Casey Taft, who co-owns Vegan Publishers with his spouse, has written an essay in which he attacks a “well-known advocate” for “silencing fellow advocates.” He is well aware that the essay is being interpreted to refer to me and that is precisely what he intended.
I have several responses:
First, Taft claims that I “silenced” advocates in connection with their inclusion in his book, Motivational Methods for Vegan Advocacy: A Clinical Psychology Perspective. He states:
I sent out a manuscript draft to a well-known advocate for feedback. This individual told me that if I didn’t remove references to certain pro-intersectional activists, all of whom were women and/or people of color (and therefore already struggle to have their voices heard), he would withhold support for the book.
If there was any “silencing” of “women and/or people of color ([who]…therefore already struggle to have their voices heard),” it was Taft who did the silencing. He had total control over the content of his book. He is the author. He is the publisher. He chose to make whatever edits he made.
Taft sent me his manuscript (which I still possess) and asked me to review it. In a telephone call, I pointed out that several of the people he used as references promoted speciesist positions and rejected veganism as a moral imperative or had dishonestly and irresponsibly characterized the Abolitionist Approach as racist or sexist, or both. Taft seemed largely unaware of the problem. I discussed it with him.
Taft and I had a subsequent email exchange in which Taft explicitly recognized in writing that several of these people did have problematic positions. For example, in response to my concerns that these people promoted speciesist positions, he admitted that he cited the book of one of these “intersectionalists,” a woman of color, before he read the book fully. He stated in writing that, after reading her book, he recognized the speciesiesm problem. When Taft’s book was published, the reference was removed.
With respect to another “intersectionalist,” also a woman of color, I pointed out where she had mocked the idea of veganism as a moral baseline. Taft admitted in writing that her statement was problematic and he removed a reference to her and to her organization from his book. Taft later told me that Vegan Publishers was no longer publishing this person’s book (she had apparently been under contract with Taft).
With respect to yet another “intersectionalist,” a man of color, I provided Taft with considerable evidence that this person advocated a speciesist position. Taft claimed that this person was not the same as some of the other “intersectionalists” that he acknowledged advocated speciesist positions. (I disagreed and offered support for my view; Taft did not.) Taft nevertheless removed this person entirely from the text of the book (he was discussed over several paragraphs) and left him as a single citation.
Taft retained citations to two white women whom I had identified as promoting problematic positions. With respect to one of those women, Taft stated in writing (several times) that he recognized that her position was problematic and that she was responsible for “drama.” Indeed, he grouped her with one of the women of color whose reference he had removed because of the substantive problems with her position.
In any event, given that he and his spouse are the publishers of his book, there’s an easy solution to the problem of the people he “silenced” by removing from the book: reprint the book, which Taft could do because he’s the publisher, and replace those references. He could replace them in the Kindle version immediately. He could even add more about them. Problem solved. Whining stopped.
Taft now characterizes his actions as responding to a “threat” from me and claims that my concerns had “nothing to do with the actual book content” (Taft’s emphasis). He is claiming that I wanted those references removed for personal reasons. Taft has repeated his remarkable claim that my concerns about the inclusion of these people in his book did not involve theoretical differences:
“[S]worn enemies”? Oh, the drama.
Taft’s claim is contradicted explicitly and repeatedly by the email exchange between us, which focused very much on the philosophical differences of the people we were discussing. There was nothing of a personal nature (i.e., concerns that did not address some aspect of substance) discussed. All our discussions focused on speciesism, claims that my work was racist or sexist, or both.
But let’s for a moment ignore the facts of what happened. For the sake of argument, let’s look at the situation as if we were to accept Taft’s false statement that I just wanted those people removed for some “personal feelings rather than philosophical disputes” and that I “threatened” him with my not supporting his book in order to vindicate those “personal feelings.”
Does that help Taft? No. On the contrary, it makes matters worse for him.
If Taft made the edits he made not because I had made substantive arguments that convinced him, but only because he wanted to indulge my “personal feelings,” and to thereby get me to promote his book, then he silenced those women and people of color only so that he could sell more books. If that is what he did, then he should be ashamed of himself.
So if Taft thinks that my recommending that he remove references amounted to “abuse” of the people who would have been referenced, then he—as the person who had complete control of his book and who chose to remove them—is the party responsible for that “abuse.”
I should add that at no time during those exchanges did Taft say a single word about my supposedly “silencing” or “abusing” anyone. On the contrary, he engaged my comments and he deleted certain references from his book. Indeed, in March, after the book was published, he thanked me for my comments. He even stated, in writing, that he found “irrational” the claims of people who had “personal” issues with me and who, as a result, rejected my work, which he claimed, all advocates should read. Taft’s accusations of “silencing” and “abuse” are not only baseless and absurd; they were made in manifest bad faith.
In the interests of not embarrassing Taft and the people that he and I discussed, I will not quote the email exchange we had.
Second, Taft claims that I “caus[ed] others to lose their jobs on the basis of personal grudges.” That statement is false and Taft made that statement knowing that it was false or acting in reckless disregard of the truth. I do not employ anyone and I have no ability to “caus[e] others to lose their jobs.”
Third, Taft claims that I have “silenced” and “abus[ed]” people by “having speakers removed from conferences.”
Taft’s position is absurd.
If I am invited to speak at a conference, and I respond to the invitation by saying that I refuse to participate in an event with people who promote animal exploitation, or who engage in other behavior that I find to be fundamentally morally wrong, and the organizer of the event chooses to have me there, I am not “silencing” or “abusing” anyone. I am exercising my right to choose the activities in which I participate and the organizer is making a choice as to whom they wish to have at their event.
There are a number of welfarists who refuse to participate in an event if I am also speaking. It has never occurred to me to claim that I was being “abused” or “silenced” by virtue of their exercise of their choice. I was disinvited from speaking at VegfestUK. Taft knew I had been disinvited but he spoke there anyway. As far as I know, Taft did not raise any claim that I was “abused” or “silenced.”
Taft’s characterization of not being invited to a conference as analogous to physical abuse (which he does in an earlier essay that he also intended to refer to me) is an absolutely breathtaking insult to those who suffer domestic abuse and other forms of physical abuse.
And it is 2016. No one who wants to speak can be silenced anymore. Everyone has their websites, YouTube channels, podcasts, Facebook pages, etc. To claim that not being invited to any particular event constitutes “silencing” is, as an empirical matter, not only false, it is absurd.
As a general matter, in addition to Taft’s co-opting the narratives of domestic abuse, I am concerned that Taft is misusing his status as an expert in trauma and abuse to retaliate against people who have different substantive views from his own, or to protect his company, Vegan Publishers, or both. Taft is unable or unwilling to deal with substantive arguments. So he’s just going to attempt to win those arguments by declaring his opponents to be “abusers” or to have various problematic psychological characteristics.
In addition to declaring those who disagree with him to be “abusers,” Taft appears to be willing to discuss the psychological status of other advocates. For example, Taft made statements to me on the phone (and I have very good notes) about another animal advocate whom he said had made certain accusations against him. He stated that this person was a victim of PTSD and suffered from all sorts of anxieties and insecurities in connection with her academic career.
If Taft had assembled his psychological profile of this person based on direct contact with her, then his comments to me were at least ethically questionable as I would have thought he would have some duty of confidentiality. If not, and he was just “guessing” about her based on her behavior, then he perhaps should be writing psychological profiles for fortune cookies or tabloid astrological columns.
In any event, Taft needs to stop misusing his position and attempting to psychologize substantive disagreement on matters of animal ethics. That is dishonest and dangerous.
Fourth, Taft admonishes us “to hold ourselves to the highest possible standards of conduct if we want to help teach others to behave ethically with respect to nonhuman and human animals.”
I could not agree more.
That is precisely why I object when I am called names in response to my substantive criticisms of the so-called “intersectionalist” position as speciesist.
For example, a Staff Writer for Vegan Publishers who identifies as an “intersectionalist,” has publicly accused me of racism and sexism because I object to the overt speciesism of this person and certain others who claim to be “intersectionalist.” In addition, he has called me more colorful names, such as “asshole” (actually, he called me an “ASSHOLE” in all caps in a Facebook comment) and “a complete piece of shit” on a public YouTube video. He participated in a Facebook page that Facebook agreed constituted harassment. Facebook removed the entire page, which is a very unusual action for Facebook to take. That page attacked me and members of my family, including posting pictures of my home and menacing comments suggesting actual physical violence. Taft’s Staff Writer even “liked” a suggestion that the harassing page be revived.
Taft has given his unqualified support to his Staff Writer.
Taft himself regularly participates on Facebook pages and groups in which I am attacked in ad hominem ways.
Taft pontificating to anyone about their need to observe “the highest possible standards of conduct” is, I fear, hypocritical in an extreme way.
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 must be a moral imperative. Veganism is not a matter of the “who you are space” and insisting on veganism as a moral imperative is not “divisive,” “fundamentalist,” “racist,” “sexist,” “ableist,” or a matter of any “journey.”
If animals matter morally, veganism is a simple matter of justice.
Learn more about veganism at www.HowDoIGoVegan.com.
Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Distinguished Professor, Rutgers University School of Law
©2016 Gary L. Francione
ADDENDUM (May 15, 2016)
I posted this essay on the Abolitionist Approach Facebook Page. A victim of domestic abuse posted this comment, which deals with the trivialization of violence:
Dear Professor Francione,
I understand that you have requested that there be no comments on this thread, but I was very distressed by a recent post of Dr Taft’s that talked about interpersonal disagreements in the context of domestic abuse, and he has not responded to me.
This is what I wrote in the comments section on his blog post. He hasn’t responded to me, and it is a month on. I thought I was being civil, and I really thought my comment warranted a response:
“As a survivor of domestic violence, I am very worried and hurt by what I feel to be a rather reductive view of psychological abuse, especially given the author’s training and expertise. Your list of sources cited places this discussion firmly within the context of domestic violence, and I therefore feel the need to speak out. I am writing anonymously because my abuser still has such a hold over me that even years later I still fear my own shadow, and am working hard to try to recover from something that I have trouble acknowledging as not my fault.
Here’s the thing: psychological abuse in domestic relationships relies on a psychological bond between victim and abuser that is utterly unlike anything that we find in online spaces. The abuser works to make the victim feel that they are dependent on them for everything. The abuser undermines most of the victim’s independence from them: they often exert financial control, even when it is the victim who is earning the money; they often tell the victim how to dress; they may control not only where the victim goes and who they see, but also how they get there. This is a relationship of total control, where the abused is ground down so far that they feel thankful to the abuser for moments of “permitted” independence. This is not a series of isolated incidents that interfere with an otherwise pleasant day. This is in no way comparable to someone trying to persuade someone else to remove references to an author, or name-calling, or no-platforming. Domestic abuse permeates every single aspect of one’s life, and I can tell you that years after it ends you’re never free of it.
The DV relationship is markedly complex, and it involves periods of pleasantness (that experts in domestic abuse refer to as “honeymoon periods”) followed by periods of isolation, denigration and demeaning. This is cyclical, and it repeats itself endlessly. The periods of pleasantness build the victim up and create trust in the abuser, and the rapidly-following and unexpected periods of isolation, denigration and demeaning cause the victim to believe that it is they who caused the episode of unpleasantness, and that they therefore deserve whatever comes of it: beatings, locking up, prolonged silent treatment, insults, etc. Again, this is in no way comparable to an online situation where we do not experience the intimacy, level of control, dependency, or cycles of good and bad that define the abusive relationship of DV. When you are in a situation of domestic abuse, you cannot escape your abuser. They are everywhere you turn. And even when they’re gone from your life, if you’re lucky enough to get away from then, they’re everywhere you turn.
Is unfriending of a relative stranger on Facebook psychological abuse? Is factionalism psychological abuse? Is removing someone from a food group because they won’t adhere to the rules of the group psychological abuse? Is deciding that someone can’t speak at a conference because it’s a conference on nineteenth-century German railroads and they want to speak on quantum physics psychological abuse? Is telling someone directly or indirectly that you can’t trust them, and therefore won’t associate with them, psychological abuse because they’re buddying up to someone who is intent on defaming you or trashing you?
None of these things, nor the things listed by Taft are instances of psychological abuse. At worst, they could be described as unpleasantness . But that is not abuse. And that doesn’t even come close to what the victim of domestic violence will have experienced every day for many years: that sense of self-doubt that permeates every moment of their lives, the sense of internalised resentment they feel towards themselves, their gratitude to the abuser for showing them kindness from time to time.
And I am extremely angry, hurt, and disappointed that someone who works with those involved in domestic abuse situations would dare to co-opt something so deeply traumatic and so difficult to recover from in order to create a “gotcha.””
Someone responded that they didn’t have a problem with the term. I replied with this:
“I appreciate that you have no problem with the author’s use of the term, and I’m glad for that. I do have a problem with it, however, and writing the comment that I wrote left me in great distress; it brought things back to me that I am trying to keep buried because I’m not ready to deal with them yet. But I had to write what I wrote because I know that it’s easy for people who have not been where we were, and, speaking for myself where I still am, to recount our narratives and to try to see the world through the lens of intimate partner violence without understanding what the world is like for us on an experiential level. If I make assumptions about Dr Taft personal life, then I apologise, but often when I see these casual references to domestic abuse it is not from someone who still jumps when they hear certain sounds or smell certain smells; it’s not from someone who dreads a ring at the doorbell, or who can’t visit certain places in case they run into the person who abused them.
That’s why I urge people who don’t have first-hand knowledge of domestic abuse as the abused to please step back; not to reduce what we have gone through by trying to adapt other narratives into our deeply traumatic, inescapable, ever-lingering experience.
I have had deeply unpleasant experiences online. I have been the target of online shaming campaigns and have watched with baited breath to see if a particular person was going to post something else about me. I have experienced the discomfort when they do. I write what I write not to trivialise anyone’s experience.
What I am asking, however, is that these situations not be conflated. They are in no way analogous, and it is damaging to survivors of domestic abuse to suggest they are.”
I don’t even know why I’m posting this here. I just wanted someone to hear my story and to acknowledge my perspective. Thank you in advance for reading this, and apologies for commenting on a thread when you asked us people not to.