Thursday, December 13, 2007

Francione's Futilitarianism

Francione and his followers oppose animal “welfarist” legislation for two main types of reason: that it is ineffective and unethical. I interpret that his main point is not ethical. At least I hope not. After all, I point out in “Animal Rights Law” that although he would not support a law giving water to desperately thirsty cows on their way to slaughter because that would condone slavery and exploitation, his own proposed measures (e.g., a plain example is his proposal to ban dehorning and castration of bulls) would form a part of speciesist laws condoning slavery/exploitation as well, just as the “welfarist” watering measures equally would. In his Rain without Thunder p. 2, he writes: “rights theory…rejects completely the institutionalized exploitation of animals,” and, Ibid.: “Just as the theory of animal rights is fundamentally different from that of animal welfare, so, regrettably, is the theory of animal rights fundamentally different from its realization in the social phenomenon called the animal rights movement.” At the same time, he would approve of protecting one whole interest 100% but not others (e.g., liberty of movement absolutely, but bodily integrity not at all). That is also quite a bit short of realizing animal rights theory in the animal rights movement, or is well short of “completely” rejecting exploitation even as “welfarist” measures are also far short of animal rights. Now he states that his proposed acceptable legal changes are "imperfect," but presumably the acceptance of imperfection (of others?) should not alter his basic principles of what he sees as right: completely rejecting animal exploitation and having the animal rights movement reflect the idea of animal rights. To suggest otherwise would be akin to someone who advocates ridding an organization of racist segregation, and then later conceding that any end result will be imperfect (perhaps because of unspoken racism), and therefore only partial de-segregation will be the goal. Imperfection of the world is no excuse for altogether abandoning one's principles. I have argued elsewhere that he should have more sophisticated principles, but a vague allusion to "imperfection" is never a sufficient justification for abandoning one's own principles. Francione means the ethical criticisms seriously but they cannot be taken quite as seriously for these criticisms are self-mutilating, like proud Oedipus the King clawing his eyes out. Here we have a profession to vision lost in blindness. His ethical critique, then, carries the futility of being practically self-defeating. However, Francione does not so obviously fall short on the effectiveness front. At least, the problem is not so glaringly self-evident as a doctrine suffering from the very same key deficiencies that it decries.

However, I say that his approach is more generally futilitarianism, or unwittingly promoting futility. It does this in at least eight ways.

(1) Its ethical critique is futilely self-defeating as pointed out above;

(2) It is futile to demand that anyone believe that any form of acceptance of animal "welfarist" laws makes any profession to animal rights inconsistent (see "Animal Rights Law").

(3) Only in futility does he insist that animal rights pragmatists such as myself are not "abolitionists" like he is.

(4) It is futile to try to apply the label "new welfarist" to animal rights pragmatists since they are not "new" and also none of the 5 characteristics of new welfarists apply to people like me as they are meant to (see Ibid.).

(5) It is futile for the futilitarians to point out that we would not demand that child abuse be done more "kindly," when (a) animal rights pragmatists also totally and publicly denounce animal abuse; (b) calling for any laws against child abuse is immediately feasible whereas it could take centuries for comprehensive laws against animal abuse to be feasible; and (c) the futilitarians themselves say it is OK for now to outlaw castration/dehorning of bulls and nothing else, or to secure freedom completely while other interests are utterly neglected--that is not comparable to totally outlawing child abuse by any means, making the futilitarian rhetoric hollow, i.e., futilely self-contradictory, once again.

(6) Futilitarians declare all animal “welfarist” initiatives to be futile (sometimes saying they won't be attained; other times saying if they are attained they will be "meaningless," and that such laws cannot one day lead to animal rights), and so the futilitarians would cut off that potentially useful legislative path. It is weird to say that cruel laws are more likely to lead to animal rights law and that kind laws are unlikely or less likely to lead to animal rights law. I have defended the usefulness of “welfarist” legislation in reducing suffering in the short-term and cultivating a "kindness culture" that is conducive to animal rights in the long-term; a cruel culture by contrast is less useful because it is positively not conducive to animal rights. (See Ibid.) A side-note: If enough people believe the futilitarians, then seeking "welfarist" reforms may indeed be futile as a self-fulfilling prophesy.

(7) Francione recommends proposals, such as securing 100% protection of interests (e.g., liberty of movement in fully generous animal quarters), which really are futile to seek in the legislative short-term. Remember that when he demands 100% protection of an interest, it would have to satisfy the interest just as if animals were liberated or not considered property. That would have to mean that “money is no object,” or funds-outlays would have to match generous fundraising by an animal liberationist society to secure the fulfillment of the interest. These generous funds would have to come mainly from profiteering animal exploiters together with a subsidizing government which shares the same corporate-elitist bed, on the one hand, and from widely cynical and often impoverished customers of animal exploiters, on the other hand. Oh, and animal advocates and their groups can be counted on to throw in a couple of drops in the rather large bucket of necessary billions as well. In any event, the money to pay for such provisions needs to come from somewhere. So on this theory pro-animal funding in a deeply and pervasively speciesist society must equal funding in a far-flung (though not impossible in the long term!!!) animal liberationist society. what could be wrong with this picture? Welcome back to reality, folks. In the short-term, this is a ludicrous dream for all of its futility. It is as absurd as expecting an abysmally sexist club to suddenly break out in song and dance championing equality for women.

(8) Although Francione would accept "proto-rights" reforms discussed above, he generally believes that animal rights activists, for the time-being and evidently some time to come, should be "outsiders" to the legislative process, or be abstainers, and focus on animal rights campaigns with the general public instead. Their reason for this move, which he seems to advocate over proto-rights (that doctrine is just for those who wish to try their hand at legislative reform against Francione's advice) is the apparent belief that it is futile to seek "insider status" since it allegedly would only dilute radicalism to the vanishing point, as it were. This aspect of animal rights futilitarianism is discussed in my paper, "Animal Rights Law," where I illustrate, contrary to Francione, the potent possibilities of animal law reform in the legislative short-term. It is also eminently possible for advocates to put their cards on the table that they are aiming for animal liberation in the long-term, but they would, with reservations of course, accept "welfarist" measures in the short-term.

So the term “futilitarianism” seems fitting. Francione’s “conceptual rallying position” as he terms futilitarianism in Rain without Thunder illusorily paints one useful path as futile and promotes another path as useful which is really futile. It is hard to see how a more successful promotion of futility could be had than doing one’s level best to make the useful seem useless and pretending that the useless is useful. However, as a legislative outsider, he thinks it is useless even to advocate "proto-rights," the supposedly useful, for now and the foreseeable future, i.e., who knows how long. Therefore the name “futilitarianism” applies: creating futility on the short-term legislative front. Ironically, his "conceptual rallying position" would, if allowed to take hold, make "ghost events" out of any attempts to mount rallies in support of progressive animal law. Let us do better than that, shall we?


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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