BOOKS: Rain Without Thunder

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1996:

Rain Without Thunder:
The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement
by Gary L. Francione
Temple University Press (1601 N. Broad St., Philadelphia, PA 19122), 1996.
366 pages, paper, $22.95.

In the climatic sense, rain without
thunder grows crops and wild habitat, as fog
turns to saturating sprinkle. Ancient forest
once marked the temperate latitudes, which
get the most rain without thunder, and these
regions remain densely forested, albeit now
mostly with second growth. Where thunder
usually coincides with rain, one instead finds
desert, eroded rather than irrigated by flashfloods.

Tropical rainforest thrives despite
thunderstorms: sheer water volume enables
trees to grow fast with shallow roots, and
grow fast they must, as they may be blown
down while young. Their one hope for long
life is to establish a thick stand between
storms, to jointly break the wind.
Gary Francione, middle-aged
enfante terrible, echoes the proto-heavy metal
band Steppenwolf’s self-defining hit, Born to
be Wild, in picking the metaphor of rain without
thunder to title his discussion of the “ideology
of the animal rights movement.” He
might sing with the boys in the band, “I like
smoke and lightning / heavy metal thunder,”
because though he combines the staid careers
of lawyer and academic, what he seems to
want from the animal rights movement is the
chance to “Fire all of your guns at once”
against The Establishment.
Of course this is not what he says he
wants. Like everyone else active in animal
protection, he pretends that his interest is
purely in what is best for “the animals.” This
phrase is in itself revealing, since the otherwise
pointless “the” before the word “animals”
separates the speaker from the purported beneficiaries,
and so constitutes an unconscious
denial of personal animality. There lies much
non-acknowledgement of self-interest.
The theory
To fully understand Rain Without
Thunder, one must know Francione’s history
involving the many people he covertly attacks
in the guise of addressing alleged heretical
divergence from ideological positions that
most never took in the first place.
In fact, Francione rose rapidly to
animal rights movement stardom representing
PETA in the early 1980s, but that association
dissolved––apparently––because the PETA
stage wasn’t big enough for everyone who
wanted to be on it. Francione was also among
a mob of would-be successors confusingly designated
by Friends of Animals founder Alice
Herrington, along with Animals’ Agenda
cofounder Jim Mason, Holly Hazard, now
heading the Doris Day Animal League, and
Esther Mechler, who went on to found
Spay/USA. Infighting reminiscent of I
Claudius left FoA to then-New England office
director Priscilla Feral. Francione and his wife
Anna Charlton in 1990 founded the Rutgers
Animal Rights Law Clinic, which they still
run. In 1995 they were also among the 14
cofounders of Animal Rights America, a purported
restart of the animal rights movement
that shattered in factional disputes and vanished
within less than a year.
Together with animal rights philosopher
Tom Regan, with whom he split early in
the ARA debacle, Francione denounced what
he terms “animal welfarism” within the animal
rights movement at the June 1991 National
Alliance for the Animals conference. His
theme, borrowed from Marxist theory, is that
reforming a corrupt system only makes it
stronger. His initial argument is that while one
should do what one can to relieve suffering
now, one should focus on work which keeps
as a direct goal the abolition of animal
exploitation. Probably the overwhelming
majority of animal rights activists and for that
matter “animal welfarists” and even some people
generally regarded within the cause as
“animal exploiters” would agree up to that
point. Indeed, recent surveys of dairy farmers
indicate that many of them regard the use of
BST to stimulate milk production as “exploitation,”
and feel banning it would be more
appropriate than just regulating use.
The catch
The catch is that there is broad disagreement
among animal rights activists,
including leadership, as to what exploitation
is. Most equate it with cruelty, but there is
broad disagreement as to what is cruel, especially
when the overt cruelty of hunting, trapping,
factory farming, and invasive biomedical
research is linked by philosophical extension
to pet-keeping and riding horses.
Contrary to the pretense of some animal rights
fundamentalists, and of many opponents of
animal protection, there has never been a consensus
that any activity using animals must be
opposed if the animals do not actually suffer.
Accordingly, for many the best
response to cruel pet-keeping is to encourage
good pet-keeping. The best response to a bad
zoo may be to shut it down; but this does not
seem appropriate, to many, in addressing a
good zoo. While Francione would argue that
there is no such thing as a good zoo, for ideological
reasons, the truth remains that most
people who care about animal suffering are
concerned from feelings of empathy with animals,
and also live in the real world, where
problems must be prioritized. Both emotionally
and pragmatically, they may feel that even
though no zoo is any animal’s ideal situation,
for many animals who have no safe wild habitat,
a good zoo is the best option. Thus they
don’t see a good zoo as “exploitation,” or see
any need to oppose it as part of a strategy to
abolish the abuses they do recognize.
On the abstract level, Francione
like many academics misassumes that philosophy
frames perception, and that ideology
therefore works like the lens of a camera:
screw it on and one suddenly sees differently.
Outside the ivory tower, though, it’s the other
way around. Most of us base our philosophy
not upon abstract logic, but rather on whether
the philosophy seems applicable to what we
perceive. Occasional conversions of belief do
occur in the abstract, but more often philosophy
changes because perception does.
Effecting change accordingly begins
with education, not legislation or litigation.
As Francione acknowledges, laws reinforce
the status quo. To change the law, with hope
of general compliance, one must first change
public perception of what the status quo
should be, so as to win voluntary compliance
from most before any law exists.
Philosophy and ideology, in short,
may help define the picture, but do not compose
it. The animal rights movement rose
when it did not because of the insights of
philosophers, nor because some leaders ideologically
differed from humane and animal
welfare movement forebears, but because the
insights of philosophers and leaders acting on
those insights provided a new and for a time
useful tool to people who care about animals,
who mostly were concerned about cruelty long
before they ever heard of animal rights philosophy,
and remain concerned and involved
even after the utility of the “animal rights”
motif has largely run its course.
The basic ideabehind all such crusades
is and always has been “be kind to animals,”
as an extension of “do unto others as
you would have others do until you.”
The reality
Theory aside, the reality of R a i n
Without Thunder is that Francione seems to
gerrymander his argument to get in digs at just
about everyone with whom he has ever
clashed. That may be everyone in his address
Some of these people are indeed
scoundrels. Some are not. The passages pertaining
to situations we have investigated––
and that’s most of the book––are rife with
omissions of factual context, without which
perspective is lost. For instance, Francione
describes how Henry Spira in 1984 brokered
the deal whereby Procter & Gamble became
the world leader in developing, using, and
marketing non-animal-based product safety
tests. Francione recites the unsubstantiated
claim of activist groups continuing to boycott
P&G that it has increased animal use. He
acknowledges that Spira and ANIMAL PEO-
PLE argue to the contrary. He fails to mention
that we so argue because Procter &
Gamble has verifiably halved animal use.
I find personally tedious Francione’s
use of the claim issued by former V i l l a g e
Voice freelancer Jack Rosenberger (1990) and
Stolen for Profit author Jude Reitman (1993)
that I “covered up” an alleged 1989-1990 scandal
involving Billy Saxon’s management of the
Fund for Animals’ Black Beauty Ranch in
Texas, as-then news editor for The Animals’
A g e n d a. The story goes that I did this as a
favor to then-Fund national director and
Animals’ Agenda board president Wayne
Pacelle––even as I exposed scandals involving
two other board members who were (and are)
closely allied with him.
Saxon, whose open-air pig farm was
near Black Beauty, ran Black Beauty too for
several years, coming in on short notice when
previous manager Jerry Owens was fired
abruptly for cause. Sometimes Saxon used
The Fund’s pickup truck on his pig-related
business, including to haul pigs to slaughter.
That was the whole story. The rest
was rumor and inuendo circulated by Owens,
Texas hunting writer Charles Dukes, and a
neighbor with an old grudge against Saxon,
none of which held up. Rosenberger amplified
it six months a f t e r I reported the facts in the
May 1990 edition of The Animals’ Agenda, on
the same page as one of his own articles.
Reitman, one of Pacelle’s many jilted ex-girlfriends,
amplified it further, with her own
twist also involving Andrew Rowan of the
Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy.
Reitman purported that we were all part of a
plot to cover up dog theft.
Rowan too is maligned, as
Francione repeats old attacks pertaining to his
analysis of laboratory animal use statistics––
which Rowan factually rebutted in our
December 1995 edition.
Many others have cause to be
offended. The Ark Trust is mentioned just
o n c e , yet in such disparaging and inaccurate
context that after Francione posted the same
material to the Internet, executive director
Michael Giannelli prepared a 93-page
response, available for a self-addressed
10”x13” envelope with $3.00 postage from
The Ark Trust, 5461 Noble Ave., Sherman
Oaks, CA 91411.
It is tempting to suggest that such
rebuttals are needless, but not every reader
will know Francione well enough to take him
as skeptically as he deserves.

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