On Johnny Weir, Single-Issue Campaigns, Treatment, and Abolitionist Veganism

Dear Colleagues:

As I stated in my blog essay, I think that the Weir matter was ill advised. Given that all the skaters are wearing leather, wool, etc., the effort was akin to trying to get one person at a steak banquet not to consume one teaspoon of her portion of ice cream.

The Open Letter to Johnny Weir from Friends of Animals is a perfect example of what I regard as the central problem of the single-issue approach: the letter is addressed to Weir because he announced that he planned to wear fur. It was not an Open Letter written to the whole team concerning the use of animal skins, including their leather skates or any wool or silk garments. There is no coherent moral distinction between/among fur, leather, wool, or silk. Weir very effectively deflected the Open Letter by making that simple observation himself.

Moreover, the Open Letter focuses on treatment issues and not on use, which I regard as not consistent with an abolitionist approach. Frankly, whether the fox was killed on a fur farm or in an unpadded trap, padded trap, snare, etc., is irrelevant. If the fox were raised in pleasant surroundings and killed painlessly while sleeping, I would still regard it as objectionable. The Open Letter suggests to the public that the problem is how the fox was treated, not that the fox was used.

As I have written (numerous times), less suffering is always better than more suffering, and I agree with that passage in the Open Letter: “Either way [fur farm or trap], there is nothing glamorous or pretty about the cruelty they endured. And it can’t be morally justified either.” But that neglects that although cruelty is an important issue, the primary point is not that the cruelty cannot be morally justified; the primary point is that the use—however “humane”—cannot be morally justified. That is the idea that we must present clearly and unequivocally to the public if we are ever to shift away from the paradigm of “humane” use.

And what possible difference does it make that foxes are “beautiful”, something mentioned twice in the Open Letter? If they were ugly, would it make a difference? It is precisely this thinking that leads us to be concerned about the killing of baby seals but less concerned about the exploitation of animals less appealing to us. We should not reinforce the notion that it is the animals attractive to us who matter (or matter more) any more than we should promote the notion that a “lovely” model appears in some vegan ad.

I support the efforts of FoA or any other group or person who supports ethical veganism (although FoA appears to spend few resources on vegan education relative to their new welfarist single-issue campaigns). But, in any event, promoting veganism is not necessarily equivalent to promoting abolition, which, for the reasons that I have stated in my books, articles, and essays, excludes these sorts of single-issue campaigns and treatment approaches. That is one reason why I often use the expression abolitionist vegan. Not all vegans are necessarily abolitionists.

I certainly wish that HSUS would launch a “Go Vegan” campaign, but even if it did so, that would not make HSUS an abolitionist organization. The fact that a group promotes veganism does not mean that it is still not a new welfarist group if it continues to promote welfare reform and single-issue campaigns. In fact, if HSUS had a “Go Vegan” campaign, HSUS and FoA would look very similar! (FoA has a number of these single-issue campaigns.) Perhaps that explains why FoA was opposing the “Go Vegan” approach that I urged HSUS to adopt. FoA may have been trying to avoid becoming “HSUS lite” and to stay in the second faction that Vincent Guihan identified in his essay Of HSUS and Hegemony: Abolitionist Veganism as a Rising Force.

As I mentioned in the earlier essay, I have extended an open invitation to Priscilla Feral to discuss these issues with me on a podcast. I hope that she will accept my invitation.

THE WORLD IS VEGAN! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
©2010 Gary L. Francione