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:


Thich Nhat Hanh’s crime was saying this:


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.

45 thoughts on “Gary Francione and non-violence

  1. I find it extremely ironic that while speaking on nonviolence, Francione would state that the “Dalai Lama is obviously a joke” and Thich Nhat Hanh is a “spiritual huckster who simply does not understand nonviolence”.

    To me, nonviolence encompasses not only the physical, but the verbal, as well. The language & derogatory terms Francione has chosen while speaking on nonviolence are a mild form of violence.

    While attempting to make the point that he understands nonviolence better than two of the world’s most revered leaders for nonviolence & peace, Francione chooses to use violence.

    And I also say…50% of something beats 100% of nothing.

  2. At the moment I can only respond to the what was shown in the above post from Francione’s Fb page. For me there is an interesting tension between Francione’s “fundamental moral principles” and Thich’s “help transform the situation our planet is facing”. I wonder if Francione knows that his insistence on pure veganism is going to increasingly look out of touch as the global environmental crisis really hots up, and his way to confront this is to attack people who feel they must be pragmatic in the face of catastrophe, because he can’t attack the science.

      1. Leone, I just re-read your comment and was just about to say the same thing as Tobias.
        I especially like “…pragmatic in the face of catastrophe”…very well put…
        Once we finally figure out all our many varied and yet-to-be named vegan subcategories, we can use that for our category’s slogan… plus it would be awesome on a t-shrt… 🙂

    1. Perhaps, but any insistence on veganism is going to increasingly look out of touch. Veganism has little to do with addressing a global environmental crisis.

      Once you’ve accepted the language of the vegan community, I think Gary’s view follows pretty straightforwardly. Its hard to see Gary has the problem, but rather the underlying ideology and language of the vegan community. What exactly does one expect to achieve by repeatedly snipping Mr Francione?

    1. Now how to make it a quicker process for his followers see it for what it is…I’ve witnessed many do a lot of damage in that limbo & meantime. Some will spend their whole lives there & never leave, I’m afraid.

      1. This is only my observation – from what I have seen of Francione’s Fb page, hate functions as one type of glue for the group. Periodically, there are discussions that develop a “hate-in” element. Friction and antipathy can flare up wherever people are debating, but I have a strong impression that hate is part of the culture on Francione’s Fb page.

        1. in a sense i think it’s quite human. there is probably something “fun” about being angry and being against another group. it’s something perverse, but it’s probably to a certain extent in all of us…?
          Not that the hate-ins on GLF’s page can be excused.

      2. Hillary Rettig can probably comment more professionally on the topic about in-fighting among groups than I can, but it seems to be a standard thing that appears sooner or later, especially with groups that are focused on issues that bring out strong emotions in people.

        I’ve been involved in some other activism groups focused on other causes (including companion animals, circus animals, environmental issues, etc.) and I’ve witnessed the same thing with them, but never to the extent that I’ve seen from Franione & abolitionists.

        Not everybody in that group are that way, of course. But I’ve found it to be one of the most toxic entities I’ve ever experienced & witnessed in my whole life.

        I’ve never ever seen such hate & negativity expressed than that I’ve seen from Franione & abolitionists. For a group that claims to want compassion for all beings, they sure do show a lot of hate. 🙁

        1. I haven’t seen this show yet, but it seems like it might shed some light on the topic of in-fighting.

          THE BRAIN airs tonight, 10 pm ET / 9 pm CT

          “The brain has traditionally been examined in isolation, but we now know that a good deal of the brain’s circuitry is about interacting with other brains. We’re exquisitely social creatures, and this has allowed us to work together to build civilizations.
          But our social nature also has a downside. We compulsively form ingroups and outgroups, leading to outcomes from gangs to genocides. In this episode we’ll come to understand the neural networks inside us that beget the social networks around us.”

          It’s airing on PBS tonight for those in the U.S., but you can also watch all the episodes in the series online. I’ve watched a couple already and found them to be really interesting and insightful, with info that can be carried over to animal advocacy work.

        2. Hate, Chritine, is totally confined to innocent animals by aggressive humans who know and totally understand that they do not need to use or cause any harm to an animal.

          Let us keep on subject and not pointless finger pointing that prevents progress towards an absolute end to violence.

          Talk of violence in print hahaha such a joke.

  3. At the risk of sounding as if I am announcing “I quit” after I’ve been told, “your fired” ( by supervisor Leone) – I must ask the posters to step back and look at the sanctimonious attitudes on this page and the clucking obsession with Francione. As a vegan gaining a deeper appreciation for animal rights, I had hoped to come here to learn more about strategy and thought there might be an honest self-critical debate and refinement. Maybe that is too difficult.

    After seeing, reading and listening to Francione for many months, I believe I have a feel his personality type,foibles and inconsistencies – if its somehow cathartic and satisfying to watch some TV show to confirm a psychoanalysis of his apparently sociopathic behavior – is this what the “strategy” is all about?

    So I’ll continue to peruse the site in the future. I like Tobias , his earnestness and dedication. Leone is knowledgeable, a little pompous, but I won’t hold it against him. But so far this has become as much of a turn-off as Francione’s face book page. Hope it changes.


    1. Paul,

      I have a somewhat similar impression and I think many others that aren’t part of the drama are likely to as well, to me its just a fight over control of the vegan brand. My position is rather distinct from Gary’s view, but I still think he makes some reasoned points. I think Tobias makes some reasoned points as well.

  4. Mr Toad, I will echo you by stating that I think that Francione has made a major contribution to animals rights theory and that we all do well to keep revisiting some of his ideas. You are quite right that there is an element of fight to control the vegan brand – this, imo, is certainly true with Francione. But wouldn’t you say that this is inevitable where groups believe that veganism in the present (or near future) is essential to achieve animal rights/liberation? The other thing I would say is that I do not think it is irrelevant to look at Francione’s impact, including his style, on a site that is headed up, “strategy and communication ideas to reach vegan critical mass”. For example, if one thinks that the behaviour of Francione (given his Fb page and the significant Frabolitonist presence online) is actually going to make achieving vegan critical mass more difficult, then addressing it is justified. I would add that I support here the exploration and response to all issues with Francione in the same way that I support your critical position on veganism here – it is all part of the big picture. Those who want ALL discussions of Francione here to be nicey, nicey either don’t grasp his impact, or don’t want to grasp it for their own reasons, or, possibly, are simply and purposively Francione apologists.

    1. Leone,

      I don’t think the fighting is inevitable and is due to the underlying ideology and the increased commercialization of veganism over the years. Conflict is inevitable with commercialization, vegan food businesses are going to conflict (not necessarily a negative) and all the corporate animal welfare organizations can be problematic. While these groups have similar goals, they also have their own interests to protect.

      I don’t think its unreasonable to look at Francione’s impact but its likewise not unreasonable to look at the impact of routinely attacking him. The title of this blog post is “Gary Francione: violence in every sentience”. That isn’t just an attempt to discuss matters, its part of the continued mud slinging between the “abolitionists” and the “pragmatic abolitionists”. While I don’t expect all the discussions to be “nicey nicey” between competing groups, my question is whether any of this is productive. Its hard to see it as productive. And in terms of his impact, what exactly is it? Here is the issue, he claims you guys have a bad impact and the other side claims the same about him. Keyword being claim, but where is the evidence in either case? All I’m seeing abstract just-so stories and anecdotes.

      Therefore as someone that has no interests in promoting “a vegan world”, who isn’t an abolitionist…..all I’m seeing is fairly mirror differences between the “abolitionists” and the “pragmatic abolitionists”. Same goals, some underlying ideology, etc….just a disagreement about strategy. I’m not saying this to try to get anybody mad, its my actual impression and I think may others will walk with a similar impression.

      1. Thank you for your response to some if my points, Mr Toad, it has prompted me to further thought.

        Re. impact of Francione, well he is certainly talked about all over – DxE, anti-capitalists like Best, incrementalists like McWilliams and Syztbel, anarchist, etc. His impact within AR is undeniable. If you mean what is his impact outside AR scene, that is another question.

        I think you are right to suggest that the blog post is adversarial. I think it has moved the state of play on from addressing the way Francione and committed Frabolitionists attack all and sundry within vegan/AR scene, to saying, in effect, Francione is generally malign. However, those who believe veganism is integrally linked to non-violence (which is Francione’s own stance) may view his attack on Thich as a genuine issue.

        My own view is that if people are serious about Francione they need to dissect and critique his ideas. The problem with this, however, is, as you point out, underlying ideology is shared, just strategy differs. The way I see it is that the vegan approach (by which I mean any view that places veganism centrally as a means) fundamentally has the stance of individual morality, the basic political unit being the individual, which manifests in the vegan boycott and vegan critical mass. Whether you think the vegan boycott and vegan critical mass are to be achieved pragmatically or in a “purist” fashion is a difference in strategy.

        I find your point about commercialisation and corporatisation interesting.

        1. Mr Toad, my impression is that you see Francione and committed Frabolitioinists and Tobias and other vegan activists groups as singing from the same hymn-book, if choosing different hymns. Therefore, your focus is on “mud-slinging” as a means for different groups to put down others and wrest control of the movement. In consequence you really are not interested in whether Francione is a bully or problematic within the movement.

          1. yeah well, the hymns from each other are as different as it is possible within this movement to be. So if mr toad is singing from another book, i’d like to read the book. Or at least know the title.

        2. Mr Toad, I believe your real interest lies here – “Therefore as someone that has no interests in promoting “a vegan world”, who isn’t an abolitionist…..all I’m seeing is fairly mirror differences between the “abolitionists” and the “pragmatic abolitionists”. Same goals, some underlying ideology, etc….just a disagreement about strategy”. Give us a statement why the goals and ideology are wrong.

        3. Tobias, if you mean the vegan or animal rights/liberation movements, there are other hymn books. I think that Mr Toad is right to say Frabolitionism and pragmatic veganism have a lot in common (I have made this point in a comment to your latest post

        4. I wouldn’t say that DxE is entirely singing from another hymn book, although they differ clearly from pragmatic vegans and Frabolitionists in downplaying vegan boycott and veganism as means. My impression is that they see direct action as the way to advance animal rights and build a movement, but, ultimately, I think, like Frabolitionists and pragmatic vegans, they seek to work within the status quo. SHAC, I think, is not relevant here, because of it’s nature as a very focussed campaign. ALF has to be considered within the qualification that ALF is basically autonomous groups that frame their actions within ALF precepts. However ALF comes closest to singing from another hymn book, in that there is a clear anarchist element there.

          Anti-capitalist animal liberation is also another hymn-book – from what I have seen it has little time for vegan boycott and veganism as means, and, more to the point, it places animal liberation within a transformation of society.

          As I have said elsewhere, pragmatic veganism and Frabolitonism have much in common – vegan boycott and veganism as means, they just approach these differently within their strategy.

      2. i’ve written about this in the text i linked to at the end of this post ( If you can’t see the difference between what francione is doing and what his critics (like me) are doing when criticizing him for his criticism and bashing, then either you or me are not seeing things correctly.
        I think just merely the fact that a lot of good people who do great work get bashed by him and accused of all kinds of mean things, is really enough reason to stand up to this bully. I’m tending to think that if you disagree, you simply haven’t read enough of him. But in any case, i don’t write this for people outside the movement. This is mainly a blog on meta-activism.

        1. Leone,

          Personally I’m not interested in his impact in the AR scene because its a rather small subculture, I’m interested in his impact in general. Considering the vast majority have no idea what he says or thinks, its hard to see him having much of an impact in general society. But I’m not sure how being talked about would be a negative impact. My question with attacking him is, what exactly is it suppose to achieve? Its hard to see it as anything other than a fight for control within the “AR scene”, again, the vast majority have no idea what happens in this scene.


          I don’t think its fair to call Francione a “bully”, he has a particular point of view and expressions that point of view. But my primarily question here is, what does “standing up” to him achieve? Is he going to back-down? What does it change? And so on. You may not write this blog for people outside of the movement……but that doesn’t stop them from seeing it or the sentiment expressed. I mean, I’m not part of the vegan movement and I was well aware of this mud slinging before I came to your blog.

          1. it may not be fair to call him a bully in the sense that that is not a strong enough word, but the word critics like me are using to stay more or less polite. again, i think you don’t know him enough. and i think you position yourself inside and outside of this movement as seems fit to you. If you’re not inside of it, then probably you haven’t seen or read enough, and then it’s hard for you to judge wether or not he can be called a bully. I’m on the inside, more so than most people, and i know a thing or two, apart from all the stuff that is out there to read.

            I already explained again and again my reasons for writing about him.

        2. Tobias,

          Yes, you’ve written about it but that doesn’t mean others are obligated to agree. I am by no means trying to position myself in and out of the vegan community as I see fit, but I think I see the issue here. I’m aware of what people think in the vegan community but not being part of the vegan community I’m not aware of the social dynamics between its members. So, on the social front, perhaps you’re correct that if I was more aware of what occurred I would agree with you. But I’m not aware and nor are the vast majority of people….and from our perspective it just looks like mud slinging. Telling us outsiders that “hey, they other guy sucks…I’m the good one” isn’t exactly convincing from *our* perspective. I think you’re fighting an uphill battle on this.

        3. Tobias,

          Would you prefer it if “outsiders” didn’t read your blog? But surely you’re aware that what is discussed on public blogs, especially when attacking popular figures… going to be talked about else where?

        4. Just wanted to note, as an “outsider” I was made aware of your comments before I came to your blog. Again, surely you know that your posts are being shared on social media, etc where the audience is much wider. But I don’t think you really care how “outsiders” see things….

        5. Tobias,

          No, as I just explained, I’m an outsider in the sense that I’m not part of the vegan community and I am no vegan. On the other hand I am aware of what a variety of vegans think. Does that make me an outsider or insider? I guess it would depend on the context….but in the context of the social dynamics of the vegan community……I’m an outsider and your claims to “bullying” require that perspective and its not a perspective many are going to have.

          Of course….I’m sure that just went in one ear and out the other.

          1. Hey Mr. Toad,
            I’ve kind of kept out of the ongoing conversations with you and others, and I know my thoughts on this might seem one-sided, since I’m on the “vegan side”…but from my perspective, I think others might get frustrated with your comments because they sometimes seem to be only about pointing out what you see as incorrect or what’s not supported in others’ comments.

            Of course, healthy debate is good and also needed, and I personally think input from your standpoint is extremely important and valuable. But I think it might be hard for some after awhile, because it can be difficult to tell exactly where you’re coming from. It almost seems like you have something to prove, but I don’t think anybody can quite put their finger on it.

            Again, healthy debate is good, and I’m trying to insinuate any of this is anybody’s fault. I may be completely wrong and this is just my observation, but it’s the impression I get from being on the sidelines.

          2. p.s. Mr. Toad,
            Ack! Sorry, I made a typo in my last comment, last paragraph. I meant to write, “Again, healthy debate is good, and I’m NOT trying to insinuate…”

  5. The more discussions we have about this subject, the better. I can see where Francione is coming from, and agree with much of what he says- especially about the dangers of ‘welfarism’ giving non-vegans a ‘let out clause’, where they continue to eat meat because it has been ‘produced humanely’. But I can also see the benefits of getting large numbers of people to reduce their animal produce intake. If a thousand people reduce their intake of animal products by 10%, that’s the equivalent of 100 vegans, even though none of them are vegan.
    One thing I don’t agree with Francione about at all is abortion – he talked about it in an interview that I found online, and supports abortion, but like all who support abortion, he can’t actually discuss what it actually IS. He also tries to make out that white people wanting to simply live with their own people is some kind of ‘crime’, which he calls ‘racism’. Again, in an open debate he would be proved wrong about this, and abortion, and probably abolitionism.

  6. Steve – I hope nobody picks up on your reference to abortion because that is so bitterly contentious. I am saying nothing.

    However, if a person wants to live amongst white people because they are white, and therefore doesn’t want to live amongst black people because they are black , that is racist, isn’t it? However, if you mean wishing to be amongst people of your own culture, which may tend to correlate with those people also being white, then perhaps that is different. Anyway, Francione’s views on abortion or any non-animal issue are pretty irrelevant here.

  7. Having read more of Steve elsewhere, I would delete my last comments if I could as I now realise it was a mistake to respond to him.

  8. I am new to this site (found you via Matt Ball’s blog) and late to this post, but I just wanted to say that as someone who wants to help people make compassionate choices (and have a vegan world one day), I find it helpful to read your take on Francione. It helps me form a deeper understanding of the issues when there are multiple voices and perspectives – sometimes it is hard to hear beyond a loud one. And I agree that angry name calling, where the “opponent” is reduced to a mean ugly thing and divisiveness and self-defense takes over, is antithetical to promoting nonviolence.

  9. I know that a previous comment on a previous I have made today was a bit ‘blunt’ or possibly ‘harsh’, and understand why it won’t get printed on that post – however, I do hope someone, who owns this blog, has read what I said, because I meant it.

    And I did, was ‘careful’ about my words about Gary Francione, cos I don’t know him and cannot make assumptions.

    However, one of his ‘super’ fans, who is, well lets just say ‘traits of a psychopathic nature’ and uses veganism to portray his moral superiority complex (due to a very high level of narcissism), who spends his time propping up anything that GF says.

    He also felt that Thich Nhat Hanh wasn’t as intelligent as him because in a book he wrote, simply about mindfulness, explaining it in a very compassionate but easy to understand way to make it accessible to all, this particular felt that he wasn’t as intelligent as he was because Thich Nhat Hanh failed to mention the topics he was interested in.

    I have gone to about 5 retreats at Thich Nhat Hanh monastery in France. And his teachings are very profound, but would only work with people who have empathy anyway, and are not tied to another religion, such Christianity (only given that it is Buddhism). However Thich Nhat Hanh does often say, it’s not wise to force your opinions on others, because others have the right to choose, doing so goes against freedom and choice.

    When you restrict freedom and choice, then it’s turns into oppression. So Thich Nhat Hanh says, frequently, not to force people into his ideology, rather if you want to persuade, practice the mindfulness yourself, and when you are becoming more peaceful, people might choose for themselves, ‘that’s something that I want to do.’

    What a narcissist will fail to do, well for start Buddhist teachings won’t be ‘up their street’ as to practice it from a Buddhist perspective (not just the basic techniques of mindfulness, which you might find in prescribed services that the NHS provide for all), but in a Buddhist way, which involves a deep level of compassion and empathy.

    Therefore, for someone who cannot access empathy, mindfulness might work, but doing it in the way Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, I can’t see how that’s really possible.

    And also, a narcissist will not appreciate a message coming from someone else, who has a similar message to them, but is doing it in a much more powerful way.

    A narcissist will probably use more shaming techniques, whilst a deeply spiritual person, will use his message from his heart, with a very deep level of compassion.

    So you can see why, some people cannot and will not understand Thich Nhat Hanh, because you have to have some empathy (not a great amount I don’t think), to understand what Thich Nhat Hanh might mean. If you a void of this, you just won’t get it and will spend a lot of time and energy picking it apart.

    Would this upset Thich Nhat Hanh, no way, he would see that person with a lot of empathy and release that he suffers deeply and release that in reality his self esteem is very fragile. Thich Nhat Hanh’s self esteem is not fragile and he can cope very well with disagreements, anger, frustration, whatever. He will just have love for you and possibly see you as a child who is vulnerable and needs a lot of understanding and love.

  10. I’m sick of the ideological purity of Francione and his followers. They brand vegans who do not subscribe to their idiocy as “traitors” to the vegan movement and the animals. What they fail to see is their kind are the ones making it harder for the world to accept veganism.

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