I’m reposting here, with some minor modifications, a response I made a few months ago to a comment on The Abolitionist Approach Facebook Page. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of that comment, which has now been deleted. However, the gist of it was that the person concerned felt that abolitionist animal rights has no business taking a position on other forms of discrimination other than speciesism. He stated that he did not think that abolitionism should include a “whole package of other liberal values”, since “animal rights is neither liberal not reactionary”.
This person also commented that “Now we have a debate and fracturing within the movement over theism”, referring to the promotion of discriminatory ideas arising from the influence of New Atheism in relation to animal rights by some people within the abolitionist movement and a series of essays and a podcast by Francione as a response to this. These discuss the incompatibility of New Atheism with abolitionism and make clear the folly of trying to meld the two. New Atheism refers to the
name given to the ideas promoted by a collection of modern atheist writers who have advocated the view that “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticised, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises (Simon Hooper, 2006).
The New Atheist movement is based around the work of writers such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens.
As Professor Gary L. Francione has often pointed out, speciesism is morally wrong for the same reason that all forms of discrimination are wrong. They all rely on excluding sentient beings as members of the moral community, deserving of equal consideration, based on irrelevant moral criteria — whether of species, race, gender, class, age, sexual preference, religion or other. If we accept the general principle that it’s wrong to exclude anyone on the basis of irrelevant moral criteria, and that this is the basis of speciesism, then a rejection of speciesism must necessarily involve a rejection of racism, sexism, classism, ageism, homophobia, ableism and every other form of discrimination. As animal advocates, to retain any form of discriminatory attitude towards other humans indicates that we really don’t understand the basis for rejecting speciesism and we’re only likely to be a liability to the cause of abolitionist animal rights because we will undoubtedly, and correctly, be perceived as misanthropes, further entrenching negative stereotypes about “animal people”.
This doesn’t mean that, as abolitionists, we’re obligated to actively and explicitly include other social justice concerns in our vegan advocacy, or indeed, to pursue them at all. It does mean, however, that our vegan advocacy, and our behaviour generally, should be entirely free of all forms of discrimination, including any form of collusion with discrimination by others. And in order to achieve this, we need to have a clear position on other forms of discrimination, and on human rights, in the first place. If we haven’t examined and rejected our own tendencies towards racism, sexism, ageism, etc. (which I would argue none of us are free from) there’s every probability that these will intrude into our vegan advocacy. Quite apart from the harm of discrimination towards target groups, and the barriers created in establishing the necessary rapport with individuals within them, this can only undermine our vegan advocacy because it presents a confused and inconsistent message. An example is “animal people” who think there’s nothing wrong with the sexist and misogynistic antics of a group like PETA. Clearly, it’s absurd to think that exploiting women can achieve anything towards ending the exploitation of animals.
With regard to whether animal rights should include a “whole package of other liberal values” — as stated, presenting a rational argument for veganism doesn’t necessitate explicitly promoting liberal values or related causes, and indeed, the argument should be kept clear, simple and focused on animal rights. However, abolitionist animal rights is an unapologetically progressive movement and as such, is implicitly allied with other liberal, social justice movements, including struggles for economic justice, gender equality, racial equality and sexual preference equality. It entails rejection of the institutions that maintain these forms of inequality. There’s also a recognition that genuine social justice is not possible without justice for all, including non-humans. As animal advocates, we may or may not choose to actively involve ourselves in other authentic social justice movements, but our animal advocacy should at least not be inconsistent with the underlying ethos that drives them all.
So I disagree with you that “animal rights is neither liberal nor reactionary”. Reactionary values are totally at odds with the progressive values of abolitionist animal rights in that they explicitly involve hierarchies of power involving oppression of the powerless in vulnerable and marginalised groups, based on discriminatory characterisations of them. This is exactly what abolitionist animal rights opposes in its stance against use of animals — the most vulnerable and oppressed of all. It’s to be expected that different abolitionists will have varying social and political positions based on their interpretation of what constitutes justice. Nevertheless, any positions that involve perpetuating discrimination and exploitation are fundamentally at odds with abolitionism.
Your comment regarding theism links directly to the issue of discrimination and the need to understand that no form of discrimination is compatible with abolitionism. It’s quite incorrect to say that “Now we have a debate and fracturing within the movement over theism”. Francione has never argued that theism has anything to do with animal rights, or that any particular spiritual or religious belief is necessary in order to have the moral concern about animals that’s necessary to accept the rational argument for ethical veganism. Indeed, he has gone to great lengths in essays and a podcast and to point out that it doesn’t matter why someone has moral concern for animals, only that they do, and that moral concern can arise from a variety of sources, both spiritual and non-spiritual. Discussion regarding New Atheism has only arisen as a necessary response to a small group of abolitionists behaving in a way that is consistently discriminatory towards those who are theists or who otherwise have some spiritual orientation, including non-theistic ones. This kind of discrimination, centred on religious belief, is deeply antithetical to abolitionism, based as it is on the principle of non-discrimination, and hence any significant thrust in that direction among those who call themselves abolitionists must be countered unequivocally.
The nature of the discrimination engaged in by New Atheist animal advocates is aggressive promotion of the the notion that it’s necessary to be an atheist in order to be an abolitionist. It involves peddling the bizarre and insulting idea that people who subscribe to religious or spiritual beliefs are incapable of the kind of rational thought that’s required to understand and accept the logical argument for abolitionist veganism. This is as absurd and harmful as claiming that members of certain racial groups lack the intelligence to understand abolitionism. Those aligned with the New Atheist group have engaged in antics displaying profound prejudice, such as posting a vile graphic on the internet that compared Krishna, Buddha and Jesus to Charles Manson and Jim Jones. Arguments by Francione and other abolitionists against this kind of scurrilous behaviour arising from a distorted worldview are entirely necessary in order to keep abolitionism free of the harmful and destructive “otherisation” that is at the heart of speciesism and all forms of discrimination. Far from advocating any particular religious position, theistic or otherwise, as a prerequisite for being an abolitionist, as your comment suggests, these arguments have been required precisely in order to defend abolitionism against claims that it involves any particular stance on religion, including a rejection of religion. Abolitionist animal rights transcends religious affiliations. We welcome all people to join us in our struggle against animal exploitation, as long as they subscribe to the principle of non-violence.
It’s also worth mentioning that New Atheist thought is right-wing and reactionary in character and therefore completely at odds with the progressive values of abolitionism. Your comment regarding “fracturing of the movement” is in error in that it greatly overstates the situation. The militant atheist group, although rather vocal, is very small, very confused, and is dwindling, not growing.
This concludes my reposting of my response to a comment on the Abolitionist Approach Facebook page. I hope I have made clear why it is important for abolitionists to reject not just speciesism but all forms of discrimination.
By Linda McKenzie