Animal Rights

Gary Francione, Farm Sanctuaries and Moral Schizophrenia

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A lot of us say that we like animals… and yet we gleefully eat their tortured, rotting corpses. I, for instance, think ducks are adorable, but this doesn’t stop me from eating duck tongue every chance I get.

To animal rights philosopher Gary L. Francione, this makes me and most of the world “moral schizophrenics”. But perhaps meat eaters are not the only ones who need to renew their antipsychotic prescriptions. Francione’s views on domesticated animals — views that many vegans share — are a bit mentally divergent too: 

Domestic animals are dependent on us for when and whether they eat, whether they have water, where and when they relieve themselves, when they sleep, whether they get any exercise, etc. Unlike human children, who, except in unusual cases, will become independent and functioning members of human society, domestic animals are neither part of the nonhuman world nor fully part of our world. They remain forever in a netherworld of vulnerability, dependent on us for everything that is of relevance to them. We have bred them to be compliant and servile, or to have characteristics that are actually harmful to them but are pleasing to us. … This is more or less true of all domesticated nonhumans. They are perpetually dependent on us. We control their lives forever. They truly are “animal slaves.” We may be benevolent “masters,” but we really aren’t anything more than that. And that cannot be right.

My partner and I live with five rescued dogs. All five would be dead if we did not adopt them. We love them very much and try very hard to provide them the best of care and treatment. (And before anyone asks, all seven of us are vegans!) You would probably not find two people on the planet who enjoy living with dogs more than we do.

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But if there were two dogs left in the universe and it were up to us as to whether they were allowed to breed so that we could continue to live with dogs, and even if we could guarantee that all dogs would have homes as loving as the one that we provide, we would not hesitate for a second to bring the whole institution of “pet” ownership to an end. We regard the dogs who live with us as refugees of sorts, and although we enjoy caring for them, it is clear that humans have no business continuing to bring these creatures into a world in which they simply do not fit. … Moreover, it makes no sense to say that we have acted immorally in domesticating nonhuman animals but we are now committed to allowing them to continue to breed. We made a moral mistake by domesticating nonhumans in the first place; what sense does it make to perpetuate it?

(Animal Rights and Domesticated Nonhumans)

So, okay… the lives of domesticated animals are inherently bad no matter how lovingly they are treated, since they are biologically fated to be parasitical slaves. Because of this, it is better for domesticated animals to not exist, and we should therefore not perpetuate their existences. Even dogs as lovingly cared for as Francione’s companion animals would be better off in a state of non-being. And hey, by the way, look how great Francione and his wife are — thanks to their heroic act of saving some domesticated animals from imminent non-existence (which is preferable than domesticated existence), more domesticated animal lives are perpetuated. And Francione treats these better-off-dead inherent slaves so lovingly!

How can anyone run these six sentences together:

They truly are “animal slaves.” We may be benevolent “masters,” but we really aren’t anything more than that. And that cannot be right.

My partner and I live with five rescued dogs. All five would be dead if we did not adopt them. We love them very much and try very hard to provide them the best of care and treatment.

and call us morally schizophrenic?

Gary L. Francione needs to start Tweeting up a storm about how Gary L. Francione ought to be shunned out of the animal movement for being a compromising welfarist who thinks that good treatment can justify animal slavery.

I’ve written plenty of blog entries that I wouldn’t stand by anymore (I groan whenever I see that I got a new comment on my Donald Watson entry), and Francione wrote this in 2007. But his bizarre contradiction was not simply a product of the folly of youth; Francione has been making that contradiction over the entire course of his abolitionist blogging career, and as recently as a few days ago:

[I]f you can, please adopt or foster a homeless animal. There are so many who need your help. If you do not have the room or resources for a dog or cat or rabbit, there are many smaller animals, such as mice, rats, turtles, and fish, who also need homes. If you have land, there are also many larger animals and farm animals, who need homes.

Caring for individual nonhuman animals is an important part of what animal rights is all about. And if you are involved in animal rescue, remember that there is no difference between the animal you save and the animal you eat.

If you have a companion animal, please make sure that the animal does not reproduce. We do not need any more domesticated animals coming into existence!

Animal Care and Control: The Sad Failure of New York City’s Municipal Shelter System

And from “Abolition and Incremental Reform”:

I do agree with the observation that caring for individual nonhumans involves our managing their lives and having to decide about what is in their “best interests.” That is, of course, true also for human children. But the need to make these decisions for nonhumans continues over the life of the nonhuman. It never ends. That is the consequence of our forcing into existence creatures who do not belong in our world and cannot survive on their own. It is a powerful reason why we should bring no more domesticated nonhumans into existence but it does not support the conclusion that being concerned about the welfare of individuals is a matter of animal welfare theory.

Caring for individual nonhuman animals is an extremely important form of activism, particularly when it is informed by an abolitionist perspective.

An extremely paradoxical form of activism, he means, particularly when it is informed by an abolitionist perspective which preaches that these animals would be better off dead than alive.

Francione likes to complain about the thousands of animals that PETA killed through their animal shelters, but by his logic, PETA is just doing what’s got to be done and what Francione is too afraid to do himself — taking these domesticated suckers out. The only dogs Francione should be upset about are the eight that PETA adopted into perpetuated “happy” slavery, not the thousands that PETA liberated from domesticated existence (a fate worse than oblivion). 

Even more confusing, in his book Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog, Francione suggests that there are some scenarios in which we might want to save a dog (whose life is worse than no life) from a burning house rather than save a human:

Although we may be justified in or excused for preferring the human over the nonhuman in a situation of true emergency or conflict, this does not mean that we should not choose the animal in some circumstances. Indeed, even though our preference for the human over the animal is a compelling one, most of us already recognize that there can be situation in which the intuitive preference does not hold. If the choice is between saving an odious human or a dog, most of us would probably choose the dog. If the choice is between an animal we know and love and a human who is a stranger, the intuition to favor the human may also be weaker. … Other things being equal, I may decide to favor the chimpanzee [over a terminally ill human], whose life will be longer. But then, I think that the same argument could be made if the animal in question were a healthy young dog. Even though I may not understand fully what is at stake for the dog, I understand that death is a harm to both the dog and the human and in this highly unusual and extreme situation, I may base my decision on the fact that the dog has a longer time to live. (161)

The life of a dog is inherently bad because dogs are born to be slaves, but if the dog is healthy and has a long life ahead of it, this worse-than-non-existence slave life suddenly becomes good and should be valued over the life of a human whose life is worthwhile but is ending sooner?

This is incoherent. If dogs are better off not existing, why would we ever save one from the searing salvation of fire? Instead, we should burn down every dog hotel we see. [Not to mention that valuing a dog’s longer life over a human’s shorter life contradicts Francione’s belief that three hours of human life are worth an animal’s entire life.]

If an animal is blatantly suffering, most vegans are not opposed to euthanasia, because they believe that the animal’s life has become worse than death. Francione is making the same worse-than-living claim for any life at all as a domesticated animal. Why doesn’t this justify euthanasia? How can he say that domesticated animals should not exist, and then in the next sentence implore all of us to perpetuate the ones that are currently here, even when killing such animals in shelters does not proportionally increase the demand for more domesticated animals?

If life for domesticated animals is an inherent harm, good treatment doesn’t matter, and we do them no favors by buying them from kill shelters or harboring them on farm sanctuaries. If death is a harm for domesticated animals, on the other hand, then these lives of slavery that Francione abhors must be worth living. But Francione doesn’t want to grant that. Instead he says that death and life are both harms for domesticated animals. This is a trick Francione pulls so he can oppose humane animal farming from every possible angle. It allows him to argue that no matter how well we treat animals on humane farms, if their very existence is a great disservice to them, we have a compelling reason never to breed them into existence in the first place. If their deaths are a disservice too, that ties up the loose end on the other side and we can’t kill them either. But these positions cannot co-exist. An interest in living denotes a worthwhile life. A life that is, on balance, not worthwhile, should lead to an interest in dying.

[An aside: What Francione objects to in domesticated animal life is that it constitutes a perpetual parasitical babyhood. The problem he sees with domesticated animals — unlike self-supporting humans and wild animals — is that they cannot pull themselves up by their bootstraps and succeed without no help from nobody. Essentially, domesticated animals are in the same position as the human “marginal cases” (babies, the comatose and the severely mentally impaired) that vegans rely on to give animals rights. A side effect of Francione’s opposition to domesticated animal lives, then, is to also condemn the lives of human marginal cases as worse than no lives at all. Well, baby life can be justified, he insists, because the baby has potential to grow up and take care of itself. (This is an “argument from potential,” which some other vegans reject for the sake of strengthening the argument from marginal cases.) In other words, Francione believes that temporary parasitism is okay. But since all life is temporary, that means the parasitism of domesticated animals is temporary too, which would seem to justify bringing domesticated animals into the world as well. More important, Francione’s stance on the inherent harm of domesticated animal life implies that the lives of severely mentally impaired adults cannot be justified, and such people should not be perpetuated. Since vegans cite the value of severely mentally impaired human lives as proof of the value of animal lives, this might cause more problems with the argument from marginal cases, but I’ll worry about that another day.]

I don’t mean to put all of this on Francione. He’s not the only logical schizophrenic in Veganville. Many vegans say that the lives of domesticated animals — especially the kind on farms who are destined to become human food — can never be worthwhile, even if the animals are well treated. Yet these same vegans advocate farm sanctuaries, which “rescue” farm animals from the non-existence vegans say they never should have materialized from, perpetuating lives that vegans believe are worse than no lives at all.

Most vegans are not opposed to killing animals who are hurt, suffering, and have little to no hope of recovery. They consider this a mercy killing because such an existence is worse than death. So if a domesticated animal life is worse than death no matter how healthy or well treated the animal is, these same vegans should support the painless killing of healthy, well-treated domesticated animals too.

Is it possible for vegans to resolve this paradox?

If so, it won’t involve arguments that both death and life are harms for certain breeds of animals. If vegans are at all interested in making sense, then they have to pick one.

If they pick that domesticated animal life is not worth living, then they ought to be in favor of painlessly killing all domesticated animals as soon as possible. The vegan domesticated animal “sanctuary” would consist of a shotgun and a shovel. Dog and cat shelters would be razed and replaced with trails of pet food leading to bottomless pits. Animal liberators would sneak onto ranches and kill every healthy animal they could find, freeing them from their domesticated bodies, which is after all the only true liberation.

If vegans pick that domesticated animal life is worth living, and death is the bad part, it gets more complicated — but no easier to reconcile with obligatory veganism. These vegans would not be able to object to the creation and perpetuation of domesticated animal lives on the grounds that these lives are inherently bad. They could still try to prevent the birth of domesticated animals through other means, like arguing that artificial insemination is rape and that it’s even wrong for humans to put two fertile animals in the same vicinity because humans shouldn’t meddle with animal lives in any way. But these objections wouldn’t hold because they are vital aspects of typical domesticated animal lives — lives which these vegans have decided are on balance worthwhile. Pro-domesticated-animal vegans would ultimately have to let domesticated animal births slide and would have to instead focus their energies on talking up how great these lives are and how wrong it is to prematurely end them.

Unfortunately, this wild enthusiasm for domesticated animal lives leaves them vulnerable to the counterpoint that if farm animal lives are good, and wouldn’t exist without meat eating, then meat eating has a positive effect overall. One possible vegan response is that these animals’ fates as future human food casts a shadow of despair upon their entire lives, thus rendering their lives worse than never coming into being. But if vegans try to pull that one, they have just switched sides to the “domesticated animal life is inherently bad” team and should want to kill these animals as soon as possible to free them from their tainted lives as future food. To stay in the “domesticated animal life is good” camp, vegans couldn’t object to the birth and eventual killing of animals who would never exist at all if slaughter weren’t their eventual destiny.

So under either scenario, we need to kill domesticated animals. Which must be why some vegans like to pretend that domesticated animal lives and deaths are both harms.

But I know vegans will not so easily concede this last point about slaughter being justifiable because it is a necessary condition for the creation of animal lives that they think are good. “Nice try,” they’re thinking, “Except we wouldn’t say that since human life is worthwhile, it’s okay for human parents to kill their child if the only way they will have this kid is knowing that they will later get to kill and eat it.”

This is the popular but useless “what if we did it to humans?” objection. The quick response to it is, “But we’re not doing it to humans, so what’s your point?” The longer response is that this objection incorrectly implies that there’s never a difference between doing something to humans and doing something to other animals. If we wonder “what if we did it to humans?” every single time we interact with an animal, it all becomes questionable. Would you go around petting random humans on the head? Would you take your children for a walk so they could shit in the park?

Different situations should be analyzed based on what they are, not what they would be if you substituted variables. You can’t say it’s wrong for two consenting adults to have sex because, “Well, what if one of them wasn’t consenting?” Doing this doesn’t put the question in a new light — it changes the question entirely. If vegans are going to say it’s bad to raise nonhuman animals for food, it has to be because it’s bad to raise nonhuman animals for food, not because it’s bad to raise humans for food.

It’s conceivable that we shouldn’t allow parents to have kids if their only reason for having the kids is to kill and eat them, but our reasons for objecting to that won’t necessarily automatically translate to how we treat animals. True, if the only reason we would object to parents having kids on the condition that they get to eat them is that humans are sentient, this objection would automatically translate to other sentient animals. But most likely there is a more to it than that — such as the kid never getting to fulfill his future plans of being a fireman or a spy for the CIA, people other than the parents having social attachments to the kid, and the concern that allowing too many exceptions to the rule against murdering humans gets messy.

It could turn out that these are all weak reasons and really we should allow parents to kill their kids if that is the only way to get them to have kids (those who are against overpopulation could probably muster an objection here). That still wouldn’t tell us what to do about domesticated animals.

Nonhuman animals, who who do not seem to have intricate future plans for themselves (or if they do are deluding themselves, since there is not much they can actually accomplish) do not have the same reasons to resist death that we do. When vegans talk about the tragedy of cutting an animal’s life short, they are projecting human death fears onto animals. Once an animal has become an adult, they have experienced just about everything there is to experience in that form of being. When a human dies early, we lament, “What would she have gone on to accomplish? Who would she have become? What would she have believed? Who would she have loved?” We don’t say, “Think of all those extra years of eating and sleeping she’ll never get to have.”

It would seem that if we can create worthwhile lives for domesticated animals and then take them away painlessly, leaving behind food for us to eat, everybody wins.

Well… except for vegans.