A central theme of my work for the past decade or so has been the exploration of our cognitive confusion—our “moral schizophrenia”—when it comes to nonhuman animals. Recently, I commented on how entertainer Ellen Degeneres sobbed on her television show about a dog that she adopted and gave away while, at the same time, promoted her dead-animal luncheon menu on her website. Football player Michael Vick was excoriated for his involvement with dog fighting by a public that thinks nothing about eating nonhumans tortured every bit as much as one of Vick’s dogs.
We humans claim to have some sort of “special” characteristic that justifies our exploitation of nonhumans. One such supposed characteristic is that we are supposedly rational and they supposedly are not. When we consider that it is humans who build nuclear weapons and who destroy the very environment necessary to sustain life, including our lives—just to identify two irrational human behaviors—the rationality claim rings rather hollow. But every now and then, particular examples of what a strange species we are really hits me. I want to share a recent experience with you.
On October 16, popular U.S. entertainer Ellen DeGeneres told her talk-show audience–and the world–that she adopted a dog, Iggy, in September. She claimed that Iggy did not get along with her cats, so she gave him to her hairdresser, who has two daughters who wanted him. This apparently violated the adoption contract used by the rescue group, Mutts and Moms, from which Ms. DeGeneres adopted Iggy, because the contract apparently required that she return him to them if she no longer wanted him. The rescue group took Iggy from the hairdresser’s home. Ms. DeGeneres broke down and sobbed as she made a plea that Mutts and Moms return the dog to her hairdresser’s children.
Paola Cavalieri, co-editor with Peter Singer of The Great Ape Project: Equality Beyond Humanity, wrote an essay about the recent shooting of a chimpanzee, Johnny, a chimpanzee in his 40s, at Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire, north of London. According to Cavalieri, Johnny was shot because he was described by zookeepers as “‘a bit of a thug.'” The Times claims that Johnny and another chimpanzee, Koko, had escaped and Koko “gave herself up to a keeper in a nearby field” whereas Johnny apparently did not, and the decision was made to shoot Johnny for reasons of “public safety.”
I am going to try to tackle in a preliminary way a subject that generates a fair amount of controversy and about which I get quite a bit of email. The subject, broadly speaking, is how vegans should relate to omnivores given that ethical vegans regard the use of animals as involving serious violations of their rights not to be treated as human resources. Do ethical vegans have an obligation to be confrontational with omnivores and to relate to them the way in which we would relate to those who engage in serious crimes against humans?
In one sense, you can anticipate my answer to this question given that I argue that the primary obligation of animal advocates is to engage in creative, nonviolent vegan education.
For many years, I have been making the point that we cannot morally distinguish speciesism from other forms of discrimination, such as racism, sexism, and heterosexism. I am always on the lookout for explicit connections and one came across my desk this week.
According to an article called Playing Chicken, Jason Atkins, a former Marine and insurance fraud investigator, has started a website that will transmit broadcasts of cockfighting, which is now illegal in all of the states, from a ring in Puerto Rico. If you click on the site, there is a promotional trailer showing scenes of fighting cocks and scantily clad women introducing the events. And Atkins has another site that features “broadcasts of bare knuckles, no rules Brazilian jujitsu matches dubbed ‘Rio Heroes,’ and what Atkins says is a sport made for America, ‘Girls and Guns,’ in which women wearing bikinis accessorized with double-thigh holsters and high-healed [sic] combat boots compete in a shoot-off of weapons that could easily outfit an American combat platoon in Iraq—everything from M-249 SAWs to Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifles.”
Sometimes, just when you think that it can’t get worse, it does.
Gary L. Francione
© 2007 Gary L. Francione
These words, written by philosopher George Santayana, seem to resonate with particular relevance these days, as we see a world engulfed in violence.
But Santayana also has something important to say to the animal movement.
Most of the large new welfarist animal organizations, both in the United States and Great Britain, claim to endorse veganism but will not promote it as the baseline of the movement because of the concern that veganism will appear to be too “radical” for the general public. So, these organizations promote “happy” meat and animal products that carry the Certified Humane Raised and Handled label or the Freedom Food label, or comply with the Farm Animal Compassionate Standards of Whole Foods, now on both sides of the Atlantic. And Peter Singer reminds us that being a consistent vegan is “fanatical” and that we may actually be obligated not to be vegans if to do so will upset others.
Those of us who maintain that veganism should be the clear and unequivocal moral baseline of the movement are told sternly by the new welfarists that society is not yet ready to hear the vegan message. We should focus on “cage-free” eggs and “free-range” meats instead.
And how does Santayana’s message apply in this context?
In 1944, Donald Watson founded The Vegan Society in the U.K. He coined the word “vegan” to describe someone who consumed no animal products. In the very first issue of the The Vegan News—63 years ago—Watson wrote:
A common criticism is that the time is not yet ripe for our reform. Can time ever be ripe for any reform unless it is ripened by human determination?
Watson pointed out how the opponents of slavery did not wait for the time to be “ripe” and that the proponents of clean water and sanitation met fierce opposition and did not wait for the “non-existent moment” when the time was “ripe.”
On August 2, I posted a blog essay entitled, A Note About Michael Vick. Vick’s behavior was obviously reprehensible. I wrote the blog because I was tired of hearing Vick criticized by self-righteous people who eat meat, attend rodeos, hunt, or participate in the many forms of animal exploitation that, unlike dog fighting, are accepted as legitimate activities by most people but that cause as much suffering to the animals involved.
Frankly, I did not think that there would be much of a response. After all, I have been making the same point for some years now in my writing—we suffer from a sort of “moral schizophrenia” where animals are concerned. On one hand, we treat some nonhumans, such as dogs and cats, as members of our families and become incensed in reaction to stories about the torture of such animals. On the other hand, we ignore entirely—indeed, we participate in—other animal uses that result in the torture of other animals whom we do not regard as “special.” This was a central point in my book, Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog?
Well, I was wrong about the reaction to my blog essay.
Although we should all avoid using pharmaceutical products in favor of more natural approaches to health, it may, on occasion, be advisable or even necessary to take a pharmaceutical product.
Putting aside other problems with these products, they often are not vegan in that they contain various animal products as “inactive” ingredients. For example, many tablets contain stearates or glycerin, which often come from animal sources, or lactose, which is a milk derivative. And standard capsules are, of course, made of gelatin.
I often hear vegans say that in such circumstances, they have no choice but to depart from their vegan principles and take medicines that contain animal products. This is not true. Even in situations in which a pharmaceutical product may be required, it is not necessary to use a product that contains animal ingredients.
I am asked frequently about my views on those who advocate violence against animal exploiters.
My response is simple: I am violently opposed to violence.
I have three reasons for my position.
First, in my view, the animal rights position is the ultimate rejection of violence. It is the ultimate affirmation of peace. I see the animal rights movement as the logical progression of the peace movement, which seeks to end conflict between humans. The animal rights movement ideally seeks to take that a step further and to end conflict between humans and nonhumans.
The reason that we are in the global mess that we are in now is that throughout history, we have engaged and continue to engage in violent actions that we have sought to justify as an undesirable means to a desirable end. Anyone who has ever used violence claims to regret having to resort to it, but argues that some desirable goal supposedly justified its use. The problem is that this facilitates an endless cycle of violence where anyone who feels strongly about something can embrace violence toward others as a means to achieving the greater good and those who are the targets of that violence may find a justification for their violent response. So on and on it goes.
- Guest Essay from Macrobiotic Pioneer, Marlene Watson-Tara: “Go Vegan – It’s Easy”
- Aspiring to Act Justly and Fairly Is Not “Sh*t”
- Should Animal Rights Advocates Promote “In-Vitro” or “Cultured” Meat?
- Abolitionist Approach Podcast: An Easy Way to Start a Conversation About Veganism
- Abolitionist Approach Podcast: On the Misuse of “Abolition”
- Abolitionist Approach Podcast: On Anthony Bourdain, Veganism, and Bad Behavior by Some “Animal People”
- A Short Essay on the Meaning of “New Welfarism”
- The Death of Activism and the Rise of Branding Spectacle in Animal Advocacy
- Animal Rights and “Pets”
- Tom Regan and the Animal Rights Movement That Once Was
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