It contains several facts that are of interest for the incrementalism versus anti-incrementalism debate:
- U.S. meat consumption used to be on the rise every year until about five years ago
- Now it has declined by a whopping 12.2% (great news!)
- This means the killing of "several hundred million" fewer animals every year
- The drop is attributed to animal, health and environmentalist concerns, and the higher cost of meat (feed prices have increased and this is passed onto consumers)
- The next key part of our analysis is worth quoting directly from the article:
Interestingly, the numbers and headlines aren’t being driven by an influx of new vegetarians and vegans. Last year, a national poll found that the number of vegetarians in America remained at about 5 percent. But the same poll found that a whopping 16 percent of people now eat vegetarian more than half time. In other words, take 50 million people and put them on a so-called “flexitarian” diet, and the shrinking figures for meat consumption start making sense.
- there have also been successful animal welfarist initiatives during this time (the article goes into more detail here)
[Gary Francione] wrote in a blog entry of April 9, 2008 that we should not waste time with organizations that say that some forms of animal abuse are worse than others. This implies that we should be equally dismissive of lacto-ovo vegetarians and meat-eaters, and be equally condemnatory of factory farming and traditional “family” farms that try to be humane towards animals.
So Francione is equally negative towards everybody, no matter if they are cutting down meat-consumption, or curbing their animal abuse by supporting reformist initiatives. No matter if they are animal rights incrementalists, or if he is quietly infusing negative energy into his followers. I say we need to be vegan as a matter of duty. But if someone only manages an increment of that, we should praise the positive and criticize the negative, because every bit counts. And that will not only be more truthful, or reflective of objective reality which is composed of increments as well as wholes. Positive incrementalism will encourage people to go along further on the road to liberation. Being negative and condemnatory, comparing them to mass murderers as Francione does (in particular, Jeffrey Dahmer, and his "Simon the Sadist" hypothetical) would not only be pop psychology at its crudist and most vicious - most meat-eaters are not genuinely sadistic, let alone psychopathic. This approach (and we could amplify on the negativity they spread around here ) repels people from the animal rights message, makes them avoid it, and thus have less of a chance of being pro-animal-transformative.
Let's get the implications of this recent study out on the table now:
- Francione cannot take credit for the decline in meat consumption, because this is not attributed to people becoming vegetarian and vegan. Mostly, it is people reducing meat consumption. That is an incrementalist approach that he disdains, disuses, and indeed disavows. I wish people would just go vegan, but we need to live in the real world. It's the only one we've got. Myself and my fellow incrementalists are very positive about progressive steps and it is working. Those who would kill pro-incrementalism, as the Francionists are trying to do, would cause a lot of suffering and death. If there were no "meat-free" Monday campaigns and slogans to cut it out or cut it down (not that I've heard that slogan), and only the super-negative Francionist approach, we would have a chilly climate of the same amount of vegans (because anti-incrementalists have been pushing for that along with my pro-vegan comrades, who in general have never failed to promote veganism), but not this saving of hundreds of millions of animal lives, and preventing the same number of miserable, factory-farmed existences. That is like an enormous phantom Holocaust in itself that never came to be with these prevented, murdered and mangled lives!
- Francionists say that meat-consumption being on the rise proves that the incrementalist approach is not working. Well, the incrementalist approach of PETA and the rest is and always has been quite dominant. The Francionists are just a fringe group, quite frankly, who go contrary to all common-sense that substantive anti-cruelty laws are better for animals than no change in legally allowable factory farming - to take just one example. As Shapiro notes, there have been a number of successful animal welfarist initiatives. So meat-consumption being on the decline proves the exact opposite of what Francione always used to say. It is the incrementalist approach that is working because gains are attributable to incrementalist actions far more than purely animal rights/vegan action.
These statistics provide what we might call a reduction premise for animal protection incrementalism (which encompasses the law but also pro-vegetarian campaigns). The premise is most promising for the future. If there are countries which are not yet at the U.S.’s stage of seeing a very significant drop in meat-consumption due to activism – actually, decline in the U.K. is much more dramatic – they should eventually get there due especially to incremental forms of activism. Such activism and its results will only spike higher and higher, as more and more people are drawn into its inevitably and abundantly well-reasoned conclusions. For there is no truthful disguising of the fact – although industries attempt to subvert this tendency - that animal agriculture is disastrous for both our health, and the environment that we all share. All of this seems to imply projected progress for reducing animal-product-consumption as a steady tendency. Still, such progress will not be enough to satisfy many activists – for good reason. For all oppressed animals matter, and most of them receive wholly inadequate attention and treatment. But we can take some satisfaction in progress, even if we are not left fully satisfied, as we should not be. Complacency in the life of one can mean death and suffering in the lives of others.
The reduction premise also seems to be robust in its significance. It is not just a slight reduction in animal-destruction, but a very significant difference. There is a margin of hundreds of millions of lives per year, each individual being infinitely valuable. If speciesism decreases, even more lives will be saved than just by appeals to self-interest, since the incrementalists support anti-speciesism too, in a way that is a great many times more effective than the comparatively marginal anti-incrementalists. Greater anti-speciesism can still use all the help it can get from human-interested reasons for vegetarianism. Or if speciesism increases – which is perhaps unlikely - it will be even more important than ever to rely on reduction strategies based on appeals to human self-interest. The latter is where most of our gains would be made, recalling that recent consumption-reduction was mostly on an incrementalist basis. Even if there is only a temporary spike in consumption, in the long run there will be less suffering and death, as I note in our next point:
- I offered an analysis, showing that even if welfarist campaigns resulted in a temporary spike in meat consumption, the incrementalist advocacy would still result in less suffering and death overall in the long-term. These new figures suggest that incrementalist approaches can result in a decline in animal suffering and death, even well before animal rights could ever be achieved in legislation. Even if there is an upswing in meat consumption, there would only be much worse hills on our graphs if reductionist appeals to lessen meat consumption were eliminated as the Francionists propose.
- It is interesting how incremental progress can save whole animal lives! In Judaism we say that to save a life is to save a world.
This is just like my debate with Katherine Perlo, in which I proved that her approach of only advocating animal rights results in more suffering and death or violence. It was a different debate, although related because it concerns stubborn, all-or-nothing approaches. Francionism fails on similar grounds. It could only be otherwise if he could successfully argue that more nonhuman animal agony and dying is somehow more "pro-animal". I want to thank all of the activists responsible for these great changes. And I want to condemn afresh the people who are "marching backwards", to use a colourful phrase that Francione penned in his literary-philosophical debacle, Rain without Thunder. If you are positive about progressive change, well...it might just happen!
FURTHER READING ON ANIMAL RIGHTS INCREMENTALISM
A Selection of Related Articles
Sztybel, David. "Animal Rights Law: Fundamentalism versus Pragmatism". Journal for Critical Animal Studies 5 (1) (2007): 1-37.
Short version of "Animal Rights Law".
Sztybel, David. "Incrementalist Animal Law: Welcome to the Real World".
Sztybel, David. "Sztybelian Pragmatism versus Francionist Pseudo-Pragmatism".
A Selection of Related Blog Entries