Micah Saul: This project is built on a hypoth­e­sis. There are moments in his­to­ry when the sta­tus quo fails. Political sys­tems prove insuf­fi­cient, reli­gious ideas unsat­is­fac­to­ry, social struc­tures intol­er­a­ble. These are moments of cri­sis.

Aengus Anderson: During some of these moments, great minds have entered into con­ver­sa­tion and torn apart inher­it­ed ideas, dethron­ing truths, com­bin­ing old thoughts, and cre­at­ing new ideas. They’ve shaped the norms of future gen­er­a­tions.

Saul: Every era has its issues, but do ours war­rant The Conversation? If they do, is it hap­pen­ing?

Anderson: We’ll be explor­ing these sorts of ques­tions through con­ver­sa­tions with a cross-section of American thinkers, peo­ple who are cri­tiquing some aspect of nor­mal­i­ty and offer­ing an alter­na­tive vision of the future. People who might be hav­ing The Conversation.

Saul: Like a real con­ver­sa­tion, this project is going to be sub­jec­tive. It will fre­quent­ly change direc­tions, con­nect unex­pect­ed ideas, and wan­der between the tan­gi­ble and the abstract. It will leave us with far more ques­tions than answers because after all, nobody has a monop­oly on dream­ing about the future.

Anderson: I’m Aengus Anderson.

Saul: And I’m Micah Saul. And you’re lis­ten­ing to The Conversation.


Micah Saul: Well, howdy. It’s uh…it’s been a lit­tle while.

Aengus Anderson: It has. We were last here with John Fullerton, but in the inter­im instead of post­ing an episode we post­ed a new web­site.

Saul: Yes. Which we’ve been threat­en­ing to do for quite a long time. And to final­ly have that out there is just…it’s real­ly awe­some, because it’s real­ly cool.

Anderson: It is real­ly cool. And we have to thank Chris Willard a lot. He was our web design­er. He did a phe­nom­e­nal job. Really dragged him through the mud. He tried a lot of dif­fer­ent things to fig­ure out how do you rep­re­sent this real­ly weird data set?

Saul: Right. Especially con­sid­er­ing well, the sub­jec­tiv­i­ty of that data set. And that’s some­thing we should maybe talk about real quick.

Anderson: Yeah. So, a lot of you have prob­a­bly lis­tened to Lawrence Torcello’s episode. He’s the philoso­pher; if you haven’t, you should give him a lis­ten. It’s a great con­ver­sa­tion. But we’ve stayed in touch since then. And as we were sort of con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing how do you map these dif­fer­ent philo­soph­i­cal ideas, I sent him an email. And at the time I’d been think­ing about send­ing a sur­vey to every dif­fer­ent par­tic­i­pant of the project and ask­ing them, how do you feel about these dif­fer­ent philo­soph­i­cal ques­tions? And Lawrence had one of these kind of dis­arm­ing obser­va­tions, where he said, You have these amaz­ing­ly nuanced con­ver­sa­tions. How can you quan­tize them and do like, a lit­tle per­cep­tu­al matrix?” And of course, I didn’t have a good answer for that except, We can do it…subjectively.”

Saul: Right. So, if you vis­it­ed the web­site, you’ve prob­a­bly vis­it­ed the most recent blog post, which sort of lays out what the whole thing is doing. But real­ly quick­ly, the most impor­tant thing to take away from it is that is a map of our per­spec­tives on what we think the thinkers were talk­ing about in our con­ver­sa­tion with them.

Anderson: Right. And that’s so key. Because of course any one of the inter­vie­wees in this project could take a look at that and go, Well, I don’t believe those things.” But with­in the con­ver­sa­tion that we had about the sub­jects that we had, they seemed to lean in one direc­tion or anoth­er. And so, sub­jec­tive as that is, we think it’s real­ly valu­able because at this point, if you’ve been with us from the begin­ning or if you’re just jump­ing in, you know that this series has got­ten pret­ty big. It’s got­ten real­ly self-referential. And it’s this giant thick­et of ideas. And so map­ping it I think gives us some great tools to actu­al­ly see well, god, there are pat­terns here. And they’re pat­terns that I could nev­er hold in my mem­o­ry, just lis­ten­ing from one episode to the next.

Saul: So if you haven’t gone to see it yet, do go check it out. Let us know what you think. That’s not all that’s changed, though.

Anderson: But, wait. There’s more.

Saul: But wait. As we men­tioned at the top, it’s been a lit­tle while. And we had some real­ly good momen­tum going. And well…I am the one respon­si­ble for the loss of that momen­tum. Basically my life has got­ten way the hell busier since I returned from my trav­els, and it’s becom­ing hard­er for me to devote as much time to the project as I’d like to. Especially while keep­ing this to a week­ly sched­ule. So instead of con­tin­u­ing to kill that momen­tum, we are adding a new voice to the project.

Anderson: We were talk­ing about this ear­li­er and think­ing there are a lot of advan­tages to that, any­way. If you’ve been with us again, from the begin­ning, you’ve heard us talk about this stuff a lot. But we thought God, a new voice will real­ly shake this up, bring­ing in some new ideas, hope­ful­ly make the dis­cus­sions at the end a lot more engag­ing and sur­pris­ing.

Saul: Would you like to intro­duce who we will be talk­ing to, and who our lis­ten­ers will be hear­ing?

Anderson: He’s not famous, and doesn’t have a Twitter account, but…Neil Prendergast. He’s going to be at the end of the episode today, cohost­ing his first con­ver­sa­tion. He’s a his­to­ri­an. He’s up at that the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. Like, if I was a com­pe­tent his­to­ri­an, I might have a grasp of 1/10th of the knowl­edge that Neil’s going to be bring­ing to this project.

But also he’s a guy who I’ve been hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with about this project and about themes relat­ed to this project for a long time. And so I think this should be a pret­ty smooth tran­si­tion to bring­ing in a new voice.

Saul: Yep. But before you meet Neil, you’re going to meet Gary Francione.

Anderson: Right, so that was prob­a­bly the longest intro­duc­tion we’ve ever record­ed. So, let’s get to the chase. This is Gary’s episode, and this is a great con­ver­sa­tion. Gary is an ani­mal rights activist. He’s a pro­po­nent of veg­an­ism. He’s also a Professor of law, and a schol­ar of law and phi­los­o­phy at Rutgers up in Newark, but we spoke down at Rutgers Camden, where we both got park­ing tick­ets while record­ing this because we talked for so long. He’s taught at Penn. He worked as an attor­ney in New York. He clerked for Sandra Day O’Connor of the Supreme Court. He’s writ­ten sev­er­al books, includ­ing Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement. So, he’s writ­ten a lot about ani­mal law. But if you expect this to be just about ani­mals, you are wrong.

Saul: Yes. You will be very, very sur­prised.


Gary L. Francione: You know, it’s sort of inter­est­ing what you just said, that ani­mals haven’t come up. And in one sense that’s sur­pris­ing. And in anoth­er sense it’s not sur­pris­ing at all. Because ani­mals are an impor­tant part of most of our lives. They’re impor­tant in dif­fer­ent ways, some of which I think are more neg­a­tive than oth­ers. But they’re impor­tant parts of our lives. And if you walked out on the street and just start­ed talk­ing ran­dom­ly to peo­ple, I think you would find most if not all of the peo­ple that you ask regard ani­mals as hav­ing some moral sta­tus. They don’t regard them as just things that can be treat­ed in any way that we want. They regard them as hav­ing some sort of moral val­ue.

Nevertheless, when we seek to trans­late that into what our moral oblig­a­tions are, we fail and we fall. And so in a sense it sur­pris­es me that no one’s men­tioned ani­mals, because I think ani­mals are impor­tant and I think they’re impor­tant both in terms of our per­son­al lives and in terms of the way we think about moral issues. But, I think the bot­tom line is because we all eat them. And I think that’s real­ly what the issue is. We can talk about hunt­ing, we can talk about vivi­sec­tion, we can talk about any­thing you want to talk about.

The bot­tom line is those are sideshows. We eat them. We eat them three times a day. And because we do that, in a sense we have a vest­ed inter­est in sort of not find­ing our moral com­pass when it comes to ani­mals. What I call moral schiz­o­phre­nia. I mean, on one hand we regard ani­mals as mem­bers of the moral com­mu­ni­ty. On the oth­er hand we regard them as prop­er­ty, as things that have no inher­ent val­ue. Some ani­mals we regard as mem­bers of our fam­i­ly. Other ani­mals that are no dif­fer­ent from the ani­mals that we regard as mem­bers of our fam­i­ly we stick forks into. It real­ly doesn’t make any sense. So in a sense, it sur­pris­es me what you say, in a sense it doesn’t sur­prise me.

Aengus Anderson: Animals are one that our behav­ior towards and uses of is so old and so nor­mal­ized to us, it’s very dif­fi­cult for a lot of peo­ple to kind of rethink our rela­tion­ship with ani­mals.

Francione: But you know, in a lot of ways it’s no— I mean, it’s dif­fer­ent but it’s not dif­fer­ent from a lot of oth­er fun­da­men­tal moral ques­tions. I mean, you could say the same thing about sex­ism. You could say, Well you know, sex­ism is real­ly sort of deeply seat­ed.” You know, it’s reg­u­lar­ized. It’s part of the way we think. You know, for we boys, the world that we get up and see every morn­ing is a world that is constructed—it’s a phal­lo­cen­tric world in which you know, we are at the cen­ter of that world. And even though things have changed in terms of the moral sta­tus of women in our soci­ety, I would laugh if you or any­one else were to sug­gest that women have equal moral sta­tus in the society—they clear­ly don’t. Sexism is still a present part of our cul­ture. So you could say the same thing about what, racism, sex­ism, het­ero­sex­ism. Deeply-seated immoral­i­ty is part of the moral fur­ni­ture of the world. And so the fact that well, you know, we’ve reg­u­lar­ized our exploita­tion of animals—yes, we clear­ly have. But we’ve reg­u­lar­ized our exploita­tion of lots of groups.

Anderson: So, why are ani­mals moral agents?

Francione: They not nec­es­sar­i­ly moral agents. I’m not say­ing that they’re moral agents. What I’m say­ing is you don’t have to be a moral agent to be a mem­ber of the moral com­mu­ni­ty. I mean, we think nor­mal­ly of moral patients; chil­dren, peo­ple who are com­pro­mised in var­i­ous ways, who we don’t real­ly think of nec­es­sar­i­ly as agents. We nev­er­the­less think of them as mem­bers of the moral com­mu­ni­ty.

Think about what hap­pened with Michael Vick. Now, Michael Vick in 2007 is arrest­ed for par­tic­i­pat­ing— He had a prop­er­ty in Virginia some­place and he was doing dog fight­ing. And he gets arrest­ed. And he does a plea bar­gain, he goes to jail. People were not just upset with Michael Vick. They were furi­ous with Michael Vick. Why? Certainly, the peo­ple who were upset with him, they don’t have my phi­los­o­phy. They’re not veg­ans. Most of them I would imag­ine would think that it would be quite alright to use dogs in a bio­med­ical exper­i­ment in which they were sub­ject­ed to suf­fer­ing, if it would find a cure for can­cer or some­thing like that. But not Michael Vic. Well, why?

I think the answer to that ques­tion is because he was inflict­ing suf­fer­ing and death on these ani­mals for no good rea­son. He didn’t have a good rea­son. Now, he could say, Look, I enjoyed this.” Well, that’s not enough. And in a sense what Michael Vick did which upset every­body was he vio­lat­ed a fun­da­men­tal norm that most of us accept, which is ani­mals don’t mat­ter as much as humans do moral­ly, but they do mat­ter. And that if we are going to inflict suf­fer­ing and death on them, we can do so only if we have a reason—a good rea­son. Now, we can argue about what those good rea­sons are. We can argue about what con­sti­tutes com­pul­sion or neces­si­ty. But the bot­tom line is that if the idea that it’s wrong to inflict unnec­es­sary suf­fer­ing and death on ani­mals has any mean­ing at all, plea­sure or amuse­ment can’t con­sti­tute a good rea­son. I mean, you think about this in a human con­text. If I said, Well, you know, it’s wrong to inflict unnec­es­sary suf­fer­ing on chil­dren. Do you agree with that Aengus?”

Yes, I agree with that.”

You know…but occa­sion­al­ly I just like to hear them scream. I get plea­sure out of lis­ten­ing to chil­dren scream, so I beat them.”

You would say Well, wait a minute now.” Say you agree with the idea that it’s wrong inflict unnec­es­sary suf­fer­ing on chil­dren, but that it’s okay to do so if you get plea­sure out of it. Then you’ve cre­at­ed an excep­tion that is so large you can dri­ve a truck through it.

And that’s why peo­ple get upset with Michael Vick. That’s why peo­ple get upset when we talk about things like bull­fight­ing. Or things like rodeos. People say well you, ani­mals are suf­fer­ing and there’s no real­ly good rea­son for them to suf­fer except enter­tain­ment, and that can’t be enough.

But the prob­lem is that our use of ani­mals for food runs into the same prob­lem. I mean, the num­ber of ani­mals that we con­sume for food is just…it’s extra­or­di­nary. I mean, accord­ing to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, we kill 56 bil­lion ani­mals a year world­wide for food. Now, that’s land ani­mals, okay. There are no real­ly good esti­mates for fish and aquat­ic life. But a real­ly low esti­mate is prob­a­bly a tril­lion. That’s an extra­or­di­nary num­ber of ani­mals that are killed every year.

Now, what’s the best jus­ti­fi­ca­tion we have? We don’t need to eat ani­mals to be opti­mal­ly healthy. I mean, indeed if you look, even main­stream health­care peo­ple are now say­ing that eat­ing ani­mal prod­ucts are detri­men­tal to your health. Even if you don’t want to accept that evi­dence, there cer­tain­ly isn’t any evi­dence that you need to eat ani­mals to be opti­mal­ly healthy. I mean, even con­ser­v­a­tive orga­ni­za­tions like the American Dietetic Association say that you can be per­fect­ly healthy on a veg­an diet.

And ani­mal agri­cul­ture is an eco­log­i­cal dis­as­ter. I mean, it takes between six and twelve pounds of plant pro­tein to pro­duce one pound of flesh. It takes many times more water to pro­duce a pound of flesh than it does to pro­duce a pound of wheat or a pound of pota­toes. Animal agriculture’s destroy­ing ground­wa­ter. It’s destroy­ing top­soil. And ani­mal agri­cul­ture is a greater source of glob­al warm­ing than the use of fos­sil fuels for trans­porta­tion. That’s the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. They did a study a few years ago in which they said that if you take all of the green­house gas that you get from burn­ing fos­sil fuels for trans­porta­tion, and you take all of the green­house gas­es that you get from ani­mal agri­cul­ture, you’re talk­ing about a greater quan­ti­ty in the sec­ond sit­u­a­tion.

If we were all veg­ans, we would have many few­er acres under cul­ti­va­tion. An acre of land can sup­port you know… I don’t have the fig­ures in front of me but it can sup­port fif­teen or twen­ty peo­ple a year, where­as it takes three or four ac—I don’t remem­ber exact­ly the num­ber, but it’s like three or four acres to pro­duce food for one omni­vore. So, every time you eat a steak, you’re eat­ing like, I don’t know, eight, ten, twelve pounds of plant pro­tein. So, if you’re eat­ing the plant pro­tein direct­ly, you can eat a lot less of it than you’re going to eat if you eat it in its form of meat, or milk.

So, we don’t need it for health. It’s an eco­log­i­cal dis­as­ter. The best jus­ti­fi­ca­tion we have for killing fifty-six, fifty-seven, what­ev­er bil­lion land ani­mals and a tril­lion sea ani­mals every year is that they taste good. And so, in a sense how is this any dif­fer­ent from Michael Vick, who likes to sit around a pit watch­ing dogs fight, or at least he used to? And we like sit­ting around the bar­be­cue pit roast­ing the corpses of ani­mals that have been treat­ed every bit as bad­ly, if not worse, than the ani­mals that Michael Vick used for his dog fight­ing. And you can’t real­ly say well you know, Michael Vick par­tic­i­pat­ed in it direct­ly and I go to the store and I buy the ani­mals. I mean, as any­body who’s gone to law school can tell you that it doesn’t real­ly mat­ter if I hire some­body to shoot you or I shoot you myself. It’s mur­der in both cas­es. So it doesn’t it real­ly mat­ter if we pay some­body else to do the killing. That doesn’t let us off the moral hook. Nor should it, you know—

Anderson: But it does let us off the emo­tion­al hook.

Francione: Ah, yeah. But the emo­tions have no— Look, we all know, every­body who eats ani­mal prod­ucts knows, even if you don’t watch the gory movies that these ani­mal orga­ni­za­tions cir­cu­late or what­ev­er— You know that there’s a great deal of vio­lence that goes into your food.

Anderson: Well, do you think we can detach the two, just as kind of what we are as peo­ple? Is mak­ing a moral case for this… Does that have to bring in emo­tions to reach peo­ple? You know, to make change?

Francione: Yes. I think that you’ve got to care about moral­i­ty in order to be recep­tive to a moral argu­ment. However good, how­ev­er ratio­nal the moral argu­ment is, you’ve got to be recep­tive to it. Why you care about moral arguments…that care, that con­cern, can come from a num­ber of dif­fer­ent sources. But many of those sources have a real­ly, I think, sort of deep emo­tion­al or spiritual—whatever you want to call it. I mean, there’s some extra­ra­tional ele­ment.

You know, my view is you give me some­body who cares about moral­i­ty and who regards ani­mals as hav­ing some moral val­ue, and I can use ratio­nal argu­ments to get that per­son to the posi­tion that he or she real­ly ought to stop eat­ing them, wear­ing them, using them, or sup­port­ing their exploita­tion in our soci­ety, peri­od. But if some­body says, Look, I don’t care about ani­mals,” the ratio­nal argu­ments are going to res­onate as much.

Anderson: This actu­al­ly makes me think of a con­ver­sa­tion I had with a philoso­pher named Lawrence Torcello. We were talk­ing about…pluralism is inevitable. We’re going to have all of these dif­fer­ent ideas… In a free soci­ety, you’re going to have that.

Francione: Right.

Anderson: So how do you get away with allow­ing plu­ral­ism with­out going down the road of moral rel­a­tivism? So, maybe we’ve got some­one over here who sees no val­ue to an ani­mal. They’re just like chairs to them. I mean, I’m actu­al­ly going to talk to a guy pos­si­bly lat­er in this project who advo­cates, if you want to sell your­self as prop­er­ty, you’re prop­er­ty. So it’s like, there’s the com­plete oth­er end of the moral spec­trum. Can there be any con­ver­sa­tion there?

Francione: One of the things that we’re deal­ing with in mod­ern soci­ety is the effects of post­mod­ernism. I mean, this rejec­tion of moral real­ism. Look, I think post­mod­ernism is the sin­gle most respon­si­ble fac­tor for our inabil­i­ty to think clear­ly about moral issues. When you start say­ing that every­thing is a dis­course of pow­er, then you real­ly can’t talk about jus­tice as any­thing but a dis­course of pow­er. So I think that post­mod­ernism leads to sort of nihilism. And I’m not a nihilist. I’m not a fan of most post­mod­ern think­ing. And I’m a moral real­ist. I mean, I believe that there are moral facts in the uni­verse, in the sense that for exam­ple, all oth­er things being equal, an action which results in suf­fer­ing or death is not a desir­able thing. I mean, some­thing that we ought to reject from a moral point of view. I think of that as a moral fact. I mean, it’s wrong to tor­ture chil­dren. It’s wrong to engage in rape.

This is what I hear from a lot peo— They say, Well, you know. I’m skep­ti­cal about moral propo­si­tions.” And I say why does your skep­ti­cism stop at moral propo­si­tions? Why aren’t you skep­ti­cal about every­thing? And this idea that we can some­how seg­ment off moral propo­si­tions or treat them as things that we can be skep­ti­cal about, where­as every­thing else is not a mat­ter of skep­ti­cism I think is non­sense.

When I when I teach this course on human rights and ani­mal rights, the first class that we have, we ask the stu­dents, how do you think about moral­i­ty? What do you think moral­i­ty is? It’s inter­est­ing, because you’re deal­ing with peo­ple who have gone to under­grad­u­ate schools—very good under­grad­u­ate schools. They’re now in a pro­fes­sion­al school and they’re tak­ing their first elec­tive, and they’re tak­ing this course which is encour­ag­ing them to think about legal issues but in a philo­soph­i­cal way. They’re you know, 23, 24 years old; the youngest are that, and many of them are old­er. They’ve nev­er been asked that ques­tion, how they think about moral­i­ty.

And so what you end up with at the end of the first class, or in the mid­dle of the first class, is the con­sen­sus that moral­i­ty is a mat­ter of opin­ion. You know. It’s just…opin­ion. This is the lega­cy of post­mod­ernism. Most of them have prob­a­bly nev­er read Foucault, Derida, any of these peo­ple. Some of them have, but most of them haven’t. But they’re liv­ing in a post­mod­ern world in which plu­ral­ism is accept­ed as not only a fact, but it describes the nor­ma­tive uni­verse. Everything is a mat­ter of you know, it’s all rel­a­tive. So they say, Well you know, it’s a mat­ter of opin­ion.”

And I’ll say, Okay, fine. So, if you think the Holocaust was…bad, but I think it was good, well…then for me it’s good, for you it’s bad.” Then they…you know, they become uncom­fort­able about that, because you take some­thing as obvi­ous­ly hideous as the Holocaust, and you say that’s a mat­ter of opin­ion, peo­ple say, Well you know, I dun­no if I, you know.” And what quick­ly emerges from the dis­cus­sion is that peo­ple don’t real­ly think that it’s all just a mat­ter of opin­ion. And that they think that there are some facts out there. They don’t think about it in this way. They don’t think about cog­ni­tivism non-cognitivism. They don’t think about moral real­ism, or— You know, they don’t think about the isms. They think about well…yeah, there are some things out there that are just bad.

I do believe, for all this talk about moral plu­ral­ism, moral relativism…most of us don’t buy that. Really, when we’re con­front­ed with con­crete situations—things like the Holocaust, tor­tur­ing chil­dren, blow-torching dogs, things like that…there is a right and a wrong. And where that right or wrong comes from—I mean, you know, some peo­ple might say, Well you know, that’s part of my spir­i­tu­al tra­di­tion,” or part my reli­gious tra­di­tion, or you know, in my case I’m just a moral real­ist. I mean, I believe that moral propo­si­tions have a truth val­ue, and at least some of them are true.

Anderson: Where does that come from, for you?

Francione: I have a strong belief in the truth of non­vi­o­lence, and the notion that vio­lence is gen­er­al­ly inef­fec­tive in terms of resolv­ing prob­lems. And that vio­lence is gen­er­al­ly moral­ly wrong. There may be some cir­cum­stances in which it can be jus­ti­fied, but most of the cir­cum­stances in which we attempt to jus­ti­fy it, it doesn’t work. I always sort of describe veg­an­ism as sort of prac­ti­cal non­vi­o­lence. I mean you know, you can’t real­ly be com­mit­ted to a non­vi­o­lent life if you’re cel­e­brat­ing death mul­ti­ple times a day by stick­ing corpses and mucos­al prod­ucts and what­ev­er into your mouth.

What’s real­ly inter­est­ing is, as an abstract propo­si­tion most peo­ple think non­vi­o­lence is a good thing. Most peo­ple look at a per­son like Gandhi, or at a per­son like Jesus or what­ev­er as being exem­plary peo­ple. And we might say, Well you know, but you can’t real­ly live that— You know, as a prac­ti­cal mat­ter there are probl—” But nobody sort of says, Well, as an abstract propo­si­tion, I reject that.” Most peo­ple say as an abstract propo­si­tion I embrace it.

Saul: my view is look, there are dif­fi­cult ques­tions in life. Lots of them. But one of the real­ly easy ques­tions is, should I con­sume ani­mals when I don’t have to con­sume ani­mals? Now you know, one of the ques­tions I get a lot is, What if you’re on a desert island, and you’re dying, and there are no veg­eta­bles? Would you kill and eat a rab­bit?” And the answer is look, I don’t think it would be right to do so, but I think it would be excus­able if I did so. In the same sense, frankly, if I were on a desert island with anoth­er human, and there was noth­ing to eat, and I was starv­ing to death, and I killed and ate the oth­er human, we wouldn’t say it was alright for me to do. But most of us would under­stand you know, after three weeks of not eat­ing peo­ple are going to enga—

And there actu­al­ly have been legal cas­es where peo­ple have done these sorts of things. It’s not moral­ly jus­ti­fi­able, it’s not the right thing to do, but we under­stand— Anymore than it is if I put a gun to your kid’s head and I said, If you don’t go in and rob that store, I’m going to kill your child.” Well, you know, you go in and rob the store? Is that moral? Is that an alright thing to do? No, the per­son you robbed from didn’t do any­thing to harm you. You’re doing it because I’ve put you under duress. But is it excus­able in the sense that we under­stand why you would go in and rob the store in order to stop me from blow­ing your child’s brains out? And the answer’s well yeah, we do. It’s excuse. It’s not jus­ti­fi­able, it’s excus­able.

Saul: I would say that if I were on a desert island, and there were no veg­eta­bles around, and I killed and ate a rab­bit, it would be alright for me to do. I’ve got no right to do that. But it would be an excus­able thing to do. But you know, I’m not in that posi­tion. I mean you know, I’m going to leave here tonight, and I’m going to go home, and I have to decide what to eat. I’m not in any con­flict sit­u­a­tion. I’m not starv­ing to death. I’m not in a sit­u­a­tion of of extrem­is. I just decide what it is I want to eat. And to the extent that I say well, you know, my palate plea­sure jus­ti­fies the suf­fer­ing and death of anoth­er sen­tient being who val­ued his or her life as much as I val­ue mine—maybe in a dif­fer­ent way because they think dif­fer­ent­ly or whatever—it doesn’t real­ly mat­ter, how can I jus­ti­fy doing that? And the answer is I don’t think I can.

Anderson: We con­front the issue of anthro­pocen­trism and what can we empathize with. So, I think if you talk to a lot of peo­ple about non­vi­o­lence, to broad­en that to an ani­mal, to some­thing that is…to so many peo­ple does seem fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent—

Francione: Right, right, right.

Anderson: —and espe­cial­ly if you sort of look at the slope on down to small­er ani­mals, how do you avoid sort of…what to the West often looks like the absur­di­ty of some­thing like Jainism, where you’re sweep­ing bugs out of your way, you know.

Francione: You know, I’ve spent a lot of time with the Jain com­mu­ni­ty. Look, I don’t walk on grass, because I don’t want to kill insects. I don’t know whether they’re sen­tient. I real­ly don’t know whether they’re sen­tient. But I don’t inten­tion­al­ly kill them. When I find them in my house, I don’t kill them. I either leave them alone, or if they’re large things then I will put them out­side. But I endeav­or not to kill them.

You know, look. I think we have a lot of con­fused think­ing. Christianity, if you look at what Christianity was, I mean it is a reli­gion of non­vi­o­lence. One of the great con jobs of mod­ern civ­i­liza­tion is peo­ple who embrace war talk about Christianity and talk about God and Jesus and stuff like that, which is, I’ve always found, some­what bizarre. If you look at Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, the reli­gious response to the use of ani­mals is to say Well, you know…” But it says we have domin­ion over ani­mals. Well, domin­ion doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly mean dom­i­na­tion, but if you actu­al­ly go and look at what Genesis says, in the first book of Genesis god cre­ates the world and gives it to humans, gives it to Adam and Eve, and basi­cal­ly says, The herb and the seed shall be your food.” He says to the ani­mals, The herb and the seed shall be your food.” So the ani­mals are not eat­ing each oth­er, and humans are not eat­ing ani­mals. What hap­pens is, when there is a rup­ture of the covenant between humans and God, and humans are eject­ed from the Garden of Eden, it is only then that death begins. It’s only then. Then God says lat­er on to Moses, Go ahead and you can con­sume ani­mals and things.” And so in a sense, one can look at, to the extent that one’s attract­ed to that tra­di­tion, there seems to be sort of a recog­ni­tion that in the opti­mal spir­i­tu­al sit­u­a­tion there is no killing.

You know, the only use of ani­mals that we make that is not trans­par­ent­ly friv­o­lous is the use in sci­ence. I don’t accept that, how­ev­er we can have an inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion about that. The rest of it: use of ani­mals for food; use of ani­mals for sport hunt­ing; use of ani­mals for cloth­ing; there’s noth­ing there. The argu­ments that you make are no more sophis­ti­cat­ed than Michael Vick say­ing, But wait a minute! I real­ly like watch­ing dogs fight.” Or some­body saying…you know, I mean, one of the argu­ments you get a lot is cul­ture. I remem­ber I was in Spain some years ago and I was tak­ing the posi­tion that bull­fight­ing is real­ly no dif­fer­ent from rodeos or oth­er sorts of enter­tain­ment uses of ani­mals. And I remem­ber when I was giv­ing the lec­ture, some­body said, But this is part of our cul­ture.”

I said, Look, sex­ism is part of your cul­ture. Racism is part of your cul­ture. Colonialism is part of your cul­ture. So what? So what? Our cul­tures are com­posed of all sorts of real­ly ugly things, and maybe we ought to sort of take a step back and say just because some­thing is part of cul­ture doesn’t mean it’s okay.” All it means is we do it a lot. That’s all that means, you know. The hur­dle we’ve got to get over is peo­ple have to become com­fort­able with the idea that hav­ing strong moral posi­tions doesn’t mean you become a reli­gious zealot, or that you become a fun­da­men­tal­ist or some­thing like that.

Anderson: What would a world look like with­out our cur­rent sys­tems of ani­mal use? I think for most peo­ple it would almost be…again, we’ve just talked about cul­ture and it just means you’ve done it a lot. We’ve done this a lot. It stretch­es the imag­i­na­tion, in a way.

f Well you know, it stretch­es the imag­i­na­tion but for me it stretch­es it in a very good way, a very pos­i­tive way. The his­to­ry of human­i­ty is a his­to­ry of oth­er­iza­tion. What we do is, what we’ve always done is to sort of seg­ment off some group, whether it’s humans or non­hu­mans. I mean, on a larg­er scale it’s non­hu­mans. We seg­ment them off, they’re the oth­er we can do what we want to with them. But we do it in oth­er ways. We do with women. We’ve done it with Jews. We do with peo­ple of col­or. We do it with gay peo­ple. We oth­er­ize them. We put them on the oth­er side of the line, and then what­ev­er we want to do to them is okay. If we were crit­i­cal about our oth­er­iza­tion of non­hu­mans, it couldn’t help but to trans­late into a greater sen­si­tiv­i­ty about our oth­er­iza­tion of human groups.

Anderson: It also seems to have just vast eco­nom­ic impli­ca­tions.

Francione: Sure.

Anderson: And I think of— You know a lot of this project has been talk­ing to peo­ple about these big iner­tial sys­tems we’ve built. You know, eco­nom­ic sys­tems and… The con­ver­sa­tion I had last was with John Fullerton. Are you famil­iar with him?

Francione: Yes.

Anderson: Okay. So we were talk­ing about essen­tial­ly how do you spin the engine down? It’s going, it’s sup­port­ing all of these peo­ple, and how do you tran­si­tion to either anoth­er type of econ­o­my, or an econ­o­my that’s more sus­tain­able? And I think if we took ani­mals seri­ous­ly, that obvi­ous­ly has huge ram­i­fi­ca­tions for what phys­i­cal­ly we’re doing with the world and how we use it. Does tak­ing ani­mals seri­ous­ly imply a cri­tique of a growth econ­o­my?

Francione: Well, it implies a cri­tique of this sort of growth econ­o­my. I mean look, most of the con­sumer goods that’ve been con­sumed by human beings have been con­sumed in the past what, fif­teen or twen­ty years. I mean, that’s not sus­tain­able. So, when you say well, can you get rid of ani­mal exploita­tion and have this sort of growth econ­o­my, the answer is no. But this sort of growth econ­o­my is insane. When you say growth econ­o­my, that implies some­thing pos­i­tive. That it’s flour­ish­ing. The answer’s it’s not flour­ish­ing. It’s destroy­ing life on this plan­et. It’s destroy­ing us.

What wor­ries me is we’re mov­ing in a direc­tion where moral­i­ty isn’t going to mat­ter at all as long as peo­ple have the lat­est smart­phone, or the lat­est iPad, or you know, what­ev­er these things are. That they’re hap­py with that. And we’re rapid­ly mov­ing in that direc­tion.

Anderson: So that’s a cul­tur­al shift.

Francione: Yeah, and that’s a cul­tur­al shift. And I’ll tell you some­thing, it’s a scary cul­tur­al shift. Because you com­bine it with the post­mod­ernism and the moral nihilism and stuff. And then you take it to the next step of you know, peo­ple real­ly start­ing to val­ue and accord inher­ent val­ue to these things that they con­sume.

We are in a seri­ous moral cri­sis, where when you have peo­ple lit­er­al­ly lin­ing up for a day to get the newest phone being made in a plant by peo­ple who are com­mit­ting sui­cide because things are so bad there—and that nobody cares about that, what they care about is get­ting the phone. They don’t care about the fact that the phone is being made by some­body who is essen­tial­ly being treat­ed as a slave. There is some­thing ter­ri­bly fright­en­ing about that.

One of the things that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan did, which was dia­bol­i­cal in many ways, is they pop­u­lar­ized this Ayn Rand notion that self­ish­ness was a virtue. That you could act moral­ly by being a self­ish per­son. And this is one of the rea­sons why, by the way, I have such a strong reac­tion to a lot of these ani­mal groups that say, Well, the solu­tion to the prob­lem is hap­py meat or hap­py milk,” you know, ani­mals that are being treat­ed more humane­ly. Because its—first of all I think that’s non­sense. I don’t think those ani­mals are treat­ed any bet­ter.

But that’s real­ly not the point. I mean, it sort of focus­es the moral issue on con­sumerism and says oh well, you know, if you want to be a moral con­sumer, go out there and buy meat that’s been slaugh­tered in a slaugh­ter­house that’s been designed by Temple Grandin. Or go and buy your your ani­mal prod­ucts at Whole Foods because they have an ani­mal com­pas­sion­ate rat­ing sys­tem. But real­ly, it’s essen­tial­ly rein­forc­ing this idea that yeah, con­tin­ue to be self­ish. And con­tin­ue to be a con­sumer. And don’t real­ly think about the moral issues. Just con­sume. Consume com­pas­sion­ate­ly. What does that mean? It’s non­sense. And I think that we are in a sit­u­a­tion of moral cri­sis. Because we become nihilis­tic, and so many peo­ple in your gen­er­a­tion I fear, they don’t think about moral­i­ty. They don’t think in moral terms. Everything is a mat­ter of opin­ion. Well I’m sor­ry all opin­ions are not valid.

Anderson: So, if we go back to your class­room. You know, if you can ask that ques­tion to your class, and you can say, So, the Holocaust is just anoth­er dis­course?”

Francione: Yeah.

Anderson: And if they get uncom­fort­able with that, that seems promis­ing, right? [crosstalk] Because then it’s not gone.

Francione: It is. It is. But Aengus, I’m the first per­son who’s hav­ing this con­ver­sa­tion with peo­ple who are 25 years old, you know. And that wor­ries me. Because in a sense it’s a fail­ure of my gen­er­a­tion because we’re fail­ing to teach it. The prob­lems of post­mod­ernism and nihilism is not just a prob­lem of the younger gen­er­a­tion, it’s a prob­lem of my gen­er­a­tion as well.

Anderson: Sure. I guess I was just think­ing that it’s not some­thing… It can’t van­ish, if that’s the case, right? There could be a bio­log­i­cal basis to feel­ing that some things are moral and some aren’t. Which seems like well, then you’ve still got some­thing to work from. [crosstalk] It can’t just get pro­grammed out.

Francione: Well, I don’t know that I want to get into socio­bi­ol­o­gy, whether there’s a bio­log­i­cal basis for this stuff. I mean, maybe there is and maybe there isn’t. I don’t think about in terms of bio­log­i­cal basis. What I think of is there is some­thing in our emo­tion­al lives, our moral lives, our spir­i­tu­al lives, what­ev­er you want to call it. I don’t think of it as bio­log­i­cal, I think of it as the oth­er part of us. And again, I don’t want to— I’m not— I don’t want to get reli­gious about it, but I—

Anderson: But that there’s some­thing that’s not just…stuff.

Francione: Right. There’s some­thing that’s not just mat­ter. And there’s some­thing that goes beyond that. The fun­da­men­tal issue that we have to con­front is whether we think we’re stuff. And we think that it’s all just a mat­ter of moral rel­a­tivism, and that the only ques­tion is how do we recre­ate our­selves in a way that is most ben­e­fi­cial to some num­ber of us? Or whether we think that there’s real­ly some­thing to moral­i­ty? I mean, I real­ly see the cri­sis right now as moral rel­a­tivism ver­sus moral real­ism. That for me is the ques­tion, and in many ways the only ques­tion. That if you come down on the side of moral rel­a­tivism and that there’s no right or wrong, then we’re all util­i­tar­i­ans in a sense. And there’ll be all dif­fer­ent sorts of views of what social wel­fare is, what max­i­mizes social wel­fare. But that’s we’re just all cal­cu­la­tors, basi­cal­ly.

Or we think that there are cer­tain things that can’t be done. That there are cer­tain rules that we ought to embrace and live by because we think they’re right. That’s the cri­sis for me. That’s the ques­tion. For those peo­ple who say, Well, we’re just stuff,” the answer’s yeah, but that’s your way of look­ing at the world. It is not my way of look­ing at the world. And can I prove to them that my way of look­ing at the world is right? And the answer is no. Can they prove to me that their way of look­ing at the world is right? The answer is no.

You know, we’re also liv­ing in a time when peo­ple think that they can find moral­i­ty in sci­ence. You have peo­ple like Sam Harris and those peo­ple. I start­ed read­ing it because my stu­dents were read­ing it. And it was to me fright­en­ing, this idea that we’re going to find truth in sci­ence or that you can prove sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly that Islam is a bad reli­gion. I just love that. I mean, that you’re going to prove sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly that cer­tain the­o­log­i­cal sys­tems are infe­ri­or or wrong or some­thing like that.

That way of think­ing is, I think, not only wrong but incred­i­bly naïve. Science is not nor­ma­tive, and I would have thought that that notion of science’s objec­tiv­i­ty was debunked with Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend. When Kuhn, who wrote a book called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Anderson: The par­a­digm shift.

Francione: Yeah, the par­a­digm shift. And he basi­cal­ly said you can’t look at sci­ence as mov­ing clos­er and clos­er to Truth with a cap­i­tal T, it’s just a ques­tion of one par­a­digm replaces anoth­er par­a­digm replaces anoth­er par­a­digm. It’s not ratio­nal­i­ty that deter­mines what par­a­digm will replace the pri­or par­a­digm, but it’s oth­er things. It’s extra­ra­tional ele­ments that will deter­mine.

And so this idea that sci­ence is going to lead us to moral truth…is mind bog­gling to me.

Anderson: It’s sci­entism.

Francione: It’s sci­en­tism. Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah. You know, progress is itself a nor­ma­tive notion that has all sorts of val­ue ele­ments built into it as to what progress is. I mean, we can look at the world that we live in right now and say, Wow, we’ve made tremen­dous progress.” We can also look at it and say, What a dis­as­ter.” Where have we got­ten with this progress? Yes, we all have cell phones. We all have com­put­ers. But we have all become alien­at­ed from each oth­er. So, you could look at that and say, That’s not progress. We’re going in the wrong direc­tion.”

Anderson: That’s real­ly inter— Because you talked about rel­a­tivism ver­sus real­ism as a cri­sis. And here we are almost look­ing at, with each of those comes a dif­fer­ent def­i­n­i­tion of progress, almost.

Francione: Right.

Anderson: And with rel­a­tivism, it seems like their vision of progress is typ­i­cal­ly quan­tifi­able and mea­sured in terms of com­plex­i­ty. And then with oth­er peo­ple—

Francione: That has to be that. But that can only be their idea of progress.

Anderson: Right, because there’s only stuff.

Francione: Exactly. It’s a closed sys­tem. I mean, it’s basi­cal­ly you know, if you define mate­r­i­al things, and the more mate­r­i­al things you have, and the more com­plex mate­r­i­al things you have as progress, well then it becomes cir­cu­lar. And if you say, Well no, what real­ly mat­ters is our rela­tion­ships with each oth­er, our abil­i­ty to care for each oth­er, our empa­thy, our abil­i­ty to iden­ti­fy with the oth­er,” if that’s what you think of as progress, then it’s a dif­fer­ent thing.

I remem­ber when I was a kid and I read Atlas Shrugged, I was ter­ri­fied. I thought my God, what a hor­ri­ble vision, that there’s some­thing wrong with see­ing our­selves in con­nec­tion with oth­er peo­ple, and see­ing our­selves as relat­ed to oth­er peo­ple. To me, the rela­tion­ship notion, the com­mu­ni­ty notion, these are real­ly very very impor­tant notions. And if there’s any sin­gle idea that I think is some­thing to focus on, its this notion if you look at human his­to­ry, every­thing that’s gone wrong has gone wrong as a result of our oth­er­iza­tion. We dis­tin­guish this group from us, we stick them on the oth­er side of the line, and then any­thing goes.

Anderson: It almost seems like one of the unique things about this moment is that we’ve oth­er­ized every­body.

Francione: Yeah, well that’s the prob­lem of alie— Isn’t that real­ly the log­i­cal end­point of alien­ation, is everybody’s the oth­er? This is a hor­ri­ble sit­u­a­tion. To call this progress, in my judg­ment, is insane. And so for me the whole ani­mal thing is, it focus­es me every day on non­vi­o­lence. Animals are the most vul­ner­a­ble mem­bers of this soci­ety. They real­ly are. They have no… They have no abil­i­ty to pro­tect or defend them­selves. I’m not say­ing there aren’t humans who aren’t very vul­ner­a­ble; there are. But ani­mals as a gen­er­al mat­ter are the most vul­ner­a­ble group, and we exploit them relent­less­ly.

And what I’m say­ing is a first step towards heal­ing your­self moral­ly is ask­ing your­self, can I jus­ti­fy this? And if the answer to that is no, then you stop doing it. This is one rea­son why I have noth­ing to do with these ani­mal rights orga­ni­za­tions, because they sort of focus on the one issue. They don’t see it in a polit­i­cal sense. As a mat­ter of fact, some of these ani­mal orga­ni­za­tions, they use sex­ism to pro­mote animal—and I have a prob­lem with that. I mean, I think sex­ism is a big prob­lem. And they look at the ani­mal issue as an issue in iso­la­tion. I don’t.

I see this as real­ly being you know, you take non­vi­o­lence seri­ous­ly, put into prac­tice in your life. It’s part of a more…general sort of way I look at the world. And I am so hap­py that many years ago I went to a slaugh­ter­house. Because some­one said to me, You know, you talk about non­vi­o­lence, but you eat ani­mals.” You know, I came out of it— I grew up dur­ing Vietnam, right. And we had heard Dr. King talk about non­vi­o­lence. But it was an abstract idea. It was a great slo­gan to use to jus­ti­fy why you didn’t want to get shipped off to South Asia and be forced to kill peo­ple you didn’t even know, let alone dis­like.

But I nev­er real­ized what non­vi­o­lence meant until I walked into a slaugh­ter­house and saw these sen­tient beings—different for me, yeah. They don’t use lan­guage, they— I mean, I don’t know what goes on in the minds of ani­mals, and I don’t real­ly care. But I mean, I think a lot of us have this notion that ani­mals don’t real­ly have an inter­est in liv­ing, because they don’t have a sense of their lives, because they’re not self-aware in the way that we are. And the answer’s maybe they’re not. Maybe they live in an eter­nal present. But so do peo­ple who have tran­sient glob­al amne­sia. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t self aware in that sec­ond, that they want to get to the next sec­ond of con­scious­ness, etc., and the next sec­ond, the next sec­ond, the next sec­ond. Even if ani­mals live in an eter­nal present, so what? And so I went into the slaugh­ter­house and I saw these these sen­tient beings ter­ri­fied, scared, you know. It was hor­ri­ble. I’d nev­er seen any­thing like that before. And I walked out, and I thought, all of that hap­pens because I like the taste of some­thing? That’s insane. That can’t be right.

And then you come out and you sort of start say­ing, well you know, this vio­lence is wrong. And then you real­ize the dairy is the same, and the eggs, and all that stuff. And you just sort of say, I can’t par­tic­i­pate in that vio­lence.” But then once you under­stand it in that way, it makes it more dif­fi­cult for you to oth­er­ize any­one else. And you start real­iz­ing we’re all in this mess.

There are peo­ple out there who want to do to humans what we do to ani­mals, which is com­mod­i­fy them. They’re hap­py with the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of non­hu­mans, they want to com­mod­i­fy humans. My view is no. Gotta go the oth­er way. We’ve got to go the oth­er way. We need to see the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of non­hu­mans is a moral dis­as­ter. It’s a moral dis­as­ter, it’s an eco­log­i­cal dis­as­ter, and it’s killing us. That stuff is killing us. By reject­ing the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of non­hu­mans, we are going to become increas­ing­ly sen­si­tive about the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of humans. That to me is progress.


Aengus Anderson: Well, Neil Prendergast wel­come to The Conversation.

Neil Prendergast: Thank you for hav­ing me, Angus Anderson.

Anderson: We’re count­ing on you to save us. Make us coher­ent.

Prendergast: I’ll do my best, but I can’t real­ly promise any­thing there.

Anderson: Well, promis­es or not, we’ve got a pret­ty cool episode today, Gary Francione. I think this is the first time we’ve seen some­one come in with a claim that we’re talk­ing about a moral cri­sis and a moral issue. I mean, John Fife men­tioned that just at the very begin­ning of the series. But Gary brings it back, and he brings it back in a real­ly dif­fer­ent sort of way. Kind of the thing that popped out at me first was that we’re almost deal­ing with like a Kantian-style moral imper­a­tive here, right? Like, non­vi­o­lence is a good.

Prendergast: Right. I mean, there’s almost I think kind of a puri­ty to what Francione is say­ing. You know, there aren’t sit­u­a­tions that are dif­fer­ent. That non­vi­o­lence is always good.

Anderson: Something I want to do as we’re talk­ing about moral­i­ty and sort of the the puri­ty thing that you’ve brought up is want to take it to its extreme where you real­ly do apply it as a cat­e­gor­i­cal imper­a­tive, where you try to be non­vi­o­lent towards all things. You know, he talks about Jainism, and he talks about not walk­ing on grass and being uncer­tain of whether or not insects are sen­tient. As I was think­ing about this, like…if you want to have this con­ver­sa­tion with most peo­ple… I don’t know, there’s sort of like a dirty prag­ma­tism that gets into it, right? Like, could you per­suade most peo­ple to not walk on grass?

Prendergast: The idea of not walk­ing on grass would be absolute ridicu­lous, I think, to most peo­ple, right. And I think that’s where his ideas real­ly have a hard time gain­ing any kind of trac­tion, is real­ly in that prag­mat­ic realm. And I think he says that, actu­al­ly, real­ly nice­ly him­self. He says look, we can agree to a lot of stuff in the abstract, but then in our every­day lives when it becomes prag­mat­ic, we sort of just say well, no. You know, what we agreed to in an abstract way is not at all what we’re going to do. And that’s I think a part of his moral schiz­o­phre­nia that he talks about, right.

But I don’t think that I agree that well, what we need to do that is just kind of make a bet­ter com­mit­ment to the ideas we agreed to in the abstract. I think that we actu­al­ly need to maybe think through what’s going on in the prag­mat­ic a lit­tle bit more, too. And he prob­a­bly doesn’t in his schol­ar­ship, I’m sure.

Anderson: So, what do you mean by that?

Francione: I guess what I mean is some­thing that goes back to an ear­li­er inter­view that I real­ly enjoyed from the project, which was the Timothy Morton inter­view, and this sort of big sep­a­ra­tion between the idea of nature as some­thing that is out­side the human realm, untouched by peo­ple. And then you know, cul­ture being our world. And of course, as Morton points out, you know these worlds are like, absolute­ly inter­twined with each oth­er and say­ing that they’re total­ly sep­a­rate cat­e­gories is inac­cu­rate, and can actu­al­ly lead to a lot of prob­lems. And I think that that’s why it’s rel­e­vant for what Francione is say­ing.

Saul: kind of what I mean by that is that if we sep­a­rate nature and cul­ture out, then it’s real­ly easy to do things like pre­serve nation­al parks and say okay, that’s where nature is going to be. But we’re not going to care at all about the pol­lut­ed creek run­ning through a city that no one even sees any­more, right. It lets us cre­ate these kind of sac­ri­fice zones. And I think that what Francione is doing is try­ing to say look, we’ve got to expand our realm of moral con­cern.

But, what I expect most peo­ple see in Francione is a sim­i­lar type of dichoto­my that okay, there’s the real world, and then there’s the world of the abstract ideas. And they’re so dif­fer­ent, they’re so far apart from each oth­er, that we’ll nev­er be able to adhere to the stan­dard of what we agreed to in the abstract. In the same way that will nev­er be able to live up to our idea of nature that we have when its an idea of nature that we can’t touch.

Anderson: Gotcha.

Francione: Yeah, so it’s kind of like well, because we can’t live up to that ide­al, then we’re not going to have any kind of prag­mat­ic ide­al at all.

Anderson: We’re always talk­ing about com­pro­mise and con­ver­sa­tion in this project. And so, if you’re deal­ing with non­vi­o­lence as a moral imper­a­tive, is that some­thing that can be com­pro­mised on if it in a way defeats its own ends. Like, so if you want to per­suade peo­ple to not eat meet, and if you want to say that it’s just flat out wrong, and ulti­mate­ly that leads peo­ple to ignor­ing you, I think we have to engage the ques­tion of util­i­tar­i­an­ism, which is some­thing that Francione real­ly objects to in the work of Peter Singer. But the idea that you know, can you get to slight­ly bet­ter states. Is that the best we can do?

Prendergast: You know, I think it’s a real­ly good ques­tion. I mean, I was blown away by the fig­ure he offered. What did he say, fifty-six bil­lion ani­mals con­sumed every year in the world? It’s impos­si­ble. It’s too big.

Anderson: I mean, you know, I under­stand what he’s say­ing. You know, a wrong is wrong. Like, if it’s wrong you don’t do it. But would any dent in that indus­tri­al slaugh­ter sys­tem still be bet­ter, you know? I guess it’s ulti­mate­ly a ques­tion of do we believe this is attain­able.

Prendergast: Right. And clear­ly it’s not attain­able to take that num­ber of fifty-six bil­lion and make it zero. So I think that every­thing does kind of have to come back, at least to me, to sort of what’s actu­al­ly going on around us. And I love ideas like Francione’s that sort of make us actu­al­ly think through all of this.

Anderson: It does get into this sort of like, dirty realm of what we are as a species in a away. And it enters into the sort of irra­tional ques­tion of what is good. And I like that Francione brings that up, when he’s talk­ing about con­ver­sa­tions you can have about non­vi­o­lence as a moral good, where some peo­ple sim­ply will not accept that. And there’s no way to make them accept that, you know. It’s ara­tional, and they can nev­er make him accept some oth­er idea.

Prendergast: Right. So in lots of ways peo­ple are just going to con­tin­ue to talk past each oth­er.

Anderson: Which makes you won­der one, is a con­ver­sa­tion about this type of thing pos­si­ble, because a lot of it seems…vis­cer­al. And this is where you know, he said that he didn’t want to get into socio­bi­ol­o­gy… [crosstalk] That’s very wise of him. I don’t blame him for that at all.

Prendergast: I caught that, too. You were kind of bait­ing him there, I think.

Anderson:was. I was bait­ing him, he didn’t take the bait because he’s a lot smarter than me. But I do won­der about that stuff. You know, the idea that when it comes down to a sense of good, is there some­thing that we bio­log­i­cal­ly have? It seems like a lot of his argu­ment ulti­mate­ly rests on like, could you walk into that slaugh­ter­house and see that, the half-conscious cows being cut to pieces, and say, I’m okay with this?”

And hon­est­ly, I think he’s right. I mean, it’s like the exam­ple that he uses of the Holocaust with the stu­dents. Can you ever, in a moral­ly rel­a­tive world, be okay with let­ting some­one else call that good? Is there a bio­log­i­cal thing that just makes you cringe when you see that stuff, or when you hear those propo­si­tions?

Prendergast: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know if it’s bio­log­i­cal or cul­tur­al, but I do think that there are items that we actu­al­ly, most of us, 99% of us on the globe would would agree upon as being good or bad. I think that I share Francione’s con­cern that cul­tur­al rel­a­tiv­i­ty has per­haps been used and abused by a lot of peo­ple. I def­i­nite­ly share that. I think he’s right in mak­ing that point.

Anderson: And as we think about expand­ing the cir­cle of empa­thy, you know, we talked ear­li­er about like, how far can it go? We’re kin­da going the oth­er direc­tion. Let’s talk about, if we’re inter­est­ed in non­vi­o­lence as a good, I think there’s some­thing else in here that came up regard­ing peo­ple. And Francione talks about the strange­ness of a cul­ture that will line up to buy Apple prod­ucts from a fac­to­ry where peo­ple are jump­ing off the roots to kill them­selves.

I thought about that a lot, because it’s a real­ly evoca­tive exam­ple of this strange dis­con­nect? And yet most of this con­ver­sa­tion is about the dis­con­nect between your meal and the pain of the slaugh­ter­house. But, we don’t talk as much about the dis­con­nect between your pur­chas­es and the pain of wage slav­ery or ter­ri­ble work­ing con­di­tions. And I won­der, if we’re going to be talk­ing about sort of the cat­e­gor­i­cal imper­a­tive of non­vi­o­lence, and if that trans­lates into veg­an­ism on one hand, does it also need to trans­late into boy­cotting mass-produced goods? Or most mass-produced goods. Ones were you know that they’re being pro­duced in real­ly ques­tion­able con­di­tions, you know. Is that a nat­ur­al out­growth?

Prendergast: Really seems like it to me, doesn’t it? And I think that’s one of the pow­ers of his cri­tique, right, is that it wouldn’t apply just sim­ply to the pro­duc­tion of meat but also all sorts of oth­er dif­fer­ent pro­duc­tion chains.

Anderson: It’s fun­ny, we’ve just gone in a big cir­cle in a way. Because I feel that we’re back to the ques­tion of prag­ma­tism here, you know. And this is some­thing that came up in John Zerzan’s con­ver­sa­tion. And John was say­ing you know, I’m a neo­prim­i­tivist thinker, but I can’t opt out of the sys­tem we’re in. I have to have a com­put­er to reach peo­ple. I have to have a phone. I occa­sion­al­ly fly pla—,” And you know, he hates tech­nol­o­gy. But he can’t get out of it.

And so you know, when I think about the moral imper­a­tive of non­vi­o­lence, I think, can you spread that word while opt­ing out of the tech­nol­o­gy that is cre­at­ing a sys­tem of vio­lence? I mean, if you think of your lap­top as being pro­duced in a fac­to­ry in China where peo­ple have ter­ri­ble arthri­tis in their hands because they’re work­ing on these repet­i­tive tasks all day long, you kind of have to not buy the lap­top.

Prendergast: You know, I think to be com­plete­ly log­i­cal­ly con­sis­tent, you’re right. But I also think that that’s where we run up to the prob­lem of puri­ty again. And what we need instead I think is some way to say look, we’re going to have to accept some com­pro­mis­es. But we need to have a con­ver­sa­tion about the com­pro­mis­es.

But it’s real­ly inter­est­ing that you need thinker like Francione to help us think through all of this. Because with­out him as a cat­a­lyst, then we don’t even talk about com­pro­mise. I think it’s real­ly impor­tant to have some­body on that end of the spec­trum.

Anderson: Oh, I couldn’t agree more. But at the same time, I think he does a lot more than just encour­ages us to have con­ver­sa­tion, you know. I think if you are a seri­ous think­ing, feel­ing per­son who takes non­vi­o­lence seri­ous­ly, you have to say well, set­ting aside all of the stuff about puri­ty and the log­i­cal impli­ca­tions of this, Am I okay with my pref­er­ence for meat lead­ing to a sys­tem of indus­tri­al­ized slaugh­ter.” And I think when you think about that, it’s real­ly hard to not think about the moral imper­a­tive.


Aengus Anderson: Wait, wait, wait, wait. Before this episode is over, we’ve got to add a quick post­script. Gary has respond­ed to the dis­cus­sion that Neil and I just had, and I’ve put a link to it on the bot­tom of his episode page. You should check it out. It is both thor­ough and con­cise. And he takes a part a lot of the ideas of puri­ty and prag­ma­tism that we were just talk­ing about. So, we can’t rec­om­mend read­ing it more. You’ll find it real­ly inter­est­ing, and this con­ver­sa­tion is incom­plete with­out read­ing it. Okay. Now we can end the episode.


Aengus Anderson: That was Gary Lawrence Francione, record­ed November 8, 2012 at Rutgers in Camden, New Jersey And it goes with­out say­ing that you’re lis­ten­ing to the con­ver­sa­tion, a project by me, Aengus Anderson, Micah Saul, and now intro­duc­ing Neil Prendergast.

You can find us online, find​the​con​ver​sa​tion​.com, or you can fol­low me on Twitter; I’m @aengusanderson. Thanks for lis­ten­ing.

Further Reference

This interview at the Conversation web site, with project notes, comments, and taxonomic organization specific to The Conversation.


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