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Gary Francione on The O’Reilly Radio Factor

I found listening to Professor Gary Francione’s interview by Michael Smerconish on Bill O-Reilly’s Radio Factor annoying. And the origin of my annoyance was the callers to the radio program. Now, this was an O’Reilly audience, so that accounts for some of why I was annoyed, and evidently Ted Nugent was also a guest on the show, which accounts for the rest. The audience was O-Reilly and Nugent folk, and this is what happens when they are permitted to ask a preeminent vegan a question: they try to trip him up. (This is my interpretation, please note. What’s yours?)

Let’s deconstruct the not-even-close to slippery slope questions that were probably supposed to catch Professor Francione in some way:

1.    Are you an atheist? The implication here, of course, is that only someone who doesn’t believe in god could do something so unnatural, freakish, and maybe even sacrilegious, as be a vegan. Professor Francione calls himself a medieval Cathar dualist (all of whom I believe were wiped out by the Catholic Church centuries ago, by the way. There were dualists and gnostics, the dualists believing in a good god and an evil god. There were Perfecti, who were exemplars, as well as more reform-like Cathars, who weren’t as adherent to the idea of nonviolence. Cathars didn’t believe in war or capital punishment, and they didn’t eat/kill animals, except for reasons I won’t go into, fish). Rather than discussing Catharism, Professor Francione gives the caller and Smerconish what they want–or don’t want–when Smerconish asks if there is a religious foundation for Professor Francione’s beliefs: he says he would categorize himself under Christianity, and then proceeds to quote Genesis to support we were all originally vegans. (And Smerconish quickly changes the subject.)

Now, unlike Professor Francione, I don’t believe in god. I am not 100% sure that there is no god, as I don’t think anyone does, but I’m an evidence kind of person and I’m going with the evidence, which is largely against the idea of god. I wouldn’t want to get into an argument about this because more realistically my position is that the existence of god is irrelevant to me. If there’s a god–great! I’m sure she or he will think all of my efforts toward nonviolence and all of the work I do to make the world a better place are exemplary. If there’s a heaven, I’m pretty sure I’m in! And if there is no god–equally great! The existence of god does not in any way alter how I approach life, as my decisions aren’t made to obtain approval, gain entrance to heaven, or guarantee a favorable rebirth. I do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.

Here’s my observation, which appears to be supported by this interview: Nonvegans want vegans to be atheists, or some religion other than Christianity, so they can have a reason to not go vegan. (Again, just my observation, as I’ve also had many conversations like this, and when someone finds out I don’t believe in god, they attempt to dismiss everything else I say as if it all comes from being a heathen.)

2.    Along those lines are the "what about abortion?" people. They want vegans to be pro-choice, even though they will ask, "You must be pro-life, then, right?" so they can call us hypocrites, and more important, so they can have a reason to not go vegan. As Professor Francione pointed out, the abortion scenario is unique in that a rights holder (when it is outside the womb, at least) is living inside of another rights holder. But the caller(s) don’t want to see that part of the scenario. They’re all about their belief that terminating a pregnancy, even in the first eight weeks, is murder (in other words, there is sentience).  Therefore, if Professor Francione maintains that sentience is very unlikely in the first eight weeks, he is a hypocrite, and they don’t have to be vegans.

3.     Next, what’s a "debate" about animal rights without the introduction of "what about the insects?" In this case, it’s ticks. And no, Professor Francione won’t kill them (he’ll relocate them). Nor will he kill the skunk in the backyard (he’ll trap her in a Have-A-Heart trap and relocate her). Again and again, callers play Stump the Wizard rather than asking about rights, property, nonviolence (which Professor Francione does manage to squeeze in), social change, or anything else the rest of us want to hear about (I know, I know, we’re not the audience, so it does make sense).

4.    Finally, there was the obligatory blustery "whadda do you feed yer dog" guy in the last moments (at least of the recording), who when Professor Francione said his dogs were vegans quietly said, "oh" and faded away. The presumption? He feeds them dead animals, is therefore a hypocrite (which I, unlike many vegans, would not agree with), and the caller guy now does not have to seriously consider the myriad reasons to go vegan.

Do you see the pattern here?  I know I’m preaching to the choir, but I am personally frustrated on behalf of Professor Francione that he must be subjected (and subjects himself, in the hope of making a difference) to such piffle.

But piffle is subjective. For some people, if you don’t agree with their views on god and abortion, they believe they have a free pass to NOT consider anything else you say, regardless of how reasonable–not to mention important–it may be. In other words, even if you think it’s piffle, it’s not. And it should be treated seriously (as Professor Francione did).

What no one let him say (and what I wanted to scream) was:

  • If you disagree with me about this one thing (re: abortion and/or insects), why does that mean you shouldn’t consider whether you should be killing animals whom WE KNOW are sentient?
  • And if there is a god, don’t you think that god would want us to honor her/his creation with respect and nonviolence, rather than rampant torture and slaughter?
  • And whether or not you believe dogs, as secondary carnivores, should be eating other animals, how does that affect whether or not you would consider that humans, who are omnivores (and definitely not carnivores) should be eating other animals?

Thank you Professor Francione, for taking on the O’Reilly crowd, and putting their questions to rest, whether or not they heard the answers. All we can do is provide the information. What the listener does with it (including actually hear it) is not in our control.

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ellie #

    Mary, thanks for another great article.

    I agree, the callers were unwilling to address the real issues here. If they did, they'd be forced to admit they're standing on a house of cards. You deconstructed the fallacy in their thinking, and I have hope for the future.

    Btw, I don't think it's hypocrtical to feed dogs meat. They are, as you said, secondary carnivores; and besides, when given a choice, my dogs have made it clear they choose meat. As an animal rights advocate, I intend to respect their choice.

    September 2, 2007
  2. Lidia Belknap #

    Thank you, Mary, for so interesting comments on the interview. I enjoy your sense of humor, how your generalized the approach of those, who dont want to be vegan. It is all true. Those are the questions which that kind of people consider their trump cards.

    As for feeding the dogs meat: i actually did check out that abolitionist organization RPA and i loved their bumper sticker: "they are sentient beings – not food choices". If my dogs would prefer eating other animals over vegan food, just because it tastes better for them, i don's see how i could justify those animals being killed other then for my dog's food choice. They are healthy and happy on vegan food, i don't have to send those calves, chickens and lambs to slaughter to satisfy their palate. They actually enjoy vegan food (what we eat and commercial vegan dog food). The oldest dog is almost 17 and still is very strong.

    September 2, 2007
  3. Ellie #

    Hi Lidia, I think many vegans might agree with you, but farm animals are not being killed for dogs or cats. Pet food is made up of scraps that human's wouldn't buy. I think this is true, even if a meat-based pet food is organic.

    I feel dogs have already suffered from domestication, so I don't want to impose this problem on my dogs. I don't know if the verdict is in on whether a vegetarian diet is healthier. It may well be, but there are also genetic factors that influence longevity. And I don't know if genetics have been considered. I know two dogs in my neighborhood who managed to live past 20, and both at meat-based pet food.

    September 2, 2007
  4. Ellie #

    Sorry, that's both ate meat-based pet food.

    September 2, 2007
  5. Sean B #

    It seemed to me like some bits of the interview were missing. A couple of times the host said they would continue on a subject after the break, and then when they returned there was no mention of it. Also the end of the interview seemed cut off.

    September 2, 2007
  6. I hate to sound elitist, but I believe our toughest challenge is the fact that the world is made up of a minority of leaders and free-thinkers, and a majority of unthinking followers. The unthinking followers live a relatively comfortable life where they let their leaders do their thinking for them.

    Add to this the fact that most people, because they are not free-thinkers, "wisely" select the leaders who perpetuate the status quo, and thus do not challenge their lifestyles. That is the only reason why most people, when confronted with moral questions, point to a book, or a church, or what the law permits, or whatever.

    Interestingly enough, it was my being a follower (though also a free-thinker) which got me into animal rights in the first place (I used to listen to, and admire, vegan punk bands).

    I was even an introvert (and am still so to some degree). But my involvement in animal rights, and my extensive reading on the topic, changed my character to the extent that the unthinkable happened…an ex-extreme introvert got to debate animal rights on live TV and radio. However, perhaps I am one of the lucky few.

    Which brings me to the point I want to make. Our only hope is to keep up the pressure with our abolitionist advocacy, in the hope of not only convincing followers (which is a difficult but not impossible task in itself), but better still, to convince leaders. That's the only way to bring our views closer to becoming mainstream.

    I'm optimistic that people like you can make that happen. Infact, they already are.

    September 3, 2007
  7. Lidia #

    Yes, hi Ellie,

    Actually there are lots of brands, which say "human grade ingredients" and "free range meat" which suggests that the animals were killed specifically for dog food.
    Even if to leave that kind of brands and take most common ones, the meat, used there is not just parts "humans won't eat": egg industry sends billions of its waisted laying hens to slaughter houses to be used later for dog food (you should see how tightly those hens are packed on the way to slaughter house, still alive), the same with dairy industry: that veal in dog and cat food are baby cows, which were separated from mothers the day of birth, but due to poor health or other reasons they were not put in the confinements for further torture, instead were slaughtered rather soon after birth. Sick dairy cows also are sold to slaughter houses to be used in dog food.

    While those industries would have to pay HUGE FEES FOR DISPOSAL of the animals they don't need any more, they get to dispose them through the pet food industry and !!! they get payed for that.

    By buying "meat based" dog food we HELP exploiters to get MAXIMUM PROFITS out of their business and thus to CONTINUE what they do: torture and kill those calves, chickens, and other sentient beings for money.

    When buying meat based dog food we solve the dilemma: "my dog's taste buds or that calf's life" in favor of taste buds.

    Although now it looks like you departed from your previous reason that it is your dog's "food choice" and tell that you feed your dog meat because you want to see your dog to live till 20 (not 17 like my vegan one)?

    Let me ask you, do you think those calves and cows don't want to live a little bit longer and not to be brutally murdered?

    September 3, 2007
  8. Ellie #

    Hi Kenneth,

    Yes, of course I think animals want to live to the fullest extent of their natural lives. That's why I'm a vegan.

    And I think you're right that industries maximize their profits by selling to pet food manufacturers, but not that animals are killed specifically for pet food.

    If it's labeled "human grade", I think that usually refers to the grains and vegetables contained, but even if it refers to animal flesh, I don't think industries would sell to pet food companies what they can sell to humans at a higher profit. In other words, these higher priced dog foods don't contain by products like beaks and feathers, and murdered dogs, but I think they do contain what's leftover from what's sold to humans.

    The only reason I mentioned long living dogs who eat meat was in response to Lidia's post, which I understood as 'vegetarian dog food increases longevity'.

    I didn't mean I feed my dogs meat simply because they like the taste. My dogs like vegetables, and vegetarian food. But I honestly think they have physiological (but not nutritional) need to eat meat. Not nutritional, because vegetarian dog food is healthy. But physiological, because I think it's somehow inherent. Dogs, after all, are modified wolves, and wolves are carnivores.

    My dogs are large and very protective of me (as I am of them), but if there's a chicken bone or a piece of meat on the street, then despite my disapproval, they will go for it. I'd say that's a need, more than just a preference.

    As an abolitionist, I think we should take care of all the animals who need us, but we should not breed them. In my view, dogs are not responsible for animal agriculture, and I don't think it's fair to them to use them against it.

    September 3, 2007
  9. Ellie: I think the post you are replying to is from Lidia.

    September 4, 2007
  10. Ellie #

    Yes, I'm sorry I confused the authors.

    September 4, 2007
  11. This was an excellent post. Francione is at the vanguard of a paradigm shift in the way society treats animals. While you make a perceptive comment about Christian carnivores trying to connote veganism with atheism, the irony is that one would think that belief in a supreme deity would act as a disincentive to harm any sentient being. Regardless of whether you are an atheist or a thiest, he logical/ethical conclusion is abolitionist veganism.

    November 7, 2009

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