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Veganism and proselytizing - the funcrunch files

Apr. 17th, 2014 10:40 am Veganism and proselytizing

In the course of reading about veganism last week, I came across Gary L. Francione, a law professor who has been vegan for over 30 years. He advocates an abolitionist approach to veganism which states, in a nutshell, that if one agrees that it is morally wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering and death upon animals, then it is a moral obligation to stop eating animal products. He contrasts this to a welfarist approach which aims to improve living and slaughtering conditions for farmed animals. He doesn't believe this latter approach makes any significant difference to animals' lives, and that it actually encourages people to continue eating animal products as they feel better about doing so.

Ultimately, he argues, every sentient being wishes to avoid suffering and death. And even if it were possible to treat all food animals as cherished pets, raised and slaughtered under the gentlest possible conditions, in the end they are still killed for the purpose of fulfilling human pleasure or convenience. (The killing also applies to dairy cows and egg-laying chickens, who don't simply live out their lives to die peacefully of old age even on the smallest family farms.)

I just finished reading Gary's latest book - co-written with Anna Charlton - Eat Like You Care, which explains the above and addresses a great many frequently-asked questions about nutrition, ethics, and other situations where many believe eating animal products would be justified. Little of the information was new to me, and I didn't agree with everything the authors wrote or how they phrased their arguments (the repeated references and comparisons to Michael Vick's dog fighting I thought were excessive and somewhat counterproductive). But it did make me think about how I've been addressing veganism, and how much I've been burying a topic that is of great importance to me out of fear of causing offense or being socially isolated even further than I am now.

I've never considered myself to be an animal rights activist, because I associated these people largely with fanatics who consider animals to be morally equivalent to humans, and do things like throw paint on fur coats or break animals out of laboratories. Gary does not think this way nor advocate these activities. He acknowledges that in the choice between saving the life of a human or an animal, the human always wins. But he also notes that unless you're stranded on a desert island, in a lifeboat, or in some remote desert or arctic area without access to plants, this does not excuse eating animal products. He does not advocate giving animals legal personhood or changing the laws to prevent their consumption, either. He simply asks that if people agree that eating animal products causes unnecessary suffering and death, that they voluntarily stop eating all such products. No additional activism necessary.

I'm sure many would be turned off by Gary's arguments, finding them preachy. I've always been averse to proselytizing myself. But then I think of Penn Jilette, who is no vegan (quite the opposite) but an atheist and quite engaging author and personality. In his book God, No!, amongst other places, he has stated that proselytizing doesn't bother him at all; in fact, he welcomes it. He believes people should speak up strongly for what they believe in. He's fine with Christians praying over him, arguing with him, trying to convert him from his sinful ways. (He also frequently reads the Bible so that he can counter Biblical arguments quite effectively.)

As I've read and heard from other sources, for some Christians, they consider it obligatory to try to get people to come to Jesus in the same way that they would consider it obligatory to try to save someone from drowning. They literally believe the person's eternal soul is in danger and they need to get them to believe in Jesus in order to save them from hell. They sincerely think they're doing a selfless, compassionate act, even if to most of us they seem like annoying fundamentalist nutjobs, or worse.

I don't want to be seen as a fundamentalist nutjob. Or an asshole. (Penn Jilette, in contrast, would be fine with this, admitting in the first chapter of his book that he is an asshole.) But at the same time, I believe our animal-based agriculture is literally killing us - humans, animals, and entire ecosystems - and that it's urgent that we reverse this trend. Gary's writings have convinced me that halfway measures and welfarist approaches (which even organizations like PETA are now advocating) simply aren't going to make any real difference.

But how to approach this subject without turning people off? No doubt I already have. But I no longer feel comfortable watering down my views on this issue to make them more palatable. The only question is how to advocate in an effective way.


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Date:October 6th, 2014 11:23 pm (UTC)

Take the good, leave the bad

I agree with much of what Francione writes, but not all of it. Unfortunately, that is not good enough for him and his troupe. If you ever visit their FB page, their guidelines are pretty strict that you don't question Gary's ideas.

My interactions with him were unpleasant, and I left the group because I did not like the groupthink. I've seen them gang up on new people who go to the page exploring what it's about. I've seen them go to other (welfare or single issue) pages to yell at the visitors that they are immoral if they don't go vegan. This is very ineffective, no counter-effective, outreach. Makes vegans look extreme and crazy.

So my lesson was to take the parts of his thinking you agree with, and leave the rest. He tries to set it up on the page as if it's all or nothing. Either you agree that the Francione model of Animal Abolitionism is the only one true pure model, and any variations are an abomination and a moral failing, OR you take the parts that make sense and find other ideas that also make sense.
Date:October 6th, 2014 11:39 pm (UTC)

Re: Take the good, leave the bad

I agree with you on Gary. I wrote an essay about his behavior on FB a few months back. Just haven't updated this or other previous posts where I wrote favorably about him, since I still agree with his basic philosophy.