Commentary #5: On Violence

Dear Colleagues:

I am opposed to violence. I regard violence as inherently immoral. I have written about and discussed that issue often, including in essays (1,2) on this site.

I recognize that many of you disagree with my opposition to violence.

But that is irrelevant. Even if you believe that violence can be justified, there are still compelling reasons to maintain that violence makes no sense whatsoever in the context of the struggle for animal rights.

I maintain that the only thing that makes any practical sense is creative, non-violent vegan education. That strategy is anything but passive; it involves our working actively and constantly to shift a fundamental paradigm—the notion that animals are things, resources, property; that they are exclusively means to human ends.

Until we build a critical mass of people who reject that paradigm, nothing will change.

In this Commentary, I discuss the matter of violence.

Gary L. Francione
©2009 Gary L. Francione


Commentary #4: Follow-Up to “Pets” Commentary: Non-Vegan Cats

Dear Colleagues:

A number of people have written to me in response to the Commentary on “pets” to ask about the issue of non-vegan cats.

It is my understanding that many cats can live healthy lives on a vegan diet but what if there are cats who absolutely need to consume animal products?

In this Commentary, I offer some ideas that I hope will stimulate your thinking about this issue.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione


Commentary #3: On Michael Vick

Dear Colleagues:

As you know, I have since 2007 been wondering about why anyone thinks that Michael Vick is any worse than anyone else who consumes or uses animal products. (See 1, 2, 3)

In any event, Vick was released from prison in May, 2009, and on July 27, 2009, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell conditionally reinstated Vick. The Philadelphia Eagles have given Vick a one-year deal with an option for a second year.

Judging from media reports and blog essays, many animal advocates are outraged and some advocates are calling for a boycott of the NFL

In this Commentary, I explain why I think the Michael Vick matter is not really about Michael Vick or dog fighting. It is about fundamental moral principles that we claim as a society to accept.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione


Some Comments on Vegetarianism as a “Gateway” to Veganism

Dear Colleagues:

As a result of my comments (here, on Facebook, and on the Podcast Commentary), I have been inundated with private messages that all have the same themes: (1) “but many vegans started off as vegetarians”; and (2) “advocating veganism is elitist.”

As for whether many vegans started off as vegetarians, let me say this clearly: That is not the point.

First, the relevant question is whether vegetarianism is a meaningful moral position. That is, can we draw a meaningful moral distinction between flesh and other animal products? If, as I maintain, we cannot, then we should not promote vegetarianism any more than we should promote as morally meaningful eating red veal over white veal, cage-free eggs over battery eggs, etc. If all of these products are immoral, then we ought to be clear and honest and say so.

Animal products other than flesh often involve more suffering and death than does flesh. For example, animals used for dairy are kept alive longer, treated worse (including, but not limited to, having their babies taken and killed for veal), and all dairy animals end up in the same slaughterhouse as animals used for meat. The vegetarian who continues to consume dairy is still complicit in animal suffering and death. What is the moral justification for promoting continued complicity in suffering and death? Indeed, if the vegetarian increases her intake of dairy, as many do, she may be responsible for more suffering and death than before she became a vegetarian.

Second, the observation that many vegans started as vegetarians, even if true, begs the question as to why that is the case. Many people maintain that they did not go vegan sooner precisely because of the emphasis on the moral desirability of vegetarianism advocated by large animal organizations. Promoting vegetarianism actually impedes going vegan.

It is clear: if you explain that there is no distinction between flesh and other animal products and why we should go vegan, and the person with whom you are talking cares about the issue, she will either (1) go vegan immediately; or (2) go vegan in stages; or (3) not go vegan and adopt some version of vegetarianism (or “happy” meat/product consumption). But she will at least understand that veganism is the aspiration toward which to work. She will understand that the line between flesh and other products is entirely arbitrary. If you maintain that going vegetarian is morally meaningful and that there is a distinction between flesh and other animal products, then you increase the chances that her progress toward veganism will be impeded.

In other words, you do not need to advocate vegetarianism. It is completely unnecessary, morally meaningless, and, as a practical matter, it impedes the transition to veganism.

As for the supposed “elitism” of veganism, I continue to find that comment bewildering.

Is there anything more elitist than believing that people are too stupid to understand the argument against animal exploitation and the lack of any meaningful distinction between flesh and dairy?

Is there anything more elitist than promoting the idea that it is morally acceptable to eat dairy, eggs, or other animal products and to continue the exploitation of the most vulnerable?

We would never label as “elitist” advocacy for a complete ban on rape (even though rape is, has been, and will continue to be a frequent occurrence in a patriarchal world). But when it comes to animals, advocacy of a complete ban on consumption and use is regarded as elitist.

What distinguishes the two situations?

That’s a rhetorical question. The answer is clear: species.

I am sorry that I cannot respond to all the private emails and Facebook messages. But I have said this as clearly as I can. I have no artistic ability and cannot draw pictures.

Go vegan. It’s easy; it’s better for your health; it’s better for the planet; and, most importantly, it’s the morally right thing to do.

And please remember: violence is the problem; it is not any part of the solution. Abolition, veganism, and non-violence are all different aspects of the same concept.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione

A Note on Moral Schizophrenia

Dear Colleagues:

In my book, Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog?, published by Temple University Press in 2000, I introduced the notion of “moral schizophrenia.” I have received comments about my use of this term and these comments fall into two groups.

Some people accuse me of confusing moral schizophrenia with multiple/split personality.

When I talk about moral schizophrenia, I am seeking to describe the delusional and confused way that we think about animals as a social/moral matter. That confusion can, of course, include conflicting or inconsistent ways of looking at animals (some are family members; others are dinner) but that does not mean that I am describing a classic split or multiple personality. Our moral schizophrenia, which involves our deluding ourselves about animal sentience and the similarities between humans and other animals, and an enormous amount of confusion about the moral status of nonhumans, is a phenomenon that is quite complicated and has many different aspects.

Some people think that by using the term, I am stigmatizing those who have clinical schizophrenia because it implies that they are immoral people. I am sincerely sorry—and I mean that—if anyone has interpreted the term in that way and that is certainly not what I intended. Schizophrenia is a recognized condition that is characterized by confused and delusional thinking. To say that we are delusional and confused when it comes to moral issues is not to say that those who suffer from clinical schizophrenia are immoral. It is only to say that many of us think about important moral matters in a completely confused, delusional, and incoherent way. I am certainly not saying that those who suffer from clinical schizophrenia are immoral!

To say that moral schizophrenia stigmatizes clinical schizophrenics is like saying that to talk about “drug use spreading like cancer” stigmatizes cancer victims.

I hope this clarifies what I mean when I talk about our moral schizophrenia when it comes to animal ethics. I also hope that it is clear that I am not using that term in a way that does or is intended to convey that clinical schizophrenics are immoral.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione

Addendum from responses to this posting:

Some critics argue that it is sufficient to say that our moral views about nonhuman animals are contradictory or confused. No, it’s not sufficient. When it comes to nonhuman animals, our views are profoundly delusional and I am using that term literally as indicative of what might be called a social form of schizophrenia.

Some critics claim that it is sufficient to use “delusional.” But delusion is what characterizes the clinical form of schizophrenia and anyone who objected to the use of schizophrenia as ableist would have the same, and in my view groundless, objection to “delusional.”

Some critics claim that schizophrenia is different from cancer because no one would think that having cancer is a good thing. I confess that this objection is puzzling. I am unfamiliar with anyone who argues as a general matter that cancer or clinical schizophrenia are desirable conditions to have. Yes, there are people who claim that their schizophrenia has led them to great insight; but the same is true of cancer victims. In any event, if “moral schizophrenia” is ableist, then so is the expression “drugs are a cancer on society” or “our polices in the Middle East are shortsighted” or “we are blind to the consequences of our actions” or “when it comes to poverty, our proposed solutions suffer from a poverty of ambition.”

Commentary #2: “Pets”

Dear Colleagues:

The issue of “pets” is a hot button issue with many advocates.

Here is something I wrote in the Appendix to my book Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog?:

Question 3: Does the institution of pet ownership violate animals’ basic right not to be regarded as things?

Answer: Yes. Pets are our property. Dogs, cats, hamsters, rabbits, and other animals are mass produced like bolts in a factory or, in the case of birds and exotic animals, are captured in the wild and transported long distances, during which journey many of them die. Pets are marketed in exactly the same way as other commodities. Although some of us may treat our companion animals well, more of us treat them poorly. In America, most dogs spend less than two years in a home before they are dumped at a pound or otherwise transferred to a new owner; more than 70 percent of people who adopt animals give them away, take them to shelters, or abandon them. We are all aware of horror stories about neighborhood dogs on short chains who spend most of their lives alone. Our cities are full of stray cats and dogs who live miserable lives and starve or freeze, succumb to disease, or are tormented by humans. Some people who claim to love their companion animals mutilate them senselessly by having their ears cropped, their tails docked, or their claws ripped out so that they will not scratch the furniture.

You may treat your animal companion as a member of your family and effectively accord her or him inherent value or the basic right not to be treated as your resource. But your treatment of your animal really means that you regard your animal property as having higher than market value; should you change your mind and administer daily and severe beatings to your dog for disciplinary purposes, or not feed your cat so that she will be more motivated to catch the mice in the basement of your store, or kill your animal because you no longer want the financial expense, your decision will be protected by the law. You are free to value your property as you see fit. You may decide to polish your car often or you may let the finish erode. The choice is yours. As long as you provide the minimal maintenance for your car so that it can pass inspection, any other decision you make with respect to the vehicle, including your decision to give it to a scrap dealer, is your business. As long as you provide minimal food, water, and shelter to your pet, any other decision you make, apart from torturing the animal for no purpose whatsoever, is your business, including your decision to dump your pet at the local shelter (where many animals are either killed or sold into research, or have your pet killed by a willing veterinarian.

Many years ago, I adopted a hamster from a law school classmate. The hamster became ill one night, and I called an emergency veterinary service. The veterinarian said that the minimum amount for an emergency visit was $50 and asked me why I would want to spend that amount when I could get a “new” hamster from any pet shop for about $3. I took the hamster to the veterinarian anyway, but that event was one of the first times my consciousness was raised about the status of animals as economic commodities.

As someone who lives with seven rescued canine companions whom I love dearly, I do not treat this matter lightly. Although I regard my companions as family members, they are still my property and I could decide tomorrow to have them all killed. As much as I enjoy living with dogs, were there only two dogs remaining in the world, I would not be in favor of breeding them so that we could have more “pets” and thus perpetuate their property status. Indeed, anyone who truly cares about dogs should visit a “puppy mill”–a place where dogs are bred in the hundreds or thousands and are treated as nothing more than commodities. Female dogs are bred repeatedly until they are “spent” and are either killed or sold into research. We should, of course, care for all those domestic animals that are presently alive, but we should not continue to bring more animals into existence so that we may own them as pets.

In this second Abolitionist Approach Commentary, we will explore the issue of “pets.”

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione


Commentary #1: Vegetarianism as a “Gateway” to Veganism?

Dear Colleagues:

Welcome to the Abolitionist Approach Commentary.

The Commentary will consist of a series of podcasts that discuss and explore various aspects of the idea that we ought to abolish, and not merely regulate, animal exploitation. The Commentary will reflect ideas contained in this website and in my books.

Animals are nonhuman persons and we cannot morally justify treating them as human resources. In addition, because animals are chattel property or economic commodities, regulation of animal treatment costs money and animal welfare regulations will almost never provide significant protection for animal interests. As a general matter, welfare regulations actually make animal use more profitable because the regulations implemented are those that result in an economic benefit for producers and consumers. The Abolitionist Approach Commentary will discuss why animal welfare reform does not and cannot work to provide protection for nonhuman animals.

The Abolitionist Approach Commentary will promote ethical veganism and creative, non-violent vegan education as the primary forms of activism to move toward the abolition of animal use. Ethical veganism goes beyond not just eating animal products; it rejects the use of animals for clothing or the use of products that contain animal ingredients or that have been tested on animals. There is no moral distinction between flesh and other animal products. All animal products involve animal suffering and death.

The Abolitionist Approach Commentary will explore the notion of “animal rights.” Although there is a great deal of controversy about what rights humans should have, we all oppose human slavery, or treating humans as chattel property. The Abolitionist Approach maintains that we cannot morally justify denying this one right to all sentient nonhumans. This means that we should stop bringing domesticated animals into existence. We should care for those who are here now but we should not bring any more into existence. We should leave non-domesticated animals alone and stop encroaching on and destroying their habitats.

The Abolitionist Approach Commentary will seek to explore our “moral schizophrenia” or the delusional and confused way in which we approach animal ethics. We all agree that it is wrong to inflict “unnecessary” suffering and death on nonhuman animals. If “necessity” is to have any coherent meaning, it must mean at least that it is wrong to inflict suffering and death on nonhuman animals for reasons of pleasure, amusement, or convenience. But the overwhelming portion of animal use can be justified only by pleasure, amusement, or convenience. Many of us live with nonhumans animals who we regard as members of our families. But we stick forks into other animals who are no different factually or morally from the nonhumans we love.

The Abolitionist Approach Commentary will also discuss the issue of violence and will explain why the movement to abolish animal exploitation should be part of a larger movement for Ahimsa, or non-violence. All humans exploit animals in some way or another. Therefore, violence directed at institutional users makes no sense. The institutional users of animals and producers of animal products are not the problem; the problem is the public, which demands animal products. If animal exploitation is ever to be ended, we must educate people in a non-violent way and shift the moral paradigm away from treating animals as property.

Finally, the Abolitionist Approach Commentary will address the important relationship between animal rights and human rights, and will explore why we should not use sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination to promote animal rights.

In this first Commentary, I discuss whether we should promote vegetarianism as a “gateway” to veganism. I conclude that the answer is “no.”

The bottom line: if you are a vegetarian, you are still complicit in animal suffering; you are still complicit in animal killing.

If you regard animals as nonhuman moral persons, why would you be complicit in animal suffering and death?

I hope that you find this Commentary and our future efforts useful for your thinking about animal ethics.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione


Multiple Choice Test

Dear Colleagues:

I just received an announcement of the Seventh Annual World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences, which will take place in Rome, Italy, August 30-September 3, 2009.

Take a look at the announcement. And then answer the following question:

This conference:

(A) is a great event because it will help animals

(B) is a great excuse for executives from large animal welfare organizations to use donated money to spend time in Rome during a particularly nice time of the year

(C) provides compelling evidence of the symbiotic relationship that has developed between institutional animal users and animal welfare corporations

(D) provides great public-relations benefits for institutional animal users, who can claim that they are working with HSUS, RSPCA, ASPCA, etc.

(E) (B), (C), (D) are all correct answers.

For the correct answer, consult your common sense.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione

The Santería Case: Michael Vick, Part 2

Dear Colleagues:

Many people are very unhappy with a recent decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Merced v. Kasson, in which the court enjoined officials of the city of Euless, Texas from enforcing various ordinances to stop Santería practitioners from performing animal sacrifices using goats, lambs, and other animals, including ducks, chickens, and guinea hens. The Santería practitioners offer animal blood to deities and then cook and consume at least part of some of the animals. The federal court did not decide the case under the federal Constitution but under a state law guaranteeing freedom of religion (although the decision would probably have been the same if the matter were analyzed under the federal Constitution).

The moral issue involved in this case is similar to the one presented in the Michael Vick case. To the extent that there are differences, this case is actually stronger than the Vick case. In Euless, it is explicitly legal for individuals to kill “domesticated fowl considered as general tablefare such as chicken or turkey.” In response to the argument that butchering a larger animal such as a goat might present health problems, the court pointed out that large animals, such as deer, may be butchered and disposed of in Euless as long as they are dead when brought into the city.

So if you kill “domesticated fowl” because you want to eat them, that’s fine. If you kill them because you want to offer them to a diety (and then eat them), then that’s not fine. If you kill a deer outside of Euless and bring it into Euless to butcher it, that’s fine. If you kill and butcher the goat in Euless as part of a religious ceremony, that’s not fine.

This, of course, is nonsense.

Please do not misunderstand me. Read more

It’s Time for a Change

Dear Colleagues:

Animal welfare—the notion that we should treat animals “humanely”—has been around for 200 years. It has gotten nowhere. We are using more animals now in more horrific ways than at any time in human history.

The 19th century founders of animal welfare opposed human slavery but they never opposed the property status of animals because they thought that although animals could suffer, they had no interest in their lives. That is, animals do not care that we use them but only care about how we use them. According to the welfarists, animals are not self-aware and do not have an interest in continuing to live; they only have an interest in not suffering a painful death.

So the welfarists of the 19th century did not advocate the abolition of animal slavery as they advocated the abolition of human slavery. Instead, they advocated that we have laws that require the “humane” treatment of animals. What the welfarists did not realize, however, was that as long as animals remained property, the level of protection provided by these laws would necessarily remain very low because it costs money to protect animal interests. As a general matter, we will spend that money and protect those interests only when it results in an economic benefit for us.

Nothing has changed.

The welfarists of the 21st century still maintain that animals do not have an interest in their lives and that killing them does not itself raise a moral problem. Peter Singer, who is the modern proponent of the welfarist theory of the 19th century, states this explicitly. This view that animals have no interest in continued life explains why PETA has no problem with killing 90% of the animals it rescues. For the welfarists, death is not itself a “harm.”

And, for the most part, animal welfare regulations only improve the economic efficiency of animal exploitation. In other words, we protect animal interests only when we get an economic benefit. Animal welfare campaigns, such as the campaign for the controlled-atmosphere killing/stunning of poultry, or the elimination of the gestation crate are based explicitly on economic efficiency. That is, these reforms are promoted on the ground that they will improve production efficiency.

After 200 years of a doctrine that is speciesist (nonhuman animal life itself has no moral value) and that has demonstrated that it is useless as a practical matter, it is time for a change.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione