Thursday, September 13, 2012

Partial Retraction about Francione on Articulating the Centrality of Non-Violence

A quasi-anonymous person going only by "Kaufman," whom I thought at first was Dr. Steve Kaufman, but it is not him, left a comment on a recent blog entry (September 10, 2012). In particular, I wrote in my August 20, 2012 blog entry which Kaufman refers to in the aforementioned comment:

Francione as a theorist may well have followed me in terms of starting to rely on non-violence theory as a central emphasis. (He never did before, and then suddenly after I did so, I heard about him doing so. History has shown that he is well aware of my writings.)

Kaufman writes by way of response (starting with quoting the above passage):

Anyone who has known Gary Francione since the 1990s knows has been writing and speaking about non-violence publicly the the entire time. For well over a decade, Francione has had a list of six principles of the abolitionist movement. The sixth principle is the principle of nonviolence. You can see him list the principles, including the principle of nonviolence, in 2002. See here: Indeed, not only does Francione list the principle of non-violence, but he calls it "the guiding principle" of the movement. To emphasize: he uses the definite article ("THE guiding principle"). For over a decade, Francione has publicly explained that the principle of non-violence is the central principle of his abolitionist theory. And he's been speaking about non-violence for much, much longer.
It looks like you've got things precisely the wrong way around. It looks to me like you're leaning on him.
Why do you maintain otherwise? I want to believe that it is neither due to a lack of care and attentiveness, nor due to a lack of honesty.

To reply to Kaufman’s remarks, I would like to begin first by conceding something he brought to light. He refers to an interview of Francione by the activist group, Friends of Animals from 2002. In that article, Francione calls non-violence the guiding principle of the animal rights movement. That does indeed conceive of non-violence given a “central emphasis”. As a result, I retract the assertion that Francione might have followed me in publicly asserting the principle of non-violence in a way that gives it central emphasis. Note that I never made a categorical assertion, but only wondered if he followed me.

Kaufman's assertion caused me to do a bit more research on the Abolitionist Approach website. You see, I am mostly familiar with Francione's peer-reviewed academic writings which some of my own academic work focuses on. (Needless to say, this blog is not peer-reviewed academic work.) I am only superficially familiar with Francione's website. Anyway, I now feel sure that further findings will back up Kaufman's claim that Francione has centrally emphasized non-violence in the past. Here is another sample I found in Francione's August 13, 2007 blog entry entitled "A Comment on Violence". He now uses the same language in the elaborated version of his mission statement, so maybe he changed the mission statement after the blog entry in question. I do not recall reading this before, but it states: my view, the animal rights position is the ultimate rejection of violence. It is the ultimate affirmation of peace. I see the animal rights movement as the logical progression of the peace movement, which seeks to end conflict between humans.

This provides more early evidence such as what Kaufman produced that Gary is thinking about non-violence...which I already knew, as I explained in my blog post of December 11, 2011.

Further evidence that he is recently featuring non-violence now more than ever is in his blog entry entitled "Veganism and Nonviolence" from July 23, 2012. It provides more evidence of his recent shift after the time I noted when I first did likewise, including with my essay published in October 2011 (introduced in my blog on the 20th of that month), before the blog entry just noted, which I had entitled "Veganism versus Violence". In Francione's blog entry, for its part, he writes:

If the principle of nonviolence means anything, it means that you cannot justify any killing or suffering for transparently frivolous reasons such as pleasure, amusement, or convenience. And doing something “with compassion” that is not morally justifiable does not change the fact that it’s morally unjustifiable.

Gary might never have been aware of my essay for all I know for absolute sure, and I am not claimiing that he copied my title or anything. His is different and of course that is on the up-and-up. And he is not copying me in thinking about non-violence. I hardly take credit for that principle!!!

However, I wish to state that my guess that he might have followed me with a recent change of emphasis was based on facts that in fact I introduced in an earlier blog post on this topic on December 11, 2011.

In that post I go over some interesting and relevant facts which led to my speculation which I will elaborate on here:

  1. In none, a word I could repeat, not a one of Francione’s books such as Animals, Property and the Law, Rain without Thunder, and Introduction to Animal Rights does Francione emphasize the principle of non-violence as the central principle of the animal rights movement. My recollection, which might be fallible, is that he does not mention non-violence at all, although perhaps there may be some remarks about tactics. As a scholar, I look to his peer-reviewed publications as the key indicator of what a theorist maintains. Doing so leads to a justifiable conclusion that no, Francione did not consider the principle of non-violence to be a central principle. Rather, he relied on:
    • anti-speciesism
    • a certain argument that we should avoid unnecessary suffering and that all animal usages are cases of this and
    • the related arguments based on the principle of equal consideration and his right for animals not to be considered property.
  2. similar remarks apply to the many journal articles by Francione I have read, as well as more informal articles, pamphlets, and so forth
  3. On Francione’s website, the Abolitionist Approach, I remember reading a list of his central principles, and they mentioned non-violence in a subsidiary capacity, so that our tactics should be non-violent, but not using it to defend his central thinking. It turns out from research of today, September 13, 2012, that my memory did not deceive me. At that time, the #1 argument highlighted on the site was the unnecessary suffering argument, with the other arguments more in the background for those familiar with his books. Memory told me it was a shorter list from the one you reproduced. My memory was right. It turns out I was recalling the Mission Statement of the Abolitionist Approach website:
    The mission of this website is to provide a clear statement of an approach to animal rights that (1) promotes the abolition of animal exploitation and rejects the regulation of animal exploitation; (2) is based only on animal sentience and no other cognitive characteristic, (3) regards veganism as the moral baseline of the animal rights position; and (4) rejects all violence and promotes activism in the form of creative, non-violent vegan education.

    The last statement I took to be about activism and education, as the fourth principle indicates. But I see now how it would be interpreted as being about non-violence generally since it declares an opposition to "all violence". I'm not sure if this is the exact same wording as what I read back in 2007. I thought that was mainly about activism, not a new articulation of his animal rights approach based in non-violence.

    I had not clicked on his elaboration of his mission statement which does indeed start with non-violence towards all again I knew he affirmed for a long time. I was unaware of this elaboration, and thought his fourth statement was mainly about activism. I believe I was wrong in taking away that, since it seems equally about non-violence to animals as I read it now. But I was not wrong that his central arguments for animal rights at the time in 2007 were not based in non-violence as research shows. I saw a side-show, saying that, another way of articulating animal rights is non-violence, but Gary does not rely on that in his arguments. And he didn't. I think he will start to argue differently now, which will go beyond just making assertions about non-violence as central. I think subsequent books will see them featured in his academic arguments, not just general-audience remarks on his website. As an academic, I am mainly interested in his academic arguments, although of course his other remarks on his website are of some interest.

  4. I heard many of his talks since the 1990s. Close to half a dozen. Again, not a whisper about non-violence as a central principle.

Then suddenly, soon after I shifted gears and let non-violence have truly central emphasis in what I articulate, although it has long been a key component of my view, the following came to light, as I wrote in this blog on December 11, 2011:

In Boston two weeks ago [that would be early May--DS], Gary Francione synopsized his view as 'committing ourselves to the greatest possible reduction in overall violence'

Note that this is different from anything I heard in any of his talks. In that earlier blog post, I also wrote that I knew Francione considered himself a Jain for many years prior to my big highlighting of non-violence, acknowledging that non-violence is central according to Jainism. So I wondered why does he not make it central in the four ways listed above: books, paper articles, site, talks? I never said he depended on me for thinking non-violence is in some way central, because I acknowledged this Jainism track. I was talking about what he publicly articulated as central. I could only rely on the evidence known to me. I was always open to new evidence such as what you, thankfully, introduced. I heard many of his talks but do not pretend to be familiar with all that he has typed into the internet nor all his many interviews that he has had with various parties.

In the earlier post, which really clarifies the off-hand remark you are commenting on, I also wrote:

The main inspiration [for his shift in emphasis in public iterations], though, would have to have been his by now long commitment to Jainism. In fact that would be sufficient on its own to account for the evolution of his thought.

So clearly I never gave myself all the credit, nor necessarily any credit at all, for inspiring Francione, and conceded I might have had nothing to do with it. At most, I thought I might have stimulated him to bring to the fore ideas I acknowledged, last year, that he already had, as part of his professed Jainism. You wonder if I am “dishonest” or “insensitive”. How could there be dishonesty since I based my questions on the evidence in my awareness, and it is still important evidence that might occasion anyone not perfectly familiar with Francione’s work to think that non-violence is not at all articulated as a central principle in his public remarks. It is such powerful evidence that frankly, it cannot be said without ambiguity that non-violence is articulated as his central principle. On the one hand, in the vast majority of cases, it has never been portrayed that way. On the other individuals such as yourself are aware of instances in which Francione offers non-violence as a central principle and that is news to me. So there should be no question about dishonesty. I also think it is wrong to call me “insensitive” since I engage with specifics in Francione’s writings more than the vast majority of other animal rights scholars, and my wondering was based on important evidence that I already introduced in a previous blog entry. That said, I do not expect you or others to be familiar with a blog entry of less than a year ago, nor indeed with any other blog entry. And I do not claim to be an expert on all that Francione says. I am not necessarily "insensitive", but more like not perfectly learned.

You also said it looks to you as though I am leaning on Francione for featuring non-violence as a central principle. Kaufman, whoever you are, how could I do so when I was unaware of any instances in which he features the principle explicitly in this way, although I was aware of his calling himself Jain long before I started writing more focally on non-violence? I guess someone might say I should give Gary credit for Jainism. But then again, maybe not. In the December 11 post I also document how non-violence has been articulated by me as a central principle for a long time, since the 1990s, where I have literature for University of Toronto Students for the Ethical Treatment of animals stating that, and I have it featured in other writings as well, long before I ever saw Gary mention it, and apparently before he did, given my friend, Irena Upeniek's influence which I wrote about on December 11th 2011, cited above.

I think the best way to characterize Francione’s evolution of ideas, by way of a revisionist interpretation, is this:

  1. In by far the most prominently featured public articulations by Francione in his books, talks, and on his website, to the best of my knowledge, he has not featured non-violence as a central principle, and this fact makes it only true with important qualifications that he has articulated the principle as central, BUT
  2. Some people are aware of some instances in which Francione has suggested that non-violence is a central principle, and to these people it is quite evident that he has articulated this, although to other people who are familiar even with a large bulk of Francione’s work it has not always been so evident, and the evidence is therefore obscure to those unfamiliar with it unless it is somehow brought to light. But obscurity is a relative concept. What is part of the long-time light of understanding to one person may be, or have been, obscure to another. It would be too black-and-white to say that "Francione articulates non-violence as a central principle in his public remarks," although it is true to a degree. It would be more accurate to say: "In some places, he articulates non-violence as a central principle in his public remarks, but thus far and by far, mostly not." It's funny because in the micro, the remark you mentioned emphasizes non-violence as a central principle. But in the macro, or his work as a whole, there is hardly any emphasis of non-violence as a central principle. As I said in the 2011 post already cited, I predicted this would shift and indeed there are signs that this is starting to occur, so that there will be this emphasis both in the micro and macro. We will have to wait and see though.

Kaufman, I very much thank you for bringing evidence to light that was unknown to me. It is valuable for interpretation concerning the history of ideas in Francione’s public articulations. I only offered a possible question, as we do in science, which calls for evidence to settle it. You have provided evidence that is new to me, and so my scientific knowledge (I think awareness of what people say can be characterized as a science) has increased as a result. Thanks again.


A Selection of Related Articles

Sztybel, David. "Animal Rights Law: Fundamentalism versus Pragmatism". Journal for Critical Animal Studies 5 (1) (2007): 1-37.

go there

Short version of "Animal Rights Law".

go there

Sztybel, David. "Incrementalist Animal Law: Welcome to the Real World".

go there

Sztybel, David. "Sztybelian Pragmatism versus Francionist Pseudo-Pragmatism".

go there

A Selection of Related Blog Entries

Anti-Cruelty Laws and Non-Violent Approximation

Use Not Treatment: Francione’s Cracked Nutshell

Francione Flees Debate with Me Again, Runs into the “Animal Jury”

The False Dilemma: Veganizing versus Legalizing

Veganism as a Baseline for Animal Rights: Two Different Senses

Francione's Three Feeble Critiques of My Views

Startling Decline in Meat Consumption Proves Francionists Are Wrong Once Again!

The Greatness of the Great Ape Project under Attack!

Francione Totally Misinterprets Singer

Francione's Animal Rights Theory

Francione on Unnecessary Suffering

My Appearance on AR Zone

D-Day for Francionists

Sztybel versus Francione on Animals' Property Status

The Red Carpet

Playing into the Hands of Animal Exploiters

The Abolitionist ApproachES

Francione's Mighty Boomerang

Dr. David Sztybel Home Page

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