Saturday, September 15, 2012

My Personal Influences towards Non-Violence

I have commented a little on this question on AR Zone. Here we have something a good bit more thorough:
  1. I had known about Jainism - an ancient religion that essentially originated the non-violence principle - since the 1980s. I knew a number of Jains back then, in my hometown of Toronto, Canada, including an aspiring monk, a so-called "white guy" named Bruce Costain, who was also writing a doctoral thesis on non-violence ethics. As well, I knew his mentor: Irena Upenieks. Another "white" person as that odd and unscientific term is used. Irena was also the biggest early influence on Gary Francione towards Jainism I was told by Irena herself, who had gone to a conference Gary attended. I was not there myself. I was also friends with another disciple of Irena's who was Jain, another so-termed "white" guy named Michael Proudfoot, who was not a scholar but just very nice and lucidly intelligent. You could just see the insightfulness sparkling from his eyes with that guy. I additionally, through these people, met other more traditionally ethnic Jain adults and youth. I hung out with the Jain Youth Group that existed at the time. This familiarity with Jainism gave me the basic principle of non-violence as a structure, although the Jains never convinced me to emphasize non-violence as the central principle.
  2. I had researched Jainism, including writing the article on that religion for the Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare (1998), and so I have elaborated my knowledge of Jainism and non-violence over the years.
  3. Tom Regan's The Case for Animal Rights was highly influential on me, and he posited the harm principle, which of course is stringent about avoiding harm. (Never liked the name for that idea though: nonharming or something of that nature - indeed non-violence - would have been better.) Regan confessed in certain writings such as his autobiography in The Struggle for Animal Rights that he was heavily influenced by one of the #1 writers and proponents concerning non-violence, namely Mohandas Gandhi.
  4. I wrote about non-violence (using that term explicitly), such as in the flyer I composed for the University of Toronto Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals group I was active with starting from the late 80s, and led for a time. My own ethical theory of best caring has long had a right to non-violence (in those words) too. Anyway, the most key practical principle of my theory was non-harming, or minimizing harm in dilemmas, so the theory was very key to my thinking, though it still was not the central ethical principle at the same time. The best caring principle was. And I did not always use the label, "non-violence".
  5. I was generally convinced by arguments that I myself came up with to make non-violence overarching, but there was a personal experience pertaining to an animal rights activist that I did find influential. I listened to Gary Yourofsky's much-touted "Best Speech Ever", on January 7, 2011, as my personal diary records. It was indeed very powerful and really highlighted to me the violence to which animals are routinely subjected. It got me all freshly fired up, beyond my usual strong motivation for animal rights and so on. However, I also noted a video in which he said he agreed with killing "the direct abusers of animals". Sounds a lot like murdering vivisectors, doesn't it? A type of tactic I find disturbing, repellent and wrong, although the publicizing of my case for this conclusion will have to wait. I respect that this other Gary wishes to defend the innocent and I agree with him that violence such as self-defence is sometimes justified, but I believe he goes too far and that this sort of thing is highly detrimental to the animal rights cause.
  6. Given fresh activation somehow by GY's first talk mentioned, I started seeing how nonharming could account for more than I previously thought. Then a good friend of mine, Michael Schwab - over dinner at his apartment with his wife, JoAnne - told me I should use the term "non-violence" . I resisted with many objections and counter-arguments. I thought minimizing harm was better. I thought about it deeply and extensively and then got back to him and agreed he was right in the end, for reasons I cannot go into here. Michael was also, obviously, a key influence here. The Schwabs first inducted me into animal rights activism with their group, Canadian Vegans for Animal Rights (C-VAR). Bruce Costain, the Jain (gee, I never noticed that rhymes perfectly before!), was a founding member along with the Schwabs and some others. They organized protests around the city; attracted a lot of print, TV, and radio media, including appearances on various talk shows; ran a radio show on University of Toronto radio called "The Extended Circle" (after Albert Schweitzer's saying about humans expanding the circle of their compassion); led campus activism; did a lot of talks such as at universities and elsewhere; brought a ton of speakers up here, including Tom Regan; prepared a very detailed and interesting newsletter called Conscience; ran ad campaigns; pushed for legislation such as banning the veal crate in Ontario; and so on. Wow, right? I am honoured and privileged to have been influenced by Michael Schwab again in this recent case. I recall how, way back in the 1980s, I began with reservations about so-called "medical" vivisection, one of Michael's keen specialties besides factory farming. I first became an anti-vivisectionist right in their presence, as it suddenly dawned on me at one of the social gatherings they had organized. This is parallel to Regan, who defended some medical vivisection in a published paper that later became completely overridden by The Case.

Those I suppose were my big influences, besides more amorphous ones such as my parents and teachers.

"Kaufman", whoever that is, wondered in a comment on my blog entry for September 10, 2012, if I "leaned on" Francione as an inspiration for non-violence. I don't believe so, and I can clearly explain how and why. As I noted earlier, I was not as conversant with Francione on non-violence as was "Kaufman", but that is not really the point here. I knew when I made the principle my central emphasis in 2011 that Gary was a Jain and that he, as any Jain must, considers the non-violence principle to be central to his thinking, as I have said all along, although I continue to wonder where it is in his technical writing.

There are only two ways Francione could have been an influence on me towards non-violence:

  1. A personal influence, such as Tom Regan and, somewhat indirectly, Gary Yourofsky were on me
  2. An intellectual influence, such as again Regan provided with The Case for Animal Rights

In order: I used to look up to Gary Francione and admire him a great deal before he fled that debate with me rather than clarify his stance in relation to my essay, "Animal Rights Law". Thus he failed to provide me with the academic assistance he said he would in that on-line debate - which involved that essay in draft. And he went from being extremely positive about my academic work - and I mean "first-rate" positive quite literally - to being so negative that he describes me as "committing literally insane acts", "incoherent", completely out of touch with reality, dishonest, and so on. From these descriptions by Gary, you would think that I am a morally decrepit, mentally disabled person who cannot even string together coherent speech. That is highly insulting, unobjective, and completely different from the appraisals of other leading scholars in this movement - including Gary himself in the early years when he read a book draft of mine plus my doctoral thesis. I utterly document all of the abuses mentioned in my blog entry that secretly peeked into his private Abolitionist Approach Forum. There, both myself and my work were extensively abused by himself and his cronies. That blog entry links to the telling proof of a transcript, complete with participant photos and so forth, leaked by a friend. As I've mentioned before, too, Francionism became less appealing to me when a very prominent Francionist wrote to various officials at Brock University in an unsuccessful bid to block my being rehired - I blocked that move myself when I caught wind of it, including with the support of some very powerful allies in the animal rights scholarly movement. There was a lot more garbage, frankly, that I will not enter into here.

So no, just because Gary embraces a view, I have zero inclination to agree with him, since I do not trust his judgment and have posted ever so many critiques where I try to show how his critical thinking goes astray. What about what he gets right, such as respect for sentient beings, animal rights, anti-speciesism, and so forth? Fine and well, but I had all of these assets quite independently of Francione. Regan influenced me in all of these respects except for the matter of sentient beings, which other people emphasized such as Peter Singer and others. Come to think of it, Singer first got me going as an anti-speciesist too, and credit must go where it is due.

What about subconscious influences? Well, how can anyone know about their subconscious without the subconscious bit disappearing and being replaced with consciousness? Suffice it to say I do not dream about GF leading rallies and swooning over his words, obsessively following his march to that different drum. But seriously now, deep down, why would I regard him as a personal influence towards non-violence when he baselessly insults my intelligence, integrity, and even sanity, not honouring his offer to clarify his view against the "Animal Rights Law" paper I wrote, suddenly cuts off a debate with me, villifies my work, and more? I do not regard any of this, nor much besides that I have witnessed or heard about, as consistent with non-violence. So how could he, personally, stand as a credible model of non-violence to me? So much for GF as a personal influence.

Did you know that the ad hominem fallacy, meaning looking to the person rather than the evidence in general, actually has not only the negative, attacking form, but also a positive, potentially flattering form? This is an obscure but very interesting tidbit of philosophy trivia, in the areas of logic and rhetoric. Just because Hitler can be put down as a person in various ways, does not logically entail that anything he says is false. The positive version is: just because someone is admirable does not logically entail that their view is correct. Interesting, isn't it? Nevertheless, there are people whose judgment we might trust in the sense that we can be confident they are authoritative about some things, and that we would do well to pay attention to their judgments in other matters, although we must always rely on our own powers of critical thinking as well. To me, GF is not one of those trusted souls. Few people are, to me.

As for the matter of any possible intellectual influence from Gary Francione, that is zero too. Unless you count my writing against his theories as exhibiting an intellectual influence, which is fair. However, I am not writing here about overall intellectual influence. I'm reflecting on whether he influenced my positive views in general, and my favoring of non-violence in particular. Now Regan had a great influence on me, and I will always be indebted to him. The Case for Animal Rights was a masterpiece that influenced a lot of people, including GF. I will be honoured to give an invited talk at the University of Vienna next year at a conference reflecting on Regan's classic thirty years later. I'm ever so glad that they are paying my way, because I am something of a pauper. Regan and Francione were bosom buddies for many years, co-organizers of a conference called A New Generation for Animal Rights at Francione's academic home base of Rutger's University in 1993 (myself and some friends/comrades attended this), and so on.

However, GF and TR fell out over a March for the Animals, in the summer of 1996, because Regan was going to join in, even though - horror of horrors! - animal welfarists also participated. You see, Regan had a change of heart, as he was originally going to boycott the walk along with Francione. Then Francione turned on Regan. Rather like I described he turned on me, a far cry from when he wrote "with affection and respect" in my copy of his Introduction to Animal Rights. Gary went from touting Regan very powerfully and extensively in GF's early talks I attended, to considering Regan's work rather rudely and crudely (e.g., dismissing it as too "complicated"), as in the latter book. I really didn't like that. It seemed clear that Gary's personal feelings were very likely interfering with his professional judgment. I was not influenced at all by the arguments in Gary's aforementioned book, except unequivocally to reject them as a specious case against speciesism. (Other animal rights theorists such as Evelyn B. Pluhar, did have a positive influence on my animal rights views to some extent though, such as her emphasis on individual rights to liberty and welfare, after Alan Gewirth.)

I do not know that Francione has ever convinced me of anything important through argumentation, except that he was wrong. I thought his arguments were generally so poor that I found it hard to look up to him intellectually. I tried to be open-minded, but I started to see that he had very questionable judgment, and that if he came out with an argument, it was probably errant, and I should be able to use standard academic critical thinking tools such as fallacies to show the errors for those who have the training to perceive them - and many lack this. But of course you cannot prejudge, and you have to admit that someone could be right until shown to be wrong. In any event, I found that Francione was not normally receptive to these sorts of critiques. He did not learn or admit mistakes like other people I have known. I attribute that to an impairment of his objectivity in some way - as his hostile floundering about with Regan and myself seemed to me to exhibit - although I will not venture to speculate on this matter.

Certainly I was not convinced by Gary Francione, nor indeed Jainism, to embrace non-violence as an overarching principle. Their arguments for this conclusion, to the extent that they exist (in Jainism, but nothing that Gary has produced to my knowledge), failed to convince me. I had to come up with those particular arguments on my own, although clearly, I was also deeply influenced by the people and works that I have acknowledged above. In the end, it is always arguments that influence or indeed determine what I will conclude on any intellectual matter, although people and other factors do orient me, as they do other people, in ways that are not always easy to trace out. Such are the sources for this river of non-violence I am now riding in my little boat, still endeavouring to make my way to open sea.


A Selection of Related Articles

Sztybel, David. "Animal Rights Law: Fundamentalism versus Pragmatism". Journal for Critical Animal Studies 5 (1) (2007): 1-37.

go there

Short version of "Animal Rights Law".

go there

Sztybel, David. "Incrementalist Animal Law: Welcome to the Real World".

go there

Sztybel, David. "Sztybelian Pragmatism versus Francionist Pseudo-Pragmatism".

go there

A Selection of Related Blog Entries

Anti-Cruelty Laws and Non-Violent Approximation

Use Not Treatment: Francione’s Cracked Nutshell

Francione Flees Debate with Me Again, Runs into the “Animal Jury”

The False Dilemma: Veganizing versus Legalizing

Veganism as a Baseline for Animal Rights: Two Different Senses

Francione's Three Feeble Critiques of My Views

Startling Decline in Meat Consumption Proves Francionists Are Wrong Once Again!

The Greatness of the Great Ape Project under Attack!

Francione Totally Misinterprets Singer

Francione's Animal Rights Theory

Francione on Unnecessary Suffering

My Appearance on AR Zone

D-Day for Francionists

Sztybel versus Francione on Animals' Property Status

The Red Carpet

Playing into the Hands of Animal Exploiters

The Abolitionist ApproachES

Francione's Mighty Boomerang

Dr. David Sztybel Home Page

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