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Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

Heard the News? Welfarists Do Welfare. Big Wow! 

Written by Dr. Roger Yates

A scene from Shakespeare’s 1602 play wot I just wrote.[1]

An inn in Scotland.

Donald: Angus!

Angus: Donald! Have ye had y’tea?

Donald: I have!

Angus: Good news my man, good news. Now did ye hear the latest scandal?

Donald: Tell me more, I don’t think I have.

Angus: Well you know that there animal welfarist organisation?

Donald: The one down the road a wee bit?

Angus: Aye, that’s the one.

Donald: What of it Angus my lad?

Angus: Well, you know that they support animal welfare don’t you?

Donald: Aye, I do. And they’re no for being vegan, I've heard that!

Angus: Aye, they’re no for vegan the noo. Well, ye’ll never guess what else.

Donald: What?

Angus: Well, we’ve just found out that this animal welfare organisation does animal welfare.

Donald: They do not!

Angus: I’m telling ye that they do! To be sure, those animal welfarists actually do animal welfare.

Donald: Welfarists do welfare. Well I never!


I was very pleased to hear Gary Francione’s interview on the recent Go Vegan with Bob Linden show. They were talking about a new agreement between the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the North American egg industry to phase in enriched battery cages over 18 years – yes, you heard it, 18 years, since we all know that animal welfarism is all about “helping the animals NOW.”

I was so glad to hear what Gary Francione said because I recall an episode of Bob Linden’s show (from Sept 2009 – you can hear it in the archive) when Steve Best was the guest and when things were very different. In the 2009 show, both Linden and Best were tearing their hair out about the HSUS not standing up for animal rights and for not advocating veganism. In contrast, what Francione said was, in effect, “well, what do you expect, Bob, they are the HSUS.”

Some of Francione’s claims were, however, quite puzzling I thought. What Bob Linden wanted to know most of all was this: “Who elected the HSUS to represent chickens or the animal rights movement?” Francione replied saying that the question was “complicated,” and he said that there were two parts to the answer. 

1. The HSUS are an animal welfare organisation and always have been. They do not stand for animal rights and never have done. They do not promote veganism and they never have done. He summed it up by saying, “What can one expect from the Humane Society?” 

2. Some “animal rights people” have welcomed with open arms what the HSUS have done and see it as step forward. 

That does not seem complicated to me. Yes, welfarists do welfare and yes, some people mischaracterise animal welfare groups as animal rights groups. None of this should be news in 2011. 

Point One I fully understand, and have been saying this for years – welfarists do welfare. Big wow, what do we expect? We don’t expect them to advocate for veganism and we certainly do not expect them to take anything like a rights-based view of human-nonhuman relations. 

In relation to Point Two, we need to dig a little deeper, for just who are these “animal rights people” who have so warmly welcomed what the HSUS have done with their 18-year phase-in of nothing very much? It is not clear who Francione is talking about at this stage because he immediately begins to cite the large animal advocacy groups which he and I, and everyone else who take an abolitionist approach to animal rights, regard as animal welfarist mobilisations. 

He says, quite rightly, that the HSUS is “not an animal rights organisation;” they are pretty open about that themselves but he also says that most existing animal advocacy groups are welfarist anyway. Francione does sometimes talk as though there are homogeneous blocs of people out there who all behave and think in the same way. So, who are these “animal rights people” welcoming the HSUS’ latest move? 

Perhaps what’s being said here is that many animal welfare advocates call themselves animal rights campaigners. Well, that’s true in my experience. It certainly is the case that most people who call themselves animal rights advocates do not adhere to – and most have never read – the rights-based literature about human-nonhuman relations. 

However, if this is what Francione means, he means that some people who regard themselves as “animal rights people” - those who support animal rights in a rhetorical sense but not philosophically - may have welcomed this HSUS initiative. If this is the case, it is odd that Francione even uses the term “animal rights people” because he refuses to see such people as animal rightists, and calls them New Welfarists instead, meaning those people who want to abolish animal use by using the methodology of animal welfarism.[2] 

This should mean that, for Francione, no animal rights people welcomed this egg agreement for all those who have are either traditional or new welfarists. 

I have long argued that the animal advocacy movement remains philosophically messy at the best of times. This is not helped by the fact that many animal advocates do not read philosophy books – and I think this is where ARZone does a valuable job, for example, when it organised a “Tom Regan Week” through which animal advocates were given a flavour of Regan’s rights-based position on human-nonhuman relations. It is rather disturbing, however, that anyone needs to go onto the Bob Linden show in 2011 and explain that the HSUS is not an animal rights organisation. 

Some readers may think, ah, yes, but does that mean that Francione gets to say who is and who is not an animal rights advocate? It is a fair point for who can impose meaning on a term like “animal rights advocate.” However, it seems reasonable to me that the lead voices in this should be the philosophers and theorists who have written and thought about it for years. In this day-and-age, Tom Regan, Gary Francione and Joan Dunayer are important rights-based thinkers on human-nonhuman relations. They do not agree on everything, as one would expect, if fact they disagree on quite a lot - but they do agree that nonhuman animals are rights bearers and what we do to them when we use them are rights violations. They all want to abolish animal use and not regulate it, and they all champion veganism. 

In the “animal rights movement,” groups like PeTA, for example, have successfully had the label “animal rights” applied to them. Sociologically, this meaning has been socially constructed. However, that immediately raises questions about which voices should carry more “weight” than others, and so that brings me back to my point about the philosophers and theorists. Any fair assessment of PeTA’s claims to be an animal rights organisation will fail, in my view, whereas it is clear that Gary Francione is a rights-based animal advocate standing up for animal rights with veganism as its moral baseline. 

Perhaps we need to look forward to the day when the majority of animal advocates, on hearing the latest from the HSUS will, instead of getting into a flap over it, simply say either, welfarist do welfare or what does one expect from the Humane Society? 

In the Friday Feature for his show, Bob Linden said, “Hey, hey, ho ho, the HSUS has got to go.” Well, no Bob, they do not, so long as people who are interested in animal rights do not support them. They are separate from animal rights and probably do some good work from an animal welfare point of view. Gary Francione always makes the point that all the money given to animal welfare groups would be better spent on animal rights advocacy. He predicts that, if this were the case, then there would be more ethical vegans in many societies, and there would be more people thinking seriously about the case for animal rights. This seems reasonable to me, although some point out that people “go vegan” for reasons other than someone or some group directly telling them to. I think that there is something in that, and investigation of the point would be useful, although my own view is that we should be honest with people and clearly state our position in which veganism is an integral part. 

The sooner we can clear up the philosophical mess in the animal advocacy movement, the easier it should be for people to give their time, effort, and money to causes they support the most and, hopefully, we can never again get into a position in which the HSUS, of all groups, can be mistaken for animal rights advocacy. However, animal rightists be warned: the dominant paradigm is animal welfarism, so people are likely to support it as something they both understand and approve of. In fact, sociologically, we are almost trained to do just that.


[1] With apologies to Ernie Wise.

[2] As Francione points out in Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation (and a recent podcast with vegan educator, Elizabeth Coillins), his thinking about new welfarism has evolved since the concept appeared in his 1996 book, Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement. He now argues that only some new welfarists want to abolish animal use and thinks that others are content for some forms of use to continue.


On Human-Nonhuman Relations

 A Sociological Exploration of the Ideology of Speciesism.



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Interesting. A large part of this mess (the confusion between 'animal rights' activists/advocates and 'animal welfarists') is caused by hegemony. Many people who believe in animal rights believe they are special and not like everyone else, so won't be taken seriously by the general population.

I know quite a few vegans who strongly believe in and want with all their heart the ABOLITION of animal domination. BUT they believe welfare is the path to achieving that because "not everyone is going to go vegan". They say things like 'softly, softly Mandy, not everyone is like you or me, you can't expect everyone to be vegan*. Organisations who seem to operate in this fashion are PETA, Animals Australia and most of the Animal Liberation (state-based) groups in Australia (except Victoria - Animal Liberation Victoria openly speak about and promote veganism). The interesting thing is that people running these organisations are vegan and believe in the vegan philosophy. They are just too scared to promote it. They believe people will think they are 'extremists', 'radicals' etc for promoting veganism. The Farmer's Federations and abusers have been controlling them hegemonically like this for years ... They'll often say "oh these extremists want you all to be vegan". This works. In interviews where this tactic is used, the animal defender immediately shuts up and trys to pretend they don't. The Farmer's Feds/animal abusers use these labels as a hegemonic tactic. These labels make animal defenders feel alienated and that they won't be taken seriously. Ahh, the irony or it ... I'm sure you're written about this yourself before Roger. So sad. We need pointy people like those in Animal Liberation Victoria to push out of these hegemonic boundaries. Others will then follow.


* I totally disagree with this, I have five friends who have become vegetarian and vegan. Also my mother and brother would never eat meat in front of me and have me believe they were/are vegetarian. I believe my outspoken thoughts about animal domination and actions have played some part in this. I never told them what to think or do, it was their choice.

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