The OCAE is an animal-rights-friendly organization whose Director is a known animal rights philosopher and theologian: the Reverend Doctor Andrew Linzey. Linzey is also the world’s first appointed Animal Ethics Professor as of last year, which is quite a leap forward for the discipline as a whole. The Centre will host international conferences, a journal, a resource centre, an on-line resource, and among other things, facilitate courses and contact among animal ethics people. All of this is great for animal rights, and the Centre’s members more than its “Oxford” name will lend ever greater prestige to animal ethics as an area of serious study and concern.
However, there are some animal rights proponents who attack other animal rights proponents. The #1 such attacker, to my reckoning , is Gary L. Francione, a Professor of Law at Rutgers University who is known to slam PETA, laws that make animals suffer less but that are not “abolitionist” in his sense, and more recently, he has attacked supporters of the Great Ape Project. Now he is attacking a Centre that is promising to further animal ethics scholarship exponentially.
First, let us carefully consider all of the charges that Francione lays against the Centre.
- He calls it the “Oxford” Centre for Animal Welfare, with the Oxford part in quotation marks, as if it has no legitimate claim to be so-called. Yet the Director of OCAE lives in the town of Oxford, teaches at Oxford University, is hosting the series of international conferences at Oxford University with the institution’s knowledge and permission, and Dr. Linzey is also forthright that the new think tank is not an official part of Oxford University. Francione did not need to consult the “Assistant to the Director of Public Affairs at Oxford University,” as he puts it, to learn this fact. He need only explore the website or ask the Director personally. It is no secret. It is an advantage that the Centre is not an arm of the University since then its animal rights component would be less likely to encounter flack, such as from the vivisectors on campus. That the University hosts OCAE’s conferences implies that the older institution does not resent but actively supports the newer one.
- Francione calls it the “Oxford” Centre for Animal Welfare in his blog headline, although it is the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. This is a deliberate additional insult, since the Centre considers animal rights most favorably, more so than mere animal "welfarism" judging by its affiliates who tend to promote animal liberation. This sort of insult is not new for Francione since historically he has tried, in futility and rancor, to reserve the term “animal rights supporter” or “abolitionist” only for those who agree with his particular views.
- Most significantly, Francione charges that the Centre’s conference on the link between violence to animals and violence to humans is a throwback to pre-19th-century views of animals as mere things that are at best of instrumental value, wherein harm to animals is only considered insofar as it might affect human beings. He cites correctly Thomas Aquinas, Immanuel Kant, and John Locke who held this view. But he is in dreamland when he characterizes the whole Centre this way. As said, its affiliates are primarily animal liberationists. Do they view animals merely in terms of how humans are affected? Not at all. Does the Centre or the conference promote such a view? Not at all, and again the opposite view is urged by friends of the Centre. Is it not odd to try to tar and feather an organization with a view it never states and that it implicitly opposes? Absolutely. This is pure mud-slinging unworthy of any scholar or activist.
- He suggests the conference says nothing about animals beyond their being useful to detect harm for human beings. First, if there are signs that animals are being abused, does Professor Francione suggest that we should ignore this as a sign that humans are also being abused when this was not suspected otherwise? No one with any concern for humans would object to such an inference. Second, is there any suggestion that the animals themselves are not of concern as well? Indeed, warning signs work two ways: establishing the link in question does a number of things for animals: it emphasizes the intrinsic similarities between harming humans and other animals, and we can at a more practical level use warning signs such as people harming humans as an indication that sociopaths should also be banned for life from owning or closely interacting with animals. Nothing in what the Centre says or does suggests that animals are mere objects or instruments as Francione states. Francione commits the fallacy of the straw man argument: falsely ascribing a view to someone and then criticizing that someone for holding that view!
- Not least bizarrely, Francione accuses the Centre and the conference of perpetuating the idea that there is a difference between people who eat meat, dairy or eggs and extreme sadists, since, as he argues in his Introduction to Animal Rights, there is no such difference. Actually, the difference stares us in the face. Sadists wish to harm animals and enjoy the harm. He is correct that eating animal products is primarily motivated by pleasure, but it is not pleasure at hurting animals. Sadists are a menace because they will harm for its own sake. Meat-eaters are a menace to animals too, and may harm animals just as much, but the mind-set is different. Most meat-eaters probably do not even know that animals suffer so much for the sake of making food. That explains why when many people are educated about the suffering in, say, factory farming, they want to have nothing to do with it. If they were sadists, they would not care or perhaps would even enjoy the idea! But they are not sadists, and that is why people are being won over to animal rights more and more every year. However, it is not a very winning approach to go around accusing ordinary people of being like Jeffrey Dahmer or sadistic, as Francione openly argues in his book and blog site.
That is all there is to his charges, nothing more or less so far as I can tell. This is such a bizarre attack there is some issue as to whether it be given serious attention, but unfortunately, Francione is highly influential, mostly due to arguments that are much more plausible than his latest rant on his blog. I deal with these more credible arguments in my forthcoming paper in the Journal for Critical Animal Studies, called “Animal Rights Law: Fundamentalism versus Pragmatism.”