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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 2/27/09

Averting the China Syndrome

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By Steve Best and Jason Miller

For all the political prisoners of the animal liberation movement, for everyone involved in militant direct action for nonhuman animals and the Earth, and for all the nonhuman animals themselves who suffer at the hands of human barbarity.

We can’t say we’re disappointed with the responses to our publication of “Pacifism or Animals: Which Do You Love More? A Critique of Lee Hall, Friends of Animals, and the Franciombe Effect in the New Abolitionist Movement.” [1] We accomplished what we set out to do, and more.

We brought much-needed attention to the uncritical reception of Hall’s self-published polemic against militant direct action (MDA), Capers in the Courtyard.[2] We alerted an unknowing UK activist community to the slander and distortions of militant anti-vivisection campaigns in England and the United States. The ensuing fiery commentary on our article (as it appeared on blogs such as Thomas Paine’s Corner and Mary Martin’s Animal Person) helped to expose the propaganda and advertising tactics that Hall, Priscilla Feral, and Friends of Animals (FoA) use as masks for “objective” review of Hall’s regrettable book.

The discussion – featuring the bitter encomium and slew of ad hominem attacks by Feral’s husband, Robert Orabona, against former FoA lawyer, Derek Oatis (we wonder what überpacifist Lee Hall thinks of Orabona’s approach and language) – casts a bright light on the problematic nature of FoA itself and perhaps has some value for the historical record as it serves to document some of the inner conflicts of FoA, a long-established animal rights organization. An insider expose revealed that Feral and Orabona pay themselves a hefty salary (which we verified to be over $180,000 a year) from donor money intended to help animals rather than to boost their bank account. As we quickly discovered, Hall is not wanting either, pulling down $82,000 a year, about $15,000 more than her annual salary in 2005.[3]

Finally, we would like to think that our critique boosted the morale of US activists by strengthening the philosophical foundation for their efforts as they face persecution from the menacing corporate/state exploitation machine and continued fierce criticism from supposed animal rights advocates. We were delighted to have alerted UK activist Lynn Sawyer (comment #30) and thereby much of the UK MDA community about Hall’s book, which according to Lynn does little more than slander good activists and regurgitate police reports about incidents such as the alleged grave robbing of Gladys Hammond in order to pressure her family to stop breeding animals for vivisectors. We are eager to hear the UK activists’ thoughts on Halls’ book, and we hope this sparks vigorous debate over philosophy and tactics and further exposes the dogmatic, misinformed, hostile, and airy utopianism of her approach, which we attempt to demonstrate here.

We cannot possibly address all the critiques of our position or treat them here in any exhaustive fashion; we will simply correct the many misconceptions of our viewpoint and underscore the crucial aspects of our critique that were conveniently ignored by nearly every respondent, yet form the crux of the entire debate. We warn the reader that this is a long essay, but we hope it is one worthy of reading and debate. Our key response points concern: (1) the meaning of concepts such as “violence” and “war”; (2) the legitimacy and efficacy of sabotage tactics and violence; (3) the dogmatic and essentialist nature of what we call “fundamentalist pacifism,” which is a dominant ideology of the US animal advocacy movement and is aggressively pushed by Gary Francione and Lee Hall; (4) the manifestation of the Stockholm Syndrome in extreme pacifists like Hall and Feral; and (5) the importance of an alternative philosophical and political outlook to fundamentalist pacifism, namely: a militant abolitionism informed by a pluralist, contextualist, and pragmatist outlook and method.

The Fallacies of Fundamentalist Pacifism

To begin, whereas some critics objected to equating the positions of Hall, Feral, and Francione, we nowhere stated they formed a coherent group, although the differences between them seem negligible. We were unaware, but not surprised to learn, of the break between Francione and Friends of Animals, prompted by what some called “petty” squabbles of a nature that are inevitable in a war of position among absolutists and dogmatists, whether in the realm of religion or animal advocacy. We assume the direction of philosophical influence was Francione on Hall and FoA, rather than the other way around. Francione and Hall are both trained lawyers who espouse an extreme form of pacifism and promote a single-issue politics (despite their occasional remarks about capitalism and commonalities of oppression) anchored exclusively in vegan education.

Yet while Lee Hall has made it a central project to denigrate militant direct action and form alliances with the speciesist group Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) because they share her antipathy toward “violent extremists” in the animal liberation movement, Francione has focused his attack on welfarists, avoiding Hall’s obsessive hostility toward the MDA community as well as affiliation with the likes of SPLC.[4] Both embrace pacifist philosophies, but Hall is the most outspoken proponent and she pushes the ahimsa ethic of Buddhism, Gandhi, King, vegan founder Donald Watson, Francione, and others to a divisive and injurious extreme.

A key intent of the essay was not to speculate on the relationship between Francione and Hall and FoA, but rather to describe what we call the “Franciombe effect” among animal rights activists and abolitionists throughout the world and in many languages. In “Pacifism or Animals: Which Do You Love More?,” we sought to highlight a problematic phenomenon that few have identified: the uncritical embrace of a dogmatic pacifist, legalist, and single-issue party line amongst abolitionists who champion and parrot Francione’s positions as if they were sacred scriptures. The Franciombe effect is evident in the slew of abolitionist forums and blogs in numerous languages, many of which are clones of one another, and all waiting for more pearls of wisdom from their revered mentor’s prolific output of books, articles, blog essays, and interviews.

Lest we appear as ingrates, we happily doff our hats to Francione for his substantive contributions to animal rights and his incisive critiques of welfarist practices rife throughout an “oppositional” movement on the verge of total co-optation, and as such pave the way to advancing an uncompromising abolitionist outlook. After Tom Regan’s pioneering work in the 1980s, the most important being the 1983 publication of his seminal work and riposte to Peter Singer, The Case for Animal Rights, Francione continued blazing trails in the 1990s with landmark works such as Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement (1996). Francione became the foremost theorist to challenge the mushrooming utilitarianism and welfarism in the animal advocacy movement, such as led to the blatant collaborationism of PETA and HSUS – the world’s two largest animal advocacy organizations – with the industries they claim to oppose. As Francione and his followers cogently show, the cooptation of animal rights is evident in HSUS’ “humane meat” and “free range” eggs campaigns and in PETA’s awards to Temple Grandin — the kind killer, merciful murderer, and benevolent butcher who designs efficient massacre technologies for slaughterhouses.

Whether they acknowledge it or not, Hall and Feral are much in Francione’s debt in their rights/abolitionist perspectives and they share his fundamentalist pacifism. We ourselves are vegans and abolitionists who have profited much from reading Francione and who share many of his concerns. But we espouse a markedly different philosophy, politics, and tactics, and we wish to convey that Francione and Hall’s’ positions are problematic – in fact, they are dead-ends – and that there are other and better ways of articulating animal rights and abolitionist theory and practice.

We reject essentialist outlooks such as Hall’s that try to rigidly fix the meaning of veganism and animal rights (see below). We emphasize that there are many different possible types of abolitionism, and we seek a richer form than that formulated by Francione and accepted by his followers. Our approach is contextualist, pluralist, and pragmatist, and much more in tune with the nineteenth century US abolitionist movement that inspires the contemporary struggle for animal liberation and that like virtually all other modern social movements for rights, democracy, justice, and liberation had a pluralist character and influential militant component.

Note we are not opposing “activism” to pacifism, as if nonviolence meant do nothing, for of course Gandhi and King advocated intense and dynamic action against pernicious forces such as imperialism and racism. Nor are we critically juxtaposing MDA to veganism, as if the latter were not in itself a powerful form of direct action. Rather, we are contrasting two different tactical philosophies and forms of direct action: pacifism works within the law, is single-issue focused, and condemns economic sabotage as “violent”; an alternative supports illegal actions such as raids, liberations, and property destruction, and promotes a multi-dimensional, multi-racial, global anti-capitalist alliance politics.[5]

Although some may argue that our critique is divisive and that we should direct critical attention solely to animal exploiters, and ignore problematic philosophies and tactics in the movement, we think the pacifist and abolitionist alternative offered by Francione and Hall is as problematic as HSUS and PETA visions and an important critical task for today is formulating an alternative between welfarism and pacifist abolitionism. The force of Francione’s positions and Hall’s pacifist sweet talk and critiques of MDA have had a seductive effect far and wide, and thus these theorists have not received the sharp critical analysis their positions demand.

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Jason Miller, Senior Editor and Founder of TPC, is a tenacious forty something vegan straight edge activist who lives in Kansas and who has a boundless passion for animal liberation and anti-capitalism. Addicted to reading and learning, he is mostly (more...)
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