Thursday, 13 May 2010

Welfarism and Vegetarianism: a Vicious Circle

The idea that we must promote vegetarianism and welfarism instead of veganism and abolitionism is pernicious nonsense promoted by corporate welfarist organizations which profit thereby and endorsed by advocates who have been lead astray by the seduction of "leaders" - Singer, Pacelle, Friedrich, Newkirk, and so on - into false beliefs about why veganism is perceived by the public as "extreme" and even "fanatical."

It is perceived in these pejorative terms precisely because these "leaders" have not sought to make veganism the normal, default position of anyone who takes animals seriously (Francione). On the contrary: they have knowingly and deliberately made welfarism and "happy" meat the baseline position while maligning veganism as an eccentric ethic for saints and heroes.

But these "leaders" claim with shameless impudence that we must promote welfarism and "happy" meat because the public is unreceptive to veganism when in fact, it is their welfarism and "happy" meat campaigns which causes that unreceptivity. The upshot of this is that they decadently make a means of self-confirmation out of a problem that they themselves define and create. The effect of this decadence is to create a vicious circle whereby unreceptivity to veganism supposedly justifies welfarism which in turn reinforces (as opposed to weakens or erodes) unreceptivity to veganism - and so ad infinitum.

Accordingly, the welfarist movement is designed to feed on itself forever - and will do so unless we recognize that animal rights imperatively compels us to reject welfarism and instead to make veganism the moral baseline, the minimum standard of decency, for animal rights advocacy

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Poor President Priscilla

Priscilla Feral, the president of the corporate organization Friend's of Animals (FoA), was recently interviewed by MikeyPod on Meat Free Radio. This interview was as intellectually threadbare as its personal attacks were densely woven, with Feral's resorting to cavilling against abolitionism and - what is worse and different in kind - defamatory ad hominem attacks against Francione himself - attacks which were facilitated by MikeyPod, who eschewed the responsibilities of serious interviewing. I will say more about MikeyPod's contribution later.

Now ad hominem attacks present one with a problem, not by the magnitude of their message, which by definition is entirely absent, but by dignifying them with a response one inevitably gives those who resort to them, like Feral, a veneer of wholly unmerited respectability – a risk I hope to parry by stating that what Feral said is not worth addressing in and of itself, but only because it represents a prevalent way of trying to discredit Francione's abolitionist theory.

To begin with, Feral and MikeyPod set up a straw man by characterizing abolitionism in ways - as, for example, an "all or nothing approach" which is "defeatist" - which do not even resemble Francione's theory in the way that is implied by the idea of an ordinary caricature (which must contain at least some element of truth). Indeed, in lieu of a rebuttal of Francione's critique of FoA's single issue campaigns, Feral alleged - dishonestly, of course - that Francione resents FoA because he had been unable to become FoA's president. Emboldened perhaps by MikePod's lassie faire attitude to such defamatory nonsense, Feral went on to masquerade FoA's opportunism as honest opposition to what other corporate welfarists refer to as Francione's alleged ivory tower intellectualism and what Feral herself referred to as his "large salary" that is paid for "by the taxpayer," implying, among other things, that Francione's critique of single issue campaigns is based on a lack of understanding of what it is like to be "in the trenches" of animal advocacy. Furthermore, Feral alleged that Francione wanted everyone to "march to his drum."

Now these allegations and others like them, repeated ad nauseum by corporate welfarists, are so weak that they may as well be written in the sand by the wind. Behind all of them lies rancour against the very thing that Francione actually stands for, namely: a grass roots abolitionist movement guided by theory as opposed to a corporate welfarist movement masked as progressiveness but which actually is externally motivated by its own financial self-interest and long-term survival.

The claim that Francione does not know what it is like "on the ground," once divested of its coarse stupidity and brazen dishonesty by a cursory inspection of Francione's long and varied biography as an animal rights advocate, can be seen for what it really is, namely an attempt to discredit abolitionism without going to the trouble of actually addressing it.

Unfortunately, for Feral, referring to Francione's alleged "large salary" which is paid for "by the taxpayer" was an especially inept diversionary tactic, because whereas Francione makes no money at all from animal advocacy and gives all the royalties from his books to animal causes, Feral, by contrast, pockets over $100,000 annually in animal money, a remarkable sum for someone who claims to be an advocate for justice and not the CEO of a self-serving corporation, a distinction that seems to elude or is cynically elided by her and other corporate welfarists generally.

Feral claimed that single issue campaigns are successful and necessary. But the only people/groups which pretend to take seriously the paradoxical "success" of campaigns which miseducate the public (embarrassingly, it was left up to Weir to point out the incoherence of campaigning against fur without also openly opposing leather) and impose an opportunity cost on social justice (by diverting time and resources away from vegan education) are the corporate welfarist groups themselves which profit thereby and animal industry, which tactically portrays welfarism as the "enemy" to help fuel its campaign against veganism, the latter being the real enemy of animal use.

I will mention one further point only to get it out of the way. Feral claimed that Francione "worked for" PeTA, even though Francione actually worked with PeTA; never for pay.

Feral's personal attacks on Francione were not addressed by MikeyPod, who instead blathered obliquely about abolitionism, or what he imagines it to be.

In conclusion: let us be clear above all about this: Francione and other abolitionist enrage the "leaders" of the corporate movement because they tell them what they must jettison: single issue campaigns and welfarism – the very things that keep the corporate movement running safely efficiently, and profitably. But since corporate welfarists have nothing of substance to say, they shift the discussion from abolitionist theory, which they cannot address, to irrelevant personal issues, which they can address by means of personal attacks.

But we as abolitionists must reject in principle as well as practice the ad hominem discourse in which the corporate welfarists want the abolitionism / welfarism debate to be cast. Instead, we must keep on indomitably arguing, in the teeth of the corporate welfarists' ad hominem attacks, for the conclusions that we know by reason and evidence to be right: single issue campaigns do not work, welfarism does not work, and the corporate movement, with its self-appointed "leaders" some of whom earn six figure salaries, does not work.

Conversely, we must, as continuously as possible, and by every appropriate means, promote veganism. We owe animals nothing less.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Demagogue's Corner a.k.a Thomas Paine's Corner

Steve Best's latest essay over at Thomas Paine's Corner is titled "The Loss of a Halo: Francione and the Mask of Jainism." Reading it was an experience that moved me to nothing but derision. In fact, it is difficult to imagine someone being so hard up for something to do as to write such an insipidly verbose screed devoid of sense and decency. It is a screed that exemplifies Best's predilection for theatricality, which is aided by his tin ear. The latter prevents him from being able to check his unpardonable rhetorical excess, ranging from self-indulgent prolixity and self-important self fanfare, often soaring (albeit unintentionally) to the heights of comical absurdity, to his bewildering profusion of absurd images and corny metaphors, and finally to his deadly ridiculous accounts of situations in which he himself is involved (or imagines himself to be), no matter how marginally or peripherally, and of his perceived enemies, especially Gary Francione.

The whole essay is a purely invented melodrama, indeed a comedy of persecution, in which Best wallows perversely in fulmination against Francione. It begins with Best's setting the stage on which he craves to appear. For in the spirit of rendering a difficult, but obligatory public service, he says that there is a "war" going on. This "war," however, is not the "war" against animal industry, but the "Best-Francione wars," in which the protagonists "locked horns...and traded a number of blows," in which Francione has "put on some brass knuckles [and] dangerously escalated the conflict" because he "apparently grew restless in the calm of the détente," and so "escalated it in a provocative and dangerous way." All of this merely prompts the question: how has such melodramatic nonsense become possible in the animal rights movement?

Next, his heart overflowing with the desire to set the record straight, with tender concern for the truth of every word he writes, Best depicts Francione as a veritably satanic figure, the devil with scorched wings, that is, as "arrogant, controlling, insulting, duplicitous, conniving, aggressive, and verbally abusive...a pseudo-pacifist who thrives on conflict and hostility" and is "filled by toxic hated [sic] and violent emotions." Moreover, according to Best, Francione's "accusations are...insidious, dangerous, and destructive" and his "tactics [are] designed to demonize and destroy individuals and unleash forces of repression and fear," because he is "thirst[y] for revenge." And finally, Best proclaims, with half-witted triumphalism, that he has exposed Francione as "a Machiavellian wrestling in the mud," an image which - when I first read it - caused me to burst out laughing.

By contrast, when Best talks about himself and his role in this "war" in particular, he does so with tender solicitude, at times even lapsing into sentimentality - a cantingly pious self-characterization, indeed, which is prefaced by him with the incredible claim that it has nothing to do with his "ego." For example, he says that he is "relatively satisfied" with his confused jumble of impotent thoughts - sorry, I mean his "critical work"; is "Never one to hide [his] commitments and beliefs"; engages in "philosophical justification" as opposed to "wild and reckless accusations"; is not an "irrational chest pounding demagogue"; and was "motivated by a grave concern" over the fact that Machiavelli is wrestling in the mud. Indeed, he says that, "after careful study," he came out against the muddied wrestler and in favor of the ALF, or something like that.

Next, he uses his "war" with Francione as an excuse to give us an abridged version of his intellectual biography ("In 2004, I published...") as well as to regale us with the melodrama of another one of his battles, this time with David Martosko who in the presence of "powerful politicians" and "top FBI brass" described Best as "the ALF Kingpin, the Bossman, the Capo, the Mack Daddy," even though he was just "a lone critical voice on campus." It brings a tear to your eye, doesn't it?

The problem here is that it's not an easy task for Best to maintain that he is just "doing philosophy," or providing "philosophical justification," when his writing exemplifies exactly those characteristics from which philosophical writing should be free. Indeed, anyone could be forgiven for thinking that he is doing anything but philosophy. His rhetorical style, for example, goes beyond the limit of prudent sanity in that it is marked, on the one hand, by its disturbingly shrill tone and hyperbolic language, and, on the other, by its opaque academic jargon and intellectual affectations; the former is designed to stir up people's emotions and prejudices while the latter is supposed to be a sign of his intellectual authority, but is, in fact, a meretricious substitute for it.

I mean, what is one to do in the face of Best's critique of Francione's abolitionist theory as homogenising the "contextualist and pluralist" multi-dimensionality of the "dialectical both/and" into the "iron cage" of the "a priori" "either/or"? What is one to do, that is, other than to shrug one's shoulders with bemused condescension?

But this does not mean that Best's writings are unpopular. Satirists like them.

Concluding his screed, Best announces with much cheap ceremony that he is "throwing down the gauntlet" to his nemesis. Throwing down my own gauntlet, I challenge anyone to provide a single shred of evidence that Best is an "irrational chest pounding demagogue" who takes refuge in an histrionic style characterized by jargon and alliteration, by melodramatic fulmination against "adversaries," and by fanciful interpretations of reality: "Best shows what philosophy means in a world in crisis."

Monday, 18 January 2010

Newspaper Article by Victor Schonfeld

I would like to draw attention to a great newspaper article by Victor Schonfeld on the faliure of the animal rights corporations to achieve progressive change on behalf of animals. The article, which is called Five Fatal Flaws of Animal Activism and was published in the Guardian, can be found here