12/7/09

What does "engaging" mean?

I'm famous!  The proof is that Gary Francione rants a bit about "this Kazez person" at the end of today's podcast.  He complains that I said something that upset him, and then I refused to engage with his work.  The upsetting bit was in the comment section of an earlier post--
Alex, My outlook is just pragmatic and results oriented. An ethical omnivore is someone who's making food choices on ethical grounds, and does think animals matter. They may not be going far enough, but they're doing much better than the total animal dismissers.

I am worried about Francione's approach--especially his opposition to proposition 2 and the like. It's certainly true that such reforms are not enough, but to actually oppose them strikes me as bizarre. Imagine someone in the 19th century started a campaign to supply shoes for slave children. Would any reasonable abolitionist object to that, on grounds that images of shoeless children strengthen the abolitionist cause? It seems to me that Francione's rejection of the humane movement is analogous. Essentially, he wants to keep animals in the worst possible condition in order to use their suffering to rally people to the cause of totally changing the status of animals.

I've got to run right now, but I hope to write a post in the not too distant future about Francione and what I like and don't like about his ideas.

Let the record show that I did follow up.  I have written several posts about his work (here and here), full of very specific arguments.  He has responded to none of these arguments.  It's bewildering, but "engage with his work" evidentlly means exactly one thing to Gary. It means "talk to me on my podcast." Apparently when I write about his work, that doesn't count. (And of course, reponding is not on his list of things to do).

Shaking head. Moving on. 

But first, one more remark--I think it's peculiar the way Gary  uses the fact that I am not a vegan as an argument against me.  Some day this will make it into critical thinking textbooks--the "ad non-vegan" fallacy will be listed as a subspecies of the "ad hominem".

17 comments:

amos said...

You failed to cite chapter and verse from the works of Herr Dozent Francione and to include a picture of the greatest ethical thinker, not only in human history, but also in the history of the universe.

amos said...

What's more, as a sign of the terrible conspiracy against Francione's brillant work, directed by the agro-meat industry, the article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on The Moral Status of Animals, fails to mention Francione's world-shaking contribution to the field. To add insult to injury, the same article speaks of Peter Singer at length.

amos said...

This link might be enlightening and if not enlightening, entertaining:
http://crookedtimber.org/2009/11/22/a-vaguely-passive-aggressive-post-on-commenters/

Wayne said...

Wow... thats a long podcast... I' think its really long, only because he spends so much time just berating the welfarist position. Francione, was rather sensitive to ad hominem attacks in your comments section earlier, but all he does is throw ad hominem attacks against the welfarist position. "They are the people who always run and hide because they can't defend their positions."

"Often time they will not provide any substantive arguments... They are unable to engage in the arguments."

Francione is essentially accusing all welfarists of a lack of intellectual courage. Whether or not we are couragous is rather irrelevant to the issue (the whole point of ad hominem attacks).

He says he enjoys talking to people who are not active in the animals welfarist movement since they are more open minded. True, they may be, but because they are not educated in the issue very much, and haven't given much thought to the issue at all, any reflection that you make them engage in will undoubtedly make them think your position is the correct one.

Semester after semester, I have students who are convinced that there is no external world, after I present Berkeley's arguments for idealism. That doesn't make Berkeley right. Its just easier to convert the uninitiated.

I'll admit that the initiated may have a bit of dogmatic attachment to their own positions, but I don't think Francione is any less guilty of that here. But the irritating part is that he suggests that our dogmatism (which I'm not sure really is dogmatic) is a slight on our position, whereas his is not. Why? Because we lack intellectual courage to debate him on his podcast.

Abolitionists.... agree with my position or not, you have to admit that there is something rhetorically fishy about Francione's tactics that he employs, no??

Jean Kazez said...

Are you suggesting he has a big ego?!!

Jean Kazez said...

That last was for Amos.

Wayne--One of the many (many, many) reasons I didn't care to debate him is that he strikes me as insensitive to reason. What he says about "welfarists" not wanting to engage or make substantive arguments is just rhetoric. The Erik Marcus interview shows this very clearly. Marcus gives him very convincing arguments that (1) it's better for laying hens to be cage-free and (2) people won't consume more eggs, if they have the cage-free option. He uses rhetorical tricks and sheer bulldozing to evade his points, as well as just outright bad arguments. For example, Marcus says he's read in Egg Industry magazines that college cafeterias order fewer eggs when they are talked into ordering cage-free eggs. GF's response is that this is just egg industry propaganda, and not true!

He also gives extremely tendentious accounts of other people's positions--not to say out and out misrepresentations. For example, look at his debate with Erik Marcus and how he describes Peter Singer in the first couple of pages (look at the pdf).

Then he wonders why more people who support humane reforms (which means almost all animal advocates) don't care to debate him!

Jon said...

Jean - As regards your comment about cage-free hens. Here in the UK, Compassion In World Farming have pushed free-range chickens with the selling point that they taste better. Isn't that antithetical to any notion of true welfare for the animals involved? It's because of things like this that I truly wonder how much good the welfare movement can do. It is so tangled up with the meat industry...

Jean Kazez said...

Don't you think the real issue is whether the animals themselves are better off being free range? What the producer/consumer intends or aims for is secondary. Yet I would also say that the thoughts involved in "free range" are an improvement. The chicken's welfare is being granted some significance, which is much better than total dismissal.
It's at least possible that as a society becomes permeated with "humane" labels there will be a general change in the way "food animals" are thought about. But again--primarily the point of these changes is that they are better for the animals who are inevitably still going to be eaten in the foreseeable future, since the vast majority of people don't see any real problem with using animals for food.

Jon said...

I agree that it is better for the animals, but there is a very real danger we end up promoting an industry we would like to see an end to.

It's indicative that two of the most prominent TV chefs in this country (Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) have both thrown their weight behind various 'humane' meat schemes, with no intention of cutting back on the amount of meat they promote or serve at their restaurants.

For these people, welfare reforms are an end in themselves, and most people seem to think that their food is cruelty free if they buy free-range, etc. I don't see the next step towards vegetarianism, or veganism, being made.

I'm not sure how we can convince more people to give up animal products, but I don't think that welfare reform is a viable route towards that. It merely makes people feel better about themselves.

Jean Kazez said...

I agree--for some people that will be the end of it. They will do no more than switching to "humane meat," some of which is only slightly more humane. (I do think some is a lot more humane--like the sort of "humane meat" Michael Pollan defends in his books and articles.) Maybe the whole idea of "humane" treatment of farm animals will permeate the culture and lead to more radical change, but maybe it won't.

But what are you going to do? I think an awful lot of people today just really don't see a serious problem with using animals for food. If you can't convince them, at least you ought to work on making things better for the animals these people will be eating. Preventing suffering is not just a means to preventing killing--even if we do want to prevent killing. I think it's got to be taken seriously as an end in itself.

Alex Chernavsky said...

Regarding free-range chickens, here are two links that are worth visiting, I think:

"Freedom Food Cruelty Exposed... Again"

("Freedom Food" is the label the British RSPCA applies to allegedly-humane animal products).

"The Faces of 'Free-Range' Farming"

The above link goes to a page that features a four-and-a-half minute-long video about "humane" eggs.

Are these cases outliers? Or are they representative of what we can expect from a profit-maximizing industry that is jumping on the "humane" bandwagon?

Jean Kazez said...

Alex, I watched--and this is the sort of thing I do cover with my Animal Rights class. I give a very nuanced picture of farming, dividing it into 5 categories, with each carefully dissected--

(1) Ordinary Factory Farming
(2) Slightly Improved Factory Farming (under voluntary industry changes, state referenda, etc)
(3) Large Scale Humane Farming (big cage-free and free range facilities, of the sort negatively portrayed by Michael Pollan and Peter Singer)
(4) Traditional Humane Farming (Polyface Farm, as discussed by Pollan, sheep farming all over England, etc.)
(5) Plant Farming

The question we discuss is how far we must go--all the way to (5)? While my philosophical view is yes, all the way to (5), the vast majority are not convinced. It's for that reason that we must support agribusiness and the consumer when they choose (2) over (1), or (3) over (2), etc. I really think it shows a failure to adopt the animal's standpoint to say that there's no difference between (1), (2), (3), and (4).

Wayne said...

alex- No doubt there are going to be people and organizations that abuse the system. But clearly, what these farms are engaging in is NOT what we are (at least I am) advocating for.

In fact I take the position that humane meat really doesn't exist in any kind of real quantity at this point, thats why I'm a vegetarian. That doesn't take away the possibility for humane meat.

Jean Kazez said...

I maintain a blog for my course with all sorts of links--in case anyone's interested.

http://arsmu.blogspot.com

Clayton said...

Hey Jean,

I've not been following the whole kerfuffle, but you have my sympathies. I thought your letter to the NYT was fantastic. (Here's a thought: Fire Fish and hire Kazez! I might actually subscribe. (Truth be told, they'd have me at Fire Fish.))

My $.02. I can see Francione saying that your criticism is a tad unfair insofar as the last line says something I think you cannot really mean (i.e., that he wants to keep animals in the worst possible condition). Still, I think his response has not be proportionate and that if we bracket that line, there's a real issue that merits discussion as to whether ameliorative efforts such as proposition 2 only lead to greater amounts of suffering in the long term. I thought that the analogy you offered was pretty spot on and it was puzzling that he objected to it as the consequentialist response to that would presumably be that if indeed keeping the shoes from those children was the key to their freedom we should keep the shoes off of their feet. However, as that's obviously not going to work, you're right that no sensible abolitionist would be against ameliorative efforts unless they had exceptionally strong evidence that such efforts create overall more negative effects than the alternatives.

One issue that seems to separate your positions that I think might be clouding the 'debate' is that he seems to think that the goal to aim for is not an end to animal suffering caused by humans but an additional sort of status and recognition that so far as I can tell would be but contingently connected to a life without suffering. I didn't know if you were aiming for something grander than the end to animal suffering.

Jean Kazez said...

Clayton, Yes, quite a kerfuffle. I'm glad you liked the letter--evidently not everyone did! (Gulp.)

OK, I think I did speak hastily. The main thing was the analogy, and then I ended with a bit too much flair. Well, I was busy packing for a trip and wrote what I wrote in a hurry. But to call for an apology and all that (with insults aimed at academic rank and diatribes delivered by Twitter)...well, it's all disproportionate and inappropriate.

Now as to the substance! You're right, he's not going to pay Temple Grandin to dream up up the worst possible conditions for animals, or some such. But he does want to keep animals in their status quo conditions, rather than switching to better alternatives. So: he does want to keep California chickens in the status quo cages, rather than putting them in the larger cages required by Proposition 2. (I got to talk to someone doing legal work on this last week...so yes, it's larger cages, not no cages.)

So I should have said, to be more accurate, Francione wants to keep animals in worse conditions, in order to hasten abolition. (And he does admit that smaller cages are worse--but only a little bit worse.) He wants that for a variety of reasons, but one reason he wants it is because he thinks putting chickens in the larger cages will lead to "humane" labeling that reassures people and induces them to eat more eggs. The worse conditions are (paradoxically) better, because they will hasten abolition. I agree with you that we should have exceptionally strong evidence, before even taking this worry seriously (and I haven't seen it).

Now I do think the shoes for children analogy does raises a serious ethical problem for Francione (and when he dropped by here a while back, he didn't address it). We don't think we should keep kids in worse conditions, even to free them from slavery. We think they're persons and shouldn't be treated as a means (even for their own liberation). So, since Francione thinks chickens are persons, what's he doing want to keep them in worse conditions? I think it's odd. It might make sense from a utilitarian perspective, but he's dead set against utilitarianism...so I am puzzled.

(Maybe Francione will join the discussion here and we can all shake hands and be friends. He might want to do a search on his name and "abolitionism" at this blog, and he'll see he's been treated perfectly respectfully here in the past. The criticism is not part of any sort of campaign I have going against him.)

As to my basic orientation--My book argues that our guiding concept when it comes to animals should be respect--so that's "deontological" and I don't exclusively focus on suffering. But suffering matters in its own right. I think we ought to be trying to alleviate suffering as an end in itself as well as trying to change the world more radically so that animals are treated with respect. The bit about respect is more philosophically complicated, I think, while I find it self-evident that suffering is bad and we ought to be preventing it.

Sorry...that was long. Thank you for making it clear what must be bothering Francione. My restatement is definitely better.

Jean Kazez said...

Agh. One more thing. If you look at pictures of the status quo California cages that Francione wants to keep, they do make you think "worst possible conditions." They are really just shocking--I show my students videos of this stuff, so I suppose that's why that description struck me as apt. But yes, strictly speaking "worst possible conditions" would actually refer to something even more nightmarish (that I won't even bother trying to imagine). I have no evidence that he would want that, in order to speed the progress toward abolition even more. I just have evidence that he wants to keep hens in worse conditions.