Exchanges with “abolitionists”

Pages captured from the ARCO
(Animal Rights Community Online) forum

In 2008 a fellow activist (“benio”) and I were drawn into a series of discussions on the now-defunct ARCO (“Animal Rights Community Online”) forum, administered and mostly populated by “abolitionists1” (Gary Francione-minded vegans). Francione himself was one of the participants.

This led to bitter exchanges and ended with the banning of most of the dissidents.

I managed to save a few of the threads. I present two of these, “Joan Dunayer” and “Should we march with vegetarians?”, through the links below. The files are the raw HTML as it was downloaded, with all the stylesheets missing and broken links. As the resulting format is not very user-friendly, I have highlighted a few significant passages.

(Some posts may also be missing; towards the end of the battle, administrators started getting jittery and deleting various “offending” texts.)

“Joan Dunayer”

The discussion initially presented a quarrel between Gary Francione (present) and Joan Dunayer (absent), most notably concerning issues of precedence such as Dunayer having said that animals should not be property without mentioning that Francione said it first:

Perz charged Dunayer with appropriation because that the unpublished manuscript quoted Francione (2000): “We do not regard it as legitimate to treat any humans, irrespective of their particular characteristics, as the property of other humans”, and in the published version of Specieism, Dunayer removed the quotation and wrote, without reference to Francione, “We consider it immoral to treat any human, whatever their characteristics, as property.”

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This led to user benio and I expressing doubts about the originality of Francione's ideas in general; which brought on the following a memorable assessment by Francione of my intellectual qualities:

Please forgive me, but discussing philosophy with you is like talking about quantum theory with a clam. You may be sentient, but your cognitive abilities are wanting.

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Which he later refined:

After reading your statements about utilitarianism, I have come to the conclusion that it would be easier to discuss quantum theory with a clam.

I am sorry if I offended any clams or other bivalve mollusks.

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I find it remarkable that the leader of a renowned movement for animal rights, and a university professor, should stoop to such a level of petty (and speciesist, in intention) insults. I am not the first to note how brutal Francione can be towards anyone who disagrees with him. The problem is that it's not just Francione; I have the feeling that his deplorable way of “arguing” has largely contaminated the entire “abolitionist” movement that he leads.

Francione's insults came as responses to my arguments concerning what utilitarianism can or cannot demand.


More interesting perhaps is the fact that when challenged about what is so original in his work, all he could do was cite a positive review of one of his books by Tom Regan:

For the record, Tom Regan described my theory about the property status of animals as of "unquestionable historic importance the likes of which the world of ideas has never seen before: profound in its conception, execution, and its possible consequences." Regan had this to say about my analysis of new welfarism (the notion that regulatory change would lead to abolition): "No other scholarly observer of the animal movement has seen this movement’s lack of a consistent ideology as clearly as Francione. . . . Francione’s book represents a quantum leap forward in every respect by which anyone might reasonably measure an understanding of both the ideology of animal rights and what this movement can and should be."

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Tom Regan is a nice guy; as much as I disagree with his deontological viewpoint, and dislike some of his not very honest and not very nice positions, he clearly appears to be a gentle person, and it doesn't surprise me that he was willing to write positively about his then-disciple Gary Francione. This however doesn't go very far in making clear what exactly Francione's contributions amount to.

In the above passage, Regan mentions two points: the property status of animals and the criticism of “new welfarism”. However, as clearly pointed out in the thread, opposition to the property status of animals was completely unoriginal. All that is really left Francione's violence towards animal activists who don't share all his beliefs and don't follow the same path as him, and whom he all denounces as “neo-welfarists”.

“Should we march with vegetarians?”

1. One may be an abolitionist of many different things: of prostitution, of the death penalty, of war, of bull-fighting, of the oppression of animals, of the property status of animals... It is not right that a certain tendency within the animal movement has, through the absolute use of the term “abolitionists” - that is, without specification of what is to be abolished - essentially coopted it. Actually, they are very specifically for the abolition of animal exploitation and of the property status of animals; this goal corresponds to certain ethical positions, and those who hold other ethical positions may also be abolitionists, but of not quite the same things.