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When/How Did YOU Learn About Abolition?

Tomorrow or the next day I’m going to post a debrief regarding my most informal survey (though if comments and e-mails keep coming in I’ll wait). When reading through them I realized that Mary Martin, Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics, failed to ask (specifically) about a crucial topic: When/how did YOU learn about abolition?

At the end of 2006, I somehow stumbled onto Gary Francione’s site. I wish I could remember how I got there. I wanted to use a quote of his, and because his site states I need permission, I wrote to him asking permission.

Now, I hadn’t read his books or fully grasped what he was saying about welfare and abolition. I was just happy that someone was articulating the way I felt about using animals and commodifying them. The property thing sailed right over my head, not because I didn’t understand it, but maybe because I don’t think about property law, like ever, I wasn’t as excited about it as the general using-someone-for-your-own-gain-or-pleasure conversation.

At the time, this blog had a list of links that included "All things Peter Singer," "PETA," and, well, I think that’s all you need to know.

Gary Francione responded to me, telling me that I was not presenting a message of abolition, or at least I wasn’t doing so clearly, and basically schooled me and told me to read his books and go through his website and I did (in a rare moment of me actually doing something someone told me to do). And poof, overnight, that was the end of my (unintentional) welfare days, and the start of taking a stand that is intellectually honest.

We all know that Gary Francione is called "divisive" and gets more than his share of vitriol from welfarists. But, as I’ve said before, if I were introduced to his kind of abolition 20 years ago, I think the subsequent 20 years would’ve looked a lot different. And that has become the reason I write Animal Person. My intention is to save some well meaning people time and energy and help them in their thinking about our relationship with nonhuman animals in a way that wasn’t available to me.

The difference between welfare and abolition isn’t some barely-actionable nuance–it’s huge. It’s not just a matter of strategy, either, it’s a matter of philosophy and honesty.

There’s a difference between altering your delivery to reach more people and changing your message to reach more people. I spent years changing my message to reach more people and convince them to do things I wouldn’t do (like search for meat "produced humanely."). And I made a complete fool of myself.

Now, call me what you want, but at least I don’t say I believe one thing, and then tell you to do another (or pay someone to tell you to, via a donation of my hard-earned money).

How/when did you learn about abolition?

17 Comments Post a comment
  1. The difference is indeed significant, in that it is qualititave not quantitative. Does that make it huge? Was this not previously apparent? I am just bemused at the recent trend to see approaches based on suffering as perverted or inadequate approaches to abolition as opposed to, well, appraoches based on suffering. It's apples and aardvarks–but are the apples now at war with the aadvarks?

    October 18, 2007
  2. Strange, over on animalblawg they are now trying to argue welfare and abolitionism are basically the same again. Am I missing something in that it seems simple to me (as a simple person) — abolition=stop using animals, welfare=be kind to animals. These are not unrelated in both concerning animals–but certainly separate things in than a person can clearly support one but not the other, both or neither, depending on their own ethical orientation.

    October 18, 2007
  3. Emily,
    There are so many places on the Internet where the abolition vs. welfare debate is being conducted and I REALLY don't want to do that here.

    "abolition=stop using animals, welfare=be kind to animals."


    And I know you don't like the term "new welfare," but it perfectly describes what has occurred: a new welfare movement (not to be confused with the old one, which still exists) that does indeed say abolition is its goal (unlike old welfare), but believes abolition might be reached through welfare reforms AND because abolition is way, way off (you had mentioned its futility), new welfarists want to do SOMETHING in the meantime to at least reduce the quality of the suffering that animals experience at our hands.

    In the new welfarists eyes, you can say: we shouldn't use animals, but if we're going to, we should at least use the ones who have suffered less. And I completely understand that, as do most abolitionists.

    The difference is that we don't feel comfortable spending our time and money supporting the options to animal use. Practically every major group in the world does that, so that approach is certainly not without support.

    I don't think anyone is going to "switch sides" in this debate. However, for people new to it, they need to know that there is a place for them if they don't feel comfortable saying one thing, and supporting something different. For me, that is "huge."

    The legitimate problem with approaches based on suffering is that they can be easily negotiated. And if you don't agree you look like you're against decreasing suffering. The argument of use cannot be as easily (if at all) adulterated. If you're arguing about suffering, you're saying it would be okay to use animals if they were treated better, and that is simply not the belief of the abolitionist. Sure it's better if they suffer less. But less suffering doesn't make their use acceptable.

    October 18, 2007
  4. Deb #

    I'm not sure how to answer the question, because I was introduced to the idea of abolition without it being named anything at all, and this was before I learned that there was this thing called abolition and someone named Gary Francione. (That was at an animal sanctuary.) Later I heard arguments about the topic in online forums, and references to arguments about the topic at an AR conference, and then I finally got a book and read it. Not sure which event is the one you're looking for. When I read the book, it wasn't new to me, it just helped me to be able (as far as I'm able) to verbalize the logic behind what I had been convinced of at the animal sanctuary. It didn't change my beliefs, however.

    October 18, 2007
  5. kim #

    Just to clarify, I'm not ever "saying one thing and supporting another". I truly believe that addressing welfare issues serves to change the public conciousness on animal use, and is an essential component in achieving abolition when combined with vegan advocacy.

    And I don't know a single vegan who would ever tell someone "it's okay to use animals if they were treated better." I just used this analogy on another forum that I think expresses this very clearly. If I was in prison, not being fed and had no chance of being released any time soon, I would hope those fighting for my release would also demand that I be fed in the meantime. If they demand I be fed, does that mean they don't really want me released?

    As far as when I became aware of "abolition"? As soon as I became conscious of how horrific things were for the animals. I wanted all exploitation to stop. That day.

    When did I become aware that there was some challenge to the meaning of "abolition" and disagreement over the path to achieve it among those working on animal issues? Probably at TAFA 2005 or AR 2006, during some panel discussion.

    October 18, 2007
  6. Back on topic 😉 — I was aware of 'animal rights' pretty much forever, in a formal way as an undergraduate in the 'Regan era' — then transitioning to Francione's writing and the abolitionist approach. I think I can say I was never strictly unaware of that strand of thought, coming from a liberal household and being in an animal profession.

    October 18, 2007
  7. Dustin #

    I was a welfarist, I am ashamed to admit, before reading Lee Hall's "Capers in the Churchyard." That book changed my life—even though the book wasn't written to explicitly (or exclusively) define abolitionist philosophy. Until reading that book, I wasn't even aware that, basically, I was *only* a vegan because I didn't approve of the way animals were treated by animal agribusiness.

    I've actually never read a Gary Francione book cover to cover, for better or worse. I think I've resisted only because I am a little reluctant, in almost any situation, to follow the crowd. Ever since I've been aware of Francione's books, his "followers" have turned me off with all of the cultish idolatry. That said, I am sure GF's books are an invaluable resource.

    [I am tempted, now, to go off on a tangent about how the animal rights movement, in general, needs to get away from its addiction to making infallible heroes out of leaders/thinkers/writers in the movement. I find this to be a huge turn-off, especially when the pool is so small and some of the egos so big. But perhaps I should keep this to myself?]


    October 18, 2007
  8. If abolition is defined as a goal, not a technique, I learned about it from PETA, COK, and virtually every other vegan-led animal organization as I was investigating animal issues and learning about veganism. The message was clear to me; I never imagined they were telling me to merely refine my use of animals. Though these groups were (and are) involved in welfare campaigns, I always understood them to be in the context of moving toward abolition, and any quick perusal of their materials makes it clear to me that their aim, and their philosophy was (and is) abolition. My parents and neighbors understand that, I got it, and the industry understands this (hence their incessant fretting, fighting of reforms until market pressures are too great, and internal warnings about "creeping vegetarianism" – which surveys show is gaining enormous momentum among young people).

    I didn't spend too much time when becoming vegan on the HSUS site. I may have gotten a softer message that way. Though I did meet people from HSUS and their abolitionist positions (I mean abolition in the true sense – as an end goal) – were crystal clear.

    Francione's divisiveness is not due to his positions – I have peaceful, respectful discussions on strategy all the time with people whose positions differ from mine – but his mischaracterizations of people's views, his cherry-picking of facts, his twisting of people's words, his tendency to insult people and call them names. I've seen this first-hand, and I know lots of "abolitionists" and reform skeptics who tell me they find his behavior intolerable.

    I became aware of the split when I encountered people who repeatedly quoted Francione, to the extent of relying on his view of the movement almost exclusively. Many points in opposition to what they were saying were met with "Read Rain Without Thunder," rather than articulating a response. And when one read the book and didn't agree with its premises, arguments, or conclusions, there was an irreconcilable split. I find that among those who are skeptical of reform but are not so tied to Francione, I can discuss these things productively, and we often realize that we have much in common, and that, yes, we really do only disagree in terms of the degree to which we favor one technique over another. (In fact, I'd be happy to discuss any of these issues offline, especially by phone or in person; I think that these sorts of conversations often go much smoother and are much more pleasant using those mediums.) For the record, I think Intro to Animal Rights is a well-written book, and I've recommended it to others. I also welcome and am grateful to Francione for recently starting to write op-eds and literature aimed at the general public. I hope this trend continues.

    There is a huge difference between traditional "welfarists" who support the use of animals and so-called "new welfarists" who oppose the use of animals but favor interim measures to reduce suffering. That is one of the reasons I oppose the term "welfarist" – it groups vegans who want eradication of animal exploitation with omnivores who want it to continue. It's a demeaning, unfair, and obfuscating term even with the "new" qualifier, which many people now leave off. By the same token, I'm an abolitionist to the core, regardless of whether I favor a ban on gestation crates or an end to forced molting. In fact my respect and sympathy for animals is what motivates me to support those measures. I deeply want animal exploitation to end, I preach it vigorously, I engage in activism every day, I have nightmares about animal abuse, I dream and pray for the day when all animals are treated with the respect, kindness and justice they have always deserved. And I try to do everything within my power and limitations to bring about that eventuality. I do not accept any faction of the movement deciding that I'm not an abolitionist, or redefining and hijacking that term.

    October 18, 2007
  9. Erica #

    I only recently became aware of the split in "the movement." Before that I was more of a mind-my-own-business kind of vegan. Beginning law school and thinking about working in animal law led me also to think about activism as something I may be interested in and capable of, though I'd been content on the sidelines up to that point. I wasn't meek, but I thought (and still do) that simply being a happy, "normal" person who happens to be vegan was its own kind of advocacy.

    This summer I attended TAFA, and I was disturbed by some of the "happy meat"-ness of it. I started exploring people's opinions and write-ups of the conference online, which led me to different resources, including Francione. Listening to his old conversation/debate (often monologue) with Erik Marcus (which is archived on Francione's blog) really was when the whole division jumped out at me as something very real, contentious, and important.

    I struggle with how I think about it. I consider myself on the abolitionist side of the spectrum, but I do not know if I can say I am *opposed* to *someone* out there working for welfare reforms. I think the conversation may look different today if there were abolitionist groups as powerful and popular as "new welfare" groups, if the abolitionist message were as strong as the welfare message.

    I find the welfare message problematic additionally because it seems to me that it's simply not long-term sustainable — our society's appetite for animal products cannot be sustained by small-scale, "humane" farms. The argument seems self-defeating if reduction in consumption is not a consistent and clear part of the message.

    October 18, 2007
  10. Ellie #

    I first learned about abolition through Friends of Animals. Before that time I was a welfarist, but I sensed an incongruence and compromise in animal advocacy, which I found disturbing. When I read Lee Hall's statement in The Nation, I knew where I belonged.

    If welfare meant supporting the personal interests of non-human beings– beginning with an interest in living–then I'd agree it could lead to abolition. But both traditional and new welfare focus on animal suffering– which is always "fixed" by regulating animal use. This is why I think neither can lead to abolition.

    October 18, 2007
  11. When I heard Gary was going to be on Vegan Freak Radio (this is after reading and reviewing Lee Hall's Capers in the Churchyard and hearing Lee's interview on VFR). I bought his book, Intro to AR used, and made sure I read it before the show was made available. While it also took me time to adjust to a more complete understanding of abolition (and I still catch myself using old language sometimes), right away I recognized that Gary's views synched up better with my own view of animals than anything I'd read or heard before.

    October 18, 2007
  12. Amanda #

    I don't see why there should be opposition or fighting, as long as we are in it for the animals. Why should there be fighting between people who SHOULD BE UNITED !!! This not only makes us look like retarded politicians pecking at each other but people don't take us seriously then. Grow up people! The most important thing is to make people aware of the suffering of animals and encourage people to make kinder choices. Remember, we need to be realistic. The whole world isn't going to go vegan overnight.

    October 18, 2007
  13. Ellie #

    Because it's impossible to unite conflicting ideologies.

    October 19, 2007
  14. Dan #

    I first learned about abolition when I first went vegan over four years ago. When I went vegan, I was the first vegetarian, much less vegan, that I ever knew.

    I grew up in a very conservative (religiously and politically) background. One reason that I became agnostic-leaning-atheist and politically progressive out of this opposite background was unrelenting curiosity, starting during my university days and continuing to the present, about other ways of seeing the world. Another reason is that I’ve been an individualist since childhood – I believe that it’s “hardwired” in my brain. I have not lost this curiosity and it is how and why I learned about Gary Francione’s abolition approach within about two or three months of going vegan. I was simply exploring the terrain of animal rights thought before confirming my own views. My natural inclination toward individualism, encouraged by thinkers like Thoreau, explains why I’m very comfortable as an abolitionist living in the middle of ranch and rodeo and hunting country in the middle of the Colorado mountains.

    Francione was the thinker and writer who made the most sense to me – by far – in my survey of AR thought four years ago. I must admit however, that although I was very aware of significant differences between new welfarism and abolition, I wasn’t focused as much on the differences until the 2006 Whole Foods meat marketing letter from “Animal Rights International” (of all misnomers) signed by PETA, “Vegan” Outreach, and others, PETA’s “Proggy” award to Temple Gandin; Satya’s 2006 coverage of the issue and the ensuing debate. The combination of these occurrences in 2006 brought home everything Francione said in Rain Without Thunder in 1996. It hit me like a lightning bolt.

    I finally saw very clearly that new welfarism is a meat-eater’s cause and abolition is a vegan’s cause. I finally saw that this is a HUGE difference, not merely in tactics, but deeply in the underlying philosophy which informs the two perspectives. I realized that there was no abolition movement. I realized the *business side* of the new welfarist movement and how the long-term business plan works so well with Singerian welfare reform with vague but empty promises of “abolition” “someday.” I realized that an abolition movement had to be started, and that fortunately there were several people who thought the way I did and mostly, if not entirely, agreed with Francione’s abolition approach. Many of them wrote in Satya’s late 2006 issues: Michele Alley-Grubb of Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary (her and Chris Alley-Grubb are personal friends), James LaVeck of ToH, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau of Compassionate Cooks, and Patty Mark, to name a few. Others have started blogs and comment in forums and other blogs.

    The abolition movement, which is separate from the other movement of PETA, VO, et al, is in its infancy now. We are outnumbered not only by “happy” meat consumers, but sadly by many new welfarist vegans as well. We realize that “happy” meat consumers want little or nothing to do with us until or unless they go vegan. We wish new welfarist vegans “got it”, but we generally realize that “getting it” with respect to abolition appears to be more difficult for many people than “getting it” with respect to veganism in the first place. The new welfarist movement is here to stay due to the sheer numbers and financing. The new welfarist movement has the support of millions of “happy” meat customers. The new welfarist movement needs no help.

    The abolitionist movement is more tenuous due its small size and lack of financing, but I believe it is also here to stay. The abolitionist movement’s growth is not as certain, but one factor in our favor is the dedication of our small group. Another factor is our consistency and lack of hypocrisy. We promote what we practice. Our abolitionism is the public manifestation of our veganism. We are a vegan’s cause. We are not interested in making meat eaters feel better about meat consumption. We are not a meat-eater’s cause.

    October 19, 2007
  15. This one is a bit hard for me to answer..a lot of it all came relatively intuitively.

    The term 'abolition' wasn't quite so 'out there' 10yrs ago, but animal rights (AR) was… I simply made the jump that whatever moral rights humans deserve, likely so do other animals. I was excited to learn of the term 'speciesism'.

    PETA actually did a good job in delaying me from fully accepting abolition and AR. I believed it, but i questioned it still, because PETA was such an 'authority'. I hated what Singer brought to the table, long before, and was dismayed that he was their philosophy consultant, or whatever..but hey, it was PETA.

    After interning there for six months in 2001, i was fully abolitionist. I still used and gave out PETA literature, but only the stuff that was at least mostly abolition….and it always dug at me that i was promoting this group, since there was so much i disagreed with….but who else was there? Vegan Outreach wasn't much better, as they're promoting a diet, not a philosophy…very rarely mentioning anything other than 'suffering' and 'farmed animals' (ie, ignoring leather, honey, etc..)

    Back to the question, i hadn't really read much in the way of literature, but was active on message boards and email lists, and asked a lot of questions, and quickly noted the difference between those who can still accept exploiting other animals (at any level) and advocating that practice, and those who were firmly against it.

    There is a big difference between politics and advocacy, and unfortunately we see much more of the politics in play, because it tries to compel through appeasement. Advocacy compels through rational thought and justice.

    I have never been able to figure out how you can get what you want, unless you ask for it. I want to see humans stop exploiting other animals. Will this happen by asking for bigger cages? By asking for less-cruel killing methods?

    If you were to go to a restaurant, and asked for an apple, but actually wanted an orange…how long would it take you to get that orange? Likely never. Why? Because you're asking for an apple.

    I want to see abolition, so that's what i'm asking for.

    Agree fully about not idolizing anyone. No one is infallible, nor perfect. Give respect where it's due, but no one is the 'ultimate authority' on a subject.

    October 19, 2007
  16. Greenie #

    I have a friend with a large personal library which I often peruse. At the start of this year I came across Francione's "Animals, Property and the Law". I was already vegan at this stage, but had nevre heard of "abolition". This book was a revelation, it just made so much sense to me. I have not looked back.

    I think a huge part of the problem with welfarism is that psychologically and intuitively it "feels" right to most people. Even now I sometimes struggle with it- for example here in Australia we have live animal export to the Middle East. The cruelty and suffering of the animals on the ships and on reaching their destination has been documented by a courageous lady from the welfare group "Animals Australia". They are campaigning for an end to live export and to have chilled meat shipped instead. Clearly welfarist, but jeez I see the huge trucks loaded with sheep every morning going to the docks and I can't help thinking it's a good thing welfare groups are campaigining against this. Then I re-read Francione.

    I think that for the "average" person it's very hard to explain why abolition is not compatible with welfare. Most people really don't even understand about not using animals cruelly, let alone have the cognition to take on the idea of not using them AT ALL. Welfare sounds nice, all warm and fuzzy. It's hard to fight against that when explaining your ideology to someone with absolutely no background in even thinking about animal use.

    October 20, 2007
  17. Sheila #

    My first look at abolition came to me as a reference to abolitionist-online from a United Poultry Concerns newsletter. It was the May 2007 issue. The editorial alone hooked me. I'm hesitant to give up on animal welfare, though, because I think abolition is misunderstood by the average person. I agree with what Greenie said in her last paragraph. I also agree that use is unacceptable and better welfare does not stop use. I guess my point is that, I would be disappointed in myself if I didn't strive for better welfare for animals in the interim time that it takes to get others to realize the abolitionist perspective.

    October 20, 2007

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