This is the first of a two-part response to the essay, Vegan Feud, by James McWilliams. The second part will consist of a re-posting of a comment made by me on the Columbia University Press Blog.
It’s not possible to create a “rift” unless you have something that’s unified to begin with. This is not the case and has never been the case in the arena of animal advocacy. Abolitionism and welfarism are totally incompatible approaches. Trying to combine them would be like trying to mix water and oil. It’s simply not possible. So by calling for advocates of “competing approaches” to “compromise” and to “meld” as he does here, what McWilliams is really calling for is for abolitionists to jump on the welfarist bandwagon and throw their support behind HSUS. He’s calling for no less than that abolitionists abandon abolitionism! And that means abandoning our commitment to veganism as the moral baseline and creative vegan advocacy as our strategy. It means embracing incremental regulationist welfare reforms and promoting consumption of so-called “humane” or “happy” flesh and secretions of tortured and murdered animals.
One might think calling for something as improbable as committed abolitionists abandoning abolitionism and embracing welfarism, as well the obvious hope of discouraging potential adherents, would be backed up by a substantive and persuasive argument. At the least, we would expect McWilliams to be able to demonstrate that he’s informed regarding abolitionism, that he understands it and that he is able to skilfully critique it. But nothing of the kind is delivered. In fact, his essay is so surprisingly shallow, flabby and confused, that I was left wondering why he bothered to write it at all and what he thought could possibly be achieved by it. It certainly has not done anything to establish him as a serious thinker in the area of animal ethics.
McWilliams claims that “There is little doubt that HSUS is doing something right”, citing as an example of their “accomplishments” their recent success in persuading a company to eliminate the use of gestation crates for pregnant pigs. He acknowledges that:
HSUS works closely with Big Agriculture, never calls for animal liberation, and never explicitly endorses the habit that most efficiently prevents animals from being killed: veganism.
Yet he clearly thinks this should be no bar to supporting the organisation. While acknowledging the “eloquence” and “hard hitting” logic of abolitionist animal rights theorist, Professor Gary Francione, he fails to demonstrate any grasp of that logic by omitting to address Francione’s extensive criticism of the failure of welfarism, including the argument that, far from “doing something right”, welfare reforms as pursued by HSUS are the biggest obstacle we face in ending animal exploitation.
The abolitionist approach could attract a lot more supporters if it acknowledged, as HSUS does, that most people are going to embrace veganism on their own—you can’t strong-arm them into it.
and that going vegan represents:
a profound shift in consciousness that people make only when they’re personally ready to do so.