Confessions of an abolitionist

This is a guest blog by a friend. I think it contains valuable insights in the process vegan/animal rights activists go through in terms of their emotions, their relationships with omnivores and other vegans. The author prefers not to be named, but is prepared to answer feedback in the comments section.


I have always despised the word ‘journey’ when discussing veganism; that and ‘baby steps’ have been the bane of my life over the last year or so since I began identifying as an ‘abolitionist vegan’. It seems ironic, therefore, that I now find myself on my own ‘vegan journey’.

Let me take you back to my first year as a vegan. Luckily for me, I found all of the aspects of veganism very easy to adapt to; I had been vegetarian for quite some time before that and had ‘flirted’ on and off with veganism over the years. I was, however, always a vegan at heart. From a young age I hated cruelty towards animals and often felt more affinity towards my cats and other animals than I did with my own friends. It seemed logical therefore that I became vegan and avoided all animal use.
Going back to my first year, despite finding many aspects of being vegan easy, I began to get more and more depressed. I became addicted to Facebook and joined every vegan group I could find. I signed petition after petition and tortured myself with graphic images. I began to feel nothing but animosity towards non vegans and I was an angry and volatile person when discussing veganism. I shared post after post, day after day, accusing non vegans of being barbaric and murderers; they were even ‘rapists’ for consuming dairy products. I did actually ‘make’ a few new vegans this way. However, many blocked me and probably thought of me as another ‘vegan lunatic’.

When I started familiarising myself with the abolitionist approach, it all started to make sense. I loved the straightforwardness and the ‘no bullshit’ approach adopted by the likes of Gary Francione. I felt that finally I had one simple answer and an effective way to advocate. It was also comforting to see that abolitionists didn’t advocate petitions or the sharing of graphic images. I finally felt content. I became a better advocate both online and in person in many respects; I was calmer and more confident. Few people could argue with me, such was the strength of my conviction.

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After a while, I noticed that I began to feel unhappy again. My disdain for non vegans had been replaced by disdain for other vegans. Ironically, I began to feel more comfortable around non vegans than vegans who didn’t share my abolitionist views. Indeed, I felt that if someone wasn’t an abolitionist, they weren’t ‘truly vegan’. My posts promoting veganism on my facebook page had started to become diluted with posts critiquing other organisations who weren’t ‘vegan enough’. I started to delete friends who promoted single issues such as anti fur campaigns and God help anyone who shared a petition to my page. Vegans started to be separated into ‘abs’(abolitionists) or ‘wellies’ (welfarists). If they weren’t in the former camp, they weren’t people I really wanted to associate with.

When I saw criticisms of the abolitionist approach, I and my ‘colleagues’ would come down on them like a ton of bricks; they were welfarists, they didn’t care about animals truly etc. Oh and of course, the most popular slur; they were ‘speciesist’. Any critique of the abolitionist approach automatically meant you were welfarist or speciesist. We would all respond in tandem, that ‘veganism was the moral baseline’ and accompanied with that would be an analogy of the holocaust or slavery(this isn’t just an abolitionist trait.
I see this amongst all vegans). I think few of us used our own words or analogies after a while; we would simply churn out the same rhetoric used by Gary et al. Whilst all of that was going on, I honestly felt like I was doing the right thing for the animals. If we had all these ‘fake vegans’ in our midst, how were we ever going to change the world? It didn’t cross my mind that the world certainly wasn’t going to change whilst we constantly bickered with one another.

Recently I took a break from vegan advocacy to gather my thoughts and started reading various different articles, webpages etc. I was shocked to see how much animosity there was to Gary and his ‘clan’, I felt part of that clan to a certain extent but also understood the criticism as I read his page and saw nothing but argument after argument. I felt drained reading it, I had always defended Gary’s need to block so many people as ‘It’s an abolitionist page and if people don’t agree with him, then tough, they should be blocked’.
However, seeing it with fresh eyes, I just felt despondent and sad. On one day he had managed to write about four status updates- each one fiercely criticising other organisations (from DXE to Vegan Outreach) (Whilst I’m not a fan of the former, I went on the Vegan Outreach website to see if it was true that they were ‘absolutely hostile to the idea of veganism’ and noticed they must have said vegan about 5 times in just a few paragraphs). I simply didn’t/don’t want to be a part of this hatred anymore and I started to panic; what if these organisations I have mocked actually do mean well?!!!

So where am I now you may ask? Well currently I am terrified of being called all of those things I called others. I’m certain the abs would be calling me a welfarist for daring to criticize the dogma if they read this. It’s horrible to think that I can’t even have a change of heart for fear of criticism. And what’s worse, is that the criticism will be that I don’t care about the animals enough- something that couldn’t be further from the truth.  I have also started to admire other prominent vegans who certainly do not fall into the abolitionist category but who are passionate about ending all animal use; they just go about it a different way. Bearing in mind, I am not an economist, nor can I see into the future, I don’t actually know the best way of advocating anymore. As an abolitionist, I was certain it was telling everyone that ‘veganism was the moral baseline’. As for vegetarians and meat reducers, I found them despicable- the ultimate traitors to the cause. Now I feel happy that they are doing something (the dreaded ‘baby steps’) and I will, where possible always encourage and support these people to do more and become vegan. What I now refuse to do is to put them down, or compare their reduction of animal products to a ‘rape free Monday’. I’m sorry but that analogy never has nor never will work as we simply don’t view rape or murder the way we view consuming animal products as a society. Just because I see what we are doing to animals as the greatest atrocity of all, it doesn’t mean I will win over others by making comparisons that will simply get their back up.

In conclusion, what has changed? I am even more passionate about vegan advocacy than ever before; I absolutely believe that animals are not our property and are not ours to be used. I want the world to go vegan more than I can possibly convey. I cannot stress this enough. But what has changed is that I now believe we have to adapt our approach to suit the audience if we want to make a real change. It’s not about speaking the truth all the time and I think we forget that. We may feel that if we don’t say the absolute truth that we are being immoral and that we are letting the animals down. Well maybe, just maybe, we are letting the animals down by being so dogmatic in our approach, the use of our words and our tone. Sometimes, we need to bite our tongue when someone says they are making steps towards veganism for example. Yes, it’s frustrating that they’re not there already and yes they are continuing to cause harm by their purchases but let’s see what happens if we congratulate them and be more encouraging (I’m not suggesting that all abolitionists adopt this ‘all or nothing’ approach but it is undoubtedly very prevalent). Finally, I think we should concentrate on our own advocacy methods and stop focusing on other organisations and how ‘evil’ they are. Maybe they are trying a different tactic too. Let’s stop thinking the worst of one another and let’s start thinking for ourselves.

32 thoughts on “Confessions of an abolitionist

  1. Very, very cool that they got the confidence to share this via your site, Tobias. Brings to live the human impact of a hypercritical approach to veganism as well as how little it does for the animals. *applause*

  2. I often hear that other organisations are fascist and don’t deserve our help. And then I feel like being a good good vegan is something tricky because you don’t necessarily know in detail each organisation. But in the end, I support actions more than orgs and it is easier that way.

    At the end of the article, I think there is a typo. A “rape fee Monday” will probably reduce the number of rapes on Monday, depending on the fee, but you was probably talking about “rape free Monday”.

  3. I appreciate the author and Tobias for open discourse on evaluation of advocacy techniques. That will allow us to get back to what is best for helping animals from their current poor state, something that often gets lost under the pride we take in the word vegan.

    1. good point… some people think we should be more proud of being vegan, but i think there’s at the same time a huge danger in that, and we’re often just way too effing proud of it

  4. Good post. I think we would all be wise to take an honest look at our beliefs now and then to see if we are really being effective or just dogmatic. I did find it ironic though that the author was so upset with the idea of “baby steps” when they actually took their own baby steps over a period of years before finally going vegan.

  5. absolutely. Not everyone has the space or time or whatever else to think about what they eat, and then have the opportunity to choose something specific. We have to consider this. ‘Warfare’ rarely does anything to convince anyone either

  6. What’s shocking to me is this is EXACTLY how I feel about abolitionists. Like they are not ‘true’, because they care more about speaking their truth (our truth, because I agree with it!) than about the animals. They do not want to make any change, they want to be RIGHT. They are bad for our movement. I never thought they are thinking just the same about us, welfarists (I hate that name, we are all abolitionists, we just have different views on how we should be achieving our goal).

    I am very rational person, I like to know what am I talking about… So I have a degree in animal husbandry. 😉 Because I wanted to know so badly, because I want to be efficient, I want to HELP. I may never understand abolitionists. Well, I know how they feel, I was angry vegan at first. But it’s not my feelings and me being right that is important. I will try to make an effort to understand them. But for me it’s HARD.

  7. ‘I hate that name, we are all abolitionists, we just have different views on how we should be achieving our goal.’

    So true!

    1. I have started to use the term “absolutarians” to reflect that they typically see their approach as the only valid one.

        1. This is clearly a dump on Gary Francione fan club. Setting up straw men and lighting them on fire. Go for it!

          1. paul, if you love gary, you won’t like it here, that’s true. Click the francione tag in the tag cloud to read my opinion on him.
            No straw men necessary at all. On the contrary, i’m not even using everything i know…

  8. I think it’s important to be able to separate the behaviour of some abolitionists (myself included in the past) and abolitionist theory. It’s perfectly possible to be an abolitionist who doesn’t behave so negatively which is the direction I’ve since gone in. I’m really pleased to read that the author of this piece has realised the same. Animals need us to be educating people with veganism as the moral baseline, but they certainly won’t be benefitting from the arguing and abuse slung at others, so it’s vital that we are careful with our words, keep our frustration in check and think independently. It’s not about us.

    1. somehow the behaviour and the theory theory/approach seem connected. What to me seems typical for the “abolitionist approach” is the refusal to communicate or accept anything less than vegan. This kind of attitude seems to almost automatically result in intolerance towards other approaches. I agree that it doesn’t *have* to be in theory, but in practise i see it quite a lot.

  9. This could be any one of 20 of my friends. It is very sad that they got sucked into Francione’s sick little cult. It is like Scientology in many ways – it claims to be ‘cleansing’ people & to be making them ‘perfect’. In a more sensible world, Francione would be either jailed, or sectioned & his cult would be dismantled.

  10. I am capable of taking in information from a variety of resources – it seems that some here have emotional reactions to Francione’s style that have been repackaged as critiques of his message. Gary often rubs me the wrong way – he can be smug, defensive and bullying. But his message is “pure” in that it provides a valuable reference point that each of us as vegans can chose for our own personal reasons to deviate from or not. I personally value that so I can craft my own message. Where I believe he is wrong, it is very clear to me exactly where that is. I disagree with his understanding or lack thereof of human nature and psychology. But its my job to fill in the blanks. On the other hand, I feel that some of his beliefs have been mischaracterized here. He bases his analogy to slavery in the context of the 1800’s not 2015 where white children were raised in a slave society just as children now are raised in a non-vegan society. I’m sorry but the message I get from many other individuals and organizations is often muddled and leaves me quite vulnerable when challenged. Francione’s logic gives me a solid core to customize at will.

    Question:When people engage in immoral behavior, does that make them de facto immoral people? I believe Francione is pretty clear on this point and does make distinctions between being ignorant, “wrong” and knowledgeable but deceptive for personal or corporate gain (=immoral).

    So pile on Francione if its is cathartic and therapeutic, but in my opinion it is a shame to ignore the product of his great and compassionate mind.

      1. Yes, I know you do. I read your disillusion journey and it seems to me to be more of a personality issue than one of substance. I don’t give a hoot what Francione thinks of other vegans, “fake” or not – As I said I make my own judgments on the merits of his arguments.

        1. i think you are referring to the article “confessions of an abolitionist”? that was not written by me but by a fellow activist.

          my issues with GLF are not personal at all. if you take the time to read the francione-tagged articles, you will see that.

          1. Tobias – I assumed you included the article because it reflected your message as well. I have read several of your Francione articles and I completely understand your reasons for being so negative. It also may be that we vegans are much more prone to taking umbrage than non-vegans. But you did state that one of the reasons you were criticizing him was payback for his attitude towards others. Sound personal to me – more concerned with his personality.

            Like it or not, Francione is a pioneer and has earned a right to have a bigger picture perspective on the nature of the “movement”, such as it is. He may be wrong but, as I said before, one should recognize his anarchistic view of the world. This explains his deep suspicion of organizations in general. I know exactly what he fears having founded and run a non-profit myself. The message often gets diluted in the struggle for recognition and funding. The survival of the organization and its employees starts to crowd out the mission. Organizations like PETA and HSUS are part of the establishment – regardless of what they may accomplish, they will always be undesirable, if I understand him correctly – hence your blank sheet of orgs he supports is consistent with what he believes.

            I believe he yearns for a grass-roots driven movement. While SNCC and NAACP were advocacy organizations, to me they represented a voice for the grass roots civil rights movement with MLK and Malcom X as the spokespersons. To me, PETA and HSUS are entities that have their own agenda. His shunning of these establishment orgs in favor of one-on-one consciousness raising (it worked for the woman’s movement) may, in the end, be the most genuine approach. I don’t know for sure. From my readings, it is only a grass roots movement that, in the end can change society. So even if animal welfare is, in the short run, more effective, it could result in shifting society to a “new normal” that is entrenched and makes the ultimate transition to a vegan culture impossible.

            I agree with his critique of vegan advocates who reinforce the notion that going vegan is hard. If what It is challenging in many ways, but not beyond the capabilities of anyone. The messages that I hear from the established vegan orgs, especially with the huge emphasis on “baby steps”, sound more like those encouraging someone to run a marathon. That IS hard for most people and slow, gradual and painful training is required. Yes, guidance, patience, encouragement is very much needed but that should be the process not the message in my opinion. It is very subtle distinction but I’ve seen the attitudes of some in vegan meet-ups – they can see a huge wall between them and veganism.

            I am still learning, but shunning one powerful voice is not what I want to do. (As an aside, one reason our economy is so completely in shambles is because economists shunned Marx’s critique of capitalism – not a good practice).

            Sorry for the very long-winded response but if we are ever going to repair the vegan-vs-vegan battle that’s going on, we need to understand each other.

            1. thanks for this thoughtful reply paul, and i appreciate that we can talk about this in a nice way.
              Let me try to respond to some of the things you write.

              – re. GLF himself, I wouldn’t want to say he’s a nasty person, because i don’t know him personally, but i would definitely say he behaves in a nasty way online. I’m trying to keep my aversion for his style separate from my dissent with his theories, which in my view is much more important.
              First of all, I can understand a suspicion of organisations, certainly if one has an anarchist frame of mind. I also know that every org runs the risk of getting mired in all kinds of inneficient things. But there are several important buts here. Actually i was going to write an article about this, but, well, maybe this can serve as a basis for that.
              a) even if one has a basic distrust of organisations (which, again, can be valid), that doesn’t justify the anger, the bile, the unfair misrepresentations (i almost mistyped this into “pisrepresentations” and that’s would be actually a good term in this context 🙂 of other organisations. GLF doesn’t just criticize organisations modus operandi or whatever. He doubts and puts into questions the intentions of the people who are behind/inside the organisations. I won’t go into detail, i’ve written about it. I think it’s horrible, nasty, shameful and it should stop.
              b) still about GLF personally: i don’t think i’ve ever seen him something nice about any other AR personality in the movement (individuals, so not organisations). Seeing him not applaud anything at all except for himself makes me quite suspicious of him.
              c) we do *need* organisations. Organisations are just individuals coming together to have more impact. The organisational structures that are set up when people get together, get set up for efficiency reasons. I guess this is a difference in beliefs and ideology. I don’t really believe in the efficiency of anarchy, even though it may be a nice idea in principle.
              d) it is entirely unfair, imho, to call peta and MFA welfarist. These orgs are full of vegans in favor of abolition. Again, i have written about that in my posts on GLF. Accusing them of wanting different things is a dishonest, unfair misrepresentation that doesn’t do justice to all the committed people working in those orgs (no matter how inefficient they might be working)

              Apart from the organisation-or-not question, I don’t think the veganize-them-one-by-one is a sufficient approach in and of itself. If you haven’t watched my strategy video yet, i explain another way there.

              In general, i’m just in favor of letting both approaches be, but that’s not what francione does. He doesn’t want to leave any room for what he unrighfully calls the “new welfarist” approach and the organisations, while I and many others on the more pragmatic side are i think open for the “abolitionist approach” to play a part.

              so i think the above shows that my criticism is aimed at both his style and at the theory he likes to tout as the only moral and the only effective one.

              best
              T

              1. I am in a never ending process of refining my own views and trying to pick and choose those philosophies that ultimately feel right – a work in progress. I understand reality is messy and that trying to be rigidly tied to a set of principles can lead to bad outcomes. On the other hand, they can be used as guiding lights – as in a constitution. Francione gives me that – When I deviate from his “fundamentals” I can then do so deliberately as opposed to randomly for convenience or to suite a whim. For me his principle that we must not unnecessarily violate a non-human individual’s “right” to life and freedom from human-imposed suffering just plain rings true – like Newton’s Law of Motion. When he says a dog is no different than a cow or pig in that regard – it is self-evident. Where I disagree with him is that I believe this is not self-evident to the majority of humans – and that relying on people’s craving for consistency is not enough. The fundamentals are the same as human slavery, but for animals we are starting 100 yards behind our own goal post compared to the public perception with respect to slavery in the 1800’s.

                I do agree with him, from limited personal experience, that some of the tactics of what he calls “welfarist” groups have back-fired. Before I went vegan, I found myself reading cartons and comparing prices for eggs vs cage-free eggs and feeling, well at least I should make the moral choice – visions of happy chickens clucking in the barnyard. My choice to go vegan had absolutely nothing to do with animal welfare – was totally ignorant. Apparently the egg and fish industry is booming with the switch from “red meat” due to the cancer scare (based on fact). The vegan message just did not logically follow from my dormant compassion. Everyone is different – but I don’t believe i’m that much of an outlier.

                So my “strategy” is to be respectful of other’s ignorance and deep denial and at the same time be very clear about my veganism. I can’t complain about not being catered to by society if they don’t even know I’m out there. My car has “VEGANS” vanity plates and I’ve gotten nothing but smiles and high-fives. My statement is, “I wish you would go vegan – do the best you can” as opposed to, ” See how tolerable not eating meat for day is? Now let me tell you about veganism”.

                We’ll see how it goes.

                Appreciate your thoughts.

                1. i’m not sure i see where francione is necessary for you to give you clarity… i mean, if he offers any more clarity, i think it will be thanks to a rigidity that goes at the cost of effectiveness. Other philosophers give you structures too. Utilitarianism is a structure. All other animal rights philosophers give you a structure (Reagan for instance). What is the added value of francione here? I see only negative impact, tbh.
                  Also, when he talks about welfarist, he is extremely unfair to the many organisations out there. Most don’t talk about “better eggs” or “better meat” at all. You won’t see peta, mfa, compassion over killing… (he calls all of them welfarist) ever do that. It seems that his followers just don’t realize that. Only HSUS sometimes does that, but they also invest in vegan outreach, and you have to see where they come from (a huge animal welfare organisation, that now does lobbying francione and his army of one-on-one individuals could never do).
                  I’m interested in talking to you because indeed you seem to be a rational individual who tries to form an independent opionion, so if you still find merit in GLF’s views, i really want to see what that’s about and if maybe i’m missing something. Thanks.

                2. When people asked for the abolition of slavery, that was a “baby step”. Because you (un?)intentionally forget that the real fight was against racism.

                  If they wanted to achieve their true goal, they would have asked for vote and eligibility rights for black people. For the possibility for them to be elected president of the US and all these kind of rights.
                  But no, they asked for the “baby step” of abolition of slavery because they knew they could achieve this and that the rest will follow.

                  So when we ask for better living condition for animals, or reducing animal consumption, we’re also asking for a baby steps in our fight against speciesism.

                  Because asking for what you want to achieve at the end if not always the best strategy.

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