I shouldn’t have to write this: on Veganuary-bashing

I’m going to do something stupid in this post, maybe. I’m going to give more exposure to an article that should never have been written.

The article is titled The Annual Veganuary Fail (you can find it with Google, unfortunately). It criticizes (an understatement) the wonderful Veganuary campaign. Veganuary, as you may know, is about getting people to try vegan for a month, and see where that takes them.

The article is the stuff that I usually try to ignore. However, it contains so many arguments that pop up again and again especially among newly minted vegans who believe in Gary Francione’s “abolitionist approach”, and the Unified Theory of Everything that I thought it was valuable to share some thoughts. Furthermore, I know the Veganuary organizers personally. They’re great people, and I think it’s good to speak up when great people are attacked or misrepresented (and I think we’re not standing up enough against this kind of bashing).

The original text is in bold, while my brief thoughts (I’m being selective and I’m trying to stay polite) are below it. Here and there, I will link to other posts of mine, in case you’re interested in reading more thoughts. Oh, and you may notice how I get a bit exasperated and exhausted near the end.

So, take a deep breath; here we go.

pig veganuary

 

The Annual Veganuary Fail

Original article: It’s getting to the time of year again when Veganuary start their fundraising campaign for January. If you’re unaware of who Veganuary are, the quick explanation is that they’re a charity that fundraises off the back of trying to get people to go vegan – for a month.

My comments: Now this is a pretty bad start. It is a very uncharitable and disingenuous description of Veganuary. If we differ in opinion about tactics, I suggest that we at least start from the idea that we have the same intentions and ambitions. We all want to help animals. There’s no need to imply that people who use tactics we don’t agree with are money-grabbers.

You may be thinking “great, an organisation that takes veganism seriously for once.” I hate to burst your bubble but, if that’s what you’re thinking – you would be wrong.

Telling people they are wrong – especially with this much conviction when we’re certain of so little – is rarely the most productive way of advancing mutual understanding. 

On a fundamental level, the mere concept of Veganuary itself is a rejection of fundamental nonhuman rights.

Note how the word “fundamental” occurs twice in one sentence…

Think about it for a second. They’re not informing people about why as a matter of fundamental morality we need to be vegan, they’re asking people to make what is nothing more than a personal choice decision.

First of all, I’m not sure how the author arrives at this impression from the Veganuary campaign. If you go to the “why” section on the Veganuary website, the first reason listed is “animals”: “Animals are able to perceive and feel, and experience pain and happiness just as we do. Production of food and clothing causes them to suffer in innumerable ways.” I’m hard put to see this as presenting people with “nothing more than a personal choice decision.

Secondly: whatever works. It’s a very common theme among some animal advocates to insist on the moral argument, and on being “crystal clear” that others have an ethical duty, a moral obligation, to go vegan. Even if that were true, presenting things as an obligation, and telling people they have to do things for the reasons that we want them to have is a recipe for failure. People don’t like obligations. They’re very unattractive. Presenting something as a moral duty is the kind of preaching that many people are allergic to. Presenting things as a choice is much more appealing. The Veganuary people know this, and are applying that knowledge. They are only bound by what works (even if it’s not always easy to find out what that is).

It’s a gimmick and an insult to the vulnerable victims of non-veganism. It’s the animal equivalent of “Movember” where some men decide to grow a moustache to help people with certain forms of cancer or mental health issues. The difference is that the latter doesn’t involve fundamental rights violations and so therefore will not be harmed by gimmicks; the former does involve fundamental rights violations – via our treating sentient beings as resources – and so relegating the issue to one of personal choice in the form of a 1-month trial is a denial of the very real exploitation that occurs on account of non-veganism.

Why would Veganuary be an insult to the animals? Why would it involve “fundamental [here we go again] rights violations”? Just because Veganuary doesn’t play the moral obligation card enough? Enough with the demagoguery already!

If you’re not with me so far…

I’m afraid I’m not. But let’s continue anyway, for the heck of it.

… consider how you might feel if we relegated other forms of fundamental rights violations to 1-month a year gimmicks. What about “Feminibruary,” where for the month of February we ask rapists to make the personal choice to stop raping women for that month? Outrageous! Preposterous!… you may think – but it’s okay. If we steal Veganuary’s logic, we’ll have “reduced the suffering” of women by “inspiring and supporting people across the globe” to not rape in February. Wonderful! We’ve provided absolutely no information about why people shouldn’t rape in the first place, but we’ve made a lot of money off the back of fundraising, and made the rapists feel better in that month for “reducing the suffering” of women.

What’s outrageous and preposterous is this eternal and absurd comparison of eating animal products with rape. It doesn’t make any sense to compare something which 99% of the population condemns (rape) with something which 99% of the population actively celebrates (eating animal products). Even if you think that something isn’t any less wrong when everyone does it, at least you may want to consider that such completely different situations may require different strategies and ways of communicating about them.
It’s amazing how often I see this argument turn up, with the people explaining it believing they are so, so right, while I think they are so, so… misguided. (Posts that I have written about this topic: On comparing animal rights with other social justice causes and Is asking for baby steps speciesist? and Slavery Free Mondays.)

To the extent that Veganuary would find my “Feminibruary” idea offensive but think that Veganuary as a concept is just dandy – they engage in outright speciesism. By portraying veganism as some month-long trial, a personal choice, a way to “reduce suffering” (hello welfarists, I’m looking at you), they effectively deny the existence of fundamental nonhuman interests in life and serve to perpetuate the very same speciesism that feeds non-veganism in the first place.

First of all, it’s so easy to throw the accusation of speciesism out there. Following the author here – and continuing with his analogy – it would seem that it would be speciesist to not physically attack people in slaughterhouses, supermarkets or restaurants for processing, buying or eating meat, because if we saw a rape happening, we’d also jump up and try to stop it and beat up or punish the rapists, right? (See my post When the term “speciesism” gets overused.)

Furthermore, I’m not sure how anyone can say that Veganuary “effectively denies the existence of nonhuman interests.” Veganuary is a campaign by a couple of people who care a lot about animals and who have even invested a lot of their own resources in this project. They do that exactly because they believe animals have interests. They do what they do to get as many people on the vegan wagon, through whatever arguments and tactics work. They use a proven and psychologically sound strategy: trying on something for size, without any commitment for the long term, is something way less scary for people than a lifetime commitment, which as we know, most people don’t want to make right away (see Why Veganuary is a great campaign and The imperfect veganism of Erza Klein).

We are offended by a concept such as “Feminibruary” because it is relegating the fundamental rights of women – to bodily integrity, to not be made to suffer, to not have their interest in life denied, to not be used as a resource – to nothing more than a month-long personal choice for those who readily engage in the exploitation of women. It is saying that the personal choices of those who engage in that exploitation matter more than the rights of the victims. It’s saying that the exploitation of women is not a fundamental matter of morality.

So again, what the author seems to be saying is that we have to tell people that they are under an obligation to feel and do as we vegans do; otherwise, they are fundamentally infringing on animals’ rights. I don’t think such a message works very well, but if you want to try it, go ahead, but at least don’t attack other people for using another message. And maybe stop ranting at campaigners like the Veganuary folks about how they are just into raising money, as well as being unethical for other reasons. 

Veganuary is no different in concept to my “Feminibruary” idea. Animals too, are sentient beings, with fundamental interests in not suffering and continuing to live. Their exploitation is every bit a matter of fundamental morality as the exploitation of any other sentient being with those similar interests. It makes no difference whether they’re human or nonhuman – all sentient beings are equal when it comes to being used as resources. The existence of Veganuary as a concept alone, is a denial of this, and so before we even consider the content of their fundraising, they’re perpetuating speciesism.

I think the author, me, the readers, and the Veganuary people all agree about the exploitation of animals being a matter of “fundamental morality.” Again, that is exactly what Veganuary is all about. As the stakes are very high, and as we understand the incredible suffering and injustice that is happening, we need to do something about it. And what we do should be based on what we believe or know works, not just on a theory or an approach invented by some professor or other. Veganuary isn’t a denial of anything. Or maybe it’s a denial of the dogma that we have an ethical obligation to present veganism as an ethical obligation, instead of doing what works.

Things get even more messy when we delve into the actual content. They claim to want to “reduce the suffering of animals while making veganism more appealing to the mainstream.” By focusing on “reducing suffering” alone they are embracing welfarist ideology. Most likely that of “the father,” Peter Singer, who maintains that because the animals we exploit lack more sophisticated human-like cognition, they don’t have an
interest in continuing to live – they only have an interest in not suffering.

Reducing suffering is a different approach from asking for animal rights. Both approaches may have their strong points, and this is an area where we could be open and curious about each other’s viewpoints and philosophy, rather than just saying the other side is wrong. Both a consequentialist and a deontological view can be respectable (although my money is on the former). What’s not respectable is to be dogmatic about what ideology we should use. And yes, while we’re at it, why not bash Peter Singer a bit: a man who has done more than almost anyone in the world to raise awareness about animal ethics. Makes a lot of sense.

The perpetuation of this false ideology is just another string to the bow of speciesism that Veganuary have aimed at the non-vegan public. They intend to let their arrows of confusion fly around the London underground this year where they aim to have 50,000 people partake in not raping… whoops, sorry, thought I was talking about Feminibruary again for a moment. Ahem – where they aim to have 50,000 people being “vegan” – for a month. No education as to why people should be vegan for life, just like we should always respect the fundamental rights of other humans and, you know, not rape them… ever. Just asking people to be vegan for a month for no apparent reason other than to “reduce suffering,” and they believe this will somehow make veganism “more mainstream.” Because, of course, as you know, animals don’t care that we’re killing them by the trillions every year for no good reason.

Someone fills the London underground with vegan posters, and we’re gonna complain and compare this to an appeal to temporarily stop raping. I leave it to you to assess the absurdity here for yourself.

Of course, Veganuary can help make veganism more mainstream. There is no evidence that telling people that they HAVE TO BE VEGAN FOR LIFE! works better than an approach where you tell them to try it out for a month and guide them along with daily mails, recipes, etc. But of course, there is the dogma: the “abolitionists” appear to believe that even if something else would work better, they still wouldn’t be ethically allowed to campaign that way. Following Francione-dogma trumps achieving results, apparently.

Animals just want to suffer a little bit less in January. That’s all they want – how silly of me to think they need more from us than that. My bad, Veganuary. But hey, it’s cool if you don’t want to go vegan in January anyway – It’s your personal choice to decide whether you want to engage in rights violations that month, right?

Pleeeeease, you’re killing me…

I mean, you’ve been given no real reason to take it seriously. Those rights violations would need to be made more “mainstream” in order for you to take them seriously, right? Whether or not you choose to observe a woman’s right not to be used as a resource in February is no different to whether or not you decide to give up drinking in October – damn it, I did it again didn’t I? Let me start over. Whether or not you choose rape women in February is no more a matter of your moral concern than whether you decide to go alcohol- free in October to “reduce the suffering” of your liver, right? – wait, I know. I know. I’ve done it again. I’ve confused one gimmick concerning the fundamental rights of a sentient being for another.

So many disingenuous, strawman arguments and so much absurdity here that I’ll leave this paragraph to you.

Obviously, I’m being facetious. What can I say? I’m sorry. I have a habit for doing that. What I really want to say is – Veganuary. Cut the crap.

I agree with “Cut the crap.”

Take the fundamental rights of animals seriously and use the zillions you’ve raised through fundraising over the years to actually do some real vegan education and educate – yourselves for starters – and then the non-vegan public. Educate about why we need to go vegan and stay vegan in recognition of the fundamental right all sentient beings possess not to be used as a resource. Educate about the nonhuman interest in continuing to live that we deny even exists through our “personal choice” to exploit them.

Zillions through fundraising. Sure. Let’s get more concrete. I checked with the Veganuary team. The campaign has been run for 12 months on around £70,000. The London Underground campaign was crowdfunded and raised around £30K more. Matthew and Jane, the initiators, work for free and told me they will never earn an income from Veganuary – in fact, they’ve put in around £200K of their own money since the start, and live in a small rented home. There are three other members of staff who are now paid very humble salaries – far less than they could earn outside of animal advocacy.

And we must recognize this, not just for January (what kind of insult is that anyway?) – but for life. That is the very least we owe animals. Just as recognition of fundamental rights is the very least we owe other humans.

Again, good luck telling people they have to go vegan for life. Again: is it more important to stick to one’s rules and ideology than to have actual results for animals? I know, I’m starting to repeat myself…

But wait – I’m getting carried away again aren’t I. You’re not going to do that, because you can’t fundraise as effectively from the truth as opposed to something as ambiguous as “reducing suffering.” You won’t make as much cash. It’s not “mainstream” enough – how very sad.

And once again, here’s the nasty implication that the Veganuary people are in it for the money. Deplorable. Really.

I can hear the protests already – “we’re effective, that’s all that matters!”
Effective at what? Perpetuating the age-old idea that animals don’t care about continuing to live? Perpetuating the idea that concern for the rights of animals is not a matter of fundamental morality but a matter of personal choice? A gimmick that one can partake in over a trial period with no real idea as to why? Yeah. Congratulations – I’m setting off party poppers right now in celebration.

If people try Veganuary for a month, many of them will get familiarized with the ethical problems of eating animal products. Moreover, they hopefully will have experienced that vegan food can be tasty, doable, affordable and convenient. That may make their hearts and minds more open to the ethical arguments. Attitude change often follows behavior change rather than preceding it. (See also Let Beyonce be. About the biggest oversight in our movement.)

Lets raise a glass and toast Veganuary for never failing to hit the final nail in the river-coffin that sends every animal down the waterfall and into the hands of corporate welfarism. Lets toast the perpetuation of denied personhood in favour of human supremacy and personal choice.

Oh boy. Can we finish already? I can’t take this anymore.

Way to go. This has to stop.

I’d love it if some things would stop. What has to stop is cruelty to animals, animal suffering, killing animals, injustice. Whatever you want to call it. We’re all in the same boat and on the same page here, I think. But what I’d love to stop also are articles like this, criticizing well-meaning, smart, committed and authentic advocates.

Articles like this are what following Francione-dogma leads to. If you believe you’re influenced by the theories of Gary Francione, think about them again. Keep an open mind. Know that nothing in life is black and white. Follow the evidence where it goes instead of just accepting and repeating the dogma. Know that our work is not about building and following a consistent grand theory of everything, but about having a positive impact for animals in the real world.

p.s. – Inevitably some people will tell me either that I’m wasting my time, or that I’m just continuing the bashing, or that I’m giving more attention to something that shouldn’t get any attention. You can read my motivation for speaking out here.

Gary Francione and non-violence

Thich Nhat Hanh is a spiritual teacher. Even if you raise your eyebrows at anything sounding like religion or spirituality, do continue reading.

CORRECTIONZen Buddhist leader Thich Nh
In 1967 Martin Luther King strongly suggested Thich Nhat Hanh be given the nobel prize for peace, for his peace activism in Vietnam. He never received it because the situation was too policital. Had he received it, his name by now would be much more widely known still.

There is nothing particularly metaphysical, supernatural or religious about his teachings, which are about being present, meditation, or the value of compassion.

Thich Nhat Hanh is vegan. The food that is served in the communities that he founded is vegan. Thus he inspires thousands of longer time residents as well as day visitors to a vegan lifestyle. He also talks and writes about eating animals and animal products in his books, which are full of compassion. If anyone is the embodiment of compassion and what veganism – or a vegan – should ideally be, it may very well be Thich Nath Hahn (though I am sure that, like the rest of us, he’s a mere human being with his own challenges).

Gary Francione, who is known to critize about any leading figure or organisation in the animal rights movement, recently also criticized Thich Nhat Hanh, writing the following:

thich2

Thich Nhat Hanh’s crime was saying this:

thich1


Thich Nhat Hanh probably understands that he’ll have much more impact among the wide population with a message like this than with a go vegan message. He probably understands that all people eating fifty percent less meat is probably enough to tip the system, so it can move further towards world veganism. Thich Nhat Hanh is not concerned with the purity of his ideology, but with the actual impact of his words on the reduction of suffering in the world.

Francione states that Thich Nhat Hanh doesn’t understand the basics of non-violence. That is beyond ironic, coming from someone whose words about other activists and organisations can hardly be called non-violent. Someone like Thich Nhat Hanh can hardly be expected to take any lessons from someone like Gary Francione.

GLF list
PS For those who think that whoever criticizes Francione is guilty of the same things the professor is, please read this.

Gary Francione vs. the Vegan Society

When I criticize Gary Francione, I do so mostly because he doesn’t cease to criticize almost every other animal rights organisation or individual imaginable. I am not keen on giving the man and his writings extra attention, but I just feel that at least some people have to speak out against him, and have to speak up for the organisations and the individuals he attacks. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.

The day I wrote this, in a matter of hours, Francione had been criticizing on his Facebook page, in order of appearance: the Vegan Society, DxE, Farm Sanctuary, and Mercy For Animals. One imagines our professor writing himself into a frenzy, foaming at the mouth, and forever encouraged by his followers, who cheer him on with every word he writes (the comments are where it gets really ugly).

Let’s take a look at the bones Francione has to pick with the Vegan Society – a favorite target of his during the past few years. Francione is especially unimpressed with some of the Vegan Society’s Ambassadors. Having taken more than one swing at Fiona Oakes (a vegan ultramarathon runner and farm sanctuary owner) for saying that a vegan diet is not for everyone, he now does the same with another Ambassador, the comedian Sara Pascoe*. Francione criticizes Pascoe for a number of things (you can read it on his blog – which I reluctantly link to here – if you must). As evidence, he links to an essay by Pascoe).

vegan society

Pascoe, like Oakes, says veganism is not a lifestyle she would recommend for everyone. Francione is horrified at that. Let me first say that I very well understand that it makes many vegans, including myself, cringe a little bit when they hear something like that. A vegan diet, of course, can be – should be – for everyone. And it will be, one day, I’m sure of that.

Maybe both Oakes’ and Pascoe’s line were not ideal (they certainly go against vegan orthodoxy), but, just to give you another view on this: I for one, can imagine that a phrase like that could be read as a tongue in cheek challenge, actually motivating people (“I am one who can do it”) instead of turning them off.

Francione focuses on some other statements by Pascoe. One is about her “not being against eating animals or farming in theory” – which I personally wouldn’t say, but which only vegans will get worked up about. To most non-vegans, this will probably sound more reasonable than saying you want the abolition of all animal farming. It’s a matter of speaking one’s truth versus being effective, maybe (Francione consistently goes for the former). Francione’s comment on Pascoe saying she doesn’t know “how conscious animals are” seems unfair, because she is talking about pain being even worse if there is less awareness of why it is happening – which may be the case for some non-human animals.

Apart from the content of Pascoe’s statements: an organisation such as the Vegan Society will choose its Ambassadors for their outreach potential and their connecting ability. It is probably hard enough to find capable vegan Ambassadors as it is. To expect that they are always entirely speaking according to the party line, may be expecting too much. Moreover, Francione is digging in Pascoe’s past before she became a Vegan Society Ambassador. It’s not unlike what political rivals do to each other, trying to find compromising quotes and behavior in another’s past.

Lastly, as usual, I find Francione’s criticisms unnecessarily nasty. The Vegan Society is an organisation full of committed people, working for the animals like the rest of us. To say that they are “trashing veganism”, or that the society has become “nothing but a joke”, or that it is “rotten from the top down”, is well… just plain nasty.

Francione ends his diatribe by saying that Donald Watson (founder of the Vegan Society and the one who, together with his wife Dorothy, coined the word “vegan”), “must be spinning in his grave.”

You mean, the Donald Watson of the original Vegan Society, who in 1951 agreed to put this wording into their articles of association?

“An Associate makes no promise as to behaviour but declares himself in agreement with the object. The door is thus widely opened, and the Society welcomes all who feel able to support it.”
(as quoted in Are you vegan enough?)

I can certainly imagine that the communication of Fiona Oakes and Sara Pascoe can be improved upon. But so can all of ours. I don’t see why anyone needs to make a fuss out of this like Francione does, and actually tries to influence his “followers” not to renew their Vegan Society memberships. Deplorable.

The big irony though, is that the essay by Sara Pascoe is, in my humble opinion, so much more helpful, convincing and appealing than anything Francione himself has ever written (that I’m aware of, I obviously don’t read everything). While Francione can see only black and white (the only morally defensible position, according to him, undoubtedly), Pascoe shows more understanding of people’s psychology by giving them permission to slip up occasionally, or have breaks, and not be too hard on themselves. She isn’t patronizing, which cannot be said of Francione, and which is for most people definitively a turn off.

Much ado about nothing, as usual, from Gary Francione.

Why I’m openly criticizing Francione (final post)

Some people asked me why I’m criticizing Francione (and the franciobots) like this, and are telling me I’m making the same mistake he does: going against people who basically have the same purpose.  Or they are saying that it is a waste of time and energy. In part, these are sound objections, and I’m sure part of me is driven by some amount of frustration – rarely a productive emotion – by what I see happening.

You see, I feel it had to be done.

I feel that there is not enough criticism of Francione’s approach and his behaviour out there. Maybe it is because the organisations and individuals he targets are more civilized than he is (and than I am, apparently). Maybe they don’t want the movement to seem even more divided than it already is. And undoubtedly, they are investing their time in things that are more effective.

But I feel that especially new activists, when falling for Francione’s tirades about how awful and ineffective animal rights organisations are, should be able to hear some other voices too. These few posts are my modest contribution to the body of material critical of Francione and those who mindlessly follow him in his negativiy. And if especially the post on the Rise of the franciobots may be seen as slighly rude towards some people, I hope it gives those same people an impression of what it is to be on the receiving end of criticism.

I do not think that Francione is all bad. Like I said, his books have their merits, and if put to good use, he has the charisma and eloquence to do real good in this world. And personally I support his stance against violent tactics. But there’s so many buts. The way he maintains and widely publishes that organisations are counterproductive and that their staff have sold out, the way he opposes all welfare reforms, the way he personally attacks people and groups, the way he has everyone blocked from his Facebook who disagrees with him (go ahead, try!), the way he even tries to block speakers from conferences… Those are all things that I think cannot and should not be condoned. I feel I should not tolerate that kind of intolerance.

Anyway, I’m finishing this series of posts here, because indeed, there are more productive and peaceful things to focus on. But I’ll finish with expressing some hopes…

mapI hope that activists can see that rather than betraying the vegan message and selling out to the industry, most organisations are pragmatic and strategic (rather than overly ideological and purist, like Francione is), and this is nothing to blame them for. Quite the contrary. Maybe the animal industry’s response to, for instance, HSUS is an indication. Francione, on the other hand, does not even feature on this map the meat industry puts together.

I hope that activists can take note of how damaging the divisive attitude of Francione is, and how the industry profits from it.

I hope we can all believe in each other’s good intentions, in spite of differences in approach.

I hope that, even when people don’t actively support them, they at least stop opposing welfare reforms

And I hope, most of all, that someday we can be the united, undivided movement that the animals need and deserve.

———————————–

In case you want to read more, here’s just a small selection of resources critical of Francione:

On the road to liberation: scroll down to the very bottom, to the related posts

Suppremacy Myth

Ok then, Francione (see also the links under the article)

Science weighs in at last (by the late Norm Phelps)

Banned by fellow vegans

Vegan activism and the effectiveness of the abolitionist approach

Or read how Francione even fights with The Abolitionist Vegan Society here and here

I used to be a Francione fan (on Gary Francione and “abolitionists”, part 2)

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

Though Gary Francione has written a few books – which have their merits – he has mainly made a name for himself by criticizing animal rights organisations. Virtually no organisation, in his eyes, seems to deliver a net benefit for the animals. One could wonder: where is the appeal in this kind of message?

GLF list

Actually, I do understand the appeal of Francione’s message. More than that: I used to be a fan, back in 1997, when I first started with animal rights activism. I was writing my thesis about the human-animal relationship and got really enthusiastic about Francione’s book Rain without Thunder. And I was shocked: wow, this guy was the real deal, and lots of other public animal rights activists and organisations were actually betraying the cause of abolitionism, right? Now here was a man whose message was pure; here was somebody with a clear aim, who wouldn’t take anything less than total animal liberation for an answer. Yes, this was going to be a message that a lot of people wouldn’t want to hear, but… you can’t have rain without thunder, right?

I remember bringing this book up, very enthusiasticallly, to a leader of the animal rights movement in my country, Belgium. He didn’t react very positively to my enthusiasm. At that moment I wondered why, but I forgot about it. For some time, I remained under the illusion that Francione was right, and that all the others were selling out, leading us astray from our true cause.

It seems to be how today’s Francione fans think and act. They are raging against all kinds of groups, uncritically taking Francione’s words for true, believing that PETA, FARM, Mercy For Animals, the Vegan Society in the UK… have all sold out.

To those who believe that, I would say: talk to the really dedicated people in these organisations. Is it credible that those who put their lives in the service of the animals, some of whom started decades ago, and who have not eaten animal products for ages, and who have had a huge impact in creating awareness about veganism and animal rights… is it credible that those people have actually sold out? Is it credible that all of a sudden they have all become reformists or welfarists? Is it credible that they’re actually not thinking about strategy? Is it credible that they’re all less intelligent than you and Gary Francione?

So that’s the conclusion I reached myself, after a while. I talked to people in the movement. I started to see things from the perspective of the people we want to reach, instead of just adhering to dogma I heard again and again. So I no longer went along with Francione. I try not to doubt people’s good intentions, so although it requires quite a stretch for me, I try to still assume Francione is doing what he’s doing with the best intentions, out of compassion for animals, and that he actually believes what he says and preaches. And I want to believe the same about the people who follow him.

But I have moved on, and I hope my posts on this topic can help some followers of Francione to start thinking critically about his approach. 

Basically, if you’re an animal rights activist, this is a trajectory you might go through:

Phase 1: you discover animal rights, maybe through one of the organisations. You get into it deeper.
Phase 2: you discover Francione or the abolitionist approach. You think you’d do better to be very critical of the organisations you thought were good and interesting and effective.
Phase 3: you get over Francione and the abolitionist approach, see it for what it is, and you know that by supporting the work of most animal rights organisations, you are indeed contributing to abolitionism, only in a much more pragmatic and effective way than by adhering to Francionite dogma.

Back to Rain without thunder
Think about that title for a minute, and think of how often you see rain without thunder…?

Right: all the time.

Thinking is vegan. It’s allowed, you know.

On Gary Francione and the “abolitionists” (1)

(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.