Abolitionizing the debate: Francione moves the public and the advocacy community left

In no small way, 2011 has been a year that has witnessed a lot of movement in animal advocacy.  Francione's work continues to surge in popularity with advocates.  Even five years ago, there were not all that many abolitionists.  Now there are probably several hundred, perhaps thousands, active worldwide.  Active advocacy does not necessarily mean successful advocacy.  However, what's more telling of a public shift is the shift in rhetoric among those organizations dependent on public donations to conduct their work.

Although both positive and negative engagement with Francione and his work comes and goes, 2011 has seen a noticeable increase.  This blog post doesn't address those phenomena.  Instead, it looks at why Francione's work has such enduring popularity, and how the public, by circumstantial evidence, is moving "left" in light of his work, and how abolitionist organizations are gradually abolitionizing the debate.

First, it's worth pointing out that within the advocacy community, abolitionist and abolitionist-sounding organizations have increased their profile.  It would be difficult to imagine a growing list of vegan organizations that promote abolitionist views, such as (but not limited to): Alice Springs Vegan Society, Anima, Animal Freedom, Auckland Abolitionist Vegans Association, Boston Vegan Association, Defensa Animal, Grampian Animal Rights Advocates, LiveVegan, Red Animalista Mendoza, Vegan New Brunswick, Vegan New Zealand, Vegan Maine, Vegan Outreach Lincoln and East Midlands, Vegan:UK, Vegan.fr, Veganos pela Abolição, and, dare I say it, Vegan Ireland without Francione's highly influential body of work.  

Of course, not all advocates form organizations. Individual advocates have created blogs, podcasts, films and other activities to promote abolitionist veganism. Here, the work of Mylène Ouellet, Karin Hilpisch, James Crump, Bob and Jenna Torres, Robert Bowen, Sandra Cummings, Chris Poupart, Minku Sharma, Nathan Schneider, Maya Shlayen, Paola Aldana, Randy Sandberg, Alex Chernavsky, Dan Cudahy, Angel Flynn and Timothy Putnam, inter alia, comes to mind. My apologies to the hundreds, indeed, probably thousands I have not named. 

Those who claim that abolition has little traction either with the public or animal advocates may have never heard of many of these groups or individuals. Nevertheless, it helps to lift an eye from one’s navel now and again to study what's happening both inside and outside the scene. These organizations have met with anecdotal success with the public. And clearly, they reflect movement in the advocacy community toward the abolitionist approach. 

But what about the public?
I've written elsewhere that the public is ready to hear about veganism and that animal use is not invisible. There has also been an increase in both "higher optics" commentary as well as in more abolitionist-sounding rhetoric among more traditional welfare groups criticizing "humane" animal use. Each implies that the public is ready to hear not just about any old veganism, but abolitionist veganism in particular.  Some more concrete examples:

Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM), once a strong proponent of regulated use, claims: "Yes, it took us 15 years or so, but eventually, we got the message loud and clear: the only effective, long-term solution to the obscenity of animal agriculture is to encourage reduced consumption of animal products, leading to the ideal of veganism. It’s the abolitionist approach." At least in this blog, FARM's doesn't merely try to embrace the abolitionist approach, it also tries to embraces abolition's critique of welfare reform: "Welfare reform campaigns are not just inconsistent with, but actually destructive of animal rights advocacy. " (1)  

Although I still feel there are issues with FARM's approach (abolitionists promote no consumption of animal products, which is not the same as encouraging reduction), there can be no doubt that this change in attitude (as well as the attitude adopted) would have been impossible without Francione's work. (2) (3) and (4)

As a second example, Marc Bekoff has also recently penned an interesting piece for The Atlantic: “Dead Cow Walking: The Case Against Born-Again Carnivorism.”  Bekoff is a prominent animal biologist, ecologist and ethologist whose academic work is very much worth reading. In his piece, Bekoff claims that "pigs, chickens, and other animals raised for food are sentient beings with rich emotional lives. They feel everything from joy to grief."  (5)

Although some other sentient animals may not have emotional lives, it seems clear that farm animals do.  But what's of interest about Bekoff's claim here is that it's Francione (not Tom Regan) who first introduces the notion that sentience is the only meaningful moral criterion for rights.  

Further, Bekoff argues: “No matter how humanely raised they are, the lives of animals raised for food can be cashed out simply as ‘dead cow/pig/chicken walking.’ Whom we choose to eat is a matter of life and death. I think of the animals' manifesto as ‘Leave us alone. Don't bring us into the world if you're just going to kill us to satisfy your tastes.’” Theses claims resonate strongly with Francione's more involved critique of domestication as well as his claims with regard to the moral personhood of nonhuman animals. (6) (7)

As a third example, James McWilliams has also written a number of articles, sharply critical of some expressions of animal use,  for The Atlantic.  A number of his pieces have been interesting, if perhaps somewhat equivocal (for a vegan) about animal use.  Nevertheless, his critique of 'free range' animal use  in The Atlantic was searing. 

"But what if," he writes, "the free-range experience is nothing but a more humane way to force animals into serving our culinary wants? What if the appeal to ‘nature’ does little more than allow us to forget the reality of enslavement, to take solace in the appeal of false freedom?" and "the appeal to 'nature' in free range farming, like most pornography, is essentially disingenuous." (8) Although some have accused McWilliams of defending the meat industry, this makes his critique of “humane" use no less applicable.

Like Bekoff, McWilliams also draws specific attention to sentience. His critique of free range (although novel in its critique of the appeal to nature) also resonates strongly with Francione's frequent and long-standing critique of "humane" animal products. (9) Both Bekoff and McWilliams' pieces were published in The Atlantic, a highly public vehicle with readership of about 400,000 (subscribers — this would not include Web traffic which could be much higher for all I know). Along with Gary Steiner's lonesome but powerful piece in the New York Times a few years ago, these suggest a rise in public interest for an abolitionist message. 

Of course, it doesn't follow from this that the public won't reject abolitionist veganism, that the public is not sceptical or does not require further education (in fact, I believe that all of these things are probably true). Nevertheless, newspapers and magazines are not a charity; they simply don't print what they feel the public will not buy or what they do not feel represents an important part of the public dialogue. There have been other examples (although not all this year), which suggest a gradual build over time, and just to pick a handful:
But you get my point. 

I also don't think there can be much doubt that Francione's work has heavily influenced groups that have had, charitably put, a more ambivalent or cluttered relationship to abolition (e.g., ARZone, Friends of Animals, Igualdad Animal, Humane Myth, and Peace Advocacy Network, among others). It's true that I don't endorse these organizations for various reasons.  On the other hand, it seems silly to deny the reality that each has been heavily influenced by Francione's work; in many cases, his ideas have been formative to their approaches (even if only in a rhetorical way).

I have claimed in the past these organizations take an approach that is ideologically different from both abolition and from new welfarism and, also, that they represent a “leftward” shift in the advocacy community. I consider only the unequivocal promotion of abolitionist veganism to be properly abolitionist (regardless of the label)  -- although why my opinion on this would be of importance to anyone is anyone's guess.  Nor am I disparaging these organizations by pointing this out. In my view, what's important is that all organizations move toward a more unequivocal and clearer promotion of abolitionist veganism.

Francione might well complain that these groups are appropriating "abolition".  There is almost certainly some truth here in several instances. Many organizations respond to the public with what the organizations feel will resonate with them; in that sense, however, they function as a barometer of public opinion. My purpose is not to wedge myself into the middle of the appropriation debate, but rather to simply point out that there is obviously a public ear for abolitionist or abolitionist-sounding claims as there never has been before.  

In fact, now is a wonderful time to go vegan, and it’s likely that 2012 will see an organized, transnational and larger-scale abolitionist vegan movement coalesce. Other animal advocacy organizations on the wrong side of history may take the time to reorganize their work to promote abolition and veganism clearly and unequivocally.  If they don't, they will be increasingly overshadowed as the Humane Society of the United States and its coalition of welfare interests as they drain the field of donors and volunteers who want regulation, not abolition.  

In contrast, abolitionist vegan organizations are clearly on the rise and abolition is gaining traction with the public as these groups slowly but surely find their footing and go forward in the struggle to abolish (not regulate) animal use.

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