Philosophy > General AR Philosophy
What Is and Is Not Abolitionist

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From Joan Dunayer, "Advancing Animal Rights," Journal of Animal Law website

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A. What Is and Is Not Abolitionist

"Francione argues that one must follow his criteria in order for the change to be abolitionist," Perz states.84 I disagree with Francione regarding what is and is not abolitionist. Speciesism�s argument on this topic is one of the book�s contributions to animal rights theory.

I explain:

[M]any activists misunderstand the term abolitionist. Bans aren�t automatically abolitionist. Yes, a ban abolishes something. However, if it leaves the animals in question within a situation of exploitation (such as food-industry enslavement and slaughter), it isn�t abolitionist in the sense of being anti-slavery. An abolitionist ban is consistent with nonhuman freedom. It prevents or halts, rather than mitigates, abuse.85

According to Francione, bans on particular "husbandry" practices, such as the caging of hens or crating of calves, can be abolitionist.86 To the contrary, such bans are inherently "welfarist" because they modify, rather than prohibit, exploitation. Francione argues that, in theory at least, such bans could have the effect of weakening a particular form of exploitation.87 The same could be said of requirements for more cage or stall space. In Francione�s view, a caging ban could erode hens� property status and therefore qualify as incremental abolition.88 Whatever its ultimate effect, such a ban isn�t abolitionist. To be abolitionist (consistent with rights theory), an action must oppose exploitation itself.

Incremental abolition prevents or ends the exploitation of some (rather than all) nonhuman beings. It doesn�t modify their exploitation. Like a requirement for increased cage space, a ban on caging changes the way that hens are exploited. Banning the production or sale of eggs in a particular jurisdiction would be incremental abolition. Increasing the percentage of humans who are vegan also is incremental abolition. In contrast, banning egg-industry caging is automatically "welfarist." It rests on the premise of continued exploitation. That�s the case whether or not activists themselves expressly condone cageless exploitation. By definition, a ban on caging, chaining, beating, or doing anything else to exploited nonhumans is "welfarist."

Francione himself emphasizes that any human exploitation of nonhumans is inconsistent with nonhuman rights.89 At the same time, he contends that a change in exploitation can be consistent with rights theory if it fully respects some "interest"90 or "protoright"91 of the exploited animals, such as enslaved hens� interest in "freedom of movement."92 That argument, too, collapses into "welfarism." After all, an egg-industry hen has an interest in spreading her wings, a zoo-confined polar bear has an interest in cool temperatures, and a laboratory-imprisoned dog has an interest in daily exercise. Such considerations are "welfarist." Abolitionist actions directly and unequivocally oppose the hen�s being in the egg industry, the polar bear�s being in a zoo, and the dog�s being in a laboratory.

In addition to obscuring the meanings of abolitionist and rights by allowing for actions that are actually "welfarist" and "protorights," Francione further confuses the issues by sometimes arguing in terms of unrealistic outcomes. For example, he contends that a ban on caging could result in egg-industry hens� having complete freedom of movement.93 "That isn�t possible," I state in Speciesism.94 In defense of Francione�s contention, Perz writes:

Before chickens were artificially bred by humans, their ancestors were jungle-birds who nested in trees. If birds such as these were being exploited for their eggs in battery cages today, the result of Francione�s suggested prohibition would be that the birds would be removed from the cages and, after successful rehabilitation, returned to their jungle homes. The birds would be free to go anywhere in their environment they chose without any human intervention. There would be no fences or any other system of confinement. Humans would not touch or disturb the birds, save for stealing their eggs from their nests when the birds were away.95

According to Perz, this scenario "could be achieved now by an eccentric millionaire."96 The entire scenario is absurd: ancient-ancestor-like chickens in battery cages; hens removed from cages, rehabilitated, and placed in the jungle; a jungle-based egg industry that allows hens to go wherever they choose and takes their eggs only when they happen to be away. Remember: Francione contends that an egg-industry ban on caging could result in complete freedom of movement for exploited hens. While resorting to fantasy to defend that contention, Perz praises Francione�s guidelines as "readily and effectively applied to practical situations."97

Perz claims that Francione offers "clarity" whereas I "obscure."98 To the contrary, Francione�s criteria obscure. They entail contradictions, as well as numerous caveats and exceptions, because they miss the essence of what is and is not abolitionist.

For example, Francione�s first criterion for abolitionist change is that the change "constitute a prohibition."99 As Francione himself observes,100 both abolitionist and "welfarist" actions may or may not be expressed as prohibitions. The declaration "Nonhuman great apes now are legal persons" certainly is abolitionist, but it isn�t expressed as a prohibition. Conversely, the declaration "Battery cages are hereby prohibited" is "welfarist," but it is expressed as a prohibition. As I note in Speciesism, Switzerland didn�t expressly ban battery cages but instead legislated new standards, such as increased space per hen, that resulted in the elimination of battery cages.101 Wording or not wording a change as a prohibition doesn�t make it abolitionist or "welfarist." I agree with Francione that all abolitionist changes are, in effect, prohibitions. Again, though, the same can be said of all "welfarist" changes. A requirement that a caged hen have at least 67 square inches of floor space is a prohibition against less space. Even a requirement that exploited nonhumans be treated "humanely" is a prohibition�against whatever treatment is deemed inhumane. Therefore, the idea of prohibition per se isn�t helpful; it confuses rather than clarifies. Whether or not a change is abolitionist depends on what is prohibited. An abolitionist measure prohibits exploitation.

Perz remarks, "Francione rejects Regan�s rights theory, in part, because its multiple criteria for being a subject of a life and its other [sic] are overly complicated."102 Francione�s criteria regarding what is and is not abolitionist certainly warrant the same criticism: overly complicated. Indeed, they�re tortuous. In contrast, Speciesism offers this one clear criterion: If an advocated measure leaves the animals in question within a situation of exploitation, it�s "welfarist"; if the measure prevents or ends their exploitation, it�s abolitionist.103

Apart from Speciesism�s discussion of cage bans (which I�ve already presented), here is the book�s argument on what does and does not qualify as abolitionist:

Like a ban on caging hens, a ban on confining pregnant sows in crates isn�t abolitionist. Instead of removing sows from the pig-flesh industry, such a ban alters the way in which they�re held captive. Just as the egg industry isn�t consistent with chicken freedom, the pig-flesh industry isn�t consistent with pig freedom. After all, why are the sows pregnant? Their exploiters have bred them to obtain more victims. A ban on the pig-flesh industry would be abolitionist. It would prohibit putting pigs into the situation of abuse. In effect, it would say, "You can�t legally breed, rear, or kill pigs for food." Such a ban would emancipate. Whether or not it freed currently enslaved pigs, it would prevent the future enslavement of other pigs (who wouldn�t be born).

Francione doesn�t categorically reject pursuing bans on such pain-inflicting practices as the dehorning of cattle exploited for food and footpad injections in rats used in vivisection. I do. Such bans are inconsistent with animal rights because they leave cattle and rats within a situation of abuse (the flesh industry or vivisection). Their context is exploitation. If cattle enslavers and rat vivisectors are forbidden to dehorn cattle or inject rats in their footpads, they�ll simply accomplish their exploitive ends by other (possibly worse) means. Nineteenth-century bans on the branding of enslaved African-Americans weren�t abolitionist; they didn�t advance emancipation. Nor would a ban on the branding of enslaved cattle be abolitionist.

. . .

All abolitionist bans protect at least some animals from some form of exploitation. They prevent animals from entering the situation of exploitation and may also remove current victims from that situation. Consider a ban on elephants in "animal acts." Abolitionist? Yes. Such a ban doesn�t necessarily emancipate all elephants within a particular jurisdiction; for example, it doesn�t prevent elephants from being exploited in zoos. However, it does prevent their being exploited in circuses and other performance situations. More than a dozen U.S. cities already have banned "animal acts" with elephants and other "wild" animals.

A ban on nonhuman primates in vivisection also is abolitionist. Although it doesn�t free nonhuman primates from zoos or "animal acts," it does free them from vivisection.

A ban on bear hunting? Abolitionist. It prevents bears from being wounded or killed by hunters�prevents, rather than modifies, their abuse. Such a ban doesn�t state, "Bears are persons, not property," but it�s consistent with their not being property.

Abolitionist bans respect the moral rights of the nonhumans they�re intended to protect. They�re analogous to laws prohibiting child labor. Such laws didn�t modify the treatment of children forced to labor. They prohibited the exploitation itself.104

In Speciesism I then give other examples of abolitionist bans, including bans on leghold traps, exotic pets, cockfighting, rodeo, the calf-flesh industry, wolf killing, dog breeding, foie gras production, and cosmetics testing on nonhuman animals.105 Consider each of these bans, and you�ll realize that they all prevent at least some exploitation.

Perz claims that my leghold-trap example contradicts my view that abolitionist bans "do not leave non-human animals in situations of exploitation."106 There�s no contradiction. Leghold traps bring nonhuman animals into a situation of exploitation. A ban on leghold traps reduces the chances that foxes, raccoons, and other animals commonly caught in leghold traps will be caught (and therefore exploited). Such a ban qualifies as incremental abolition. It�s preventive, not "reformist." Compare a ban on leghold traps to a ban on egg-industry cages. By the time a hen is confined to a cage, she�s already being exploited. Indeed, she�s exploited from birth. Perz argues that a ban on leghold traps won�t prevent animals from being trapped by other means or "farmed" for their pelts.107 An abolitionist act doesn�t necessarily abolish an entire industry (such as the pelt industry). It does, however, prevent the exploitation of the animals in question. In this case the animals in question are those who would otherwise be caught in leghold traps and thereby enter a situation of exploitation.

Perz similarly objects to my example of a ban on exotic pets on the grounds that such a ban "fails to protect native or local non-human animals."108 Again, an incremental abolitionist ban doesn�t prohibit all speciesist exploitation, only some. Perz calls a ban on exotic pets "arbitrary and speciesist" because it treats "foreign species" differently from "local species."109 That�s nonsense. The rationale behind a ban on exotic pets would be such a ban�s attainability. Perz also objects that animals categorized as "exotic" in one jurisdiction might not be categorized as "exotic" in another. Chipmunks, he notes, are exotic in Alaska but not in Maine110 (if "exotic" is defined as nonindigenous). Whether or not a ban is abolitionist doesn�t depend on which animals it covers in which jurisdictions. It depends on whether the ban prevents or modifies the exploitation of the animals in question. In Alaska, chipmunks would be among the animals in question ("exotic" animals); in Maine they wouldn�t (again, if "exotic" means nonindigenous). By Perz�s faulty logic, a European Union ban on vivisection wouldn�t be abolitionist because it wouldn�t also ban vivisection in the United States. Mice couldn�t be vivisected in one jurisdiction (the EU) but still could be vivisected in another (the U.S.). That fact wouldn�t make an EU ban on vivisection any less abolitionist.

Currently, many animal advocates are thoroughly confused regarding what is and is not abolitionist. In my view, part of the problem is that Rain without Thunder fails to provide clear, consistent, easily applied guidelines. Speciesism�s discussion of abolitionist strategy is intended to help rectify the situation. ...

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