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.

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