Human Exceptionalism

“Abolitionist” Gary Francione Laments State of Animal Rights Movement

Gary Francione, who argues that to be authentic all animal rights believers must be vegan and lead by example (I agree with him on this), is unhappy. He worries that the animal rights movement is falling backwards because of the “humane meat” campaigns that, in his mind, have made carne respectable to consume for some who were once abstainers. As evidence, he points out that the Food Standards Agency in Britain has found that the number of people eating a partly or completely vegetarian diet fell from 9 per cent in 2007 to 7 per cent in 2008. As evidence that the humane meat movement is undercutting animal rights, properly understood, he quotes from an article by former vegetarian Tessie Williams. From his column:

The reason for Williams’ return to meat: “I see my decision to return to meat as part of a bigger change in Britain’s food culture. We’ve shifted away from the old-school “meat is murder” approach, and now well-sourced meat is seen as healthy and natural.

I agree with Williams that meat is a natural food for human beings. And I have often criticized equating animal slaughter for food with the murder of human beings as misanthropic. But, Francione is absolutely right about the impact of humane meat: If it becomes widely accepted among animal advocates, it will devastate the pure animal rights concept, which asserts that human beings have no right to use animals for any instrumentalized purpose, no matter how beneficial to us:

This is where the happy meat/animal products movement is leading. And it is certainly not confined to Britain. In the United States, animal protection organizations promote initiatives such as California’s Proposition 2, which will do nothing to help animals but will falsely reassure humans that animals are being given significantly improved “humane” protection.

The underlying premise of the modern “animal protection” movement is that it is acceptable for humans to use animals as long as they are treated “humanely.” Those who support this position may want better treatment than the welfarists of the 1940s or 1950s sought, but the principle is the same: use does not matter; only treatment does. That is a fundamental difference between the abolitionist approach and the approach adopted by the large new-welfarist organizations. The abolitionist position rejects all animal use and sees creative, nonviolent vegan education as the primary strategy to employ.

Francione is also upset with PETA’s oft-utilized stunt of using soft core porn to sell vegetarianism:

It is unclear to me why PETA and those who think that this sort of thing is acceptable do not recognize that sexism and speciesism are very closely linked. As long as we continue to commodify women, we will continue to commodify nonhumans. Sexism is not only inherently objectionable; it is a most ineffective way to increase consciousness about nonhumans. PETA has been promoting its sexist anti-fur campaign for over almost 20 years now. Has it had any effect? The fur industry is stronger than it has ever been.

Yes, well PETA’s first and foremost rule is to garner attention for itself. Sex sells and ads such as the one not played on the Superbowl are guaranteed attention-getters–particularly from the teenage boy crowd.

Gary Francione is an idealist and a principled advocate. But in promoting veganism he is both pushing against nature and a society that is increasingly geared toward indulging desires rather than promoting virtue. I understand his pain.


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