Animal Rights Zone

Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

What 'divisive' means in the animal protection movement. ~ Dr. Roger Yates

I have grown used to hearing accusations that Gary Francione’s animal
rights position, in particular, is ‘divisive’.[1] As an animal rights
advocate, Francione claims that nonhuman animals who are sentient are
rights bearers. He is opposed to them being used by humans and regards
their use by humans as rights violations.

This seems to be a pretty standard way of expressing oneself if one takes a
rights-based view of things. However, as I have pointed out before,[2]
this is not the language of the present animal protection movement and,
as far as I can tell, has never been the language of the animal
movement. The majority in the current post-1970s movement have rarely
framed their fundamental case for nonhuman animals in rights-based
language, favouring - for a variety of philosophical and ‘practical’
reasons - to make orthodox cruelty claims and claims about ‘unnecessary
suffering’, the cornerstone concept in traditional animal welfarism.

Given this, how odd is it that a social movement that, by and large,
studiously avoids and often opposes rights-based philosophy and
rights-based claims-making nevertheless deliberately calls itself – insists on calling itself - the “animal rights movement”? How odd is that – but more to the point – how divisive
is it? And how insulting to those who actually take animal rights
theory and practice seriously and who want to make rights-based
philosophy the fundamental base of their campaigning about
human-nonhuman relations.

In the same year (1975) that Peter Singer’s influential text, Animal Liberation, was published, animal rightist Tom Regan began to write about
human-nonhuman relations. His initial thoughts coalesced into his 1983
book, The Case for Animal Rights.
Since at least the early 1980s, then, some animal advocates have wanted
to seriously make rights-based claims about human-nonhuman relations.
This minority of advocates have wanted to say that they regard many
nonhuman animals as right-holders and want to assert that what
routinely and systematically happens to these animals at the hands (and
knives and forks) of humans are rights violations.

In the language of the Vegan Society’s Donald Watson, they have a passion
to “ripen up” the public to serious animal rights claims.[3] Animal
rightists want people to begin to consider whether eating that steak or
wearing that fur or leather garment is a rights violation rather than
simply “being cruel” to animals.

As said, many animal advocates reject and oppose animal rights philosophy and claims-making. They
don’t care about rights and they apparently don’t care that some others
do. I have never, ever, understood, in these circumstances, why they
will not at least have the decency to call themselves something other
than “animal rights” when they know there are other animal advocates
who make rights-based philosophy the foundational basis of their animal
advocacy. Perhaps for the sake of some weird adherence to a snappy name
or label they do not really support they will run roughshod over the
aspirations of others, or else they think moral rights are “nonsense on
stilts” and wish the idea no good at all.

In truth, what’s going on when people call Gary Francione ‘divisive’ is that they are
complaining because he will not endorse or engage in mainstream animal
welfare campaigning. This indicates an ignorance of Francione’s writing
which critiques such campaigns and sets out a programme to undermine
the property status of nonhuman animals and establish veganism as the
moral base of an animal rights movement.

How could Francione – or any Francione-inspired animal advocate – endorse the type of
campaigns that are currently prevalent in the animal movement? Such
campaigning involves a switch from battery cages to ‘enriched’ battery
cages, encourages free-range systems that in no sense deserve the name,
and urges animal user industries to ‘humanely’ gas millions of chickens
in gas chambers. Do such campaigns even begin to challenge the property
status of animals? Do such campaigns suggest a commitment to veganism?
Do they in any sense seem to deserve the title ‘animal rights campaigns’?

[1] This is a common theme as articulated by animal advocates such as Norm
However, academic commentators sympathetic to animal welfarism do the
same, for example Robert Garner in his Animal Rights: The Changing Debate (Macmillan 1996) and Gary Francione’s stalker, Dr. Sztybel:


[3] Utilitarian animal welfarist Peter Singer apparently recognised this
‘ripening up’ idea of Watson, acknowledging that new ideas are likely
to sound strange to the ear when first encountered. He comments on page
one of Animal Liberation that ‘“Animal Liberation” may sound more like a parody of other liberation movements than a serious objective’.

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