Monday, 25 January 2016

Should Vegans Reject Single Issue Campaigns?

In December last year Vegfest, which organises a number of major vegan festival in the UK, announced that it would change its criteria by which it invites speakers to talk at their events, Specifically this change banned groups that did not advocate veganism as a "moral baseline", such as single issue campaigns(SICs). These groups traditionally are set up around some aspect of animal cruelty to lobby others to address these concerns, and indeed take direct action to support animals, an example of these could include anti-fox hunting campaigns.

So why the change? This decision was made by the organiser of the festivals, Tim Barford, as he transitioned to become a supporter of Gary Francione's abolitionist approach. Now, Francione's has many criticisms of singles issue campaigns (SIC), but the foremost one of these from an ethical point of view is that he believes SICs are speciesist, as they pick out one aspect of animal abuse to be worse than another, and some animals are of more value than others. However if any use of animals is a violation of its fundamental rights, as Francione argues, then all uses are equally bad. So what's speciesism got to do with it? Francione's argues that when it comes to humans, fundamental violations of rights are regarded as equally wrong. For example, all murder is equally wrong, regardless of the cruelty of the murderer. By not translating this principle to animals, Francione's argues that this is speciesist, and so all single issue campaigns should campaign with the clear expression that the response to particular injustices should all be the same, to go vegan, not just help enact one small bit of change. According to this view vegans should reject single issue campaigns, and it was this belief that motivated VegFests change in policy to exclude these speakers.

So what's wrong with this argument?

Well, the problem is that fundamental rights violations are indeed excusable in some circumstances according to Francione. Imagine for instance we are on a deserted island, stranded with another human. There is no food. Are you justified in killing that human to survive? Francione's response is that while not justifiable, it is excusable. Now this seems like quite a farfetched analogy, but there are actual situations that Francione also discusses. For example in his blog about pets, Francione states that adopting animals that would otherwise be killed in animal shelters, although involves a violation of the animals rights (because the animal has to live purely at the behest of the human), is the best thing to out a range of bad options. Importantly despite Francione stating that rights violations are only excusable, he actively advocates for animals to be adopted. (He also uses the same argument to say feeding meat to cats is excusable).

The principle here is clear, in the face of acting to violate fundamental rights, that it is excusable to violate them if in doing so we are saving lives and it is the best of bad options. This is exactly what SIC are doing when they campaign to reduce animal suffering. Now maybe campaigning on veganism would be more effective, but meat eaters themselves say that while they are not willing to go vegan they are willing to join in campaigns against things like anti fox hunting. We are faced with an impossible situation, we live in a world that refuses to go vegan, but we can make sure that at least some of those animals are saved. As Francione says, supporting things that are the least bad option is excusable if it saves lives. This is exactly also the same issue regarding vegan organisations that support reducetarianism I mentioned in my last blog. They do so to save animal lives, making a compromise just like Francione does when he advocates for animals to be adopted.

Where SIC, and indeed the vegan society when they advocate reducetarianism, differ with Francione and Vegfest is not on a matter of principle. The question then is whether purely vegan campaigns are just more effective. There have been some studies on this, however these are not conclusive. What is certain however is that there are meat eaters who say they would not go vegan, but would support SIC and would try to reduce their meat consumption. Are they all lying? Perhaps they are just confused, but regardless where the approaches differ is not on a matter of principle.

Now there are additional arguments that Francione uses, such as that some SIC are racist. One example of these might be single issue campaigns against the Taiji dolphin hunt. I think Francione is right that we need to make sure that these campaigns are supported by some within by those within those communities to promote change that does not lead to an increase in xenophobia. However the fact that a campaign identifies particular practices by others which might lead to xenophobia if the campaign is done poorly are uses poor language, does not mean we should absolutely not campaign on those issues if they are done well. For example the fact that Saudi Arabia is an Islamic country does not mean that white people should not campaign to end the war in Yemen. We can do so in a way that is not xenophobic, persuading our Government to take action about these issues.

Another concern expressed by Francione is that SIC reinforce the misconceived idea that as long as one uses animal “humanely” is permissible and rather it is abuse which is wrong. On the contrary, SIC say that by extending concern for animals, so it promotes veganism in the long term through a gradual approach. This is again is an empirical question and not matter of principle. Again if we actually listen to many vegans, they themselves say that this is what happened to them, they first got involved in SIC, met some vegans, widened their sphere of moral concern and became vegan. Maybe Francione is right, but I have seen no evidence for it. Regardless, again note that this a matter of fact, not principle.

Vegans Don't Need to Reject Single Issue Campaigns

Hopefully I have managed to convince you that whatever the disagreements between the sides in this debate they are not matters of principle, and not as Francione says because his opponents are speciesist. Vegans don't need to reject SIC, indeed supporting them is an expression of their veganism. SIC and vegan campaigns are singled out by Francione as being speciesist, but both sides of this debate are acting on the same principle, to do whatever they can to help animals. Francione in his debates with these groups makes it seem like all violations of rights can never be excusable, yet is happy to excuse his own violations for the causes he supports such as adopting pets, or feeding meat to cats. It is this inconsistency that makes it appear like he is only opposing these organisations to be divisive, as it splits apart the animal right movement, turning vegans against one another. Whether we are involved in SICs or are involved with vegan education through the Abolitionist Approach or indeed the Vegan Society, we are all still vegans, acting in the best way we can see fit to save animals and we should be united by this.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

On speciesism and making compromises to support animal rights

In my last post I mentioned that even if one agrees with the arguments against speciesism, that one need not commit oneself to agree with other arguments that anti-speciesist such as Gary Francione, express. In contrast to this, Gary Francione has gone on record that if one rejects speciesism then one must also agree that any use of animals is wrong. It then follows, says Francione, that vegan organisations, such as the Vegan Society, are also wrong when they promote reducetarian approaches when people say they will not become vegan, because they are in effect saying that some uses are better than others when, according to Francione, all uses are equally wrong. This leads him to conclude that the Vegan Society is speciesist.

So how does Francione come to this conclusion? Through analogy. Francione says that if we accept that some rights are absolute for humans, such as the right not to be a slave and be treated merely as property, and if we are not to be speciesist, then we must also apply this same principle to animals. Furthermore, one would not accept people advocating for only a little bit of slavery, or good living conditions for slaves. Rather we should advocate for the complete abolition of things that violate these basic rights. He makes other ethical analogies too, such as our approach to murder; no one would advocate for murderers to be less cruel in their “murdering”, all murder is equally wrong and so the principle must be that all violations of basic rights are equally wrong, making the position of vegan organisations that also campaign for better treatment for animals equivalent to those who are apologists for slavery.

The problem with this argument is that there are examples where many do feel we have a responsibility to compromise on basic rights in a strategic way to support those rights in the long term. For example, the realities of our electoral system means that we have to make compromises no matter who we vote for. Francione himself makes this compromise when he adopts pet animals who would be killed otherwise, he makes a compromise to accept pet ownership when it is in a context that the animals’ rights would be violated anyway. Now it may be the case that Francione disagrees that by adopting pet animals he is making any compromise with regards to the pet’s rights, and indeed he calls them companion animals rather than “pets”. However, when one thinks about what a companion is, a companion makes a free makes free choice of association. However, the power dynamic with-in the relationship between pet owner and pat, and companion animal and human is exactly the same. The human pays for food, healthcare, shelter, every aspect of its life is ultimately decided of it. Now Francione may say that this is the only option available for the animal, as it would otherwise be killed. However I am sure that vegan organisations would argue that when they convince meat eaters, when they would not go vegan, to instead at least to reduce the amount of animals they kill, that by doing so this was the animals only opportunity to survive.

At this point, it becomes clear that we can support abolition while at the same time making these compromises, and in a way that is not speciesist. What matters is the context, does compromising in the purity of the message achieve a positive outcome in the long term. With murder, there is consensus that this is wrong, it is illegal and so no compromise is required. It is possible to convict every murder. It is not possible to convict every meat eater! With regards to slavery, that was within a particular historical context, and indeed there where many abolitionists that argued that slavery was inefficient and bad for the economy. Should they not have argued this as it implied that slavery could have been justified if it was good for the economy? No, this is a good compromise because it enabled us to bring slavery to an end.

I admit, it may be that partially supporting reducetarianism is just a poor compromise because it is simply more effective to have purely vegan campaigns. That however is an empirical question, with evidence on both sides of that debate. It is not a question of morality. As such it is simply not the case that the vegan society is abandoning its principles in partially advocating for reducetarianism in the way it does. Just the opposite it is upholding the principles of abolitionism by try to promote any change it can to how people view animals, to as quickly as possible convince people to go vegan.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Five questions for Gary Francione

Following on from my previous post about the problems of Francione’s Abolitionist Approach I would like to put the following questions to Gary, and to anyone who is an adherent to Francione’s version of animal rights.
His argument is centred around two main tenets. The first of these is that speciesism is wrong and indeed equivalent to other “isms” such as sexism, as they are all based on essentialism.  The second tenet is that if you believe animals matter morally then you must also accept his animal rights theory is correct, specifically that animal sentience, which Francione believes is the foremost morally relevant characteristic, means they have the right not to be used as property, a right that comes before all other rights. The questions below challenge these arguments and have never as far as I can tell been addressed in his writing
1.       Underlying your argument is we should give animals the right not to be treated as property based on their sentience and have interests. Is not this purely based on a moral intuition?

2.       Why do you believe your moral intuition that interests = rights is logically more valid than the utilitarian intuition that animal suffering and wellbeing is what matters most?

3.       Do you agree that ascribing moral worth to Human vs non-human animals based on moral intuitions is no more essentialist than ascribing moral worth to sentient vs non-sentient animals?

4.       Do you agree that deciding what is, and is not a morally relevant characteristic, and what rights they entail, is purely based on morally intuition and only invalid when held inconsistently or is based on a factual misconception (such as when racists hold moral intuitions against races based on biased factual misconceptions about  racial “inferiority”?

5.       Given your lack of advocacy to give wild animals all the rights we give to children, specifically the rights we give to infants to have their basic needs satisfied, does that make you a speciesist?

These questions are so important because of the effect they have on the debate within the animal rights movements. Francione uses arguments about speciesism and his version of animal rights to effectively divide vegans against each other, whether that be against major vegan campaign organisations or against others such as vegan feminist groups. He uses inflammatory language, and then falls back on mischaracterising what his opponents think, such as that they think he is somehow an ableist, sexist or racist for holding his views against speciesism or even just his particular brand of animal rights.

This is absolutely not the case. By and large accusations are made against him due to the language that he uses, for example when he argues that his opponents need to take medication or have "moral schizophrenia". There are many theories on animal rights, and even if one accepts his arguments against speciesism, this does not require one to hold his other particular views on animal rights. And even if you accept his arguments on animal rights and against speciesism, you don't have to believe it in the fundamentalist way that leads to Francione belligerently rejecting other vegans moral intuitions that lead them to give partial support for reducetarianism to reduce animal suffering, even if you disagree with them. I ask you to think about the above questions and avoid getting bogged down in his divisive campaigns against vegan groups such as the vegan society, which have done and continue to do so much good. Go vegan and but don't be driven by fundamentalism.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

On Speciesism, Gary Francione, and the Great Vegan Schism

Is speciesism equivalent to racism? Should vegan campaigns never advocate for reducetarianism and instead only campaign for veganism?
That is the question posed by Gary Francione and the Abolitionist Approach that has led to a fracture through the animal rights movement, polarising opinion for and against. If you are not familiar with his work I suggest you read some of his blogs on his website such as his blog post "Essentialism, Intersectionality, and Veganism as a Moral Baseline". By focussing on some of the philosophical errors as I see them in Francione’s approach I hope to convince you that racism is not the same as speciesism, and that there are serious logical flaws in the approach advocated by Francione.

Additionally I will discuss how Francione uses arguments that do not acknowledge the presence of hidden premises and of moral intuitions which play a central importance in allowing us to judge what is and is not moral. His arguments obscures these intuitions through rhetorical devices such as through comparisons to racism and slavery that many find offensive, and cover over logical gaps in these arguments. Finally I will make the case that the problems with anti-speciesism as a position are so problematic that Francione is himself a speciesist.

So what’s Francione philosophy about?

Non-Speciesism is a central tenet of Francione’s argument, which begins by asking how we decide who counts as a "person" and so who has all the rights of personhood that go along with this. He argues that there are two main ways that we can potentially use to attribute personhood. The first way many people use to ascribe rights is to appeal to our species. All individuals of whom we are certain are persons are members of the same group, i.e. Homo sapiens. Therefore some people allocate "personhood", and the rights that go along with this, to anyone that is simply a human. The second way to attribute personhood is to appeal to the morally relevant characteristics that each individual holds. Francione rejects the use of species membership as relevant to the attribution of personhood and instead advocates for this second way.
Regarding group membership, he argues that to give rights based on group membership, for example because we are all human, is to commit the same error as racists. Specifically, Francione argues that the error here is one of essentialism, which is the idea that the ethical worth of any group is not dependent on any characteristic they hold, but rather that each member of a group is possessed of an essence which in itself has moral value. Such a belief is expressed by racists with regards to ethnicity, sexists with regards to gender, and speciesists with regards to species. Therefore Gary argues such that if one is to maintain that one is not racist one then must also adhere to anti-essentialism. This is further reasoned by Francione that if one admits that it is justified to limit personhood to group membership based on species, then on what basis do we have to argue against racists who limit rights to those of a certain race. As we are all part of many different groups, it seems arbitrary to select species as being the group along the lines of which we allocate rights. We belong to many groups, why not all primates, why not all mammals, why not community or family or indeed ethnicity? Lacking any means to decide why we should pick one group type over another to allocate rights then, Francione argues we must reject speciesism, just as we have rejected racism.
What are the results of this according to Francione? Well, lets then consider how we allocate rights based on the characteristics individuals actually hold. The principle by which Francione primarily uses to consider which characteristics are relevant is that they must be consistent with the way we currently allocate basic rights to all humans, including infants and people with mental disabilities, who are sentient yet have a drastically limited set of cognitive abilities. The unifying characteristic then of all those that we give rights to cannot be those complex cognitive skills which we hold in such high esteem, such as our capacity for language, self-awareness, advanced social learning or culture. If we did limit rights to those with more complex cognitive skills then we would be forced to deny rights to those humans who, while sentient, lack these skills. Rather Francione states that we should give rights to those that are sentient. Our sentience is so important, he argues, because our capacity to experience suffering and joy allows us to have interests, and it is the possession of interests by animals which confer on them both personhood and rights. The most basic interest we have is to continue to live and express those interests. As such, to act in a way where those who are sentient are treated as if they were merely means to our ends, i.e. as property and so to have no basic rights, is in effect to act in a way contradictory to their ability to have interests. Therefore in according rights to all those who are sentient, and in such a way that avoids speciesism, this obliges us to give to animals the same basic rights we accord to all humans. Specifically this would mean that we are obliged not treat animals as property, requiring us all to be vegan.

What’s wrong with vegan campaigns advocating for anything less than veganism?

Some vegan campaign groups, such as the vegan society, advocate that in addition to supporting veganism, we should also target those people who are unwilling to go vegan with campaigns to convince meat eaters to reduce the amount of meat they eat, eat meat that has not been factory farmed, and try to go vegetarian (at least some of the time e.g. meatless mondays) (all these approaches are wrapped up in the idea of reducetarianism). Francione maintains that all acts that violate an animal's basic rights, which are conferred on them by the possession of sentience and interests, are all equally bad, regardless of whether one act causes less suffering than another. The analogy here is that of slavery, hence Francione’s group being called the Abolitionist Approach. He argues all slavery is equally wrong, regardless of the fact that some slaves were treated better than others, and so by extension that is how we should regard use of animals. One could make other analogies too, for example with murder. All murder is wrong, regardless of how cruel the murderer was. There are other arguments Francione uses too regarding the efficacy of campaigns that focus purely on veganism, compared with those that also advocate reducetarianism, however such arguments are lacking on evidence on either side, so I will stick with the main ethical argument he makes against reducetarianism campaigns.
In sum, these arguments have created the current schism as it stands, with Francione denouncing many vegan campaign groups such as the Vegan Society, and vegan campaign groups denouncing Francione for his particularly inflammatory language (no one is going to like being compared to a racist when, from the vegan campaigns groups’ perspective, they are acting to reduce animal suffering in the best way they can)

Where are the problems with Francione’s argument?

Underlying Francione’s approach is the belief that if one accepts that animals matter at all, then one must be vegan and ascribe to all the rest of his views to be logically consistent. The first problem with this is that there are some unacknowledged premises in his arguments. The first I would like to address is when he makes the argument that because we give rights to children, we must also give rights to animals. Underlying his acceptance of the rights for infants is that the moral intuitions we have about this are correct and are non-arbitrary. Why does he believe so? Because children have interests. But why should having interests mean they should be respected? There is an is-ought gap here that he just does not acknowledge. There is no logical necessity that an animals possession of sentience and interests imply rights at all, it is a moral intuition. As such one cannot just claim that interests mean rights, it is an intuition for which he is unable to justifiably say to others that they are logically obliged to agree with him. And if we agree that such intuitions are valid, then why should other intuitions not also be valid? Indeed why should the vegan campaigns intuition, that animal suffering is what matters more than a violation of an animal’s right to life if the later is going to be violated anyway, not be just as valid as Francione's intuition?
The only way the intuition the vegan campaign groups hold could be invalid is if it was based on some logical inconsistency. Francione would have us believe that speciesism is that inconsistency, such that because we give absolute rights to children we must give them to animals. However the argument against speciesism is one based on a comparison to racism, one which I do not believe is apt. Why? Because this comparison operates as a rhetorical device, not a logical argument. There are many arguments used to support racism, and what they are primarily based on is not that some ethnicities are just of lesser moral value, but rather they are of lesser moral value because they (supposedly) lack certain characteristics. Racists will say all sorts of things about other ethnicities, such as that they are inherently more prone to criminal behaviour, or sexual “deviance”, or are less intelligent. The important point about these arguments is that they are factually wrong! There is just no evidence to back up these points. By accepting speciesism, that infants do indeed have rights animals do not, we are not committing the same error as racists, because they are committing an error of fact.

Furthermore, it is not like Francione even holds speciesism consistently. Consider all the rights we give to infants. If parents cannot provide for a child’s basic needs then this support is provided by the government. If a child does not receive such care from its parents, they can be prosecuted. To be consistent with non-speciesism then we would have to offer the same rights (such as food, healthcare, shelter, protection from foreseeable harm) to all wild animals. The fact that the child is a member of a family or community is irrelevant, as relational duties would have to be view as essentialist according to Francione to be consistent with non-speciesism. Yes by rejecting non speciesism it would be a loss of an ability to use that one argument against racists, but there are still many other arguments against racists, and we can use these arguments without leaving ourselves open to being inconsistent. By only applying anti-speciesism when it suits him, Francione is then himself a speciesist.

Francione ascribes to a type of moral realism in his arguments that does not acknowledge the presence of moral intuitions and the central importance they play in allowing us to judge what is and is not moral. His argument obscures these intuitions through rhetorical devices such as through comparisons to racism and slavery. At the heart of the issue though is that he has a moral intuition about animal rights, whereas those running the vegan campaigns that he opposes have intuitions with regards to the reduction of animal suffering. In the comparison he makes to slavery, Francione states that slavery is wrong all the time and so we should oppose it all the time, regardless of their being better or worse forms of slavery. In the comparison to sexism he states that sexism is wrong all the time, and so we should oppose sexism all the time. He then extends this argument to animal use stating that it is wrong all the time, and so we should oppose it all the time and not advocate for reducetarianism. But this argument is only valid if we accept that animals have the same hierarchy of rights that humans do, such that the violation of an animals rights to life overrides the violation of other rights such as avoidance of the many forms of abuse that happen on a factory farm but not on other types of more “humane” farms. Such a belief again is based on non-speciesism which even Francione cannot hold consistently. And once you reject the idea that speciesism is wrong or in some way equivalent to racism or sexism, his whole argument crumbles.

I would not say which is right or wrong beyond what my own intuition tells me, but by claiming that the vegan society position is logically invalid Francione is in error, and merely pushes the animal rights debate towards fundamentalist positions with one group of vegans claiming that another group are not “true” vegans. It’s divisive and should stop.