screenshot of that:

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I, for one, am certainly glad that Tim is committed to “respectful” discussion. However, it might be a good idea if Tim and Alan figure out what that means.

When Tim was called on his “sick fuck” comment, Tim’s response—that the matter was “the subject of an investigation”—was, to put it mildly, odd.

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In an email Tim sent to another one of my moderators, he claimed that the “Police” were investigating criticisms of Alan V. Lee. What is he talking about? Does he mean seriously to maintain that Alan is protected by the law from being criticized? Oh, well. Maybe Tim meant that people who maintain that veganism is a moral imperative—what Tim, along with the other new welfarists, calls the “Vegan Police”—are pointing out the rather dramatic flip-flops of Alan V. Lee. That’s true. We did.

In a post on Alan’s page made on February 5, someone named Anna Slater complained about “extremists” and claimed that there is “no need to change the whole world” and that we “need to open [our] hearts and actually appreciate those who work tirelessly to save animals lives even if they do eat them.” She states that “there are plenty [of] non vegans who have saved more animals than any of us have by not eating them.” Here’s a screenshot of Slater’s comment:

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You will notice that there is one “like” of that terribly speciesist comment:

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Yes, indeed, it’s none other than Alan V. Lee.

That is nothing short of appalling.

Tim posted a reply to Anna Slater, claiming that those who continue to eat nonhuman animals need education and guidance and that those who maintain veganism as a moral baseline are “hardcore,” “extremist,” violent” and “full of hatred”:

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The Abolitionist Approach is, indeed, all about education and guidance. What it is not about is encouraging people to believe that there is a “compassionate” way to engage in animal exploitation. It is not about putting a stamp of approval on animal exploitation. It is not about telling people that as long as they do some “good,” they can continue to exploit animals. Once again, Tim is confused. It’s animal exploitation that is violent; it is not violent to say that we have a moral obligation to go vegan.

VegfestUK Has Suddenly Decided to Reject Veganism as a Moral Baseline/Imperative

In November 2015, Tim stated that The Vegan Society, Viva!, and Veganuary were splitting off from VegfestUK because VegfestUK was promoting the Abolitionist Approach. He asserted that these organizations “don’t have a clue.” Despite this, and despite his complaining in December 2015 that The Vegan Society and Viva! were threatening him, Tim is back supporting all three of these new welfarist organizations. Indeed, Tim is now claiming that Viva! promotes veganism as a moral baseline in addition to promoting welfare reform and single-issue campaigns:

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That, of course, is not only false—it is impossible and makes no sense.  Viva! very clearly does not promote veganism as a moral baseline. It promotes welfare reforms, vegetarianism, reducetarianism, and single-issue campaigns. Viva! Associate Director Tony Wardle rejected the very concept of veganism as a moral baseline when we “debated” at VegfestUK in October 2015.

Tim seems to think that the differences between the Abolitionist position and the position of groups like Viva! are minimal. He apparently forgets that not promoting veganism as a moral imperative is part of the business model of such groups and that it’s just not possible to change them. Indeed, in December 2015, Alan acknowledged that such groups cannot be changed because their business model “relies on generating donations from” single-issue campaigns and that “we can’t change that”:

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I note that the VegfestUK criteria for speakers still exclude those who promote welfare reform, single-issue campaigns, and reducetarianism. Tim and Alan had better change the criteria or they will be prohibited from speaking at their own event.

VegfestUK Has Suddenly Decided to Add “Intersectional Vegans” to VegfestUK Brighton

Tim and Alan claim—falsely—to promote veganism as a moral imperative. They can’t do so as long as they are supporting groups that explicitly reject veganism as a moral imperative. So just by virtue of supporting and promoting these new welfarist groups that themselves promote welfare reforms, single-issue campaigns, vegetarianism, and reducetarianism, which necessarily reject veganism as a moral imperative, Tim and Alan are rejecting veganism as a moral imperative in favor of the new welfarist principle of promoting non-veganism as a supposed way to get to veganism.

But Tim and Alan are going beyond that to make the point that they now reject the Abolitionist Approach. On February 10, they declared “Happy days” in connection with getting American “intersectional vegan” Christopher-Sebastian McJetters to speak at VegfestUK Brighton.

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McJetters, like Amanda Baker of The Vegan Society, argues that people who live in poverty find it difficult to be vegan and, therefore, to maintain that veganism is a moral baseline is classist and ableist, and since many poor people are people of color, it is racist as well.

That position is explicitly and inherently speciesist.

In order to see how McJetter’s position is speciesist, imagine making his argument in contexts involving humans and human interests.

When a poor person (whether or not a person of color) harms another human who is innocent, do we say that it is classist, ableist, or racist to say that what the person did is morally wrong?

Of course not.

We may (and I hope would) understand why people who suffer the injustice of poverty might act in certain ways. We may (and I hope would) want to eliminate the economic inequality that causes poverty. We may (and I hope would) want to take the circumstances into account when we punish in such circumstances although the legal system generally does not.

But we would all agree that any violence against innocent humans is morally wrong. The rule that we cannot justify inflicting harm on innocent humans is a baseline irrespective of who you are or your circumstances. That is, we would all say, for example, that it is morally wrong for a person who is poor to kill an innocent person to get money. Poverty is horrible and it should be eradicated. But being poor does not give you a license to violate the fundamental rights of others.

However, when the innocents are nonhumans, there are supposed
“animal advocates,” such as McJetters, who claim that it’s racist, classist, and ableist to insist on moral baselines or imperatives. This is just more of the relativist “it’s all about journeys” nonsense mixed with identity politics. And it’s inherently speciesist.

For McJetters, the obligation to be vegan is context-dependent. It’s a matter of the “who you are space,” to use a phrase from Breeze Harper, an “intersectional vegan” who characterizes veganism as a moral imperative as “vegan fundamentalism.” I have written about McJetters, Harper, and other “intersectional vegans,” including Aph Ko, in recent blog posts here and here and in a number of Facebook posts, including here.

And feminists or people of color who disagree with these supposed “intersectionalist vegans,” and who maintain that the moral imperative of veganism is no different from the moral imperative that prohibits the violation of fundamental human rights, are dismissed as “tokens” or “sycophants.”

“Happy days”? Not for the animals.

Interestingly, on January 13, less than one month before VegfestUK announced that McJetters would speak at Brighton, Alan V. Lee seemed to recognize very clearly that people like McJetters were expressing a relativist position. He analogized the “intersectionalist” vegans to “large animal groups” who promote moral relativism:

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Alan, a person of color, also understood that people like McJetters are making accusations of racism and sexism in order to avoid the matter of veganism as a moral baseline. In a note he wrote to me on January 12 in response to my essay on McJetters and others, he stated that the “intersectionalist vegans” are:

another bunch of narcissists who need to get some sort of benefit from their free ride on intersectionality based on essentialism. And like the leaders of the (new) welfarist movement, they need to artificially create followers to believe in their nonsense. (either by playing the ‘racism / sexism card’, or by calls for more donations).

Anyway, it was a monumental essay! Well done on smashing yet another widely promulgated myth!

Thank you, Alan. I am glad that you liked the essay. But your comment invites this question: why are you and Tim declaring “Happy days” when you have someone like McJetters, who peddles speciesism, moral relativism, and identity politics, speaking at VegfestUK?

That’s a rhetorical question. The answer is clear. VegfestUK needs to make its new welfarist friends feel comfortable. The Vegan Society, Viva!, VegFund, and the others that Tim and Alan want to placate will all just love the moral relativism spouted by McJetters and some of the other speakers that VegfestUK has invited, such as Will Tuttle. After all, you don’t even have to discuss the substance of the argument that the moral status of animals requires the recognition of veganism as a moral imperative if the very argument can be dismissed as racist, sexist, or classist.

And that is exactly why Amanda Baker, Senior Advocacy and Policy Officer of The Vegan Society, embraces the speciesist nonsense peddled by McJetters so enthusiastically. It’s a great way to avoid the very uncomfortable fact that The Vegan Society has explicitly rejected the idea that veganism is a moral baseline.

The Abolitionist Approach has, from its inception, been intersectional in the proper sense of that word in that it has made the connection between human rights and animal rights, and has condemned racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, and all forms of discrimination, as well as speciesism. People like McJetters just promote yet another anthropocentric and speciesist position while they pretend to be “radical.” They are anything but. And their position is anything but “intersectional” as that term is used in its proper sense.

III. SO WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON? FOLLOW THE MONEY

It is very clear that this recent drama has nothing to do with my criticism of new welfarists. I am doing what I have been doing for 25 years now. And I have been taking positions with which VegfestUK has explicitly agreed.

Tim and Alan have done a significant about-face and have returned to promoting new welfarism and single-issue campaigns, and to rejecting the promotion of veganism as a moral baseline.

Why?

The answer is what I discussed in Rain Without Thunder and have been saying ever since.

It’s just business as usual.

VegfestUK is a for-profit business. On July 1, 2015, Tim Barford made the following announcement:

From today, VegfestUK is no longer a not for profit company. VegfestUK has never sought to make a profit, and never has. This has changed and from now on we are a profit seeking venture.

As I mentioned at the outset, as far as I am concerned, the animal movement as a whole is a business. It does not matter whether the groups involved are charities or not. Animal charities, such as Viva! and The Vegan Society, as well as non-charitable limited companies, such as Animal Aid, are all competing for donors and they want to keep their donor bases as broad as possible. So they promote any position that they think will bring in donations. They all reject veganism as a moral imperative.

VegfestUK, as a for-profit business, has as important customers those animal charities and non-charity entities like Animal Aid that directly and indirectly funnel people to attend VegfestUK events. Tim and Alan briefly flirted with trying to bypass these organizations and market directly to the grassroots. But, as you will see from the following, that presented some financial challenges for the for-profit VegfestUK.

The solution? Backtrack. Change positions and re-embrace the previous VegfestUK business model of catering to the welfarist and single-issue charities and businesses, and put the blame somewhere else.

Consider the following:

First, Tim expressed to me and to others that he had been threatened by The Vegan Society and Viva! in response to his joining in my criticism of the new welfarist approach. Indeed, on January 23, Tim Barford made a public statement on the Abolitionist Approach Facebook page referring to the legal action that The Vegan Society had threatened against him:

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Second, Tim expressed to me on January 23 (and he has repeated to others) that the anti-badger-cull activists were threatening to re-route their march in Brighton on February 27 past the VegfestUK venue. According to Tim, the anti-badger-cull leader, Dominic Dyer, is not a vegan. The anti-badger-cull people are very hostile to the Abolitionist Approach.

Third, on January 28, three days before I was disinvited, Alan V. Lee stated to one of the moderators of my Facebook page (who was also scheduled to speak at VegfestUK Brighton) that since VegfestUK started tightening up its criteria, it has suffered adverse consequences:

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In this exchange, also shortly before I was disinvited, Alan states that VegfestUK would lose £10,000 if welfarist organizations were not to appear at VegfestUK:

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Alan said something similar to me in an unsolicited message sent to me at the same time he made the preceding statements:

Unfortunately, currently in the UK there’s a really strong appetite for SIC’s for some peculiar cultural reasons. On financial grounds, it’s totally unrealistic for VegfestUK to eliminate all groups who exclusively promote SIC’s or run animal rescue missions without providing vegan education. To explain this in more concrete terms, that would mean rejecting around 40 groups all of which contribute over £10,000 to our income, which I’m sure you’d agree is a sizeable contribution to the event financially.

In this comment, Alan indicates that if VegfestUK became Abolitionist, there would be economic consequences in terms of lost jobs and contracts:

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Alan defends selling out by animal charities; he reasons that it’s not their fault: it’s “the monetary system and the obstacles it presents”:

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The new welfarist charities need to sell out:

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So according to Alan, the groups that sell out the animals are not to blame. It’s the fault of the economic system. In order to bring in the money that these animal businesses need, they need (according to Alan) to sell out the animals and compromise the message of veganism as a moral imperative.

That’s just breathtaking. But, if truth be told, all of the animal groups think the same way. And that’s why we’re in the mess we’re in and why the only thing that can and does work is a grassroots movement.

Fourth, Tim and Alan got particularly upset that I criticized Roger Yates for his promoting VegFund. Alan defended that Roger Yates took money from VegFund, claiming that there were not many other groups that Yates or VegfestUK could turn to:

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It’s no surprise that Alan and Tim defended Roger Yates with respect to VegFund and got upset that I had criticized Yates for seeking funding from and promoting VegFund. VegfestUK also gets funding from and promotes VegFund. This is the “Sponsor” section on the VegfestUK page:

VegfestSponsor

Click to enlarge. I added the red arrow pointing to VegFund as a VegfestUK sponsor.

So VegfestUK is getting support from and promoting an organization that endorses the “happy exploitation” group, Mercy for Animals, and whose Executive Director sits on the Board of Humane Society International.

I also noted that on the “Sponsor” page, there was an announcement welcoming a new sponsor: A Well Fed World:

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According to Alan V. Lee, A Well Fed World also promotes Mercy for Animals and reducetarianism:

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Alan claimed that he saw no problem with Yates taking money from VegFund but agreed that it was problematic that Yates “actively promotes” VegFund:

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But So does VegfestUK. 

So Alan defends taking money from VegFund but agrees that it is problematic for Yates to promote VegFund. However, VegfestUK also receives funds from VegFund and promotes Vegfund.

This is a rather embarrassing situation for VegFestUK to be in.

Fifth, on January 31, VegfestUK stated on its own page that my being there or not being there would have no effect on the financial viability of VegfestUK:

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Please note that the comment states that VegfestUK supports the “Abolitionist Ideology,” which, if you’ve read down this far, you know is absolutely false.

Later that same day, on my Facebook page, Tim Barford said that my continued presence at VegfestUK “may well put us out of business”:

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So my presence one way or the other won’t make a difference financially but my presence may put VegfestUK out of business.

Well, that obviously makes no sense.

On the VegfestUK Facebook page, Alan O’Reilly, one half of the talented Grumpy Old Vegans, and a businessperson himself, asked Tim what he was talking about:

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Click to enlarge.  As you can see from that screenshot, Tim did not answer the question.

Alan O’Reilly pressed Tim for an answer. This exchange ensued:

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Again, no answer. And then, Tim deleted the thread.

According to Alan V. Lee, who is the Operations and Marketing Manager of VegfestUK, VegfestUK is “at a watershed.” Please read this statement from him.

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The bottom line is clear: Tim and Alan have sold out in order to pander to the animal welfare industry.

IV. SUBSTANTIVE CRITIQUES OF SPECIESISM? NOPE. NOT ALLOWED. MISREPRESENTATION AND PERSONAL INSULTS? SURE. NO PROBLEM.

Tim Barford and Alan V. Lee continue to attack me and others who are critical of them in ways that make the sneering sarcasm of a 12-year-old look sophisticated. They are allowing the welfarists, anti-badger-cull people, and anyone else to post ad hominem attacks, including outright defamation, on their pages.

Indeed, someone posted a thoroughly defamatory statement on the VegfestUK Facebook page. The response from Tim and Alan was to let it stay on the page with the following comment in which they explicitly recognize that the post misrepresents my work and personally insults me:

ScreenHunter_1721 Feb. 05 12.21

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So “free expression” allows for what are explicitly acknowledged to be misrepresentations and personal attacks, but not for the pointed criticism of speciesism and campaigns that promote speciesism? And they think it’s acceptable to leave on the VegfestUK page what they acknowledge in writing to be false and to constitute a personal attack?

It’s absolutely bewildering.

Tim has also engaged in repeated, public personal attacks against my Facebook moderators. This included calling for the removal of two female moderators who civilly disagreed with him using logical arguments. He even accused one of these moderators of being me using a fake profile. Apparently Tim does not believe that it is possible for others to agree with my views and to understand abolitionist theory well enough to express themselves intelligently and present logical and compelling arguments. Whether or not Tim’s questioning the identity of my female moderators reflects sexism on his part, he has allowed others to post on his pages sexist and otherwise malicious attacks on my moderators.

A woman who disagreed with Tim and Alan and who had been subjected to absolutely vicious sarcasm and personal attacks from Tim asked the following question and got a rather revealing answer:

ScreenHunter_1716 Feb. 04 20.44

That really says it all. They are abusive because they can be.

Tim and Alan issued the following statement in their criteria for participating in VegfestUK when I was disinvited:

We also cannot accept speakers at VegfestUK events who are regularly disrespectful to other activists in public. We support polite, constructive, respectful critique, but not personal attacks, disrespectful comments, or rude and discourteous language towards other activists.

So “respectful critique” includes misrepresentation and personal attacks, but excludes the substantive critique of speciesist positions. And the purported justification for that incoherent position is that they have the power, as the producers of VegfestUK, to take that position—”Because we can.”

How very sad.

How very corrupt.

And how very ironic. Tim and Alan are constantly engaged in ad hominem, juvenile, and often defamatory attacks on others. If their criteria were applied to them, they would be the first to be excluded from VegfestUK.

I also note that several of the speakers, including McJetters and Yates, have, in violation of the VegfestUK criteria, “engaged in personal attacks, disrespectful comments, or rude and discourteous language towards” me and others whose advocacy is framed by the Abolitionist Approach. Yates has (for several years) been misrepresenting my position, as Tim and Alan have acknowledged, and McJetters’ response to my reasoned argument that his position reflects speciesism combined with identity politics was to call me an “asshole.”

ScreenHunter_1733 Feb. 13 09.02

But then, when Tim Barford thinks that calling someone a “sick fuck” because they object to reducetarianism is acceptable, it comes as no surprise that the new criteria are completely meaningless unless, of course, it suits the agenda of Tim Barford, Alan V. Lee, and their new welfarist sponsors and friends.

I should mention with respect to the comment by McJetters that it is precisely because we allow identity politics to inform discussions of justice that we have progressives unwilling to criticize Barack Obama even though his policies have been just about as reactionary and unjust as those of George W. Bush. Because we pander to identity politics, we don’t recoil in horror when we are told that feminists have an obligation to support the reactionary Hillary Clinton for President, or when right-winger and anti-feminist Ayn Rand is proposed as a “feminist” for education on feminism in British secondary schools.

Sorry, Mr. McJetters, identity politics has been a curse to the left. I am sorry that you and your associates, such as Breeze Harper, Aph Ko, and others, have chosen to bring that reactionary nonsense into animal ethics. But, as I have discussed elsewhere, it’s clear that the corporate welfarists, including the Humane Society of the United States, are buying it by supporting your efforts, and you now have the Senior Advocacy and Policy Officer of The Vegan Society cheering you on as you peddle your moral relativism and identity politics, so I don’t expect you to stop anytime soon. But please rest assured that I won’t stop exposing it for the unjust sell out of animal interests that it is.

Interestingly, in December 2015, Tim Barford refused the request to speak at VegFestUK of another “intersectional vegan” whose views are not substantially different from McJetters’. This person, a woman of color, also takes the position that anyone who disagrees with her position is a sexist and a racist. On a Facebook thread, Tim explained that he refused her request to speak because “we dont [sic] want rude hostile bigots at our event thanks.”

Here’s a screenshot of that comment:

ScreenHunter_1734 Feb. 13 13.54

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Apparently, rude and hostile bigots are now acceptable at VegfestUK. Tim and Alan have no problem with someone like McJetters, who engages in juvenile name calling and who promotes the bigoted nonsense that those who maintain that  veganism is a moral imperative are racists or classists.

As I mentioned above, I did not request or demand that VegfestUK change its criteria for speakers. I made it clear that all I wanted was a venue to promote the Abolitionist Approach. I am quite happy for advocates to hear my position and that of people like Tony Wardle (despite his constant juvenile attacks on me), Melanie Joy, Vicki Moran, or any of the other welfarists who usually speak at VegfestUK, and let them make up their own minds.

But Tim and Alan wanted more. They wanted me to stop criticizing the “happy exploitation” efforts of the new welfarists as a condition of my speaking at VegfestUK. On January 29, I wrote the following to Alan V. Lee:

If Tim thinks that I am going to sell out and remain silent about people misrepresenting Abolition or promoting new welfarism or whatever so that I can be at VegfestUK, he is very much mistaken.

Two days later, I was disinvited.

I stand by my position. I am not willing to sell out the animals. I am sorry that Tim Barford and Alan V. Lee are willing to do so.

V. CONCLUSION

It is a shame that Tim Barford and Alan V. Lee could not be honest and instead chose to engage in this dishonest and transparent charade.

But I guess I was naive to expect much else.

I first encountered Tim Barford in 2014, when he launched an attack against me because I criticized marathon runner, Fiona Oakes, who was (and remains) an Ambassador of The Vegan Society, when she appeared on BBC Radio, and said:

I run in a positive proactive kind of way to promote a vegan diet…I’m not saying that it’s for everyone, I’m saying that it’s not probably for very many people…

You can listen to Oakes make this remarkable statement here.

Fiona followed up with statements that those who promote veganism as a matter of moral baseline and moral imperative are “aggressive, petty. . .fundamentalist nutters,” and stated that my position critical of her upset her “for the animals, the damage such comments and aggression do them.” You can see her breathtaking comments here.

Tim Barford not only voiced his support for Fiona, but stated:

Sadly it is true that many people don’t get on well with a vegan diet and get very ill on it. Not an ethical justification obviously, but a plain statement of fact.

Yes, that’s right. Just in case that you cannot wrap your mind around this, here’s a screenshot of the post:

ScreenHunter_1706 Jan. 31 08.24

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At the same time, I was being critical of The Vegan Society for its “You Don’t Have to Be Vegan” rebranding that made crystal clear that it was rejecting veganism as a moral imperative. You can read the essays I wrote about this here, here, and here. And, of course, there was the matter of my being banned by The Vegan Society in 2011 after I criticized the Society for taking paid advertisements for restaurants that served “happy” animal products.

On August 3, 2014, and, again, on August 10, 2014, Tim and I talked about these matters on Go Vegan Radio. Actually, I tried to have an intelligent discussion about these issues. You should listen and decide for yourself about Tim’s performance in these debates. You can listen to the August 3 show here. You can listen to the August 10 show here.

Whatever else was clear from those radio discussions, it was clear that I maintained that veganism was a moral imperative. Tim did not. I maintained that the welfarist position was both morally unacceptable and counterproductive. Tim disagreed.

Tim continued to defend The Vegan Society and to attack me in the most juvenile and unprofessional way.

In Spring 2015, Tim said he had a change of heart and agreed with the Abolitionist Approach. He thanked me for calling him on the matter with Fiona Oakes and The Vegan Society. He said that my “‘call to action'” had “transformed” his “life and work.” He asked me to come to speak at VegfestUK in October 2015. I agreed.

On February 1, 2016, after I had been disinvited, Tim stated that I should “be deeply grateful” to him and “respectful” of him because he had the “balls” to “take [me] on and promote [me].”

ScreenHunter_1730 Feb. 07 20.06

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Tim seems to have forgotten that it was he who approached me and said that the Abolitionist Approach had changed the way he thought about animal ethics. He claimed that he had come to realize that promoting Abolition at VegfestUK was the morally right thing to do. I never asked him to do anything. Abolitionists don’t need Tim Barford or anyone else to “take us on” or “promote us.”

Working with a small number of talented and dedicated advocates, we have succeeded in building a vibrant grassroots Abolitionist community all over the world and that community is growing every day. We did that with no assistance from any of the corporate welfarist groups or their advertisers, which is what VegfestUK is. Indeed, the large corporate welfare groups have done nothing but try to suppress the Abolitionist message.

This drama with VegfestUK is just another example of the hostility we encounter from the corporate welfarists and their cheerleading squads when we attempt to promote veganism as a clear and unequivocal moral baseline and educate people as to why welfare reform, single-issue campaigns, and reducetarianism are immoral and counterproductive.

That said, I want to say that I thoroughly enjoyed speaking at VegfestUK London in October 2015. The response from the attendees was overwhelming and I am continuing to get emails to this day from people who were exposed to the Abolitionist Approach in October. I enjoyed meeting and interacting with all of the wonderful people there. In December 2015, Anna Charlton and I spoke by Skype at VegfestUK Scotland in Glasgow. Although that was obviously a different sort of experience, it was enjoyable nonetheless. We’re sorry that we won’t be able to reach advocates through the VegfestUK venue. But we’ll reach them in other ways.

Justice for nonhumans simply does not fit the VegfestUK business model.

Tim claims that he is going to do a presentation at VegfestUK Brighton in which he will discuss “the merits of both the ideology and the approach, as he seeks to answer the question as to the value for activists that the Abolitionist Approach may provide.”

Putting aside that Tim is, at best, confused about my work, the idea that someone in the pocket of the large U.K. animal charities, whose lack of both candor and good faith are now clear beyond a reasonable doubt, is purporting to discuss with those at VegfestUK the “merits” of a theory that completely rejects what he and his friends are about raises some serious issues about deliberate misrepresentation.

In any event, in the end, it’s all about business. As Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters wrote in a song called Perfect Sense, part 2, “Can’t you see? It all makes perfect sense—expressed in dollars and cents, pounds shillings and pence.” Ironically, that song was on Waters’ album, Amused to Death, which, in many ways, characterizes both VegfestUK and the “animal movement” generally. It’s all just one big party and the animals are merely an excuse for that party. They are nothing more.

And being clear about moral imperatives and calling “animal advocates” on their rejection of veganism as a moral imperative, is, as far as VegfestUK is concerned, a matter of bad “marketing”:

ScreenHunter_1729 Feb. 07 07.20

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A social justice movement necessarily requires calling out injustice. The folks at VegfestUK unfortunately mistake a social justice movement for a business. And, in their view, if “marketing” means betraying animals by abandoning veganism as a moral baseline and supporting speciesist positions and campaigns, well, that’s just the price of doing business.

How very tragic that it’s the animals who are forced to pay the price.

**********

If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

If animals matter morally, veganism is not an option — it is a necessity. Anything that claims to be an animal rights movement must make clear that veganism is a moral imperative.

Embracing veganism as a moral imperative and advocating for veganism as a moral imperative are, along with caring for nonhuman refugees, the most important acts of activism you can undertake.

Groups that promote “happy exploitation” of any sort, or that do not promote veganism as a clear and unequivocal baseline and imperative are part of the problem and not part of the solution.

THE WORLD IS VEGAN! If you want it.

Learn more about veganism at www.HowDoIGoVegan.com.

Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Distinguished Professor
Katzenbach Scholar of Law and Philosophy
Rutgers University School of Law

©2016 Gary L. Francione

Postscript, added February 20, 2016

Tim Barford responded to my essay and confirmed my point (again) that he has sold out for financial reasons.

ScreenHunter_1735 Feb. 20 16.32

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Today, Tim also posted a comment in which he once again accused me of “shaming” other animal advocates.
ScreenHunter_1735 Feb. 20 17.52

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As I pointed out above, Tim seems to have forgotten that only last October, he published an essay in which Roger Yates argued that criticizing is not shaming. This again shows Tim’s complete lack of good faith. But it also exposes Roger Yates’ for his own inability to engage criticism of his promotion of new welfarist organizations, his support for single-issue campaigns, and other problematic positions he has taken and, instead, whining to Tim and Alan.

Interestingly, in the essay that VegfestUK published, Yates defended coming on stage (carrying a dead chicken) and interrupting a speaker and accusing that speaker of being a corrupt sell out. Yates claimed that conduct constituted “criticism” and “protest.” I agree with him (although I don’t believe in using dead animals as “props”). Let’s look at what I did that allegedly caused Tim Barford and Alan V. Lee to disinvite me:

1. I criticized Yates for trashing the Abolitionist Approach and promoting new welfarist groups, which is empirically true. I should add that Tim Barford in writing stated to me that he agreed with my concerns about Yates’ attacks on me and my work and Alan V. Lee in writing stated that he agreed that Yates was misrepresenting me.

2. I criticized Amanda Baker, Senior Advocacy and Policy Officer of The Vegan Society for rejecting veganism as a moral imperative. Again, I did that using her own words.

3. I criticized Vicki Moran of Main Street Vegan of promoting animal exploitation and used her own words.

4. I criticized VegFund for promoting groups like Mercy for Animals and having an Executive Director who sat on the Board of Directors of Humane Society International, which, among other things, has its own “happy meat” label.

So disrupting a speaker and accusing him of corruption and promoting animal exploitation is okay and what I did was not? To call Tim’s position transparently dishonest is the very nicest thing I can say about it.

But, as the essay proves beyond a reasonable doubt using with the words of Tim and Alan, VegfestUK needed to find a way to get the Abolitionist Approach out of VegfestUK so that Tim could make money. So he’s now embarked on an effort to re-characterize the Abolitionist Approach as being able to accommodate the rejection of veganism as a moral baseline.

That’s why he’s now featuring people like Yates, who claims that veganism is a matter of privilege and that we should not say that veganism is easy or a moral imperative because people who sex-trafficked or who are in abusive relationships may not be able to get vegan food. This ignores that it is easy for the vast majority of people, and that we don’t decide what is morally right or wrong based on situations like that anyway. It may not be easy for a child soldier to resist an order to kill when she or he is being told to kill or be killed or that her or his family will be killed. But that does not mean that not murdering is not a moral imperative.

That’s why Tim has people like McJetters, who promotes this relativist nonsense that being vegan is a matter of the “who you are space” mixed with the toxicity of identity politics.

Indeed, it’s all one big effort to recast Abolition in new welfarist terms: “great ideology but we can’t criticize those who reject the ideology.” That’s exactly what the sell-outs did in the 1990s with animal rights and that’s what the new sell-outs are doing now with respect to Abolition. Indeed, I gave examples in the essay, such as Tim Barford claiming that Viva! is both abolitionist and welfarist. That’s what it’s all about.

The Vegan Society Senior Officer of Advocacy and Policy Rejects Veganism as a Moral Baseline

In my essay on “intersectionalist vegans,” I carefully documented explicit and overt speciesiesm on the part of a number of figureheads in the intersectionalist movement. Whatever else anyone wants to say, it is crystal clear that, for example, Breeze Harper, a member of the Board of Black Vegans Rock (BVR), rejects veganism as a moral imperative. Indeed, Harper refers to the idea that we are required morally to be vegan as “vegan fundamentalism”—the very same expression used by all of the large corporate charities to trash veganism as a moral imperative. But it is also crystal clear that BVR, as an organization, rejects the idea that veganism is a moral imperative.

An interesting response to my essay has come from Amanda Baker, Senior Advocacy and Policy Officer of The Vegan Society.

ScreenHunter_1699 Jan. 28 10.02

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Amanda posted comments on my essay. For example, she stated:

As a white AFAB person, I see GF taking nine thousand words to say, “I vehemently deny and simultaneously aggressively assert my privileges. I will continue to speak over and try to dominate marginalized folx and their lived experiences to say whatever I want. I cannot accept that there are some things I can never understand

Here is a screenshot of that comment:

ScreenHunter_1583 Jan. 13 12.33

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Another comment from Amanda Baker:

To put it yet another way, GF seems to be saying, “I cannot accept that as a white male professor, I live daily with huge benefits from the unequal relay race of history. I cannot accept that I need to sit down and no longer be dominant, so that marginalized folx can act.

Here is a screenshot of that comment:

ScreenHunter_1612 Jan. 15 12.44

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Let me say that I have the highest regard for Donald Watson, who co-founded The Vegan Society in 1944. Indeed, I wrote the entry on Watson for the Cultural Encyclopedia of Vegetarianism and, more recently, discussed Watson in a forthcoming Oxford University reference book on animal ethics. But I certainly—and unfortunately—have a very different view of veganism from the people who currently run the Society.

For example, back in 2011, I expressed an objection to their taking paid advertisements for non-vegan restaurants in their magazine. In particular, I objected to The Vegan Society having an advertisement in their magazine that described a non-vegan restaurant as “A Haven of Peace & Inspiration” as I did not think that the animals, who were exploited for all of the dairy products and eggs that were served at that restaurant, would agree. There was more discussion here. The result: I was banned from participating in the online forum of The Vegan Society.

In 2014, I objected to The Vegan Society’s “You Don’t Have to Be Vegan” campaign. I applied to be a member of The Vegan Society so I could participate in a meeting about the “You Don’t Have to Be Vegan” campaign. My application was denied because, according to CEO Jasmijn de Boo, I brought The Vegan Society “into disrepute.”

Also in 2014, I expressed astonishment that Vegan Society “Ambassador” Fiona Oakes claimed that veganism is not “for everyone, I’m saying that it’s not probably for very many people. . .”

In 2014, I wrote about the involvement of The Vegan Society with “sustainable” animal agriculture and their partnering with vivisectors in campaigns.

In sum, I believe that The Vegan Society has lost its way and has little relationship to the progressive moral vision that inspired Donald Watson. The Vegan Society, in my view, does not see veganism as a matter of justice for nonhuman animals.

But Amanda Baker’s comments on my essay on what is called “intersectional veganism,” (I regard it as nothing more than another version of speciesism and essentialism) takes my disagreement with The Vegan Society to a qualitatively different level.

Amanda is taking the position that arguing that veganism is a moral baseline involves white privilege and male privilege. She is saying that it is racist and sexist to disagree with people of color and women who reject veganism as a moral baseline.

That is breathtaking.

Amanda apparently agrees with Breeze Harper, who rejects the idea of objective moral principles altogether (at least as they apply to nonhumans), espousing a form of moral relativism, and maintains that veganism is a matter of the “who you are space.” Indeed, Amanda states:

I’m based in the UK, but I cannot recommend too highly the work of Dr A B Harper including the Sistah Vegan Project.

Here’s a screenshot of that comment:

ScreenHunter_1621 Jan. 16 10.39

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As I noted in my essay, in Sistah Vegan, Harper characterizes veganism as a moral imperative as “vegan fundamentalism.”

Amanda rejects the idea of veganism as any sort of moral baseline. And given that Amanda is the Senior Advocacy and Policy Officer of The Vegan Society, it is no surprise that The Vegan Society rejects veganism as a moral imperative, which it pretty clearly does.

But it is rather shocking that Amanda would take the further step and say that veganism as a moral baseline is a matter of white male privilege. I am sure that many members of The Vegan Society believe that veganism is a moral imperative. I wonder how they will feel to learn that their views are not only not shared by The Vegan Society, but that, according to the Senior Advocacy and Policy Officer of The Vegan Society, their views are racist and sexist.

That position is troubling for several reasons. First, as Amanda acknowledges, she is a white female. So it’s a bit puzzling as to how she can make such a pronouncement in the first place on behalf of people of color. Second, there are many people of color and women whose advocacy is framed by the Abolitionist Approach and who maintain that veganism is a moral imperative. Therefore, it’s a bit unclear as to how veganism as a moral baseline can be a matter of white male privilege.

Perhaps Amanda agrees with other essentialists who, as we have seen above, think that people of color and women who embrace the Abolitionist Approach to guide their advocacy can be dismissed, ignored, or declared to be “tokens.” If she does agree with them, then I am shocked that the Senior Advocacy and Policy Officer of The Vegan Society would regard people of color and women in that way.

If she does not agree with them, then I am not all clear as to what she means by saying that my position that veganism is a moral imperative is a matter of white male privilege.

There’s really no good way to interpret her position.

If she is saying that women and people of color who agree with my position don’t count, that’s obviously problematic. If she is saying that veganism as a moral imperative is not a matter of white male privilege as long as white males aren’t taking that position, then it not only renders the moral obligation incoherent but also involves the most insidious sort of identity politics—moral principles are valid or not valid dependent only on who is espousing the principles and not what it is that they are espousing. And the who is linked to race and sex or gender alone.

Or perhaps Amanda simply does not see veganism as a moral imperative concerning justice for nonhuman animals. From this statement from The Vegan Society website, Amanda seems focused on the environment and climate change:

WHY VEGAN? “Everything I believe in has increasingly aligned with vegan as a solution; but it was the environment and climate change that gave me the reason to fully commit to vegan living.” – Amanda

But even if Amanda does not think that veganism is a moral baseline, you would think that she would at least be mindful that many people, probably including members of The Vegan Society, do regard veganism as a moral imperative, and that she would not think it a good idea to slag them off as racists and sexists.

Or perhaps Amanda was just plain pandering to folks (or “folx”) and was not acting out of any principle. Perhaps Amanda saw this controversy as an opportunity to attack me in an ad hominem way because I have been critical of The Vegan Society.

As I am not sure what why Amanda is taking this position, or what the position of The Vegan Society is concerning such troubling statements made by its Senior Advocacy and Policy Officer, I have written to The Vegan Society to ascertain exactly what is going on. Despite several emails to Jasmijn de Boo, CEO of The Vegan Society, I have received no reply. I was informed by Bob Linden of Go Vegan Radio that Bob invited Jasmijn and Amanda to come onto his show to discuss this matter. As far as I am aware, Bob has not had a reply.

In any event, one of the BVR Board members, Christopher-Sebastian McJetters (who, when I spoke with him, indicated that he preferred to be called “Sebastian”), weighed in on one of Amanda’s comments. In response to Amanda’s claim that my essay was merely a 9,000 word expression of my “privileges,” Sebastian said that he thought that Amanda’s “shortened version is much more succinct.”

Here’s a screenshot:

ScreenHunter_1623 Jan. 16 15.43

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A preliminary question of interest is why Amanda, a white, middle-class, highly educated person has a position that should not automatically be dismissed by Sebastian as reflecting her privileges. Let’s put that to one side for the time being.

I was under the impression that Sebastian agreed that veganism was a moral imperative. But if that were the case, he would not have said that my position was merely an expression of my privileges as he would share the position. He would have agreed that BVR and some of his colleagues on the BVR Board did, indeed, take positions that smacked of speciesism, and he would have been concerned about that.

I was, however, apparently mistaken and it appears as though Sebastian, like Harper, Aph Ko, and others involved in BVR, does not believe that veganism is a moral imperative. In that case, how can my position merely be a matter of my “privileges” because there are plenty of people of color who share my position. Sebastian may disagree with all of us, but there is nothing about the anti-speciesist position that veganism is a moral baseline that is a matter of privileges.

And why is it that a position that we cannot morally justify exploiting the most vulnerable victims is a matter of my white or my male privileges?

We ought all to check our privileges but the ultimate question is whether our privileges have resulted in our taking an unjust position. I would suggest that the privileged position in this context is the one that says that humans, by virtue of their privilege as humans, can exploit nonhumans and can reject veganism as a moral imperative. In my view, that is an unjust position.

Sebastian is one of the facilitators of the Intersectional Justice Conference that is being sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States. Why is my criticism of that a matter of my privileges? As I discuss in my essay, HSUS is an organization that disavows wanting people to go vegan, supports animal agriculture, sponsors events at which animals are served as food, and is among the most prominent—if not the most prominent—proponent of “happy exploitation.” Again, it would seem that the “privileged” position is the one that celebrates the support by HSUS.

I respect the right of anyone or any group to promote whatever version of new welfarism they want to promote. I respect that they are free to reject veganism as a moral baseline in favor of Breeze Harper’s “who you are space” brand of moral relativism or any other position that falls short of veganism as a moral baseline. What I will not respect is the cheap threat that if I or others—including people of color and women—criticize others for rejecting veganism as a moral baseline, we will be called “racist” or “sexist” or whatever aspersion those who use defamation choose to cast because they are unable or unwilling to deal with substance.

That strategy is not going to work.

I recognize that The Vegan Society has departed far from the vision of Donald Watson but it is positively breathtaking that Amanda Baker, Senior Advocacy and Policy Officer of the Society, maintains that promoting veganism as a moral imperative is racist and sexist. And it’s very disappointing that board members of Black Vegans Rock agree with her.

Bottom line: If animals matter morally, veganism is the only rational and morally sound position to take. There’s really no good counterargument, which, of course, is why there is the name calling. The idea that it is a matter of white male privilege to maintain that we cannot justify direct participation in the exploitation of nonhuman animals is bizarre beyond belief. But, at least, we all know where we stand.

With respect to animals, we all enjoy the most absolute of privileges. We hold their fate completely in our hands. We need a clear, unified, and consistent voice to effect the complete dismantling—the abolition—of the mechanisms of animal exploitation. And that will only come from what we say and do—no matter who we are.

Here’s a short summary for Amanda Baker and Christopher-Sebastian McJetters because she was complaining that the original essay was 9,000 words long and Sebastian has stated his preference for succinct expositions. And this essay is 2500 words long.

Bear with me, Amanda and Sebastian, it’s just two short points:

First, it is beyond shameful that the Vegan Society, founded by Donald Watson in 1944, employs as Senior Advocacy and Policy Officer someone who maintains that promoting veganism as a moral imperative is “racist” and “sexist.” Poor Donald Watson must be spinning—not turning, spinning—in his grave.

Second, because animals matter morally any use of animals exclusively as resources cannot be morally justified. The moral status of animals as nonhuman persons requires that we go vegan. One is either vegan or one is engaging directly in the exploitation of nonhumans. There is no third choice.

Anyone who disagrees with that—irrespective of their race, sex, gender, ability, class, or any other attribute—is morally in error.

That is 117 words. I hope that’s okay.

Here’s an even shorter one: Nonhumans don’t care about the race, sex, gender, ability, class, etc. of those who exploit them.

That’s 16 words.

**********

If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

If animals matter morally, veganism is not an option — it is a necessity. Anything that claims to be an animal rights movement must make clear that veganism is a moral imperative.

Embracing veganism as a moral imperative and advocating for veganism as a moral imperative are, along with caring for nonhuman refugees, the most important acts of activism for you can undertake.

Groups that promote “happy exploitation” of any sort are part of the problem and not part of the solution.

THE WORLD IS VEGAN! If you want it.

Learn more about veganism at www.HowDoIGoVegan.com.

Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Distinguished Professor
Katzenbach Scholar of Law and Philosophy
Rutgers University School of Law

©2016 Gary L. Francione

The Meaning of “THE WORLD IS VEGAN! If you want it.”

Many welfarist vegans and intersectional vegans do not seem to understand the ideas behind the idea that “THE WORLD IS VEGAN! If we want it.”

It’s really quite simple. There are three central ideas here.

First, this expression denotes that veganism is a moral choice and that it is one we can make today—right now—if we believe that animals matter morally. Moreover, it is a choice that we must make if we believe that animals matter morally. If we are not vegan, we are participating directly in animal exploitation. There is no way around that.

Welfarist vegans and intersectional vegans are into “journeys” and “reducetarianism,” and emphasize the difficulty of going vegan. They promote the idea of “compassionate” exploitation. They talk about veganism in a relativist way as a matter of the “who you are space.” For them, going vegan is a “sacrifice.” For abolitionist vegans, it is a joy. It is our way of saying “no” to the continued participation in the institutionalized violence against nonhumans.

When, in December 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono had a billboard erected at Times Square in New York City that read, “WAR IS OVER! If you want it,” they were expressing simple ideas: The Vietnam War could be over immediately if one man—Richard Nixon—decided to end it. And all war could be over forever if we made a collective decision that war was never an acceptable option and that we valued peace.

ScreenHunter_1697 Jan. 28 07.08

“THE WORLD IS VEGAN! If we want it” similarly reflects that ending animal exploitation is something that we can choose to do both on an individual and a collective level right now. It’s just a matter of wanting to make that choice.

It makes no sense to have words of justice and nonviolence coming out of our mouths as the products of injustice and violence go into our mouths (and we otherwise consume those products).

There are, of course, “desert island” situations involving true compulsion in which a choice not to harm nonhumans is simply not possible. But such situations are very rare and, even in such situations, harming nonhumans is not morally right—it remains morally wrong just as it would be if a situation of compulsion required us to harm another innocent human. Humans have been known to kill and eat other humans in “desert island” situations. The harm may be excusable in light of the compulsion in both cases. It’s still morally wrong but the moral culpability is mitigated because of the compulsion.

In over 30 years of answering questions about choices when one is stranded on a desert island, we have yet to ever meet anyone who was stranded on a desert island. We have met many people who simply don’t want to give up cheese. So shall we deal with the real questions, please?

There may be circumstances short of true compulsion in which people have very great difficulty in getting access to vegan food. Their conduct may be less immoral than the conduct of others, but it is still immoral. Abolitionists should apply themselves to addressing the social and other circumstances that place people in these situations but the moral framework is not to be compromised.

Second, many people already accept that harming nonhuman animals in the absence of compulsion is morally wrong. Indeed, most people believe that harming an animal requires a moral justification and that pleasure, amusement, or convenience cannot constitute a moral justification.

That is why many people—including nonvegans—react so strongly to “animal cruelty” cases such as those involving Michael Vick and Mitt Romney: they already accept that pleasure, amusement, or convenience cannot justify harming animals.

Abolitionist vegans urge people to recognize that what they already believe commits them to stop eating, wearing, or using animals when their only justification is palate pleasure or fashion sense.

Third, if every person who is vegan and who believes that veganism is a moral imperative convinced one other person to go vegan in the coming year, and this pattern repeated itself over a period of years, the world would, indeed, be vegan in a relatively brief period of time. For example, a low estimate of vegans in the United Kingdom is 150,000 and the total population is approximately 65 million. If each one of those 150,000 people convinced one other person to go vegan in the next year, there would be 300,00 vegans next year and if this pattern repeated itself for an additional eight years (600,000, 1.2 million, 2.4 million, 4.8 million, 9.6 million, 19.2 million, 38.4 million, 76.8 million), the United Kingdom would be vegan.

That, of course, is not going to happen but it does show how much more effective vegan education and advocacy can be if we choose to promote it rather than to pursue the welfarist campaigns and single-issue campaigns that promote continued animal exploitation.

In sum, THE WORLD IS VEGAN! If you want it.

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If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

If animals matter morally, veganism is not an option — it is a necessity. Anything that claims to be an animal rights movement must make clear that veganism is a moral imperative.

Embracing veganism as a moral imperative and advocating for veganism as a moral imperative are, along with caring for nonhuman refugees, the most important acts of activism you can undertake.

Groups that promote “happy exploitation” of any sort are part of the problem and not part of the solution.

THE WORLD IS VEGAN! If you want it.

Learn more about veganism at www.HowDoIGoVegan.com.

Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Distinguished Professor
Katzenbach Scholar of Law and Philosophy
Rutgers University School of Law

Anna Charlton
Adjunct Professor, Rutgers University School of Law

©2016 Gary L. Francione and Anna Charlton

Chris Hedges and I Talk About Veganism

Here is a discussion on veganism that I had with writer, journalist, and political theorist/activist Chris Hedges


**********

If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

If animals matter morally, veganism is not an option — it is a necessity. Anything that claims to be an animal rights movement must make clear that veganism is a moral imperative.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Learn more about veganism at www.HowDoIGoVegan.com.

Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Distinguished Professor, Rutgers University

©2016 Gary L. Francione

Essentialism, Intersectionality, and Veganism as a Moral Baseline: Black Vegans Rock and the Humane Society of the United States

I. The Problem of Essentialism

Racism and sexism represent moral evil. Racism and sexism involve a societal acceptance of essentialism, or the idea that biology or some other personal characteristic alone determines moral value. A good definition of essentialism appears here:

Essentialism is the idea that there exists some detectible and objective core quality of particular groups of people that is inherent, eternal, and unalterable; groupings can be categorized according to these qualities of essence, which are based on such problematic criteria as gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, and class.

Racism says that white people have greater moral worth than people of color because white people are white. Sexism says that men have greater moral worth than women just because they are men. Because this essentialism is the dominant paradigm, those in the favored groups acquire institutional power to adversely affect the lives of those in the disfavored groups.

All forms of discrimination involve essentialism. Heterosexism says that those who identify as heterosexuals are morally more worthy than others just because they are heterosexual. Ableism says that those who are conventionally-abled have greater value than those who are not, based simply on ability alone. In all cases of discrimination, some characteristic is said to describe a person’s “essence” and it is this essence—and not what they say or do—that determines their moral worth.

Speciesism involves essentialism. Speciesism is the belief that it is essence—in this case species—that alone determines moral value. Humans are morally valuable because they are human.

There is no doubt that the welfarist/new welfarist movement, which consists of the large corporate charities, has historically been sexist and racist (as well as discriminatory in other ways). Corporate charities are businesses and, in a patriarchal, racist, and otherwise unjust world, injustice sells.

Indeed, because injustice sells and because speciesism is the most pervasive injustice in the world—it is a prejudice shared by humans irrespective of race, sex, gender, sexual orientation/preference, ability, class, etc.—speciesism sells very well. And the welfarists/new welfarists have cashed in on it handsomely as they promote various forms of “happy exploitation,” that make people feel more comfortable about continuing to exploit animals as long as they donate to animal charities.

I have consistently opposed the speciesism—as well as the racism, sexism, and other forms of human discrimination—that I have encountered not only in the larger society, but in the welfarist/new welfarist movement, for the 30 years I have been involved in doing animal ethics and law. For many years, I have maintained that the “animal movement” is underinclusive. For example, in 1993, I wrote, with my co-authors Anna Charlton and Sue Coe, an essay which noted that:

The animal rights movement is seen as the quintessential bourgeois movement, comprised of white, middle-class people who are often apolitical, or, even worse, conservative, and who place animal interests above human interests, often to the detriment of underprivileged people.

We discussed the coalition between advocates for women’s suffrage and working class people that formed in the 19th century. We argued that animal advocates had to reach out to all oppressed groups to build a coalition for justice that would include all—including nonhuman animals.

The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights, which is simply what I now call the theory that I’ve been developing for three decades (given that “animal rights” alone is now a meaningless phrase), requires an explicit and emphatic rejection of positions that promote oppression and violence—whether against humans or nonhumans.

The Abolitionist Approach promotes veganism as a moral imperative. Veganism is not a matter of opinion, lifestyle, or particular circumstances. It is a moral obligation that binds us—all of us—just as do moral obligations that involve the fundamental rights of humans. To treat the fundamental rights of nonhumans in a different way from the way in which we treat the fundamental rights of humans is speciesism. The Abolitionist Approach maintains that if you are not vegan, you are participating directly in animal exploitation and that you cannot justify doing that.

The Abolitionist Approach is clear that to be an abolitionist vegan requires an explicit and emphatic rejection of positions that promote oppression and violence—whether against humans or nonhumans. Along with almost all strands of feminism, anti-racism, and other social movements, the Abolitionist Approach rejects essentialism—all forms of the idea that moral value is determined by personal characteristics such as race, sex, gender, ability, etc.

The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights is an idea. It is not an organization. There is no “donate” button. There are no requests for crowd funding so that people can be professional “activists.” There are no employees. There are no t-shirts, buttons, or bumper stickers. We recognize that the moment we look to make a living from advocacy, our advocacy falls prey to perverse incentives that pressure us to compromise our message in order to increase donations.

Instead, we have a growing grassroots movement of people all over the world—a diverse group in all respects—who volunteer their time in order to educate others and whose daily lives are an example of the peace they want to see in the world.

What unites us as a community is a belief that all sentient beings have the right not to be used as property; a belief in veganism as the moral baseline of the animal rights movement; a rejection of the idea of “humane” or “happy” exploitation, and a complete rejection of all discrimination and violence. There are Six Principles of the Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights:

Principle Three states: Abolitionists maintain that veganism is a moral baseline and that creative, nonviolent vegan education must be the cornerstone of rational animal rights advocacy.

Principle Five states: “Abolitionists reject all forms of human discrimination, including racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, and classism—just as they reject speciesism.”

Principle Six states: “Abolitionists recognize the principle of nonviolence as a core principle of the animal rights movement.”

We ought—all of us—who enjoy race and sex privileges to be constantly mindful of those privileges. Those of us who are in the middle class (and that includes many of those who identify as “intersectional vegans”) ought to be concerned about the privilege that we get from being a member of the middle class. We ought—all of us—to strive to ensure that we do not promote or defend morally wrong positions because those positions reinforce privilege.

If a particular position is immoral, the race, sex, or gender identity of the speaker does not make it better. If a particular position is a good and moral position, then it does not lose its moral force because of the race, sex, or gender identity of the speaker. To maintain otherwise would be to embrace essentialism.

II. “Intersectionality” or Essentialism?

There are some animal advocates who claim that the “mainstream vegan community” has failed to incorporate concerns about human rights, and has been racist and sexist. As I have discussed above, I agree strongly with this observation although I would not describe the welfarist/new welfarist movement as involving a “vegan community” at all. Indeed, one of the problems with the “mainstream” animal movement is that it has not promoted veganism as any sort of moral principle. Further, many mainstream animal groups embrace nonvegans as members, volunteers, and donors while actively denouncing veganism as extreme and unnecessary.

In any event, these animal advocates are promoting what they claim is a progressive alternative to what they label as the “mainstream” movement, by which they mean the traditional welfarist/new welfarist charities and the Abolitionist Approach. Indeed, a number of these advocates have claimed that the Abolitionist Approach does not go far enough. These advocates identify themselves as “intersectional vegans.” As part of their claim to leadership and authority as animal advocates, they claim that intersectional veganism provides justice for nonhumans and eliminates the racism, sexism, and other discrimination that has characterized the “mainstream” movement.

Unfortunately, many of those who base their claims to leadership or authority as “intersectional vegans” are pursuing an approach to animal ethics that is every bit as reactionary as, and largely indistinguishable from, the welfarist/new welfarist position.

As I will now show, these so-called “intersectional vegans” embrace speciesism in that, like the welfarists/new welfarists, they reject veganism as a moral baseline.

Instead of being unequivocal in support of the rights of all, they equivocate and negotiate on the rights and well-being of everybody, replacing a firm commitment to social justice with “journeys” and “spaces,” in which violence and oppression are excused rather than excoriated.

And instead of eliminating the essentialism of discrimination, they substitute a new essentialism that says that the rightness or wrongness of a position is dependent on who the speaker is and not what the speaker says.

Most figurehead advocates who claim to be intersectional in their approach to veganism and animal rights present nothing more than a variant of the traditional welfarist/new welfarist position with a new cast of characters.

Abolitionist vegans agree completely with pro-intersectionality, which is the idea that we need to recognize that certain humans are subject to multiple forms of discrimination. For example, a woman of color is discriminated against both as a woman and as a person of color. To focus on the racial discrimination she suffers alone is to neglect the sexism that she also suffers.

Abolitionists reject all discrimination and they apply it in the context of animal advocacy in several ways.

First, as part of their rejection of all discrimination, they necessarily reject discrimination that involves multiple sources. For example, in 2010 People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) had a fundraising ad that I criticized in which a woman of color stripped “for the animals.” This ad involved both racism and sexism (and the sexism itself involved not only the objectification of the woman but the idea that only certain sorts of female bodies are sexually attractive).

Second, Abolitionists seek to apply this intersectional analysis in the context of nonhuman animals. For example, I have long emphasized that although all animals are exploited, female animals have their reproductive processes and their relationship with their babies commodified. I am not suggesting that this involves the intersection of speciesism and sexism as that latter term is normally understood. But I am suggesting that the treatment of female animals is informed by a deep misogyny that pervades society and results in female animals being subjected to exploitation that reflects that misogyny. This is why, when I encounter a feminist who is a vegetarian but not a vegan, I focus immediately on how dairy and eggs trigger concerns that any feminist should share.

In criticizing “intersectional vegans,” I am not criticizing intersectionality as a concept. I reiterate: the Abolitionist Approach is pro-intersection (the use of the prefix attempts to avoid appropriating a theory that was devised by Kimberlé W. Crenshaw to discuss the oppression specific to women of color). I am criticizing a group of bloggers who claim to apply the concept to animal ethics and who end up misusing it to justify speciesism, moral relativism, and other forms of essentialism. The diverse and growing grassroots movement that is informed by the Abolitionist Approach is pro-intersectional. It rejects essentialism in all respects. It rejects speciesism. It rejects all human discrimination. As we will see, the non-Abolitionist “intersectional vegan” movement fails in both these respects.

Given that, as I will show, the “intersectional vegans” discussed in this essay are not intersectional at all precisely because they embrace the essentialism—including speciesism—the rejection of which is core to intersectionality analysis, I shall not refer to them as “intersectional vegans.” Rather, I shall use a term that incorporates the positions that they articulate and refer to them as “essentialist vegans.”

III. Essentialist Veganism: The Rejection of Veganism as a Moral Baseline

If we reject speciesism, we are committed to veganism as a matter of moral principle. We can no more justify killing a sentient nonhuman incidental to our institutionalized exploitation of nonhumans than can we justify killing a human.

But some prominent “intersectionalist vegans” or, as I refer to them, essentialist vegans, don’t see it that way.

For example, Amie Breeze Harper, who edited a collection of essays called Sistah Vegan, which is considered a defining text of intersectional veganism, tells us that her book is not about “preaching veganism or vegan fundamentalism.”

Here is a screenshot from the Introduction to Sistah Vegan:

ScreenHunter_1563 Jan. 10 17.01

Click to enlarge.

“Vegan fundamentalism” is the buzz expression used by those who reject veganism as a moral baseline to describe the position that is at the core of the Abolitionist Approach. To say that one rejects “vegan fundamentalism” is to say that one rejects the idea of veganism as a moral baseline.

And that is exactly what Harper does. I watched this lecture by Harper and she says very clearly, among other things:

1. “I don’t think any diet is the right diet.”
2. No diet is “universal.” “Your diet and what you need as food changes with the ‘who you are space.’”
3. As an example of the “who you are space,” Harper says that she stopped being vegan when she got pregnant because she “just couldn’t do it” and “ate a few eggs per month.”
4. Being vegan is “difficult” in certain places (and so veganism can’t be a “universal” obligation).

Putting aside that veganism is more than just a diet, this is nothing more than the “veganism is a sort of an okay default but it is subject to convenience, individual idiosyncrasy, personal journey, etc.” position. Such a position explicitly rejects veganism as a universal or generally applicable moral baseline and makes veganism a matter of the particular situation—the “who you are space.”

Is veganism a matter of the “who you are space”? If animals matter morally, it is most certainly not, any more than observing the fundamental rights of humans is a matter of the “who you are space.” Is the morality of rape or child molestation a matter of the “who you are space”? Of course not.

Maintaining that veganism is a moral imperative is not a matter of “preaching veganism or vegan fundamentalism.” It is a matter of fundamental justice.

Are food deserts and places where grain is fed to animals for export rather than to humans a problem? Absolutely. But does that mean that veganism is not a moral imperative such that we have an obligation to increase availability? Of course not. Are there problems in migrant detention centers if the choice is to starve or consume animal products? Of course. There may be situations in which the violation of fundamental rights may be excusable. But such violations are never justifiable. They never serve to modify or weaken the moral baseline. There have been cases when people adrift at sea have killed and consumed other humans. No one has ever said that is morally justifiable although, on occasion, punishment has been mitigated. But such mitigation never translates into a modification of the moral principle that taking the life of another human, with the possible exception of self-defense or defense of others (under very limited circumstances) is always morally wrong.

I made these observations about Harper as part of a reply to another essentialist vegan, Ruby Hamad (whom I will discuss further in the next section), who had mentioned Harper, and Harper commented on my reply to Hamad. She did not address any of my concerns about the substance of her position. But she certainly affirmed that she does not see veganism as a moral baseline.

For example, she claimed that when I pointed out that she ate eggs during pregnancy I was illustrating the use of a pregnant body as a “site of ‘moral baseline.’” But all bodies are “site[s] of moral baseline” as far as veganism is concerned. That’s the point. What we put in and on our bodies involves a matter of justice—as least as far as the Abolitionist Approach is concerned. That is what is meant when we talk about moral baselines or imperatives.

Harper expressed interest in how “individuals can be so confident that their ‘way’ is the moral baseline (whether vegan or not).” I am glad to share with her the basis of my confidence. I have provided arguments for why, if animals matter morally, veganism must be the moral baseline or the very minimum that we owe animals if we are to respect their moral personhood. Harper does not accept those arguments. In fact, she claims to reject the concept of baselines altogether, advising against being “fundamentalist” and claiming that her “personal ‘moral baseline’” is on a continuum. But moral baselines in this context are not a matter of personal preferences or views; they are universalizable moral rules that respect and protect the moral personhood of nonhuman animals. And if animals are moral persons, veganism is not a matter of a “personal” choice—it is a moral imperative that obligates or binds us all.

In other words, Harper repeated her claim that the morality of veganism is a matter of the “who you are space” in slightly different but equally morally unsatisfying terms.

Harper obviously does not see issues of fundamental human interests in this way. She couldn’t. No one could. She could not say that the morality of rape, or murder, or child molestation was a matter of one’s “personal” position involving a “continuum” and concerning which we should not have “fundamentalist” moral principles that were generally applicable and that obligate us to not exploit humans in particular ways at all.

But where animals are concerned, there’s no problem with taking the position that it’s all a matter of some variant of the “who you are space.”

Harper’s position here is reminiscent of some ecofeminist writers, such as Carol Adams, who claimed that universalizable moral principles were patriarchal and, thereby, objectionable. But no ecofeminist (or anyone else) would reject the universalizable moral principle that no woman should be subjected to sexual contact without her consent. It’s only when we talk about animals that we have a problem with drawing clear lines that rule out all exploitation where nonhumans are involved.

Another example of so-called “intersectionalist vegans” not promoting veganism as a moral baseline is found in the position of Black Vegans Rock (“BVR”), a group that includes Harper and others. BVR, a new group, will feature the efforts and enterprises of Black vegans.

In their Mission Statement, BVR states:

We aim to bring the Black vegan community together by focusing on our diversity, rather than our differences.

While we might all be vegan for different reasons, and while we might each be at different phases in our activist/vegan journey, we aim to highlight just how powerful we can be when we unify and celebrate our brilliance.

Here’s a screenshot of that:

ScreenHunter_1609 Jan. 15 11.00

Click to enlarge.

People can have vegan diets for all sorts of reasons but can still participate in animal exploitation depending on where they are in their “journey.” The expression “vegan journey” is, of course, right up there with “vegan fundamentalism” as the expression we see most often used by the corporate animal charities to trash the idea of veganism as a moral baseline. Where one is on one’s “vegan journey” depends on, in Harper’s words, the “who you are space.” Is someone who eats a vegan diet for health reasons but who takes off Saturday night to, in Peter Singer’s words, “allow themselves the luxury of not being vegan that evening” a “vegan” as far as BVR is concerned? What if that is what that person’s “who you are space” is?

In any event, it is clear that this Mission Statement is clear right up front: BVR does not promote veganism as a moral imperative.

In the FAQ section, they state that they are willing to discuss featuring vegetarians if the organization requesting to be featured “caters to both vegetarians and vegans, or deals with Black vegans in any way.”

Here is a screenshot of that:

ScreenHunter_1564 Jan. 10 17.33

Click to enlarge.

Vegetarianism is not a coherent moral position. One cannot distinguish morally between meat and other animal products, such as dairy, eggs, etc. To feature an organization that promotes vegetarianism is explicitly to promote animal exploitation. Would we think it appropriate to promote an organization that ostensibly opposes violence against children but “caters to both those who reject violence against children and those who don’t”? No, of course not.

BVR founder Aph Ko has another website on which she has an essay, “#BlackVegansRock: 100 Black Vegans to Check Out.” Many of the Black “vegans” on this list appear to be vegan only in a dietary sense and only for health. These entries also discuss that people went from vegetarian to vegan, or discuss how long they were vegetarian before going vegan, as though that has some relevance to veganism.

I note that one of the Black vegans that we are advised to check out is Robin Quivers. Ko states that “Robin Quivers is known for being the side-kick to Howard Stern on his radio program. What many people don’t know about her is that she has been vegan since 2007 because of several health ailments.” As far as I am concerned, Howard Stern’s program is one of the most reactionary in modern media and Quivers is an apologist for the misogyny and racism on that show.

ScreenHunter_1577 Jan. 13 10.53

Click to enlarge.

I am surprised that Ko apparently fails to see the problem here. The fact that she has added a disclaimer to the list that she “personally” does not think that the people on her list are necessarily “political activist[s], her inclusion of people like Quivers makes it difficult to understand her claim that veganism is a social justice issue. And it difficult to understand claims by essentialist vegans that Ko and BVR are providing a more progressive alternative to the Abolitionist Approach.

Syl Ko, another member of the Board of BVR, expresses the moral relativism of essentialist vegans and their rejection of veganism as a moral baseline when she says that people of color or other marginalized groups do not want white vegans to “dictate to us what we should care about and why and how.” Sound familiar? That’s exactly what welfarists/new welfarists say: vegans can’t take the position that veganism is a moral imperative because we can’t dictate to people. But if animal exploitation is morally wrong, then it’s not a matter of anyone dictating to anyone else. It is a matter of promoting a sound moral principle that the moral personhood of nonhuman animals requires veganism as a minimum.

Pax Ahimsa Gethen, also a BVR Board member, is a prominent activist in a group called DxE, which explicitly rejects veganism as a moral baseline and whose leader maintains that vegan advocacy is “harmful to the animal rights movement.” DxE seeks alliances with the large welfarist/new welfarist corporate charities. (Note added 1/13/2016: Gethen claims to no longer be active with DxE. But as Gethen makes clear here, this has to do with allegations of misconduct within DxE and other matters, and has nothing to do with any objection they (Gethen’s preferred pronoun) have to DxE’s status as a new welfarist organization that rejects the idea of veganism as a moral baseline. Indeed, in their explanation, Gethen reaffirms that they became involved with DxE when DxE leader Wayne Hsiung was disinvited from speaking at the 2015 World Vegan Summit. Summit organizer Bob Linden disinvited Hsiung after becoming aware of Hsiung’s statements critical of vegan advocacy and his comments endorsing the the large new welfarist corporate charities and seeking to work with them. Gethen objected to the disinvitation. Gethen has posted other objections to my position critical of those who support or promote welfarist corporate charities that promote “happy exploitation,” such as the groups that expressed “appreciation and support” for the Whole Foods “happy exploitation” program.)

Essentialist vegans have a position on veganism that is no different from the welfarist/new welfarist position.

Both reject veganism as a moral baseline.

Both reject the idea that veganism is something we are required to do in order to recognize and respect the moral status of nonhuman animals.

Both label veganism as a moral baseline as “vegan fundamentalism.”

Both talk about veganism as a matter of “journeys.” Essentialist vegans stand shoulder-to-shoulder with welfarists/new welfarists.

And that is precisely why one of the sponsors of the upcoming Intersectional Justice Conference that will feature BVR founder Aph Ko, Syl Ko, and other members of the BVR Board, and other essentialist vegans is none other than The Humane Society of the United States.

Here is a screenshot from the Intersectional Justice Conference page:

ScreenHunter_1565 Jan. 10 18.38

Click to enlarge.

[NOTE: Please see Addendum below: HSUS is now gone!]

As I explain and document here, HSUS promotes “happy exploitation,” sponsors events at which meat and other animal foods are served, employs a pig farmer as Political Director of the HSUS Legislative Fund, and has a President and CEO, Wayne Pacelle, who is on the Board of the Global Animal Partnership, the organization that formulates standards for the “5-Step Animal Welfare Ratings” program used by Whole Foods, which grades the level of animal suffering that the consumer wishes to purchase.

The Conference is also being supported by the Northwest Animal Rights Network, which promotes welfare reform and which links to HSUS, Farm Sanctuary, the Farm Animal Rights Movement, and just about every welfarist/new welfarist corporate charity out there, as well as to a person who continually and explicitly advocates violence against persons.

BVR founder Aph Ko complains that “veganism as a social justice movement has been corporatized by white people.”

ScreenHunter_1570 Jan. 11 19.59
Click to enlarge.

But she speaks at a conference funded by HSUS, which is about as white and about as corporate as it gets—and about as pro-animal-exploitation as it gets. If these essentialist vegans were really opposed to animal exploitation and promoted veganism as a moral baseline, would they accept funding from and publicly acknowledge HSUS and others who promote “happy” exploitation” and welfare reform?

Think about this question in a human context. Would those absolutely opposed to racism accept funding from and promote organizations that advocated racism? Would those opposed to child molestation accept the sponsorship of an organization that promoted sexual relations with children? Would those absolutely opposed to all violence against women accept sponsorship from an organization that promoted violence against women?

No, of course not.

But these essentialist vegans see no problem with doing exactly that in the nonhuman context.

I note that one of the white males speaking at the Intersectional Justice Conference, Will Tuttle, is one of the people who rebuked me for speaking out against the very clear anti-Semitism of the Kapparos campaign. Oh, how very selective is this supposed “intersectional justice”!

In any event, where animals are concerned, essentialist vegans don’t have any baselines or moral imperatives. As Harper says, it’s all a matter of the “who you are space.” To maintain that it’s a matter of moral principles that rule out the moral justification of any animal exploitation is, as Harper calls it, “vegan fundamentalism.” HSUS and all the other welfarist/new welfarist groups are fine with that; that is exactly their position.

And I don’t care whether it’s Breeze Harper or Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of HSUS, who rejects veganism as a moral baseline or refers to it as “fundamentalism.” That position is wrong irrespective of who says it.

Whatever else we can say, the specific brand of “intersectional justice” discussed above does not mean justice for nonhuman animals.

IV. Essentialist veganism: Only Some Humans Count

Essentialist vegans not only embrace essentialism in the form of speciesism in that they accord less moral value to animals than they do to humans solely on the grounds of species. They embrace it where humans are involved and accord greater moral value to certain humans based on characteristics that are morally irrelevant.

According to these essentialist vegans, only some humans can speak about issues of social justice and the question of who can speak is determined not by what they say but by who they are. As we will see, these essentialist vegans claim that the only legitimate speakers are women, people of color, or those from other marginalized groups who agree with their position, whereas women, people of color, or those from other minorities who disagree with their essentialist position are themselves “tokens” and not legitimate speakers.

For example, Australian journalist and essentialist vegan Ruby Hamad recently wrote an essay in which she excoriated the “mainstream vegan community” as not seeing the connections between human oppression and animal exploitation. I am with her there and have been saying just that since 1990.

Hamad then identified several men who are supposedly vegan but who promote misogyny and violence. One of these men is someone whom I have criticized for years for making misogynistic and otherwise violent statements, including bigoted statements about Palestinians. The other man she referenced was someone whom I had never heard of before the incident about which she was writing. But I was with Hamad 100% to that point.

I was, however, very surprised that Hamad then stated:

I am disenchanted that a movement that is comprised mostly of women nonetheless elevates white men to most leadership positions. Men such as Professor Gary Francione who thinks it is his place to lecture women on whether or not they can call themselves feminists.

And how was I “lectu[ing] women? It was this statement:

If you are a feminist and are not a vegan, you are ignoring the exploitation of female nonhumans and the commodification of their reproductive processes, as well as the destruction of their relationship with their babies.

So we won’t look at what I am saying. We won’t discuss my position that someone who is a feminist but is not a vegan is arbitrarily ignoring the commodification of female nonhumans. We won’t discuss whether intersectionality analysis militates in favor recognizing the particular ways in which misogyny as a general matter informs the use of female animals. We can just dismiss my position because I am a white male.

But how is that any different from the essentialism to which the essentialist vegans object because it has resulted in their not having a voice in the “mainstream vegan movement”? The essentialists rightly complain that the “mainstream” animal movement has excluded their voices because of who they are and not what they say. How does this represent any advance on that position? How does this vision of “intersectional justice” do anything apart from substitute one group of oppressive voices for another?

And, once again, we see that this essentialism results in a vision of “intersectional justice” that throws animals under the bus.

Hamad is unhappy that many women use the Abolitionist Approach to inform their advocacy. So what’s the alternative? Hamad tells us that Breeze Harper is an alternative. But, as we saw above, Harper very clearly and explicitly rejects veganism as a moral baseline and I very clearly and explicitly promote veganism as a moral imperative. I could understand if Hamad argued that both positions need to be examined. But to dismiss my position because I am a white male is essentialism that leads to rejecting the position that is more protective of animals because of the race and sex of the speaker.

And this results in promoting justice for animals how?

Hamad suggests ecofeminist Carol Adams as another alternative. I would suggest (as have others) that Adams’ work over the years has not been a model of clarity in terms of providing actual normative guidance as to what our moral obligations to animals are. For example, as I have written about in the past, Adams has rejected the idea of moral rights and universalizable moral rules in favor of a nebulous “ethic of care” and this has led her to promote positions that accommodate animal exploitation. I note that although Adams promotes veganism more than she used to, she also describes vegetarianism—and not just veganism—as a normatively desirable position.

As I mentioned above, consuming animal products other than meat involves animal exploitation that is qualitatively no different from the exploitation inherent in eating meat. Being a vegetarian is no more morally justifiable a position than is being an omnivore. Those who regard animals as having moral value simply cannot maintain that vegetarianism is anything but a manifestation of direct participation in the exploitation of the vulnerable.

Again, Hamad is not suggesting that we should examine Adams’ acceptance of vegetarianism and my rejection of it and discuss the differences. She is not suggesting that we examine Adams’ views on the nature of ethics and my views in order to determine which view best provides justice for animals. She is claiming that we can dispense with my view altogether and embrace Adams’ because she is a woman and I am a man.

There appear to be some differences between Adams’ position and Harper’s position. Hamad does not tell us how to resolve any differences from the standpoint of justice for animals between them for purposes of guiding our own moral position and for informing our advocacy. Perhaps we are to assign more essentialism points to Harper because she is both a woman and person of color. Adams is a white woman. The resolution can’t be based on principle because Hamad has made clear that principle is irrelevant—only identity is relevant.

But the essentialist vegan position as represented by Hamad is even more troubling. Hamad talks about how a predominantly female movement “elevates” a white male like me to a position of leadership. I am not sure what she means. I don’t “lead” anything. I am an academic. For many years, I was a practicing lawyer in addition to being an academic and I represented animal advocates on a pro bono basis. But I don’t have any organization. I don’t have any employees. Unlike some of the essentialist vegans, I do not seek or accept donations or ask for crowd funding. No one has “elevated” me to any position of “leadership.”

There are many women and people of color who think that the Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights represents a sound position and who promote it in their own advocacy. They embrace its radical egalitarianism. Hamad is “disenchanted” by that? And why is that? Do the voices of women and people of color who support the Abolitionist Approach not count? Are they not allowed to choose to have their advocacy framed by ideas that I have developed?

The answer is no. For Hamad, and for other essentialist vegans, the only voices of women and people of color who matter are the ones who, like Hamad, dismiss what I am saying because I am a white male and without any regard for the content of what I am saying. If they do not choose to have their advocacy guided by whatever it is that Harper or Adams proposes, then they simply do not count. They are dismissed as mindless automatons who, by virtue of a considered judgment that they believe the Abolitionist Approach is the most sensible theory to inform their advocacy, have “disenchanted” essentialist vegans.

Hamad, to whom I replied here, is not alone among essentialist vegans in taking the position that only some women and some people of color matter. Other essentialist vegans have similarly dismissed women who identify as feminists and who embrace the Abolitionist Approach, and have characterized as “tokens” people of color who use the Abolitionist Approach to guide their advocacy.

Black Vegans Rock Board member Pax Ahimsa Gethen characterized the diverse grassroots community that makes up the Abolitionist Approach as a “white boys club.” Gethen said this in the context of defending two other essentialist vegans who were engaged in overt, explicit, and documented bigotry. Here is a poster that appeared on several pages of essentialist vegans:

ScreenHunter_1575 Jan. 13 08.29

Click to enlarge.

I quite agree that everyone ought to be mindful of the privileges they enjoy, including the privilege of class. What I do not agree with is the idea, espoused by all too many essentialist vegans, that only some people of color get to weigh in on issues of racism; only some women get to weigh in on issues of sexism. And those who get to weigh in are not determined by the substance of what they express but only by whether they agree with the essentialism that allows for characterizations of the Abolitionist Approach as a “white boys [sic] club” simply because I am the person who developed the theory over the past 30 years and I am a white male. Those women and people of color who are involved in the Abolitionist Approach community are simply “tokens” to be treated with contempt and rendered invisible in the same way that essentialist vegans rightly claim has happened to women and people of color in the “mainstream” welfarist/new welfarist movement. There is no respect shown for the fact that those women and people of color have rationally chosen to use the Abolitionist Approach to frame their advocacy. It is very disappointing—and says a great deal—that BVR has someone who espouses such views on its Board.

All too often, any disagreement with essentialist vegans results in a charge of racism, sexism, or some other sort of accusation. This is particularly disconcerting when those accused of promoting racism, sexism, or other objectionable positions are people of color, women, or other members of vulnerable minorities who simply won’t embrace the essentialism of the essentialist vegans.

A gay-identified transsexual male who had lived as a female for more than thirty years and who embraces the Abolitionist Approach took issue with various statements on the page of an essentialist vegan. Rather than discuss the substance of what he was saying, he was dismissed for “mansplaining” and expressing his “straight, white, male privilege.” When he protested the dismissal and prejudicial behavior he experienced, and explained his sexual and gender identity, he received a half-hearted apology but then the entire post was deleted.

I fully expect that some essentialist vegans will say that I am claiming reverse discrimination on the part of essentialist vegans. Any such claim would clearly be false but some essentialist vegans have no problem with deliberately misrepresenting my position. In any event, I do not believe that people of color can be racist in a white racist society. I do not believe that women can be sexist in a patriarchal society.

As I stated at the very beginning of this essay, racism and sexism are about institutional allocations of power based on race or sex. Racism and sexism involve institutional power to adversely affect others. The problem is that in a racist and sexist society, people of color and women are largely without institutional power. So Black people cannot be racist in this society; women cannot be sexist in this society. They cannot engage in reverse discrimination because they have no institutional power to discriminate.

But people of color and women can hold unfair and unjust prejudices. They can be bigoted. And dismissing the views of people based solely on their race or sex or gender, or claiming that the only women or people of color or trans persons whose views matter are those who are willing to support the idea that anything a white male says is wrong irrespective of substance is nothing but prejudice and bigotry. It is disappointing that, apart from endorsing speciesism, so many of the essentialist vegans, engage in outright bigotry.

Linking value with personal characteristics alone, without a reference to class or the content of individual character has resulted in an identity politics that has led us to some obviously wrong conclusions. It leads us to believe that reactionary figures such as Barack Obama, Condoleezza Rice, Clarence Thomas, Ted Cruz, and Margaret Thatcher have a greater insight into oppression as a system and how to fight it—as well as a greater commitment to fighting it—than do activists such as Noam Chomsky or Chris Hedges.

This does not mean that Obama, Rice, Thomas, Cruz, and Thatcher have not experienced violence because of who they are. Nor does it mean that their individual experiences of that violence are not relevant. It simply means that justice—how we think about it, our commitment to acting upon it, and our plan to secure it—cannot be resolved down into recognizing the authority of speakers based on a “biological, therefore experiential, therefore moral” checklist.

Although identity politics arose from good intentions, essentialists have become every bit as reactionary as those they criticize in that they do not reject the fixed, limiting identities, such as “white, straight woman” or “black, gay man” constructed by the dominant oppressive system and reflecting existing social structures of power, but simply invert them to create new hierarchies and new forms of objectification and otherization based on superficial physical characteristics. So that now, for example, a person who is a “straight, white male” becomes the “other,” the “enemy,” totally defined by that category, regardless of whether he supports racism, sexism or heterosexism. Even if he strongly opposes racism, sexism and heterosexism in his values and the way he lives, he is guilty merely by virtue of being a heterosexual, white male and anything he says can be dismissed or construed as “racist” and “sexist.”

This essentialist position is not liberating anyone.

It is a trap and a dead end—a variant on the oppressive system which they claim to reject. In the same way, in the sphere of animal ethics, essentialist vegans do nothing more than produce a variant of the welfarist/new welfarist position that not only excludes nonhumans from full membership in the moral community but evaluates the positions of others based not on their substance but on their identity.

If we want justice, we must have: (1) ways to synthesize individual experiences into broader theories of justice and how we should respond to injustice, as feminists such as bell hooks attempt to do, as well as (2) a commitment to acting on those theories in an effort to end violence and oppression. This is why the Abolitionist Approach requires veganism. Theory and experience are means, not ends. Theory, experience, and good intentions without action are not enough. We must be committed to doing the right things to foster justice in practice.

Essentialist vegans talk about the privilege that comes from race, sex, gender, etc., but they largely ignore the privilege of class. Many of the essentialist vegans are solidly middle class people. Many have a great deal of higher education. But they embrace a politics of identity divorced from any concept of substantive economic fairness and the inherent unfairness and inequality that results from a grotesquely unfair distribution of resources. Linking value with personal characteristics alone and without a reference to class leads us to believe that a middle-class person of color with a PhD has more to say about oppression than a poor person—Black or white.

Interestingly, essentialist vegans have no problem with white people who embrace their essentialism and will join with them in promoting identity politics. There is simply no principled position that articulates a theory of justice for nonhumans or humans. In the end, it appears as though essentialist veganism is about nothing more than a group of people seeking to create career, entrepreneurial, and other opportunities for themselves. It has nothing to do with justice for animals, or with assuring that all women and people of color—as opposed to only those who embrace essentialism and its resulting identity politics—participate in a social justice movement for animals.

Essentialist vegans throw animals under the bus and simply rearrange the seating in the bus. Women and people of color who don’t buy into the identity politics of essentialism sit in the back with all the white males. The essentialist vegans drive the bus and sit in the front as they travel to their conferences funded by HSUS and at which Howard Stern and Robin Quivers will provide after-dinner entertainment.

The Abolitionist Approach maintains that nonhumans get to sit in the bus with humans. Justice for nonhumans is not a matter of some sort of relativist “who you are space” nonsense. It is a matter of moral principles that make all animal exploitation unjustifiable. And there is no hierarchy of seating in the Abolitionist bus. We have a radically egalitarian seating policy and it’s all a matter of what is in your heart and not any irrelevant physical characteristic.

V. Essentialist Veganism and the Slavery/Rape Analogies

Ever since the early 1990s, I have been arguing that the regulation of animal exploitation is not only immoral (if it is morally wrong to exploit animals, it is wrong to promote the supposedly “humane” exploitation of animals), but is, as a practical matter, doomed to failure because the property status of animals means that animal interests can never prevail over the interests of human owners. I have argued that the regulation of animal exploitation fails for the same reason that the regulation of slavery failed.

Some essentialist vegans seem to think that discourse of this sort presents a problem of “appropriation” because only Black people can properly talk about slavery. Again, we see essentialism raise its ugly head. We can’t look at what is being said, we can only look at who is saying it. White people can’t talk about slavery. Only Black people can.

But the position that Black people have some sort of proprietary interest in discourse about slavery ignores that the race-based slavery that existed in the United States (or the West generally) in the 1600s-1800s was not the only slavery that has ever existed. Chattel slavery existed before that time and it exists now. And most of that chattel slavery has not been along lines of race but along lines of tribe and religion.

Moreover, even in the case of race-based slavery in the United States, I make it clear that it is the legal, political, and social mechanisms of slavery that are analogous to the use of animals as chattel property. It is that discussion that reveals the requirements of abolition rather than welfare reform. The analogy is most sharply focused on the mechanisms of oppression—not just the resulting suffering. That focuses on the analogy with animal rights rather than animal welfare. The essentialist vegans think the slavery analogy is all about the suffering of the slaves. That is incorrect.

I have always been critical of welfarist/new welfarist groups that juxtapose images of lynched Black people with pictures or other depictions of animals hanging in slaughterhouses in the same way that I object to comparing animal exploitation to the Holocaust. Comparing evils in this way does nothing to advance understanding and has a great potential for misunderstanding and offense. But the fact—and it is a fact—remains that there are important parallels between the regulation of chattel slavery and the regulation of animal exploitation.

African-Americans have experienced-based expertise in the legacy of slavery, but we must all understand the mechanisms and supporting principles of slavery—human and nonhuman—if we are going to rid the world of this evil.

The regulation of animal exploitation fails for the exact same reasons that the regulation of chattel slavery failed. If a sentient being is chattel property, the interests of that being will always count for less than the interests of the owners of that property. In substantially all of the conflict situations, the property must lose and the owner must prevail or else there is no institution of property in beings of that sort (whether human or nonhuman). In both chattel slavery and animal exploitation, beings are treated as having only an extrinsic or external value; they have no inherent or intrinsic value. They are merely things. Chattel slavery (race- based and non-race-based) and animals as property are completely analogous in legal and economic ways.

If there is any dis-analogy as a conceptual matter, it is not between chattel slavery and animal exploitation. There, the analogical fit is perfect and inescapable. Many welfarists/new welfarists compare the regulation of animal exploitation, which they promote, to the struggle for civil rights in the United States. The latter involved—and continues to involve because equality is a very long ways away—the issue of how to treat persons fairly. Animals are still chattel property. They do not have moral personhood. We cannot talk about how to treat things in a “fair” way.

When I talk about “abolition,” I am not using that term to refer to the experience of slaves. I am talking about the mechanism that has been used in the past and must be used now to dismantle any institution of property that establishes and perpetuates the status of sentient beings used exclusively as resources for others.

In any event, to say that such an analysis “appropriates” discourse that is properly that of Black people alone is, I am afraid, transparently absurd. I am not using the slavery analogy to denigrate the experience of slaves. I am using it because the analogy helps us to understand the legal, jurisprudential, and economic reasons why the regulation of sentient beings who are considered as property cannot work.

Even those essentialist vegans who take a more moderate position and acknowledge that it might be acceptable for white people to talk about slavery assume that discussions about slavery primarily “center whiteness” and represent expressions of “white fragility.” The problem is that in a racist society, any topic can be used to do that. In any event, that is certainly not how chattel slavery is or ever has been used in the Abolitionist paradigm over the past 25 years. Chattel slavery and the exploitation of nonhuman animals share important features that make their regulation impossible as a practical matter and require their abolition (and claims making in favor of rights recognition and abolition) as a moral matter.

I should point out here in connection with my previous remark about class being as important—perhaps more important—than any other factor, that the Western slave trade was made possible by a pervasive indigenous African slave trade that had Black people enslaving other Black people and then selling those slaves to white Western Europeans and making a great deal of money doing so.

Other essentialist vegans declare that men cannot discuss rape in the context of talking about animal exploitation. That is, they cannot draw an analogy between the violation of fundamental rights that occurs in the context of rape and the violation of fundamental rights that occurs when we kill and eat animals.

As in the case of slavery, when I use rape as an analogical concept, I am not using it to denigrate the experience of rape victims. I am using the analogy because I believe it fits and it can help us to understand the deep structure of animal exploitation.

In my view, the use of words and concepts in contexts like this is a matter of analogy. Our experiences shape how we understand things but, in the end, the only relevant question is whether the analogy fits. Having been on dairy farms and seen the way that cows are impregnated and the way that they have to be secured because they don’t like what’s happening, I believe that it is analogous to rape as do many women I know who have actually seen what goes on in dairy farms, including women who have been rape victims. It is a sexual battery; the cows do not consent.

Rape is a violation of a fundamental human right. It is different from non-fundamental rights violations. It is analogous to the violations of fundamental rights that constitute domesticated animal use. The analogy holds. If someone is offended by the analogy and objects to its use, we need to know why the analogy does not hold and in many years of doing this work, I have yet to hear anything other than some version of “human women matter more morally.”

I was recently at an academic conference at which animal ethics were discussed but only as a part of the event. I argued that talking about “happy” exploitation was analogous to talking about “happy” rape or “happy” child molestation. A woman who identified herself as a feminist objected to my analogy. I asked her why. All she could say was that she did not think that exploiting animals was as “serious” as rape. I am not sure what she meant by that and she had no reply when I asked her what she meant. There is no non-speciesist response to that question.

And if we cannot talk about matters even as relevant analogies if we have not experienced them, then none of us can talk about the exploitation of nonhuman animals.

VI. Conclusion

Any difference between the essentialist vegan position as it is promoted by the people discussed in this essay and the welfarist/new welfarist model is superficial.

The result is the same.

We end up substituting one group—the “leaders” of the large corporate charities who reject veganism as a moral baseline—for another group of “leaders”—the essentialist vegans. Both groups reject veganism as a moral baseline.

When you criticize the speciesism and other essentialism of the welfarist/new welfarists, you are called “purist,” “fundamentalist,” and “divisive.”

When you criticize the speciesism or other essentialism of the essentialist vegans, you are accused of “preaching veganism or vegan fundamentalism.” But you are also called “racist,” “sexist,” or some other name. If you are a woman, person of color, or person from another marginalized group who criticizes essentialist vegans, you are ignored, or dismissed as a “token,” or also labeled as a “racist” or “sexist.” Any attempt to engage essentialist vegans on a substantive basis or, heaven forbid, to respond to the baseless attacks, is dismissed as an expression of “white fragility,” “mansplaining,” “gaslighting,” or “harassment.”

I certainly admit that the essentialist vegans have a broader range of insults than do the welfarists/new welfarists. But as far as promoting speciesism and other forms of essentialism are concerned, the essentialist vegans stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the welfarists/new welfarists.

And that is precisely why HSUS and other welfarists/new welfarists are sponsoring essentialist vegan events.

Those of us whose advocacy on behalf of nonhuman animals and the relationship between human rights and nonhuman rights is informed and framed by the Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights will continue to criticize and reject speciesism and other form of essentialism irrespective of who calls us names or what names they call us.

I respectfully suggest that if we want to achieve justice for humans and non-humans alike, we forego identity politics and instead focus on what is being said and not who is saying it. We ought always to be aware of the privileges we have—including the privilege of class—and be on guard to ensure that our privileges do not result in our taking or defending positions that are unjust.

But, in the end, the justice of the position we advocate must be the central concern of anyone who believes in a morality of principles.

And, on the “what” of promoting justice—for humans or nonhumans—essentialist vegans have nothing new to offer and have just introduced a new cast of characters to promote the same old reactionary, speciesist, and otherwise essentialist nonsense that the Abolitionist Approach rejects.

The essentialist vegans are not the first—and they certainly won’t be the last—to try to sell some non-abolitionist, non-veganism-as-a-moral-baseline message in a new bottle. But those who agree that veganism is a moral imperative and see all forms of otherization involving nonhumans and humans as morally unjustifiable will see those efforts for exactly what they are.

In closing, I want to thank my most excellent group of Facebook moderators, who, although many are “tokens,” gave me excellent feedback on an earlier draft of this essay. Marianna C. Gonzalez, Vincent Guihan, and Linda McKenzie read and commented on the later draft as well, as did Frances McCormack and my partner since the beginning of it all, Anna Charlton.

**********

If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

If animals matter morally, veganism is not an option — it is a necessity. Anything that claims to be an animal rights movement must make clear that veganism is a moral imperative.

Embracing veganism as a moral imperative and advocating for veganism as a moral imperative are, along with caring for nonhuman refugees, the most important acts of activism that you can undertake.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Learn more about veganism at www.HowDoIGoVegan.com.

Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Distinguished Professor, Rutgers University

©2016 Gary L. Francione

ADDENDUM, January 16, 2016

Note: This Addendum, which concerned a response to the essay above by Amanda Baker, Senior Advocacy and Policy Officer Unfortunately, to the effect that my argument that veganism is a moral baseline involves white privilege and male privilege, and agreement with this position by Black Vegans Rock Board Member, Christopher-Sebastian McJetters, has been published as a separate blog post and can be read here.

ADDENDUM, January 18, 2016

Black Vegans Rock founder Aph Ko not only rejects veganism as a moral baseline. She mocks the concept.

The background: Another essentialist vegan (a cisgendered white female whose views, like those of white female Amanda Baker, count, unlike those of the cisgendered white females whose advocacy is framed by the Abolitionist Approach) wrote an essay in which she argues that food deserts—urban areas in which fresh food is not readily available or affordable—are similar to the “desert island” scenario I have presented as involving a situation in which killing and eating an animal may be excusable.

The idea here is that in the “desert island” situation, one is compelled to kill and eat another being (nonhuman or human) or die. In such a situation, I have argued that it may be excusable but not justifiable to kill and eat the nonhuman (or human). That is, it is still morally wrong and not justifiable to kill another sentient being (in the absence of a legitimate claim of self-defense), but the wrongness of the act is mitigated or partially excused by the presence of the compulsion.

This analysis simply does not apply to food deserts and, in any event, it does not mean that, in food deserts, veganism is not a moral imperative. Food deserts are horribly unjust and they involve people consuming a great deal of unhealthy food. But even in a food desert, people can get vegan food, such as rice and beans, or canned vegetables, and usually more cheaply than they can get the animal foods that are available to them. Whatever else one can say about the injustice of food deserts, one cannot analogize them to a desert island situation where one will starve to death if one does not kill and eat another (nonhuman or human).

And, again, even if that compulsion were present in the food desert situation, it would not make eating animal products (or killing and eating other humans, or killing other humans to get their food, etc.) morally justifiable. At best, it would make it morally wrong but partially excusable based on the circumstances.

But veganism would still be a moral imperative just as would be the observance of the fundamental rights of humans.

In any event, this essay was posted on Facebook and someone named Louie Brie posted a comment:

“But veganism is the moral ba-”
“Shut up, Gary.”

Here’s a screenshot of that comment:

ScreenHunter_1646 Jan. 18 13.50

Click to enlarge.

It was liked by three people, one of whom was Aph Ko. Here’s a screenshot of her “like”:

ScreenHunter_1649 Jan. 18 17.52

Click to enlarge.

Aph also added a separate comment:

This should be a book title. lol.

Aph Ko, founder of Black Vegans Rock, not only rejects veganism as a moral baseline. She mocks it.

Gary L. Francione

Addendum, January 21, 2016

I see that HSUS is now gone. I am providing a “before my essay” screenshot and an “after my essay” screenshot.

Before I wrote my essay:

ScreenHunter_1659 Jan. 21 11.17

Click to enlarge.

After I wrote my essay:

ScreenHunter_1660 Jan. 21 11.17

Click to enlarge.

I do not know if that means that they’re still getting support from HSUS but they are understandably embarrassed to acknowledge that publicly, or if they have decided that having HSUS sponsor the event merely highlights their rejection of veganism as a moral baseline and their otherwise speciesist views. It’s certainly difficult to posture as “radical” when you’re involved with HSUS.

They still have the Northwest Animal Rights Alliance (NARN) as a sponsor. NARN is an explicitly new welfarist group that promotes the following welfarist charities on its “Related Websites” page:

ScreenHunter_1665 Jan. 21 17.31

Click to enlarge.

NARN also promotes a proponent of violence.

Frankly, the lack of intellectual integrity of these proponents of “intersectional justice” is matched only by the immorality of their explicitly speciesist position.

Gary L. Francione

Addendum, February 2, 2016

Christopher-Sebastian McJetters, Board Member of Black Vegans Rock, who supported the statement of Amanda Baker, Senior Advocacy and Policy Officer of The Vegan Society, that veganism as a moral baseline is racist and sexist, has written an essay. Sebastian states that promoting veganism as a moral baseline is racist, classist, and ableist. Unlike Amanda Baker, Sebastian has provided an argument for his position.

And it’s transparently speciesist.

Sebastian argues that people who live in poverty find it difficult to be vegan so maintaining that veganism is a moral baseline is classist and ableist, and since many poor people are people of color, it is racist. (He does not address the accusation that veganism as a moral imperative is sexist so that still remains a complete mystery.)

In order to see how Sebastian’s position is transparently speciesist, imagine making his argument in contexts involving humans and human interests.

When a poor person (whether or not a person of color) harms a human innocent, do we say that it is classist, ableist, or racist to say that what the person did is morally wrong?

Of course not.

We may (and I hope would) understand why people who suffer the injustice of poverty might act in certain ways. We may (and I hope would) want to eliminate the economic inequality that causes poverty. We may (and I hope would) want to take the circumstances into account when we punish in such circumstances although the legal system generally does not.

But we would all agree that any violence against innocents is morally wrong. The rule that we cannot justify inflicting harm on innocents is a baseline irrespective of who you are or your circumstances.

However, where the innocents are nonhumans, it’s racist, classist, and ableist to insist on moral baselines.

That’s transparently speciesist.

Even in situations of true compulsion—the “desert island” or “lifeboat” situation—, harming an innocent is always morally wrong. We may excuse it in part because of the compulsion but it is always wrong.

Making reference to Breeze Harper’s position that veganism is a matter of the “who you are space,” Sebastian says:

Frank and open admission of your who you are space doesn’t negate your veganism.

It most certainly does if, like Harper, you say that having veganism as a moral baseline is a matter of “vegan fundamentalism.”

That’s transparently speciesist.

Sebastian says that the question of whether veganism is a moral baseline:

puts veganism into a very small box when it is so much more.

Veganism is a tool to mitigate our privilege in a human-centered society. Veganism is a context to decolonize black and brown bodies. Veganism is a radical socio-political statement that rejects violence. Veganism is a gift we give to our children who deserve clean water and fresh air. Specifically, veganism is living action!

If veganism is not a moral baseline, then all of those aspirations are meaningless. If veganism is not a moral baseline, then what sense does it make to say that “veganism is living action!”? Sebastian is saying, in essence, that veganism is not the moral baseline, social justice is, and human social justice concerns can trump animal interests.

That’s transparently speciesist.

Sebastian ends his essay:

The bottom line is that until we promote meaningful and significant justice that crosses between communities, veganism is just another single-issue campaign.

You could say the same thing about campaigns against domestic violence, rape, or pedophilia. That is, you could say that they are all single-issue campaigns because we have not achieved the justice of which he speaks. But Sebastian would never say that about those human-focused campaigns.

Indeed, I am sure Sebastian would say that all campaigns that affect human rights are part of the effort to “promote meaningful and significant justice that crosses between communities.” I would certainly agree with that.

The difference is that I would include veganism as part of that effort as well and I would say that it is every bit as essential as any other effort to promote justice. Sebastian wouldn’t agree. He thinks that for me to maintain that principle is classist, abelist, and racist.

That’s transparently speciesist.

We humans have a lot of work to do to radically reform all aspects of our society. That is not the animals’ problem, and we are not justified in violating their fundamental rights while we work out our problems.

Gary L. Francione

A Case Study in the Futility of Animal Welfare Reform: The Animal Aid Pig Farm Campaign

Animal Aid, a UK group that promotes welfare reform, has a new campaign. Animal Aid wants your help (and donations) to stop a large pig farm from being approved and built in Lincolnshire. Here is a screenshot of the description of this campaign:

ScreenHunter_1555 Jan. 08 10.04

Click to enlarge.

If this campaign is successful, the facility will be built somewhere else.

The pigs will be tortured and killed anyway.

If Animal Aid succeeds in stopping this facility from being built anywhere else (unlikely to the point of near impossibility), smaller facilities will be built instead to satisfy demand.

The pigs will be tortured and killed anyway.

If Animal Aid succeeds in stopping all new pig facilities from being built (a complete impossibility), existing facilities will expand to meet demand.

The pigs will be tortured and killed anyway.

Question: So what does a campaign like this achieve in terms of helping animals?

Answer: Nothing. Absolutely nothing. If the campaign succeeds, not a single animal will be saved.

Indeed, the net effective of this campaign is negative.

The campaign reinforces the idea in the minds of the public that the problem is how these animals are raised and not that we exploit these vulnerable victims at all. This campaign explicitly reinforces the idea that pork that comes from a smaller facility is pork that is more morally desirable.

This sort of campaign reassures the public that it can continue to consume animals–but not from this sort of facility.

The fact that Animal Aid offers a “Go-Vegan” pack does not make an inherently flawed welfarist campaign okay.

The only way we are going to stop animal exploitation is to educate people so that they recognize that if animals matter morally, we cannot treat them as resources and that we have an obligation to stop eating, wearing, and using them.

We need to educate people to understand that, if animals matter morally, veganism is a moral imperative.

Look at it this way: the lowest estimate of vegans in the UK is 150,000. The UK population is 64 million. If each of those vegans convinced one other person to go vegan in the next year, there would be 300,000. If the pattern is repeated each year, we would have 600,000, 1.2 million, 2.4 million, 4.8 million, 9.6 million, 19.2 million, 38.4 million, 76.8 million. A vegan UK in nine years.

So you can do your part by engaging in creative abolitionist vegan education. Or you can spend your time or give your money to people who are proposing solutions that will not only not help animals, but will send the wrong message to people.

The choice is yours.

Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of Law
Rutgers University

**********

If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

If animals matter morally, veganism is not an option — it is a necessity. Anything that claims to be an animal rights movement must make clear that veganism is a moral imperative.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Learn more about abolitionist veganism at www.HowDoIGoVegan.com.

©2016 Gary L. Francione

Abolitionist Vegan Advocacy/Education Tips: On Health

Remember that when you are speaking to a nonvegan, you are dealing with someone who thinks that consuming animal products is as natural–and necessary–as breathing and your challenge sounds as bizarre as a suggestion that they stop breathing!

This is one reason why it is important to know enough about the nutritional aspects of veganism to be able to engage in substantive discussion about this.

Some claim that any discussion of health means that you are downplaying the moral point. That is false and applies only to situations where you argue that someone ought to go vegan primarily for health reasons. I am talking about engaging and addressing the view that animal protein is necessary for health. That is very different.

Although we say that, in our view, a healthy vegan diet is far better for health than any alternative, we always follow up and say something like: “But that isn’t the point. The point is that there is no evidence that you can’t be healthy on a healthy vegan diet. Animal products are not necessary.” And that is the point.

If people are going to think about the moral issue clearly, they need to understand that the moral imperative of veganism does not translate into a “you are obligated to do that which will physically harm you” norm.

Educate yourself so you can educate others. Here’s a good place to start.

Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of Law
Rutgers University

Anna Charlton
Adjunct Professor of Law
Rutgers University

**********

If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

If animals matter morally, veganism is not an option — it is a necessity. Anything that claims to be an animal rights movement must make clear that veganism is a moral imperative.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Learn more about abolitionist veganism at www.HowDoIGoVegan.com.

©2016 Gary L. Francione and Anna Charlton

Abolitionist Intersectionality

Principle Five of the Six Principles of the Abolitionist Approach states that the rights of humans and nonhumans are inextricably intertwined. Treating any sentient being as a thing is morally unjustifiable. All forms of exclusion and discrimination are interrelated. All forms of exclusion and discrimination constitute violence. Abolitionists reject them all.

AAPrincipleFive

Some who talk about “intersectionality” apply different and more protective standards when fundamental human interests are involved than they apply when the fundamental interests of nonhumans are at stake. They reject consequentialism and moral subjectivity where humans are concerned, but not where nonhumans are concerned.

They do not recognize veganism as a generally applicable moral principle–a moral baseline–that morally requires a recognition that we cannot justify participating in the direct exploitation of nonhumans. They characterize promoting veganism as a moral baseline as “preaching veganism or vegan fundamentalism.”

That is deeply speciesist.

Some who talk about “intersectionality” claim that only certain people can talk about issues of human discrimination and the relationship between human exploitation and nonhuman exploitation.

Abolitionist intersectionality rejects speciesism. All sentient beings have the moral right not to be used as resources. Veganism is a moral baseline. If animals have moral value, then veganism is not an option. It is a moral obligation that is no different from the moral obligations that concern the fundamental interests of humans.

Abolitionist intersectionality rejects all limits on who can be an abolitionist vegan advocate. Anyone can engage in creative, nonviolent, unequivocal abolitionist vegan education and advocacy regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, age, or physical or cognitive abilities.

Abolitionist intersectionality is egalitarian in all respects.

Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of Law, Rutgers University

Anna Charlton
Adjunct Professor of Law, Rutgers University

**********

If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

If animals matter morally, veganism is not an option — it is a necessity. Anything that claims to be an animal rights movement must make clear that veganism is a moral imperative.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Learn more about veganism at www.HowDoIGoVegan.com.

©2015 Gary L. Francione & Anna Charlton

Sexism and Racism in the “Animal Movement”: A Reply to Ruby Hamad

December 20, 2015

Ruby Hamad
Daily Life
www.DailyLife.com.au

Dear Ms. Hamad:

I read your essay about racism and sexism in the “animal movement.” You state:

This is the core of what is wrong with the mainstream vegan community today. So many of its adherents refuse to make the connection between human oppression and the exploitation of animals.

I am in complete agreement with that statement.

I would not agree that the statements about domestic violence from Durian Rider (whose name I had never heard until the domestic violence issue appeared), or the statements in support of violence and misogyny by Gary Yourofsky, represent the “mainstream vegan community.” Any vegan in my acquaintance would find them as reprehensible as I do.

But I agree completely that the modern animal movement as a general matter has failed to see the inextricable connection between human rights and animal rights. It has failed to see that the “otherization” of nonhumans is no different from the “otherization” of humans based on race, sex, class, etc. That has been a core concern of my academic work for decades and, with my colleague, Anna Charlton, I have regularly taught a course at Rutgers University called, “Human Rights and Animal Rights,” for many years.

I think that a good part of the explanation here is that the “animal movement” has, at least until recently, been dominated by corporate charities. These are businesses that seek a large donor pool, so they don’t take human rights positions. Indeed, they have an economic incentive to promote discriminatory positions to bring in donations. One only has to look at the virulently sexist and misogynistic campaigns of PETA that started back around 1989 and that seem to get worse every year. PETA would not be doing that if it did not bring in lots of money. Unfortunately, many animal advocates, including by your own admission, you, have made excuses for PETA. That has had most unfortunate consequences.

But let me say again: I am in complete agreement with you that the “movement” (if that is what you want to call a collection of corporate charities) has missed the mark here. And that is why I have, for about 25 years now, been arguing that animal advocates need to embrace a progressive vision of human rights and need to stop using discrimination as a fundraising tool. I publicly criticized PETA’s sexist campaigns as early as 1991 and haven’t stopped since.

Interestingly, when I sought to get Feminists for Animal Rights involved in protesting PETA’s sexism, I was told that FAR did not want to make any public statements about the matter because Ingrid Newkirk, who headed (and still heads) PETA, was a woman. Indeed, it was not until late 1994—when PETA’s sexist campaigns had fully taken root—that FAR issued a public statement about the matter. I have consistently criticized PETA and other groups for the use of sexist imagery or ideas in their campaigns. I long ago stopped paying attention to all the hate mail I get from people who claimed that I was “betraying the animals” because I criticized PETA’s sexism.

Over the years, I have cautioned animal advocates to be careful in how they expressed the comparison between animal exploitation and race-based slavery given the historical comparisons of Africans to nonhuman animals that were, in fact, made. I publicly criticized a cover of the now-defunct magazine, Animals’ Agenda, which combined a picture of a child of color with a picture of an animal (a cat as I recall) that evoked a critical response from many people of color who argued that the image portrayed people of color as nonhuman.

In my own work on animals as chattel property, I have made clear that the comparison is useful for one and only one reason: to show that the legal regulation of the treatment of sentient beings who are characterized as chattels cannot work and that property owners will almost always prevail irrespective of whether the property is human or nonhuman. I have always taken the position that posters showing lynched slaves juxtaposed with animals hanging in slaughterhouses are offensive because they can too easily be interpreted as crudely analogizing slaves to animals. I have received a fair amount of criticism for these views from animal advocates who think that what I am saying is that animals are not as “important” as humans, which, of course, is not what I am saying in that a central point of my work is that all sentient beings are equal for the purpose of having a right not to be treated exclusively as resources.

In recent years, I have been speaking out against the Islamophobia that is increasingly common among animal advocates. For example, I spoke out against the campaign against halal slaughter that Viva!, a new welfarist group in the UK, launched, and in which Viva! encouraged the public to boycott restaurants that served halal meat. See, e.g., here and here. I wrote, in part:

I find it terribly sad that Viva! chose to characterize this as an issue of a Muslim practice concerning how animals are slaughtered rather than that they are slaughtered at all. Unfortunately, Muslims do not have a monopoly on mistreating animals and Viva!’s comments encourage Islamophobia, which is already rampant in the U.K. and U.S.

I got quite a bit of criticism from that as recently as this past October when, while participating at an event in London, I discussed the problem of Islamophobia in animal campaigns and had a number of angry animal advocates accuse me of supporting halal slaughter. I tried to explain to them that I had done no such thing and that I was, in fact, trying to show them how Islamophobic campaigns harmed both nonhumans and humans by encouraging people to think that Muslims were morally inferior to those who ate meat from animals who had been stunned. But, as is often the case with people who are angry, I am not sure they heard me.

When reactionary “New Atheist” Sam Harris, who is very popular among many animal advocates, promoted the profiling of anyone who looks like a Muslim, I spoke out against it. My general position on the New Atheists—i.e., that I agree with Noam Chomsky that the New Atheists are “religious fanatics” who believe in the “religion of the state”—has drawn a great deal of criticism from animal advocates, some of whom have actually accused me of “discriminating against atheists” when, in fact, I just reject those who call for an almost fascistic obeisance to the state, as the New Atheists do.

I spoke out against the live export campaign of Animals Australia on several grounds, including that it encouraged Islamophobia.

I do not allow Yourofsky to be promoted on my Facebook page because of his statements promoting violence and his racist and otherwise hateful statements about Palestinians.

I have repeatedly spoken out against racist, ethnocentric, and xenophobic aspects of single-issue campaigns focused on the Taiji dolphin slaughter, whaling, and the consumption of dogs and cats in Asia, as well as the racism that attends just about any high-profile cruelty case when the defendant is a person of color.

I could go on and on with examples but I want to say, yet again, that I agree with you completely that the “animal movement” has missed the mark in terms of human rights. And I have been encouraging animal advocates ever since the mid-1990s to form a grassroots movement that promotes abolishing (rather than regulating) animal exploitation, embraces a progressive vision of human rights that rejects all discrimination, and rejects violence.

I was, however, astonished to see you say the following:

I am disenchanted that a movement that is comprised mostly of women nonetheless elevates white men to most leadership positions. Men such as Professor Gary Francione who thinks it is his place to lecture women on whether or not they can call themselves feminists. And I’m dismayed that critiques of prominent vegans are routinely shut down because these men are “doing so much for the animals”.

I have several observations I would like to share with you.

First, I think it is sad—and completely unfair—that, as a general matter, you appear to lump all vegan men in with people who treat domestic violence as some sort of joke, advocate that women who wear fur should be raped, or make racist statements about Palestinians. I recognize that such a characterization helps to get attention for your article in the same way that tabloid headlines do. And I recognize that the media are, as a general matter, hostile to veganism and always on the lookout for reasons to dismiss vegans. But your lumping all men in the same group was irresponsible on your part.

Second, my “lectu[ring]” statement (to which you linked) that you apparently find objectionable is:

If you are a feminist and are not a vegan, you are ignoring the exploitation of female nonhumans and the commodification of their reproductive processes, as well as the destruction of their relationship with their babies.

Do you disagree with the substance of that statement?

Do you not see veganism as a moral obligation, as a basic requirement of fundamental justice, as what we owe to animals? Do you agree that feminists who are not vegans are drawing an arbitrary and indefensible line between human females and nonhuman females? If you don’t agree with the substance of the statement, then we have a fundamental disagreement. But our disagreement would not be about feminism. It would be about what justice for nonhuman animals requires.

If you do agree with the statement but you object to the fact that I, a male, made the statement, then you are expressing essentialism which, in this context, means that only women can take a position on feminism.

Essentialism leads to the view that reactionary people like Margaret Thatcher or Carly Fiorina have more to say about feminism than any male does—however progressive he is. Do you not see that as absurd?

I agree that white people must always be mindful of the privilege they have in a racist society. I also agree that men must be mindful of the privilege that they have in a patriarchal society. I think it is imperative to listen to the lived experiences of women and people of color, which are all too often ignored or reinterpreted—and thereby misinterpreted—by conventional standards of meaning.

But that is very different from saying that only people of color can speak about racism or that only women can speak about feminism and that it is morally acceptable to label as “racist” or “sexist” anyone who does speak out about these issues—irrespective of what they say—just because they are not from the particular group involved. We need to look at the substance of what is being said and evaluate it on its merits, and not dismiss it simply because of the sex or gender or race of the speaker. What is morally right and wrong is not a matter of relativism, at least as far as I am concerned. (And that may well be what is at stake here, as I will discuss further below.)

Essentialism, far from being a progressive doctrine, is a most regressive and reactionary one. It is the enemy of progressive social change, which seeks to build a movement of people who subscribe to ideals about justice—a movement that does not exclude people or take the position that they cannot speak because of who they are. I reiterate: everyone who enjoys any privilege should, of course, be careful to make sure that it is not causing them to promote a position that is unjust rather than just. But progressives should reject the idea that it is the identity of the speaker—and not what the speaker is saying—that is the focus of the debate.

Third, you say that the “movement” has “elevate[d]” me to a “leadership position.”

What is the “movement” to which you refer? It certainly isn’t the “movement” represented by all of the corporate charities. It would be a hyperbolic understatement to say that they don’t like me much at all. Not at all.

Moreover, I do not have my own organization. I am not supported by any organization. I have no “donate” button. I am an academic. I write and I teach. My writing and teaching are certainly informed by the years I spent doing pro bono legal work for the large groups and others, but I am just an academic. I have absolutely no position within the “movement.” In fact, I deliberately emphasize in my work that abolitionist vegan advocacy must be a grassroots movement that does not look to any “leader” and looks only to ideas that reflect sound moral theory.

There are many people, including many women, who read my work and who agree that my positions are sound. For the most part, these women are not involved with the “movement” either in that they aren’t supporters of the large corporate charities. They are part of a grassroots effort. So the people who have, in your words, “elevate[d]” me to the “leadership position” are simply the people who find my arguments to be sound and my approach to address the broad range of ethical concerns that they have. I don’t “lecture” women. I make arguments and many people, including women, find them persuasive. My work provides a theoretical framework on which advocates can base their educational efforts in order to bring about social change effectively. Abolitionist vegan advocates are not only engaging in creative, nonviolent vegan education all over the world, but they are promoting veganism as part of a broad vision of human rights that rejects all discrimination and calls it out whenever it is seen in various animal campaigns.

But these people—these women—apparently don’t count in your view. And why is that?

Do you think they are merely automatons who can’t think critically?

If that is what you are saying, your position is completely dismissive and disrespectful of all of those women, including women of color, who embrace the idea that veganism is a moral baseline and a moral imperative, and who agree with the other aspects of my work, including the human rights-animal rights connection that is far more encompassing and inclusive than are many other supposedly progressive approaches. The Abolitionist Approach focuses on all discrimination.

Interestingly, essentialism does not appear to stop white cisgendered females from making all sorts of pronouncements about racism, transgendered people, etc. But then, I do understand that those who endorse essentialism can’t be bothered with acting in a principled manner.

In any event, the position you appear to be articulating is tantamount to saying that the only women whose opinions count are the ones who agree with you. Such a position is no more acceptable when the person positing it is a woman than it is when the person positing it is a man.

Fourth, I think that what may really be at stake here is that you don’t agree with my view that veganism is a moral imperative. That is, I suspect that you may actually want to promote a position that allows for animal exploitation and then claim that the problem with those who disagree is that they are white males or women who are automatons.

Who are the voices you claim need to be heard over those of the white males who exercise Svengali-like power over the hapless, feeble-minded women who agree with the Abolitionist Approach? You mention Breeze Harper (“Sistah Vegan”) and “ecofeminist pioneer” Carol Adams.

As for Harper, listen to this video starting at about 1 hour, 3 minutes:

Harper says, among other things:

1. “I don’t think any diet is the right diet.”

2. No diet is “universal.” “Your diet and what you need as food changes with the ‘who you are space.'”

3. As an example of the “who you are space,” Harper says that she stopped being vegan when she got pregnant because she “just couldn’t do it” and “ate a few eggs per month.”

4. Being vegan is “difficult” in certain places (and so veganism can’t be a “universal” obligation).

In the Introduction to her book, Sistah Vegan, Harper characterizes promoting veganism as a moral imperative as a matter of “preaching veganism or vegan fundamentalism.” That is exactly the way in which corporate welfarists characterize promoting veganism as a moral baseline.

Putting aside that veganism is more than just a diet, this is nothing more than the “veganism is a sort of an okay default but it is subject to convenience, individual idiosyncrasy, etc.” position. But let’s be clear: it explicitly rejects veganism as a moral baseline and makes veganism a matter of the particular situation—the “who you are space.”

Is veganism a matter of the “who you are space”? It is most certainly not, any more than observing the fundamental rights of humans is a matter of the “who you are space.”

Maintaining that veganism is a moral imperative is not a matter of “preaching veganism or vegan fundamentalism.” It is a matter of fundamental justice.

Are food deserts and places where grain is fed to animals for export rather than to humans a problem? Absolutely. But does that mean that veganism is not a moral imperative such that we have an obligation to increase availability? Of course not.

Bottom line: this version of “intersectional justice” is just speciesism embellished with superficially progressive jargon. It’s anything but inclusive: the animals are left out and are treated as sacrifices to the “‘who you are space.'” The fact that a person of color may articulate that view does not mean that it is not speciesist.

In any event, it seems that what you are saying is that we ought not to accept the idea of veganism as a moral imperative because some white guy promotes it. We should instead promote a speciesist position because a person of color promotes it. Those people of color who would reject Harper’s transparently relativist (or possibly utilitarian) position are just a bunch of automatons that “elevate white men to most positions of leadership” so their views can be ignored.

To call such a position intellectually vacuous would be the nicest thing one could say about it.

As for Carol Adams and ecofeminism, Adams thinks that rights theory is patriarchal and argues that we must reject universalizable moral judgments in favor of an “ethic of care” that calls for consideration of the “particulars of a given situation” rather than the application of a moral rule.

I certainly agree that rights have been used in patriarchal ways as a historical matter but, as a conceptual matter, a right is simply a way of protecting an interest. A right protects an interest in a non-consequential way. There is nothing inherently patriarchal about a right. A stick can be used to harm a woman but there is nothing inherently patriarchal about a stick.

Interestingly, although ecofeminists reject rights, they most certainly and rightly maintain that their interests in, say, their fundamental interests ought to be protected as a matter of moral (and legal) rules and not evaluated in light of the “particulars of a given situation.” I do not know of any ecofeminist who maintains that physical abuse should be evaluated in light of the “particulars of a given situation.” In other words, where the fundamental rights of humans are concerned, ecofeminists support rights concepts irrespective of what they say they are doing. But where animals are concerned, the ethic of care can play out in a very different way.

In 1996, I did a review (published in a journal) of a collection of essays on ecofeminism edited by Adams and Josephine Donovan and I discussed the various sorts of animal exploitation, from consuming animal as food (“contextual moral vegetarianism”) to breeding animals for companionship and to riding horses, that were justified by the various ecofeminist writers contained in that collection. But that sort of speciesism is inevitable when one rejects all universalizable moral rules and adopts a situational framework. Ecofeminists call it an “ethic of care.” Harper calls it the “who you are space.” It’s all pretty much the same thing—a rejection of the idea that we cannot justify any animal use whatsoever (for food or otherwise) and that veganism involves a clear and unequivocal moral obligation that we owe to nonhumans now as a matter of fundamental justice.

I note that although Adams certainly promotes veganism more than she used to, she also describes vegetarianism—and not just veganism—as a normatively desirable position. She uses both “vegetarian” and “vegan.” She says, for example, that “we should view meat eaters as blocked vegans, blocked vegetarians.” It’s rather difficult (if not impossible) to not read that as Adams expressing the idea that veganism and vegetarianism are both normatively desirable positions.

As far as my position is concerned, veganism is a moral baseline and anything short of veganism involves direct and morally unjustifiable participation in animal exploitation. There is no morally coherent distinction between meat and other animal products. Vegetarianism is a morally incoherent position. Being a vegetarian involves engaging in animal exploitation with a more limited range of exploitative choices—nothing more. Vegetarianism is no more normatively desirable than is any other omnivorous consumption of animals. The moral status of animals means that we cannot justify eating any animal products, wearing animals, or using animals as resources in any way.

In any event, if people find Harper’s or Adam’s approaches to be persuasive, that is their prerogative. If they are persuaded by my work, which is very different from that of either Harper or Adams, that is their prerogative. To say that those in the latter group are not critical thinkers but those in the former group are rests on nothing but a very unfair, demeaning, and ultimately indefensible stipulation.

Thank you for your consideration of my views.

Sincerely,

Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Distinguished Professor, Rutgers University

**********

If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

If animals matter morally, veganism is not an option — it is a necessity. Anything that claims to be an animal rights movement must make clear that veganism is a moral imperative.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Learn more about veganism at www.HowDoIGoVegan.com.

©2015 Gary L. Francione

ADDENDUM, December 26, 2015

Although my reply was to Hamad and mentioned Breeze Harper only as an example of Hamad’s problematic analysis, Harper posted this in response to the essay. She tells us about her engaged Buddhist practice but, as far as I can tell, does not address the fact that she rejects veganism as a moral baseline. Actually, she seems to reject the concept of moral baselines as a general matter.

Also, for context, I come from the spiritual practice and training of engaged buddhism, influenced by Zen Buddhism. Ruby Hamad and Gary Francione, I just wanted to let you know that this blog post is the impact both of you have had on my developing practice of engaged Buddhism and Ahimsa; these are ‘central’ to my personal ‘moral baseline’ [that will always be on a continuum]. I appreciate it, because what it has done is allowed me to practice responding to actions and impact and not necessarily ‘take the bait’ or be ‘ensnared’ into trying to defend myself or prove myself all the time; it’s teaching me to understand the difference between responding to an individual vs. understanding actions and their impact.

Here’s a screenshot of that:

ScreenHunter_1410 Dec. 26 16.02

Click to enlarge.

In other words, Harper has expressed the view that veganism is not a moral baseline and that the obligatory nature of veganism is a matter of the “who you are space.” I called her on that (indirectly as my reply was to Hamad). Her response: she isn’t going to “take the bait.” The “bait”? I commented based on her words. She is apparently not responsible for her words.

Perhaps she was not in the right “who you are space” at the time.

In any event, if animals matter morally, veganism is a baseline moral obligation; it is what we are obligated to do. Moral baselines are not a “personal” matter; they are a matter of moral principle.

As discussed above, Harper views promoting veganism as a moral imperative as involving “vegan fundamentalism.” From the Introduction to Sistah Vegan:

ScreenHunter_1453 Dec. 28 13.03

I am aware that certain people who claim to be “abolitionists” promote Harper. It is either the case that they don’t understand abolitionism, or they don’t understand Harper, or they are merely trying to appropriate “abolition” in the way that the new welfarists appropriated “animal rights” in the 1990s and turned it into a meaningless concept to further their own agenda.