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.

“Persuasion resistance”

Most people have built-in “persuasion resistance“, as salesmen call it. They don’t like to be convinced by others, they don’t like to be told what to do. Also concerning the food that’s on our plate, they’ll decide about that themselves. They need no government regulations or animal rights or vegetarian groups preaching to them about what to eat, and what not, how much of it, or how they should prepare it. They’ll make up their own minds about all that, thank you very much.

As changemakers, it is important to keep this in mind. All we can do is give people information, maybe show the flaws in their reasoning sometimes (when we’re talking to reasonable people), and let them work out the rest for themselves.

However, it may also be useful to point out to them that it is an illusion to think that they are entirely in control of their food choices. What most people eat is very heavily determined by agriculture and economy, culture and tradition, what our parents ate, and what commercial interests want us to eat.

As an illustration of this, check out the graphic from the counting animals website. The chart represents the US advertising budgets of different food cooperations, compared to those of animal interest groups. It would be interesting to compare this also with government budgets for healthy or sustainable eating.

On being right versus winning

People who want to make the world a better place and adhere to a certain ideology often tend to have a lot of (sometimes heated) discussions. Through discussions and arguments, they want to show the other party that they are wrong and should change their ways. Vegetarians/vegans/animal rights activists are particularly prone to do so.

I have always held that trying to convince another person of something is not a crime. It *is* however, an art. If you believe in something that something is good, and you have rational arguments to back it up, you have every right to try to make another person see your point of view and to try to change him or her in your direction (of course, we are not talking about coercion or manipulation). The core of the issue is doing it in an effective way.

I would like to touch on a distinction between three different things here: being right, winning an argument, and winning.

  • being right: this is when you either believe you are objectively right, or actually are objectively right – there’s not that much difference. Being right has no real effect in terms of what you want to achieve. I.e. you may be right in thinking that eating animals is murder, but if another person doesn’t agree, it doesn’t have much effect.
  • winning an argument happens when someone else says you are right. It may have an effect, but not necessarily so. Don’t think that when another person admits defeat in an argument, you are necessarily achieving something except an ego-boost. In fact, the opposite might be happening. An expression from sales is “win an argument, lose a customer”. Maybe the other person admits defeat, but it may make him even less sympathetic towards you or the cause you defend.
  • winning: winning happens when you are actually achieving the results you want to achieve. You may need to do some digging for that. You have to check whether the new behaviour of the other (which you have helped set in motion) is actually making a diffence, e.g. for animals. If that happens, then not just you but everyone wins.

Try not to be right, try not to win arguments. Just try to win!