On Gary Francione and the “abolitionists” (1)

This post is also available in: frFrançais

(note: you may want to read Why I’m openly criticizing Francione first) 

People and organisations who work for a better world for animals may have different objectives. Perhaps the most common way of categorising these people and organisations is according to whether or not they want to stop all animals being used for food, clothing, experimenting etc, or whether they want to keep those practises but improve the living conditions for the animals in question. The first group wants to abolish, the second wants to reform. Hence: abolitionists versus reformers, or animal rights versus animal welfare.

However, this simple categorisation has been muddled. A group of people, led by professor Gary Francione, call only themselves the “abolitionists”, and consider many or most other groups and people (who are really abolitionist in their objectives) welfarists or “new welfarists”. Francione and his followers only consider abolitionists those who also follow their way of communicating about abolitionism. Hence, today, if you read about “abolitionists”, it usually refers to Francione and his followers.

Let’s take an organisation like PETA as an example. You can think of PETA what you want (you may consider them sexist, sensationalist etc), but their aim is clearly abolitionist, in the sense that most people and most animal advocates understand the term. PETA wants to abolish all use of animals by humans. Look at PETA’s baseline: animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on or use for entertainment. Unlike most people though, Francione calls PETA a “new welfare” organization – despite the fact that their clear stated goal has always been to abolish the use of animals. Francione’s justification for this twisting of language is that some of PETA’s individual campaigns are reformist: they would improve the lives of animals but in themselves are not about the abolition of animals abuse. How valuable reformist campaigns are is not the point here. What is the point is that the objective still is abolitionist. Accusing PETA the way Francione does is much like accusing Amnesty International of being a pro-political imprisonment organization because – although their goal is to have political prisoners freed – they also campaign to improve the treatment of political prisoners.

The sad result of all of this is that many activists who follow Francione in the fake divide he has created, are now very critical and often openly hostile towards groups and people they do not consider “abolitionists” in their sense. They rant and rage against any organisation who, while believing in abolitionism, for strategic reasons doesn’t necessarily ask people to go vegan, who use the word vegetarian instead of vegan, who support Meatless Mondays, who support (or even who don’t condemn) reforms in animal treatment, etc. Thus, these otherwise well meaning activists partially undermine the work of many animal rights or vegetarian/vegan organisations, believing these do not want the end of all animal use and abuse. Many abolitionists go so far as to say that many or most organisations and tactics actually do more harm than good.

Allow me to illustrate Francione’s perception of and communication about the groups that he targets, with a post from his Facebook page.

AR conference

To say that hard working, well intentioned, and usually much more results-oriented activists and groups participating in the Animal Rights conference – which I have attended three times – have sold out to the industry, and to compare them with the Ku Klux Klan is not just beyond decency, it is unintelligent, it is immature, and it is, above all, false.

I sincerely hope “abolitionist” activists will start to examine Francione’s approach as critically as they examine others’.

I will follow up this part on Francione and “abolitionism” in another post.

46 thoughts on “On Gary Francione and the “abolitionists” (1)

  1. EXCELLENT article! Francione is a weak “abolitionist” by his own definition, which he tweaks to accommodate himself – doesn’t he true “abolitionists” shouldn’t keep pets – that is a “welfarist” thing to do! Let’s just drop the labels, drop the egos and simply work together for the animals.

    1. Joey K., you apparently have a serious misunderstanding the Abolitionist Approach with regard to domesticated animals. While abolitionist vegans believe that domestication is itself morally problematic, and that all breeding should cease, at the same time we believe that society has a moral obligation toward all vulnerable non-human refugees from domestication who are here and in need of our care through no fault of their own. Rather than use the term “pet” — with its implication of “owner” and “property” — an abolitionist vegan is more likely to use the term canine or feline “companion.”

      The big difference between dogs & cats in a shelter (who in most cases will be destroyed unless they are adopted) and farm animals such as cows, pigs & chickens, has to do with their property status. The farm animals are legal *property*. In contrast, the shelter animals have literally been abandoned. This is a crucially-important legal distinction, and the primary reason that abolitionists focus on grass-roots creative, non-violent vegan education rather than legislation; it is ultimately the only way we will ever dismantle speciesism and the property paradigm. Most single issue campaigns focus on symptoms, rather than the root of the problem, namely, the fundamental speciesism which allows the property paradigm in the first place.

      In any case, there is absolutely no moral contradiction in abolitionists such as Prof. Francione encouraging people to adopt and foster animals who have been abandoned. If you try to do that with a farm animal, be prepared to be arrested and/or incarcerated. So unless you are advocating ALF tactics, you really need to amend your statement.

      1. Joey K. doesn’t need to amend his statement. As you said, not all shelter animals are destroyed, so by adopting them, aren’t you in fact simply improving their WELFARE? Creating “happy pets” which may give the impression that breeding is an acceptable form of animal use? Sound familiar?

          1. Semantics. They ARE your property. Are they allowed to leave and find another “companion” at will? No. Are they free? No. Their welfare however, is improved, which is admirable. You may not be able to change the world, but you can change THEIR world…

      2. Yes, thank you Alexandra, I’ve read the article before and I can understand why it appeals to you. I wish Francione was correct and that it was just a matter of carefully explaining “the theory” to people (after which they would become vegan, thus abolishing animal use). However, I believe that this is an overestimation of human rationality, and an oversimplification of human psychology. We know that “cold turkey” propositions have very low rates of success in general, but even more so when it comes to food. The two driving forces of human behaviour are reproduction and survival. Food comes under the “survival” category and our food choices are subject to very powerful adaptive psychological mechanisms i.e. “eat what everyone else eats”, and “don’t change what you’ve always eaten”, have been very successful survival strategies (historically). This is what makes dietary change so difficult, and why incremental steps are more effective. It is also what sets the animal liberation movement apart from previous social movements – the involvement of our food.

        The people that I have converted to vegan have all done so incrementally (whilst being abused and labelled “speciesist” by so called “abolitionists”).

        Francione also uses the example of how the abolition of slavery wasn’t achieved incrementally, or by improving slave conditions (heaven forbid) – but it happened suddenly, overnight. This is a ridiculous example. The abolition of slavery was in itself an incremental step (albeit a significant one) toward the abolition of RACISM. Slaves didn’t simply walk out of the plantations into lives of equality! Their quality of life actually declined significantly after their release (remember the lynchings? the segregation? the abuse? the legal inequality?). It took 200 years of subsequent INCREMENTAL changes to achieve the relative equality we have today… Unfortunately, this is how human minds work…

      3. Yet he condemns those who would provide a home for rescued chickens in the case that they eat the eggs, a waste product, resulting in a mutually beneficial scenario for both the chicken and human? In what morally significant sense is this any different than benefiting from the companionship or security provided by a dog rescued from a shelter?

  2. I was once called a ‘speciesist’ by Francione himself for supporting something he doesn’t and I have watched him ask if Lyn White herself was in cahoots with the meat industry simply because she was getting a lot of media attention. I have also had to block many of his followers after they have tirelessly attacked me for daring to ‘celebrate small victories’ for animals around the globe. These people do not support sanctuaries for abused and suffering farm animals or organisations that are inspiring millions of people to leave meat and dairy off their plates. This type of mentality isn’t just a shocking example of a monstrous ego placed before animals in general, it is also utterly absurd in it’s belief that the world will somehow evolve faster if we all refrain from supporting any organisations or championing single issue campaigns whatsoever. It is insane to believe that the world will evolve that way because 1. it never has before and 2. that isn’t reality whatsoever.
    The world and her people are incredibly diverse in so many ways and we are all socially and emotionally hardwired over thousands of years to do what we do. We need realistic steps and achievable goals in order to get this off the ground and all this kind of mentality does is keep us right where we are. One track activism needs to be stamped out because not only are fellow vegans themselves not able to relate, the average person sees it as extreme as a cult or religious extremism in general and all it does is give all activists a bad name. We do not live in vegan utopia. We live in a world that is intrinsically indifferent, apathetic and even cruel. Taking the blinders off people requires a multifaceted approach and as activists I believe it is important to stipulate that we are ALL abolitionists – working in various ways toward our common goal. There is no place for ego or in-fighting in this movement and unless activists develop ways to inspire, nurture, embrace and stand tall together, they need to step aside and let the rest of us get on with it.
    May I also add that the proof is in the pudding as well – organisations like Animals Australia and Edgar’s Mission are changing the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of people and animals are in the spotlight now more than ever thanks to their tireless exposés and campaigns….. not because of some ego maniac who isn’t in the limelight himself and who seems to spend more time setting the bar sky high and attacking others than anything else.
    I think it’s fair to say people can do whatever they want, but when it involves constantly ridiculing, attacking and demonising good, hard working people who are making a real difference in the world, it just has to stop.
    Activism is selfless and it is kind. It knows not the word ego.

    1. So true Joanne. Fancione, surprisingly, seems to have a very limited knowledge of human psychology (our relationships with food, other species and each other). From what I can gather, his theory is based on the assumption that people are rational – they’re not – in fact, people are predictably irrational – as you suggested – because of how we evolved. Ego is definitely a big problem amongst vegans, which is why I avoid them as much as possible! I find that focusing on omnivores is the key to staying sane – other vegans are largely irrelevant (as long as they stay vegan). Kindest regards…

      1. i feel that i’m often starting to avoid vegans too (being one myself, obviously). But i think we shouldn’t give up and the clearheaded ones among us should do outreach to other vegans as much as to omnivores, even though turning a franciobot into a good ambassador maybe more difficult as turning an omnivore into a vegan 🙂

  3. Francione and his small band of hard-core ‘abolitionists’ believe that their way of advocating is the only way, and they aggressively and vocally condemn all other forms of animal advocacy. It’s time for them to wake up and realize that nearly ALL campaigning for animals works toward the goal of total Liberation, as all bring more awareness and support from the public. In a world of over 7 billion people, many advocacy approaches are needed, and many work to help animals and to introduce people to veganism. If someone wants to support only one specific approach in their advocacy, then that’s fine… but don’t be so arrogant and condescending as to think that you have the right to condemn the positive work that the vast majority of us do.

  4. Wow. You claim that PETA is clearly abolitionist and that they and other welfare organizations “for strategic reasons doesn’t necessarily ask people to go vegan” and that it is okay to support “meatless monday” which clearly has done nothing but increase consumption of other animal products, mainly eggs, dairy and even fish. I’ll stand by Professor Francione’s brand of abolition any and all days of the week.

    Professor Francione’s clear, unambiguous message is that veganism is a serious moral issue, something more than a fad or tool that can be turned on and off to make people who wish to consume animal products for seven days a week, but meat only for six days a week feel better about themselves. Well sorry I don’t really care if I make animal exploiters give themselves a self-congratulatory pat on the back for doing really nothing to address the morality of animal rights and continue to exploit them with impunity.

    Gary Francione’s abolitionist approach to animal rights makes perfect sense to me and is the message I want to stick to and advocate for. His small “handful” of followers number around 67,500 in terms of “likes” to his FB page – and that is without selling out or watering down his message “for strategic reasons,” otherwise known as selling out to rake in donations.

    For anyone who can think for themselves and are interested in finding out about Gary Francione and his abolitionist approach, I suggest you go to his FB page and the abolitionist website (link can be found on the FB page). He has also authored several books, numerous essays and has many video and radio interviews available to view and listen to.

    When I read the book “Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation” (Francione) it really opened my eyes as to the difference between welfarism and abolitionism. His latest book “Eat Like You Care: An Examination of the Morality of Eating Animals” (co-authored with Anna Charlton) is a brilliant work and truly does “put the issue of eating animals squarely on the table.” This book has and will continue to open eyes and address the moral schizophrenia so prevalent in our approach to animals we claim to care about. So please, take the time to really learn about and understand Francione’s approach before you condemn him or form a judgment based on this article.

    1. People often confuse welfare groups such as PETA with true abolitionism. When you write articles such as this, it is easy to see why. I certainly hope that you allow other abolitionists to post as well.

      1. everyone can post their comments here. As for me “I certainly hope” that some of the abolitionist people who react will actually *read* and *try to understand* what i’m saying instead of repeating the dogma like a broken record.

        1. Nothing has changed.
          Sigma is still the same, ad is the rudeness and vitriol. Francione’s a textbook narcissist and his members are cult like and robotic.

          His misbegotten “approach” is bad for the movement.

  5. Peggy’s response is excellent! While I do not have a 100% positive view of Dr. Francione’s personality, his ideas to me make the most sense in the animal rights field.

  6. Francione’s use of “moral schizophrenia” is aimed exclusively at people who care about nonhuman animal suffering. He does not use the term to describe hunters, vivisectors etc. Basically it means: “animal people are crazy.” This is what vivisectors and ranchers and hunters and cockfighters and whalers have said about animal activists for decades. The difference is it is being spoken by someone who claims to support animal rights to the greatest degree possible. Francione repeatedly will answer any particular example of animal exploitation by saying: “what about the billions of animals we kill for food? Do you eat meat? What are your shoes made of?” I invite anyone to go back to a 1980s tv discussion on hunting, vivisection and the like-and you will hear the PRO-animal exploitation speaker say, when criticized for a particular example of animal exploitation: “”what about the billions of animals we kill for food? Do you eat meat? What are your shoes made of?” So Francione uses the same argument that the WORST exploiters of animals use. Yes, we should have a vegan world, yes, welfare reforms aren’t as good as ending entire industries, but Francione has no alternative. He says one should only go out and talk about veganism (as he defines it) to people on the street, on buses, on planes. If you see an anti-fur protestor, you should not go up and say: “good for you! I support this campaign and others like it because I am vegan-against all cruel-unnecessary animal exploitation.” Instead he wants you to say: “Single issue campaigns like this are a waste of time-you will only make it worse. 200 years of welfare reforms have been a total failure. Do you eat meat? What are your shoes made of? You cant be protesting fur if you arent vegan or morally perfect–oh-and do you support sexist-racist animal advocacy campaigns? If you do that’s wrong too. You cant support nonhuman rights if you dont support human rights.” You will never hear Francione say: “you cant support human rights if you dont support nonhuman rights.” The man is a fraud. A fifth Column Vegan. https://supremacymyth.wordpress.com/2014/07/09/fifth-column-veganism-nathan-winograd-gary-francione-and-the-philosophy-of-distract-divide-and-demoralize-2/

  7. There are so, so many people, billions, who will proudly stand up and say ‘I like to eat meat’. That number has decreased by millions in the last 30 years and that is progress. That progress is not the result of the abolitionist movement. If you don’t adopt a ‘gentler’ approach to the campaign then you risk the swift action of heels being dug in even more so than they are now. It is no mistake that the advertising industry is so powerful, psychology dictates that human beings need to be ‘seduced’. How far have we come with abolishing narcotics? How is that working out Gary?

    1. Exactly. While he’s at it, why doesn’t he just tell obese people to stop eating so much? Problem solved! Perfectly logical, perfectly rational. But people aren’t rational – we don’t live in a world of Mr Spocks, we’re human, we’re biased and we’re vulnerable to all sorts of pressures from within and without.
      I wonder if his theory applies to other global injustices? If a doctor volunteers in a fistula clinic in Africa, does that make him sexist? racist? speciesist? ageist? Is he just normalising poverty with his “welfarism” thus preventing it’s eradication? Should we stop building wells in Africa? It’s a single issue campaign… tut-tut.

  8. I was attacked my one of his followers last Thanksgiving. I posted in a group about preparing a balanced diet FOR my (seed/nut/grain & fruit/veggie-eating) birds, NOT anything related to eating animals myself. She misinterpreted that, and refused to stop ranting even after I pointed out her error, and that I have been vegan for years, volunteer as a wildlife rehabber, and have a small sanctuary… but instead of apologizing and retracting, she took it further. She ridiculed me for not having successfully “converted” everyone around me and kept posting links to GF’s abolitionist site. I already was aware of that ideology, and requested that she simply delete her erroneous comments because her behavior made veganism look hateful and negative and I didn’t want my name associated with it. She replied that everyone who doesn’t act like her was ruining animal rights. In short, I finally realized why some people have a bad impression of vegans in general. Francione’s minions take the focus off of the animals who suffer, and consume themselves with their own anger and frustration. If all of these organizations and individuals making a difference are not “vegan enough,” I’m not sure who is…

  9. In my recent experience, Gary L Francione displayed himself to be a seriously pathetic, I dare say patriarchal, dictator. He uses his facebook page and other outlets to spout his denunciations and slander of any and all who may veer from his views what so ever. I wrote a short reply to his question “why would any support the “ridiculous campaigns of PETA, HSUS, Mercy for Animals, Compassion Over Killing, Viva!, or any of the other welfare charities” I woke up to this from Emelia Leese, also on his fb page (Linda Reynolds, this is an Abolitionist page. Here are the TOS, in case you missed them. It seems clear to me that you don’t wish to engage in logical discourse, otherwise you wouldn’t have come in here guns a-blazing as you’ve done. Please respect the TOS. If you’re unable, then please post elsewhere. Cheers).as well as this from Francione: “Linda Reynolds has been shown the cyber door for promoting reducetarianism and for otherwise being obnoxious. Please don’t promote reducetarianism or any other positions that promote animal exploitation on this page. Thank you.” My “obnoxious offense”? I merely replied to his question with the opinion and observation that until the entire world has decided to become vegan (which I am btw) animals suffer in a myriad of ways. So I happen to applaud any action that relieves suffering as in rescuing dogs from the gas chamber, in dog fighting rings, in puppy mills, in labs, fighting for legislation to stop the genocide of elephants, hunting, etc etc etc. I celebrate that millions of fewer animals were slaughtered from meat this year fully aware that trillions are butchered and tortured still. But I am not sure what Francione would like us all to do about this suffering a portion, of what I referred to. I am all for a mass and quick consciousness raising I do my best to open eyes in my world but while we hope and wish for that do we merely rage against all who do not do enough and then do nothing, except talk?

    Actually Emilia Leese, I did wish to engage in logical discourse but it is apparent you and Gary prefer to label me “illogical” and muzzle me from even a reply to that characterization.

    He just lost me. I fear anybody who will not engage in any dialogue whatsoever and prefers to brook no opposition (a sincere question is opposition)and instead reverts to labels and public denunciations of one as an enemy of the movement and one who “promotes reducetarianism and animal exploitation.” I do neither, I wonder how he treats his students.

    Francione. Narcissistic? Yeah, at least.

  10. When peta are involved with things like giving awards to happy meat companies they are implicitly giving those organisations a stamp of approval. Would amnesty give an award to the US state backed legal executions because they are more humane than those executions carried by the Saudis? Should amnesty go to countries that use torture and promote enhanced interrogation and water boarding instead? Because that is what supporting meatless Monday’s is equivalent to.


  11. “You can think of PETA what you want (you may consider them sexist, sensationalist etc), but their aim is clearly abolitionist, in the sense that most people and most animal advocates understand the term. PETA wants to abolish all use of animals by humans.”
    I consider them an animal killing death cult. They are bold enough to kidnap pets from front porch to kill.
    What PETA wants is complete end of interaction between huımans and animals.

  12. “that hard working, well intentioned, and usually much more results-oriented activists and groups participating in the Animal Rights conference – which I have attended three times – have sold out to the industry, and to compare them with the Ku Klux Klan is not just beyond decency, it is unintelligent, it is immature, and it is, above all, false.”
    Gary never compared the groups participating in the AR conference to the Klu Klux Klan. At least not in his FB post that you referenced here. And to say he did indicates to me that you obviously have some reading comprehension problems. And is above all…false! Please try reading his post again.

  13. Francine has worked at a university for decades, an institution that has a huge animal research facility- so clearly, ,the world is vegan if you want it’ mantra hasn’t translated into reality in his case. North American groups discovered long ago not to give him oxygen – they just refuse to engage with him. His version of abolitionism thrives on dissent and negativity-most AR campaigners I know put him to shame – they do remarkable work while he snipes from the sidelines. He found a few gullible ‘hosts’ in UK and wreaked havoc until most of them woke up and smelt the coffee! He’s a narcissistic irrelevance to the modern AR and vegan movement.
    Ignore him and focus on the positive and get active campaigning and supporting new vegans instead. Just sayin’!

    1. hi jane, i duly ignore him. this is an old post. i just wanted some more information out there for young, fresh activists or vegans who get trapped by his ideas (like i once was).

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