The starting point. Le point de départ.

Veganism is the moral baseline, the starting point, of the abolitionist animal rights movement. The main purpose of this blog is to explore animal issues from the perspective of the emerging abolitionist movement.

2007-04-09

What the abolitionist movement is not

Abolitionist theory, with its rejection of animal welfare campaigns, is sometimes a shock to animal advocates encountering it for the first time. This is understandable since it asks us to question many of the assumptions about animal advocacy we have been conditioned to believe by the corporate animal welfare and "new welfare" organizations, through whom many of us became interested in animal issues in the first place. The abolitionist movement makes no apologies in criticizing these organizations' methods, and because of this, certain misconceptions about the abolitionist position seem to recur among skeptics' reactions. This post will discuss just a few of these reactions.

Abolitionism is not about "divisiveness", about creating ill-will and strife amongst a group otherwise committed to the same cause in order to deter their energies from the common cause. Rather, it is about pointing out the fundamental differences in two positions - the position that it is permissible to use nonhuman animals as resources as long as we follow certain husbandry standards in order to prevent gratuitous or "unnecessary" suffering, and the position that it is not morally permissible to use sentient nonhumans instrumentally, no matter how well they are treated in the process - and presents a case for why those of us who adhere to the second position should only participate in and support actions consistent with this goal. The first position, that of the animal welfare groups (and the animal exploiting industries as well!), has nothing to do with animal rights and so does not provide us any guidance if rights for animals is indeed our goal.

Abolitionism is not about attacking people's character. It is true that corporate organizations' collective motivations are put into question, as large bureaucracies tend to take on a life of their own to ensure financial survival. This is no less true when they are charities relying on mass public appeal for donations. A critique of the corporate organizational model itself, and of the welfarist tactics that must be pursued to retain the donations of the masses, however, does not equate to an insult to the character of individual activists who are involved with or support these organizations. There is no question that animal advocates work tirelessly for nonhuman animals and have the best of motivations. What the abolitionist movement aims to point out are the inherent flaws of welfare reform campaigns in order to convince these activists of the need to reject such campaigns and the organizations and organizational structures that cling to them, of the need to reject using ineffective means whose underlying premises actually contradict our goals. That the abolitionist position is often argued emphatically, confidently, passionately, and illustrated with specific examples from within the welfarist movements, should not be taken as a "personal attack" and should certainly not be seen as a reason to defensively dismiss the abolitionist theory. The arguments should be considered rationally on their own merits, regardless of one's personal opinion on the discourse style of Gary Francione or any other abolitionist advocate.

The abolitionist argument is not about elitism or achieving some sort of personal purity. It is impossible to be 100% vegan in our society, and postulating that veganism must be the moral baseline of a movement for animal rights does not mean getting bogged down with questions like animal products having been used during the production of tires and the like. It means recognizing that we cannot respect someone's rights while we are separating her from her child and taking her milk, while we are wearing pieces of his skin on our feet, while we pay someone who keeps her in captivity for the opportunity to go take a look at her, while we are using them instrumentally in any way. It means recognizing that financially and culturally supporting exploitation is unjustifiable from a rights perspective, and committing to changing our behaviour accordingly. Veganism can seem daunting at first, but when we are motivated to truly respect the rights of nonhumans, it becomes second nature after the initial phase of adjustment. Those who claim that veganism is elitist tend to subscribe to the mentality that it is something dificult that is "just not for everyone". On the contrary, the abolitionist movement aims to show that yes, veganism is for everyone, that one does not have to be "special" in some way to become vegan, and that any situation that may present a true barrier to veganism for some people in our society (such as the problem of inner-city-US "food deserts" in some poor areas, where the only food accessible to those without vehicles is highly processed junk food) is just a symptom of other forms of oppression such as classism and racism. The abolitionist position opposes all forms of oppression.

Abolitionism is not an all-or-nothing proposition that is doomed to achieve "nothing" by only asking for "all" at once. Abolitionist theory is consistent with incremental change and provides ample guidance for activism (for example Gary Francione discusses this topic in this blog entry and this post). The most important incremental steps we need to take at this point in time are those such as vegan education and activist education that increase the number of ethical vegan abolitionists. This may seem to some to be a slow approach with few tangible rewards, but its importance cannot be overstated. Before we can effect other changes that reflect our own paradigm shift, we need to help more people make that same shift. We cannot achieve rights for nonhuman animals while 99.9% of humanity sees them as commodities and natural resources.

This does not mean that we are ignoring the suffering of animals who are being exploited right now. Convincing other humans of the moral necessity of veganism reduces immediate demand for animal "products" as well as setting the stage for a societal attitude shift. We cannot allow the belief that it's okay to use animals instrumentally as long as we do it "humanely" to go unchallenged, which is what happens when we implicitly accept it in campaigns for welfare/husbandry reform. We need to actively speak out against this belief by drawing attention to the root of the human-nonhuman problem. To do otherwise is to engage in campaigns that disregard the inherent worth and right not to be considered resources of those very animals suffering right now.

Some of us who promote abolitionism once supported or even initiated new-welfarist campaigns ourselves, just as most vegans were not vegan at some point in the past. In becoming vegan we had to question our assumptions and conditioning before we rejected animal use in our own lives. The process of transition from a new-welfarist view of activism to an abolitionist view is similar - it requires an openness to consider a different viewpoint and to allow the possibility of admitting to ourselves that our own previous way of doing things was not consistent with our values and goals. This can be difficult when we are actively involved in the types of campaigns and advocacy being criticized - but having a consistent approach that respects animal rights and having solid theoretical reasoning behind the efforts we undertake, and thus engaging in more effective activism, is worth this period of questioning and personal discomfort. Let's not be afraid to question our assumptions and conditioning, reflect deeply, and grow and change as activists in order to bring our activism in line with our goals.

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20 Comments:

At 8:31 PM, Blogger James Crump said...

Excellent post, Ariix. Thanks for clarifying what abolitionism is, and what it is not; and for rebutting some of the (new welfarist) criticisms that are levelled against the abolitionist approach.

A great post all-round!

 
At 9:39 PM, Blogger Ariix said...

Thanks James! I know I haven't covered everything here, but maybe I'll do a follow-up at some point...

 
At 11:10 PM, Blogger Vincent Guihan said...

Have you thought about signing up for Blogger's Choice? I certainly think your blog could compete well within 'Best Political'.

 
At 8:03 PM, Blogger Ariix said...

OK ya twisted my arm Vincent :P
If you like this blog vote for it at http://www.bloggerschoiceawards.com/blogs/show/3607
(and vote for Vincent's blog Veganimprov too! um, and all the other vegan and abolitionist blogs that have been nominated!)

 
At 2:10 AM, Blogger ludditerobot said...

I admired your first post, and the pretty novel bi-lingual aspect -- I don't think I've seen this anywhere.

Now, since I also admire your second post, I thought I'd chime in with a thumbs up, a point of fact from my experience, and a question.

(1) This post was awesome.

(2) Reflexive defensiveness and allegations of impugned character are pretty much the name of the game, aren't they? When you call into question the basis of another's ethical framework -- whether that means providing a vegan critique of an omnivore's use of non-human animals, or presenting an abolitionist view to someone who holds fast to welfarist premises -- you might get called a "fascist", you might be charged with slamming a friend unnecessarily, you might be slammed with worse allegations. The response you provide is fine, but it seems hardly necessary. Either you make the case for your point of view or you don't, no?

(3) You emphasize how recognition of the abolitionist moral baseline informs activism. I'd like to know, either here or in a future post, how it informs yours. Clearly, working for marginally less cruel methods of slaughter, or, like PeTA, 2% reductions in battery-cage egg production or whatever, is pretty much ruled out. But what avenues are opened? What modes of dissent are made possible that were unavailable, or unrecognized, before? Basically, if a vegan accepts the precepts of the abolitionist view, how does this change practical activity in the real world?

Sorry for the long response. I'm intrigued.

rick

 
At 12:13 PM, Blogger Ariix said...

Hi Rick,
Thanks for your comments!

In regards to 2), personally I do think it is important to respond to these reactions, to frame the 'case for your point of view' in a way that acknowledges that these are normal, common reactions that can be overcome (for lack of a better word). Not everyone's brain jumps first and foremost to dispassionate logic when encountering new ideas (nor do I think that everyone should; logic is extremely important but I do think that our society places too much emphasis on "the scientific mind" and denigrates other ways of experiencing the world (that are usually seen as more "feminine"), but that's a whole other topic!) and sometimes simply reiterating the logic of your position over and over is not enough IMHO since it doesn't acknowledge that there are different ways that different peoples' minds work. Some people who feel affronted when they are introduced to abolitionism will just stop reading or listening and never think about it again because they were put off by the approach. Of course this is true of any situation of trying to get others to see a point of view. I guess this is my way of trying to acknowledge rather than marginalize anyone reading who does not immediately agree, of asking anyone who may feel annoyed, or feel like theory is just not for them, not to just stop reading, to give the theory a chance and to consider the fact that there are others who have felt either affronted or just confused about abolitionism on first encounter but have gone on to fully embrace it. Sorry this is getting so long, I hope it sort of answers your comment.

As for 3), did you check out Gary Francione's thoughts on it that I linked to in the post? In particular I found his forum post that I linked to quite compelling as a description of what is most needed in the immediate future as far as activism goes. I know when I first heard the abolitionist argument I asked myself similar questions about just WHAT EXACTLY this would mean for activism, and I think that if that forum post of Gary's existed back then I would have fully understood and accepted abolitionism much sooner, myself! I will definitely return to this topic in a real post, but for now I think this comment has gotten long enough ;) Thanks again for commenting Rick.

 
At 12:48 PM, Blogger Vincent Guihan said...

Ariix, I thought the last couple of sentences of your reply were interesting. I think, in some ways at least, theory often obscures what's relatively simple. Abolition only proposes that animals shouldn't be used for human ends in any way. I think if you asked most people, they'd be able to say 'yes, I agree', 'no, I don't agree' to that.

On the other hand, if you want to keep the system in place, as Peter Singer does, you can invent any number of convoluted and confusing ways to avoid having to take a clear stand on a specific issue with an activism that is strategically and tactically clear.

What I find unfortunate is that Singer's view has been adopted by a number of large organizations in North America. In some ways, it leaves someone who could easily respond to the proposition above, "yes, I agree" to crawl through a bunch of impoverished philosophy and ethical fussing to get back to what they thought was right in the first place.

 
At 3:06 PM, Blogger Gaia said...

Ariix, I can't tell you how discovering your blog and reading what you have to say have made my heart leap for joy.
I'm in awe of what you are doing. The fact that you are doing it in both language just leaves me *almost* (as you can see LOL) speachless.

Much success to you blog, dear Ariix ! I will be doing what I can to send people your way.

 
At 10:47 PM, Blogger Ariix said...

"In some ways, it leaves someone who could easily respond to the proposition above, "yes, I agree" to crawl through a bunch of impoverished philosophy and ethical fussing to get back to what they thought was right in the first place."

You're right Vincent. Abolitionism is really a simple idea, but has to also be like a counter-theory to the prevailing new-welfarist ideas out there right now. For me, my own evolution as a vegan is a perfect example of your quote above. Buying into or accepting the large organizations' assumption that welfare campaigns are an essential, or at least non-harmful, part of "the movement" means that all the presumptions this view is based on have to be deconstructed, in order to get back to the simplicity of "animals should not be used. period. and that is what our activism should reflect".

@Gaia, thank you so much! <3

 
At 10:24 PM, Blogger Douglas said...

Now, i have to say that I am a proud member of PETA. If not for them I would not be Vegan today and not do what I do for animals and fight for the cause. I would not be working to opening a fine dining Vegan restaurant and have the utmost respect for the organization.

Having said that I understand the Abolitionist side of the arguement. Let me ask you this, am I not supposed to help holf KFC demo anymore. Is it useless to ask the "employers" at KFC to rip the heads from live chickens? To not spit tobacco in the eyes of little babies? I fear that this movement takes away from what I do and that is still good. While I am doing what you might call Welfare work I am asking people to become Vegan. I am a chef and healthy as hell. I can explain everything under the sun.

I look forward to reading more of your posts and am going to post you on my blog...

 
At 6:10 PM, Blogger R2K said...

: )

 
At 7:30 PM, Blogger Ariix said...

Hi Douglas,

To answer your question, "useless" is not the term I would use for welfare campaigns or PETA, but rather "harmful" to the animal rights cause. Welfare campaigns implicitly accept that the animals are the legal property of the exploiters and just attempt to regulate the way they use that "property". Working to transform the societal attitude that leads this to happen, from the root, is the only way we will ever get them to stop torturing and killing for good.

To use your term, I would say that if anything is "taking away" from the good things you do, it is not the abolitionist movement - it's the other campaigns you support, the ones not fully consistent with animal rights, that do all the taking away. The abolitionist movement is just trying to point out these underlying inconsistencies, the ways that the welfare campaigns and the desire for abolition of animal exploitation are really at odds with one another, rather than complementary as they are portrayed by PETA et al. We are building a separate movement that rejects these compromising new-welfarist tactics. and I hope you'll join us *cue cheezy music* ;)

There are a lot of reasons I find PETA problematic, I'm writing a new post that will discuss this some more.

 
At 12:55 PM, Blogger Douglas said...

I am looking forward to reading your post!

 
At 3:36 AM, Blogger Davy Borde said...

Hi Joanne,
I read once more your note and I caught something that I hadn't seen the first time:
"It is impossible to be 100% vegan in our society, and postulating that veganism must be the moral baseline of a movement for animal rights does not mean getting bogged down with questions like animal products having been used during the production of tires and the like"

Why not? Of course, it would be better not to have this question in the debate, it would take us away from the central problem.
But why not in our lives? Why couldn't individuals - in a search for more and more coherence - try to use death-less products?

 
At 10:36 AM, Blogger Ariix said...

Davy, I think you have misunderstood my statement, maybe I didn't make it quite clear enough, I don't know. I certainly think that we should try to avoid as many trace animal products as we can, and I wasn't trying to imply that we shouldn't each continue to question and revise our own individual personal boundaries on "borderline" things to keep improving. I really was referring to those things that it is impossible to live in our respective societies without relying on in some way, like tires - I don't see how we can avoid ALL use of bicycles, buses, cars, products that were trucked to the store we bought them from, etc., unless we were to go live in a cave and forage for nuts and berries. That's what I meant when I said we shouldn't get bogged down in those issues, not that we shouldn't care about things that are avoidable like say eating food with an ingredient that could come from animal or plant sources and not bothering to find out in order to make a more informed decision, which seems to be more what you're referring to. (correct me if I'm wrong!)

 
At 1:02 PM, Blogger Ariix said...

By the way, I have nothing against living in a cave and foraging for nuts and berries (stuck in an office building, it actually sounds kind of nice right now!), just pointing out that it's basically what it comes down to when trying to avoid tires... hard to promote abolitionism from a cave at any rate!

-this addendum entirely provoked by Vincent Guihan :P

 
At 2:27 PM, Blogger Vincent Guihan said...

"hard to promote abolitionism from a cave at any rate!"

Not with a hand-cranked laptop it's not -- mine runs off my aura!

 
At 7:43 PM, Blogger Lucas said...

hey Joanna, I hope all is well with you. I enjoyed meeting you in Montreal last summer.

I think it is great for you to have a blog and voice opinions within the animal rights community. Though we do not have the same views about peta and animal rights, I find it interesting to hear your points.

I actually just got back from a peta protest in montreal where I was a spokesperson. Today we took on NAFFEM www.naffem.com One of the worlds largest fur shows!

The reality is that we live in tabloid times...mainsteam people are the ones who support animal abusive industries...whether they conciously do or are simply unaware...in order to reach these people and effect change, we need to get their attention through media...media wont talk about these issues...that is where PETA comes in.. PETA gets on the news and brings attention to issues no one would like to look at.

In a world with so much cruelty, we need to stop bashing other organizations..if you don't like an organization don't follow their tactics or be their spokesperson or donate money..but dont attack their credibility. We need to acknowledge peoples efforts...NOT OVER ANALYSE AND BE THE ANGRY VEGAN POLICE.

Anyway today I had the opportunity to talk to national media about the lives of animals on fur farms...If we didnt have cavepeople crawling around and grawling at fur industry execs..we probably wouldnt have gotten any chance to speak up for animals..

I say speak up for animals in any way that you can...I applaud all of you who work towards making things better for animals.. even though we have different ideas of how to go about creating change..i think the important thing is to appreciate everyone within the animal rights community!

Thanks for having this blog!

Lucas Solowey
Montreal

 
At 9:33 PM, Blogger Ariix said...

Hi Lucas,

Glad to hear you're well :)

Needless to say, I disagree with you, for the reasons explained in the posts. I think that we desperately need analysis and reflection, and that it is not unreasonable or pushy to state that those who want animal rights should make a commitment to consistently respect animal rights themselves to the fullest extent possible in our society.

We also need to present a clear position, and not water down or frivolize our message, or perpetuate confusion about what "rights" is, or marginalize other social justice movements (i.e. use sexism to get attention), just because mainstream media will not give coverage to a more radical message. Not speaking out against the mixed message put out by new welfarists only serves to perpetuate the misinformation.

Have you read Francione's Rain Without Thunder? I highly recommend it if you are interested in hearing more about this viewpoint.

Joanne

 
At 12:14 PM, Blogger animalperson said...

I greatly appreciate and respect the way you respond to those who disagree with you.

As a former new welfarist who gave probably tens of thousands of dollars to campaigns over the years prior to discovering Professor Francione, I understand the position and the frustration of the new welfarist. In my experience, they simply haven't done the math, as they say. They simply don't realize that their welfare campaigns, and all the talk of decreasing suffering, hasn't helped. It's sheer ignorance on their part. To educate them confidently, yet kindly, in my experience, is what works. First, they resist and think we can all co-exist and reach the same goal. But soon, they realize the two processes are mutually exclusive.

Thank you for your hard work.

 

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