Sunday, March 11, 2007

Activism Debate: A Review

Recently, on the web podcast Vegan Diner by author and activist Erik Marcus he had a two part debate with Rutgers professor Gary Francione. The debate centered on welfare vs abolition in the compassionate living movement. That is to say, the common approach to compassionate activism — which typically supports incremental improvements — vs outright 'conversion' from a meat centered diet directly to veganism where anything in between is just as unethical.

Francione says repeatedly (but never mentions any evidence or studies) that it is MORE cost effective and efficient to campaign for 100% abolition and veganism than it is to continue to seek incremental change. That is the key I think. While getting 50,000 hits on your website (as Francione says his has) is not trivial, I would need to see some statistics before I believe the claim that given a sample of people you can do better for animals by accepting only direct conversion to a vegan lifestyle as progress.

I do agree with Francione’s point though that some of the incremental changes serve to make people comfortable with consuming animals. In a subsequent follow up to the debate, Paul Shapiro from HSUS tried to rebut that by saying “That’s like telling people not to drive hybrid cars because it still pollutes the environment. If Francione thinks that small welfare improvements make people more comfortable eating more animal products then he would be campaigning against animal welfare, and trying to make conditions worse.” — The latter which is an excellent point. But neither Marcus nor Shapiro really answered or fully addresses those folks who are more satisfied being vegetarians because they eat stuff labeled ‘free range’, ‘organic’, or ‘cage free’. So I emailed Paul asking him to respond more directly to this point with standalone facts. If I hear from him I may do another blog entry. My view is that though some will be more comfortable clinging to food labels like free range or cage free, there are many more who will take the gradual approach to veganism, regardless of how it starts.

On one point of Francione’s I strongly disagree. He says that organizations like HSUS should essentially deplete their financial resources “now” to save or stop the suffering of animals immediately. He condemns them for essentially being a good business. Obviously that is ridiculous because if they spent all that money today - even except for what it takes to pay their employees and have operating expenses -then were for example, sued by some animal agriculture operation (or one of a thousand other things that could happen) they wouldn’t be able to afford a lawyer, and they’d go out of business tomorrow. Then by next week no more animals are being helped either by the reduction of suffering OR by the abolishment of the ‘property paradigm’. So that entire line of criticism is just wildly ignorant coming from an obviously intelligent guy like Gary Francione.

Marcus, while remaining much more polite, does not exhibit the debating skills to match. This is unfortunate, as for the first part of the discussion meant it was fairly one-sided. Marcus seems to drop back to some of the same points repeatedly which reduces the effectiveness of his argument, but this may just be a result of him not getting a word in edgewise for much of the discussion.

I think there are certainly valid points Francione made that Marcus didn’t want to face up to, such as the ‘comfort level’ thing. But there are also certain things Marcus said that Francione didn’t face up to, such that by stating abolition is completely different than welfare reform, and anyone who fights for welfare is wasting their time or essentially lying to people. Marcus rightly asserts that by not being inclusive to other segments of the movement, the result is a divisiveness among activists. While Marcus states that the abolition movement is a great additional tool for animals in addition to the existing ones of welfare reform and animal rights, Francione refuses to merge these two aspects of the movement. This would serve to exclude many activists, which seems counterproductive. On the second point Marcus argues that in fact, welfare advances have made the lives of untold billions better, not worse. He states it does more good than harm to enlighten the masses on the outrageous cruelties in animal agriculture (which are too numerous to mention here), a point I personally agree with.

I would be interested in what Francione considers ‘abolition activism’ most activists I have met always know veganism is the goal, but by his definition we’re in the “new welfare” camp churning out ‘happy meat’ eaters. Francione bases his arguments on the fundamental concepts of peace and non-violence, however much of the material I’ve read by him thus far seems to be based on aggression, negativity, and disagreement with other activists and animal rights groups. Aggression always reduces credibility of someone advocating peace. I admit though that I am new to Francione and have not read much of his work to date.

Some notable concepts brought to light from this discussion:
“Rights” is not the same thing as “Welfare” (you wouldn't advocate slaves welfare, but rights)
PETA has given an award to a designer of a slaughterhouse (presumably because it is “less cruel”.
We need to end the Property Paradigm homosapiens exact over non-human animals (G.F.)

Francione is the author of several books, including 'Rain Without Thunder

Marcus is the author of Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating and more recently, Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, and Money

My appreciation to each of the gentleman who participated in this discussion for allowing me to consider another aspect of compassionate living.

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At Wednesday, 21 March, 2007, Blogger Stefanie said...

It may be unethical to some to straddle the line between omnivorism and veganism, but expecting most folks to make the black-and-white transition between the two is taking on the unearned role of medical doctor. If a person was to eschew all animal products in a heartbeat, they would experience physical symptoms so uncomfortable and so profound, they'd surely think they were being tortured. Maybe I'm misunderstanding the message, because really, unless one were on a self-healing, life saving mission, who would want to do that so suddenly? It should be a gradual process.

At Sunday, 12 August, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A full transcript of the Francione-Marcus debate is available here:


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