Saturday, May 18, 2013

I have deleted your comment defending "the compassionate efforts of welfarists."

Several weeks ago, a Facebook page I like shared this status update from the page of the influential animal rights legal scholar and philosopher, Gary Francione.


It epitomized my worst impressions (from a distance) of this intolerant, my-way-or-the-highway abolitionist (not all abolitionists are, by any stretch). As you can see in the Facebook update, Francione jeers the successful efforts of Animals Australia to save over two million animals (and counting) from the well-documented horrors of live export. This is the practice of exporting animals from Australia via long ship journeys to be bred or slaughtered overseas, often where farm animal welfare standards are horrifying, as opposed to merely appalling. Many of these cattle, sheep and goats die enroute - a greater horror than they would likely have experienced if they'd been shipped to slaughter back home; a lesser horror than probably awaited them at their overseas destinations, judging by the investigative work of groups like Animals Australia. 

Rather than jump right into the fray, I read the comments first. Among all the (mostly) sycophantic "right ons," I found one that echoed my own reaction. The writer, after paying respects to the Master and the Community ("Totally agreeing with what everyone's saying. They're going to end up dead, however it happens…."), meekly voiced her concern that live transport might indeed be problematic in its own right: 

"Obviously, slaughter is slaughter, wherever it happens. I do think a long boat journey without food and water beforehand must be particularly horrific though (if it's possible for anything to be more horrific than it already is). Is it welfarist to think this?" 

She ended her comment by writing "Someone may tell me I'm wrong!"

  • Pauline Wooding Totally agreeing with what everyone's saying. They're going to end up dead, however it happens. Just mentioning that part of the point was not just that they're going to another country to be slaughtered by foreigners, etc., etc., but that they spend so long on the boat without food and water. There was the instance a little while back when a boat going to Pakistan was caught in a big storm, or there was a problem with the boat or something and I think it was sailing around for a couple of months (again, without checking back on the precise details). When it eventually landed, thousands of sheep were just dumped, and there was nowhere to put them, so many that hadn't already died ended up dying in the sun. This was the case that seemed to get a lot of people agitated - but may well not be typical, and should not obviously detract from the main point, I know. 

    Obviously, slaughter is slaughter, wherever it happens. I do think a long boat journey without food and water beforehand must be particularly horrific though (if it's possible for anything to be more horrific than it already is). Is it welfarist to think this? I've always felt doubly sorry for the animals that travel from the UK across Europe in terrible conditions without food and water, which isn't anything to do with the countries they're going to, just the conditions they have to endure during the long journey.

    I suppose it's a bit like the rape and being beaten while being raped analogy. Just a question of the degree of suffering. 

    Someone may tell me I'm wrong!
That was my opening. I responded that I believed she wasn't wrong and that the bottom line for me is "what would the animals want?" If I was one of them, I wrote, I would gratefully lick the hand of any human who lightened my load (an animal "welfarist," in other words) and of any human who fought to remove my burden and my children's burden altogether (an abolitionist, or liberationist), even if he or she failed. I would not be so well disposed toward humans who sought to undercut each other in these efforts to benefit me and mine.

A few minutes later, I heard a Facebook chirp. When I returned to Facebook, I was stunned to see the following two replies:
  • Sarah K. Woodcock Syd Baumel, I have deleted your comment defending "the compassionate efforts of welfarists." While they may be motivated by compassion, the effects of their efforts are devastating for animals. Please review our Terms of Use (FB page) and also Professor Francione's website (www.abolitionistapproach.com). Thanks.
  • Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights Pauline Wooding; Syd Baumel: Sorry, but animals in Australia are, like animals in other countries, transported long distances to Australian slaughterhouses. Many animals are killed or maimed in domestic transport. This idea that Australian slaughter is some "gift" to farm animals shows how deeply confused our thinking has become.

    It is a tragedy that groups like Animals Australia and their counterparts in the U.S., U.K., and elsewhere partner with industry to promote "happy" exploitation in various forms. The animal movement should be clear: veganism is the *only* rational response to the recognition that animals matter morally. Animal advocates should never be partnering with industry to try to make the process of exploitation "better." The economic reality that animals are property will always constrain and limit welfare reform to measures that, as a general matter, improve production and are rational for industry to pursue. If the movement spoke with a unified vegan voice, industry would respond with welfare reforms anyway to try to assure the public that veganism was not necessary and that animal products were produced in a "humane" way. When animal advocates partner with industry, the message that is sent to the public is that they can be "compassionate" consumers. That is a message that industry loves. It should never be a message promoted by animal advocates. There is no such thing as "compassionate" consumption. There is veganism and there is direct participation in animal exploitation.

To which I replied:
I'm astounded - jaw-droppingly so - and appalled that my comment was deleted. It's never happened to me before on any forum, any subject, and I've been around for a while. What does this action say about the ability of your wing of the animal rights and welfare movement to tolerate civil disagreement and to be willing to discuss issues in a public forum without suppressing dissenting points of view?  
I'll save this comment because presumably you'll have to delete it too, "bury the evidence." My previous comment - my valued intellectual property, modest as it was - has now been arbitrarilly destroyed by you, Sarah, based on ... what "term of use" was that? Thou shalt not dissent?  Stunning. Absolutely stunning. BTW, Gary, what's the point of my responding to your well-considered comment under conditions like this? Or of anyone responding, unless it's to agree?  
Sure enough, my second comment was gone within 20 or 30 minutes. 

On reflection, it occurred to me that Francione and his Facebook fans were behaving like a cult. So I did what I always do at times like this: I typed "Francione cult" into google. As expected, I wasn't the first person to draw this comparison. Another animal rights person who had drawn the ire of Francione and been banned from his other, website-based forum (since closed) detailed his experience here. Other survivors of Francione narcissism - typically having been "banned" too - weighed in in the comments section. The similarities were striking, right down to some of their word choices, such as describing how "sycophants" are reduced to saying little but "right on!", ironically using the word "master" to describe the repressive autocrat and "This man is a supreme narcissist and this is clearly a cult of personality" (from a commenter who also had her comment deleted on Facebook just two months before). 

I added a comment myself:
Count me among the Facebook deleted. It happened just yesterday, and I was (and still am) so incensed, I'm drafting a blog post to "get even," or, more constructively, add my two cents to the greater subject of how not to participate in a human/animal rights/welfare movement or "Gary Francione has the soul of a totalitarian." Honestly, I've always had a negative reaction to him, but from a distance, not having studied his work, only having read dribs and drabs. I'm a pragmatic abolitionist-welfarist myself and a longtime vegan. But it wasn't the excessively esteemed professor's extreme, polarizing beliefs that turned me yesterday from Francione - meh, to Francione - feh. It was the astoundingly poor character he and his hatchet girl displayed on Facebook. I see from this welcome article and comments - a google search for "Francione" and "cult" brought me here - that he leaves a long wake of such damage behind him.  
Epilogue: A few weeks later, I returned to the scene of the crime and discovered that a week after the initial Francione-approved comments had run their course, someone else had the last word. Perhaps the thought police didn't notice it:

Suzy Baranski I am a vegan and I support the work of Animals Australia. I don't want animals being subjected to the horrors of a long boat journey and the even bigger horrors of going to a middle eastern country (I assume you know what happened in Pakistan). I also give them full support in their campaign to end factory farming. This is all part of the journey towards freedom. Awareness. I know many committed vegans who support Animals Australia 
April 13 at 10:13am

And now I've returned again and yet another dissenting view has eluded the censors:

Denise Danninger I'm sorry, but I don't agree. The exposure, awareness and public outcry over the plight of animals as a result of the groundbreaking work of Animals Australia is unprecedented. And that's what catapulted me into veganism. If you look at the statistics, less animals destined for consumption are being bred in Australia for live export. And that's a logical consequence when live export is reduced (and hopefully one day completely banned). Do you actually believe that through banning live export the number of animals being bred for consumption won't drop? I don't follow you. AA are NOT the bad guys. I find your rubbishing of them disappointing and non-constructive. They are making consumers question their choices. It appears to me that they are guiding people to veganism far more effectively than some others are doing it.
May 10 at 3:57am · Edited


Enjoy the "photographic evidence" while it lasts: 
  • Suzy Baranski I am a vegan and I support the work of Animals Australia. I don't want animals being subjected to the horrors of a long boat journey and the even bigger horrors of going to a middle eastern country (I assume you know what happened in Pakistan). I also give them full support in their campaign to end factory farming. This is all part of the journey towards freedom. Awareness. I know many committed vegans who support Animals Australia
  • Denise Danninger I'm sorry, but I don't agree. The exposure, awareness and public outcry over the plight of animals as a result of the groundbreaking work of Animals Australia is unprecedented. And that's what catapulted me into veganism. If you look at the statistics, less animals destined for consumption are being bred in Australia for live export. And that's a logical consequence when live export is reduced (and hopefully one day completely banned). Do you actually believe that through banning live export the number of animals being bred for consumption won't drop? I don't follow you. AA are NOT the bad guys. I find your rubbishing of them disappointing and non-constructive. They are making consumers question their choices. It appears to me that they are guiding people to veganism far more effectively than some others are doing it.


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