Monday, October 18, 2010

Bruce Friedrich Debates Bruce Friedrich’s Monster

I’m going to start this post with a disclaimer of sorts. I generally don’t write about animal rights theory on this blog unless it relates to my family. Though I frequently read animal rights books, blogs and consider myself well versed on animal rights theory, this blog is about raising my kids. So I don’t tend to focus on theory too much. Also, there are others who articulate animal rights theory much better than I do, and I feel that what I would write in this blog would be a repetition of what they already eloquently say.

But today I'm going to break character and delve into animal rights, specifically the debate within the larger animal activist movement about how best to spend our time advocating for animals. If you’re here to look at pictures of my kids, this probably isn’t the post for you. On the other hand, if you consider PeTA an animal rights organization, maybe this is the post for you.

I went to a debate on Friday night and I need to write about it. My thoughts about this are like a raging fire in my brain, actually, and I’m pretty sure the only way to extinguish it is to relate how frustrating the experience was for me, and maybe to help you feel some of my frustration (as Bleeding Gums Murphy once said, “The blues isn’t about feeling better, it’s about making other people feel worse!”).

The debate, titled “Is Meat Ethical?”, was between PeTA vice president Bruce Friedrich and a member of the University of Minnesota debate team whose first name was Nick. I didn’t catch his last name.

I arrived about ten minutes early and a couple members of Compassionate Action for Animals (CAA) were handing out leaflets for their Veg Week. A young woman asked me if I wanted a brochure and I said sure. CAA is a local new welfarist animal activist group.

Hold on. Some of you might not know what I mean when I say “new welfarist”. In a nutshell, new welfarists (like PeTA) focus on the treatment of animals and spend time and money trying to incrementally improve that treatment. They have the long-term goal of animal liberation, but they focus most of their money, energy and time on regulating industry rather than educating the public about veganism.

CAA is a new welfarist organization which focuses primarily on educating the public, though they have also done work with industry and declared incremental changes as victories. They have a “Veg Week” and encourage people to go vegan or vegetarian, confusing the drastic difference between the two and perpetuating the idea that the average person doesn’t have the wherewithal to understand a cogent argument and choose to be vegan without first being vegetarian or without first reducing their meat intake or cutting meat out one day a week, etc.

I’m not picking on CAA here, I’m just trying to convey who they are and what they believe (as an organization).

In regard to the new welfarist ideas on reductions in animal suffering, I personally don’t think that supposed short-term reductions in suffering are anything to toot your horn about.

First, how do you quantify suffering? How do you know that birds crammed onto a floor are suffering less than birds crammed into cages?

Second, when an animal organization declares one type of exploitation as being better than another type, they implicitly encourage people to purchase that “better” product of exploitation.

Third, there has been animal welfare for about a couple centuries now, and we’re using more animals in more horrible ways then we ever have before. Animal welfare doesn’t reduce demand. If it did, demand would have been reduced by now, instead of growing exponentially.

I’m an abolitionist vegan, which means that instead of advocating for bigger cages or no cages, I advocate for no ownership at all. Abolitionism is, as far as I’m concerned, the only logically consistent approach to animal rights.

Dan Cudahy put all of this better than I ever could in his essay, Abolition versus New Welfarism: A Contrast in Theory and Practice. I suggest giving it a read.

And while your at it, read Prof. Gary Francione’s piece, The Four Problems of Animal Welfare: In a Nutshell

If you’re one of my readers who doesn’t read a lot about animal issues, you might think the differences between welfare and abolition are like the differences between two slightly different religions, where one kneels during prayer and the other doesn't for example, and you’d be excused for thinking so. But for people who think about these things and engage in animal advocacy, it's clear that the differences between abolitionism and new welfarism are quite pronounced and that they have real-world consequences.


OK, that was one hell of a diversion, but I wanted to provide some context for the debate.

So the debate started and Bruce Friedrich was introduced and here’s the first thing he said:

“Why do University of Iowa graduates put their diplomas in their car window? So they can park in handicap zones.”

Oh yes he did! He started off with an ableist joke. As VP of a profoundly sexist organization, this didn’t surprise me.

Friedrich went on to say in his opening comments that as long as you oppose being wasteful with food, oppose global poverty and animal cruelty (he presented them in that order), then you’ll agree with him that eating meat is unethical. He didn’t need to talk about the first two points at all to make his case, but he did, which left the debate wide open, unfocused and wasted a lot of time. More time was spent debating the economics of global poverty than debating whether or not animals should be treated as resources.

Friedrich said that the only ethical diet is a diet that avoids meat. He did use the word “vegan” a couple times, but he also used “vegetarian” and he used them interchangeably. Is it any wonder that people are confused about what these words mean?

After closing his arguments about meat being unethical he undercut them by showing the first minute or so of Meet Your Meat.

Meet Your Meat (a video Friedrich co-directed) is a film that focuses exclusively on the animals at factory farmes. So yet again, he left the debate wide open and basically invited his debater to talk about the virtues of “happy meat” and “humanely” raised animals. In fact, there were times when both of them seemed to completely agree on the point that supposedly humane raising and slaughter of animals is commendable.

Part of Nick’s counter-argument, of course, was that the problem isn’t meat, but the way the animals are raised. He maintained that there were ways of doing it that gave animals good lives and that killing them for meat wasn’t necessarily wrong. To buttress this idea, he quoted Peter Singer. He called Singer the father of the animal rights movement, a title that is often attributed to him.

Singer himself is not a rightist though, and he doesn’t actually argue for animal rights (the term appears in his book Animal Liberation, but he later said he regretted ever using it). He’s not vegan, he promotes welfare reforms and maintains that death is not a harm for non-human animals. For a critique of Singer’s views, I suggest reading the essay “Peter Singer and the Welfarist Position on the Lesser Value of Nonhuman Life” by Prof. Gary Francione. 

So where would Nick have gotten this crazy idea that Singer, a man who says there’s nothing inherently wrong with killing animals, is a proponent of animal rights? Why, from Bruce Friedrich’s PeTA, of course! When you click on “read more” under “Why Animal Rights” on PeTA’s home page, there’s Singer’s book, Animal Liberation.

(For an analysis of the myriad contradictions of PeTA, I suggest reading Dan Cudahy's essay, PeTA, a Corporate Tangle of Contradictions.)

Nick also said that hunting gives animals a nice clean end to their lives instead of starving to death and that it manages populations which lessens suffering of deer.

Friedrich’s response to this wasn’t that we shouldn’t kill deer because they have an interest in living their lives and that to ignore that interest for unnecessary reasons is wrong. No, instead he said that Nick was wrong on his population point because hunting actually increases populations since deer breed more when under duress.

So … Friedrich’s argument is that people shouldn’t hunt because if they do there will be more deer?

Wouldn’t you expect the VP of an animal rights organization to instead defend a deer’s right to live free from unnecessary harm and death? Me too! Which is why I and many others contend that PeTA should not be considered an animal rights organization.

For all the contradictory messages that come out of PeTA, Friedrich could have just as well debated himself. 

Friedrich also kept coming back to the point that if we wouldn’t do something to the cats and dogs in our care, then we shouldn’t do it to any other animals either; that the abuses that farmed animals endure would be cause for legal action if they were inflicted upon our pets. But what he didn't say is that there are plenty of horrible things we can do to our companion animals that are perfectly legal, but would not be so if we did them to our children.

And he should know. You might think that Friedrich would be opposed to killing perfectly healthy cats and dogs just because homes can’t easily be found for them, but you’d be wrong. PeTA killed (they use the term “euthanize” of course) 90% of all dogs and cats relinquished to its headquarters in Norfolk, Va. In 2009.

Given that, you'll understand then why Friedrich’s insistence that we should treat farmed animals as well as we treat our cats and dogs rang just a tad hollow and frightening to me.

Friedrich also maintained that any meat you buy in any grocery store is the product of great suffering. He repeated this several times, which made me wonder about that love letter PeTA wrote to Whole Foods…

The debate then moved into the “questions from the crowd” period.

I asked one. It went like this (it was, for the most part, a prepared question):

I would like to read part of a letter to John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, one of those grocery stores you keep talking about, on January 24th, 2005.
"The undersigned animal welfare, animal protection and animal rights organizations would like to express their appreciation and support for the pioneering initiative being taken by Whole Foods Market in setting Farm Animal Compassionate Standards. We hope and expect that these standards will improve the lives of millions of animals."
This letter was signed by, among other organizations, PeTA.
Nick’s defense of “happy meat” is a symptom of organizations like PeTA focusing on factory farms instead of animal rights.
How can you argue that eating meat is unethical when the organization you are Vice President of is actively congratulating businesses for killing animals for meat? To say out of one side of your mouth that killing animals is wrong and then say out of the other side that you appreciate companies who raise and kill animals "humanely" is indicative of some awfully confused thinking. If it's wrong, it's wrong. Just as someone wouldn't say that putting padding on a waterboard makes waterboarding better (note: my waterboarding example came from a Gary Francione post, Ingrid Newkirk on Principled Veganism: “Screw the principle”), or raping gently makes rape better, anyone who takes the interests of animals seriously should not say that inflicting somewhat less suffering on animals while they're alive makes the unnecessary suffering and death of that animal any better. Arguing for better treatment and then patting yourself on the back when a company takes heed only serves to make people feel better about eating animal products.
I ask this question under the assumption that you agree with most policy decisions of PeTA. If you don't, I apologize, though I don’t know why you would remain VP if that’s the case.
Can you explain why your organization supports animal compassionate standards and what those standards are?

He answered my question with three main points (everything in this post is paraphrased, by the way):

1. PeTA, of course, wants to see animal liberation, but incremental reforms in the meantime are important. They are steps toward liberation.

2. He likes to apply the golden rule in situations, and the way he applies it is by asking himself, if he were a chicken and in a small cage, wouldn’t he want to have a bigger cage or not be in a cage at all?

3. He also dragged out the familiar new welfarist assertion that focusing on welfare reforms helps the animals who exist right now.

And this is when my head nearly exploded. I think it was right at this moment. Because I had so much to say in response, but I wasn’t the one on stage with him. My question was over and that was it.

So I’m going to douse my brain fire by responding to Friedrich’s points here in this blog, where people might read it and get something out of it (but even if they don't, I had to write it down somewhere and this seemed like the best place).

1. Incremental reforms are not steps toward liberation. Instead, they further entrench animals into the property paradigm, writing more laws about animal ownership and codifying the ways in which animals can be used to satisfy our every whim. They make people feel better about animal products overall, thereby increasing consumption. And when incremental reforms are touted as victories by organizations such as PeTA, it gives people the impression that, if they eat these products of less suffering, they are off the hook; they’ve fulfilled their moral obligations to animals. Why would an animal rights organization perpetuate this view?

2. The golden rule? If you’re hitting me in the head with a tire iron while kicking me in the shin with steel toed boots, wouldn’t I ask you to stop doing both? Wouldn’t your obligations to me (based upon the golden rule) demand that you stop doing both? If you stopped doing just one, let’s say the tire iron to the head, should I congratulate you? Thank you? Give you an award for your humane kicking of my shin?

Shouldn’t the application of the golden rule demand that we advocate for the end of animal use? Don’t you think the chickens would rather we do nothing unto them?

Should PeTA have given an award to Temple Grandin for designing “humane” slaughterhouses that cause somewhat less stress for animals? How about if these slaughterhouses also increase the efficiency and rate with which animals are killed, and increase the profits of the businesses who run and rely on those slaughterhouses (all of which means more dead animals)? How does applying the golden rule lead you to award and promote a slaughterhouse designer? How does this create anything but confusion and continued slaughter?

3. Friedrich says that welfare reforms are helping animals right now. To not work for welfare reforms now, he says, is to abandon the animals who are alive and suffering at this very moment. But in his answer to another question about "happy meat", he laments the fact that broiler chickens live only seven weeks.

When a welfare reform laws are passed, they don't go into effect within seven weeks. It usually takes years. And more often, they are not enforced or never go into effect. So, by passing reform laws, you’re not helping the chickens who are alive now (remember that they have, at most, seven weeks to live), you’re not helping the chickens who are alive in the future (at the very least, you might be hurting them a little bit less, but you’re not helping) and you’re wasting precious time and resources on further entrenching the property status of animals while you could instead be putting all that effort into vegan education.

What does vegan education do? 

Well, it helps a lot of people go vegan. And what does that do? 

It reduces suffering in the short and long term.

If Hank goes vegan tomorrow, he removes himself from the demand for chickens to be raised and slaughtered (a chicken not brought into existence doesn’t suffer at all). Hank’s decision to not buy chickens’ flesh immediately starts to have an effect on the pocketbooks of those who raise chickens for meat. And while it’s true that more chickens are always being brought into existence - it’s a market that’s expanding, not contracting - Hank’s refusal to buy animal products causes that market to expand at a lesser rate. And eventually, given enough time and enough Hanks, this rate of expansion will level off and then start to decrease. The more vegan education, the more vegans, the sooner this can happen.

There you go. Short term and long term goals met and there’s no confusion about what we “animal rights people” maintain we owe animals. 

Why do you think PeTA disagrees?


Mylène Ouellet said...

Excellent post, Al! Bruce Friedrich is a wishy-washy piece of work. It's such a shame that PETA is doing so much to confuse and disgust people.

Barbara DeGrande said...

Well said. I would not assume others can write more eloquently on animal rights after reading this. My own head was exploding right along with you. Bravo!

Al said...

Thanks Mylène!

Barbara, thank you. Though I have to say, if anyone is confused as to why I reject PeTA after reading this blog, they'll find 8 concise and, I'm going to say it, more eloquent reasons at your blog post here.

Abby Bean said...

Great article; I reserve great infuriation for the interchangeability of vegan/vegetarian...especially when utilized as such by people who know better.

Jess - The Domestic Vegan said...

Ugh, PETA.

This is a fantastic post! It was really interesting to hear about the debate from your point of view, and I loved your "rebuttals." (I wish I would have known that CAA was holding this event; I would have gone!)

I have a question for you. I, too, am an abolitionist vegan - but I feel like I often have to add "in theory" into my explanation of what I "am" because I have a hard time finding any concrete answers regarding whether or not encouraging incremental change makes more vegans than ONLY promoting veganism. Does that make sense? For instance, I started eating "free range" chicken flesh, and I drank "organic, grass-fed" cows' milk awhile before going vegan. I had heard the term "vegan" many times, but I thought "That shit's crazy! I could NEVER be vegan!" Over time, I educated myself & I learned more about organic/free-range animal products, and I realized that if I *really* wanted to reduce animal suffering (and I did, which is why I thought eating those products was better than their factory farmed counterparts), I had to go vegan. Now, years later, I absolutely love being vegan & I can't imagine being any other way - but I can't honestly say that I would have ever gotten here if I hadn't opened myself up to "free range" products. Know what I mean? I guess I kind of see that as a stepping stone to veganism for me, and I know other vegans who were the same. Of course NOW I know that these products aren't really any better than factory farmed products in terms of suffering & cruelty, and I don't recommend them to people - but once I opened myself up to THAT change, and eating differently in that way (though still eating animals & their secretions), going vegan seemed so much more doable.

Sorry for such a long comment! I guess I just want to know your thoughts on this, and my actual question is: Would you support something like California's Prop 2 (from the 2008 elections) in Minnesota?

unpopular vegan essays said...

Well said, Al, and bravo!

Jess, I don’t want to speak for Al, but even if someone did tell me that they would not have gone vegan if it weren’t for special-label animal products, I would think it far more likely that they were confused about their own psychology in going vegan than that special-label animal products had any causal link to them going vegan. Just because A frequently comes before B does not entail that A caused B, or was even a stepping stone to B.

Regardless, even if it were true that special-label animal products were a stepping stone or “gateway” to veganism (as profoundly difficult as that would be to believe), we would still want to advocate and educate for veganism only. The movement to buy special-label animal products is very strong and popular. The movement to go vegan is stronger than ever, but still very weak compared to the special-label animal product movement.

Finally, as a matter of principle, we ought to advocate for veganism as the least we can do – as a minimum standard of behavior, and provide our reasons. Specifically, that 99.999% of our uses of animals are unnecessary by any coherent concept of the word necessary. 99% of our uses of animals harm them. Unnecessary harm is morally wrong. Therefore, 99% of our uses of animals are morally wrong. We can also show people how easy and delightful is it to be vegan.

As for Proposition 2 in California, please consider reading this:

unpopular vegan essays said...

PS: I didn't mean to post anonymously.

Dan Cudahy

Al said...

Thanks Abby!

And Jess, thanks for the comment. If you thought that comment was long...

This debate wasn't actually put on by CAA. It was put on by the UofM debate team and communications department. In fact, as far as I can tell, CAA didn't even let the public know about this event. As far as I can tell, they did zero promotion of this event. The vice president of PeTA was on campus (CAA is comprised largely of UofM students, for those who don't know), and CAA didn’t tell anyone.

CAA is currently in the middle of Veg Month, and the debate is not on their Veg Month calendar [].

On Oct. 7 I received the weekly(ish) email that CAA sends out letting people know what’s going on and there was no mention of the debate (web version of the email can be found here There were no emails between the 7th and the debate.

Of course, it's entirely possible that they just didn't know about it until the day of, though that doesn't seem possible. I'm left wondering why they didn't promote it...

ANYWAY, enough about CAA.

As far as how best to advocate for animals and convince people to go vegan, I think you may have answered your own question when you said, "Of course NOW I know that these products aren't really any better than factory farmed products in terms of suffering & cruelty, and I don't recommend them to people..."

I went down a different road to veganism. Shortly after moving to St. Paul (from North Dakota) I worked with a guy who was vegan and advocated nothing less than veganism. We talked every day about it, I was usually the one bringing it up. After an initial period of defensiveness, I started to actually think about what he was saying, it made sense to me and I made the decision to go vegan.

So your road and my road are quite different, with the same destination. But the fact that we erred at some point in our lives doesn't mean that we have to work that erring into our advocacy. Does that make sense?

I would say that as long as we present a consistent message that all animal use is wrong, then some people will go vegan, some will hear the message and choose to purchase "humane" animal products (possibly as a stepping stone toward veganism), and some will ignore us completely.

I have an image in my head of a road sign that says the following:

Happy Meat - 10 miles
Vegetarian - 20 miles
Vegan - 30 miles

This sign presents all three as destinations.

And I have another image of another road sign that says:

Vegan - 30 miles

People may choose to pull off on the Happy Meat exit or the Vegetarian exit, but as long as Vegan is the only thing on the sign then the goal is clear, there's less confusion, and everyone knows the intentions of the people who put up the sign.

My final point would be that if my coworker told me he was vegan, but then talked only about factory farms, then I honestly don't know if I would have ever gotten to vegan.

I hope that answers your question. Thank you for the thoughtful comment.

Oh, and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have supported Prop. 2. Again, Gary Francione makes perfect sense to me:

Al said...

Thanks for the comment, Dan! I'm not at all surprised that we both linked to the same Francione blog.

If he didn't make so much darn sense...

Bruce Friedrich said...

My response to your concerns:

Thanks for all you're doing to make the world a kinder place.



Bruce Friedrich said...

Actually, I'll toss this one into the mix, too:



Jess - The Domestic Vegan said...

That's disappointing that CAA didn't promote the event... I get their newsletters, too, but thought I might have missed the mention! Lame.

I'll have to check out those Francione links. I love him, too! Very smart man.

Al & Dan, your points make a lot of sense. Thanks for explaining your perspective! I guess I just struggle with supporting/not supporting these incremental changes because it feels wrong to discourage anyone taking a step in the right direction regarding their diet. The concept of thinking about where our food comes from, and WHO our food comes from, is so foreign to most people that it's hard for me to say things like, "I know you were trying to do a good thing by buying those cage-free eggs, but really you just spent more money on an equally cruel product. If you really cared about animals, you wouldn't buy the eggs at all." I can say stuff like that to my parents, but I'm afraid I'd alienate other people from making positive changes if they got comments like that from me. But alas, I guess that's my problem/insecurity & not the fault of the abolitionist argument. When it comes down to it, I don't believe it's HOW animals are raised for our use that is the real issue; it's THAT they're raised. So, there you have it, I guess.

It's just food for thought, I suppose. This is something I think about a lot because it comes up quite often in my circle of friends.

I still don't know if I would support something like Prop 2, though, personally. It feels wrong somehow to say that I wouldn't, mostly because it raises so much awareness around these issues (shockingly, most people I meet have no idea what "battery cages" or "veal crates" are)... But again, does anything REALLY change for the animals? No.

I need a nap after my comments now. Exhaaaaausting. :)

Al said...

I’m glad you got the chance to read my rebuttal Bruce, and thank you for commenting.

I feel that I’ve already responded to most of the points made in those articles you linked to. If my post isn’t sufficient, I would strongly suggest you read everything over at Unlike Singer, Francione presents a logically consistent view of what it means to take animal interests seriously (hint: not killing them is part of what it means).

Who knows, maybe you’ll have a change of heart and you could convince Newkirk to use all of that sweet, sweet PeTA money for vegan education, thus convincing people to remove themselves from the cycle of exploitation. Less animals brought into existence (unlike welfare reform) difinitively equals less suffering, you know.

Specifically, in regard to that Satya article, I could not believe I read this sentence:

“As just one example, the stocking density changes for hens, although meager, mean that conditions have gone from 20 percent annual death rates to two to three percent annual death rates; for all of the animals, this is a marked improvement.”

Really? You and Singer combined could not realize the ridiculousness of this sentence? The annual death rate for hens is 100 percent. I think what you meant to say was that the industry lost 20 percent of their potential profits and now they only lose two to three percent of potential profits.

Well then ... congratulations?

You give those statistics right before claiming that the industry is opposed to welfare reform. Any industry claims to be resistant to any change suggested by an outside pressure whose ideology is apparently at odds with it. But (lucky for you and the PeTA coffers that depend on these so-called “victories”) since you’re actually increasing efficiency and profits of the companies you claim to want to eventually see vanquished, it doesn’t actually hurt them at all once they change. In fact, it gives them great publicity and increases profits.

I'll stop now. I thank you for commenting and welcome continuing the discussion here if you want. Perhaps you could respond to the point I made about Temple Grandin? Or the fact that PeTA kills cats and dogs?

Al said...

Hi Jess, thanks for the follow-up comment. I understand what you're saying here:

"'I know you were trying to do a good thing by buying those cage-free eggs, but really you just spent more money on an equally cruel product. If you really cared about animals, you wouldn't buy the eggs at all.'" I can say stuff like that to my parents, but I'm afraid I'd alienate other people from making positive changes if they got comments like that from me.

And I think there are ways of expressing the abolitionist argument without denigrating people. Instead of making them feel bad for buying free-range, I think we could instead calmly explain why we don't buy that stuff either. Or we could say nothing at all and let our veganism speak for itself. But the one I don't think we should do (I'm sure you'll agree) is say how great we think it is that they're buying free-range eggs now; how it's so much better for the birds. That wouldn't make much sense coming from a vegan, would it?

Thanks again for the comments.

M. Ryan said...

Al, I knew PeTA had contacted CAA about this but the ARC person I went with was personally invited by Bruce so I wanted to show up and see what the U of M debate team had to say. I was so excited when I saw you pipe up to ask your question and I was really disappointed by Bruce's answer. I wanted to scream "ROSE VEAL!!!!" but didn't really think that would do anyone any good.
Anyway, just wanted to say that I appreciate you standing up for the actual abolitionists since there are plenty of fair weather abolitionists out there already talking about how it's okay that calves are taken away from their mothers because that happens to baby kittens all the time(!).

M. Ryan said...

Ps, I was so annoyed by Bruce "putting himself in the hens position wanting bigger cages". If I were that hen, Id do everything in my power to commit suicide or hope that the people with the power to make change realized and advocated for me not being used at all rather than just having an extra few inches of space during my horrible, short life.

Jacqueline said...

Great post! I agree with your thoughts.
PETA continues to do the wrong thing when it comes to animal rights because in my opinion I don't believe animal rights is their main goal. Their goal is raising money. They earn about $33 million per year and they can do that easier selling people animal welfare, rather than animal rights or the abolitionist theory. All their actions do is help the masses feel a little better about what they are doing. It's frustrating... especially when everyone you meet assumes you are a PETA member/fan when you tell them you are a vegan and/or support animal rights. Grrr...

Al said...

Ryan, are you the same Ryan I met at Ethique Nouveau a couple weeks ago? At any rate, thanks for the comment. I'm glad someone there was happy to hear my question. I sensed that the CAA folks weren't happy with it, probably because one of them kept turning around and glaring at me while Bruce answered my question. It was a little uncomfortable.

Jacqueline, thanks for the comment. Unfortunately, the $33 million a year that PeTA earns is a direct result of their welfare campaigns. There's just not as much money in consistent vegan education and they know it. When they talk about reaching the largest amount of people by softening the message and talking about reform, I think what they mean is that they're reaching the largest amount of donors.

Bruce Friedrich said...

Thanks for your comments. I think we're mostly going in circles. It seems to me that you're convinced you're right, and I'm convinced that you're not. One difference is that I totally support all your work on behalf of compassion, while you think a lot of my work is counterproductive. I find your argument hard to take, because of the denigration of advances like proposition 2 and getting rid of battery cages. If you call those changes small, it's hard for me to take you seriously, though I'll still be glad for all the vegan education you do.

What I find more odd that calling the difference between a battery cage and not a small difference is the denigration of people who disagree with you, from the title of this piece (which does not inspire conversation), to your relation of the events, to the other unkind things people say on here about me and, moreso, about PETA. It strikes me as just so odd to claim that PETA's (or my) focus is money; you can disagree with us, but no one with any real knowledge of the organization thinks that our primary focus is money. All of us as individuals could make a lot more money elsewhere, and PETA could make a lot more money if it were compromising in its goals.

Also, we do more to promote veganism than any group other than Vegan Outreach (which also supports welfare reforms), by far; we give away close to a million vegan starter guides annually, run the most popular vegan Web sites (Meet Your Meat viewed more than a million times last year alone), etc.

I do think you'd get more dialog with people who disagree with you if you didn't imply (or state outright) than anyone who disagrees with you is idiotic or immoral.



Al said...

Hi Bruce, and thanks for commenting again. I give you credit for standing up for yourself and your organization on my little blog. I have to admit, I didn't expect it, and I'm impressed that you're here trying to get your word in.

As far as the title of this blog post goes, I'm pretty proud of it, actually. I think it encapsulates what was happening in the debate. You and Nick had very little of substance to disagree about. When he brought up that meat isn't inherently ethical because it's possible to give an animal a good life, you didn't say why that was still wrong. Instead, you said that 99% of all meat is not from animals who are treated that way, in essence, giving your blessing to the unnecessary death of animals who ARE supposedly treated well while they're alive.

Nick used Peter Singer to bolster his views. You work with Peter Singer and your organization holds him up as the main voice of the animal rights movement. So while my title may not have been one to inspire conversation (and I wasn't actually looking to start a conversation, I was writing a critique of the debate, you and PeTA), from my perspective, it was a pretty darn accurate assessment of what I witnessed on Friday.

Maybe you'll disagree with me on that point. And that's fine. We disagree.

I also think I make a fair point when I say that PeTA is concerned with expanding their donor base.

I'm not saying that your focus is solely on money, but what I am saying is that, since PeTA is a very large organization, you need to raise a ton of money to keep doing what you're doing. You need to take into account how much money any given action will take and how much it will make. When you declare a victory, that's one more thing you can put on those letters you send to anyone who has ever donated to your organization when you ask them for ... more money.

Once again, someone put it better than me. Here's Unpopular Vegan Essay's take (I hope you don't mind me pasting this here Dan):

"PETA’s business cycle starts with single-issue and welfare campaigns against targets selected as low hanging fruit – practices that industry would not mind changing even if only for public relations reasons, but often for profitability reasons as well. PETA then sends out the urgent call to donors: "HELP! Donate as much as you can or we might not win this victory!" Donors – most of whom are not vegan, and are therefore contributing to the very problems to which they donate money to “resolve” – respond by opening their checkbooks and filling PETA’s coffers. After several weeks or months of campaigning, the target exploiter “gives in” to PETA’s campaign. PETA immediately declares “VICTORY!” to their donors and, usually as part of the deal with the target exploiter, PETA promotes the exploiter in a public relations campaign, as they did for KFC Canada.

The result of the business cycle is that PETA wins donations and reinforces their reputation as the “watchdog” over industry, enabling them to perpetuate the cycle indefinitely. Non-vegan donors win a “victory” and a false sense that they are doing something to offset their own personal contribution to the hell that their innocent victims endure. The animal exploiters win by increased misguided public confidence that these products are “humane” and by obtaining the public relations support of a (so-called) animal “rights” organization. The losers, of course, are the innocent beings who are exploited and killed for the trivial pleasures of those who see them as commodities."


Al said...

You said, "we give away close to a million vegan starter guides annually..."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't those called *vegetarian* starter guides? I know that might seem like nitpicking, but why wouldn't you use the word vegan if they promote veganism? Shouldn't we be popularizing the word instead of hiding from it? Why does the word vegetarian appear anywhere in PeTA's literature at all?

On a related note, my favorite part of the debate, by far, was when that horribly confused questioner asked you where you would get your belt if it wasn't for animals, and you grabbed it and said, "!"

I was one of the many who applauded that. It amazes me that people don't realize that we vegans extend our ethics beyond food. Unfortunately, and here's where the critique comes in again, with the focus of large animal organizations being on happy meat and vegetarianism, it doesn't surprise me.

And so you're probably right, we're going in circles. But if you want to stop that circular motion, you could address some of the questions I've put out there. Why didn't you say that you oppose hunting because a sentient being is being needlessly killed? Why does PeTA kill the overwhelming majority of cats and dogs it takes in? You do you defend PeTA giving an award to a designer of slaughterhouses (assuming you do defend that)?

What sorts of messages do these words and deeds send to people who want to care about animals?

I'm willing to listen to your answers if you're willing to give them.

I've tried to talk about these things without denigrating you or PeTA. If I've failed, I'm sorry.

I take issue with how you characterize what I've written. I think I've done a pretty fair job of critiquing PeTA. Perhaps you would rather I not critique PeTA at all? Do you have an example of any critiques of PeTA that you *don't* find denigrating?

And to say that you support me and why can't I support you ... well, it seems sort of cheap. It's pretty simple, you don't disagree with my actions, but I disagree with some of yours. Your comment tries to paint me as being unfair to you or needlessly antagonistic, but I'm simply critiquing you and your organization. You, in turn, critiqued my critique. This is the way of debate. Debate is a good thing, even within movements!

Speaking of debate, does Newkirk know that Francione wants to debate her? You should totally convince her to do it.

From the invitation to debate, by Adam Kochanowicz (

"Some PETA supporters have taken to avoiding any debate for the fear of what they call "infighting." Animal advocates are reluctant to give any energy into responding to disagreement in fear of disrupting the supposed unity of a movement for animals. However, I will remind you that debate and criticism is a lucrative means of exploring the truth. Debate is and has been a sound practice in academia and has been used effectively to learn more about a particular cause, theory, or discipline."

Personally Bruce, I give you props for posting on here and engaging criticism, and I also like the idea of you traveling the country and debating on college campuses (even though I may disagree with some of what you say in those debates). I'd like to see PeTA do that on a larger scale within the larger animal movement, too. We should shake the tree and see what happens, don't you think?

Bruce Friedrich said...

I have a reply, which is just under 5,000 characters with spaces, but I can't post it even in thirds for some reason. If you email me,, I'll send it to you, and you can post it here or not, as you wish.



Al said...

Bruce, thank you for taking the time to respond. Of course I want you to email it to me and I'll post it in the comments here if I'm able. I'll send you my email address right away.

Justin Van Kleeck said...

I personally support PETA because they do a lot of good things and have accomplished some of the most important landmark victories for animals, though they can be a bit screwy at times. I did not attend this debate so cannot speak on it, bu...t Friedrich has written some excellent articles on various topics, such as for the Huffington Post, that are very solid. One thing about PETA that divides a lot of animal lovers is their more practical stance that allows them to support euthanasia, etc., which on an ideal level is bothersome but on a practical level may be unavoidable. A lot of that is fueled by lobbyists and slam campaigns by corporate lobbies as well. Yes, they have some issues, but by and large I think they have done a lot of good to bring attention to, and reduce, the suffering of animals. And even their less-than-absolutist positions are too strong for many folks. Ultimately, we have to change individual human minds and hearts, so they can actually see and empathize with the suffering that we inflict on animals, almost all of which is unnecessary; but at the same time, we can cultivate very nourishing relationships with animals, that are good for both sides, without completing walling ourselves off from them. I guess how you respond to PETA/Friedrich and similar organizations will boil down to where you stand on the spectrum of welfare to rights to liberation...

Al said...

Here is the reply that Bruce tried to post yesterday.


Thanks for your comments, Al.

Some replies:

Al: When he brought up that meat isn't inherently ethical because it's possible to give an animal a good life, you didn't say why that was still wrong. Instead, you said that 99% of all meat is not from animals who are treated that way, in essence, giving your blessing to the unnecessary death of animals who ARE supposedly treated well while they're alive.

BF: Actually, I said both what you attribute to me, and I said that other animals are made of flesh, blood, and bone, just like we are, and that they feel pain in the same way and to the same degree (I said this multiple times, actually).

In essence, I said: 1) Your argument rules out all meat; and 2) Animals matter for their own sakes. You’re focusing on the first part, I assume b/c you think I should not have said it. But I also said part two.

Re: victories, we say a victory is a victory when that’s what we think. That’s the sole calculation. We could have victories against KFC and McDonald’s easily—there are things we could trumpet. But we don’t, because we don’t think we’re there yet. You can make a case for why you disagree with what we think is a victory, but accusing us of false motivation—well if you believe it, okay. But your insistence on attributing bad motivation to us is not, I think, what you’d feel if you actually knew any of us.

Re: Dan’s post, it’s well-written but not well-supported. What are the examples? I’ve been at PETA for almost 15 years, and we’ve simply never done that. The KFC campaign has been going for more than 7 years… KFC Canada made meaningful commitments. And if you think they profit from our saying “good for you,” I think you misunderstand who eats at KFC… Really, you disagree with this?

The kits say “Vegan” and “Vegetarian” on the front, though others from the abolitions POV argue that veganism is not a diet thing, and that we shouldn’t use the word vegan, b/c by talking only about diet in “vegan” literature, we’re polluting the word. Not sure where you stand on that, but we do get hit from both sides… I prefer to use the word vegetarian over the word vegan, b/c the latter often bogs us down in discussions of minutiae.

Al: Why didn't you say that you oppose hunting because a sentient being is being needlessly killed?

BF: I did. I didn’t focus there, b/c it’s a diversion, and the other argument wins the day using his paradigm.

Al: Why does PeTA kill the overwhelming majority of cats and dogs it takes in?

BF: You can read about that in Ingrid’s “Why we euthanize,” which I’m guessing you’ve read and simply don’t agree with. But you know our position (I think—if not, you can google it).


Al said...

Here's the second part of Bruce's reply.


Re: Temple Grandin, she has done a lot to improve the way animals live and die. That’s laudable, from a vantage of someone who thinks that better living and dying conditions is meaningful. I do.

Al: I've tried to talk about these things without denigrating you or PeTA. If I've failed, I'm sorry.

BF: You succeed splendidly in this exchange, but your title, reference to your head exploding, and lines like “For all the contradictory messages that come out of PeTA, Friedrich could have just as well debated himself.” You may disagree with me, but this is ad hominem. Nothing I said contradicted anything else I said. I have a different view of welfare reforms, it seems to me. You didn’t call me a “wishy-washy piece of work,” like the first comment after your post, but that’s a reasonable assessment of your post, which doesn’t capture me, at all (disclaimer: I suppose if it did, I’d be the last to know, but nothing in your post cogently makes that case, other than assertions like your title and “could just as well debated himself,” etc.).

Of course I welcome criticism of PETA and me; criticism is how we hone our thinking, actions, and tactics. I wouldn’t be posting here if I felt differently, of course. I agree w/you that debate is healthy and that we should tell people what we think; I’ve become a much better advocate from my discussions with people like Matt Ball from Vegan Outreach, many of which involve disagreement with me and PETA. But your post seems to me to assume bad motivation, hence your tone, etc.

Al: And to say that you support me and why can't I support you

BF: I didn’t say that (I hope!) and don’t think that; I just pointed out that I am not criticizing any work you do for animals, which is true. I don’t think people should be silent if they disagree with something.

I was interested in this line from you: “I also like the idea of you traveling the country and debating on college campuses (even though I may disagree with some of what you say in those debates)”
BF: Honestly, your post caused me to think you found the entire thing wholly counterproductive.

Two links that may interest you:

About the debates:




BH said...

You should be careful or PeTA might start an "I'd rather eat slightly-better-off meat than agree with Al" campaign.

Al said...

Hi Bruce. Thanks again for the response. I’ve been meaning to respond, but, you know, kids.

You said, talking about how you replied to Nick’s happy meat argument: “In essence, I said: 1) Your argument rules out all meat; and 2) Animals matter for their own sakes. You’re focusing on the first part, I assume b/c you think I should not have said it. But I also said part two.”

I’ll admit, I didn’t take the best notes. I mostly wrote down all the things that bothered me. I didn’t intentionally leave out what you said about animals mattering for their own sakes, though I think that message and your idea that all farms are places of suffering contradict each other in a way. If there was a way to raise animals where no pain is involved and the death of those animals was also painless, would that be OK? I suspect that your answer is “no”, but I’m unsure about what your rationale would be.

Mostly, it’s this exchange that you had with Nick that led me to title my post the way I did. Nick’s feeling that it’s OK to kill an animal as long as that animal has had a good life could be said to be a direct result of PeTA’s claims that improving the conditions of farmed animals is a victory. Now, of course I know that PeTA also claims that animals are not ours to eat, wear or experiment on. And it’s great that they say that. But you can see how that statement and your organization’s actions don’t necessarily align when looked at objectively, right?
You said in your HuffPo column, Humane Meat: A Contradiction in Terms:

“Not only are many of the humane labels--like "Swine Welfare" and "Animal Care Certified"--entirely meaningless, describing animals treated in nearly exactly the same way as unlabeled products (see PETA's discussion at, but please ask yourself a basic question: Would you be willing to cut an animal's throat? For most of us, taking an animal's life is anathema; we just wouldn't do it.”

There’s a lot packed into that sentence. First of all, I agree with you that those labels (though I would extend your criticisms to all “humane” labels) are meaningless, but not because they don’t decrease suffering to varying degrees. I think they’re meaningless because they reinforce a speciesist paradigm, further codify animals as property, make the public feel better about eating corpses, and confuse people about what it is we animal rights people say we owe to animals. They’re also meaningless because, while they *may* improve the conditions under which animals are raised and killed, the fundamental right of those animals to their own lives is never protected. The interests of the owned will never come before the interests of the owners, no matter how well the owners claim to treat their property.

As an aside, I suggest watching this video, which is an animated version of a speech by the philosopher Slavoj Zizek. If you want to watch the part I find most pertinent to this conversation, start at 5:55. I’ll pull a particularly pertinent quote from it, which I think points to why so many vegans are frustrated with welfare campaigns:

“Remedies do not cure the disease, they merely prolong it. Indeed, the remedies are part of the disease. ... The worst slave owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the core of the system being realized by those who suffered from it.” (And, I would add, by those who benefited from it.)


Al said...

Secondly, the argument (I’m back to your HuffPo quote now) that you shouldn’t eat flesh from a being unless you could kill him or her yourself is faulty. No doubt it’s a tempting argument, because it has the potential to make a big emotional impact on the average person who would never kill an animal, but it’s wrong. It’s wrong because EVEN IF you’re willing to kill an animal yourself, you still shouldn’t. It’s also wrong because most people’s unwillingness to kill animals could be said to be due to the environment in which they were raised. Many who were raised on farms where animals were slaughtered or sent to slaughter, don’t have a problem with killing animals themselves. We would never tell someone who has backyard chickens that we think it’s OK for them to eat those chickens because they kill them themselves, would we? I know I wouldn’t.

You said, “We could have victories against KFC and McDonald’s easily—there are things we could trumpet. But we don’t, because we don’t think we’re there yet.”

But, as you said, KFC in Canada has made “meaningful commitments”. The PeTA site uses much stronger language than that though. It calls the move to controlled atmosphere killing a victory. Right here:

On that site is written, “Tell the company that you will boycott the chain until it follows the lead of most KFCs in Canada.“ Is PeTA’s message that animals aren’t ours to eat? Or is it that animals are ours to eat as long as they’re gassed? I’m sure you understand why it’s confusing and why many advocates have given up on PeTA.

Another aside, if I signed the petition on that page, would I then receive emails from PeTA which ask for money? If so, do you understand how it could be assumed that picking the low hanging fruit and declaring victory is part of PeTA’s business cycle?

You said, “And if you think they (KFC Canada) profit from our saying “good for you,” I think you misunderstand who eats at KFC”

I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. It seems like you’re making a negative judgment on the character of people who eat at KFC. This might illustrate another major difference between our ways of thinking about things. I don’t think anyone is unreachable. In think that a person eating at KFC is just as reachable as a person buying “animal compassionate” products at Whole Foods. In fact, I think the KFC patron might even be more easily reached, since they likely do not have as much emotional and social identity invested in a particular idea of what we owe to non-human animals.

It’s also very possible that there are those in Canada who boycotted KFC until they changed to CAK, but now they eat there once again. This would make sense, given the instruction right on PeTA’s site: “Tell the company that you will boycott the chain until it follows the lead of most KFCs in Canada.“

I also think you underestimate the reaches of PeTA's message. Many people have heard about PeTA’s “victory” against KFC Canada, not just KFC patrons. And it serves to perpetuate, instead of challenge, the idea that animals are ours to use as we see fit. It reinforces that idea. PeTA is saying that chickens are ours to kill as long as it's controlled atmosphere killing. The idea that it's more humane lets people feel better about eating chickens.


Al said...

BF: “The kits say “Vegan” and “Vegetarian” on the front, though others from the abolitions POV argue that veganism is not a diet thing, and that we shouldn’t use the word vegan, b/c by talking only about diet in “vegan” literature, we’re polluting the word. Not sure where you stand on that, but we do get hit from both sides…”

It’s been a while since I’ve seen one of those kits. I was going off memory and the online version of the kit, which as far as I can see doesn’t mention “vegan” at all.

I do think that the word vegan shouldn’t be used when just talking about diet. I think “plant based diet” is an acceptable term if that’s what you’re talking about. If “vegan” is used to refer to diet, I think it should be made clear that it applies to more than just diet in the same piece of literature (or conversation, etc.). I also don’t think “vegan” should be used when what is meant is “vegetarian” and vice versa. They are two very different things and those differences are diminished when they’re used interchangeably.

I asked why you didn’t say that you oppose hunting because a sentient being is being needlessly killed.

Your reply was, “I did. I didn’t focus there, b/c it’s a diversion, and the other argument wins the day using his paradigm.”

First, our obligation to respect a sentient being’s interest in continuing to exist isn’t a diversion, it’s the whole point! Isn’t it? Second, Nick’s paradigm was a speciesist paradigm. If we want to illuminate and challenge speciesism, we can’t argue within that paradigm.

Can I suggest an alternate tack when it comes to debating hunting? In future debates, when a person brings up hunting and the fact that hunters give relatively short and painless deaths to animals that may starve to death, start your reply with the idea that the deer is a sentient being, with an interest in continuing to exist. In 99.99% of cases, hunting is for unnecessary reasons (there may currently be certain populations who would starve if they didn’t hunt ... this isn’t an excuse for hunting though, instead it’s yet another hurdle for us to overcome before we can live in a world without speciesism ... I’ve said before that an inability to postulate what a vegan world may look like is a failure of the imagination). The majority of us agree that causing the suffering and/or death of an animal for unnecessary reasons is wrong. Therefore, hunting is indefensible. The arguments on population, even if they are in your favor, don’t matter to the question of whether or not it’s morally justifiable to kill a sentient being. Regardless of a person’s preexisting paradigm, I think that’s an argument that they can understand. They may disagree with you, but at least you plant the seed of anti-speciesim in them and the audience.

I truly do mean that as a suggestion. If you end up trying it, let me know how it goes.

In regard to Newkirk’s “Why We Euthanize,” I’ve read it and disagree with it. I guess I wanted to see if you had any more to say on it. I’m a supporter of the no-kill movement. They’ve done amazing work and the movement continues to grow.

I don’t disagree with euthanasia when there are no other options and the animal is on death’s door as it is (and I think euthanasia is an accurate term in those cases). But I have a hard time believing that the thousands of animals who have been killed on PeTA’s watch all fit that bill. Hence my problem.

Re: Temple Grandin. Well, I’ve probably covered that already.

Thanks again for your comments and the conversation.

Al said...

Thanks for your comment, Justin.

You said, "even [PeTA's] less-than-absolutist positions are too strong for many folks. "

I don't doubt that some people are turned off by the position that animals aren't ours to eat, wear, experiment on or use for entertainment (which actually IS an absolutist statement of sorts). But I think a lot of negative reactions to PeTA are due to the fact that they can be, as you put it, "a bit screwy at times."

Bruce Friedrich said...

Reply, part 1 of 2:

As you know, I think that saying animals are not ours to use, and also that if they’re going to be used, lessening suffering is important, is entirely consistent and reasonable. In fact, I think this is the most consistent position, for people who feel that animals deserve the same right to be free from abuse that humans do. Example 1: For Amnesty International political prisoners, we fight both to get them out of solitary and to get them visiting rights, and we want them out and demand their release. Example 2: For animal rights prisoners in jail for things that are protected by the first amendment, we want vegan meals for them, and we want them out. We fight for both. We don’t say: Who cares about vegan meals, visitation, whether they’re in solitary; we just want them out. If we did, we’d be betraying them mightily, I think.

So to extend that to the labeling discussion: You say that the labels only codify ownership, and that’s the big problem. But of course, the AI focus on improved conditions would, by your argument, grant the rights of the oppressing governments to hold the prisoners at all. I don’t think so.

I think your quote about slavery perfectly focuses on the difference of opinion: You quote someone favorably who says: “The worst slave owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the core of the system being realized by those who suffered from it.” You continue with your own thoughts: “And, I would add, by those who benefited from it.”

I find this argument remarkable: If you read The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass, you will find that he could not disagree more. It was his most benign slaveholders who are responsible for him eventually gaining freedom. If he had only been subjected to the worst slaveholders, he would never have been free, and we would have no Autobiography of Frederick Douglass. The same analysis applies to Gandhi’s struggle in India; if the British had cracked down totally and entirely, the Indians would not have gained independence. I am pretty amazed at your argument, as discussed in the piece I wrote with Singer, and the piece I posted from Vegan Outreach.

Bruce Friedrich said...

part 2 of 2:

I totally agree with you that “EVEN IF you’re willing to kill an animal yourself, you still shouldn’t,” of course, but I think that pointing out to people that they are closer to our thinking than they realize is very valuable to moving them toward a full embrace of animal rights philosophy.

KFC: I think I’ve explained why I think the KFC Canada commitment is a victory. Re: signing the petition, I don’t know if that would result in an ask for money; I doubt it. I think it would result in an ask for further action on behalf of animals. I don’t know for sure though. Certainly fundraising is a part of PETA’s mission, because money is what allows us to do what we do. But we can ask for money for all that we do, and we do a lot; we don’t need to (and don’t) manufacture victories, though we do trumpet victories where they happen.

When I said, “And if you think they (KFC Canada) profit from our saying ‘good for you,’ I think you misunderstand who eats at KFC,” I was responding to your argument that we’re helping KFC somehow. They don’t need us; that was my entire point. Clearly we agree with you that KFC consumers are reachable.

VSK: They do now say “vegan,” though I have very mixed feelings about that and lean strongly toward thinking it’s a bad idea. They are vegetarian kits that advocate strongly against consuming dairy and eggs; that’s why I think they should just say vegetarian. For better or worse, they now say vegan on the cover. I think that your most recent post is a good argument for why they should not say vegan.

I like your thoughts on what to say re: hunting; I will flip the order of my responses. It comes up infrequently in these debates (maybe twice in 30 debates), but if it comes up again, I’ll do what you suggest. I expected it in Minnesota, for obvious reasons. Hunting is less of an issue at most schools I go to.

Thanks for your responses.



p.s. How exciting that I was able to post these this time!

BH said...

Re: KFC - Would we have commended the Nazis and claimed "victory" if they'd provided bigger beds in the concentration camps?12

Anonymous said...

Bruce, in response to your comparison of animal rights with prisoner rights you are overlooking the simple fact that animals are property, not just prisoners. Big difference to overlook.

Bruce Friedrich said...


1) If you really think that what we're talking about is the difference between smaller and larger beds (i.e., if you really believe that's a fair comparison), then we have a pretty serious disagreement about the nature of the reforms.
2) It seems to me that your argument makes good emotional sense, but I think it neglects the reality of the world we're living in. The NAZIs were doing things that the entire world opposed (not vigorously at all, of course, but no one would have said, "Yes, killing people is okay"). That's not yet true of eating meat, sadly. We have our work cut out for us.

Anonymous: I am missing the significance of the difference, but feel free to focus only on my discussion of slavery, if you're not comfortable with the prisoner example. If someone is in prison in a developing world gulag, they're basically treated like slaves. From the HRW and AI reports I've read, it seems to me that any difference between slavery/ownership and prison is a distinction without a difference...



Nick said...

Has anyone noticed that this is an extremely rare and improbable occasion? If The Bruce Friedrich posting comments is the real Bruce Friedrich, this is the only time I can think of that PETA is debating abolitionists. Does that mean we've become a threat to the corporate bottom line? I'd like to hope so, but this is all pretty suspicious.

Bruce, if you're still reading this, will you or Ingrid agree to debate Gary Francione?

Al said...

Nick, I had the same suspicion that this wasn't the real Bruce at first, but he sure sounds like Bruce and the email address he provided actually worked. So I think it's safe to assume that it's really him.

And I had the same thought about him being here. I was pleased on a couple different levels. 1) I was able to have the conversation I wanted to have at the actual debate, and 2) It might mean that PeTA is aware that the abolitionist message is resonating among advocates and they might be losing members as a result.

Point 2 might be a stretch, but it's worth considering, at least.

Just so you know, Bruce sent me an email letting me know he was going to stop following this comment thread, which is understandable, I think. I'm surprised (and pleased) that he followed it for as long as he did. He said I could let him know if there was anything new that I thought he might want to respond to. If I ever get around to writing my response to his last points, I'll may send him an email and then perhaps he'll answer our questions about debating with Francione.

Nick said...

How encouraging!

On an unrelated note, I should tell you how much I love your blog. I've been reading it regularly since well before Liam was born but I don't think I got around to commenting until now. Anyway, keep up the good work!

Justin Van Kleeck said...

Al, thank you much for responding to my comment. I think it is really a combination of things when it comes to strong reactions against PETA. Obviously their tactics can be "extreme" and attention grabbing...but that is pretty par for the course when it comes to "radical" positions like rights for animals. But just as often I hear complaints that they "want to separate people from animals," which is essentially responding to the "not ours" emphasis in all they do.

Beyond that, though, I think PETA gets so much bad press because they are so successful and prominent. Veganism and advocating for animal rights in themselves are discomforting positions for most folks, because they touch on core moral principles, lifestyles, and livelihoods--in a way that, say, fostering animals or taking in strays does not. So PETA's prominence, and how hard they push for animal rights, is going to stir up a lot of anger and controversy--especially when they threaten corporate profits and typical human feelings of self-entitlement.

Anyway, this is not to criticize abolitionists. I am a fruitarian myself and make no compromises in my own life on these my heart is with you all. However, I just prefer a more nuanced and practical approach when it comes to working with the vast majority who disagree with me to some degree or other. (I recall seeing a study that said vegetarians and vegans still only make up 3% of the population.) And personally, whatever the philosophical points in question, I find a lot of the rhetoric (e.g., of Francione) just distasteful. I appreciate all of your passion and compassion for the animals, though...please do not mistake me on that.

Jane said...

It's not about the animals when you turn aside from their present suffering, it is about you and your dreams.

Al said...

Thanks for that reduction, Jane. I hope it made you feel better.

Also, please note that this blog post was written over two and a half years ago. And while many of my positions have not changed in the interim, I have come to the conclusion that to argue about these things in such a way is not a good use of my time.

Just out of curiosity though, how did you happen upon this post?