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Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

So-called Abolitionist Animal Rights is hindering progress with respect to the treatment by humans of other animals. That is, it is not the case that, on balance, the "Abolitionists" have made things better for non-human animals but, rather, they have delayed the adoption of meaningful reforms that would benefit billions of animals.

The "Abolitionist Approach" is such that it demands of all people that they either adopt a strict vegan lifestyle or accept themselves as immoral, or "morally confused". Given that ample research into human behavior shows that when most people are confronted with a challenge to their core values - a challenge that would require radical change (as they see it) in their behaviors, most people reject such a challenge. It is simply the case, in general, that when we are told that we must abandon some behavior that we have always accepted as normal (or, in the present case, natural and good), then we are decidedly more likely to reject the call to change than to do anything at all. We are unlikely to believe that we are immoral, or "morally confused" when to do so would run counter to all that we believe about ourselves and our culture.

Since the "Abolitionist Approach" is unremitting in demanding radical change, and indeed unremitting in labeling as counter-productive (and worse) ANYTHING that falls short of such radical change, it is likely to cause most people who hear its scriptures to dig in their heals with respect to their current practices toward other animals.

As counter-intuitive as it may appear at first blush, it is because the "Abolitionist Approach" (and the calls for abolitionist animal rights and veganism more generally) are considered by most to be so demanding that such an approach makes things worse for animals than they otherwise would be. The "Abolitionist Approach", whatever its ideological or theoretically value, should be abandoned by any person who seeks practical ways to create the most change in the most people.

Notice, this is not a question of whether or not, or to what extent for whom, it is demanding to be vegan or recognize 'rights' for other animals is. I submit that it is demanding, but that is not important. What is important is how those being challenged to change think and feel about themselves with respect to the change they are being asked to consider. The more such a change threatens their self-identity, the more likely they are to dismay any challenge to make such a change.

I suppose that one way to deal with this aspect of human behavior is to do what the "Abolitionist Approach" does: Ignore it. That is, one can simply say that "people ought not to be this way" and that the job of advocates is to "speak the truth, no matter how unsettling it may be to those who must be educated". (Leave aside that such thinking smacks of authoritarianism.) But to say that is just silly. We can't make people something other than what we are simply by making the same demands more insistently and more clearly. We have to work with what millions of years of evolution have given us.

If people are going to change their behaviors with respect to other animals, it won't be because they're told how immoral it is to do otherwise. It will be because the world changes such that it becomes easier (i.e. more efficient) to not use other animals than it currently is to use them. This is a structural problem in a material world. It requires a structural solution is there is going to be any solution at all.

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You mentioned Nick Cooney and his work a few times, Uptight Primate, have you heard Nick's latest interview with ARZone in which he speaks about his newest book, Veganomics and *THE* abolitionist approach and why he thinks it is ineffective and lacks any real understanding of human behaviour? It's here if you're interested:

IMHO, the most comprehensive approach not just to animal right but "total liberation" is proposed by another abolitionist advocate, Dr. Steve Best who does not get enough coverage or credit in the vegan community. I think he has it right. Here is a presentation, I am new to AR so if this has been posted or discussed in the past, sorry for the spam.

Thanks for reading the post. I think that the toughest part of "creating change" is in the knowing that we don't have very much power at all to change the world. As creatures of evolution, the world changes us - we respond to it in an attempt to survive. I don't know how much we can do to change the hearts and minds of others while the world is the way it is......

Uptight Primate said:

Thanks for posting this Tim - as a movement we really do need to develop a sustainable strategy for change.

I have been reading up on the history of the AR movement - what have we tried (and keeping trying), what has worked, or not, why not etc. Like most vegan activists I am impatient for change and have looked long and hard at the current situation and our options.

I think Nick Cooney has done a great job of demolishing the abolitionist approach. But as Tim is pointing out people who have made the decision to eat meat or wear fur etc will defend their choices if challenged - so too do activists who are gung-ho for 1 approach. It appears to me that the movement has often searched for just 1 easy answer to all our problems - whether that is; ALF style 'cost-levying' approaches or trying to turn everyone vegan. And, inevitably, we argue more over strategy than anything else. The largest disconnect seems to be between some elements of the 'grass-roots' and the 'nationals' of the movement. In my opinion the movement is deeply dysfunctional and has not progressed significantly in the last 50 years - the increasing numbers of (non-human) animals used supports this.

1. We need to relegate all violent cost-levying to the past; blackmail, guilt and fear (or terrorism as the Govt would have it) are not effective ways to develop sustainable change - winning hearts and minds is.

2. We should put lots of effort into educating the public - but not simply demanding they go vegan - as Nick C points out in his research, encouraging meat reduction and vegetarianism is the best way to create more vegans (although 75% of them won't remain veg*n anyway, so this really is 1 step forward, 3 back).

3. Therefore we also have to put lots of effort into making it easier for people to make the required changes in their lives. Work with local shops and eateries to increase ethical choices.

4. We need to expose the suffering as much as possible - the public are closer to our own goals than they are to industry goals, we have to show them what actually happens. We should stop referring to the current situation of animal use as animal welfare - many in the movement have fallen for this rhetoric.

5. We should work with other progressive movements across areas of common cause - such as reducing meat eating for the sake of the environment as well as the animals.

6. Most importantly we have to develop strategies for changes in laws and policies that directly impact on animals or our efforts will constantly fail to translate into meaningful and lasting change.

I agree that it is time to abandon abolitionism (it has never been a useful approach). It is time to develop a realistic strategy of incremental change. Lasting change rarely comes about by drawing a line in the sand and deciding that the winner takes it all in one fell swoop.

As Tim (and Madonna, famously) said we are living in a material world... we need to be realistic in order to be effective.

HI Carolyn,

I like NIck's work, as you know. I think it's crazy for people in the movement to ignore what he's learned about social-psychology and how it can help us to influence the behaviors of others. At the same time, I think Nick underestimates the import of what his analysis shows - it's damned near impossible to change other people, or for any change (of the sort the animal movement is after), if it happens, to last very long at all. Sad, but true.

Carolyn Bailey said:

You mentioned Nick Cooney and his work a few times, Uptight Primate, have you heard Nick's latest interview with ARZone in which he speaks about his newest book, Veganomics and *THE* abolitionist approach and why he thinks it is ineffective and lacks any real understanding of human behaviour? It's here if you're interested:

Dr. Best does understand the structural realities that are in play in ways that I think those who have "moral theories" of animal rights don't.

Allen Khorasani said:

IMHO, the most comprehensive approach not just to animal right but "total liberation" is proposed by another abolitionist advocate, Dr. Steve Best who does not get enough coverage or credit in the vegan community. I think he has it right. Here is a presentation, I am new to AR so if this has been posted or discussed in the past, sorry for the spam.

I find the current abolitionist “movement” quit troubling although I don’t worry about it so much as they are marginalizing themselves and becoming irrelevant. It is not only the fact that their method of advocacy is ineffective and tends to drive non-vegans away, but their entire philosophy and understanding of history, which all comes from Francione, is wrong. They very much like to compare animal rights to slavery, or Gandhi and liberation of India or the civil rights movement here in US. In that vein, they oppose ANY action, ALL single issue campaigns, “baby steps”. Let me be clear, I agree with their criticism of Peta and HSUS which have formed partnerships with the animal exploitation industry, but let’s look at some of the things they vigorously attack, and compare to movements that they model themselves after. 

For example, they continuously attack “meatless mondays” and  efforts to ban “live export” . During 1800’s slaves managed to get one day off to farm on their own garden plot for their own benefit. 
Legislation was passed in 1800’s banning “slave trade”, it did NOT ban slave ownership, this is comparable to live export. These were all “baby steps” towards total liberation. 
They attack groups such as ALF and open rescue, yet the under ground railroad during slavery was very much the same. I wonder if they would have condemned Harriet Tubman who has become an iconic figure in the struggle of slaves for freedom. 
They oppose ALL “single issue campaigns” yet Gandhi’s salt march was a perfect example of a direct, non-violent, civil disobedient campaign objecting to the British taxes imposed on salt in India and many have claimed that it laid the foundation for Indian liberation.
In 1955, when Rosa Parks, an african american woman,  refused to give up her seat on a Bus to a white person in Alabama which led to the Montgomery bus boycott, was a perfect example of a singe issue campaign that became a corners stone of the civil rights movement in the US. 
They just seem to have no understanding of history and other social movements that they use as a model for the abolitionist approach. They claim there is more animal exploitation today than ever before, that is correct, there is more exploitation of everything today, of humans, environment everything but it is NOT because of animal welfare organizations as they claim it  is due to the spread of global “capitalism” NOT animal welfare campaigns. We have more human slavery today than ever in history. India and China have industrialized and as they develop an affluent “middle class” with purchasing power, they are adopting western diet and life style. But they never mention these facts. I am baffled, Francione is very intelligent and well educated, how can he not know these facts and issues. There must be an ulterior motive which I do not see. 

Thank you so much for the link, it is a great article, this is so true:

"Seeking to protect animals by engaging exclusively in a moral crusade has the effect of removing animals from the political arena and the possibility of enforceable legislation applying to all. Indeed, it has the effect, unintended though it might be, of turning back the clock to a time when the state and the legal system did not recognise its direct duties to protect the interests of animals and was only willing to take action once the ill-treatment of animals led to human harms."

This movement, or for that matter, any social movement, will not advance without government and legislative action. I cannot think of a single social movement in history that advanced by just "creative nonviolent advocacy". In fact, "pacifying" any resistant force is always the aim of any intrenched system with vested financial and other interests in maintaining the status quo. Thank you so much for the link.

Uptight Primate said:

Great post Allen.

Another great post here from Prof Robert Garner exploring some of the problems with the abolitionist approach.

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