Note: The contents in words and pictures of this article are based on the facts when it was first published (14.04.2008).
Comment: Abolitionism versus Reformism
Straw man argument
Francione seems to be stuck in the tracks of the “welfarism does not lead to abolition”-mantra without being able to look left or right. He does not answer most of my arguments and seems unable to distinguish my position from classical welfarist positions. Instead, he picks quotes from my essay, puts all of them out of context, and refutes them, i.e. he delivers what is called a “straw man argument” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man).
That becomes especially apparent, when he uses my empirical examples of the battery cage ban campaign, the wild animal circus ban campaign or the fur farm ban campaign as if I had brought that up as examples of welfare reforms leading to abolition. Instead, I have used aspects of those examples in different contexts to prove very specific points. For example, I have used the cage ban to show that people can already be convinced of something being unethical (battery cages), but most will still do it (buy battery eggs), if it is the norm and not doing it poses the slightest difficulties. Whereas when the ban takes effect and no battery eggs are available, suddenly everyone stops buying battery eggs and nobody misses them. This observation proves 2 points: Firstly, that mostly people do not act on rational reasoning, and secondly, that the system change (battery eggs no longer available) was the far more efficient tactic to stop the consumption of battery eggs than persuasion of single people.
As can be seen in this example, the ban was used in a very specific way to argue for a very specific point, and surely not to prove that welfare laws lead to abolitionism or veganism, generally. That Francione took my example as if it wanted to prove that, only to refute that “straw man” by saying that laying hens are still being exploited in barn egg farms, is exactly what is meant with the above “straw man argument” as an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position.
Similarly, I used the ban on wild animals in circuses as an example of a system change against the resistance of animal industries, which did change the behaviour of all people 100%. Nobody in Austria is watching wild animals in circuses anymore. To comment to that, as Francione did, that people could still watch pigs in circuses, is completely beside the point. The example still stands for what I used it for, that a system change changed the behaviour of people 100%, even without them really realizing it, but 1-2 generations later, the system change changed even peoples’ minds. The example hence proves that such strategies work: system change leads to behaviour change leads to mind change (often generations later). So, it suggests that such strategies can work in other areas too, like for example substituting animal meat with in-vitro meat. Whether people still go to circuses watching pigs is totally beside the point and completely irrelevant in this context.
A similar case can be made when Francione stresses that a ban on “killing for no good reason” is no restriction on the economic exploitation of nonhuman animals, since anything that brings profits is considered a good reason. That might well be so, but it was not at all the point I was making by quoting those laws. I quoted the laws as examples of animal laws, which concern themselves over and above “humane” use or “humane” killing with killing itself. The laws show that coming from animal welfare positions, society has moved on to banning at least under certain aspects any kind of killing, never mind how “humane”. In Austria that means for example that healthy stray animals cannot be killed in shelters full stop. Even if that costs society money. That, surely, goes beyond classic animal welfare. Hence, those laws prove that, politically, society has moved from unrestricted animal use beyond animal welfare towards animal rights (while, obviously, still being miles away from granting any rights to nonhuman animals). Interestingly, Francione fails to comment on the other examples I used of society moving politically beyond animal welfare, like the law saying animals are not things (civil law code), the protection of life and wellbeing of animals as cohabitants of humans (constitution) or the introduction of animal solicitors (animal law).
I could go on with a lot more of such examples of Francione taking points I made out of context to refute them, but I think the point has been made. I will rather move on to why I consider my ideas a new approach.
Humans are rather social than rational creatures
The central idea in my approach is the observation that humans are much more social than rational creatures. In everyday life on average, people try to merge into society, behave correspondingly, and afterwards rationalize their behaviour, i.e. find “rational” reasons why they act as they act. This observation is so obvious that it does not seem to merit quoting empirical support. I assume Francione does not disagree.
So, while this fact does not need to concern us, if we are thinking about ethical principles, for example based on rational arguments leading to deontological ethics, that changes when we are talking about how to move society towards this ethical ideal. This, now, is a very practical matter, where all measures we take must be tested empirically on their consequences. Nobody is able to theoretically predict which measure will have what consequences in society. Hence, what we need from this point onwards is psychology and not philosophy.
And human psychology says that humans are far more social than rational creatures. And that means for the animal rights movement:
- Social entities like compassion, empathy and suffering are very important factors to motivate humans to change their behaviour. In contrast, abstract-rational entities, like personhood or rights, are not.
- One of the most important aspects determining human behaviour is their social environment. Humans want to be well integrated into their society and live in harmony with it.
- Humans have a strong need for social security, i.e. they generally want that things stay as they are and that change happens slowly and in a controlled way.
The animal rights movement must adapt their political campaigning strategies to these psychological facts. That means, political campaigns must incorporate the following aspects:
- Centre your campaign material on presenting suffering and stimulate compassion and empathy in people. Abstract-rational phrases using terms like rights or personhood should play no significant role.
- The goal of the campaign should be presented to the public in a way that it seems to them that if it was achieved, a certain clearly distinguishable aspect of suffering of animals will be totally alleviated.
- The aim of the campaign must be to change society, the social system in which people live, and not individual peoples’ minds.
- The campaign should not demand huge changes in society. The goal must be realistic and should not lead into the unknown. The whole development of society must be slow and continuous, the changes incremental.
There is only one enemy: animal industries
The many empirical examples I quote in my essay, and the analysis there, clearly point towards the fact that a system change in society only happens through struggle, and this struggle is between the animal rights movement and animal industries. This, again, is a very new observation in the debate on abolitionism versus reformism. A political struggle like this is not a direct confrontation, but it has a political dimension, i.e. politicians in power and the public are watching it and will possibly intervene. That means, this struggle is also a struggle for the sympathy of the public. The more sympathy the animal rights movement can raise on a certain issue, the more radical their actions can be on this issue to fight animal industries.
Since the struggle for veganism is therefore ultimately a struggle to destroy animal industries, campaign targets for realistic campaigns can be anything that will lead to a weakening of those industries. Certain animal welfare laws will not achieve that, certain laws might achieve that, and many campaign targets do not have to involve law changes at all, like campaigns to close down certain businesses or to stop them trading in certain products. What the campaign, if successful, must achieve is that animal industries are weaker and/or the system in society has changed to one where animal products are more expensive or less available.
To make that point very clear, I stress it once more: I think only those campaign targets move us towards complete abolition, which either weaken animal industries or make animal products more expensive or make animal products less available. All other campaign targets, while they might have their own merits, do not move us towards abolition. These are the new criteria I propose for choosing campaign targets. This is the new approach.
Direct reply to the points raised by Francione
In the remainder, I will reply to Francione’s points, which he raised in his comment.
Francione claims that animal welfare reform does not lead to abolition, because all reforms provide protection for animals only to the extent that it is economically beneficial to animal industries. While I agree that this might apply to many reforms, it surely does not apply to all. The fur farm ban is such an example. In what sense is the ban on fur farming in ever more countries in Europe economically beneficial to the fur farming industry? Many farms go bankrupt. All Austrian farms have been dismantled in 1998 and are long gone. The farmers changed business. There is no empirical evidence to suggest that this wave of fur farm bans should ever stop. Austria, Switzerland, England, Wales, Scotland, Croatia, Italy and partly Holland and Sweden have such bans and more and more countries are considering one. Clearly, the fur production industry in Europe is on its way out. And there is no reason why Europe should not ban the import of fur once there is an EU-wide fur farm ban. It has happened with other animal products already too, like with the import of dog, cat or seal products, which were banned. That clearly contradicts Francione’s conjecture.
Furthermore, many campaigns against department stores selling fur have been successful. Many fur shops had to close down, many stores stopped selling fur. Is that economically beneficial to the fur industry?
Or consider the EU wide ban on the leghold trap. Was that economically beneficial for animal industries? Or look at some of the remarkable successes of the Austrian environmental movement, of which I was part of. In the late 1970ies, the movement achieved a ban on nuclear power plants, although there was one already existing, which had to be dismantled, and a number were in planning. Was that economically beneficial? Or when in 1984 altogether 10.000 activists occupied the building site of a water power plant in Hainburg, 50 km East of Vienna, and after a long struggle the plant was closed and today the area is a national park. Economically beneficial? The government didn’t think so and brought the army in to remove activists. But eventually this tremendous struggle was won and the national park established. Clearly against the wishes of the industry. But the government succumbed to the pressure of the movement, especially since the movement had all the sympathy of the public. When the government sent in the troops, 40.000 citizens protested spontaneously in Vienna city centre. If the environmental movement can win such struggles against the industry and produce results that were clearly detrimental and not beneficial to industries, why should the animal rights movement apparently “in principle” not be able to do that?
We have to conclude that many campaign targets have already been reached, which seriously undermined the economy of animal industries. It was proven to work. There is no reason why such step by step successes should not one day wipe animal industries from the face of the Earth and open up the path to veganism. Maybe Francione should make a prediction on the basis of his theory, which can be tested empirically: which kind of animal law, short of complete abolition of all animal use, he considers impossible to achieve through the incremental reform approach? We had a regulation on animals in circuses, this was substituted by a ban on wild animals in circuses. Does Francione think the next step, a ban on all animals in circuses, will be impossible? I.e. if we achieve such a ban, Francione’s theory is falsified? Or does he expect such a complete ban to be achievable, but a following ban on, say, animals in zoos never will be? We need such a concrete statement to be able to test his theory empirically. Which animal law, exactly, can never be achieved? At which stage will the reform process have to stop? From some of Francione’s writing you get the impression that he considers any law impossible that actually is economically damaging to animal industries. But the fur farm ban is already a clear counter-example to that conjecture!
Francione claims that the laying hen cage ban did not reduce the number of laying hens in Austria. He quotes from a website from statistics Austria. My data of a 35% reduction in laying hens are coming directly from an enquiry with the laying hen producers association. In order to find the reason for that discrepancy, I have tracked down the guy, who produced the figure Francione is referring to from statistics Austria. He said that the egg production was calculated from the number of hens and an average eggs-per-hen factor. The number of hens he got from the “quality poultry association”. When I contacted them, they said they have the number of laying hens from the local district municipalities, where the laying hen farms are registered. When I pointed that out to the laying hen producers association, they told me that many of the battery farms, which have closed down due to the ban, have empty battery sheds, but have not told their local municipalities that they are empty. They are still registered. So the statistics Francione is quoting from still include battery farms, which in reality have already closed down. So, the figure of a 35% reduction in laying hens is the accurate one.
Francione claims that there has never been proper vegan campaigning, in contrast, that animal welfare reforms have been around for 200 years, and that shows they do not work. I have answered this in my essay already. In brief: there has been, and still is, a lot of vegan campaigning. In Austria since 130 years. It is obviously never enough, but it has been done, for a very long time, and still it did not have any results on a global scale. I personally, for example, have co-founded the Austrian vegan society (www.vegan.at) and have been investing a lot of time in vegan outreach. Consumption of animal products per head is still at an all time high. Further, especially in Austria the movement has put a lot of time and energy in the recent years into trying to persuade the public to stop buying fur, with little effect: the sales increased. Only hard hitting confrontational campaigns against department stores were able to remove fur from their shelves. I see no empirical evidence why the approach of persuading one person after the other to change their behaviour should ever work on a large scale. For no movement in history it has ever worked, all movements had to go through a phase of struggle and direct confrontation with the political enemy. The animal rights movement surely will be no exception. Imagine the anti-slavery movement as doing nothing but trying to persuade one slave owner after the other through friendly talk to voluntarily stop using slaves. What a ludicrous idea! This is what escaped slave and anti-slavery activist Frederick Douglass meant when he wrote “you can’t have rain without thunder” and “If there is no struggle, there is no progress”. Those in power concede nothing without a struggle.
In contrast, there has been only very little direct, confrontational political campaigning for change, not just not for 200 years, but only for less than 20 years. And the results of those campaigns are remarkable, like fur farm bans, fur shop closures and many other examples I quote in my essay. Clearly, the evidence is that confrontational political campaigns for system change show results, whereas vegan outreach campaigns show basically none.
Francione goes on to suggest that if all money donated to animal welfare was put into vegan outreach, some results surely would have been achieved. I have given all the evidence in my essay that this would not have been the case, and even if people had changed their mind, they mostly would not act upon it, like in the example of people being against battery farming but still buying battery eggs. But Francione further overlooks the fact that if those rich animal welfare societies with their donations were to use that money for other purposes than it has been given to them for, they would soon loose all support. So, Francione’s dream of billions being spent on vegan outreach would be nothing but a brief firework, followed by silence. No change whatsoever would be the consequence.
Francione claims that it is unclear how anyone should move ideologically from welfare to rights, since those ideas are so fundamentally different. I have dealt with that question in detail in my essay. Philosophically, yes, there is a big gulf between the two, but psychologically there is a continuum. We all know that from our own experience. Who was animal rights minded from birth? Most people change from eating meat and having a diffuse sense of empathy and compassion, and being opposed to unnecessary suffering (without thinking too much about what that means), to animal rights and veganism. We find that ever so often while street campaigning. People see pictures of horrendous cruelty, e.g. during animal transport, and their compassion moves them to act, to find out more and to become vegan. This is the norm. I would challenge Francione to explain how it could happen otherwise? It is a very rare occasion that a person becomes vegan after hearing theoretical animal rights philosophical arguments. Its suffering and the feeling of compassion that moves people, i.e. animal welfare, to turn to animal rights. That’s because humans are social and rather not rational animals.
Francione says that veganism is no sacrifice and that anyone convinced of animal rights will easily be and stay vegan. So, convincing people one by one is the key. Maybe as a university professor, in a big city and an academic environment, being well paid, and being imbedded in a social movement, it is easy. Indeed, I feel it is easy for me too, since I have been faithfully vegan for more than 20 years without a problem, mostly because my social environment is vegan. But it is more than obvious that this does not apply to everybody, as I have pointed out in my essay.
Lets look at an example. I suppose Francione agrees that driving cars is ethically problematic. After all, cars not just seriously pollute the environment, they destroy the countryside due to the demand for tarmac-roads, they contribute to climate change, they kill an endless amount of animals including humans every year and they are one of the primary reasons for the damaging trade in oil. Hence, it would be clearly ethically better not to drive a car. I agree. But I still do. And, I guess, Francione does too. I drive a car, because it would be such an energy consuming lifestyle not to. But I would be immediately ready to stop driving a car, if car driving was banned, i.e. if all others stopped as well. If they do not stop and only I do, then I would not feel that my sacrifice of not using one would be worth the effort. So, if the system changed and it became easy to live without a car, I would be the first one to join that move and be very happy about it. Why should that be any different for most people regarding system changes towards veganism?
Lastly, Francione claims that animal industries only satisfy consumer demand. Without demand, investors will quickly move elsewhere, in other words: animal industries are no enemy of the animal rights movement, they only do what is being asked of them. Ask of them something else, they will swiftly oblige.
Francione could not be more wrong on that. I have had a lot of experience with the struggle against animal industries, and it is clear that they have a very strong interest in selling animal products. They will do anything to create that demand. In fact, in Europe governments buy a lot of meat and milk from farmers only to throw it away, so that the farms can survive (one more reason why the boycott aspect of veganism is negligible: any one person turning vegan does not change the amount of animals being used and killed at all). The animal farming lobby is politically unbelievably powerful. When avian flue reduced the amount of chicken meat being bought by a large percentage, it was governments, who just bought the meat and burned it, until the food scare was over.
There are many examples of when animal industries were gone, consumer “demand” was gone, like with the ban on wild animal circuses, or when pate fois gras or rabbit meat was taken from the shelves in all supermarkets, or when battery eggs or fur was not being sold anymore. Animal industries cannot change to other products. They can only go bankrupt. The trade on the other hand can change, they do not care what they sell, and politicians can change, if they feel being driven towards that. But for animal industries, fighting the animal rights movement is like fighting for survival. And these industries have much more financial power to advertise for their products and create demands, than the animal rights movement could counter that with vegan propaganda. So, at first animal industries have to be killed, then the change to veganism and animal rights will come by itself.
Francione says that he does not endorse any incremental welfare reform at all today. In 1996, when he wrote his book “Rain without thunder”, a passage in chapter 7, where he discusses 5 criteria of how to decide whether a new animal law can be considered abolitionist or reformist, makes it sound differently.
On page 208 of the paperback version of the book, he brings an example of a new law to show how these criteria apply. The example involves reducing the number of hens in the battery cage by 2 to give them more space in the cage. He concludes that this law would be reformist. Then, on page 210, he adds literally:
"Assume that a prohibition abolishes the battery cage entirely and replaces it with a rearing system that accommodates all of the hen's interests in freedom of movement and thereby fully recognizes the interest of the hen in bodily integrity. Such a prohibition ends a particular form of exploitation that has violated a particular noninstitutional interest that we have now decided to respect. But this sort of substitution differs considerably from that in which 2 hens are merely removed from the cage: although we have not yet abolished the institutionalized exploitation, the substitution eliminates the exploitation involved in the confinement system through a full recognition of the interest of the hens in their freedom of movement."
After this, he never writes something like “but I still do not consider such a ban of cages an abolitionist step”. Instead, he does not mention the whole example anymore. It sounds as if Francione did think in 1996 that there are abolitionist animal laws (like the cage ban), why, otherwise, set criteria for when this is the case, and bring the cage ban as a positive example?
Francione also claims that a hen in a free range rearing system fares no better in her individual life quality than a hen in a battery cage. Firstly, I say very clearly that I find free range farming animal abuse for many reasons, and I do not endorse it. I think veganism is the only ethical option. But having said that, it is rather ludicrous to suggest that a hen in a free range system suffers equally to a hen in a battery cage. While it is true that the killing of male chicks and the transport of spent hens to the slaughterhouse and the slaughter itself are no different between the two production systems, there are very significant differences as well. At least in Austria, a free range hen is not debeaked, not force molted, has much more space to move in the barn than in a cage, has a nest for herself with nesting material, a pole high up to roost on, natural floor to scratch and dust bathe in, and a roof covered outside area during snow cover. Free range hens in Austria have often unlimited access to outside pastures. They do not get their wings clipped, hence they can fly off if they like as far as they want to, sit in the sun or sit on a tree. And sometimes they do. And come back in the evening. There is no cannibalism in free range hen systems in Austria. It is frankly quite ridiculous to compare this situation for the individual hen with being crammed 5 to a bare, tiny wire cage in a stuffy, windowless shed.
To say battery systems and free range systems are equal for the hens is like saying 24 hour lock-down and open prison systems are the same for inmates. Ask them, whether that is true, even if both means being locked up and if both is immoral (to subject animal rights activists to it, for example).
But, how the individual hen fares, as much as it is of importance to her, is of no importance for the global political picture. What counts is whether the production system is much more expensive for the same product. This is the political reason why a campaign to force animal industries to produce only free range eggs, is a campaign towards the abolition of hen exploitation.
And Francione has not commented on the following additional arguments I made against the purist abolitionist approach:
- Worldwide, more than 2000 activists have been locked up in prison cells for their animal rights actions so far, because they have broken speciesist laws. From the ethical point of view, their incarceration is unjust and a breach of their right to freedom. A number of groups therefore support those prisoners, but not just individually, also with political campaigns. People are asked to sign petitions to improve the prison system, like ban isolation cells and allow for vegan food provisions. Those groups, albeit they disapprove of locking up animal activists altogether, have decided that they would rather campaign for a realistic goal that might be achieved and that will improve the lot for the prisoners. Such campaigning must be called reformist and not abolitionist by any standards, but nevertheless, radical abolitionists will not disapprove. Nobody asks, surprisingly, whether such campaigns do not legitimize incarceration of animal activists in the minds of the public, and whether their success in achieving better prison conditions will not serve to strengthen the habit in society to lock up activists, who have liberated animals.
- In principle, using film material that shows particularly shocking animal abuse, must be called reformist propaganda. After all, those pictures suggest that keeping these animals without the cruelty is alright. That means, those pictures do not question animal use, but animal abuse. By rejecting such films, though, the movement would be stripped off the most powerful weapon in the propaganda wars. In reality, since there is a psychological continuum from animal welfare to animal rights, those films actually do produce vegans and animal rights activists.
- Reformist campaigns bring successes. The last 10 years of reform campaigning in Austria produced a formidable list of such successes, which clearly make the Austrian animal law the best in the world. But successes are the lifeblood of activism, because activism costs energy and to sustain activism for long, you must be highly motivated. If you can see that your activism actually changes society that boosts morale and your motivation to stay active rises. But for vegan outreach, there is no similar feeling of success. Many people, who did turn vegan, fall back to consuming animal products. And society at large does not seem to change at all – after 130 years of such campaigns. It is extremely unlikely, psychologically, that a significant amount of activists can sustain friendly vegan outreach without recognizable successes for a very long time.