Monday, 25 January 2016

Should Vegans Reject Single Issue Campaigns?


In December last year Vegfest, which organises a number of major vegan festival in the UK, announced that it would change its criteria by which it invites speakers to talk at their events, Specifically this change banned groups that did not advocate veganism as a "moral baseline", such as single issue campaigns(SICs). These groups traditionally are set up around some aspect of animal cruelty to lobby others to address these concerns, and indeed take direct action to support animals, an example of these could include anti-fox hunting campaigns.

So why the change? This decision was made by the organiser of the festivals, Tim Barford, as he transitioned to become a supporter of Gary Francione's abolitionist approach. Now, Francione's has many criticisms of singles issue campaigns (SIC), but the foremost one of these from an ethical point of view is that he believes SICs are speciesist, as they pick out one aspect of animal abuse to be worse than another, and some animals are of more value than others. However if any use of animals is a violation of its fundamental rights, as Francione argues, then all uses are equally bad. So what's speciesism got to do with it? Francione's argues that when it comes to humans, fundamental violations of rights are regarded as equally wrong. For example, all murder is equally wrong, regardless of the cruelty of the murderer. By not translating this principle to animals, Francione's argues that this is speciesist, and so all single issue campaigns should campaign with the clear expression that the response to particular injustices should all be the same, to go vegan, not just help enact one small bit of change. According to this view vegans should reject single issue campaigns, and it was this belief that motivated VegFests change in policy to exclude these speakers.

So what's wrong with this argument?

Well, the problem is that fundamental rights violations are indeed excusable in some circumstances according to Francione. Imagine for instance we are on a deserted island, stranded with another human. There is no food. Are you justified in killing that human to survive? Francione's response is that while not justifiable, it is excusable. Now this seems like quite a farfetched analogy, but there are actual situations that Francione also discusses. For example in his blog about pets, Francione states that adopting animals that would otherwise be killed in animal shelters, although involves a violation of the animals rights (because the animal has to live purely at the behest of the human), is the best thing to out a range of bad options. Importantly despite Francione stating that rights violations are only excusable, he actively advocates for animals to be adopted. (He also uses the same argument to say feeding meat to cats is excusable).

The principle here is clear, in the face of acting to violate fundamental rights, that it is excusable to violate them if in doing so we are saving lives and it is the best of bad options. This is exactly what SIC are doing when they campaign to reduce animal suffering. Now maybe campaigning on veganism would be more effective, but meat eaters themselves say that while they are not willing to go vegan they are willing to join in campaigns against things like anti fox hunting. We are faced with an impossible situation, we live in a world that refuses to go vegan, but we can make sure that at least some of those animals are saved. As Francione says, supporting things that are the least bad option is excusable if it saves lives. This is exactly also the same issue regarding vegan organisations that support reducetarianism I mentioned in my last blog. They do so to save animal lives, making a compromise just like Francione does when he advocates for animals to be adopted.

Where SIC, and indeed the vegan society when they advocate reducetarianism, differ with Francione and Vegfest is not on a matter of principle. The question then is whether purely vegan campaigns are just more effective. There have been some studies on this, however these are not conclusive. What is certain however is that there are meat eaters who say they would not go vegan, but would support SIC and would try to reduce their meat consumption. Are they all lying? Perhaps they are just confused, but regardless where the approaches differ is not on a matter of principle.

Now there are additional arguments that Francione uses, such as that some SIC are racist. One example of these might be single issue campaigns against the Taiji dolphin hunt. I think Francione is right that we need to make sure that these campaigns are supported by some within by those within those communities to promote change that does not lead to an increase in xenophobia. However the fact that a campaign identifies particular practices by others which might lead to xenophobia if the campaign is done poorly are uses poor language, does not mean we should absolutely not campaign on those issues if they are done well. For example the fact that Saudi Arabia is an Islamic country does not mean that white people should not campaign to end the war in Yemen. We can do so in a way that is not xenophobic, persuading our Government to take action about these issues.

Another concern expressed by Francione is that SIC reinforce the misconceived idea that as long as one uses animal “humanely” is permissible and rather it is abuse which is wrong. On the contrary, SIC say that by extending concern for animals, so it promotes veganism in the long term through a gradual approach. This is again is an empirical question and not matter of principle. Again if we actually listen to many vegans, they themselves say that this is what happened to them, they first got involved in SIC, met some vegans, widened their sphere of moral concern and became vegan. Maybe Francione is right, but I have seen no evidence for it. Regardless, again note that this a matter of fact, not principle.

Vegans Don't Need to Reject Single Issue Campaigns

Hopefully I have managed to convince you that whatever the disagreements between the sides in this debate they are not matters of principle, and not as Francione says because his opponents are speciesist. Vegans don't need to reject SIC, indeed supporting them is an expression of their veganism. SIC and vegan campaigns are singled out by Francione as being speciesist, but both sides of this debate are acting on the same principle, to do whatever they can to help animals. Francione in his debates with these groups makes it seem like all violations of rights can never be excusable, yet is happy to excuse his own violations for the causes he supports such as adopting pets, or feeding meat to cats. It is this inconsistency that makes it appear like he is only opposing these organisations to be divisive, as it splits apart the animal right movement, turning vegans against one another. Whether we are involved in SICs or are involved with vegan education through the Abolitionist Approach or indeed the Vegan Society, we are all still vegans, acting in the best way we can see fit to save animals and we should be united by this.

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