Animal Rights Zone

Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

Our Voices, Our Movement: How Vegans Can Move Beyond the “Welfare-Abolition Debate”

Dr. Melanie Joy speaks about the "welfare -vs- abolition "debate"", and suggests a new way of thinking about this issue. 

Our Voices, Our Movement: How Vegans Can Move Beyond the “Welfare-Abolition Debate”

Written by Dr. Melanie Joy 

 

For years I have remained silent on the “welfare-abolition debate,” believing that my limited time and energy as an activist were best directed elsewhere. But recent events have compelled me to witness the profound anger, confusion, guilt, weariness, and despair this issue triggers in vegans – vegans whose commitment and compassion never cease to astound and inspire me. So I could not, in good conscience, avoid contemplating this issue and sharing my reflections.

Much has been written about the content of the issue – the specific ideas and arguments that comprise each position. In fact, virtually all that has been discussed in regard to the “debate” is content-based, and one would be hard-pressed to find new content to add to a “debate” that has been at a stalemate since its inception. So I am not going to argue for a position here, but, rather, suggest a different way of thinking about this issue – a reframe that I hope will help free up some energy that’s been spent in a gridlock, so that our lives are more peaceful and our activism is more effective.

What I suggest is that we turn our attention from the content to the process of the issue. 

 

CONTINUE READING

 

 

Please visit www.carnism.com to read about the amazing work Dr. Melanie Joy is doing to create other types of dialogues. 

 

Dr. Melanie Joy also covered this topic when she spoke with ARZone recently HERE. 

 

 

Originally Posted at One Green Planet

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Strange: Melanie's post over at James' site is gone--everything deleted (including comments).  Over at One Green Planet, Linda McKenzie posted her comment and I responded below: http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/our-voices-our-movem...

Because Joy’s essay has generated so much discussion, I thought I'd offer a bullet-point summary of what I take to be her central points.

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(1) Participants in the “welfare-abolition debate” have experienced “profound anger, confusion, guilt, weariness, and despair” about the issue, which is a problem stemming from undesirable modes of communication—how participants to relate to their differences.

(2) Participants should abandon the “debate” model of communication in favor of the “dialogue” model of communication. The latter does not require sacrificing intellectual rigor, but involves a “liberatory consciousness”: namely, interacting with compassion and empathy for those with whom we disagree. “A liberatory consciousness reflects compassion – an open heart – rather than judgment, shaming, and bullying.”

(3) To engage in better “dialogue,” divisive labels should be dropped in favor of “terms that are more inclusive and accurate.” For instance, “abolitionist” should retain its ordinary (neutral) definition to mean someone who favors the abolition of a practice or an institution—in this case, the abolition of animal exploitation. 

(4) Most differences over strategy, which are very real, have been conflated with deep ideological differences. That is, differences about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of strategy are not *fundamental* differences about morality, but differences about pragmatics.  There are many “valid questions that require ongoing dialogue.”

(5) Related to (4), theory has been conflated with fact and fact conflated with theory. It is theory, not fact (based on reliable data), that one particular strategy is ultimately more effective than another. It is fact (based on reliable data), not theory, that there are certain “motivational and behavioral factors influencing individual and social change.” (“Nick Cooney’s Change of Heart, a 220-page compilation of psychosocial studies, has at times been treated as though it were mere conjecture.”)

(6) Related to (4), there is no Great Debate (although there are plenty of disagreements), such that vegans, by virtue of being vegans, are not “automatically on one side or the other.” The “vast majority of vegans do not see themselves on a ‘side’ of the ‘debate’ because they are not identified with a particular position.” [An example of a true Great Debate would pro-choice v. pro-life: one position is diametrically opposed to the other. But a vegan or “abolitionist” in the *ordinary sense* isn’t necessarily committed to any particular position in the “welfare-abolitionist debate.”]

(7) Related to (6), there is no Great Divide (although there are plenty of disagreements and diversity). “[I]t is important for us to remember that we are no less diverse than non-vegans, and we don’t have to – nor should we – share all the same values and beliefs and approaches. … [W]e can be, and are, both similar and different.” [Part of the problem is with defining the contours of “a movement” when, like *any social movement,* the group of people to be considered are a diverse bunch. The relevant question is: does it make more sense to describe animal advocates as being all in a single (albeit highly diverse) movement or in separate movements which nevertheless share *some* common goals *central* to each? The question seems largely a verbal one to me.]

I agree with you, Spencer. When I first became vegan it initially seemed odd to me that a vegan would oppose animal "welfare." But that's because I was assuming the CORRECT definition of "welfare"! Roger Yates had a podcast episode with Harold Brown where Brown said he prefers the term "animal husbandry" rather than "animal welfare" because it's a more accurate description. Perhaps rather than accusing people or organizations of being "welfarist," we should accuse them of NOT doing "welfare" (since any animal who is used and slaughtered really can't "fare well"). Let's call them "enablers" or "husbandrists" or something that better reflects the side they are on. (Colleen Patrick-Goudreau has a new podcast about the power of language and the importance of meaning what we say: http://www.compassionatecook.com/writings/podcast-media/i-dont-eat-...)

Spencer Lo said:

Hi Ellie,


I thought about your concern that "humane" has been co-opted to make animal killing more acceptable, and the same is undoubtedly true for words like "compassion," "kindness," "nice" and "animal welfare." But rather than not use those terms at all, it would be better to "take them back," so to speak, to demonstrate that true humane treatment or care, etc, is wholly incompatible with animal slaughter for food. Part of the battle against carnism--a sub-ideology of speciesism--seems to be a battle against linguistic conventions, in a similar way that the LGTB community has taken back the word "gay" and "queer." 

Great point, Kate - I dislike the fact that I am now associating, consciously and unconsciously, the term "animal welfare" with something bad, and I suspect many people have made similar negative associations with the words "humane," "compassion," "respect," "kindness," etc. One "Abolitionist" on fb said to me: "We also don't try to cultivate 'moral concern for animals' in any sense of 'compassion!'" Rather than move away from those words, we should embrace them.

Another possible substitute for "animal welfare," suggested by David Sztybel, is "animal ill-fare." So maybe ill-farists? 

Ugh. What a ridiculous thing to say. If we want more people on the side of justice for other animals we really need to stop belittling words like "compassion" and "respect." It may sound dumb and simple but to outsiders it literally sounds like we're against what most people consider basic decency. If someone tells a lie but claims it's the truth would we start opposing "truth" and "honesty"? That's just silly. Let's stand against the misuse of these words, but not against their real meaning. 

So here goes... I, Kate, am a welfarist! Yes! Because I care about all animals faring well, which, at the very least, means freeing them from being used as means to our ends.

Hi Spencer. Just wanted to make clear that what I meant was ridiculous was the comment you received ( "We also don't try to cultivate 'moral concern for animals' in any sense of 'compassion!'"), not your response above. Just wanted to be sure you didn't think I was saying your comment was a ridiculous thing to say because I obviously agree with you! 


Kate Goldhouse said:

Ugh. What a ridiculous thing to say. If we want more people on the side of justice for other animals we really need to stop belittling words like "compassion" and "respect." It may sound dumb and simple but to outsiders it literally sounds like we're against what most people consider basic decency. If someone tells a lie but claims it's the truth would we start opposing "truth" and "honesty"? That's just silly. Let's stand against the misuse of these words, but not against their real meaning. 

So here goes... I, Kate, am a welfarist! Yes! Because I care about all animals faring well, which, at the very least, means freeing them from being used as means to our ends.

No I understood what you meant (you were perfectly clear :)), and agree with your comment. And thanks for the link to Patrick-Goudreau's podcast!

I agree that "abolitionist" should retain its basic definition and, as mentioned before, so should "welfare." I also think we should just drop the "-ist" labels altogether. I regret to say that there have been too many times where the fear of being labeled "welfarist" has made me way too hesitant to ask questions or do something productive. The labels put the focus on each other instead of on the animals who need our hearts and minds so much more. That's been my experience, anyway.

How about this... For those who have the shared goal of abolishing animal exploitation, perhaps we could use the terms "direct elimination" vs. "incremental change" to describe the difference in strategy. This describes strategy, not individuals. And by doing so recognizes that people may adopt different strategies for different situations while still having the same end goal of abolition.

For those whose end goal is NOT abolition, perhaps we could say they support "husbandry modification".

Do these sound fair and accurate? 

(3) To engage in better “dialogue,” divisive labels should be dropped in favor of “terms that are more inclusive and accurate.” For instance, “abolitionist” should retain its ordinary (neutral) definition to mean someone who favors the abolition of a practice or an institution—in this case, the abolition of animal exploitation.

Hi Kate. My guess is that those terms would probably be unacceptable to Francione abolitionists, because they would say they also favor "incremental change" - but at the grassroots level (vegan education) - and other abolitionists would say they favor both grassroots, vegan education and some legislative reforms. Finding acceptable and accurate labels is hard, given how many different "abolitionist" positions are possible. There are probably five broad categories here: (1) Francione abolitionists, (2) abolitionists with non-Francionian ideas, particularly ideas on how to abolish animal exploitation and reduce suffering, (3) near-abolitionists who favor abolishing virtually all animal exploitation but not all, (4) modest-abolitionists who favor abolishing some animal exploitation but not all, (5) non-abolitionists who simply want to regulate animal exploitation (e.g., husbandry modification).  

The "abolition-welfare" debate probably concerns only (1), (2) and (maybe) (3)--definitely (1) and (2).  My view is that, if any labels are to be used, there should be one label to describe the end goal of abolition ("abolitionist"), and then various technical labels to describe the respective strategic approaches (and there could be strategic differences within the broad categories, necessitating further distinctions). I'm still not sure what the latter should be. I think it'd be a good start if people in (1) and (2) can simply agree that we're all abolitionists fighting for the same end goal.

However for Francionists, I suspect their problem with the universal label is that it gives the impression that  we're all in "one movement"--all abolitionists, but simply with very different strategic ideas. This, I'm starting to think, is their fundamental complaint: they want to be viewed as a counter-movement, distinct and separate from the larger animal advocacy movement.  The problem with that, though, is that all social movements contain diverse ideas -- a lot of them. The relevant question is: does it make more sense to describe animal advocates as all being in a single (albeit highly diverse) movement or in separate movements which nevertheless share common goals and values central to each? The question seems largely a verbal one.

Thanks for your thoughtful reply, as always, Spencer.

I don't think the Francionists get to decide what everyone else's intentions are, try as they might!

I wonder if ARZone would consider interviewing Diane L. Beers, the author of "For the Prevention of Cruelty: The History and Legacy of Animal Rights Activism in the United States." She focuses on the movement beginning with the end of the Civil War through 1975 and I bet she'd have a really interesting take on the history and significance of these labels and "divisions." 

Insightful and interesting commentary by Cochrane--thanks for sharing!

Thanks for this link, it's very interesting! 

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