Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Insults and Illusions: the Case of Francione and His Followers

I would like to report on having participated in an on-line discussion forum, called Animal Rights Community On-line (ARCO). Overall, it was a mixed experience. I made a few friends, and got some great feedback on my work. But I did not make friends amongst the supports of Francione’s anti-welfarism ideology who clearly dominated the forum! Not all of them were vicious, but frankly, most of them were, stooping to outright ad hominem attacks. These culprits made the title of the forum doubly ironic since they refer to people such as myself as not being real defenders of “animal rights,” and also they undermine any useful conception of community. They called me “ignorant,” “a fool,” demonstrating “a depressingly low level of intellect” or showing “sheer intellectual deficiency,” “paranoid,” “nefarious,” “hypocritical,” “arrogant,” and as I will illustrate below, one even called a piece of writing I posted “creepy.” None of it of course was rationally defended, but then, people who use insults like this do so as a substitute for reasoning in the first place. In what follows I will show how the “creepy” charge by David Langlois is completely without objective basis. Now animal rightists are supposed to defend animals against bullies, but these animal rightists are the opposite: they try to bully other animals who happen to be human.

The term “Francionist” is regularly used on these lists by people who disagree with Francione. I’m tempted to do likewise, myself, but what holds me back is that I organized a debate on the Toronto Animal Rights Society list-serve on the prominent issue in animal law: is it ethical or efficacious ever to support so-called “welfarist” legislation? Francione himself responded to my invitation and joined that discussion briefly, and he made it plain he did not like the term “Francionist,” thinking it makes him seem like a cult leader, or that people are more concerned with him as a person rather than the ideas. I deferred to his preference, out of respect, but made it clear that the way I used the term had no such overtones: it was like using the term “Marxist.” I originally used “Francionism” purely descriptively, referring to the unique body of ideas that Francione has authored. Although others will continue to use the term "Francionism" I will not do so out of respect. Instead the term “animal rights fundamentalist,” which I have adapted in my paper, “Animal Rights Law,” will do instead.

It is ironic though that Francione should specially plead for sensitivity to him about terms used (especially when the term in question need not be read as offensive in the slightest). Not only do his supporters resort to extensive name-calling, but Francione himself launches very powerful and unmistakable ad hominem attacks not only against individuals, but whole sweeping classes of people who adhere to certain ideas, by his use of offensive terms. He calls people such as myself "new welfarists." First consider the “new” part of “new welfarism.” Animal rights pragmatism, which tolerates animal welfare legislation as the lesser of evils in the short-term, is not “new welfarist” in any coherent sense of “new.” Consider the forerunner of modern animal rights writing, Henry S. Salt, who influenced Mohandas Gandhi to become an ethical vegetarian when the latter was studying to become a lawyer in England, in late Victorian times. Salt advocated so-called “welfarist” reforms as well as animal rights just as others do today. So it is not “new” unless Francione and his defenders want to start insisting that the Victorian times are somehow “new.” Now consider the “welfarist” label that Francione wishes to wrap around the pragmatists. He calls animal rights pragmatists “new welfarists,” even though such people ultimately seek anti-speciesism, animal liberation, or the abolition of animal exploitation, and to eventually abolish all "welfarist" laws in favor of animal rights laws. How can one essentially be a “welfarist” if one seeks ultimately to destroy all mere "welfarism" (in the speciesist sense of the term)? In sum, neither "new" nor "welfarist" is truly applicable in this context. This is merely insulting, and Francione’s 5 supposed characteristics of new welfarists do not even apply to clear-thinking animal rights pragmatists, as I show in “Animal Rights Law.”

Francione and his followers reserve the term “abolitionist” for themselves and refuse to call animal rights pragmatists “abolitionists.” This the fundamentalists do even though they are confusing the grammar of the situation. Any “-ist” as a suffix in this sort of context indicates advocacy, and animal rights pragmatists not only are in favor of abolition, but believe they have a better way of getting there than the fundamentalists. So another insult is clearly to imply that the pragmatists are “nonabolitionists.” It is purely an insult, and does not communicate truth, avoid confusion, use conventional language, promote the animal rights movement as a whole, or avoid arousing ill feeling in these debates. Pure insult.

But Francione does not rest there. The two major sectors of his adversaries are the animal rights pragmatists, on the one hand, but also the speciesists, on the other hand. These last he also insults by saying that since most animal suffering is caused for passing human amusement or pleasure (e.g., meat-eating, wearing leather, etc.—true enough), and since sadists get pleasure or amusement out of processes that involve suffering, Francione asserts (see his Introduction to Animal Rights) that most people are no different from psychopathic Simon the Sadist, who blow-torches dogs for fun. In a previous blog entry I showed that ordinary people are not psychopathic and violent sadists: they do not enjoy suffering but are often ignorant of it, or tolerate it as a side-effect of getting what they really want: meat, clothng, etc. That is why people often change when confronted with animal cruelty. Again, the inappropriate equation with sadists does not communicate truth, avoid confusion, use conventional language, promote the animal rights movement as a whole, or avoid arousing ill feeling in these debates. Pure insult. So I am not surprised that those whom some call “Francionists” use extensive insults of other kinds on these public discussion boards. They feel victorious, I suppose, but only succeed in unwittingly embarrassing themselves in an international forum.

I have already explored how Francione insulted the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics by calling it the “Oxford” Centre for Animal Welfare (see my blog entry on this topic). Francione himself alerted me to his blog-based tirade against the Centre. I replied, pointing out he was resorting to insults. But his reply did not comment on this point, instead making other points, indicating to me that he knows very well that he is engaging in insulting behaviour but would not consider changing, because, based on his track record, he seems to prefer and enjoy that form of “engagement.”

Although some Francione defenders on ARCO—only a few really—showed themselves to be respectful and articulate on the forum in question, most were not only insulting, but jeering, and showing contempt for rational discourse. Even the moderators of the forum wrote that I should not publicly challenge the approval (by the moderators) of insults on the forum, and that I should write to them privately on the issue at most, even though it is a general issue that should be democratically addressed and openly discussed by anyone who is concerned about it. The moderators used weak excuses for tolerating insults: that it occurs on all sides (not always true—but even so two wrongs don’t make a right), that they would have to delete most posts (moderating does not require this but only warning or booting people as needed), and that if insults were removed, the content of posts would not be left intact (even though personal put-downs are always gratuitous and like all ad hominem fallacies, adding nothing of value to any argument). These moderators are really just saying in effect, it seems to me, that they like the ad hominem style. It seems a raw expression of preference, boiled down, because they haven’t a leg to stand on rationally, unless you think “everyone is doing it” works—which is not only untrue, but is also rejected as a form of argument when it is used by speciesists.

The Francione supporters also said that intellectual work of the sort that I do is irrelevant to animal rights, and that we need to move people, not impress them with concepts. However, the only hope our movement has is to convince people by reasoning and also appealing to their hearts. That is what I’m in the business of doing, and people have at times been persuaded by my arguments. Simplistic propaganda will gain many converts, and is valuable, but it will not convert all of society, let alone its leaders, nor change the laws or it already would have worked, since it has already been widely used.

Perhaps the Francione supporters may be refuted logically by the arguments in “Animal Rights Law,” but use too much bogus reasoning, insults, and distortion of their opponents’ arguments to even realize that they have been refuted. I don’t think their distortions are created just to throw others off the trail, but reflect confusions in their own minds. I may be wrong about that, but the Francione supporters have not offered any logical refutation of what I have done. That was one of the really cheering aspects of my participation in the forum. Personally, it felt like being lowered into a piranha tank at times, but at an impersonal level, no one lodged any serious criticism against my arguments, although Karin for example certainly tried (as we will see below), and they would have taken a shot at my arguments if they felt able to do so.

Francione himself has stated that he is not interested in responding to my extensive arguments, and is delegating some other(s) to respond. I was told of this by two of his close followers, who happen to be Canadians like me, but who are presently living abroad: Jeff Perz and David Langlois. We will have to see what kind of response is given. David Langlois, now a doctoral candidate at Harvard University, has indicated that he will respond. Perz, who is still my friend, does not currently have the time to respond. Now also on ARCO Langlois, for reasons best known to himself, gestured that he would not wish to publish his reply in the journal in which my "Animal Rights Law" was published. He is a junior scholar, though, and can be forgiven for not realizing that no scholarly journal will publish a response to an article that appeared in some other journal. Perhaps that means there will be no response after all. Who knows?

Langlois himself called a piece of writing that I offered on ARCO “creepy.” Now this sort of unethical mudslinging should be challenged. It was done in a public forum, and although I responded to the issue on the spot, Langlois went on to defend his behaviour, and this sort of slander richly deserves to be confronted in a blog on a site that logs several tens of thousands of readers per year, based on my web page reports. What was the writing that was found “creepy”? The objective facts (which anyone is free to verify by logging onto the site in question):

(1) A German woman, Karin, posted a critique of “Animal Rights Law,” my essay published in The Journal for Critical Animal Studies (current issue); I responded to her critique, carefully pointing out how she used various fallacies or errors in reasoning: the straw man fallacy (distorting my view, e.g., claiming I am a closet utilitarian, although I refute that ethical theory in “The Rights of Animal Persons”) no less than 17 times, and many other fallacies such as begging the question (declaring dogmatically), special pleading (falsely asserting that the fundamentalists promote veganism while implying that others such as myself do not), among others; but she is also a mudslinger, stating that my essay is associated with “sheer intellectual deficiency” and shows a “depressingly low level of intellect”; Karin was not embarrassed at all by her own fallacies, nor apologetic in the slightest about her incredibly extensive misrepresentations, but merely rejoined later with more jeering, baiting, and insults. My own real views were left untouched;

(2) Later on, Karin responded with a message inviting me to participate in a podcast debate on Vegan Freaks at the next opportunity, and claimed her message was also in the voice of Francione himself;

(3) I am advised that this poster, Karin, actually works with Francione, so I had reason to think it was quite possible that the message was partly from him as she stated;

(4) I made it clear to the list that I would not necessarily respond to mudslinging messages, so logically enough, I decided I would respond to the Francione-seeming part of the message alone and ignore Karin’s part; I addressed the letter so that it was a response to the invitation IF indeed Francione had a hand in the message, but that the message was addressed “to oblivion” if he did not; it seemed harmless and worth a try since other list members say that Francione monitors this particular forum, occasionally responding to participants, and also has correspondents who regularly email him with updates; as well, he is now actively participating in an ARCO forum meant only for his followers (it amuses me to consider that he has probably seen all or most of the dialogues I was participating in);

(5) The moderator on the list responded appropriately in the respect of warning me against emailing people who are not on the list; I was unaware of this rule, and it is simply a matter of policy, so I was content to be corrected on this simple matter of protocol;

(6) Then Langlois barged in and called my “possible reply” to Francione “creepy” and explicitly mischaracterized the situation as me pretending to be in a “dialogue” with Francione, although I was merely sending a “possible message” to him, depending on whether or not he is on the receiving end (and prepared to acknowledge that fact!) as Karin implied. Langlois mixed together insult and mischaracterization in the same manner as Karin and others on the list. He was pitching low, below the belt in fact. Although apart from the insult he otherwise seemed civil on the surface, the insult not least of all indicates that he buzzes with aggressive intensity below skin-deep.

Now let’s think carefully…what aspect of my message could have been “creepy”? Was it responding to an invitation? That’s not creepy. Was it presuming that Francione would get my message? The letter explicitly stated that I was not presuming that Karin was accurately representing that Francione had a hand in her message. Why is it that no one on the forum focused on the fact that Karin was claiming to speak for Francione on this list? Surely it is more presumptuous to claim to speak for someone else on a forum in which they are not actively participating than merely to send a possible, throw-away message to someone in a conditional fashion. Was it “creepy” to break a rule of which I was unaware? I merely broke it and then responsibly accepted the correction not to do that sort of thing again.

When called by me on his “creepy” charge, Langlois responded that it is simply “true” and he is sorry that he offended me, but at the same time, he wrote further on, he would not mind if I am offended by his statement. The claim to “truth” is really just a continuation of the smear, with Langlois trying to make himself appear respectable. What could be wrong with stating the “truth”? (However I have shown there is no basis in “truth” for such an insult.) The second part is simply a self-contradiction, an odd fallacy for a philosophy candidate at Harvard to commit. No one is “sorry” for offending someone if they do not mind that this someone is offended! His insincerity is manifest, and only furthered by the fact that he defended his pugnacious behaviour as perfectly justified. In earlier emails, Langlois was posturing as though he was my personal friend. But in this recent activity he has revealed himself more truly to be a mudslinger, trying to elevate himself by putting others down in the manner of a bully. Right-minded people can see through such tactics, although others might be misled, but meanwhile he deserves a reminder that he is advancing neither his own reputation nor his anti-welfarist cause by resorting to such tactics: he merely gains some smug self-satisfaction in the moment of firing off such insults, only to pay for them later. Will Langlois’ promised formal response to “Animal Rights Law” contain more of what I found in his comments on the same discussion list, namely insults, misinterpretation, misrepresentation and illogical reasoning? Only time will tell.

I noted how Langlois, Karin, and others resort to the straw man fallacy. However, as in the use of ad hominem attacks, as I show in “Animal Rights Law,” Francione himself unwittingly uses the straw man fallacy in arguing his two main points: (1) that all animal “welfare” laws are ineffective (which he tries to show using his straw man argument that “new welfarists,” in his terms, are saying that animal welfare laws will “cause” abolition; instead it is far more appropriate to state that some animal “welfare” laws are conducive to abolition (as I argue in detail) rather than solely “causing” it) and (2) that such “welfare” laws are immoral because inconsistent with animal rights theory (although I show how such laws can be perfectly consistent with my own animal rights theory that—like his own—uses dilemma reasoning).

Many movement leaders and others have written to me expressing agreement with my legal arguments in “Animal Rights Law,” and I have received several reports of people who have crossed the floor. Once they agreed with Francione on this matter and now accord with the view for which I argue. I will not name these people since they never indicated that they wished their names to be published, and I do not wish them to suffer any possible harassment by Francione followers. These converts used to be ardent supporters of Francione’s fundamentalism, quoting him left and right. But the converts prove that not all of these fundamentalists are alike: some are open-minded, respectful, and open to genuine reasoning. I assume there might well be others persuaded out there (perhaps who were previously undecided in some cases) who have not taken the trouble to write to me, as well as more to come.

Francione himself refusing to respond to my arguments suggests perhaps that he does not feel up to doing so, or perhaps his refraining is just another childish insult. After all, there can be no question as to whether it is intellectually and objectively worthwhile for him to respond to me (on the face of it) since my arguments are winning converts. Anyone who advocates a position would objectively find it worthwhile to: (a) convert newbies to one’s cause who might encounter others’ arguments first; (b) convert the undecided to one’s cause who might be swayed by effective arguments by an adversary; and (c) prevent one’s own followers from being converted. His “same old lines” will not do, since these are carefully considered and refuted in my essay. Now he can very well continue in this manner if he likes, so far as I am concerned. Is it perhaps better for my arguments to stand unchallenged when considering the cause that I share with a majority of animal rightists? Some might think so. Many animal rights pragmatists agree that his anti-welfarist stance is divisive and destructive of real chances for dramatically improving the lot of animals. I think it is better for everyone if he responds in the interest of people being accountable for what they say to masses of people and being open to reasonable discussion, thus furthering the cause of democracy. It would also be better if I refute any reply he might make using the same classical methods of reasoning that I employ in "Animal Rights Law" and other places. I believe that those who employ illogical arguments in the first place cannot in principle find logical ways to defend them at some later time (unless it is a case of an incomplete argument that just needs to be "filled in" with more justification, or more premises to entail the conclusion--but I suspect that is not the case here). Illogical arguers are, for the most part, doomed to carry on with more fallacies unless they come up with a completely new strategy of justification, or perhaps change their position even more fundamentally. There is something timeless about logic. Arguments put forward now or thousands of years ago or to come will still be subject to the same laws of good thinking, and validity or invalidity of conclusions drawn for example will hold regardless of when the inferences are iterated.

The fundamentalists on this list-serve, in any case, remind me of the tactics of many speciesists: dogmatically begging the question, distorting views, ridiculing and insulting others. I pray that society in general evolves towards more civilized critical reasoning, as I believe that such a transmutation constitutes our most serious hope for the animals.


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

No comments:

Post a Comment