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Our Voices, Our Movement: How Vegans Can Move Beyond the “Welfare-Abolition Debate”

Our Voices, Our Movement: How Vegans Can Move Beyond the “Welfare-Abolition Debate”

For years I have remained silent on the “welfare-abolition debate,” believing that my limited time and energy as an activist were best directed elsewhere. But recent events have compelled me to witness the profound anger, confusion, guilt, weariness, and despair this issue triggers in vegans – vegans whose commitment and compassion never cease to astound and inspire me. So I could not, in good conscience, avoid contemplating this issue and sharing my reflections.

Much has been written about the content of the issue – the specific ideas and arguments that comprise each position. In fact, virtually all that has been discussed in regard to the “debate” is content-based, and one would be hard-pressed to find new content to add to a “debate” that has been at a stalemate since its inception. So I am not going to argue for a position here, but, rather, suggest a different way of thinking about this issue – a reframe that I hope will help free up some energy that’s been spent in a gridlock, so that our lives are more peaceful and our activism is more effective.

What I suggest is that we turn our attention from the content to the process of the issue. The process is the how, rather than the what; it is how we engage with the content, the way we communicate (e.g., we can be argumentative or cooperative). And our process is informed by our consciousness. Our consciousness is our mentality; it is the intentions, principles, and state of mind that drive our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and determine how we relate to ourselves, others, and our world. Our consciousness and process can mirror the speciesist-carnist culture we are working to transform, thus reinforcing, for instance, ideological rigidity, black-and-white thinking, defensiveness, bullying, self-righteousness, and hostility. Or it can reflect the core principles of veganism – principles such as compassion, reciprocity, justice, and humility – the essence of a “liberatory” consciousness (and process), a way of being (and relating) that is fundamentally liberating and that I believe can significantly empower the important strategic conversations we need to continue to engage in.

Equating Difference with Deficiency: Framing Healthy Disagreements as Divisive Debates

There are many ways in which we, as individuals and as a movement, embody a liberatory consciousness. I have had the privilege of meeting thousands of vegans around the world, and of witnessing the courage and conviction they carry through their lives. They hold firm to their values despite the daily hostility and discrimination they must contend with, the isolation they experience, the frustration they feel when perceiving the blatant irrationality in others’ attitudes and behaviors toward nonhuman animals, and the pain and sorrow and exasperation they feel at the ubiquitous reminders of brutality and injustice that surround them. And I have also had the opportunity to witness the global unfolding and burgeoning of the vegan movement. Given the depth and breadth of the atrocity we are up against, we have much to be proud of.

And given the depth and breadth of the atrocity we are up against, we also have much work to do.

Although we have been able to bring a liberatory consciousness to many areas of our activism and our movement – in particular, to our areas of commonality – we often bring a non-liberatory consciousness to our areas of difference. Given that our diversity is our strength – the more ideas and experiences we bring to our movement, the richer and more multidimensional it becomes – when we equate difference with deficiency, when we believe that differences are obstacles rather than opportunities, then we relate to our differences in a way that weakens rather than strengthens ourselves and our movement. Our disagreements become framed as divisive debates rather than constructive conversations.

The core problem is not our differences; it is the way we relate to them. In other words, although there may well be differences in terms of how effective various strategies are for ending animal exploitation – some strategies may even be counterproductive – we cannot determine which approaches to focus our efforts on if we are unable to discuss such differences openly. We must approach our areas of difference in such a way that cultivates the kind of productive dialogue that enables us to fully explore the most expedient methods by which to stop the tide of horrific brutality toward nonhuman beings that does not pause while we argue with each other.

Debate versus Dialogue: Radically Different Processes

The debate model, though widely accepted in academia and beyond, has also been criticized by a number of intellectuals, ranging at least as far back as Socrates. In general, when we debate, we seek to “win” an “argument,” to “defend” our position, to demonstrate that our position is “right.” Thus, our goal is inevitably to make the other(s) “lose” and demonstrate that their position is “wrong.” The goal of debate is typically not to learn, to develop to a broader and deeper understanding of an issue, but to further our own existing view against an “opponent” who is equally invested in furthering her or his view. Debate is based on and encourages dualistic, either/or thinking: we are often forced to choose between two (opposing) views and can therefore fail to see the many alternative views that may exist. We can also fail to appreciate the nuances of the issue, or that there may be multiple and equally valid interpretations of the same situation.

The goal of dialogue, on the other hand, is to share ideas and to become aware of multiple perspectives. It is to understand and be understood by the other to garner broader awareness. Through dialogue we are encouraged to examine our own assumptions, consider the limitations of our perspective, and contemplate alternative explanations or courses of action to the issue we are exploring. The dialogue model is much more reflective of a liberatory consciousness, as it requires curiosity, empathy, and compassion, and its objective is mutual understanding and collective empowerment rather than creating “winners” and “losers.”

Apart from the consciousness engendered by each model, if we consider the sheer practical value of these approaches to ending animal exploitation, we can appreciate how debate can pose a serious obstacle to this goal: Achieving our objective of animal liberation depends on developing a comprehensive, complex, sophisticated, and flexible strategic approach to targeting a comprehensive, complex, sophisticated, and ever-changing form of institutionalized oppression. It is unlikely that the reductive, black-and-white rhetoric of debate can ever produce such nuance and analytical richness. Our differences are our strengths.

The Debate Stalemate: Strategy in the Guise of Ideology

Given the problematic nature of debate, why do we continue to apply this model to dealing with our differences? One reason is because we have conflated ideology with strategy, believing that our differences are ideological rather than strategic. Ideology is morally loaded, often engendering a “right/wrong” mentality, and it is subjectively interpreted, which can lead to endless deliberation and ultimately stalemate.

While ideological differences among vegans do of course exist, for many vegans there is often a lack of clarity around when and how ideology and strategy overlap. For instance, when we debate whether it is more effective to campaign for institutional reform than to conduct vegan outreach (assuming these are mutually exclusive approaches, which they are not) the assumption is often that the disagreement is purely ideological, that one is either “abolitionist” or “welfarist.” However, most vegans do in fact share the goal of the abolition of animal exploitation and when we untangle ideology from strategy we can redirect the conversation to how best to bring about this end without getting sidetracked by moral argumentation.

When we wrap ideology around strategy we lose the objectivity necessary to develop a sound strategic analysis. For instance, we treat theory as though it were fact, vehemently arguing for an approach based on no empirical evidence whatsoever. Historical examples of other abolition movements, such as the movement to end African slavery, are useful references but they in no way approximate the hard data necessary to demonstrate the efficacy of a strategic approach to abolishing contemporary animal exploitation. Nor do we have any reliable data proving that welfare reforms will ultimately bring about abolition and do not actually undermine efforts toward that end. And we also treat fact as though it were theory, dismissing, for instance, the plethora of research examining motivational and behavioral factors influencing individual and social change: It is truly astonishing how Nick Cooney’s Change of Heart, a 220-page compilation of psychosocial studies, has at times been treated as though it were mere conjecture.

Strategic analysis is one of the – if not the – most important efforts we can engage in as vegans. Questioning how to most effectively and expediently bring about change for nonhuman animals is vital to our mission. It makes sense to ask whether, for instance, welfare reforms that raise awareness about farmed animal exploitation yet provide another justification for such exploitation are more beneficial than consequential. These are valid questions that require ongoing dialogue. The debate model, however, is not useful when discussing strategy; our investment in being right can prevent us from being effective.

The Myth of the Great Debate: “Welfarism versus Abolitionism”

Another reason vegans employ the counterproductive debate model is because many of us believe that there is a fundamental “welfare-abolition debate” dividing our movement and that we are therefore automatically on one side or the other. In other words, we have bought into The Myth of the Great Debate.

However, while there are those who do seek to debate this issue, the debate itself is largely a construct. A debate, in general, assumes there are (at least) two “opposing” sides, each which is equally invested in promoting its position as right. And to be invested in promoting one’s position, one must generally be identified with that position. A debate is like a soccer match: there have to be two groups, identified as teams, which are both committed to “winning” the game.

If we examine the history of the “welfare-abolition debate,” however, we see that the vast majority of vegans do not see themselves on a “side” of the “debate” because they are not identified with a particular position – they have not labeled themselves or their position and they have not constructed an identity around it. They simply see themselves as “vegans.” Often they will only consider their position in the “debate” when they are confronted with “choosing” a “side,” but generally they don’t feel any identification with their supposed “side,” nor do they perceive those on the other “side” as in opposition to them and their efforts. Identification with a position has largely been the province of a small group of vegans who have constructed an identity around their strategic-ideological approach and who have constructed labels for both themselves and the other “side.” In our soccer analogy, it’s as if there is only one team trying to win the game; the rest of the individuals don’t even think of themselves as a team and are simply moving across the field, only kicking the ball when it gets in their way.

To be fair, just because only a minority of vegans have a “team” identity, this does not mean that the majority play no role in constructing the debate. It is entirely possible that the small, vocal minority have developed a cohesive group identity because they have felt that their valid and pressing concerns have not been taken seriously by the broader vegan culture. Both “sides” must work to defuse the Myth of the Great Debate.

The Myth of the Great Divide: United and Divided We Stand

One of the dangers of buying into the Myth of the Great Debate is that it can lead us to believe in the Myth of the Great Divide – that there is a deep rift in our movement which is crippling our efforts and undermining our activism. And while it is true that “the debate” is divisive and poses an obstacle to our growth, a cursory analysis of the evolution of the movement over recent years demonstrates without a doubt that we are growing exponentially in size and strength. The rift is not a chasm.

We may also believe in the Myth of the Great Divide because, as ideological minorities, we are often portrayed by the dominant culture as a one-dimensional, homogeneous group. And, like other non-dominant groups, we can feel pressured to present a unified front in order to obtain social power. So it is important for us to remember that we are no less diverse than non-vegans, and we don’t have to – nor should we – share all the same values and beliefs and approaches. When we look at ourselves through the lens of the dominant culture we can fear that if we are not united, we are divided, and act this out in a self-fulfilling prophecy. But we can be, and are, both similar and different.

Divisive Labeling

Our perception of ourselves as fundamentally divided is reinforced at least in part through the construction and appropriation of labels for vegans. While linguistic analysis and accuracy are essential to the continued growth of any social movement, when labels are created and applied unilaterally – when those on the receiving end have been neither participants in the process nor consenting recipients of the labels ascribed to them – the result is confusion, frustration, and a profound undermining of personal dignity and group solidarity.

Nowhere is this dynamic more apparent than through the use of the labels “abolitionist” and “welfarist.” Many vegans find these labels offensive because they are involuntarily either ascribed or denied such labels – they are told they are not who they perceive themselves to be or that they are who they perceive themselves not to be. For instance, the technical definition of “abolitionist” is one who favors the abolition of a practice or institution; in the case of veganism, it would mean anyone whose end goal is the abolition of animal exploitation. And while the majority of vegans arguably perceive themselves to be abolitionists, this term has been redefined to apply to a small group of those who favor a particular ideology and strategic approach to bringing about that end. Thus, anyone whose approach differs, even if their goal is the abolition of animal exploitation, is labeled “welfarist,” which suggests that they simply seek to alleviate, rather than eliminate, such exploitation. While there are certainly animal protection advocates – and greenwashing agribusiness executives – who do not seek abolition, the vast majority of vegans do and are thus rightly offended when they are denied the right to self-identification.

A simple way to address the problem of divisive labeling is to choose terms that are more inclusive and accurate. Indeed, it is likely that such terms were originally constructed to foster greater accuracy and that exclusion has been an unintended consequence. However, the process by which such labeling has been implemented is of even greater concern than the labels themselves. Imposing on others unsolicited labels that are incongruent with their own self-concept is defining their reality. It is denying others the right to their own philosophical orientation. When we define another’s reality, we essentially state that we know better than they do what their core motivations and goals are. Defining another’s reality is a fundamentally disempowering (non-liberatory) process. Whenever we appoint ourselves the expert on another’s experience, we strip the other of their subjectivity, rendering them objects of our projections. We erase their being, projecting onto them our own assumptions about their internal world. This kind of consciousness is antithetical to all we stand for as vegans. Think about it: our advocacy is predicated on preventing humans from defining the reality of other animals, from dismissing or minimizing other beings’ sentience and suffering. We strive to understand the subjective experience of other animals and to encourage others to do the same. This witnessing of other beings, validating rather than defining their reality, is the basis of a vegan consciousness – a liberatory consciousness.

A Vegan Consciousness of Liberation: Beyond the Debate and Across the Divide

Veganism is founded on the principles that inform a liberatory consciousness, and the essence of vegan philosophy is respecting the intrinsic worth of all beings, humans included. There is no way we will create the kind of world that mirrors our principles if we practice our philosophy selectively rather than holistically. We must commit to bringing a liberatory consciousness to our minute-to-minute lives, to our closest relationships as well as our interactions with strangers, to those with whom we may vehemently disagree as well as those we call comrades. In such a way, we model for non-vegans the principles we are asking them to espouse, we cultivate more fulfilling and sustainable lives as vegans and as activists, and we create a more unified and empowered movement.

A liberatory consciousness reflects curiosity – an open mind – rather than ideological or intellectual rigidity and defensiveness. The goal is to seek truth, to learn and understand, rather than to be “right.” If we value curiosity as a core principle of a liberatory consciousness then we value, rather than disparage, those whose truth-seeking may engender ideas we disagree with. For instance, James McWilliams has come under harsh criticism for changing his stance on certain issues after examining them more fully. Yet, regardless as to whether we agree with his ideas, McWilliams’ openness to information that challenges his existing views and his commitment to seeking (and speaking) truth over being “right” reflects true intellectual integrity.

A liberatory consciousness reflects compassion – an open heart – rather than judgment, shaming, and bullying. The goal is to connect, to empathize with the other, and to empower her or him. Judgment is always shaming, as it reflects an attitude of superiority and causes the other to feel inferior, “less-than.” And bullying is the use of aggression to intimidate another into doing (or believing) what one wants. We may champion a belief system of total liberation, but if our actions are judgmental, shaming, or bullying, we are oppressing rather than liberating. Moreover, when we practice compassion we defuse our anger, and anger is a serious obstacle to productive dialogue. Anger is a normal, appropriate response to injustice, but when we fail to examine and process our anger, it can grow and become chronic. And when we communicate from a place of anger, we inevitably project hostility. Our words – spoken or written – are pregnant with vitriol, righteously indignant. Anger is a profoundly disconnecting emotion; it creates defensive walls in ourselves and in those with whom we are communicating. If our goal is to be heard, we need the other to be open to us, to feel a connection with us – to sense our compassion.

And a liberatory consciousness reflects the courage to practice curiosity and compassion in our interactions, and our lives. Any interaction that does not reflect curiosity and compassion is inherently non-liberatory.

As vegans, we are asking of the world something that has never been asked of it before. We are seeking radical social transformation, a true revolution of consciousness. Our movement, our voice, is critical to talking the world off the ledge on which it stands. And although we are making our voice heard over the din, just imagine how much our louder our message would be if we stopped yelling at each other. And just imagine the kind of world we could create if we committed to speaking the language of liberation.

Image Source: MckaySavage/Flickr

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17 comments on “Our Voices, Our Movement: How Vegans Can Move Beyond the “Welfare-Abolition Debate””

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Che Green
1 Years Ago

I am dismayed -- but not surprised -- by the vitriolic reactions to Dr. Joy's article. I want to comment one one theme that is cropping up more and more often in the comments of those who would commandeer the term "abolition." Namely, that donations are the primary motivation for those who do not believe in the vegan-or-nothing approach. It's true that large organizations have to raise a tremendous amount in donations to fund their programs, but most of us do not work for large organizations. Moreover, most of us take salaries that are a fraction of what we would earn in other fields, simply because we care about animals. To be so derisive of those who have devoted their lives to animals is both immature and disrespectful. For those who can't get enough of opinions on the welfare-abolition debate, please read my blog post from 2008: http://www.humanespot.org/node/2790


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David
1 Years Ago

The McWilliams crowd assumes that if two people are vegans and both want to see everyone else become a vegan, and differ on whether to advocate veganism as a moral baseline or to pursue welfare changes, then it's all simply an empirical question as to what tactic or strategy works. As Francione has pointed out, when the means are inconsistent with the end, it's not simply a matter of tactics. For instance, if slavery is viewed as inherently immoral and something that should never be supported, promoting 'compassionate' slavery as the way to achieve abolition involves much more than a matter of tactic or strategy. Also, the McWilliams people don't recognise that not all those who promote welfare changes are vegans or want abolition even as a long-term matter. Many don't. Are we all still on the same side? Is any division with those who promote the same welfare changes but don't want abolition just a 'myth'? What if some people in the organisation are vegan but the org is itself not a vegan or abolitionist org? Is there a division or is it all just a 'myth'? The McWilliams position, particularly bolstered by Joy, is nothing more than a clear attempt to support welfare reform. McWilliams and Joy are trying desperately to become the intellectual voices of new welfarism. Good luck to them. They do a great job is showing that new welfarism is intellectually empty.


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Corey Wrenn
1 Years Ago

That's right everyone...debates are dangerous to social movements...stop criticizing counterproductive welfare reform and start donating and signing petitions, no need for clear vegan advocacy! Give me a break. Joy has a history of denouncing normal, healthy social movement activities in favor of the highly compromised status quo. Her books focus on "meat" consumption with a complete disregard for the countless other animal uses, which needlessly confuses things and feeds right into the hands of welfare reform. Can't say I'm surprised, welfare reform is big business for everyone involved: activists, authors, and farmers.


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Spencer Lo
14 Oct 2012

Corey, I believe you completely misunderstood the point of Joy's essay. See my summary below.

Spencer Lo
1 Years Ago

Because Melanie Joy’s recent essay has generated so much discussion, so I thought I’d offer a bullet-point summary of what I take to be her central points. -------------- (1) Participants in the “welfare-abolition debate” have experienced “profound anger, confusion, guilt, weariness, and despair” about the issue, which is a problem stemming from undesirable modes of communication—-how participants to relate to their differences. (2) Participants should abandon the “debate” model of communication in favor of the “dialogue” model of communication. The latter does not require sacrificing intellectual rigor, but involves a “liberatory consciousness”: namely, interacting with compassion and empathy for those with whom we disagree. “A liberatory consciousness reflects compassion – an open heart – rather than judgment, shaming, and bullying.” (3) To engage in better “dialogue,” divisive labels should be dropped in favor of “terms that are more inclusive and accurate.” For instance, “abolitionist” should retain its ordinary (neutral) definition to mean someone who favors the abolition of a practice or an institution—-in this case, the abolition of animal exploitation. (4) Most differences over strategy, which are very real, have been conflated with deep ideological differences. That is, differences about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of strategy are not *fundamental* differences about morality, but differences about pragmatics. There are many “valid questions that require ongoing dialogue.” (5) Related to (4), theory has been conflated with fact and fact conflated with theory. It is theory, not fact (based on reliable data), that one particular strategy is ultimately more effective than another. It is fact (based on reliable data), not theory, that there are certain “motivational and behavioral factors influencing individual and social change.” (“Nick Cooney’s Change of Heart, a 220-page compilation of psychosocial studies, has at times been treated as though it were mere conjecture.”) (6) Related to (4), there is no Great Debate (although there are plenty of disagreements), such that vegans, by virtue of being vegans, are not “automatically on one side or the other.” The “vast majority of vegans do not see themselves on a ‘side’ of the ‘debate’ because they are not identified with a particular position.” [An example of a true Great Debate would pro-choice v. pro-life: one position is diametrically opposed to the other. But a vegan or “abolitionist” in the *ordinary sense* isn’t necessarily committed to any particular position in the “welfare-abolitionist debate.”] (7) Related to (6), there is no Great Divide (although there are plenty of disagreements and diversity). “[I]t is important for us to remember that we are no less diverse than non-vegans, and we don’t have to – nor should we – share all the same values and beliefs and approaches. … [W]e can be, and are, both similar and different.” [Part of the problem is with defining the contours of “a movement” when, like *any social movement,* the group of people to be considered are a diverse bunch. The relevant question is: does it make more sense to describe animal advocates as being all in a single (albeit highly diverse) movement or in separate movements which nevertheless share *some* common goals *central* to each? The question seems largely a verbal one to me.]


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Linda McKenzie
1 Years Ago

Melanie Joy has magnanimously deigned to talk about the welfarist-abolitionist debate, not because she believes the debate itself has any merit – indeed, according to her, the debate is a mere “Myth” – and not for the sake of the billions of exploited animals who are depending on us to think seriously about the important issues involved in the debate, but because she appears to believe that vegans who have been exposed to the debate, or specifically, the abolitionist critique of welfarism, are so emotionally traumatized that they are in need of her psychological analysis and advice. She bizarrely equates lack of debate and social cohesion amongst animal advocates with what’s best for “our movement”, and therefore the animals. Dialogue involving difference of opinion is deemed acceptable, but only if it never develops to a level of substantive disagreement that threatens to fracture “our movement”. Three problems immediately arise from this stance: Firstly, consensus and social cohesion, while arguably more pleasant and harmonious than disagreement and lack of cohesion, in no way guarantee intelligent thinking, sound decision-making or effective strategy in animal ethics, or indeed on any matter of morality. There is no reason to assume that what’s most comfortable and congenial for us as human advocates is best for the non-human animals for whom we are advocating. As a social psychologist, Joy should be well aware of the folly of “groupthink”, a concept regarding group decision-making developed by Irving Janis (1972) and well documented as being implicated in a number of political fiascos. It refers to human social behavior in which maintaining group cohesiveness and solidarity is felt as more important than considering the facts in a realistic manner. Janis gave the following definition of groupthink: “A mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action”. I believe our first duty as animal advocates is to the animals. That is, to think carefully and critically about the moral and strategic issues involved in being the most effective advocates we can be in abolishing animal exploitation. If that means that we find ourselves in the position of being in serious disagreement with other animal advocates about these issues, so be it. If this disagreement means that we feel compelled to speak out against, and yes, debate positions regarding animals that are immoral and counterproductive to the abolition of their exploitation, then this is our responsibility. And if this leads to us being labeled as “divisive” then that is something we should accept as a price worth paying for honoring our commitment to ending non-human slavery. After all, animal advocacy is about them, not about us. This is something that Joy seems not to understand. Her overriding concern seems to be the psychological health and wellbeing of individual advocates, and the collective cohesion and unified front of what she refers to as “our movement”. From this she assumes the best outcome for the animals will automatically flow. Secondly, Joy’s assumption that debate and substantive disagreement amongst vegans necessarily leads to traumatic states like “profound anger, confusion, guilt, weariness, and despair” and a “non-liberatory consciousness” devoid of empathy, compassion and justice has no basis in reality. It’s perfectly possible to engage in discussion and debate with those whose views are at odds with our own while remaining civil, empathetic, just and respectful, acknowledging that they are sincere in their beliefs, even though we don’t agree with them. For one example of this, read The Animal Rights Debate involving Gary Francione and Robert Garner, and listen to their podcast discussion. Far from “yelling at each other” their interaction is utterly civilized, respectful and even affable. Francione’s podcast discussions are generally of this nature. The abolitionist approach is founded on the principle of ahimsa, so non-violence and respect towards humans as well as non-humans, including verbal non-violence, is a key value. It’s regrettable that Joy has not seen fit to follow her own advice on the need for dialogue and open exchange of perspectives in that she has declined to accept Francione’s invitation of a podcast discussion in 2010, as has James McWilliams. In addition, it’s reasonable to think that suppressing dissent and disagreement and avoiding debate could be as damaging, or more damaging to mental health than engaging in them. (It’s certainly damaging for the plight of the animals). Joy rather histrionically chooses to focus on the supposed mental health cost to vegans of expressing their irreconcilable theoretical differences because it suits her agenda of wanting to silence serious dissent from the welfarist position of the mainstream, corporatized animal organisations. Thirdly, Joy is addressing a non-existent problem. This is something in which she appears to specialize. Just as there is no such thing as the “invisibility” of the ideology of animal exploitation, there is no such thing as “our movement”. Abolitionism and welfarism have always been and always will be two quite distinct and separate movements with distinct and separate moral and strategic approaches. Divisiveness is only possible if there is one thing to be divided. This is not the case in the arena of animal advocacy. To imagine that we could have a kind of magical syncretism of welfarism and abolitionism, or some kind of hybrid where abolitionism has presumably been eviscerated of any substance that makes it inconsistent with welfarism; where serious disagreement and debate about the critically important differences between the two approaches are strenuously avoided, does not suggest a “liberatory consciousness”. What it suggests is a consciousness of profound ignorance and denial about why it is that abolitionists so strongly reject welfarism, based on its moral inadequacy, its total failure over more than 200 years to have any impact towards ending animal use and its taking the cause of animal rights backwards by promoting “happy” animal products and more deeply entrenching the property status of animals. One could legitimately ask: “Liberatory for whom?” Certainly not for the billions of enslaved animals and all those yet to be bred into slavery, who are dependent on us to maintain their liberation as our priority. Joy’s focus on non-existent problems serves only to distract from the real problems we are facing in ending animal exploitation and those are the persistence of speciesim, and welfarism as the dominant paradigm.


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Spencer Lo
08 Oct 2012

Hi Linda, I believe your criticisms of Joy’s recent essay rest on several misunderstandings. First, it’s inaccurate to suggest that Joy’s essay was not written for the “for the sake of the billions of exploited animals,” for as she makes clear, her purpose is to help make “our lives are more peaceful *and* our activism is more effective.” Trying to improve the effectiveness of activism demonstrates quite clearly, IMO, that she most definitely has the “the billions of exploited animals” in mind. Her concern is quite explicit: the encouragement she urges for productive dialogue is so to help “stop the tide of horrific brutality toward nonhuman beings.” Second, it’s inaccurate to suggest that Joy’s encouragement to move away from “debate” in favor of “dialogue” involves the abandonment of careful and critical thinking about “moral and strategic issues.” The opposite of “debate” isn’t the lack of careful or critical thinking, but the lack of a certain attitude that one brings to the conversation: an ego-driven mindset, the overriding desire to “win” an argument for the sake of winning, or to demonstrate that a position is right largely because it is *mine* or one I’ve closely identified with. “Dialogue,” on the other hand, *involves* putting forth arguments, counter-arguments, pointing out fallacies, rigorous scrutiny, etc, but it isn’t *about* those things. If any of this sounds like painfully obvious wisdom, consider the fact that, in practice, “dialogue” (as Joy is recommending) is actually extremely hard--just look at our current politics. “Debate” can be very ego-empowering, especially when one is good at it, but then it can also make it difficult to distinguish between one’s ego-driven motivations from one’s more “enlightened” motivations for “mere rational discussion.” I say this as someone quite experienced in “debates,” where it can be very intellectually rewarding to demonstrate that some argument is fallacious or unsound, or to advance a position and establish its immunity from various attacks. Joy uses the example of a soccer match, but I prefer to think of “debate” as a chess game. The “opponent” makes a move, I counter; she employs a certain “strategy,” I employ one to circumvent hers; she cleverly attacks, I defend; she thinks several moves ahead to anticipate what I might do, I in turn try to anticipate her moves; and she considers how best to “protect” her positions, I consider how best to protect mine. When you think about the process of “debate,” it can become very easy to get attached to the process itself, conflating it with the goal. I believe this is the point that Joy was trying to make--“dialogue” involves a completely different mindset from “debate,” even though it utilizes the various tools of “debate.” How many us are *truly* capable of regularly engaging in rigorous “dialogue,” especially on passionate issues? I suggest that most people reading this, if they engage in a little critical self-reflection, would conclude: “very few” (I’m no exception). Third, it’s inaccurate to suggest that “Joy seems not to understand” that critical discussion about conflicting positions pertaining to the abolition of animal exploitation is necessary. As she makes clear, “[q]uestioning how to most effectively and expediently bring about change for nonhuman animals is *vital* to our mission.” She acknowledges that there are “valid questions” about “whether, for instance, welfare reforms that raise awareness about farmed animal exploitation yet provide another justification for such exploitation.” Her suggestion is simply that to address those “valid questions,” the “debate model” should be abandoned in favor of the “dialogue model.” Her call is not to end “disagreements,” but to encourage a different way--via a different mindset--to “relate to them.” Hence her encouragement is to “discuss” (not “debate”) the various “differences openly.” Fourth, related to the third, it’s inaccurate to suggest that Joy’s “agenda” is to “silence serious dissent” about anything--on the contrary (as explained above). Hence you give the impression that Joy is operating under a sinister motive. Throughout your response, you employ unnecessarily provocative terms and phrases like “agenda,” “suppressing dissent,” “historically chooses,” “wanting to silence serious dissent,” and “magnanimously deigned.” I suggest that none of them reflect an accurate or charitable understanding of Joy’s essay, and they serve only to generate the kind of “profound anger,” “shaming,” “vitriol,” and “aggression” that it was intended to address–the lack of empathy and compassion in how we communicate *about* differences. Fifth, it’s inaccurate to suggest that Joy’s assumption is that “debate and substantive disagreement amongst vegans *necessarily leads to*…‘profound anger, confusion, guilt, weariness, and despair” and a “non-liberatory consciousness.’” When Joy criticized “debate,” she initially qualified her remarks with “In general, when we debate,” which should have indicated that her concern was with how debate is commonly practiced (“debate”). Thus nothing in Joy’s essay requires attributing to her the wildly implausible assumption that “debate and substantive disagreement” “necessarily leads to” the problems she was trying to address. Indeed, it is “perfectly possible” on her view--and perfectly desirable--to engage in rigorous critical discussion about differences while “remaining civil, empathetic, just and respectful,” and “acknowledging that” people with contrary viewpoints “are sincere in their beliefs.” The problem is: that rarely seems to happen. To suggest, as some people have, that Joy has an “agenda” to want to “silence serious dissent” is neither “empathetic, “just” nor “respectful,” but wholly uncivil and uncharitable IMO, constituting an obvious failure to *acknowledge* the sincerity and compassionate concerns motivating Joy’s decision to write her essay. I suggest that too often in “debates,” the principle of ahimsa which you and many abolitionists adhere is not adequately applied. Sixth, related to the previous points, it’s inaccurate to suggest that “Joy is addressing a non-existent problem.” Joy’s primary concern is to encourage a different mode of communication (“dialogue), given her recent observations of “the profound anger, confusion, guilt, weariness, and despair” that the “welfare-abolition debate” has triggered “in vegans.” Given the “profound anger,” “confusion,” “guilt,” weariness,” “and “despair” present in many people concerned with the issue, it seems plainly obvious to me that there is an existing problem – specifically with communication, or the lack of “dialogue” and too much “debate.” To deny this, one would have to deny the accuracy of Joy’s recent observations, but that IMO would not be “empathetic,” “just” or “respectful.” Seventh, I’ll end by acknowledging partial agreement with one of your criticisms, in which you point out that according to Joy, the “welfarist-abolitionist debate” is a “Myth.” I say “partial agreement” because it is inaccurate to suggest that Joy thinks no debate exists, or that there isn’t any “merit” to the conflicting viewpoints (in particular, the view that welfare reforms are counterproductive). In fact, she acknowledges “it is entirely possible that the small, vocal minority have developed a cohesive group identity because they have felt that their valid and pressing concerns have not been taken seriously by the broader vegan culture.” Her recognition that some abolitionists have “valid and pressing concerns” is a clear indication that she *does* think they have “merit.” Where I partially disagree with Joy is in her distinction between “mere strategy” and ideology. To avoid conceptual confusion, it may be better to think of all “means” as strategy, and then decide which strategies under consideration are effective or ineffective, morally acceptable or morally unacceptable. This way, some differences over strategy *can* be differences over competing ideologies (or fundamental moral beliefs). The strategy of blowing up the planet to achieve abolition would be an example, because regardless of its effectiveness, I would strongly object to it on fundamental moral grounds. But this means that some strategic differences are disagreements about effectiveness (pragmatic), whereas other strategic differences are disagreements about fundamental moral matters (ideological)--intractable “debate” can often make it difficult to tell the two apart. If two people vehemently disagree about whether to support legislation L, it could be that they have different factual understandings about what L could accomplish, such that they would agree to support or not support L *if* they could agree on the relevant facts, or it could be that they have different understandings about morality, such that disagreement about L would remain even if total factual agreement was achieved. Joy is probably under the impression that “strategic disputes” are *really* pragmatic disputes rather than fundamental disputes about morality, and I suspect she is probably right in most cases but not all. Her point is that by employing “ideological” language pragmatic disagreements about strategy tend to be conflated with fundamental moral disagreements about strategy. So I suggest more clarity is in order on which strategic differences are pragmatic and which are truly fundamental.

14 Oct 2012

Thank you for this reply. Very well written, and 100% accurate! I'd like to re-post one section that you wrote, because it is so true and needs to be up on the screen for a second time!: "I believe our first duty as animal advocates is to the animals. That is, to think carefully and critically about the moral and strategic issues involved in being the most effective advocates we can be in abolishing animal exploitation. If that means that we find ourselves in the position of being in serious disagreement with other animal advocates about these issues, so be it. If this disagreement means that we feel compelled to speak out against, and yes, debate positions regarding animals that are immoral and counterproductive to the abolition of their exploitation, then this is our responsibility. And if this leads to us being labeled as “divisive” then that is something we should accept as a price worth paying for honoring our commitment to ending non-human slavery."

Vegan Dave
14 Oct 2012

Thank you for this reply. Very well written, and 100% accurate! I'd like to re-post one section that you wrote, because it is so true and needs to be up on the screen for a second time!: "I believe our first duty as animal advocates is to the animals. That is, to think carefully and critically about the moral and strategic issues involved in being the most effective advocates we can be in abolishing animal exploitation. If that means that we find ourselves in the position of being in serious disagreement with other animal advocates about these issues, so be it. If this disagreement means that we feel compelled to speak out against, and yes, debate positions regarding animals that are immoral and counterproductive to the abolition of their exploitation, then this is our responsibility. And if this leads to us being labeled as “divisive” then that is something we should accept as a price worth paying for honoring our commitment to ending non-human slavery."

Vegan Dave
14 Oct 2012

PS - I would love to talk with you and work with you as an activist. Please contact me at DaveB [at] afa-online [dot] org

Elaine
24 Sep 2014

What an incredibly offensive comment, Linda. How come it doesn\'t surprise me at all? Oh, yes, it must be because I have yet to meet any Francione\'s follower who is able to comment/discuss/talk without resorting to personal offenses, insults or verbal violence.

Elaine
24 Sep 2014

And many thanks to Spencer for yet another fantastic comment. How great that there are people like you around.

Karen Call
1 Years Ago

My problem with animal welfarism, in asking for better "regulation" within an industry, bigger cages, less debeaking/branding, less hormone injections, is this: by willing to compromise within that system, one is saying yes to that evil, corrupt system which is based entirely on speciesism. And, it's NOT effective. It gives the industry a greater grip on animal exploitation as they try to claim to people that animal exploitation is humane in any way, that murder at the end is "humane". How do you gently inflict harm on someone? How do you rape someone with their consent? How do you honestly steal from someone (their arm, their leg, their brother, their babies, their breast secretions meant for their babies, their food for their families)? How do you happily murder someone's relatives? How do you keep someone confined against their will and without permission for these purposes? It's setting the standard too low to begin with. Ask exactly for what you want. People, on their own, will go towards meatless Mondays and bigger cages to begin with as they begin reaching for the ultimate goal. Animal welfare which says yes to animal exploitation is NOT what we should be asking for. We need to be asking for and saying what it is we really want and need for this planet directly, which is complete animal exploitation abolition. We are wasting our time otherwise. Anything less is not going to result in the actions we need: it is not a matter of saying, "Well, that would be nice to have full animal exploitation abolition". It MUST happen or else our planet will not have the capacity to sustain life. We are not intended to benefit from the exploitation of any beings--no one is--it only results in suffering otherwise. We must shoot for the sun always, not the moon, or it will result in continued slavery and devastation of our planet.


Reply
Dr. Jean Blanquart
1 Years Ago

Interesting article indeed. Will analyse it further as there are some potential connections towards 'the antagonist cooperation' approach. However, here in Belgium the outcome of your article has already been used by vegetarian organisations (hence only busy with mainstream cooking and diet-issues) to argue that their approach is also leading to veganism, which isn't as their goals are totally different from the start! Basically, recuperation of the insights given in this article is alreeady on its wy, let's be aware of that !


Reply
Ellie Maldonado
1 Years Ago

Except that it's impossible to work in two different directions at the same time: Animal rights advocacy supports the (moral) right of nonhuman beings to belong to themselves and asserts their entitlement to the same moral tenet we give our own species which prohibits us from causing them gratuitous harm. Animal "welfare" accepts the exploitation of nonhuman beings for gratuitous reasons but seeks to reduce the inherent misery they are subjected to. Some "welfare" followers claim they do not accept exploitation, but if they are working to promote farm reforms and "humane" animal products, that is exactly what they are doing. "Welfare" reforms do not reduce, but rather encourage animal consumption: "Hogwash! Or, How Animal Advocates Enable Corporate Spin" by Lee Hall: http://dissidentvoice.org/2007/08/hogwash-or-how-animal-advocates-e... "Something Almost Primal" by Angel Flinn: http://gentleworld.org/something-almost-primal/ "Why Vegetarians Are Eating Meat": http://www.humanemyth.org/mediabase/1057.htm "Free Range' Eggs, Can You Tell the Difference?": http://www.peacefulprairie.org/freerange1.html#freerange "Veal to Love, Without the Guilt": http://www.humanemyth.org/mediabase/1000.htm The Faces of Free Range: http://www.humanemyth.org/mediabase/1049.htm And "welfare" reforms actually increase the number of farm animals who will be bred, brutalized, and killed. See the HSUS Report at http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/media/pdf/econ_gestation.pdf "...... “Sow productivity is higher in group housing than in individual crates, as a result of reduced rates of injury and disease, earlier first estrus, faster return to estrus after delivery, lower incidence of stillbirths, and shorter farrowing times” and “[c]onversion from gestation crates to group housing . . . marginally reduces production costs and increases productivity......": http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/media/pdf/econ_gestation.pdf I have tried my best to explain this to "welfare" followers, but in my experience, meat-eaters are more inclined to accept the reality than they are. So how exactly are we supposed to work together when we support opposite views?


Reply
Ellie Maldonado
02 Oct 2012

(post script: I don't know why there are spaces in the titles I posted (?) as I didn't type them that way.)

Sailesh Rao
1 Years Ago

Placing veganism in the larger context: http://climatehealers.ning.com/profiles/blogs/when-will-al-gore-go-vegan


Reply
Rico
2 Years Ago

The problem is, in focusing on the 'how', you may not get to the 'what' you're aiming for - particularly if you can't even agree on 'what' it is. Surely to aim for something, you need a clear target? Veganism is about not using animals. That's at its very core. So if people then want to, in part, make it about regulation of that use, they're changing the meaning of the term. Veganism is no longer the 'common glue' that Melanie portrays it as, but something that's been quietly altered at a 'molecular' level. It's not about stripping 'the other of their subjectivity.' Others will continue to have all the subjectivity in the world - no one is taking that away. But does that mean i have to conform my reality to theirs? If they're wearing a blue dress, but they choose to call it green, does that mean i have to call it green too? Isn't that stripping *me* of my subjectivity? What about objectivity? Or even intersubjectivity? If we make the 'how' the focus of our 'dialogue', this immediately relegates the 'what' to something that isn't that important. Melanie mentioned 'greenwash' in passing - has she produced a 'whatwash'?


Reply
Dr. Jean Blanquart
05 Oct 2012

you're right of course: as soon as the target gets into oblivion, the debate changes and everything gets blurry! Moreover, lots of non vegan organsiations are serving the agenda of carnism by organising opposition in such a way that real change becomes impossible (Marcuse all over again!): here in Belgium they even start to use this article to legitimate a pure welfare vegetarian discours, where 'animal rights' -issues are left aside as (like their spokesmen claim) it scares people off! Moreover some of them say 'veganism' is not a nice word as it sounds like an 'illness'! So indeed, as soon as you change the target, the whoel discussion changes too! veganism is veganism, and it's meaning can't be changed at will just to please welfare-defenders!



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