The following blog post is an opinion piece written by ACE’s Executive Director, Jon Bockman. It is not meant to convey ACE’s official stance on these issues. For a Spanish translation of this post, please see ¿Bienestaristas o abolicionistas? Por qué la división perjudica a los animales.
Gary Francione recently posted a reaction to a PR release he received from Mercy For Animals, one of ACE’s top recommended charities. In it, he criticizes their release as being “morally repugnant,” and goes on to cite specific examples of wording that he disagrees with. As several people have mentioned this to me and asked for my reaction to it, I am writing this post.
Francione’s post misses a major point of consideration; namely, that many of the groups he demonizes as supporting welfare reforms are advocating for abolition. They simply believe in a varied approach to achieving that goal. Just because some groups advocate for welfare improvements as a way to get their foot in the door with the public or corporations doesn’t mean that they have any desire to legitimize the use of animals. Rather, they believe, as has been my personal experience during my time in grassroots activism, that people are more willing to listen to your points and arguments if you meet them where they stand.
Francione seems primarily concerned with how we would behave in a world where we could convince people to go vegan if only we just eschewed all welfare conversation. This idealized world view misses the mark when it comes to reducing suffering and ultimately doing what is best for as many animals as possible.
Francione analyzes specific language used in the MFA press release, criticizing the use of terms like “respect,” “protect,” and “needless suffering,” while arguing that the press release should contain the word “vegan.” He also asserts that “so-called animal advocates suggesting that cage-free barns are not ‘cruel and inhumane’ is nothing short of a betrayal of nonhuman animals.” He does not agree with MFA’s use of conventional marketing tactics to meet people where they are rather than to demand a radical change in perspective, and his viewpoint ignores the gains that can be made be using MFA’s approach. Animal advocates who have been immersed in the advocacy movement for long periods of time tend to forget what it’s like to be on the other side.
My personal experience illustrates the value of such marketing strategies:
My point in covering my experience in such detail is to show the progression that occurred for me, and that also occurs in many other people. Would I have responded to wording that told me I was part of the problem if I only reduced consumption, or wording that told me the only answer was to be vegan? I find it highly unlikely.
Are cage-free operations perfect? Of course not. But would the animals benefit if we were to take the moral high ground and highlight all the suffering that takes place in cage-free facilities, instead of encouraging people who are taking steps in the right direction? In my view, no. I’ve had much more success in my line of work (including leadership positions in five different animal advocacy fields, all which involved interactions with the public) using positive reinforcement.
Francione goes on to criticize Whole Foods for setting Farm Animal Compassionate Standards, as well as the animal advocacy groups that support them. This short-sighted viewpoint denounces the fact that an enormously successful grocery chain has taken active measures to improve the treatment of animals, simply because their actions don’t fit into perfect vegan idealism. In addition to reduced suffering for animals, these efforts bring the treatment of farmed animals into the realm of public discussion; people thinking about where their food comes from is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, and necessary for further behavioral change.
Should we should only promote welfare reforms, or should we only preach abolition? That’s the wrong question. Clinging to a single strategy to appeal to all people is inefficient, and condemning groups that employ different strategies as “betrayers of animals” is simply counterproductive.
We shouldn’t make our decision and stick to it like grim death. We need to take an adaptive approach that uses different tactics for different people. We certainly shouldn’t waste our valuable time attacking other groups that are also advocating for animals, and instead should focus our efforts on the businesses that commit abuses against animals, and on changing public perception of animals being ours to use. We should reward businesses that try to help animals, even if the changes they make are small. We help spread veganism and concern for animals when we support steps in the right direction, not when we criticize them for not going far enough.
Ultimately, I ignore ideology and try to do what’s best for animals. I have no doubt that most people reading this also want to do what’s best for animals. Demonizing groups that work for welfare reforms as a step to a society that cares more about animals might make us feel morally superior, but it is counterproductive and actively hurts progress for animals. We need to focus all our energy on the task at hand: changing society’s view towards animals. Then, and only then, are we doing what’s best for animals.