Sunday, November 25, 2007

Deconstructing Gary Francione's FAQs #1

A pro-AR "abolitionist" reader recently challenged me to debunk Prof. Gary Francione's twenty animal rights FAQs. He did this in manner that struck me as somewhat smug and arrogant, as if Francione's opinions are somehow holy gospel and unassailable. I've decided to start a new series here in which I will deconstruct all twenty of Francione's FAQs. I will not be doing these all in row, but will be blogging on other things, and doing these from time to time, perhaps maybe one a week or every two weeks. The first thing readers will need to do is read through Francione's FAQs. They can be found here. The first thing I noticed about this FAQ, and perhaps you have as well, is that some of the questions that Francione asks himself seem to be perhaps "spun" or "loaded" in such a way so that he can indulge himself in circular reasoning. He words the questions in such a way so that he can give exactly the answer he wants to give,and wants you to hear. This is common in my experience in these "FAQs" where any kind of ideological, religious or political agenda is involved. Keep that in mind as we go through them. Let's get started and look at question #1.

"1. Question: Domestic animals, such as cows and pigs, and laboratory rats would not exist, were it not for our bringing them into existence in the first place for our purposes. So, is it not the case we are free to treat them as our resources?"

In his answer, you will notice that Francione goes on to use an analogy about using children as resources. He makes the following statements: "The fact that we are in some sense responsible for the existence of a being does not give us the right to treat that being as our resource. Were that so, then we could treat our children as resources.". This argument fails on a couple of fronts. First off, is the fact, that in reality, we DO in fact treat our children as resources in some respects. When I was kid, my parents used to make me do household chores such as mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, washing the dishes, etc. Also, anyone who grew up on a family farm or ranch knows how hard they worked to help keep things going for the family. There are also examples that don't involve contribution to the family. The Girl Scouts sell cookies every year as a fund raiser. The girls go door to door, or set up shop in front of a public place, and work to sell cookies. These are all examples of treating children as resources. Children are providing labor for either the benefit of their family or an organization that they belong to. Francione's answer implies that it is always morally wrong to use children as resources. Using his logic, however, all the things I mentioned above, would, in fact, be immoral because they all, in reality, use children as resources. The notion of kids mowing lawns or selling cookies to help an organization they belong to, being immoral, is of course, patently absurd. The question here isn't whether it is right or wrong to use children as resources, but rather, what should be the rational moral limits of using children as resources.

This analogy also fails on a second front. The astute reader will notice that what Francione is implying here, is that if it is immoral to use children as resources, then it must also be immoral to use animals as resources. Yet, he makes absolutely no argument here to support such a claim. He offers the reader no rational, convincing reason as to why children and animals should receive the same moral treatment. None at all. When drawing his analogy, he simply seems to ASSUME that children and animals are ENTITLED to the same moral consideration, as if it is some kind of self-evident fact, which of course it is not. He utterly fails to give a single reason why animals and children should be afforded the same treatment and it's glaringly vacuous.

The astute reader should also notice the intellectual slight of hand that Francione utilizes in the second paragraph of his answer. In the second paragraph, Francione talks about the immorality of treating people as property. However, the original question was about treating animals as RESOURCES, not about treating them as PROPERTY and the two are not the same thing. What Francione has done is subtly tried to shift the argument from the question of treating animals as resources to a question of treating animals as property. This is a straw man fallacy. A straw man fallacy is a logical fallacy in which a person attacks or introduces an argument different from, or irrelevant to, the original subject. Francione's second paragraph of his answer qualifies as fallacious, because, as I stated, treating someone as a resource, and treating them as property are not one and the same. The two are separate arguments. We treat people as resources all the time and it is not considered immoral. For example, if you have a job, you are a resource to your employer because you provide labor for them. Indeed, most large business have departments dedicated to managing personnel that are usually called "human resources departments". Although you may be considered a resource by your employer, you are not your employer's property. Rather, you are a person of free will that can choose to leave your employment any time. In our society, treating a person as a resource is not necessarily immoral, but treating a person as property always is. In his answer, Francione either fails to make that distinction himself, or he is intentionally being intellectually dishonest, and hopes that his readers don't notice the distinction. You make your own call.


Anonymous said...

You're comments on children as resources are good, but I'd add that children are considered resources even when they are not expected to work when they are children. One of the expectations people have when they produce children is that their children will look after them when they are old. This is very obvious in developing countries where pensions and other social safety nets are not present, but even in developed "western" societies most parents would expect (or at least hope) that their children will look after them when they are old and/or infirm. Even at the level of society there is an expectation that the younger generations will provide care for older generations through the pensions system and taxation, which is why there is concern about aging populations in many developed societies. As a result of this many states and countries have policies that encourage people to have children. These children are not slaves, but the state is willing to invest in them at least in part because they are seen as a resource.

Anonymous said...

As I look through his "FAQ's", it's a collection unstated or erroneous assumptions.

For instance, in his first point he asks, "Is it not the case we are free to treat them (domestic animals) as our resources?"

What he doesn't ask is, what makes us free to use ANY resources? What justifies our existence? The answer, of course, is that we're alive and we out-competed all the other life forms for that particular resource, and therefore it's ours to eat, wear, play with, or release as we wish.

Grizzly Bear said...

Excellent thoughts on the children as resources issue, anonymous. Contrary to Francione's ridiculous assertions, we do in fact use children as resources, in many ways, and it is not considered immoral. Thanks for bringing attention to another. You are also correct about the FAQ being a "collection of unstated or erroneous assumptions". It certainly is. It also at some points, as I will point out in future posts addressing these FAQs, contains some downright falsehoods and half-truths. It also seems at some points, Francione asks himself some really daft and ridiculous questions, just for the purpose of padding points with his audience. Despite Claudio's admiration, I find Francione's reasoning to be less than impressive.