Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Gary Francione Attacks the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics!

I was quite surprised that Gary Francione personally referred me to his latest blog entry which slams the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics (OCAE), newly established last year.  I was appointed as a Fellow to the Centre recently, and I think this may have prompted him to forward his mini-essay.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.”

Saturday, April 21, 2007


Welcome to my sector of the blogosphere!  I hope that fellow animal liberationists will find it to be one more oasis in a world replete with speciesism, and that non-animal-liberationists will find it a place to find some inspiration, a different point of view, and perhaps even an opportunity to think differently. 

John Stuart Mill said that to every great movement—and in spite of the voices of its detractors, the animal rights movement I believe has proved its greatness—there are three stages:

  1. ridicule,
  2. discussion, and
  3. adoption.

There is some adoption of the animal rights ethic, but it is scattered at best.  There is more discussion.  A lot more discussion—since animal ethics pioneers such as Peter Singer and Tom Regan came on the scene and helped history to unfold in such a way as to see this great movement come to birth.  And it is not just any movement, out of “left field” (although in fact a leaning towards taking care of all vulnerable members of society is, I think, a logical implication of any sound animal rights ethic!).  The animal rights movement is a further step in traditional anti-oppression—or expressed more positively, pro-liberation—movements such as black liberation and women’s liberation.  Indeed, I hold that one cannot fully or successfully justify human rights without nonspeciesist thinking, as I will further explain in my book, and have hinted at, with some reasoning, in "The Rights of Animal Persons" (on my website; originally published in The Animal Liberation Philosophy and Policy Journal 4 (1) (2006): 1-37).  (I add that Singer does not support animal rights, although he does favor animal liberation; in Ibid. I argue that he would not liberate all animals, that is, from vivisection.  It is problematic to say that he is part of the same movement as animal rights people.  In truth, it only overlaps to a large extent.)

However, we are not fully over the ridicule phase of the movement.  Some people still ask: “What about insects?”  Trouble is, although these people are often dismissed like “bugs” themselves, they have a legitimate point.  Think about it logically: if animals have rights, even equal rights in some sense, and insects are animals, do not insects have equal rights too?  If that does not seem right, and insects are not due benefits or protections as much as humans, does that not refute the animal rights ethic by implication?  My forthcoming book will be the first to try systematically to account for such a preference without compromising strong rights for sentient beings, including a careful and respectful consideration of beings such as insects and other invertebrates.   

I called the animal rights movement a great movement.  Is it great in terms of numbers?  In terms of numbers of adherents, yes.  Millions of souls are enough to boggle anyone’s mind, although I am not aware of any formal tally.  In terms of percentage of the population, it does not yet compare to historically great movements such as biblically based religion.  Is it great in terms of its ideals?  Yes: it advocates that spectacularly more good be done in the world, and greatly more bad avoided, and that what is truly best be affirmed—at least in my version of animal rights ethics.  There is nothing greater, indeed, than what is best.  And this is best in a distinctively non-utilitarian sense (see “The Rights of Animal Persons” ).

But this greatness is not just in the abstract: it is great to behold animals in largely idyllic settings of animal sanctuaries, and great to meet fellow animal rights supporters who are really wonderful people.  They are the ones in my experience who most embody the things that people most admire: compassion, rationality, morality, doing good and avoiding bad, human excellence, a concern for truth, and non-violence.  They embody the Golden Rule, basic to all the great religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism and Zorastrianism.  That rule (in one of its more prominent versions) states: Treat others as you would be treated.  I am not “getting religious” here but making a point about human greatness in general.  Non-religious people try for the same great ideals I have listed—at least the ones I find most truly inspiring.

I firmly believe that we need to move from discussion towards adoption, but that is a gradual process, and frankly I do not expect non-animal-liberationists automatically to agree with me.  They need convincing reasons to agree or disagree.  In the process of the twenty-years I have been doing animal rights philosophy, however, I have laboured to provide reasons for agreement not just with animal rights, but whatever seems to me most right and good. 

This first entry is a welcome message, and you do indeed come to greater wellness the more you come to animal rights: not just more wellness for yourself because veganism, sensibly practiced, is demonstrably healthier.  This is a topic widely discussed in many places since meat-eating leads to more cancer, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, senile dementia, arthritis, kidney and gall stones, impotence obesity, osteoporosis, and many other degenerative diseases.  I encourage people to pick up Diet for a New America by John Robbins. 

I also know that animal liberation is associated with greater wellness because animal agriculture is perhaps the greatest environmental disaster of our time.  Animal agriculture is the number one contributor—even considerably greater than cars—of greenhouse gases, believe it or not, due to farm animals farting and thus emitting carbon dioxide; the factory farms have large pools of excrement that contaminate delicate water tables and local rivers, streams and lakes; such practices use enormous amounts of water and raw materials; more than half of North America’s antibiotics to unbelievably stressed-out and ill intensively “farmed” animals; and eating animals creates ever-more pesticides directly by raining them down on animal feed crops, and indirectly when we absorb pesticides stored in the fatty cells of dead animals.  Indeed, most crops go to feed animals rather than, say starving people, e.g., about 90% of soybeans are grown for animal feed, thus depleting our topsoil…and so the list goes on. 

It is well to come to the place of animal liberation for these reasons, but also because, not least of all, it goes well or at least better for animals if one does.  People who practice traditional “kindness” towards animals say they practice “animal welfare,” and that sounds well enough, does it not?  However, in “The Rights of Animal Persons” I argue that in nonspeciesist terms (and speciesisim is a lot like racism and sexism in its morally arbitrary and harmful discrimination) killing animals for food, experiments, hunting, clothing, and exploiting them for entertainment is more like an ill fate for these animals rather than ensuring their “wellness” or good as “animal welfare” above all seems to imply.  At least we would not say humans were treated “well” if they were exploited in these ways.  “Animal welfare” truly practiced would indeed try to do good and avoid bad whenever possible, for all beings to whom good and bad are significant: sentient beings.  Speciesist animal welfare issues something of a false welcome to its adherents in the sense I am developing here, since as indicated above traditional animal usage undermines both human and especially nonhuman animal wellness.  If I am right that animal rights is a great movement then my welcome is even more in earnest, as something great is even better than what is merely “well,” or is exemplary in its goodness.