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Even if you dislike animals, you have an obligation not to harm them

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We hear it as vegans, and shake our heads at it all the time: people who refer to themselves as animal lovers, when they support the use, slaughter, and exploitation of animals every day, and even put the animals they “love” on their plates. It’s confusing and infuriating, and any attempt to point out the cognitive dissonance is met with defensive attitudes. What about the other side of the coin, though? What about people who actively dislike, or do not care for animals? What is their moral obligation to protect the beings that they would much rather avoid in their everyday lives?

Think of someone you know (perhaps it’s you!) that has a strong distaste for children. They dislike the noise they make, they can’t stand their grubby hands, and they go nuts over their bad attitudes. Chances are, the person you are thinking of would never harm a child, no matter how proudly they proclaim their dislike for children. For all the negative feelings they may have towards children, this person still knows that they must not harm children. It’s the same with non-human animals. I might find dogs to be noisy and overbearing (they’re growing on me though, I promise), but I still see it as a moral obligation to fight for their right to live unharmed. Certain animals can’t be exceptions to our demands for protection simply because we aren’t fond of them, or they aren’t intelligent or cute enough to generate a passionate effort to serve their wellbeing.

For me, my veganism is absolutely a lifestyle born out of love. All of my activism is born out of love for that matter, whether it is for another species or marginalized groups of people I am either a part of or an ally to. I’ve met other vegans who really don’t care about the affection of animals and couldn’t care less about personal interactions with them. One could even say they don’t like animals, but their dislike doesn’t negate the fact that they recognize that these are other beings, too, and must have a voice provided for them in situations of great injustice.

I found The Guardian’s Laura Marcus to be an interesting example of what I’m discussing here when she wrote an article last week titled, “Your pet doesn’t love you – it’s just trapped by you.” At first, it appears that she is on to something despite any knee-jerk reaction to a disagreeable title. “Perhaps it’s because I never grew up with pets. My parents believed we humans had no right to own other animals. I agreed with them then, and I still do.” So, Marcus has a solid grasp on the concept that we must not own animals as property. She fails to tell her audience, however, how we are to handle domesticated animals who need our protection. The cats I share my home with are not “trapped” by me as much as they are safe from a brutal outside world, where their safety is at a grave risk. Marcus takes what she thinks is a “high road” of of refusing to live with a companion animal, but it comes across as nonsensical. She has every right to exist as an individual who doesn’t care for the company of a non-human animal. I don’t think that finds her morally deplorable or as bizarre as others might, but I would implore her to consider giving shelter to an animal because it’s the right thing to do.

Disappointingly, she closes with some statements that made me really question how concerned she was for the protection of non-human animals. “I won’t eat veal or battery-reared chicken, I am against the badger cull and living in a rural area, I believe farm animals should be treated as humanely as possible,” she writes, “I also love cooking for vegetarian friends. I just think a real animal lover wouldn’t dream of thinking they had the right to own one and treat it like a personal possession.” A “real animal lover,” in my opinion, wouldn’t dream of thinking they had the right to consume an animal’s body in the first place, as she does. Pet “ownership?” Not okay. Unnecessary slaughter? Somehow… perfectly fine. Her inconsistency is indeed a rare brand.

Are animals sentient? Can they suffer? Yes. Theorist Gary Francione considers that to be reason enough not to exploit animals, and I wholeheartedly agree. Is the animal ugly? Is it aggressive? Is it simply obnoxious? Would it gut you, a human, if it had the chance? Maybe it’s all of those things, but that still does not give us the right to take it’s life or cause it any harm when it isn’t necessary

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  • freeda brocks

    but Gary Francione is one of the most inconsistent “theorists” out there, he rejects all vegan outreach campaigns except ones that follow his rules.
    he doesn’t even follow his own rules, whilst dictating that no one should work with or associate with non-vegans he is employed by a university that experiments and farms animals.
    He rails against animal welfare whilst asking people to go to animal welfare sites and adopt cats and dogs.
    He says we should all be involved in creative vegan outreach but offers no examples apart from very poorly made meme’s on facebook.
    He complains about groups wanting money to campaign, whilst sitting on a fortune that reaches into the many millions funded from animal abuse companies, does he spend this money on creative vegan outreach? we haven’t seen any of it.
    He attacks meatless monday, veganuary and any other form of vegan outreach stating that every campaign is counter productive, this he says is true but can offer no proof.
    Perhaps it’s time you thought for yourself instead of trotting out Gary’s tired dogma

    • AlpineDan

      I can’t quite pinpoint it, maybe it’s the uncharitable characterizations, or negative spin on his actions and statements, but it seems you’re not a big fan of Mr. Francione.

      Be that as it may — many people have a problem with him personally — his theoretical work is straightforward, consistent, and backed by overwhelming evidence, even if there is some truth buried in your comment about the man’s personal failings.

      Francione, as a legal theorist, basically maintains that attempts change or enforce laws to “protect” animals will fail, always and forever, as long as animals are property. And as long as animals are considered things, commodities to exploit, they will always be property. And as long as people aren’t vegan, animals will be considered things, commodities to explot. Therefore, vegan education is the only way for the fly to escape the bottle, and animal advocates are wasting their time on single issue campaigns and attempts at welfare reform.

      You can hate a physicist, but you’re foolish if you hate her straightforward, consistent, and evidence-backed theory because you hate her.

      I’ll also add that the main article is excellently written and so true.

      • freeda brocks

        “his theoretical work is straightforward, consistent, and backed by overwhelming evidence.”
        it isn’t straightforward, it certainly is consistent and I’ve never seen one shred of evidence that his theory is working. How does spending most of your time attacking other vegan groups and their campaigns work as a method of outreach?

        many people (myself included and most of the vegans I know which number hundreds) get involved via single issue campaigns or a variety of other methods which Gary doesn’t like, so how is that “wasting time”? it can only be wasting time if there exists a faster better method to get people going vegan, this faster better method is certainly not Gary’s method, if it was he’d have more followers and very few critics.

        Gary’s methods are very attractive to people who see everything in black and white or who enjoy his court room tactics, out here in the real world people have a variety of motivations. I am not a particular fan of many of the big groups, but to say that their methods just don’t work is ridiculous.

        How many people have gone vegan via earthlings? or cowspiracy? or meatless monday? or veganuary? or vegfest? none according to Gary. Only his method works. It would be funny if it wasn’t such a waste of everyone’s time.

        • AlpineDan

          I agree with your criticism of what GF spends his advocacy time on. While I’m fine with criticizing mainstream organizations like PETA and HSUS, and generally agree with his criticism, he seems to spend the vast majority of his online effort on this, which is little more effective than single issue campaigns themselves. (PETA will change only when our culture goes vegan.) I’d like to see him walk his talk by doing a lot more vegan education by writing articles for major publications and newspapers and public speaking
          tours. This is where his real talent is, and where he would be very effective. It’s a shame he wastes so much of his time ranting about the PETAs of the world instead of doing more interviews, speeches, and public writing on vegan education. This is a huge personal failing of his, given his talent and background in this area. This certainly explains some of his unpopularity and why he is a lot less effective than he could be.

          As for why his theory isn’t popular (aside from his behavior), single issue and welfare
          campaigns are big revenue sources for groups like PETA. Without these campaigns, much, maybe most, of PETA’s funding would dry up. That’s a huge motivator.

          Also, there is a lot of camaraderie, team spirit, and socializing in protests and campaigns
          – they’re relatively fun! They’re a lot more fun and easy than speaking in front of groups, debating others live and online, and so on, which is often required in vegan education.

          Combine the money motivation with the social motivation, and wow, you’ve got a popular
          activity in single issue campaigns, no doubt about that! Vegan education, by contrast, is
          comparatively solitary and difficult with little or no pay. You need to be VERY motivated to do vegan education.

          And speaking of no pay, vegan education doesn’t get funding from millions of nonvegans, who fund most of the single issue campaigns. It’s pretty much up to vegans alone to fund and/or do this. Vegans are not collectively wealthy. The animals lose here, big time.

          So, yeah. No wonder GF’s theory isn’t popular. But it is correct. The theory has an amazing amount of research support (read Animals, Property, and the Law), and yet it doesn’t even need research support. Anyone who knows an iota or two about property rights, welfare laws, human slavery, and economics can piece the simple theory together themselves from common fucking sense! The arguments opposing it, like the arguments
          opposing veganism, are ridiculous and inspired by self interest.

          This is probably all I’m writing on this. I’d much rather spend my online advocacy time budget debating anti-vegans than vegans. I’ve said it at Ecorazzi before: reason is a
          tool of the passions. You passion is single issue campaigns and anger at GF; my passion is vegan education. You’ll never agree with me until you change your passion.

          • freeda brocks

            I’m not a particularly big fan of the waged groups as I just think they could do a lot more, with regards to vegan outreach yeah it’s obviously one of the best things to do, but for Gary it always has to be on his terms. Saying that veganuary or vegfest is counterproductive is frankly ridiculous.

            with regards to single issue campaigns all the people I know aren’t waged nor do they work for or with waged groups. In the uk we have hunt saboteurs, anti vivisection campaigns, fur campaigns and the campaign I work on the badger cull, many people get involved in these campaigns and start of vegetarian, they are motivated because they see something that they believe is unjust and frequently quickly go vegan through meeting and working with other vegans. Gary’s theory that a single issue campaign creates a belief that one animal is more important than another is mostly in his head as it suits his theory, the reality is people have a variety of motivations.

            We set up camps each year that run for 6 weeks and we have literally hundreds of people go through them who come to stop badger culls, the kitchens are vegan, we ask for vegan donations of food and we’d probably welcome people coming to do talks on veganism from any group. Gary would rather just critisize us. well Gary can carry on living in his ivory tower and abusing everyone, see where it gets him.

          • freeda brocks

            with regards to having fun, vegan outreach is a lot more fun!
            I help out with friends who do vegan food fairs, we fundraise and get food donations from companies, hire a small hall, get local groups where possible to help and cook tons of food to give away. the leafletting before hand and the work itself is all relatively stress free.

            go out against some hunters who want to kill a fox, or stay awake for days at a time trying to stop a nocturnal badger cull, not fun at all, it’s major stress. Again the difference between grassroots and waged groups is quite huge when it comes to single issue campaigns. something Gary wouldn’t know about, but likes to think he does.

          • AlpineDan

            Yeah, sharing food is fun, but explaining why people should go vegan isn’t.

            Interfering with hunting here in the US will likely get you “accidentally” shot. (Hunting happens in the middle of nowhere here.) It would be dangerous and ineffective.

          • freeda brocks

            I cannot comment on how people could or should sabotage hunting with rifles in the middle of nowhere in the US as I have no knowledge of it. I can comment on how people sabotage fox hunting with hounds in the UK, it is dangerous, people have died. It is also very effective as a way of stopping foxes from being killed.
            I got involved in animal rights as have many thousands of other people through going sabbing, the Hunt Saboteurs Association doesn’t do any official vegan outreach, yet the vast majority of people who get involved go vegan.
            Sabotaging fox hunts is just one of many single issue campaigns that draw people into a grassroots animal rights movement that involves direct action. The majority of the animal rights movement is vegan. To say it is a “moral baseline” and a requirement would just turn people away, it’s not a question of baby steps it’s fundamentally about how do you turn people vegan.
            Gary doesn’t offer any template that I’ve seen as to how to turn people vegan other than a “use creative non violent vegan outreach” he goes further with lots of additions as to what methods you shouldn’t use, well thats great but I don’t actually need someone telling me not to use scantily clad women or graphic violent videos, what I need is someone to tell me what actually works and how to deploy that method.

            it’s easy to critisize other peoples work, but I don’t actually see what Gary is doing beyond just critisizing other people.

          • AlpineDan

            To the extent single issue campaigns, including hunt sabs, create a social environment
            conducive to effectively making lifelong vegans, I’m all for it, for you are striking at the root of the exploitation tree by creating vegans. It sounds like there is a significant difference between what you do at the grassroots level, which appears to involve lots of good grassroots vegan education, and what groups like PETA and HSUS do so as not to have nonvegan donors withhold funds (ignore the vegan message; focus on the “victory! — donate for more victories!”).

          • freeda brocks

            there is a huge difference between how the grassroots animal rights movement operates and how the bigger orgs behave. Gary must be aware of it considering how long he’s been involved in AR.

            I’d still like to know how it is Gary turns people vegan using the abolition approach. Are we all supposed to consume all of his books then convince others using his arguments?

          • AlpineDan

            There is no reliable evidence on what individuals or groups are responsible for the most vegans, mainly because such evidence doesn’t, and never will, exist in any reliable form. The truth is that most people become vegan (with the moral reason implied in the word) for a variety of causes (or people or groups), some of which they might not even be aware of.

            But basically, yes, we’re supposed to use convincing arguments and appeal to people’s sense of empathy. They don’t have to be GF’s, but GF’s are good arguments. Tom Regan also has similarly good arguments. There are other theorists who also have good arguments that might appeal to certain people. Earthlings and similar films are good to awaken empathy. (GF doesn’t recommend these, but he himself went vegetarian because of a slaughterhouse visit. I strongly recommend these because of their power to awaken empathy.)

            Anyway, my goal isn’t to defend GF and all the complaints that people might have about him. My goal is to break dogmatic thinking on both sides: GF isn’t infallible (contrary to what some people appear to believe), and in fact, makes mistakes, some of them colossal; but GF does have some essential and well-supported claims, including his theory as I explained it in my first comment here, and those are ignored at the price of veganism taking many years, possibly many decades, longer than it could.

            Sadly, GF’s personality causes people to love and worship him, or hate him with a frothy-mouthed passion, and little in between. I’m in between, and I’m outnumbered on both sides thousands to one. I see great merit in GF’s work; but I also see significant errors and fault. Much of it is stated in this comment thread.

          • freeda brocks

            I certainly don’t hate him, I just don’t want omnivores thinking that all vegans think like him. Some of his arguments are compelling but he lacks a very basic understanding of human psychology.

        • Lalasunflower

          Christ, this isn’t even an article on Francione.

          • freeda brocks

            came up on my google news feed for “badger cull”. If you don’t want responses about Gary then don’t mention him

    • Lalasunflower

      I’m shocked at how thoroughly you have missed the point. Is this really a tantrum over the fact that I referenced him *one* time? Are you unhappy with his reasoning that ALL animals deserve protection?! Yikes! Very yikes! I smell the speciesism cookin’.

      • freeda brocks

        You finish your article by referencing him, his methods are counterproductive and I want people to know that. I’m unhappy with his reasoning that it’s fine to spend all day every day bashing other people’s campaigns because they don’t fit in with your own theory on how things should be.

        I’ve been vegan nearly 19 years, I know many vegans who’ve been vegan longer and hundreds who are recent vegans. Are we all speciesist because we disagree with Gary that single issue campaigns work?

        It’s not only that his attacks on single issue campaigns are counterproductive, he offers no method of how to get people vegan. Maybe you can tell me? or maybe you can just carry on being rude.

        • AlpineDan

          Has it dawned on you that you’re simply being Gary against Gary? That you’re doing the exact same thing he does? Do you see any hypocrisy in that?

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