In a recent blog on your letter to the Editor re: Gary Steiner's mostly good essay in the New York times, you received some constructive criticism from abolitionist commenters. In reply you stated (and here I quote):
"Essentially, [Francione] wants to keep animals in the worst possible condition in order to rally people to the cause of totally changing the status of animals."http://kazez.blogspot.com/2009/11/in-which-i-casually-mention.html
Out of curiosity, which of Francione's books have you actually read? I'm not asking to be snarky. I'm saying it because it seems clear you completely misapprehend his position. I realize you've held a philosophy PhD a long time, and that tends to narrow one's reading list. As for your meant-to-be rhetorical question about nineteenth century abolitionists and whether they supported amelioration, I'm not overly fond of these kinds of historically and sociologically reductive comparisons. But yes, many abolitionists vehemently opposed a focus on gradual abolition. I'll let William Garrison answer for me:
In Park-Street Church, on the Fourth of July, 1829, I unreflectingly assented to the popular but pernicious doctrine of gradual abolition. I seize this moment to make a full and unequivocal recantation, and thus publicly to ask pardon of my God, of my country, and of my brethren the poor slaves, for having uttered a sentiment so full of timidity, injustice, and absurdity.http://www.sewanee.edu/faculty/willis/Civil_War/documents/Liberator.html
As to whether anyone undertook humanitarian campaigns to help the well-being of slaves, sure. But it is not clear that many abolitionists like Garrison did. Most focused on Underground Railroad work and agitation. Further, it does not follow logically that because X did Y historically, that we are justified in doing the same, or that because X did Y historically that it was not ultimately harmful, or that because X did Y that it was helpful to producing historical change.
I am not saying that any of those are your position. I am only clarifying that whether nineteenth century abolitionists did or did not engage in humanitarian campaigns, it does not follow of necessity that we should. Nor does it follow that analogies of this kind are necessarily or particularly apt. I've never taken a course in logic -- but this does seem to me to be soundly reasoned; the proposal that we should feel justified in simply and uncritically repeating every ritual of previous social justice movements because they did it, not so much.
Of course, I understand if you're not familiar with the history of the nineteenth century abolitionist movement, and that is what it is. I'm just suggesting you might want to tone down the snark a little before you embarrass yourself further (c.f., my previous post on humility and gratitude for some ideas). I'm not a philosopher. And so, at the risk of embarrassing myself, I may misuse some of the words of your trade. It's not because I don't care for the proper use of words or ideas. It's only because I value them that I want to take a minute to correct some misconceptions.
First, Francione's argument is not predicated on leaving any animals in any condition. Abolition is predicated on the view that nonhuman animals have the right not to be used as property -- period. If every chicken were kept in a guilded chicken coop out back and forced to produce eggs, it would still be wrong based on Francione's views. No one needs to take my word for it:
The problem with happy meat:
Why welfare reform is not a viable approach if we take animal well-being seriously:
Further, Francione's argument is not that we shouldn't take animal well-being seriously; it's that nonhuman animal well-being is best protected with a right not to be used as property, and that attempts to effect animal well-being with legal reforms are misguided because their status as property prohibits serious reform that could actually do anything serious on behalf of that well-being.
In a nutshell, he just points out that, under most modern systems of property law, property does not and cannot receive adequate protection. There's no real legal sense of the 'well-being' of books or CDs, except as the property of someone else. The rights of the propertyholder trump anything we might do on behalf of their property. And that's just looking at the law as a completely neutral institution, not taking into account wide-spread and systemic prejudices against nonhuman animals or the economic interests of agribusiness and how those would influence (and undermine in practice) any law that could be passed. That's if the law isn't designed from the beginning to benefit some suppliers over other suppliers, which often tends to be the case. For any meaningful kind of protection of your well-being, you need to be a person and not property legally and socially. Maybe it's just me, but that just seems like an uncontroversial description of legal and social reality.
Further still, Francione advocates animal adoption, something about which a great many animal welfare advocates are ambivalent. In contrast, PeTA has killed 17,000 animals since 1998 according to Newsweek. Many organizations nominally interested in "reducing suffering" continue to encourage breeding, animal use or worse, while they spurn adoption. I find this bizarre, if only because abolitionist veganism is the best way to help animals as an aggregate while personal adoption and shelter work (the Underground Railroad of our time) are the best ways to make a difference directly to the well-being of an individual nonhuman animal, if not save his or her life.
Furthermore, if we take animal well-being seriously, then ending their property status and acknowledging them as persons under the law seems to make sound sense. If we want to provide them with the care that many will need on a mass scale, it is not at all clear how we would do so without ending their property status. It also seems reasonable to me that educating people about veganism is the best way to help their clarify their confusion as to what they owe nonhuman animals in terms of moral consideration, and veganism, to be the moral baseline of what we owe.
In contrast, sending mixed and contrafactual messages about what helps nonhuman animals seems to me to be potentially very unhelpful. Proposing that we waste time and money on things like Controlled Atmosphere Killing (http://www.peta.org/cak/), that we give awards to people who design slaughterhouses, and, continuing to harm them as you do with every nonvegan choice you make strikes me as a proposal not just to leave nonhuman animals in 'the worst possible condition' but actually to make matters worse potentially in terms of their well-being.
Certainly, if you take the well-being of the most vulnerable, most degraded and most tortured beings on earth seriously (and even those who are violated in supposedly 'nice' ways, 'humane' ways), as a vegetarian, you can do your part to help nonhuman animals by taking their right not to be used as property seriously, by going vegan, and by encouraging others to do the same. It's not a matter of making the slaughterhouse more comfy in the meantime and confusing the public about what they owe other animals; it's a matter of investing time and resources in building a movement that summons serious change for nonhuman animals that acknowledges their personhood and fights for that social transformation.
Moreover, Francione argues, rather than 'raising conciousness' about how poorly we treat animals, these reform campaigns may ease consciences. This argument is not pulled out of the air. It's based on a 20ish years worth of statistical correlation between welfare 'consciousness raising' efforts and a rise in nonhuman animal use. The claim is not that we're guaranteed a victory just by pursuing abolition exclusively; it's that doing what obviously doesn't work is not a good use of our time on behalf of nonhuman animals if we take what we owe them seriously.
As someone who purports to know the worst conditions but is not herself vegan in response to the grave inhumanity that animal use represents, I can only assume that you're not vegan because someone told you it was okay to not be vegan. I'm telling you: it's not okay not to be vegan. Unlike the remarkably bad faith you've shown Francione, I'm going to 'do you a solid' and assume that you do want to take nonhuman animals seriously.
In good faith, I'm going to let you know that the absolute minimum moral baseline of what we owe other animals is not to harm them intentionally and without justification when it is possible for us to do so (i.e., veganism), not to make their lives more miserable, not to prolong their slavery with our trivial choices. I'm asking you to go vegan, right now, today. I believe in you. Having said that, I think it's problematic for an academic, a professor no less, to misrepresent the work of another theorist and another animal advocate so completely. So, I'm also asking you to show some good faith and to apologize to Francione.
To be clear, I'm not asking you to apologize for disagreeing. I'm not asking to apologize for analyzing Francione's argument. I'm not even asking you to apologize for being confused if you read and misunderstood his work. I often disagree with and analyze Francione's work, and there have been times when I have been confused by what he's proposed (as I said, I'm not a philosopher, and not even a particularly intelligent person). But I am asking you to apologize for the statement above which insofar as it grossly misrepresents Francione's position, frankly, is almost unbelievably inappropriate and unprofessional for a member of the academy, where ideas about how to help others and sincere dialogue about those ideas are supposed to count.
It may not have been your intent, but many welfare advocates actively misrepresent Francione's position. That doesn't further the dialogue; it occludes what's at stake for nonhuman animals and sweeps a round dialogue about their freedom and what we owe them under the rug.
In your letter to the editor, you write: "Mr. Steiner might feel less lonely as an ethical vegan -- he says he has just five vegan friends -- if he recognized he has an ally in mere vegetarians like me [..]". Really, are the kind of misrepresentations and personal attacks you made in your blog comments the kind of thing that allies do? Think about that apology, Jean, and definitely, go vegan!