Monday, 3 September 2007


Talking about animal rights on Jean Kazez's blog, Gary Francione's blog was recommended. He takes the 'abolitionist' approach to animal rights, advocating complete veganism - which sounds fair enough, until you realise that he actually opposes 'welfarist' campaigns for incremental reforms (i.e. those that seek to reduce animal suffering without abolishing animal use). This seems to stem from his view that it is animal 'exploitation' per se that should be morally troubling us, contrasted explicitly with the utilitarianism of Singer, who is concerned about animal 'suffering'.

Plenty to argue about there, but something in particular caught my eye, it was this comment about a PETA activist:
"Mathews himself ate a product—the “veggie burger”—which not even McDonald’s claims is vegetarian given that it is cooked on the same grill with meat products and handled along with animal products."
Now I guess it stems from my 'welfarist' and 'utilitarian' perspective, but I've never understood the idea that it should particularly bother an ethical vegetarian whether meat or its derivatives may have come into contact with their food. After all, we're trying to avoid killing animals, or animal suffering (depending on your perspective), it seems quasi-religious to have these views of animal products somehow contaminating our food. I'm just not sure what the ethical basis of that fear is - I understand that vegetarians or vegans often don't like the taste of meat (stuff I happily ate before giving up meat now makes me gag), but that is not a moral issue to bash someone over the head with!.


Jean said...

I take it the abolitionists think working on improving conditions for "food" animals sends the message that the whole practice is OK. It doesn't strike me that way. PETA has a "meat is murder" T-shirt. You can't get much more clear.

It's like working to end the death penalty in the US and also working on prison reforms, so life on death row will be better. This is not incoherent!

I'm going to look at GF's blog some more though. I appreciate very clear, well-defined positions even if I can't quite get myself on board.

pj said...

Well he does talk a lot about how 'ethical' animal products make people feel ok about eating animals, and are thus encouraging animal exploitation.

But I really don't see it myself, sadly most people opting for, say, free range eggs are not going to turn to veganism if you take that choice away, they will simply eat standard factory eggs - and the increased cost of 'ethical' meat should result in decreased overall consumption.

His position is an interesting combination of unjustified optimism and complete nihilism.