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Bearing Witness To Narcissism

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A lot of people are angry about a piece I wrote the other day concerning the Norfolk Animal Save slaughter parade. Unfortunately, the various responses and outcries from those involved merely confirmed my fears about the mindsets and attitudes of the people taking part in such events. The general theme has been one of obstinate self-assurance; a refusal to engage substantively with the arguments put forward in my article on account of either a complete ignorance to the prevailing welfarist paradigm or a refusal to understand how such efforts perpetuate our culture of welfarism and “happy exploitation.”

When the emphasis of our advocacy is on “bearing witness,” or how the animals are “treated,” or “exposing” some form of animal use, we simply ensure that the conversation never shifts from issues surrounding treatment. We keep the public focused on the idea that the treatment of animals is somehow relevant when determining the morality of use. As mentioned before – and completely ignored in the responses to my previous article – the issue of animal exploitation is not “invisible” as many of these people like to maintain. The premise of such “Save” events is to supposedly “expose” and document “cruelty,” but the reality is that the public are not stupid. They know where their food comes from and they’re perfectly okay with it. Their default position is what the default position of every person in western society has been for the last 200 years now – animal welfarism. The idea that it’s okay to kill animals so long as they are treated “humanely” in the process. “Exposing” people to “cruelty” – within the context of an animal industry that requires “necessary” suffering and death by law in order to function profitably – does nothing but reaffirm to people that animal suffering is the primary issue and not use. The perpetuation of that idea in recent years is what has been responsible for the growth of the “happy exploitation” movement, because people believe that by purchasing supposedly “higher welfare” products they are fulfilling their moral obligations to animals. This is why the focus on suffering is so detrimental and why these “vigils” and “saves” are so problematic with the message they implicitly promulgate.

It is unfortunate that advocates are unable to stand back from themselves and consider these ideas. It is unfortunate that advocates are more interested in discrediting these views on account of the fact that I was not present at the vigil – as if that in itself answers my objections or is even relevant to the arguments I have put forward. Certain individuals who have responded to me have participated in fur demonstrations outside high street fashion stores, where their argument against fur was to say that the animals used for fur were not “byproducts of the meat and dairy industry” and that these animals were raised “solely for fur.” I don’t need to have been there either to tell you that that’s an overtly speciesist message drawing an arbitrary line between animals in the meat and dairy industry and those in the fur industry. Indeed, it’s telling people that their leather shoes and their wool coats are better in a moral sense than fur.

In any event, these sorts of self-serving diversion tactics are what people to seem to fall back on when they are unable to respond to an idea or position with a substantive argument.

As in my original piece, I maintain that as far as the animals are concerned, these “vigils” and “saves” do nothing but drag out the misery of the animals by holding them longer in trucks than they usually would be and where the outcome is inevitable death – as it always has been.

It is unclear to me how the animals benefit from what one commenter described as an “unforgettable sense of respect for these animals that[sic] would have otherwise been transported completely unnoticed to their deaths.” It seems to me that the only party benefiting from that “sense of respect” here is the humans. The animals are minutes away from being slaughtered – there is no context here for a “sense of respect” to even apply in a way that is helpful. They are all going to die and suffer tremendously the moment they enter that slaughterhouse – just as they have been their entire lives. The idea that this “unforgettable sense of respect” is even remotely helpful to the animals in their final moments is not only unfounded, it’s cheap and it’s offensive. They have suffered the ride in the truck and they’re still suffering just the same while the selfie-snapping humans get a few minutes to feel an “unforgettable sense of respect.” Well that’s great, isn’t it. It doesn’t make a blind bit of difference to the animals, but at least the humans get to feel better about it:

I have spent many of my previous years building relationships with animals at various animal sanctuaries and helping them through trauma. Let me tell you, there is no way on earth that your “sense of respect” is helping these animals in their final moments. You cannot begin to comprehend their terror, their confusion or their utter misery. The idea that your “respect” in this context – peeking through bars, taking photos, crying around trucks – is doing anything but prolonging their suffering is quite frankly an insult to their value as sentient beings. Beings who are deserving of so much more.

Another commenter states: “what you “think” about vigils is irrelevant. If you want to form an educated opinion then please go to one for yourself, meet the people and learn about the movement. If you think that bearing witness “gives veganism a bad name” then you really do not understand the basic premise of what a social justice movement actually is. The reality is that many people are not brave enough to go, and that’s fine I felt the same, but please don’t get in the way of people who are changing the world because you are too scared to do it yourself.”

Once again, we are told that we can’t take a position on something unless we witness that something first hand. By that logic, I can’t have an opinion on Donald Trump because I’m not an American and I didn’t attend his inauguration. I also can’t have an opinion on “animal advocates” who believe that torching slaughterhouses is an effective form of advocacy because I’m not there when they set the slaughterhouse on fire. If this particular commenter lives by her own standards, I’m surprised she can form an opinion on my position as she was not with me when I wrote the original article. Her own logic dictates that she should “bear witness” to me writing articles before she can have anything to say about them.

For the reasons I’ve discussed above, I hope it is clear that such measures are not “changing the world” at all. Quite frankly, the idea that someone can berate another for not being “brave enough,” or claim that they should not “not get in the way” of those “changing the world” because they are “too scared” to stop a slaughter truck for 3 minutes is the most narcissistic, ill-placed self-congratulation I have ever had the misfortune of “bearing witness” to.

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  • If you guys actually bothered to read comments instead of deleting them all on Gary’s facebook page, you may have had a few on your concerns answered and saved you a lot of time writing this. Saying there was a refusal to engage with the arguments is absolute rubbish – more the other way round I’d say, with you guys just deleting anything you disagreed with – and I think it’s extremely rude that you didn’t even give some people the chance to even enter the debate at all; me being one of them. I was deleted instantly with not even a reply first which is just ridiculous; and yes my reply was polite and was simply trying to discuss the points raised; what you claim you want. My comment specifically talked about the fact that showing people the animals in the trucks, be that on live streams, photos or video edits, is actually the strongest tool I’ve been able to use to be able to get people to completely ignore the “treatment” and to get people thinking “does it even matter how they were treated prior to this very moment”. It totally obliterates all the free range, organic, pasture fed. local, RSPCA approved etc etc terms. It shows they mean nothing. It couldn’t be any less about welfare or improving welfare. It’s about “here’s an animal that’s about to die, it doesn’t want to die, it shouldn’t be happening”. Is this not the message you want? As for the public knowing all this, I think you are overestimating them. Pretty much anyone I’ve shown footage from saves has barely even stopped to think about any of this and are usually pretty shocked; not the reaction someone would have if they were already very familiar with all this and fine with it.

    As far as your concerns about scaring the animals etc, I can understand you bringing that stuff up, I think most of us had those exact concerns as well, but from attending I haven’t seen any major issues as everyone is always as respectful as possible in order to make the animals as comfortable as possible. I have no issue with you raising this point though.

    As for the rest…try reading the comments, try not deleting comments, try have a debate with people that lasts longer than 2 minutes before you all get stressed out and start banning people from Gary’s page.

    I actually agree with a lot of you guys say but the main issue I see is you guys are not willing, in any way, to actually hear others out and have an actual debate. It’s very much “my way or the highway”. People are starting to think you guys are a joke which is a shame as I think if you guys really engaged with everyone and were willing to work with us, rather than slag people off in articles, maybe you could help make these types of activism even more powerful, deliver a stronger, clearer message – one we would all agree with – and generally just all up our game. At the moment all I see is people getting shot down for trying to do good. This is far from constructive criticism. How does that help anything? If you want to debate effective activism that’s fine but your approach is terrible.

  • I was the person who commented on your last article about the Save Movement, saying there was an “unforgettable sense of respect for these animals that would have otherwise been transported completely unnoticed to their deaths.”

    Your criticism of that would have been well founded if that were the sole reason people attend, as I’m well aware that does nothing for the animals alone. I merely stated there was respect for the animals because you seem to think people frighten and disrespect them in the trucks. I hope this explains things a little better.

  • Many people engaged substantively with the points raised in your article, on Francione’s Facebook page, and the comments were immediately deleted and the participants banned (I was banned a couple of years ago). Seems to me like it’s Francione who’s the narcissist – his ego won’t even allow him to have opposing views published on his page.

    • Sandy

      You are confusing opposing views with speciesism. Professor Francione openly welcomes substantial and civil debate.

      • Sarah

        *yawn* do you guys have a central spreadsheet that you use to copy and paste the same thing over and over again. Although you didn’t send us a link to one of his essays this time which is an odd break from protocol.

        Anyway, why don’t you go back to educating people “by the thousands”. As far as I can tell, Gary has been in this business for decades and the only people who have heard of him are his gang of “mods” and all the people he has fought so hard to alienate and attack.

        • Sandy

          You two seem so embittered.

          Meanwhile, back to helping the animals. Check out Monty Python’s ‘Argument Clinic’ on YouTube. You may learn through comedy that an argument is not the same as an attack.

          • Sarah

            I am not embittered, just disappointed. I believe that Gary had an amazing opportunity a few years ago to lead the abolitionist movement and push forward animal rights and veganism in a powerful way. But instead, at the critical moment he stopped evolving, lost all vision and became trapped in a caricature of himself that was centred on ‘attacking’ (yes, attacking but thank you for trying to educate me on that point) anyone who didn’t agree with him, even when those people were his allies.

            So yes I am disappointed, because this fight is about the animals not anyone’s ego, as you were so quick to point out. If you spent any time objectively evaluating Gary’s methods and their efficacy over the last few years then it’s likely you would come to the same conclusion as me. Unfortunately you are too busy trying to assert your moral and intellectual superiority instead, another habit you probably picked up from Gary.

          • Sandy

            Sarah, you wrote:

            “I believe that Gary had an amazing opportunity a few years ago to lead the abolitionist movement and push forward animal rights and veganism in a powerful way. But instead, at the critical moment he stopped evolving, lost all vision and became trapped in a caricature of himself that was centred on ‘attacking’ (yes, attacking but thank you for trying to educate me on that point) anyone who didn’t agree with him, even when those people were his allies.”

            Facts please. What amazing opportunity? When?
            What critical moment? How did he stop evolving? How did he lose all vision, and become trapped in a caricature of himself that was centred on ‘attacking’ (despite the fact that arguments are not the same as attacks as the Monty Python video points out. Did you even watch it, I wonder – if you want to ignore this fact, go ahead, I cannot stop you from staying ignorant )?

            Nobody has to agree with an argument, but if you disagree, you need to specify why…that’s how arguments work. What is about the Abolitionist Approach that does not work, and why?

            You talk about ‘attacking’ which I have pointed out above is an incorrect term to use, but you have only put Gary down personally, for putting forward clear arguments, and for monitoring his page responsibly, and you have mocked the page as a ‘safe space’, and now you are putting me down as having moral superiority and intellectualism – a habit no less, or unable to objectively evaluate. Then you claim you are disappointed because this is all about the animals.

            I’m sorry to tell you, I cannot see that I would ever end up coming to the same conclusion as you…because I have not seen any clarity in your position other than you rely on ad-hominem attacks, and think that supporting justice or using the brain cells we have been given as negatives. Seems a mighty confused way to help the animals. More like no help. Or you are just a troll. One of the two.

      • Vegan Punk

        Um, when’s he going to start “persuading others by the thousands then”? Because at the moment all he’s doing is alienating people (vegans and non-vegans alike).

      • Thalassa

        His arguments are only excellent up to a point. Deep flaws I see in his philosophy are 1) his view of institutions of torture somehow not being the target since they’re “only responding to demand.” In fact his obliviousness to the way big ag and other corporations shape demand through advertising and packaging strikes me as strangely moronic and imbecilic in a man of his education and ethics. This is his premise for not attacking the source. Quite Ayn Randian in its preposterous defense of robber baron capitalists but inexcusable in someone supposedly enlightened to exploitation. 2) His purity arguments about literally every other form of activism actually harms or slows vegan progress in the real world. He’s a “hands clean” egoist sitting on a mountain contemplating his own superiority.

  • Sarah

    Yikes! This is becoming a bit cringe-worthy now Ben; you are starting to sound fixated with us..

    May I suggest meditation and a short break from churning out this never-ending vitriolic drivel?
    On the plus side, I must say that I absolutely loved the lolologic!

    Peace and love my friend. We’re always here if you need a hug 🙂

  • Sarah

    Ben this is your most cringe-worthy piece yet… why don’t you stop trolling and go do something useful.

    I did love the lolologic though, very funny. (hugs)

  • bcalvillo

    Would these people also take photographs of humans on their way to the gas chamber? Would they be posing for pictures? Would they be asking for time to say goodbye? Would they be shining bright lights in trucks? This entire display is so narcissistic.

    • Sam

      If there’d been greater public availability of documentary evidence of people being transported to concentration camps during WW2, action taken against the Nazis might have been quicker and more decisive, and more people might have been saved from the gas chambers. It’s ironic that you accuse other activists of narcissism when your profile image is one of yourself holding a protest sign, by the way 🙂

      • Sarah

        It is incredulous that Gary and his followers accuse anyone else of being narcissistic, self-congratulatory, dogmatic and generally unable to have rational objective thought processes…! You only need to read through some posts on his ‘safe-space’ facebook page to realise who these terms actually apply to. If this was truly about the animals then they would be doing everything they could to work with these groups and make them even better or to ‘educate’ them so that they are even more effective. Instead, they choose to spend their time writing this vitriolic drivel and viciously attacking anyone who dares to disagree with them. It is actually really sad.

        • Sam

          Indeed. They’re perfect examples of intellectualism gone horribly, nastily wrong.

        • Thalassa

          Until Gary and his crew personally annihilate Tyson foods by burning every factory farm to the ground in concert by planned covert attack, I’d rather they shut up about PETA out there literally getting circuses permanently closed and widely distributing helpful information for free and low cost while still rescuing individual animals and having the best legal team in the country. Which laws have law genius Gary changed? I’m really asking. What has he done besides teach academic vegan philosophy.

    • Thalassa

      Nothing says “narcissistic” like literally only refraining from animal products and preaching an impractical form of vegan philosophy from upon high and trashing other activists, while literally doing nothing else, not even willing to risk arrest to break into a torture lab. I think Gary’s overwhelming self righteousness stems from his lack of action.

  • Noelle Obcarskas

    Some one whose only point of writing anything is to accuse others of narcissism is pure narcissism. Arrogant dismissive and narcissistic envy to see others doing actions showing compasion and eduction of others. Instead of writing here where NO ONE BUT VEGANS read this slanging off rant is yet more NARCISSTIC behaviour. There was nothing in the article to say what alternative methods of informing the public about how to see the animals that are never seen in any unpleasant states of existence in fact the author states the public all know very well about where their food comes from ! well how come if that were the case the author hasn’t managed to convert all this well informed public as a whole to veganism in all these years of intellectual waffle ? personal accusations of all activists who face such unpleasant sights as animals going to their deaths to take photos videos and just stand with poster messages to passing cars etc have far less narcissism, spite and envy than those sat behind screens on keyboards slanging off other animal lovers. It is a disgrace…to see humans slanging off other humans that show compassion and care for animals in this way. A disgrace. Talk about NARCISSISM ? the author has displayed a perfect but sad example of it for sure.

  • Noelle Obcarskas

    ps I clicked to this article from a post on facebook group I HATE VEGANS….where seeing this criticising of vegans of other vegans was the reason for much laughter and amusement THAT is how NEGATIVE such articles are. Jealousy…and envy…and narcissism of the author led to not making positive suggestions about actions undertaken to inform the public or influence non vegans…oh no…ALL the energy was on keyboards behind screens lashing out at VEGANS. Disgraceful. No wonder it is down to VEGAN ACTIVISTS to get any positive changes done..and why they are mocked easily by non vegans when this kind of undermining nasty spiteful arrogant vegan lashes out at them. Sat on arses typing spite about animal lovers is hardly something to be proud about but this arrogant bunch of so called abolitionists love to do just that…nothing but that in fact.

  • Noelle Obcarskas

    the author would do well to JOIN the facebook group I HATE VEGANS in fact. HAs more in common with those people than real vegans. That is where I saw this article posted ! hilarious…such low level tactics to get attention…who is narcisstic again ? oh dear I have forgotten the name ABOLITIONIST must mean abolish all vegans. Constantly slanging all REAL vegans off seems to be the fortay of abolitionists.

  • Thalassa

    Actually PETA has raised awareness for nearly 40 years by bearing witness and sharing it publicly. Just as animal liberation would be nowhere without direct action tactics of Animal Liberation Front, PETA also played their part shocking the public into a reality they were denying or legitimately unaware of due to being children or young adults.

    Of course, the people who know and dont care exist – especially among the middle aged and middle class. But we live in an era of selfies and online slacktivism, so bearing witness vigils can and do wake some people up. It could make a plant based n00b into a lifelong ethical vegan or turn a meat eater vegetarian or even vegan.

    My gripe is generally with the plant based movement cheerleading flexitarians on as if they’re doing their part. That’s what pisses me the hell off.

    No bearing witness is not enough to be the only form of activism but it is still a legitimate and useful form of activism.

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