HSUS acts directly: or why non-systemic approaches and economism are not radical

I've blogged a great deal recently about both direct action and economism, and I return to this topic, but with an unusual focus: the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). There is a misunderstanding among some advocates that helping alleviate the suffering of some nonhuman animals while leaving the systemic slavery of other animals intact is radical. 

There is also a sense among some advocates that harming exploiters by limiting their profits is a 'radical' critique of capitalism. There is also a sense that economism is somehow morally meaningful. This is all very deeply misguided, and HSUS' campaign against Westland/Hallmark is a good example of why.

Animals as persons with rights or things with feelings: responding to "happy meat"

A colleague has written with some questions:
I get a lot of people to admit that the way we raise animals is cruel and that we should avoid that but very few think we shouldn't use animals at all. For those people who are going down the happy meat path, what do you say? How do you start on the abolitionist notion? How do you appeal to a sense that animals shouldn't be used?
Many advocates, even those who self-identify as abolitionists focus on cruelty as a gateway to talking about use, and this is problematic. What this assumes and furthers (in effect, if not intent) is a sense that animals are "things with feelings" rather than as persons with rights. 

From an abolitionist perspective, the moral problem is not treatment, but use.  Francione has a pair of good, recent articles on "happy meat", welfarism and the issues surrounding it (although there are undoubtedly more at his Web site):


His most recent book Animals as Persons is also devoted to understanding nonhuman animals as persons and what that entails.  As vegetarianism is not a meaningful gateway to veganism, and reform is not a meaningful gateway to abolition, neither is convincing someone that animals are "things with feelings" a meaningful gateway to convincing people that animals are persons with rights. As abolitionists, our role is to convince people that use is the problem because nonhuman animals are persons with rights.

It is not surprising that approaches that focus on cruelty tend to confuse many people about what exact moral problems animal advocacy seeks to solve and that they almost immediately encounters objections with respect to "happy meat".  I do not believe that any animal is ever happy to be exploited, to have his or her interests disregarded, and so on.  There is also plenty of evidence that humane, free run, cage free, etc., animal products do not even achieve the reduction in suffering that they claim.  But we should always keep the focus of our outreach on the rights of nonhuman animals as persons and the moral duties we owe nonhuman animals in light of their personhood.

I realize this up-ends the entire 'received wisdom' of most animal advocacy practice today, but I have sufficient reasons to believe that these advocate practices are based on a mistunderstanding of the moral problem that animal use poses as well as no serious understanding of effective propaganda practices. Because animal advocates have focused on cruelty historically is not evidence that this is an effective way to do outreach, and, objectively, this approach is flawed for a number of reasons.

Rhetorically speaking, the "standard welfare outreach approach" is that we should convince someone that the way we raise nonhuman animals is the moral problem because they suffer as a result of their treatment. This is inimical to the abolitionist position that the moral problem is use, not treatment, and does not provide a strong footing, either for veganism or for abolition.

When we assume suffering is the problem, we might argue that vegan*sm is the solution to this problem.  If we consider suffering primarily, then the implication is not veganism but anything that may or may not actually reduce suffering. Or, we might promote reforms of the present system as the solution to suffering as the problem. Or, we might promote direct action or violence as the solution to suffering as the problem.  Or we might promote all three.

But insofar as "animal welfare" approaches in various forms focus on suffering, they fail to understand and communicate effectively to the public what we owe nonhuman animals as persons with rights to whom we owe unequivocal duties. Instead, the welfare approach tends to regard nonhumans as only "things with feelings" whose suffering we are trying to reduce. As Gary Francione argues in Rain Without Thunder, among other works, that is not a radical or new position, and in fact, has been around for a very long time.  As a statistical matter, welfare has not made a serious dent in animal use; this is probably because it never seeks to convince anyone that animal use is a moral problem.

Further, if we fail to convince people that animal use is morally wrong because animals are rights-holders, we should not try to convince them that they should "cut back" in light of cruelty. First, we are in no moral position to bargain away the rights and interests of nonhuman animals and 2) it is not at all clear that saying "it's okay to harm some nonhuman animals some of the time" is an effective strategy to achieve an end to the general public perception that it is okay to harm some nonhuman animals some of the time.

In short, an upfront focus on the moral problems attending to cruelty followed by an explanation of the moral problems attending to animal use are at odds with one another in terms of their logical implications, and furthermore, there is no need to make extra work for ourselves. We should start by just explaining the moral problems attending to animal use.

Of course, in general, there is a fine and often problematic line between simply relaying the facts of certain realities: that most nonhuman animals suffer horribly as the result of factory farming, and convincing people that this is the moral problem. But even if we 'cap' a lengthy argument with respect to how horribly factory farm animals suffer, with a statement on use, the impression we are most likely to leave is that treatment is the problem. So, in many respects, I think it is best to

1) begin with an explanation of animals as sentient beings with interests

2) that because at least two of the interests they have (among many potentially) is to continue their lives and to be free from unnecessary suffering and exploitation.

    Having laid the groundwork for the moral argument by establishing the morally relevant facts, I then explain that

    3) in light of these interests, I have sufficient reasons to accord them a moral right not to be used as my resources because that is the simplest way to respect both interests and probably many others.

    4) and that the logical implication of taking their right not to be used as a resource seriously is not to work to reduce their suffering whether through reforms, militancy or vegetarianism, or to regulate their legal status as our property, but rather not to use them at all when it is possible and pratical to do so (i.e.., to go vegan), to work to abolish their legal status as our property, and to work to educate others about the relationship and morally important nature of veganism, abolition and nonviolence accordingly.

    I also answer questions about animal suffering or about health or environmental issues related to veganism, economics, etc., as they come up and as factually as I can. But I don't lead with these things, and I always try to keep the focus on the moral issues and our moral obligations to nonhuman animals as persons with rights rather than as "things with feelings". What is most important is to begin with a clear explanation of the moral considerations we owe other animals, their rights in light of that consideration, and how veganism and abolition stem as moral obligations from those rights.

    Of course, most people will not immediately agree to this view.  However, as advocates, we should assume that helping someone to understand veganism and animal rights fully, as well the moral frameworks that they propose, and how to incorporate these views into their lives will take more than a pamphlet, a casual conversation or a blog article.  In fact, understanding and acting upon the position that animals are persons with rights is a habit that can only be cultivated more fully over time and with a great deal of practice.

    Abolitionist veganism is the starting point of that practice.  If you are not vegan, you should take the rights of nonhuman animals not to be used as property seriously and go vegan today.  If you are already vegan, and you are not already an abolitionist, today's a great day to change you work to focus on more effective outreach for nonhuman animals embodied in the abolitionist approach.

    "Left-wing" welfarism: an infantile disorder

    To reject compromises "on principle," to reject the admissibility of compromises in general, no matter of what kind, is childishness, which it is difficult even to take seriously. A political leader who desires to be useful to the revolutionary proletariat must know how to single out concrete cases when such compromises are inadmissible, when they are an expression of opportunism and treachery...
    --Lenin, "Left-wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder"

    Regardless of what anyone thinks of Lenin's politics, he was a gifted political organizer who understood very well the process requirements of building a social movement.  At the time of his writing, some communists (the right-wing) were too ready to compromise while others (the left-wing) were too ready not to compromise.  Both lacked a firm commitment to social transformation and the patience and work it often entails. If someone wishes to be useful to nonhuman animals, s/he must be ready to work patiently, and to ask and understand when compromise is appropriate. That doesn't mean there cannot be differences of opinion about how to answer questions about when compromise is appropriate, but any advocate unwilling to even ask this question is no advocate at all.

    If there was one thing Lenin understood well, it was the danger of compromising too much but also refusing to compromise when it was irrational not to do so.  As a general matter, pretending as though we can build social transformation without some compromises is deeply misguided.  We all walk on sidewalks. Some compromises are the requirement of our work. On the other hand, some compromises go to far. Many reflect opportunism, some thinly veiled, but others, completely naked, but in animal advocacy, welfarism (new or traditional, militant or non) is always a type of inexcusable opportunism in various forms.

    Traditional animal welfare organizations, for example, do not even keep their willingness to compromise on ending the property status of nonhuman animals a secret, and instead, to reassure their donors, publicly remind us all that the only changes they seek, if they seek any at all, are a little extra cage space, some better food, and perhaps a slightly less painful, slightly less terrifying death for nonhuman animals.  They acknowledge the moral consideration of nonhuman animals, but then fail to explain what that moral consideration entails: veganism, abolition of the property status of nonhuman animals (and the restoration of animal personhood that this abolition entails), and an end to speciesism.  They sell indulgences in the form of humane labels and donations to a nonvegan public.

    New welfare groups are slightly cagier.  They appropriate the rhetoric of "abolition later" and abolition's critique of nonhuman animals slavery.  But then they turnaround and promote reforms to 'help nonhuman animals today', to promote vegetarianism today (sometimes even strict vegetarianism, but much more often not), to promote single issue "bans" on types of treatment. Banning the whip but leaving the shackles will not result in anyone's freedom, and it will never lay the ground work for anyone's freedom.

    In effect, new welfare organizations sell indulgences in exchange for donations to a primarily nonvegan public.  They promote antics instead of serious work to prevent anyone from take nonhuman animals too seriously. In these "reforms", this nonvegan public tends to see progress, even serious change, when any reasonable person can see that reform proposes to do little more than keep the system intact at the cost of lives. In short, the difference between welfare and new welfare is largely a rhetorical one.

    There should be no doubt that welfare reform is a kind of opportunist compromise and collaboration with the status quo. It is, unmistakably, then, wholly ridiculous when those who advocate both reform and violence (ridiculous enough by itself), point the finger at anyone as a "collaborator".  Any time and resources spent on welfare reforms are time and resources spent without meaning for nonhuman animals, but they also signal to the public that animals are ours to use, if only we use them in particular ways. All welfare organizations engage in this kind of wink and nod that proposes to 'reduce suffering' rather than to abolish the slavery of nonhuman animals.

    But there has been a lot of debate about "militant new welfare", the "left-wing" of the welfare movement, recently, and that debate has reflected a lot of confusion. Part of the problem is that there are (at least) two kinds of militant new welfare groups: older groups who appropriate abolition and attempt to graft on both violent adventurism and lukewarm, piecemeal reforms, and newer groups who just appropriate abolition and attempt to graft on violence.

    The first generation of militant new welfare groups proposed "anything" done for nonhuman animals as meaningful, never asking whether it was morally justified, never asking whether it actually a series of mutually contradictory tactics achieve anything tactically.  The old militancy (and this is a misuse of the term militancy) proposed not a strategy but rather a refusal of strategy in an effort to woo any and all takers. But at much length, these latter groups have figured out how difficult it is to sell reform and violence as a consistent whole to an already vegan public who sees nothing changing.

    The new militancy dispenses with the most obviously anti-abolitionist plank of the old program.  But it still says that we can still be violent, we can still engage in single issue campaigns, and still use nonhuman animals, as our propaganda tools, we can still collect donations and we can still engage in antic-based activism, so long as we save the lives of a few nonhuman animals every once in a while we're at it.  They're out to woo those disillusioned with the glacial pace of welfare reforms that would never achieve anything anyway, with a "new" program that replaces pointless reforms with pointless violence and confrontation.

    This second generation of militant new welfare groups are even a bit cagier, but none of us should be fooled.  They know that endless welfare campaigns (both old and new) are the seed bed of activist depression and pessimism. And so, these groups also appropriate the rhetoric of "abolition later" and abolition's critique of nonhuman animal slavery.  But then they turn around and promote adventurism, even personal violence in some instances, in order 'to help nonhuman animals today'. They also signal to the public that animals are ours to use, so long as we use them for education (and donation drives). Sometimes, they promote vegetarianism (sometimes even strict vegetarianism), or single issue "bans" on types of treatment.

    But just like nonmilitant new welfare groups, they sell adventurism and a petty revenge in exchange for donations to a primarily vegan audience who has come to see welfare reform as the meaningless twiddling of bureaucracy that it is."And if you can't be part of the direct action super squad," they say, "that's fine, you can go to a fur protest, and if that's too controversial, here are some veg*n pamphlets to hand out, or if you can't do that, no need to even buy a balaclava, you can buy the t-shirt, just be sure to make a donation -- it all saves the lives of nonhuman animals."

    For an abolitionist, who supports the basic rights of all sentient beings, who sees animals as persons, not as education tools, not as marketing opportunities, and not as an excuse to break things, this is a distinction without a meaningful difference.  Nevertheless, a lot of people have been confused by this shift in the scene. 

    But as Gary L. Francione has argued in Rain Without Thunder, (a book that every animal advocate should read), "all forms of animal welfare--even the most generous--assume that nonhumans are, for all intents and purposes, the slaves of humans." You can often tell a welfare organization by its nice Web site with a prominent donation button.  But you can always tell a welfare organization by its mobilization and appropriation of the suffering of nonhuman animals and its prominent demand for donations and uncritical if not wholly unconditional support for its work.

    In short, some welfare groups sell indulgences to a nonvegan public.  Some groups sell adventurism to a vegan one. Some of these groups even have the brass to declare themselves anti-capitalist in an effort not only to appropriate the suffering of nonhuman animals, but to appropriate the suffering of the world's human poor while they're at it. But it's not anti-capitalism if you're trading off the backs of animals (human or non); it's the opposite.

    Of course, it would be wrong to say that there is absolutely no difference between traditional welfarism, new welfarism, and militant new welfarism (in its various faces).  They all propose to sell different things to their buyers. However, it seems clear that they are all in the business of selling something to someone, and if that business overlaps with helping nonhuman animals, it's mostly incidental.  It's unfortunate, but a lot of very well-intended people are taken in by these groups. One thing is true, however: those who content themselves with promoting violence, reform, or violence and reform, refuse themselves the pleasure of actually talking about and making change for nonhuman animals.

    To be an abolitionist, it is not enough to refuse violence and to refuse reform. Nor is it not enough to criticize other welfare groups or to smash windows. People who aren't even vegan already do that.  It is not even enough to be lukewarmly ambivalent about abolition.  To be an abolitionist is to talk, work and think abolition, and that requires that we be vegan, actively, that we refuse other forms of irrational prejudice, actively, (e.g., sexism, heterosexism, racism, and so on), that we work, actively, and only on what could legitimately lead to the abolition of animal slavery (e.g., promoting abolitionist veganism), that we oppose speciesism, actively, (not just in words, but also in deeds) and that we build, actively, a mass movement that insists on an end to animal slavery.  Without a "mass", there can be no "movement", and so, nonviolence not only is, but must be, the guiding principle of the work of all abolitionists.

    As radicals, we have to think bigger than branding and posturing. It is not enough to donate and bloviate. Radicalism is neither the pessimism of a refusal to struggle, nor is it the histrionic sociopathology required to see an enemy in every other face but our own. It reflects a rationally-driven set of tactics that are planned to meet a specific strategy that has been planned to meet specific objectives.  Radicalism is a vegan breakfast program, a vegan cooking class, street theatre, animal rights lectures and reading groups, vegan food coops and, most of all, each of these things insofar as they promote abolitionist vegan education and the building of the framework in which veganism and the end to animal slavery are not only viable, they're desirable, not some day in a fabled future, but right now, today.

    Real vegan radicalism is a matter of defeating our opponents with a touch, and that touch is education, perhaps also cookies.

    Between the economism and ultraleftism of welfare in all its many faces, hustlers in a marketplace that conflate talk with action, abolitionists can build and organize a movement that leaves this opportunism behind, that not only says "no!" for those who need us to be uncompromising in defense of their rights, but to do the work required to get them free from slavery and the compromises that this work often entails. There's no need to wait around for anyone to lead us. Not everyone who says: "I'm an abolitionist" is an abolitionist.  But unto him- or herself, every abolitionist is an underground railroad, a revolution and the broad and smiling face of a future that is inevitable, so long as we do the work requires to make it so.

    Radical anticapitalism and veganism: the problem is still demand

    There's been a strange rumour floating around on the American left since the 1990s that smashing GAP windows from Boston to Buenos Aires is seriously anticapitalist activity. No political economist takes this kind of stuff seriously (not even Hardt and Negri). Working people don't see their struggle reflected in this kind of activity in my experience, and so, as an anticapitalist advocate, I tend to think little of it. Instead, it seems to be the waking fantasy of a professional class of jet set activists.

    Radical anticapitalism is not about ending the supply of commodities; it is a matter of creating the public demand for socialism. After all, Lenin didn't try to win the public with "OMG SMITE THE CZAR!!1", he won the public with "Bread, peace and land!" Whether anyone agrees with Leninism or not, he was a master of propaganda and he knew very well that he was addressing an issue of demand.

    But there's an equally strange claim going around in the vegan community these days that striking fear into the hearts of agribusiness CEOs is going to do something to change the material drivers behind animal use as a phenomenon of Capital. This is misguided, for a lot of reasons, and in this blog, I'm going to address only some of them. But, in short, abolition and animal rights are not a matter of attacking suppliers or supply. Abolition is a matter of creating the public demand for an end to the property status of nonhuman animals, and the abolitionist animal rights position, more generally, is about rearranging social relations in such a way that we are not using others as though they were our property.

    But let's clear some intellectual clutter first. The prospect that frightening a few CEOs is anticapitalist and will solve the problem posed by the institutionalized slavery of nonhuman animals required by the widespread demand for animal products seriously misapprehends both anticapitalist work and the economic drivers behind the property status of nonhuman animals.

    First, leaving aside the moral objections, terrorizing CEOs by trying to twiddle their bottom lines with economic sabotage, personal threats, etc., is not a meaningful anticapitalist activity, I'm sure the CEO of SONY is troubled by the economic losses that Nintendo is inflicting on one of his many business lines, but that doesn't make the CEO of Nintendo an anticapitalist. As anticapitalists, we should never confuse the struggle against a particular business, the struggle between businesses or even the struggle against a whole industry with the struggle against Capital. Targeting a particular industry (e.g., agribusinesses) is not an anti-Capital activity in and of itself, any more than protesting fur is the same as promoting veganism.

    Furthermore, as a general matter, many CEOs do well whether their business does poorly or not. There are exceptions (e.g. high technology startups). But generally, CEOs continue to profit whether a company is successful or not, and whether the CEO or the whole company is unsuccessful, it still has no affect on demand. Loss of profits, threats of violence or even actual violence have done almost nothing to curb organized crime businesses that respond to illicit demand. Finally, economic losses, even if they could be inflicted, would just be passed onto regular working people in the form of higher prices or in the form of lost jobs. I'm surprised I have to write this, but hurting the interests of the working classes should never be so high on any anticapitalists to-do list.

    Second, terrorizing CEOs is also not a meaningful activity to help nonhuman animals. Agribusiness, as an industry, tends to be driven by economic conglomerates with deep pockets and consider public backing. Of course, there are lots of small businesses: butcher shops, furriers, etc. But let's not mistake putting the corner store out of business with putting an industry out of business.

    Furthermore, even putting a small supplier out of business, if it's possible, will barely put a scratch on the industry as a whole. Instead, is likely to consolidate demand with larger, more successful suppliers. As a general matter, there's no value to nonhuman animals for advocates to thin the field of suppliers to only the most successful. Further, many of these larger businesses already receive significant government subsidies in one way or another. Profit margins are thin, but there is already a very powerful agrico-industrial complex at work in most post-industrial countries, as well as a complex global supply chain. The idea that government would not step in if the industry were in danger to satisfy public demand is very far removed from reality.

    But even if that were not the case, convincing one employee to quit his or her job only means that another person will take his or her place. Close one business, demand will just be met by another. Close down an entire industry in one country, and demand will just be met somewhere else. Reducing demand by attacking supply is just not a game that animal advocates could possibly hope to win in a global economy, and it will only alienate the public. Finally, there's almost always someone who will do something if there's enough money on the table. In short, where there is demand, there will always be supply, and that's part of the reason that human slavery continues to this day.

    So, with that cleared up, can we finally talk about addressing demand?

    But what about “created demand”? is often the standard reply, and this reflects yet another misunderstanding of the relationship between economics and morality. Although it may be a matter of intellectual curiosity for us, it does not matter substantially how that demand is created to our work. There's a lot of interesting social science around why people buy, whether they are social buyers (e.g., with running shoes) or whether they are rational buyers (e.g., energy efficient appliances), whether the nature of the goods makes any difference, and so on. But we're still dealing with a matter of demand.

    In fact, it's likely that the only demands that aren't "created" either through socialization, advertising or both, would be for oxygen and breast milk. The idea that luxury and ordinary goods are meaningfully distinguishable in terms of our activism is also mostly misguided. The demand for a fetish commodity (e.g., a $2,000 personal espresso machine) or a regular commodity (a shot of espresso) is still a general matter of a demand for espresso. Attacking suppliers of high end espresso machines will have no meaningful effect on the demand for espresso at large. But more important, attacking those suppliers cannot be culturally understood as meaningful in an society where the demand for espresso is perceived to be utterly normal.

    Advertising may shape demand for particular brands, or encourage someone to spend more on the fur coat than on wool, or more on calf leather than regular, more for "humane" meat. However, the demand for animal products and labor goes back thousands and thousands of years, is cross-cultural, and has much more powerful social influences and economic drivers than simply "advertising". In short, Capital's exploitation of nonhuman animals is a lot more complicated than "I saw a commercial and now I want a burger!" Trying to reduce the cultural complexities involved with animal use to a matter of advertising misunderstands both economic and social theory.

    But, even if we believed that it was "just a matter of advertising", the problem would still be one of demand. If it's a twitter link, an infomercial, a dream, a bus ad someone's word of mouth recommendation, demand is still demand. The problem it poses is still a matter of curbing the demand involved, and as important, creating demands for alternatives through our own education efforts. Reduced advertising for illicit drugs, alcohol and cigarettes haven't had all that much of an effect on the sales of those products. But even if we pose the problem as a matter of eliminating advertising, we would still have to create a mass public movement to eliminate or curb that advertising, and that strikes me as a beyond odd thing to do when we might as well cut to the chase and create a mass public movement to eliminate the demand instead.

    In short, a problem of demand always has been, is now and always will be a problem of demand. The solution will always be a matter of addressing demand by creating mass movements that demand something else.

    And the best way to address a problem of demand is not to attack their suppliers, but to convince them that their demand is wrong and that they should demand something else instead. In fact, all meaningful social justice movements rely on mass movement to bring about social change. The first and most important task in all mass movement building is education. The most meaningful anti-capitalist activity for human animals is socialist education. The most meaningful anti-capitalist activity for nonhuman animals is vegan education. But if you're anti-capitalist and vegan, there's good news. These don't even have to be separate activities.

    Regardless, wage slavery is meaningfully different from chattel slavery insofar as, even within Capital, rights-holders (you and me!) can (at some times at least) use the law meaningfully in defense of our interests. Chattel property (e.g., nonhuman animals) never can, and that's why, as Francione argues, welfare reforms are meaningless to nonhuman animals. However, Francione's views go further than ending the property status of nonhuman animals.

    Having written that, however, Capital does organize all of us as instruments for the accumulation of capital for its own sake. That is, you, me, the cow, the pig, the chicken, the seeing eye dog, are all tools for a system that sees us primarily as tools to create value. The difference between me and the pig is that her entire life is a matter of market demand, whereas only my labor is. Capital acts in different ways to limit my personhood, but forcing me to sell my labor is both the most obvious and the most constraining.

    But I still get to go home at night and type blog posts, drink coffee, read a book and look out my window. The pig will live a life entirely in slavery until she is used up and murdered for someone's bacon. That's poses us with a very important moral and tactical difference, even if the problem is fostered by similar social forces. Other human beings do not have the luxuries that I may, of course, and there are many obvious cases where human beings are chattel property even if they have legal rights on paper (and I have blogged about this previously). But abolitionists are opposed to all animal use, including human animal use. More important, whether it's my wage slavery, the chattel slavery of a child in Liberia forced to product chocolate, a chicken on a farm, a lion at the zoo, etc., these all remain phenomena that involve demand. Attacking supply won't have any meaningful affect so long as demand remains powerful.

    Finally, we do not need to end Capital to end the legal property status of nonhuman animals anymore than the United States needed to end Capital in order to free African Americans after the Civil War. As an anticapitalist, naturally, I believe that we should also end Capital, but as Gary Francione argues, that's very different from posing these things as dependent on one another. Some have complained that this is not anticapitalist enough or somehow 'abstract'. First, ending the property status of nonhuman animals is not the sum of Francione's thought. Second, Francione's proposal that all animals have a right not to be used as property is radically anti-Capital. I don't know how this could be more concrete: all animals (human and non), have a right not to be used as property, as our resources, our instruments or our tools. It proposes not only an immediate end to all chattel slavery, but also a rearrangement of social relations in a world-historical way the scope of which is unmatched in human history. And we each have an immediate duty to act on those rights insofar as we can today, whether the revolution comes tomorrow or in 1,000 years.

    That's radicalism.

    If you want to make a difference to slavery (whether human or non, wage or chattel slavery), I can tell you, concretely, to put away the balaclava, the brick and the bolt cutters, and pick up the pamphlets, the presentations and don't be afraid to crack a book. Changing the world is a matter of education and you don't need a PhD in political economy to start. But if you want to learn more about theory, then read either of Francione's excellent works: Animals, Property and the Law or Rain Without Thunder, or Bob Torres' Making a Killing. These books can help you to better understand how the demand for animal products reflects an intersection of enculturated speciesism as well as economic profitability.

    Most of all, though, if you're not vegan, take the rights of nonhuman animals seriously and go vegan today!

    Why does Matt Ball keep picking on me? Promoting stereotypes about activists is unjustifiably mean

    I'm not sure why Matt Ball is picking on me. He has written that “animal rights and veganism attracts some people who are very angry and unable to get past their anger." Maybe a small minority, but most vegans? Certainly not proper animal rights advocates. "The movement also attracts many with an extremist / fanatical personality – people who obsess over purity, personal aggrandizement, intellectual and moral superiority, and / or the latest extreme health fads / scams […] who spend their time attacking others who don’t believe exactly the way they do.” I couldn't agree more, although, thank heavens, these people are a very small if overly vocal minority.

    But then he writes that “We serve the animals better if we realize this and get past it – focus on the work, not the disagreements.” and the agenda becomes too transparent: it's not just about antisocial behaviour, which is a legitimate thing to criticize, it's really about silencing legitimate criticism and disagreement and it turns what could be a thoughtful critique of the behaviour of others into an encouragement to silence disagreement generally.

    After all, he's not talking about animal regulationist groups that engage in the euthanasia of healthy adoptable companion animals or promote controlled atmosphere killing for chickens the way PeTA does, or the moral acceptability of animal use and veganism as a "personal choice", not as a moral imperative, the way “Vegan” Outreach does.

    Both strike me as deeply odd and the criticism rings even more hollow in light of it. Ball's actually talking about people like me, who take veganism and animal rights seriously enough to encourage other advocates to focus on work that really stands to achieve something for nonhuman animals, who openly criticize both welfare reform and violence and aren't willing to shove certain disagreements to the side.

    But in all seriousness, I know he's not personally picking on me. I know he's trying to advance his organization and a civil discussion about animal welfare. I strongly disagree with his and "Vegan" Outreach's views, but on the substance of his arguments, not on his characteristics as a person. Still, these kind of comments that seek to portray other advocates unrealistically and to tar everyone with the same brush are not only unhelpful, they're just untrue (at least of me), and I can prove it.

    Exhibit A: a recent photo of from a kayaking trip with my partner. That's actually her and not me, but the kayak was VEGAN!!!11 So was the water. And the air. How's that for personal purity?


    Exhibit B: my very handsome roommate, Julius. He's the kind of nonhuman animal who some regulationist groups would euthanize in order to “reduce suffering”. If I'm fiery and unequivocal in his defense, and in the interests of full disclosure, there are times when I am, it's only because I love him. Shame on me, eh?


    Exhibit C: I made this wonderfully plant-based ice cream as part of a project of self-aggrandizement and proselytizing. I even shared it with other people -- nonvegan people. Thankfully, it wasn't at a town hall meeting. How sinister and elitist of me!!


    Exhibit D: I also made this poster. Witness the self-righteous fury and my need to make others feel inferior! There are others at AnimalEmancipation.com.

    But in all seriousness again, I don't consider reasoning well to be fanatical. I don't see how advocates who are simply standing up for rationally-driven tactics and the rights of nonhuman animals are being divisive,. And I'm also baffled by the argument that it's somehow a matter of personal purity to avoid contributing to the exploitation and suffering of nonhuman animals when it's trivial to do so.

    I think of it as just 'being vegan'. I guess what some people really have a problem with is veganism.

    More important, I think it's problematic to propose that veganism is a way to reduce suffering the way many regulationist groups do. The logical implication of the argument that "we're just trying to reduce suffering" is not necessarily that anyone should go vegan at all, but that they should do whatever involves reducing animal suffering. Following this reasoning, it's fine to eat meat, drink dairy, etc., if an animal doesn't suffer during its production, and in fact, that we should eat animal products that involve less suffering. That's not vegan in the slightest.

    In fact, one other logical implication of that view is that we should produce pain-free animals with no emotional life, or as Gary Francione critically commented recently, it implies that we should create nonhuman animals that enjoy pain. It doesn't matter how we use them or how much they suffer, nonhuman animal use is wrong. Taking their rights not to be used as property, and veganism as the baseline for taking that right seriously, is right. But what does this kind of name-calling, call to self-censorship and undermining of veganism really suggest and how does it function?

    It's easy to get worn out when people actively misrepresent abolition, veganism, our work and our ideas. But nonhuman animals need us to be firm in their defense. That's the way industry want us to feel: ambivalent, second-guessing, worn out, afraid of our own shadows, depressed and pessimistic — in short, to be ashamed of our values, to be ashamed of taking nonhuman animals seriously, and to be too ashamed to insist on their collective freedom as quickly as possible, not a gentler form of slavery. It's strange that there seems to be an overlap here between industry rhetoric and the rhetoric of regulationist groups, but I'm not going to speculate on that too much (but I will say it's unholy).

    Agribusinesses want us to pursue reforms, which don't cost them much, if anything, that do nothing meaningful to help nonhuman animals, and that's even if those reforms are passed into law, which they rarely are. They want us to be so bent-over backwards to do anything that we'll donate to groups that conduct studies around controlled atmosphere killing in order to kill chickens more cost-effectively and “more humanely.” They want us to be so desperate that we'll engage in antics in order to get the slightest bit of attention (I wonder if that has anything to do with donations for regulationist groups who are so often their partners?). And they want us to be so pessimistic about change that we'll promote violence and confrontation in order to rile the public enough to pass even more restrictive legislation.

    The best response is not to do our best to make matters worse and crank up the propaganda machine for everyone to see just how crazy some segments of the animal advocacy movement are willing to be in order to provoke a conflict or to promote meaningless reforms. Neither will achieve anything for nonhuman animals. Instead, what is to be done is the same, day-in, day-out hard work that at least some advocates have focused on to promote the rights of all animals not to be used as property, veganism as the moral baseline of taking that right seriously, and the unequivocal abolition of the property status of nonhuman animals.

    Confrontational comments on blog posts, tweets and other media from regulationist advocates, name calling, mud slinging, and other forms of personalizing disagreements are intended to intimidate other advocates. Innocuous seeming enough out of context. But when it reflects a pattern of repetitive behaviour, it equally often reflects a subtle and not so subtle harassment of other advocates. Add to that pattern the fact that a number of advocates are doing the same thing. Multiply it over several years of propagandizing, and so on. I'm really not sure how that has anything to do with helping nonhuman animals.

    Instead, it seems meant to distract and intimidate us as well as to confuse the public about what abolition and veganism are. But the truth of the matter is that it seems more likely that other advocates engage in this kind of behaviour because those who do wrong are always looking over their shoulders in the hopes that the truth doesn't come out. It's a shame (and a scandal) that abolitionists are persecuted by other members of the advocacy community, but the answer is not to shrink, but to be firm.

    Attempts to portray us all as angry, fanatical, obsessed with personal purity, or as weak, ineffectual, and ivory tower theorists, and so on, reflect a tremendous amount of bluster mounted to silence people who are just interested in proposing and making change for nonhuman animals. But it's also an attempt to appropriate abolition's critique of welfare in an attempt to neuter the radical proposal that all nonhuman animals should be freed immediately and that nonviolence is a moral imperative in a nonviolent movement. It's an attempt to turn abolition into anything but abolition: a little welfare reform, some gum chewing, some cheerleading, some sloganeering, but not veganism, not the promotion of veganism, and not the promotion of abolition.

    In the end, though, it's all propaganda. It seems meant to wear abolitionists down before we even get started and to forestall our mass movement building. It seems like a game that's intended to intimidate us, to provoke us, to alienate us from the public, and so on, but most of all to turn abolition into a personal difference between supposed “figureheads” rather than a political difference between ideologies. It's not; the difference between abolition and "everything else" is the difference between ideologies: one that seeks to end the system of animal slavery out-right with a nonviolent, anti-capitalist mass movement (abolition), and others that seek to “lay the ground work for change” someday in a far off fabled future while advocates sell their books, further their careers, high-five one another and collect donations today. The difference seems pretty clear.

    It's unfortunate, but when you boil it down, this kind of petty harassment of abolitionist advocates also reflects an uncertainty about what nonhuman animals face on the part of these other advocates. There's a lack of urgency and real firmness in favor of an iron-clad and repetitive commitment to the status quo and tiny reimaginings of it that involve a broken window here and an extra 1/4" of cage space there and a whole lot of furtive posting to the Internet, as well as an attempt to debase anyone who thinks and acts differently. In large part, this kind of directionless carnival of whateverism can only reflect a serious distance from the struggle.

    While that is what it is, these kinds of games do nothing to help nonhuman animals. I'm not blaming anyone: a habit of understanding nonhuman animals as persons, as well as what that means and how to act best on it takes a long time to cultivate. But animal advocacy is not playtime on the Internet running down other advocates. Rational critique is vitally important, but that's meaningfully different from the personal attacks so often waged against the abolitionist community.

    As a stoic, I believe that everything ends in fire one way or another. But so long as there is only one abolitionist who is not afraid to push for an end to the system, all these talkers are scared. They want silence, but nonhuman animals need us to say no on their behalf, to go vegan, to stay vegan and to say vegan on their behalf. All socially transformative work starts with us believing in our own values: that veganism is right, unequivocally; that ending animal slavery is right, unequivocally. I don't believe change is necessarily on our doorstep, but I do believe it's down the street and just around the corner. But until we believe in our own capability to change the world, we'll be forever standing still standing on the porch killing time and talking.

    If you're not vegan already, today is the best day in history for anyone who wants change to take the rights of animals seriously and go vegan. If you're not an abolitionist today, and you want to learn more about it, today's a great day to change your mind and your work.

    I'm nonviolent. I'm not going to be quiet about it and I'm only getting started.

    To the indefinite, uncertain mind of the American radical the most contradictory ideas and methods are possible. The result is a sad chaos in the radical movement, a sort of intellectual hash, which has neither taste nor character." Emma Goldman
    I'm not sure how to phrase it any other way, and so instead of being clever, I'll just come out and say it: nonviolence is a moral imperative for veganism and for the abolition of animal slavery. I think it's unfortunate that a vocal but small minority of advocates who promote violence are often taken to be the backbone of the animal rights movement. That's simply not true.

    The animal rights movement is nonviolent, and veganism is nonviolence put into practice in everyday social relations. I don't hate people. I care about animals (human and non), their right not to be used as property, and the veganism that I owe them as a moral baseline in light of that right. The proposal that I should be poisoning the elderly lady next door because she eats a little dairy now and again is fundamentally contrary to the basic principle of veganism, which is to avoid contributing to the suffering and exploitation of other animals.

    What I owe her is education, education, and education. To change the world, it is not enough to coerce behaviour. We must change minds. There are no shortcuts.

    I've taken some time to gather up a series of recent posts from other abolitionists (as well as my own work on this question). These pieces were written/recorded in the last month or so alone, but there are many more out there (especially at Gary Francione's Web site: www.abolitionistapproach.com -- just search on "nonviolence"). If you only read/listen to one piece, I couldn't make a recommendation because they are all so excellent.

    If you're not vegan, you should go vegan today. If you are a vegan and you have a chance to blog, tweet or post about the importance of nonviolence to our movement today, I strongly encourage you to do so. We do not need a propaganda machine or a paramilitary structure to end nonhuman animal slavery. We need reason and determination. Any of us who adopts abolitionist veganism and the nonviolence necessary to it, the critical thinking necessary to it, the unequivocal commitment to education necessary to it, is an unstoppable movement unto him or herself.

    James Crump and Karin Hilpisch: "In support of non-violence"
    Dan Cudahy: "What's extreme? Well, how much is ten billion?"
    Gary L. Francione: "Is That Milk on Your Balaclava?"
    Gary L. Francione: "A commentary on violence" (podcast)
    Mylene Ouellet: "Using violence to stop violence"
    Randy W. Sandberg: "On Regulation and Breaking Laws"

    And some of my recent pieces:

    The sleep of reason produces monsters: or, we fight fire best with water

    “We’ve got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water.” —Fred Hampton, Sr.
    Goya captions his 43 etching of his collection The Caprichos: “The sleep of reason produces monsters”. For those who don't know art history, Goya painted in Spain around the turn of the nineteenth century. The Caprichos dates from 1799. I'm not an art historian (for those who are wondering). But I do like some paintings, and Goya's work has always reminded me that humility and critical thinking are the cornerstones of morality.

    You're probably already wondering how I'm going to tie Fred Hampton. Sr. (the twentieth century Black Panther and community organizer) with Goya (the eighteenth/nineteenth century Spanish painter). Separated by hundreds of years, by social class, by the nature of their work, by their geography, by their “race” and by more than all of those powerful things, what both men understood nevertheless is that when we fail to reason, and we only react emotionally, it leads us to ineffectiveness and it leads us to reproduce the paradigms of the oppression we're supposed to be combating.

    Goya's Caprichos are a series of etchings, mostly depicting human beings at their most 'monstrous'. Driven by their own inclinations, Goya's caricatures draw out the worst in us. Petty jealousy. Greed. Vanity. Rage. Pessimism. Loneliness. All of what limits and shackles us as human beings, what deforms us and lowers our thinking and misguides our actions. His work reminds us that when we fail to reason, we engage in monstrous behaviours. What Goya criticizes is not just the inclinations of nameless and faceless social forces beyond our control: the state, economic exploitation, sexism, racism, and so on. He is criticizing primarily our own refusal to change ourselves, to act outside of our own inclinations and to be guided by reason and to act on what is right.

    There is, of course, a lot of debate about why we reason, how we reason, what reason's relationship is to morality and to our motivations, and how these all reinforce (or critically engage) one another. Nietzsche, for example, argues that we reason instrumentally, and that we use reason to reinforce what we already believe. In contrast, Adorno and Horkheimer, however, remind us that we do not have to limit our reason only to what we are inclined to do. Instead, we can reason critically, we can use reason to engage ourselves and others in a moral dialogue about how to be better individuals and how we can build better societies. But to think critically is not only to subject what others tell us to scrutiny, it is also to subject our own thoughts and inclinations to a similar moral and intellectual rigour.

    For an example of the first kind of reasoning, many people rationalize their behaviour because it serves an emotional need they don't fully understand. Some people rationalize eating animal products for environmental or for health reasons. Some people rationalize using animals for clothing or for entertainment. All of this animal use is unnecessary, but many people rationalize it anyhow because they are inclined to do so.

    But as an example of the second kind of reasoning, we can refuse our own inclinations. We can challenge ourselves to think about the moral consideration we owe to other animals (human and non). We can imagine a world that goes past the nameless and faceless forces of domination, whether classism, racism, sexism, speciesism, or other expressions of authoritarianism. And we can start to build communities in which these nameless and faceless forces no longer hold us in their grip right now today. In short, two things are true: any of us can change our lives at any time, and to paraphrase Gary Francione, none of us is walking forward if we're walking backwards.

    As an activist, Fred Hampton didn't repeat the paradigms of the oppressor in his work. He didn't just respond emotionally, he thought. When African-American children weren't getting the food they needed, he didn't go and take food out of the mouths of white children. He started a breakfast program. When African-Americans were unsafe in their homes, he didn't go out and make white people unsafe in theirs; he organized his communities for self-protection instead. He didn't promote racist violence in order to fight racist violence, he promoted nonviolent solidarity and organization. He didn't fight authoritarianism by behaving in authoritarian ways himself. He didn't walk backwards, he walked forwards. He reasoned; and he didn't just use reason to rationalize his own inclinations, he reasoned critically and accordingly.

    Fred understood that equality iss not a race to the bottom of the elevator shaft, everyone at everyone else's throat, it is a slow and arduous walk to the top of the stairs, each of us helping each of us along the way. Those who propose that we should only react, or that we should only act within our own inclinations are not thinking critically or acting radically. Those who propose that we should substitute nonviolent dialogue, education, critical thinking and hard work with violence, that we should swap water for fire to fight fire, are engaged in a refusal to reason, a refusal of radicalism and are contenting themselves, regardless of their intentions, with walking backwards.

    As an abolitionist, I believe unequivocally (and act on) the view that all animals have a right not to be used as property. That includes the rights of the human child not to be forced to pick coffee. That includes the rights of the cow not to be forced to produce milk, the chicken not to make eggs and the bee not to produce honey. That includes the rights of the horse not to be ridden and the elephant not to be forced to entertain us. That includes the rights of human beings not to be harassed, threatened or harmed to advance any political view of any kind. That includes the rights of nonhuman animals not to be someone else's “educational opportunity”, a "tool to smite the oppressor economically" or any other use. The prospect that all animals have a right not to be used as property includes everything I have come to understand as “using another as property” and it probably includes things I have not yet come to understand. No one is perfect; what is important is that we're committed to continuing the struggle, within ourselves first and foremost.

    The rights of animals not to be used as property, and veganism as the baseline for taking that right seriously, are not a checklist of rules per se. They are a framework and praxis by which I can engage myself and others in a critical but meaningful dialogue that raises us up together as a community and calls us to be better than we were there day before. We either respect the rights of all animals not to be used as our property, or we simply reproduce the existing paradigms of oppression.

    As an abolitionist vegan, I'm nonviolent. Any abolitionist who claims that acting violently is the way to achieve the abolition of violent social relations is telling you a story. I'm nonviolent, not because it always suits my inclinations to be nonviolent, but because that's what I owe other animals: my most careful, my most thoughtful, and my least harmful behaviour: my best. I am not interested in reacting against society, I am interested in transforming it. I am not interested in smiting the oppressor; I am interested in helping other animals. Reason guides my work, but it is love, not hate, that animates it, and I do my best to never sleep on reason.

    Every day we fail to question our own motivations and inclinations and engage in violent behaviour (whether the person in question is the object of our rage or our gain, whether the person is human or non) is a day that we lose the opportunity to take a step towards the sunlight of the future. As an abolitionist vegan, I want nonhumans to go free, unequivocally, immediately and unconditionally. I promote the abolition, not the regulation of, animal use. I also oppose speciesism, racism, sexism and other forms of irrational prejudices. And although I won't end the system of animal slavery overnight, I only promote an end to the system by promoting veganism, not half-measures and reform, and not hysteria and violence. Nonviolence, careful reasoning, critical thinking, patience, and education are all guiding principles of my work.

    If you're not vegan, you can end the sleep of your reason and go vegan today. If you are already vegan (or even if you're not) and you want to learn more putting the fire of slavery out with abolitionist water, please read through my other articles or visit www.abolitionistapproach.com.

    An open letter to Gary L. Francione

    Dear Colleague,

    I want to thank you personally and publicly, brother, for all the work you've done with us and for us: twenty-five years of answering the same question over and over and over and putting up with the same behaviours from other "advocates" who, apparently, can't even find their own asses with two hands well enough to understand that violence has no place in a nonviolent movement, that our duty to nonhuman animals is more than half measures and hysteria, and that our duty to one another is solidarity, not abuse.

    We haven't always agreed, but it's always been mostly civil (at least on your part). Your discipline and resolve, and your willingness to change your mind and to be patient while others changed theirs, have often inspired me. It saddens me that so many people insist on misrepresenting your positions and can't respect reasonable boundaries voluntarily. It's hard to imagine anyone in our 'movement' who has done more to help us get some light even when we'd rather hide in the basement.

    Thank you for not giving up on us, myself included.

    Always my best,
    Vincent
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