Why is Gary L. Francione slandering eco-feminists?

Anyone who has been reading this blog for any time probably knows that my view on animal rights has been heavily influenced by Gary Francione’s work. (For example, my “How Animal Welfare Harms Animals” post is basically a summary of his book Animals, Property, and the Law, which I would highly recommend everyone to read.) It’s not an exaggeration to say that his animal rights theory is absolutely brilliant, and, in my view, the only animal ethics theory that is both internally consistent and radical enough to bring about real justice for non-human animals.

So it’s with a great deal of regret and sadness that I’m writing these words; especially because, up until now, I’ve largely seen Gary Francione as a staunch supporter women’s liberation. He is – and has been, for a long time – vocally opposed to PeTA’s sexism. He is publicly outspoken against pornography. He teaches a course at Rutgers University called “Animal Rights and Human Rights”, in which he uses Catharine Mackinnon’s “Toward a Feminist Theory of the State” (a radical feminist text). In sum, he is passionate about feminism – or so I’ve always thought. Unfortunately, recent events have caused me to see otherwise.

In a recent thread on his Facebook page, Francione wrote:

IinventedFeminism

In this post, Francione seems to be suggesting that he was the first person to challenge sexism in the animal rights movement. But is that really true? Take a look at Carol Adams’ reply:

IinventedFeminism5

I was born in 1991, so I can’t comment on what was or was not happening with PeTA in the late 1980′s and whether or not Francione reacted quickly. But what about Carol Adams’ claim that her first article was published in 1975? That would certainly contradict Francione’s claim to be the first person to challenge sexism in the movement.

A google search for “Carol Adams 1975″ gave me the following:

IinventedFeminism4

This is from the introduction to “The Feminist Care Tradition in Animal Ethics: A Reader”, edited by Josephine Donovan. If you take a look at the text, it cites Carol Adams as having been published as early as 1975, writing about “… a uniquely feminist position of the status of animals… This argument not only links the status of women to that of animals, but also argues that animal activism requires a feminist analysis and feminism requires an analysis that addresses the status of animals.”

In other words, Carol Adams was right: she was challenging sexism in the AR movement and making the connections before Francione  (who went vegan in 1982). The latter was blatantly lying when he claimed to be the first and foremost anti-sexist figure of the animal rights movement.

I don’t agree with Carol Adams on everything. I don’t think that the concept of “rights” is necessarily patriarchal, or that we should be promoting an “ethic of care” as intrinsically feminine. (If anyone is interested, Catharine Mackinnon has a chapter in ‘Feminism Unmodified’ where she explains why this kind of approach to ethics only reinforces the very gender roles that we ought to be abolishing). I also agree with Francione that Carol Adams’ work is full of academic jargon. But why is he dismissing her work entirely? It may not be what we would like it to be, but she is doing something – even if in a way that we slightly disagree with – to contribute to the discussion about sexism and speciesism. Why is Francione dismissing that and claiming to have beaten her to it? That is incredibly disrespectful and dismissive of her contributions.

By the way, there is also a (now defunct) group called Feminists for Animal Rights, which formed in 1981 – an entire year before Francione went vegan. This group was active for over two decades and they published newsletters, staged protests, among many other things. One woman tried to leave a (neutral) comment about this group on Francione’s thread, but was immediately banned from his page for doing so:

IinventedFeminism6

For the love of Vishnu and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, can somebody please explain to me why Francione is making up narcissistic bullshit (about having invented vegan feminism) and silencing any women who disagrees with or questions him in any way? Since when is that a feminist thing to do?

Those aren’t rhetorical questions. I really want to know. Anyone?

An Open Letter to Robert Jensen

Dear Mr. Jensen,

A friend of mine shared your article, “The Case for a Morality of Radical Caution” with me the other day. As a fan of your pro-feminist work, I was disappointed to see you casually dismissing the animal issue. How could a man so committed to ending the oppression of marginalized humans give nonhuman animals – the most marginalized and exploited of all – the cold shoulder?

Your article immediately opens up with your most important argument: that while our politics can and should be radical, our morals could afford some extra caution. Undoubtedly, this comes from a good place. Perhaps you were looking for a way to discuss moral issues that avoids the dogmatism and rigidity that characterizes much of the Right, and that acknowledges the complexity of human moral choices, with all of the consequences (good and bad) entailed therein. If so, that is commendable. Unfortunately, the way in which you applied this idea to the animal issue was terribly misguided.

Sure, in an emergency situation, I would save a human over a dog or rat or other nonhuman. But that is wholly irrelevant. In an emergency situation, I would choose my mother over another (anonymous) human being; it does not follow from this that it would be ethical to use the second (anonymous) human in a medical experiment against their will, or to eat them, or use them as an object in some other way. Similarly, the fact that I would chose a human over a nonhuman in an emergency situation says nothing about the legitimacy (or lack thereof) of using nonhumans as objects in non-emergency situations.

Let’s be honest: these sorts of hypotheticals are not useful at best; at worst, they amount to a kind of intellectual masturbation that the powerful can engage in as they philosophize on their moral obligations to the powerless from a physical and emotional distance.

And that, really, is the heart and soul of what is wrong with a “cautious” morality: it is a “morality” of the powerful, the privileged, the oppressor. The oppressed do not indulge in this “morality” because we cannot afford it. Our lives are at stake. And in cherishing this one life that we have, here and now, we are anything but cautious.

So what if other animals are not “like us”? As a woman, I am not “like you”, either. Thanks to the sex-caste system, I will probably never (within my lifetime) stand on common human ground with you. Ditto for other women. That has not stopped you from campaigning tirelessly on our behalf – against masculinity, against pornography, and against violence against women. In your pro-feminist work, you often do an excellent job of acknowledging the complexity of human lives. You avoid absolutes. But all of your pro-feminist work, however nuanced, is premised on one firm truth: that women have a right to their lives and to their own bodies. Without a steadfast (not cautious) commitment to that one truth, all of your pro-feminist work would turn to mush; it would be meaningless.

Here, I am not interested in convincing you that nonhumans are just like humans (they aren’t) or that we should treat humans and nonhumans alike in all cases (we shouldn’t). Instead, I want to make one simple point: that every sentient being has a right to her life and to her own body. There are some cases where we cannot fully respect this (we can’t avoid accidentally stepping on bugs). But with food, clothing, entertainment, and other “uses” of nonhumans, we can certainly avoid it.

It is not a lack of nutrition or opportunity that is preventing you from going vegan, Mr. Jensen. The nutritional science overwhelmingly shows that veganism is healthy and sustainable, and the hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of vegans in the different parts of the world prove that it is a feasible way to live. No; the real problem is that you value your taste buds, habits, convenience, and social conformity more than you care about your own commitment to justice and non-violence. You certainly think that your taste buds and expediency matter more than the actual lives of nonhumans. How else would you express such apathy towards their fate, which you dishonestly call “caution”?

I am not asking you to replace your nuanced thinking with dogmatism, or to aggressively seek some sort of moral one-upmanship over anyone. I am simply asking that you listen to your own (admitted) moral intuitions, and to stop excusing something you already know, in your heart, to be inexcusable. I am asking you to cut it out with the apathy masquerading as progressive moral thinking, and to think about the animal issue the same way that you think about women’s issues: from the perspective of the victim.

Perhaps going vegan would require, on your part, the same thing as feminism: a commitment to un-learning the emotional catatonia that passes for normalcy in men.

Got non-violence, Mr. Jensen? Go vegan.

Veganism is a Feminist Issue

I’ve written about this before. Nevertheless, recent events on Facebook have made me think that it’s time for another post on this topic.

Many feminists react with a surprising amount of hostility to the mere suggestion that animal rights might be a feminist issue. Some of it is the general speciesism / anthropocentrism of our society rearing its ugly head. Some of it is based on a mistaken assumption that consuming animal products is a nutritional must. (It isn’t.) And some if it stems from a concern that veganism will become yet another tool to police women’s bodies and diets.

You know how it is – we women are always being told, “Eat this, don’t eat this. Look like this, don’t look like that.” That shit got old a long time ago, but unfortunately, PeTA – which, in the minds of many people, is the public face of animal rights – hasn’t gotten the memo. PeTA’s sexist stunts are another reason why some feminists feel like vomiting at the mere mention of veganism.

If that were the end of the story, feminists who learned that 1) veganism is healthy, and 2) that PeTA doesn’t represent most vegans, would be amenable to veganism. But they aren’t. Intelligent and compassionate feminists, always quick to notice and object to oppression when it affects them, can be surprisingly indifferent to the hideous, unspeakable violence that is inflicted on nonhuman animals – and to which they contribute.

There is often an assumption that animal rights is somehow a distraction from women’s issues – that caring about animals will leave us with less time and gynergy to focus on ourselves and our own struggle. But that’s not true. Being committed to animal rights doesn’t mean that you have to spend all (or any) of your time campaigning for it or doing activism (although that would be nice). If you care about animals at all, then all you need to do is go (and stay) vegan.

Veganism is not just another diet (on par with, say, the Atkins diet) or another form of consumerist slacktivism (on par with eating locally-grown food twice a week) – even if the malestream, corporate-owned media tries to make it look like all of the above. It’s actually a way of life based on the ethical notion that animals are not things for humans to use. And it is really the minimum that we owe other animals.

Think about it – you probably already agree that we shouldn’t kill or harm animals unnecessarily. But as I pointed out earlier in this post, you don’t need to consume animal products to be healthy.  Which means that we continue to do it out of habit, tradition, taste, and convenience – not necessity. You probably already accept the basic ideas that should lead you to veganism.

But veganism is a pertinent issue for feminists in particular, because feminists are (ostensibly) committed to ending hierarchy, oppression, and injustice. We’re especially against rape.

Yet we re-enforce each and every single one of these things every time we eat a non-vegan meal, or wear animal clothing, or use animals in any other setting.

 

Radical feminists have always done a good job of highlighting the hypocrisy of left-wing men – many of whom preach justice and equality for all, only to turn around and order their “chicks” to make them sandwiches and watch porn with them. So-called “liberal dudebros” are endlessly annoying, in large part because you can’t take seriously someone who doesn’t practice what they preach.

But if feminists talk about justice, non-violence, and anti-oppression politics, only to turn around and frivolously kill, torture, and exploit countless non-human animals, how are we any different from the aforementioned liberal dudebros? How can we claim to be a serious social justice movement when we knowingly and needlessly deny justice to the most vulnerable members of society?

It’s easy to be against violence and oppression when it affects you personally. But no woman becomes a radical feminist (in particular) solely for her own sake. Radical feminism acknowledges that humans are social beings, and that all of our actions have consequences for others. Many radical feminists make personal sacrifices for the greater good of womanity.

There is no reason, short of arrogant disregard and personal greed (the same things men use to justify oppressing us), not to extend that moral concern to other animals.

I leave you with a quote from a woman you all know and love, amended for the animal rights context:

Capitalism is not wicked or cruel when the commodity is the non-human person; profit is not wicked or cruel when the alienated worker is a non-human piece of meat; corporate bloodsucking is not wicked or cruel when the corporations in question, overbloated animal charities, sell moral indulgences for the inexcusable; sexism is not wicked or cruel when it is the bovine woman who is repeatedly raped; slavery is not wicked or cruel when it is the non-human person who is used as chattel property; torture is not wicked or cruel when the tormented can only oink, moo, cluck.

The anti-vegan “movement” is left-wing; and the “movement” is a vast graveyard where the Left has gone to die. The Left cannot have its animal products and its politics too.

Veganism or Nothing?

In response to my previous post, where I pointed out that “happy” slavery is still slavery, one person responded by saying that my argument was kind of like throwing a slice of cake on the ground, because you can’t have the whole cake. This person missed the point of my post, which was that animal welfare isn’t even a meager slice of the cake - it’s more like throwing all of your flour and soy butter into the toilet and then shitting all over it; it’s a guarantee that nothing even remotely resembling a cake will ever come to fruition. But the gist of the argument – that abolitionism is “all of nothing” – is brought up often enough that I thought I’d address it.

There are two issues here. The first one being: what do we actually owe other animals? As I’ve argued before, veganism is the only thing that makes sense if you agree (and I’ve never met anyone who disagreed) that it’s wrong to frivolously kill or harm nonhumans. That is, since we don’t need to eat, wear, or use other animals to live healthy lives, we should stop doing it. None of the reasons why people actually use animal products – convenience, habit, tradition – have anything to do with necessity.

The 9 (ok, 200) or so people who follow this blog regularly are probably getting tired of this point by now; I drive home the veganism as a minimum!!1! point in pretty much of all of my posts. But I do it for a reason: because it’s a simple point that needs to be said, even though it rarely is. Virtually all of the animal groups – PeTA, Mercy for Animals, Compassion over Killing, etc – talk about veganism as just one of the many things that people can do for nonhumans. So if you go vegan, cool; if you eat cage-free eggs twice a week, also cool.

For instance, check out this breath-taking quote from Matt Ball of “Vegan” Outreach:

This may sound odd coming from a cofounder of Vegan Outreach, but it doesn’t matter what label anyone places on me, or what label anyone places on themselves. For example, if Peter Singer (author of Animal  Liberation) were to eat a dish that contains dairy when at a colleague’s house… should our limited time and resources go to judging / labeling [him]?

I dunno, man. If a white anti-racism activist was caught harassing people of colour and yelling racist epithets at them, should the limited time and resources of anti-racist activists go towards calling him out on his hypocrisy? Or should we just let it slide because racial equality can mean whatever people want it to mean?

If you can see the need for consistency in other contexts (say, racial equality), then it’s speciesist not to apply the same consistency for nonhumans. If animal use is in fact unnecessary and cruel by definition, then veganism can’t be one of many options available to people, on par with flexitarianism and other things; it needs to be the baseline for the animal rights movement. Talking about how you believe in animal rights while using animal products now and again is kind of like saying you believe in racial equality, only to make racist jokes a few times a week. It doesn’t work.

And that brings me to my next point: if veganism (abolition of all animal use) is where we want to get to, and we’re in a situation where animal use is as common as dirt, then we need to be absolutely, crystal clear about what our goal is. Anything else is a waste of time.

There are some vegans who say that we shouldn’t openly and unapologetically talk about veganism, because it’s “too radical” and will scare people off. Umm… what the elitism? You understood it just fine, didn’t you? So what makes you think other people won’t?

The problem with promoting vegetarianism, flexitarianism, “happy” meat and other (supposed) “stepping stones” towards veganism is that these things don’t work. Instead, it makes animal rights activists look like we’re constantly moving the goal posts, muddying the waters, lying to the public about what we want and what we believe in. It certainly doesn’t move people towards the position that veganism is a moral necessity.

For the record, there is no other social justice movement in the world that knowingly hides its own goals the way the animal rights movement does. There are social justice movements in which people promote different things because they believe in different things – liberal feminists often talk about abortion as a personal choice, while radical feminists are more inclined to talk about “reproductive justice” and to demand socialized (free) abortion on demand. But that’s because they disagree about what the problem is and what needs to be done about it. When feminists, or any other social justice group, agree that a particular thing is always wrong (e.g. rape), they will never promote a “humane” version of it. They will always make it clear that rape (or whatever it is that they’re campaigning against) is wrong and that it should never be tolerated.

The animal protection movement has now been peddling confusing, self-defeating nonsense for 30 years, and we have nothing to show for it. Animal use is rapidly increasing in both absolute and per-capita (per-person) terms. Whatever the potential downfalls of promoting veganism loudly and proudly (something that we’ve never done with any real consistency), we know for a fact that animal welfare doesn’t work. It wouldn’t hurt to give veganism a chance.

And, by the way, if someone can’t or won’t go vegan overnight, we can encourage them to take “baby steps” in the form of gradually increasing their consumption of vegan foods until they hit 100%. They could start with vegan breakfasts, then going vegan for lunch, then vegan for dinner, and then snacks. Or they could start by going vegan one day a week, then two days, three days, and so on. But our message, as animal advocates, should always clear.

It’s speciesist, and elitist towards other humans, to do otherwise.

How Animal Welfare Harms Animals

This post is basically a bite-sized summary of Animals, Property, and the Law. To get a more in-depth understanding of what’s discussed below, I’d highly recommend reading the book.

 

Animals as Objects

In the whole time that we have been domesticating other animals, said animals have been chattel property. Chattel property is moveable property – animals and women (as wives, concubines, sexual slaves etc) have historically fallen into this category. To be chattel property is to be valued and used as an inanimate object (that someone else owns), even while sentient.

Women are no longer legally chattel property (although most of the women in the global sex trade live in conditions that are virtually indistinguishable from slavery, and sexual objectification in general is rampant), but animals still are. The chattel property status of animals is not some kind of historical relic; it is the basis for all of our laws dealing with them. That means that the legal system sees no difference between a cow vs. a chair or a pencil.

But even if the law is whack, people know better, right? Nobody looks at a cow and literally thinks of her as an inanimate object, right? Well, that’s the “valued and used as inanimate object” part comes in. We might acknowledge that they are sentient, but since we see them as resources existing for our use, we actually use them as if they were objects.

That means that, in practice, we only pay attention to what we can get out of an animal for our own use. The animals own interests, however important they may be to the individual animal, simply don’t count. We feed them because it benefits us to keep them alive (for a while); but otherwise, just about everything is up for grabs. We can (and do) deny them personal space, take away their children, mutilate them without anesthetics, deny them sanitary living conditions, kill them as soon as the cost of keeping them alive outweighs their productivity, etc. If it benefits (or at least, doesn’t harm) our interests, there is no plausible reason to forgo a particular practice, even if it happens to be cruel to the animal. As property owners, only what is at stake for us matters.

By definition, property cannot have rights. In a situation of conflict between human (property owner) and non-human (property) interests, the animals will always lose.

 

What’s animal welfare got to do with it?

The pop idea behind animal welfare is that we shouldn’t inflict unnecessary suffering or death on the animals we use. The problem is that none of our use of animals is “necessary” to begin with – we literally do not need to eat, wear, or use animals for our purposes, and we do so largely out of tradition and expediency:

“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planne … vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle.”

Since the law obviously lets us use them anyway, it is clear that our laws don’t actually prohibit gratuitous animal use and/or cruelty. In reality, animal welfare laws are there to make sure that we use animals in the most economically efficient way.

That is, institutional exploiters (such as farmers and slaughterhouse owners) have an interest in making the most amount of money possible from animals. Animal welfare laws help them do that by making sure they don’t torture their animals more than they need to. Just as it would be dumb for a taxi driver to take a hammer and smash a good car for no reason, it would be equally dumb for a dairy farmer to treat his cows so badly that they all die when they’re 3 days old. You want to be able to use your property as best as possible, and in the case of animals, that means that they need to stay alive long enough. Other than that, everything goes.

That, by the way, is the reason why it’s legal to do all sorts of cruel things to animals that seem unnecessary. For example, de-beaking (searing off the beaks of baby chicks without anesthetics) is something that you would think would be prohibited by animal welfare laws. But if AW laws actually prohibited unnecessary suffering and death, we wouldn’t be using birds as our resources, period. In reality, practices like de-beaking are allowed because they’re economically beneficial – in this case, it makes it difficult for birds to peck each other to the point of injury or death, thereby reducing the rate of pre-mature death and allowing farmers to get more birds to slaughter.

In short, animal welfare laws don’t prevent unnecessary harm towards animals; they just make sure that we don’t torture animals more than we need to in order to get the most out of them economically.

By reducing the per-capita cost of using each animal, AW laws make it easier (cheaper) to use a larger number of animals. That is why, despite having more animal welfare laws than any other point in human history, we are using more animals, in more brutal ways, than at any other point in human history.

 

Opiate of the masses

There is another way in which animal welfare harms animals – and that’s by fooling people into thinking that these laws having anything to do with helping animals per se. It makes people think that animal interests really are protected, and that our basic relationship with animals (using them as our resources) isn’t fundamentally screwed up.

Although there are enough examples of this to fill encyclopedias several libraries, one textbook example comes to mind: KFC Canada agreeing to use gas chickens rather than stun them electrically.

PeTA campaigned for KFC to adopt this change for several years, claiming that gassing chickens is more humane than stunning them electrically (an exaggerated claim at best, given that gassing chickens still involves torture). By their own admission, PeTA claimed that this was the economically better thing to do and that KFC would be able to slaughter and sell more chicken corpses this way. Needless to say, this (and not some sentimental concern about animals) is the reason why KFC did it. If KFC really cared about animals, it wouldn’t take very much to realize that they ought to stop profiting from the unnecessary slaughter and torment of animals. KFC is a business; their concern is the bottom line.

So what happened when KFC adopted this change? Did PeTA come out and say “this is a stepping stone towards ending all animal use”? Did they even say (or do) anything that could vaguely imply that that is what they want to work towards? No. They called off their boycott of KFC Canada (implying that it’s OK to eat there) and basically gave them a free PR coup. In fact, Steve Langford, president of KFC Canada, was quoted in the media as saying:

“Once I got involved and we actually met face to face, we found out that we have no differences of opinion about how animals should be treated.”

So let’s briefly recap, from the point-of-view of your average omnivore. PeTA, who you associate with being concerned about animals, has an-going campaign saying that KFC is doing something wrong. Suddenly, when KFC agrees to slaughter chickens in a different way, PeTA calls off the boycott and publicly lauds KFC. As someone who wants to do the right thing but who probably hasn’t had any reason to seriously think about animal rights, what are you going to be thinking when you see this? That you need to go vegan? No – you’re going to think that it must be OK to eat at KFC.

 

Again, there are more examples of this than I could ever possibly list in a blog post, but I thought I post just one more example. From Whole Foods’ 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards:

“…I am willing to pay so that the chickens can have a better life and I can enjoy the eggs guilt free.” (Judy Harris)

“Excellent!   My moral questioning goes out the window when I smell and anticipate eating chicken fresh off the spit; the least I hope for is the chicken  experienced a good life.” (Ned)

“i and my family have recently gone vegetarian due to much exposure in the media about the cruelty towards animals.  poultry has been the hardest to give up but now i don’t feel i have to.  i will purchase ‘step-5′ chickens… thank you for all the products in your store that are ‘humane’… “ (Linda)

 

Animal welfare is a masturbation-fest for non-vegans who want reassure themselves about the legitimacy of their animal use. It does nothing in the short or long-term to help animals and in fact, it positively harms them by making the exploitation cheaper and more socially acceptable.

 

Living property / things-plus?

Acknowledging that animals can never have significant protection as long as they remain property, some people advocate pushing animals into “living property” or “things-plus” category.

For better or for worse, however, no such category exists. The legal system (just about everywhere) is based on a person-property dichotomy, and only legal persons (not property) can have rights – fundamental interests that must be protected. As long as Sentient Group X (whether it’s non-human animals, women, children, etc etc) are in the “property” category, any and all of their interests can and will be traded away at the slightest whim of their owners.

Coincidentally, creating a “things-plus” category was something that was attempted with race-based slavery in the US, when human beings were chattel property. It didn’t work then, either, and for the same reason: because it is impossible, given the structure of the law, to grant rights to property.

 

What we owe other animals

Most people agree that it’s wrong to inflict “unnecessary suffering and death” on animals. Presumably, that would rule out killing or harming animals because we enjoy it, because it’s convenient, because it’s a tradition, etc. After all, pleasure, convenience, and tradition ≠ necessity.

But by that standard, none of our conventional uses of animals (for food, for clothing, for entertainment, etc) are necessary. We don’t need to use animals to live or to be healthy. The idea that it’s wrong to inflict “unnecessary suffering and death” on animals logically requires veganism.

The abolitionist approach to animal rights – which promotes veganism and does not promote “better” or more “humane” alternatives – often upsets many pro-welfare animal advocates. This approach, more than anything else, forces us to confront the multiple layers of confusion that our society has in its relationship with other animals. Unfortunately, many well-intentioned animal advocates carry this confusion with them even as they become ethical vegans themselves. At best, it can be said that the modern animal protection movement is muddying the waters, further confusing the public by constantly moving the goal-post. At worst, it can be said that the “movement” has allowed bourgeois charities like PeTA to sell the animals out.

As the wonderful feminist writer and activist Andrea Dworkin once wrote (albeit in a different context):

“No liberation movement can accept the degredation of those whom it seeks to liberate by accepting a different definition of dignity for them and stay a movement for their freedom at the same time.”

It is way past time for those of us who really care about the animal issue – and most people do care – to confront the fact that animals are not objects. It is way past time to stop pretending that we can inflict violence on those we claim to love. And it is time to do away with the delusion that painting a smiley-faced sticker on the exploitation of other animals will end that exploitation.

Since other animals are not exactly like humans, and don’t have the same needs and abilities that we do, placing non-human animals into the “person” category (of a property-person dichotomy) does not mean that we would have to treat non-humans exactly as we would treat humans, giving them the “right” to vote or go to school. It would, quite simply, grant them one right: the right not to be the property of humans, which would mean that we no longer use them as our resources. It is in this sense that the abolitionist movement seeks egalitarianism – by making real the promise that no sentient being, irrespective of species, is treated as an object for someone else’s pleasure or gain.

Ethical veganism, as part of a moral and political commitment to ending animal use, is the radical notion that every sentient being deserves her life simply because, as a sentient being, her life has inherent value to her that cannot be comprehended or replaced by anyone else. In our post-modern, quasi-nihilistic world in which senseless and barbaric violence occurs every second of every day, ethical veganism is one of the simplest and most profound affirmations of life that anyone can make.

It is time for the animal advocates to stop selling ourselves and (more importantly) the animals short.

Meat-Free Mondays?

To all of the people who insist that we must promote Meat-Free Mondays, vegetarianism, and similar campaigns as a “stepping stone” towards veganism, I ask you: if we lived in the racially segregated 1930′s US South, would you promote ‘Lynch-Free Fridays’ as a ‘stepping stone’ to eradicating racism?

Would it make any difference if I reminded you that racism was extremely rampant (still is rampant), and that nothing you did was going to end that in the forseeable future? Would you promote Lynch-Free Fridays then? Or would you still find something (anything, however small) that got across the idea that no racial discrimination/hatred was acceptable?

Every campaign that explicitly promotes something less than veganism (like Meat-Free Mondays) as an end in itself reinforces the speciesist status quo every bit as much as a ‘Lynch-Free Friday’ would imply that lynching is fine on the other 6 days of the week.

MarineLand is Our Problem

On August 15th, 2012, allegations of animal cruelty surfaced from MarineLand. In a Toronto Star investigation, eight former employees spoke out about staffing shortages and reoccurring water problems that resulted in animal suffering. Ranging from skin damage and fur loss to blindness and even the death of a baby beluga, the stories revealed a pattern of systematic abuse. Such allegations are not new to a park that has been fraught with criticisms for decades.

The public’s reaction was swift and uniformly excoriating. Within hours, local animal protection groups were organizing protests and sharing petitions for stricter animal welfare standards at the park. The Ontario Society for the Protection of Animals (SPCA) vowed to conduct an on-site inspection, and social media outlets were inundated with complaints from parents vowing to boycott the park.

Undoubtedly, the nature and volume of the allegations adds to the suspicion that something is indeed amiss – and the public knows it. We are right to condemn needless animal suffering.

But why are we surprised?

We live in a society that reguarly uses animals as means to our own ends. Canadians kill 665 million “farm” animals every year, even though there is no nutritional need to consume animal products.

And our cognitive dissonance does not stop at “food” animals because there is also, in many other aspects of our lives, a uniform conviction that animals are ours to use. From zoos to water parks (like MarineLand) to circuses, thousands of animals are kept in unnatural conditions and forced to perform bizarre acts for our entertainment. From horse-racing to rodeos (including the Calgary Stampede), tens of thousands of animals are tormented for the so-called “fun” of sport. From leather to wool to fur and beyond, millions of animals are killed for our sense of fashion.

These forms of exploitation are as commonplace as they are unnecessary. How could compassionate people, so quick to condemn MarineLand, willfully ignore the fact that the abuses there are utterly consistent with our use of animals as commodities in general?

The pop idea is that our use of animals should be made ‘humane’. But if using animals is unnecessary to begin with, then any use is cruel by definition. And in a relationship in which they exist to serve us, their interests cannot be meaningfully protected. For the most part, animal welfare measures ensure that we don’t torment animals more than necessary for economic gain. Worse, these measures serve to soothe our guilty consciences.

The real issue is not how we use animals, but that we use them at all.

Our outrage about MarineLand suggests that we really do care about animals. But if that concern is ever going to go beyond self-righteous posturing, it has to be part of a commitment to ending all animal exploitation.

Does anybody really think that an SPCA inspection is going to end animal suffering in a business that could not exist – let alone remain profitable – if it did not treat animals like dispensable resources?

Why are we looking for someone else to fix the problem we’ve all created?

At the heart of it, MarineLand reflects the problem that inevitably arises from using animals as commodites.