Animal Rights Zone

Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

The Spectrum of Acceptable Opinion - A Response to Rob Johnson

It seems like Rob Johnson just can’t let go of his obsession with ARZone.


On Brandon Becker's Facebook page, Rob Johnson said a number of things that are all equally banal, but I’d like to focus on just this:

Similarly the latest ARZone blog, which I am told Yates was promoting yesterday, is on the fact that they deem ARZone to be successful and so they deem the AR movement to be successful as ARZone supports open debate. There's a famous Chomsky quote that goes “”The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum - even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”.
What Chomsky is referring to is the way the state and dominant institutions keep lively debate going as a way to keep people's focus almost wholly away from the problems of the institutions themselves. Well, guess what, ARZone are open to debate on everything except ARZone. It is just assumed they are doing right. And when people like myself have written articles in criticism, we do not receive substantive replies, rather they spread lies about me. (all grammatical errors in the original)


I guess Johnson didn't actually read the post on ARZone he's referring to because in it, ARZone specifically says, in answer to the question "Is ARZone making a difference for other animals" that "This is a difficult question to answer" and that it "cannot say" what impact it has had. ARZone does suggest that we might ask the more than 29,000 unique visitors to the ARZone website in 2011 whether ARZone has been successful, but ARZone makes no claims about whether it has been successful. ARZone certainly makes no claims that the AR movement has been successful, indeed, ARZone understands all too well how much work remains to be done on behalf of other animals before anyone can talk about success.


Moving on to what Johnson reads into Chomsky, we should think instead about what Chomsky actually means. Chomsky says, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum..." How is it that ARZone is supposed to be doing this? How is ARZone constraining the spectrum of acceptable opinion? We have and will welcome all viewpoints from within the AR community, in fact, this forms the basis of the fundamentalists' criticism of ARZone, what they call ARZone's "anything goes attitude". Contrast this to what happens on The Abolitionist Approach forum, Vegan:UK and LiveVegan, where by any objective appraisal the spectrum of acceptable opinion is severely constrained. On those forums, one is free to engage in lively debate, but only insofar as that debate is within the context of an "Abolitionist Approach". Perhaps they should read Chomsky.


Let us read some more of him now. Chomsky says, "That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate." Does Rob Johnson not see that this quote applies to him and his actions, and Gary Francione and his fundamentalist supporters more so than it does to anyone else? Isn’t it the case that the three abolitionist sites I’ve mentioned limit the range of debate allowed to that designed to inculcate their members with an abolitionist approach to animal rights? Indeed, most of Francione's followers routinely claim that the only books on animal rights one needs to read are those written by Francione. It boggles the mind that Johnson complains about ARZone based on Chomsky's quote. I guessed earlier that Johnson doesn't read the things he comments about, now I doubt that he even understands the things he quotes.


ARZone invited Gary Francione to debate Gene Baur in ARZone and Francione refused. Prior to that, Francione was an active member in ARZone before he got his feelings hurt and left. So, if there's any lack of an "Abolitionist Approach" in ARZone, one should ask Francione why that is. ARZone doesn't boot or ban people who have opposing views, the opposite is the case. ARZone specifically seeks out opposing views. In fact, that's why Francione, Johnson, Wrenn and others criticize ARZone. To their mind, ARZone ought to focus almost exclusively on those advocates who already agree with Francione. It's odd then for Johnson to be critical of ARZone for limiting the spectrum of acceptable opinion, when the same people making that charge claim that we don’t limit opinion enough.


In any case, one can see that ARZone encourages its members to think for themselves and to challenge what ARZone is about. ARZone has hosted 10 member forums, including one called "Is ARZone saying what its members want to hear?" I suppose that Rob would say that we ought not to ask them what they want to hear, but only to tell them what they need to know - perhaps like noted Francionist Dan Cudahy, Johnson thinks people ought to be indoctrinated rather than educated. But then, we would be limiting the spectrum of acceptable opinion, wouldn't we? Whichever way we look at it, it seems that Rob Johnson doesn't understand Chomsky's meaning.


As far as Rob Johnson receiving replies to his criticism of ARZone, I have written two long blog posts challenging Johnson's criticisms of ARZone (here and here), wherein I posted the entirety of each of two things Johnson had written, and then responded paragraph by paragraph. I guess quoting Johnson word-for-word and responding point-by-point isn't good enough for Rob, but I'm not in the business of trying to please Rob Johnson. Additionally, Rob can think that the stuff he writes on his blog and elsewhere is important enough that I would bother to continue to read and criticize it, but if I were to spend my time reading and responding to all the poorly written and poorly reasoned stuff on the internet, I wouldn't have time to breathe.


Rob Johnson, and others like him such as Corey Wrenn who are obsessed with ARZone, really ought to move on and do whatever it is they think is best for other animals. For them to continue to write uniformed and grade-school level attacks on the work ARZone is doing is just silly. To complain about the supposed limited spectrum of acceptable opinion in ARZone borders on the delusional. The spectrum of views expressed in ARZone is wider and shows a greater respect for a diversity of "acceptable opinions" than Rob Johnson and Vegan:UK ever could.


I understand that there’s a “clown’s corner” of vegans somewhere on the internet. Perhaps Mr. Johnson would feel at home there. At least there the other clowns would be laughing with him instead of laughing at him.

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Comment by Kath Worsfold on February 5, 2012 at 15:49

I just read Louise's comment here, and it is so utterly SPOT ON! She has said what I think and feel better than I could myself. Kudos to Louise.

Comment by red dog on January 27, 2012 at 18:28

My guess is that Chomsky must have made that comment with reference to U.S. politics and the U.S. media? Vigorous debate is encouraged between supporters of the Democratic and Republican parties and if your views fall somewhere near the middle of that spectrum you are perceived as a "centrist"--but it's a false centre because the Greens, socialists and others have been excluded?

What his comment had to do with ARZone I have no idea, and that's probably the most tortured comparison I've seen in a long time. As others have said, the Francionists have removed themselves from the debates at ARZone and that's their choice. I've said before that ARZone is a wonderful educational resource--definitely, Rob Johnson's accusations are way off base. It's disappointing to see that this person succeeded in hijacking an important discussion about fakery on the Internet and why/how some people pretend to be fictitious characters. The Monbiot article that Brandon linked to was relevant for ARZone and for all websites where people seek to create a community and share information. I really wish that discussion had stayed on track.  

Comment by Carolyn Bailey on January 25, 2012 at 16:06

Hi Louise! Thank you so very much for your kind and thoughtful comments! 

There will always be times that ARZone receives criticism from those who don't understand the importance of reaching out to our members and giving them a space to explore their own thoughts and ideas. 

We are always so very grateful to receive such words of encouragement from our members, and your very kind words have been received with much gratitude and appreciation. 

Thanks, Louise!  

Comment by Tim Gier on January 25, 2012 at 15:57

In this post, I referred to a "clown's corner" on the internet. Many people may not be aware but there actually is such a website (I won't provide a link to it, they don't deserve any more publicity than I'm already giving them). What's interesting about the site is that it's run anonymously - there's no reference to who created it or who provides any of the content on it. The content consists exclusively of juvenile, poorly executed and not-very-funny attacks on vegans and activists. Gary Francione links to these clowns on his Abolitionist Approach blog and Rob Johnson has defended them to me in the past. I've been told that Vegan:UK often posts about how the clowns are doing great work. So, I guess that anonymous attacks on vegans and activists the worst thing ever, except when they aren't. It must be nice to be able to turn wrong into right whenever it suits one's purposes.

Comment by Louise, London on January 25, 2012 at 0:42

Just realised the comment i made about classism, being anyway linked to speciesism, may not make sense and sounds a bit obscure, but references something I'm only beginning to grasp about 'power over' ways of relating that seem all caught up with the way we treat animals.  I know what I mean...just not able to explain it well, yet.

Comment by Louise, London on January 25, 2012 at 0:23

In response to any criticism about ARZone and its effectiveness I'd like to offer the following personal account of how ARZone is helping me;

A couple of months ago I reached a place where I moved from being vegan (opting out of cruelty as much as possible) to wanting to become active advocate on behalf of animals. I scoured the internet to find out more about what's being done to help the animals and came across all kinds of useful information on all the websites I encountered.

However, what I have found in the ARZone website is something in a class entirely of its own. Is classist being speciesist...even in language?  Maybe. That I would even ask myself such a question, be aware of such an issue is entirely down to the incredible learning curve and radical shift in my perception happening from listening to the Podcasts, reading the posts, and recommended reading material discussed by ARZone members.

ARZone first, has provided me with a sense that I am not alone, offered me a warm welcome, and a place to come to discuss all the key issues, how my journey is going, to look more deeply at the reasons why I am a vegan, why others might become vegan.  I feel like I’m attending the best university possible on the subject of animal rights, and its free, and available anytime I switch on my computer.

In its truly invaluable Podcast interviews ARZone is offering me the opportunity to listen to fascinating discussions amongst people who've been part of the animal rights movement over the last few decades, to learn from their own stories, of what worked for them. How best to talk to people, to get the message across.  How to consider all the deeper implications of what becoming vegan means to people.  So much!  And I’m only beginning to explore the information that is available on this site.

Waking up to see the suffering of animals, to really hold that in my consciousness everyday, has for me, been emotionally very difficult. I had nightmares every night, and felt utterly overwhelmed with the scale of animal use and abuse in our society, and the denial about it. Being able to come to ARZone and feel connected to and hear others whose passion to help animals is so dedicated and consistant, has been so supportive in that instead of being overwhelmed and alone, I've found a resource that is shaping and forming my understanding in ways that, if ARZone didn't exist, may have taken years to develop.

Listening to one Podcast with Jose Vallez and Sharon Nunez about their organisation in Spain, when Sharon said something about however tired they get or burnt out they get they find a way to continue...this, I think of often. When I'm tempted to switch off, shut down, I think of statements like that, I think of Carolyn, Tim, Roger, Barbara and others who must have busy lives of their own, yet are here plugging away everyday. It gives me the strength and encouragement to focus my energy in similar way, find new resources inside myself to push on.

Roger’s humour, lightens me up often, and the lively debate of sometimes strongly held different views of these founding group members, gives me the example of considering the different perspectives fully whilst holding all of them in the same friendly allowing of difference way the discussions themselves are conducted.

I could go on at length describing the gratitude and appreciation I feel and many ways ARZone is helping.  But instead, must get on, doing what I can and returning to this incredible education and awakening ARZone is offering me…instead of defending it to any critics, who I can only think have a very limited personal opinion of something they know nothing about…if they can criticize ARZone at all.

Comment by Rob Brevendt on January 24, 2012 at 8:31

Spot-on, Tim.



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