Abolitionism Versus Welfarism

Last year I wrote a three part series dealing with abolitionism versus welfarism.

It’s time to dig those articles out of the archives and take another look. Read with a close eye, for the articles are rather succinct. Here they are, the 3-part-series:

  1. Is Abolishing Animals’ “Property Status” The First Step To Liberation?
  2. Criticism Is Not Enough
  3. Why We Must Do More

The debate, if you’re not aware, is about whether animal advocates ought to work to improve the lives of animals within the existing animal exploitation paradigm or should they instead work to abolish the entire system. If the latter, what is the best method for achieving that goal?

If this topic interests you, please go read those articles if you haven’t already.

18 Responses to Abolitionism Versus Welfarism

  1. Actually, the debate is about whether animal advocates should work to improve the lives of animals in the system while also working to abolish the system or if we should ignore the welfare concerns of the billions of animals currently suffering within the system in a simple minded pursuit of ideological purity.

  2. I’m guessing you didn’t read the articles, Allen.

  3. No I read them and we are on the same page I think. I’m just pointing out that the Francione style abolitionists often can’t seem to understand that we can work to improve animal welfare and abolish animal exploitation at the same time.

  4. Speaking of the cult of Francione, have you read his most recent piece of garbage? http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/the-new-york-city-bar-assication-sets-a-low-bar-for-balance/

    Instead of commending these groups for pointing out that “humane” animal products are bogus labeling schemes, like he is always saying they should, he continues to bash these groups with distorted and misleading accounts of their actual positions. What a d-bag! How can anyone take this guy seriously?

  5. Allen, I think you misunderstand the abolitionist perspective. It’s not that we don’t care about the suffering of animals, of course we do. It’s a matter of what’s the most effective way of reducing that suffering.

    We have a limited amount of time and money. So a group like HSUS can spend $100,000 and a lot of time on a campaign to improve living conditions. Now what if they spent that time and money on vegan education, convincing people to stop using animals all together? Which one is more effective to reduce suffering?

    I choose the vegan education route. Yes, we could do both, but again it’s all about time and money, but I’d rather dedicate it to vegan education. I’ve worked around a lot of farms, mostly small family farms with what would be considered humane conditions. They are not humane, believe me.

    No matter what welfare measures are enacted, animals will still live in terrible conditions and die terrible deaths. This will happen as long as people buy animal products. I’d rather we spent all our time and money convincing people that using animals is wrong, rather than making laws that, in reality, do very little to help animals.

  6. Allen, It sounds like he’s bitter he wasn’t invited to speak. The blog post didn’t include any actual criticism other than his thought that it’s “unbalanced”.

    Andrew, I consider myself abolitionist as well, but I am not a Francione-cult-member. That’s why I wrote the articles linked above. If you take the time to read them, you might better understand my perspective and why the HSUS doesn’t bother me the way it bothers Francione. In particular, think about how meat-consumption outpaces vegan education and why. Hint: it has nothing to do with what the HSUS does and every thing to do with public school lunches.

    Like you, I choose the vegan education route. That’s because I think it’s the best way for ME to spend MY time. Given my resources, talents, and my future goals, leafleting and doing other creative vegan education fits my life best. And I think that’s true for most vegans! That’s why I encourage it.

    But let’s not kid ourselves. Vegan education alone will not be able to solve the problem. We will never be able to truly compete with the meat-dairy-egg marketing machine that focuses on small children and convinces them it’s normal and natural to eat animals. We have to do more.

  7. EV, I did read the articles you posted, I just respectfully disagree. Side note, what’s with the “cult-member” thing? If you disagree with Francione that’s fine, but there’s no need to insult the intelligence of people who tend to agree with him.

    Anyways, back to the point. I’m unclear what you mean when you say “we have to do more”. Educating people, as far as I can tell, is the only thing that leads to more widespread veganism and less animal suffering. I think this might get to the heart of some of our disagreement so I’m very curious what you mean.

  8. Andrew, the last paragraph of the third article states:

    The “Do More” Model could include things like: school lunch reform, nonviolent open rescue, legal measures that reduce animal agribusiness’ profit, legal measures that truly reduce animal suffering, public protests, and more. The “Do More” Model doesn’t merely focus on the consumers, it focuses on the “producers,” too. But most importantly, the “Do More” Model focuses on the animals.

    The “Do More” Model is up to us to create. We are the ones who DO MORE.

  9. There doesn’t seem to be any basis for your assertion that doing “more” is more effective than focusing on vegan education. I think we all know from personal experience that when you become vegan it affects how everyone around you thinks about animals as well, so there’s an inherent multiplier effect. You assume educating people can only go so far and then other tactics are needed. I disagree.

    I don’t see that focusing on producers is an effective tactic. Corporate animal exploiters are easy targets, but if one shuts down, another opens up. They’re not evil, they supply what the public demands. So to fight back, we convince the public to demand something else.

    I understand the desire to do something that feels productive in the short term, but it’s an illusion. Welfare changes aren’t real. You go to a farm that is cage free or a slaughterhouse that gases its chickens and there’s no way you walk away feeling good about the time and money that was spent fighting for those changes. It sounds good on paper, but in real life the animals are still slaves, they still suffer, and they’re still murdered. Welfare changes don’t help animals in any real way, they just make us feel a little better.

    The hard truth is that widespread veganism is a long, long way away. We’re not going to suddenly change the system, but by focusing our time and energy on convincing people that animal exploitation is wrong, we chip away at the foundation of that system.

    Focusing on vegan education isn’t abandoning animals who are alive today. It’s the most effective way to ensure future animals won’t suffer and that that future comes as soon as possible.

  10. Andrew, please reread the articles linked above. I made diagrams explaining it and everything. It’s simple. Vegan education will only siphon off a portion of consumers. It can never undo all the brainwashing that animal industries do to young children.

    There are two parts: supply and demand. They are separate. So long as government keeps buying surplus meat, dairy, and eggs, it won’t matter what paying consumers think! The products will end up in programs to feed people who have no consumer choice: children, welfare recipients, elderly, prison inmates, hospital patients, etc. All of which will perpetuate the cycle of consumption.

    Please read:

    And regarding vegan education. I spend one day a month leafletting a local university for about 2-3 hours. Do you think that’s a lot? I don’t. Yet having done that for the last 2 years we’ve handed out over 10,000 leaflets! We’re ranked #50 in the list of Vegan Outreach’s leafleters.

    But I can’t leaflet everyday. I don’t even want to do it once a week. My schedule doesn’t allow it and besides I wouldn’t enjoy it. It would drive me crazy. It would burn me out. So I mix it up. I spend time doing other things.

    Doing vegan education is 100% worthwhile.

    But if you’re motivated to do something else (like changing your kid’s school’s cafeteria or doing undercover investigations at factory farms or lobbying for animal welfare reforms) do it! The animals need all the help they can get and there’s plenty of evidence that activism that isn’t purely vegan education is 100% worthwhile, too. Whatever form of activism suits you and your talents is the form of activism that’s right for you! Just do it!

  11. We’re obviously not going to agree, so I’ll just say a couple last things.

    There is no evidence to support the claim that vegan education can only achieve so much. I don’t know why you assume that. You argue that, only by adding other things like welfare reform, can veganism truly succeed. Again, no evidence for that.

    To the contrary, there’s reason to believe welfare reform harms animal rights because it makes people feel better about exploitation. People who are receptive to the vegan message instead buy happy meat or cage free eggs and think they’re doing something good for animals. So while you’re doing “more”, there’s a good chance you’re achieving less.

    Regarding supply and demand, they’re not separate, supply is entirely dependent on demand, that’s basically how economics works. Do you really think that if demand for animal products drops the government will just make up the difference? What if demand drops 50%, the government is going to just buy it all up? That makes zero sense. The government isn’t an evil force, they’re representatives of the people. School boards are also made up of people. If people no longer want animal products, then animals will stop being exploited.

    If someone doesn’t want to leaflet? Fine, do something else. Changing a school menu is education, filming farm conditions is education. Do a bake sale or hand out recipes or show a film or any one of a million things. Hell, you don’t have to do anything but be vegan. That in itself influences everyone you know. But spend your time advocating for veganism. We all have limited time and money, make it count.

  12. “Regarding supply and demand, they’re not separate, supply is entirely dependent on demand, that’s basically how economics works.”

    That’s simply untrue. Please read:

  13. as Andrew says, demand is indeed dependent on demand , but demand is created and stimulated by these same supliers. So in a way its just the other way around. No more McDonalds adds and there will be far less demand for McDonalds products. Indeed i fully agree with Eccentric Vegan, only educating the public wont do the trick, also the industry itself must be a focus of attention. (such as focusing to stop national subsidies and for taxing meat, so meat will become more expensive so people will eat it less.)
    The best campaign to learn from, from recent times is the anti tobaco campaign that also heavily attacked the manufacturers and the law makers, not only the consumer, which simply wouldnt have worked.
    My experience with abolitionist people that i have met and talked with, are so negative. They are Peta bashers, make statements based on wrong facts and wrong assumptions, are not active and very negative about other vegan people who spend time and energy being activist. it seems that for abolitionist people other vegans and ar people are the enemy, while it should be the animal industry, eh ?
    my respect is for all the activists out there.

  14. oops, that should be “as Andrews says, supply is indeed dependent on demand” etc.
    anyway, as i see it the “abolitionist” idea isnt nothing new, its simply the great idea of “no bigger cages but empty cages” that has been developed and carried by many great animal rights activists all over the world.

  15. i feel i have more to say. (thanks for the soapbox) ;-)
    sometimes fighting for animal welfare isnt a goal, but it can be a practical means, in the way that higher (less lower) animal welfare standards can mean that costs are also higher for the producer, so the final animal product also will be less cheap in the supermarket.
    If meat, eggs and milk wouldnt be so dirt cheap but a more normal price, the consumption also would be less massive, and so the meat industry would also be less powerfull.
    thats not my opinion, but thats a fact that has been proven by the anti tobaco campaign.

  16. I too am an abolitionist, but not a Francionian style abolitionist. I don’t see vegan education from Francione’s camp, I see misinformation and distortions about the views and tactics of other organizations and individuals. I find it hard to believe that Francione has gotten a single individual to adopt a vegan lifestyle. But I am willing to bet he has turned a good number of vegans against some really great animal advocacy groups with dishonest rhetoric.

    I often find myself in debates with Francionian style abolitionists and they always seem to spend their time trying to convince me that there is no such thing as humane animal products. News flash! I know that. We completely agree on that point. Let’s move on to the larger point… how to best usher in a vegan world.

    I believe there is substantial evidence to support the claims that laws to protect animals and to restrict animal exploiters hurt the animal exploitation industry. If well thought out, these laws make it harder for the industries to make a profit and they make it harder for the industry to get away with egregious cruelty. But most importantly, these laws can set a legal precedent that animals matter. We can build on that precedent to establish even greater protections for animals. And we can do that while making it clear that animal exploitation is always wrong.

    But instead of listening to this point of view, and the evidence supporting it, Francionian style abolitionists seem to just want to keep parroting the lie that certain animal advocates are promoting humane meat. As Francione demonstrates in his blog, linked to above, even when some of these groups are very clearly arguing that humane animal products are a myth tantamount to consumer fraud, he still does nothing but bash them and misrepresent their positions.

    In my opinion, Francione has done more to harm the animal rights cause than the Center For Consumer Freedom. And I simply don’t understand why anyone still takes him serious.

  17. We have a limited amount of time and money. So a group like HSUS can spend $100,000 and a lot of time on a campaign to improve living conditions. Now what if they spent that time and money on vegan education, convincing people to stop using animals all together? Which one is more effective to reduce suffering?

    This fallacy, IMO, one of the major cracks in the foundation of Francionism.

    No, WE don’t have a limited amount of time and money. YOU have limited time and money, and YOU can choose to focus your efforts 100% on vegan education. And if YOU did that, I would do nothing but commend you for it.

    But veganism is not zero sum. Money going to HSUS does not take away from money going to vegan education because the people giving to HSUS would, if that organization were to disappear tomorrow, not simply turn around and give their money to some other organization that did vegan education. People give to HSUS because they LIKE HSUS. They LIKE what HSUS does.

    The fact is, people will contribute to animal causes with time and money in whatever ways resonate with them. More often than not, the “Stop Doing It THAT Way” message isn’t going to make them switch from HSUS to a “better” way. If it does anything, it just encourages people to disengage. To become less active for animals. IMO Francione offers a very negative message.

    Again, veganism is not zero sum. People will get active in the ways they want to get active. Not everyone will be effective. But trying to go around telling people HOW they need to be active–do this not that–is counterproductive.

  18. The main reason I read vegansoapbox is the intelligent and pragmatic attempt by eccentricvegan to make sense of abolition vs welfare strategies and to find a productive balance.

    After all – we are all vegans here and hence we all have 100% abolition as a goal. But how do we get there. We won’t get there with 100% welfare activism. Will we get there with 100% abolition strategies? I don’t think so and here is why.

    The main reason why we treat animals as property today is because we have removed ourselves from nature over thousands of years until we have forgotten our common roots and that animals have the same emotional capacities as humans. Factory farms do not pop up over night. It took Western thinkers like Descartes to brainwash society regarding our common interests by calling animals “machines”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ren%C3%A9_Descartes

    It is a sad sad truth that our human centric nature sets us apart from animals in popular discourse. Many people really believe that animals suffer less than humans and are more or less instinct machines who only want to eat and reproduce. That is the reason property rights for animals exist in the first place. Property rights on their own are not a cause but a symptom.

    For society to understand that animals feel pain and suffer, that they are different only in degree and not type, is the first step and not the abolition of property rights per se. In this context – welfare activism always moves towards and not away from a more ethical consideration of animals. Away from machines and towards living beings.

    There are those who feared that if we give only some educated Greek men the right to vote – we will never consider women and the poor as well. There where those who feared that when white women were allowed to vote in the 1920 – we would never consider black women too. There are those who feared that if we freed blacks from slavery but did not give them full equal rights immediately – we would create such a new legacy system of exploitation that will never see a black president. There are those who fear that if we give animals more but not all rights at once – we will never reach abolition… I do not agree. Not because of some personal, emotional reason but merely because of my reading of human history and nature.

    We should not forget how our own evolution has started. First we needed an outside reason to educate ourselves about animals issues.
    And there is a lot to learn. Most people do not know that they could even survive without meat healthily. Most don’t know good vegetarian dishes – they don’t know how and where to order them let alone cook vegetarian. Most are caught in an old human-centric world-view where animals cannot possibly feel as much as humans due to our divine standing and our unique intelligence. Most humans have their busy lives and will block anything unconsciously that asks for a lot of change without apparent benefit or knowledge.

    I therefore think that welfare campaigns are a more efficient way to get AR ideas into the heads of the generic public (which in the end votes as citizens and consumers). I think that abolitionist campaigns are a great way to convert existing welfarists and vegetarians towards AR and veganism. From my personal understanding of human history and humans nature – that is the only way forward. (I hope it is needless to add that of course every individual differs. There are some people and groups, especially those with a lot of time on their hands like students, who “can” make the switch from ignorant omnivore to dedicated vegan “over night”. But as I understand the discussion here we are concerned with society at large and not just our next-of-kin?)

    In this context – if 100 people reduced their factory meat intake by 50% it would save more animals than if 3 people reduced it by 100%. I think it is easier to get 100 people to reduce their meat than to get 5 people to cut it completely. I think it is easier for these 100 people to convince another 500 people to reduce meat than for the 3 new vegans to convert another 15. In the end – welfare in the year 2010 can save many many more real animal lives than pure abolition strategy. At the same time welfare, accepting that animals are sentient beings, lays the foundation for future abolition (of say property rights).

    We are all vegans here. We all have the same goal of full animal liberation. Not many people share this with us at present. Whenever we critique each other we should not forget this.

    PS: Thank you so much, ecentricvegan for your healthy thoughts and intentions.


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