Animal Rights Zone

Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

A Critical Reflection On the Abolitionist Movement by Corey Wrenn

I'm aware that at least some members of ARZone consider themselves, or once considered themselves, to be "Abolitionist" in the way that Professor Gary Francione has defined that term.

 

In the essay below, Corey Wrenn, a "staunch promoter of abolitionist nonhuman animal rights", provides reflections on and criticisms of the Abolitionist movement.

 

I'd be interested to know what members of ARZone think of Wrenn's essay?

http://www.examiner.com/article/a-critical-reflection-on-the-abolit...

A Critical Reflection On the Abolitionist Movement

InclusivityInclusivity

 

My readers should be well aware that I am a staunch promoter of abolitionist nonhuman animal rights.  I am convinced that abolitionism is the best approach to fighting speciesism that we have available.  Thus, since its inception, I have operated this Examiner page accordingly.  However, this does not mean that I find abolitionism impervious.  Like any social movement, criticism and reflection is absolutely essential to movement growth.  Unfortunately, like many other approaches to nonhuman animal rights, abolitionism often becomes hung up in traditional methods of outreach and has been largely resistant to genuine challenges to its theory and practice.  Below are some extensions on growing critiques as well as my personal observations that have been influenced by my research into social movement theory. It is my hope that abolitionist advocates take these criticisms seriously and do not write them off as part of some personal vendetta.  My allegiance has always been to the advancement of nonhuman animal rights.  As such, no theory, no approach, and no movement is outside criticism.

 

Single Issue Campaigns

Perhaps the most curious characteristic of some abolitionist advocacy is the lingering attachment to single issue campaigning.  Some relentlessly advertise shelter kill lists.  This emphasizes the needs of cats and dogs at the expense of rabbits, fish, pigs, cows, horses, and a number of other nonhuman animals who face death for want of adoption.  It also detracts from other systems of exploitation that are far more disastrous to nonhumans as a whole;  shelter deaths make up only a tiny percentage of the injustices against nonhumans.  Still others focus on minute single issues such as fireworks disturbing wildlife or the detrimental effects of litter.  The hope is to use these single issues to draw attention to veganism and nonhuman animal liberation.  Unfortunately, this tends to reinforce the negative identity applied to nonhuman animal advocates as unrealistic fanatics.  Neither does it effectively outline the importance of veganism over refraining from litter or fireworks.   I have also recently seen abolitionists calling for boycotts of companies (who are not even vegan to begin with) that have begun to allow for nonhuman animal testing.  This is simply confusing and a waste of precious few resources. 

In these examples it is clear that abolition often remains strikingly similar to new welfare ideals and organizations by favoring "low hanging fruit" at the expense of comprehensive, clear vegan education.   Focusing on popular species and specific small-scale issues detracts from the root of the problem:  our exploitation of nonhumans.  All nonhumans and all nonhuman exploitation should be included in our scope.

Democratic Participation

An important characteristic of new social movements is democratic participation.  This means that all who participate have a say in how the movement is structured and how it operates.  This is in contrast to traditional movement structures that often relied quite heavily on one or few charismatic leaders who steered the movement.  The strength of democratic participation lies in its ability to repel stagnation, invite reflexivity, and to avoid any personal agendas or belief systems held by leaders in the movement.  Unfortunately, the abolitionist movement has become inextricably tied to Gary Francione’s writings and persona.  This has reached a point where the movement not only appears cult-like, but contributions from other theorists and activists must be subject to leader approval else they are ignored and deemed unabolitionist.  The abolitionist movement, then, does not appear to be a movement at all, but rather the promotion of one man’s theory.  The movement becomes less about nonhuman animal equality and more about hero worship.  It's absolutely unrealistic and dangerous to place the entire movement in the hands of one person.

Critical Thinking and Self Reflection

Because the abolitionist movement is so heavily associated with the promotion of one man’s theory rather than the promotion of a movement, the result has been an inability for many activists to engage in critical thinking or reflection.  Any criticism of Francione’s theory, for example, no matter how important (or slight for that matter), results in the person delivering the critique being labeled “delusional,” “confused,” or even cognitively challenged.  What’s more, the person is no longer considered an abolitionist and is often blacklisted.  This is a strange reaction given that many of the persons delivering critiques are indeed abolitionist and are genuinely concerned in improving and strengthening the abolitionist movement.  If a movement hopes to grow and avoid stagnation, it must be able to engage critique and self-reflection.  Indeed, as the abolitionist movement refuses to participate in the discourse, it becomes increasingly similar to the mainstream animal welfare movement it so heavily opposes.  Like the welfare movement, the abolitionist movement is often resentful of critique, becomes irrationally devoted to particular approaches and theory, and thus risks becoming outdated and left behind in the progression of nonhuman animal rights.

Exclusivity

A popular critique from animal welfare organizations and activists is the extreme exclusivity of abolitionism.  To some degree, I am forced to agree with them.  In their fervor to differentiate themselves from welfare, many abolitionists are far too quick to exclude nonabolitionists or new vegans from discussions.  On one hand, it is certainly not appropriate for abolitionists to promote or give platform to the counterproductive and destructive work of welfarist organizations and individuals.  But, on the other hand, we should be able to engage them in debate and practice patience with newcomers in social networking forums.  While we should be cautious of those who are influenced by their years of hard work and commitment to welfarist causes and really have more interest in protecting their investments than in realizing what actions are best for nonhuman liberation, we should be mindful of those who are genuinely interested in he discourse for the sake of the nonhumans we represent.

Inclusivity

Alternatively, a new claim in the abolitionist movement that is promoted by Francione states that: “That moral concern/moral impulse can come from *any* source, spiritual or non-spiritual.”  This inclusivity in outreach, as I have argued in a previous article, is hugely problematic for a movement based in challenging taken-for-granted belief systems using rational discourse.  The “anything goes” approach leaves our movement open to further attacks to our identity reinforcing the notion that we are irrational crystal-gazing hippies.  But, more importantly, allowing for faith-based outreach is hugely counterproductive to our rationality-based message.  It is a weak foundation for promoting the rights of nonhumans, it often focuses on the benefits to the individual (at the expense of the benefits of nonhumans), and is generally an unethical way to promote morality. 

Promotion of Violent Ideology

Finally, in response to these criticisms, many abolitionists have retorted with personal attacks and personal insults.  This is not only counterintuitive to a non-violent movement, but it completely ignores perfectly valid criticisms.  And, in response to the growing popularity of spirituality in some abolitionist factions, an anti-atheist prejudice has been encouraged.  Abolitionist atheists are labeled “bigots” or “militant” and have been accused of threatening or insulting people of faith.  Again, this is an attempt to skirt genuine criticism by feeding into preexisting and popular prejudices against those of no faith.  Given the intense discrimination facing atheists in the United States, this is a particularly unfortunate trend in abolitionist circles.

Also of interest here is the overall lack of sensitivity to people of color, people of lower socioeconomic statuses, and people with disabilities.  Much of the abolitionist literature fails to recognize literacy levels which are significantly lower for certain demographics.  Outreach attempts also fail to acknowledge the limited access to nutritional information and nutritious foods facing much of the population.  Finally, abolitionist critiques which refer to others as delusional or schizophrenic is ableist and absolutely unnecessary in discussing nonhuman animal exploitation.  As abolitionists we value nonviolence:  this goes beyond the rejection of physical violence and must also include violence in our words, writing, and outreach.

Tags: abolition, animal, francione, rights

Views: 747

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Lucas, I'm interested in hearing what you think about Wrenn's observations.

I appreciate that Corey Wrenn, as a close colleague of Francione and a self-identified abolitionist, chose to write this critical reflection of the abolitionist "movement" as it is. I hope that her criticisms are taken into consideration by other Francione-style abolitionists, because I do personally find a lot of value in Francione's work but not the direction that his movement has gone as a result of some of the problems she identifies.

As a former member of the now defunct abolitionist approach forum, I agree with Wrenn's observations about the abolitionist movement not appearing to be a movement at all, due to the near total focus on one theorist and the exclusion of contributions of other theorists (or activists, or organizations, or other committed vegans) not approved of openly by Francione. From my experience, Wrenn is correct in stating that any criticism of Francione's work is treated with outright hostility by certain "inner-circle" Francione-style abolitionists. That is, unless it is completely discounted and ignored from the outset simply for not being "abolitionist" enough. This, as she points out, is only to the detriment of the abolitionist movement.

I also agree with Wrenn that abolitionist lit often ignores the lived experiences of many folks, particularly those without access to proper, nutritious food. Being vegan might be "the morally right thing to do" but I'm sure it is not at all "easy" for the millions of people in the United States alone who live in "food deserts". I feel that abolitionists need to take these people into account (as well as other folks she mentions) if they ever want to build an inclusive social movement.

I disagree with Wrenn somewhat on her stance on religion and single-issues, but I'm sure there are other threads on ARZone to discuss that.

I find this article boring and predictable. There is nothing new, or that hasn't been said by every other exiled Francionist in this less than "critical" review of the abolitionist approach. It is also one of the most hypocritical articles I have ever read.

Until Gary chose to exile Corey Wrenn from his "Gang", Corey Wrenn was arguably the most vicious of all of Gary's fans. She participated in every one of the activities she has noted above, and she did so regularly, and with pride.

Her own disgraceful personal attacks on Roger Yates are just one of many examples of the precise behaviours she now complains about, after having once been an avid and proud participant in, and leader of them.

I find it staggering that immediately after being exiled by Gary, she "saw the light" and realised the error in her ways, beginning to write "thoughtful" and "critical" accounts of what she now regards as a "cult". This most certainly is about her "personal vendetta" and her offence at being exiled from a cult she so desperately wanted to remain a part of.

There have been far more honest, more insightful and more critical reviews written by advocates who have also been exiled by Gary in the past. Corey Wrenn's article reads like a last sad bid for attention, and, worse, for revenge - of the very kind she criticises the Francionists of wishing on others.

While I appreciate Ms. Wrenn's recently gained understanding of the problems of the cult of Francione, I would be more impressed with her critique had she done two things.  First, she could have admitted her own role, which Carolyn mentions, in the assaults on those who dared to question the great man and his "theories".  A little contrition might have gone some way in making this article sound like something other than a "sour grapes" lament on her part.  Second, she begins by saying that while she's an abolitionist, that abolitionism shouldn't be impervious to critique. However, she's not critiquing abolitionism as abolitionism, she's critiquing Francione on the grounds that he's not abolitionist enough!  That is, in pretending to hold her own ideology up to the light, all she is doing is exactly what she complains of the Francionists doing.  This isn't a critique of abolitionism - that would have been refreshing and valuable - it's an attack on the Francionists for being not as abolitionist as Wrenn presumably takes herself to be.  It's really just more of the same - an abolitionist claiming that others are doing wrong by supporting single-issue campaigns, being divisive and so on; I'm surprised that she didn't claim that Francione is really just a "new-welfarist" in disguise - that's the usual trope.

I wasn't aware that Wrenn had been exiled from the abolitionist "gang", but that does explain a lot, like her choice to use the word "cult". I was, until now, under the impression that this "critical reflection" was being made "from the inside".

 

 

 

Hi Lucas, 

Thanks for sharing this article in ARZone. I believe that it's good for our members to understand some of what has gone on within the "inner-circle" of this particular approach. I suspect that almost everyone would believe as you did, that it was a review from inside, rather than an attack in itself. 

I appreciated the opportunity to respond to the article and hopefully shed some light on what I believe to be the real reasons it was written. :) 

Well I formed my view of the article before reading Carolyn's eye-opening reply about the Corey's past history with Gary F!! I still think it's a bit rich for Corey to complain about the prejudice atheists get in the USA whilst she has no compunction about calling hippies 'irrational' and 'crystal gazing'!  I completely disagree with her notion that the animal rights movement (or any social movement for that matter) should distance itself from religious views.  Gary F is quite correct to say that the moral impulse for compassion  can come from spirituality or equally from atheism - as I understand him he is saying, meet someone on their own ground when talking about veganism, so one might address a Buddhist  in terms of compassion for all sentient beings, one might address an atheist in terms of 'a dog is the same as a pig is the same as a polar bear' (or other such logic). When she says this :   'But, more importantly, allowing for faith-based outreach is hugely counterproductive to our rationality-based message.  It is a weak foundation for promoting the rights of nonhumans, it often focuses on the benefits to the individual (at the expense of the benefits of nonhumans), and is generally an unethical way to promote morality.'   : I've no idea what she is talking about!

Ms. Wrenn ought to read the article that Paul Hansen has written, as well as the excellent comments that have been made to it!!  :)

Madeleine Longhurst said:

Well I formed my view of the article before reading Carolyn's eye-opening reply about the Corey's past history with Gary F!! I still think it's a bit rich for Corey to complain about the prejudice atheists get in the USA whilst she has no compunction about calling hippies 'irrational' and 'crystal gazing'!  I completely disagree with her notion that the animal rights movement (or any social movement for that matter) should distance itself from religious views.  Gary F is quite correct to say that the moral impulse for compassion  can come from spirituality or equally from atheism - as I understand him he is saying, meet someone on their own ground when talking about veganism, so one might address a Buddhist  in terms of compassion for all sentient beings, one might address an atheist in terms of 'a dog is the same as a pig is the same as a polar bear' (or other such logic). When she says this :   'But, more importantly, allowing for faith-based outreach is hugely counterproductive to our rationality-based message.  It is a weak foundation for promoting the rights of nonhumans, it often focuses on the benefits to the individual (at the expense of the benefits of nonhumans), and is generally an unethical way to promote morality.'   : I've no idea what she is talking about!

These are a few of the influences on the "lens" I have been attempting to view and therefore filter my own thoughts through in order to separate the behavior of individuals and their ideas, and keep focused on effective organizing tactics that include everyone.

Specifically regarding this article, I'm defining what I see are the unmet needs of the author, and figuring out who "abolitionists" are relative to the animal rights/antispeciesist movement. It's a practice of reading between the lines and it takes concentration and time to meditate. I will probably read this article a few times over the coming days and weeks to fully process it and form an opinion that aligns with the influences cited above.

From Wikipedia (the ultimate and most reliable source of all knowledge):

"In philosophy, rationality is the characteristic of any action, belief, or desire, that makes their choice a necessity. It is a normative concept about the reasoning in the sense that rational people should derive conclusions in a consistent way given the information at disposal. It refers to the conformity of one's beliefs with one's reasons to believe, or with one's actions with one's reasons for action."

If someone has an explanation how belief in God is incompatible with this definition of rationality, I'd like to hear it. 

Reply to Discussion

RSS

Videos

  • Add Videos
  • View All

ARZone Podcasts!

Please visit this webpage to subscribe to ARZone podcasts using iTunes

or

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Follow ARZone!

Please follow ARZone on:

Twitter

Google+

Pinterest

A place for animal advocates to gather and discuss issues, exchange ideas, and share information.

Creative Commons License
Animal Rights Zone (ARZone) by ARZone is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.arzone.ning.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.arzone.ning.com.

Members

Events

Animal Rights Zone (ARZone) Disclaimer

Animal Rights Zone (ARZone) is an animal rights site. As such, it is the position of ARZone that it is only by ending completely the use of other animal as things can we fulfill our moral obligations to them.

Please read the full site disclosure here.

Animal Rights Zone (ARZone) Mission Statement

Animal Rights Zone (ARZone) exists to help educate vegans and non-vegans alike about the obligations human beings have toward all other animals.

Please read the full mission statement here.

Badge

Loading…

© 2014   Created by Animal Rights Zone.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service

Google+