Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A False Dilemma: Veganizing vs. Legalizing

In his latest blog entry of October 3, 2012, Francione rehearses another old argument that might seem philosophically compelling – if you don’t think about it, especially from an individual rights perspective. He suggests we can either spend time legislating or engage in vegan education. He does not hesitate to repeat falsehoods that aiming for legislation results in insignificant changes (even though Sweden completely disproves that among other examples); will be phased out anyway (unlike Sweden’s 24 years plus); will not be enforced (even though that is just what Swedes do). See my last blog entry for more details. Now I wonder: what do you make of someone who knowingly repeats proven falsehoods over and over again? What do you make of a side in a debate that feels obliged to lean on falsehood as a best friend? I responded in my last blog entry to his false claims that such laws do nothing to change thinking about animals in an animal rights way. Kinder culture is more receptive to animal rights, and he misrepresents myself and my comrades as if we don’t promote animal rights at every opportunity. He says we will ask people to support industry but that’s another falsehood: we promote veganism. I dealt with the complacency objection last blog entry and Francione appears inept because he will not answer my arguments that are way advanced over his repetitive, throw-away remarks about “complacency”.

Now a false dilemma occurs when some slick arguer says that you have to choose one thing or the other but not both, when in fact both may be not only possible, but also desirable. You end up destructively pitting one thing versus the other rather than considering the strength of both together. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) models how you can promote veganism (millions of times more effectively than the Francionists, who spend most of their time mercilessly attacking other vegans) and legislative activity at the same time.

Let me utterly refute, philosophically, this endlessly repeated argument of the Francionists. We need to repeat the rebuttals just as frequently until these dangerous dogmas are driven into the ground. It is not only possible to choose both, but obligatory from an animal rights perspective, as opposed to an animal utilitarian perspective. Francione, on the surface, rejects utilitarianism. But he makes a number of moves that are far more in accord with utilitarianism than individual rights.

For a bit of philosophical background here, individual rights as an ethic attends to each individual animal as being infinitely valuable, or at least we cannot place a limit on it. The dignity of everyone must be attended to as much as possible, no matter what. No matter if it is time-consuming. No matter if it takes precious resources. No matter if it costs money. That’s what rights are and what they do in the lives of those who are totally committed to them. The utilitarian philosophy, by contrast, promotes “the greatest good for the greatest number”. It is content with promoting a “great good” for many animals, even if not all are benefitted, but perhaps only the majority. An example is the common thinking with medical vivisection: animals are harmed in experiments, but this is supposedly “outweighed” by the allegedly greater harm prevented through treatments and cures that will result. By contrast, an individual rights perspective says that each and every animal has a right to non-violence, and therefore is immune to medical vivisection. They are not “outweighed”. Nothing is more weighty than the collectivity of all rights holders.

In the past I have introduced the principle of non-violent approximation. Whenever we can realize animals’ rights to non-violence, we should - simply. But when we cannot protect animals against violence, we need to look at all the animals involved and try to choose the lesser violence for each and every animal involved. Because they all have a right to non-violence. Because each and every one of the animals have a dignity. We only do not help some of the animals if there is no other option, as in the burning building scenario in which you can only save one animal, but not both, say. The animal rights movement, though, is in no such situation. We can work to help all animals as true animal rights supporters strive to do as much as possible.

Francione is quite right to say that approximating animal rights is not animal rights - simply - as he in effect did in his feeble critique of my views. As I pointed out, though, his was a straw man argument, or critiquing an argument that I never made. I can add that non-violent approximation is not non-violence - simply. It is merely approximating non-violence to the highest degree, which is the usual with legal rights. As I show elsewhere, the history of legal rights in the U.S. shows nothing but approximations of rights, incrementally. Nobody has full rights over there, even though it is still a rights approach, approaching rights themselves only gradually, through often painful evolution. Tom Regan introduced the notion of proto-rights. These are not full rights, but are parts of rights. (That said, Regan is an anti-incrementalist like Francione, but his concept may still be pressed into the service of animal rights law incrementalism.) But if animals are stuck in violent conditions, it is still a matter of rights - of non-violence - that they be dignified with as much non-violent protection as possible. It is their right. It still pursues non-violence to try to reach that state of affairs as much as possible. That is no "weak" analysis of proto-rights, because it advocates the strongest possible realization of the right to non-violence. No, non-violent approximation is not the same as non-violence - simply - but we certainly need the former when we cannot obtain the latter.

Now let me tell you what a utilitarian approach to campaign strategy would be like. It would not be committed to helping each and every animal from the clutches of violators as much as possible. It would feel free only to help some animals while abandoning others. A classic example are utilitarians who say that we should only help animals in agriculture, because 95% of animals who die at human hands are murdered for food. PETA, by contrast, takes a rights approach in this respect by affirming, in effect: “We leave no animal behind.” This is in contrast to the Francionists, who take on the trust of rights for animals, but then treacherously betray that trust. PETA not only educates about a vegan diet, but also focuses on animals in laboratories, on the traplines, in the woods that hunters invade, at the pathetic zoos, aquaria, and circuses, and so on. This problem we are discussing is as invalid a false dilemma as a parent being told only to care for one child of two, and then the person who obediently goes along with this suggestion starts asking which child is easiest to look after in terms of time, resources, and money, and so on. It becomes a perverse sort of competition. The animal neglect in this case is tellingly analogous.

Francione can call himself an animal rights supporter. But this false dilemma is inconsistent with rights philosophy. His “abolitionist approach” (in contrast to ones such as mine) has rightly been called the “abandonitionist approach” by some witty person whose name I cannot recall. It is a fact that whatever success we have with vegan campaigning, it cannot reach the animals still stuck in “agriculture” (read: murder for flesh-foods). As I pointed out last blog entry of mine, they are the ones vegan campaigning fails to reach. If they have rights, they need help too, to have violence towards them minimized as much as possible. PETA does this. Francione does not. “Animal rights” is not just a phrase. It is a philosophy. Francionists can use the words as much as they like, but they cannot make their strategy consistent with rights ethics because as I have clearly indicated it is contrary to genuine rights thinking. Unless they want to go way out onto the branch of the claim that rights advocates do not affirm the dignity of everyone. The branch will break and they will fall.

They also exercise utilitarian thinking in a related vein (as I have commented on elsewhere) because they hold out for rights for animals in the future, and are prepared to ignore the rights of animals today. In fact, they dismiss contemporary and nearer-future animals’ rights by saying, “What good is my helping you going to do for realizing the long-term goal of abolition?” (That should be the abolition of speciesism, instead he misguidedly and confusedly spins rhetoric about the abolition of “property status”. ) In other words, animals today are regarded as a “mere means” to the goal of abolition. Their instrumental value for the long-term goal of abolition alone is considered, and they suffer violence as part of this exploitation. They evidently don’t matter enough - to the Francionists - to merit such protection as we can muster now. No. As if the fact that we cannot award them full rights means it is not worth our trouble to help them. In fact, these animals under Holocaustian conditions more desperately need some relief more than practically anybody. That said, we should still avoid utilitarian thinking and try to dignify everybody.

This question of veganizing versus legalizing is treated as a purely empirical question. We supposedly need to determine which path is better in terms of resources. That is, if we cooperate with the false dilemma. Now leaving animals unaided legislatively is an evil. And Gandhi urged what he termed "noncooperation with evil". (Notice I am calling certain practices an evil, and not saying the Francionists are evil.) Abandonitionists do not mean to be violent - but they are. Being violent means doing actions or omissions to act that directly or indirectly lead to the violation of sentient beings. These empirical factors are virtually irrelevant if we are not driven (with our own consent, mind you) to such thinking.

It's like a young student being told he can only use one of two pencils resorting to measuring them by placing them side-by-side, when really, he could use one or the other without feeling compelled to indulge in such foolishness. In rhetorical terms this is called being "railroaded". In real terms, we can metaphorically compare insistent advocacy of leaving animals in Holocaustian conditions of factory farming to the death camp railway of Fortress Europe under the Third Reich. The metaphor works because we have extreme violence in both cases. What is usually missed in answering the Francionists' tired argument here is that the problem is not fundamentally empirical. It is philosophical. I don't see anyone much looking to the ethical - or perhaps unethical - assumptions at work here. Let alone do they enunciate the critique that is needed from a genuine rights perspective. Yet they need to. Most every time. This false dilemma is an influential line of unreasoning, and so its confutation needs to get out there. Do help to get it out there, please.

There should be no doubts about supporting animal rights for the animal rights movement. We should not slide into a form of utilitarian thinking that corrupts not only our ideals, but neglects the very real animals who are the ones who matter in the end. But not to the Francionists. Not all the animals at any rate. Otherwise, you see, they would treat the animals languishing under factory farming as if they matter. Which they don’t on the Francionist worldview, for all that their actions - theoretical and practical - demonstrate. Abandonitionists even go so far as dismissing nonhuman animal suffering as “insignificant”, as I documented from Francione’s blog in my last blog entry.

True, he says it is reformism that is insignificant, but again, he has been proven wrong. Francionists ignore what we can do, like the Swedes. It is not just welfarism that is deemed insufficiently significant. Remember, Francione says abolishing measures of factory farming is "insignificant" anyway. But we know hot-iron branding without anesthetics - to take just one of dozens of examples - is highly significant to nonhumans if like torture to humans is significant. So Francione dismissing relief of such torture as "insignificant" implies that torture to animals is not "significant", which in effect treats animals as if they matter not. As I say, each animal is of infinite value. The false dilemma posed here by Francione is also false to animal rights, whereas I have clearly demonstrated that my own approach is true to the spirit - anyway - of such rights. Let nobody tell us that animal rights is about neglecting billions of animals suffering under avoidably bad laws, rather than attending to their needs as universally as possible. Animal rightists, support animal rights. Period.


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


  1. The Swedish animal welfare law (from 1988) is often named the most radical in the world...This is how swedish pig farms look like:

    From Djurrättsalliansen

    "At 20% of the farms, there were sows kept in sow stalls – meaning they were locked in a small cage-like structure where they can only lay and stand, with not enough space to turn around. This is illegal in Sweden."

    The industry claims that the problem with pigs biting each other’s tails doesn’t exist in Sweden; since the pigs have enough space and straw for stimulation they don’t need to use each other for chewing material. This is proved false – at 50 % of the farms the investigators found tail biting present, with pigs having large and often infected wounds or missing their tails altogether.

    "The animal welfare law states that animals should be protected against “unnecessary suffering” – but at 84% of the pig farms the investigators found severely ill and wounded pigs.

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  3. Presumably this last comment is from an anti-incrementalist, since it is commentary on the incrementalism versus anti-incrementalism debate addressed in my post. A few things are worth noting. First, the pure negativity of the post. As usual, only focused on negativity, never anything positive about animal welfare laws, or indeed about my arguments. Leaving out all of the huge relief to hogs and other formerly factory-farmed animals. Second, just evading and ignoring my arguments, which is standard for antis. I do not find that tiresome though, as some people do. I find it energizes the incrementalist side by far to see that the other side has nothing to say to rebut my arguments. They seem without a leg to stand on. Their silence here speaks volumes. If their position is to be taken seriously, then in Sweden we would no longer survey how much animal welfare laws are working or not working as is cited here. We would strip welfarist laws away (since the antis say they are worse to have if animal rights laws cannot be passed) and so every pig would be subject to virtually infinite hell that is so standard in the West, but not nearly so much in Sweden. We would also lose any legal framework for addressing the alleged problems surveyed, whereas at least the Swedes now have laws that can police and wipe out the deficiencies mentioned. And provide a legal basis for a political will to do so. I do not take for granted that that the facts cited without sources by this anonymous commentator are true. But even if they are, they have not detracted from the macro-incrementalist framework one iota to any objective observer, as I have just shown. Welfare laws are still just as desirable overall, and my whole article here aboout a false dilemma between veganizing and legislative work stands unrefuted.

    Now for some specific replies to the facts alleged. 20% using sow stalls? Negativity again. That means 80% do not, with further room for enforced improvement, unlike in the West where I imagine well over 90% of sows are given this infernal type of treatment. Tail-biting a problem? So the commentator, in sincere moral concern, is sentimental for the good ole days of cutting off pigs' tails - without anesthetic as the virtually universal rule? 84% of pig farms investigated (by antis, presumably - could have been only two farms) have serious illness and wounds. Inevitable in any large facilities. Human communities too have serious illness and bad wounds. Speciesist "farming" will never be perfect until it is obliterated, and if the animals are doing so much better - well then that's better for animals. Whether in general or specifically, the comment offered by this person appears weak.