Animals in anarchy

It is my experience that an awful lot of anarchists have cats. I, with two cats as well as a dog, am one of them. It is also my experience that a considerable amount of anarchists are vegetarians or vegans. I am not one of them.

In the short term, this is of no consequence. The main anarchist centre in Liverpool is a vegan space, but I never feel excluded from there. The place has a lively, welcoming atmosphere, and many people who are not vegans go there without feeling excluded. After all, if I want to eat something which contains meat, I can quite easily go somewhere else.

But what of the longer term?

There seems to be little crossover between “veganarchism” and class-struggle anarchist communism. For the working class, daily contending with the realities of life under capitalism, animal liberation can appear the pursuit of middle class hippies. Meat eating, animal rights, and “speciesism” seem to have no direct bearing upon their lives.

How true that perception is, and where (if anywhere) animal liberation fits into anarchism is a topic that deserves some exploration.

Animal rights

In its most basic form, there are few who would disagree with the concept of animal rights. It goes almost without saying that it is immoral and inhumane to needlessly harm, torture, or kill animals just as it is to do the same to human beings. Acts of cruelty towards animals are often become prominent human interest stories for the outrage that they (rightly) evoke from people. This extends not just to individual incidents, but also to institutional practices such as the production of Foie Gras, battery farming, vivisection, hunting, and fur.

Ritual slaughter is also an issue, though not always from an animal rights perspective. For example, many on the right (exemplified, though not exclusive to, the fascists of the far-right) wonder why animal liberationists don’t get so worked up about Halal meat. For example, the Pub Philosopher theorises that this “middle class protest” is “motivated, in part, by a desire to rebel against something but not to take too great a risk,” and that “Muslims are far less docile” than “the employees of the research companies, or the fox hunters.”

In fact, this is a strawman argument. When Asda trialed Halal meat back in 2007, both Vegetarians International Voice for Animals (VIVA) and the RSPCA were quick to condemn it. VIVA’s opposition to Halal is explained in-depth here and the RSPCA’s here (PDF). Moreover, such an argument in fact exposes the double standards of the right, who themselves are largely dismissive of animal rights concerns. Their outrage over Halal is not matched on the subject of the far more brutal practices of Foie Gras, and they often support practices such as fox hunting.

So where does anarchism fit into this?

Obviously, anarchists oppose the exploitation and abuse of animals by the capitalist system, and would argue that cruel and unreliable tests on animals would not occur without the financial incentive to perform them. But some would go further. The term “veganarchy” arose from Brian A. Dominick’s pamphlet on Animal Liberation and Social Revolution (PDF), which made the case “that any approach to social change must be comprised of an understanding not only of social relationships, but also between the relationships between humans and nature, including non-human animals.” At the same time, he stated that “no approach to animal liberation is feasible without a thorough understanding of and immersion in the social revolutionary endeavour.” In other words, the struggles of animal liberation and anti-capitalism are intertwined and have the same ultimate goal.

Knut, a Polar Bear cub who was hand-reared by zoo keepers in Germany after his mother abandoned him. Certain animal rights activists argued that this was "unnatural" and advocated having the young bear killed.

This is true in the sense that dismantling the systems of hierarchy, domination, and exploitation will lead to a world where animals are not subject to abuse and exploitation. It becomes contentious when the question is raised of what exactly a person means by “animal liberation.” It is here where I disagree, quite strongly, with the veganarchists.

Choice and morality in eating meat

In his Writings On Civil Disobedience and Non-Violence, Leo Tolstoy wrote that since “a man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food,” by eating meat “he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral.” His sentiment is echoed today by many others. In On Vegetarianism, Elisee Reclus argued that “for the great majority of vegetarians…the important point is the recognition of the bond of affection and goodwill that links man to the so-called lower animals, and the extension to these our brothers of the sentiment which has already put a stop to cannibalism among men.”

More contemporaneously, this view is summed up in the slogan “meat is murder,” and by the more extreme view that the meat industry amounts to an “animal holocaust;”

Mass extinction is not the only human scourge on animals; animals live in a continuing holocaust. The Animal Holocaust is the mass destruction of animals by humanity and is a direct comparison with Nazi mass murder, particularly of Jews. The animals most often referred to in the Animal Holocaust are domesticated animals that people raise for food. However, more generally, Animal Holocaust victims include any animals and their populations that humans control, systematically abuse or destroy, such as fur-farmed animals, laboratory animals and free-living wild animals.

The Animal Holocaust resembles the Nazi perpetrated Holocaust in the use of business-like mass slaughter, mediated by transports, factory farms (concentration camps) and slaughterhouses (death camps). Other pertinent comparisons are performing experiments on inmates and turning inmates into commodities, such as skin goods and soap. Perhaps the most telling comparison is the contempt for the victims’ humane treatment and the widespread disregard for their rights. People today generally do not think of animals as beings who are mutilated, tortured and slain and see them merely as ‘animals’, there for the purpose of satisfying human needs.

In response to the argument that “the juxtaposition of Holocaust and Animal Holocaust has angered many people and organisations who see it as an inappropriate and corrupting comparison, tasteless and trivialising because of humanity’s (assumed unique) moral basis,” the author responds that “the comparison shows that humanity has the attitude and practical capacity to destroy beings on a vast scale.”

There is a case to be made against the mass-production farming and slaughter of animals that occurs at present. However, I would argue that this is not a case against the idea of eating meat at all, but against the over-production and over-consumption that are products of the capitalist economic system.

As Red & Black Revolution argue in Meat ‘n’ Veg ‘n’ Microlivestock;

Raising animals is not the most efficient use of agricultural land. But a lot of land is not suitable for other forms of agriculture. Animals can be raised in forests, or on the side of mountains, and in areas where the soil is too poor for crop production. Many animals can be reared alongside crops, and others, like poultry, are well suited to small scale farming. Turning over whole prairies to cows for grazing is certainly inefficient, but that’s not the only way to farm animals.

If farming in general still constitutes an act of calculated murder, then it must be noted that the entire evolution of our species is built upon it, the transition from hunter-gatherer to agricultural society being a key point in our development. If we go back further and say that hunting (for food, not for sport) is wrong, then we must condemn all of the carnivorous animals in nature. Not to mention those other species which, being omnivorous and able to survive without meat, still choose to kill for food.

Of course, I am not condemning the choice of people to be vegetarian or vegan. Nor am I condemning their no doubt sincere efforts in making the arguments as to why this is a better way of living. What I am condemning is the idea that those who choose to eat meat are immoral, without any deeper analysis or a distinction between the act of eating meat and where it might come from.

Anti-vivisection protesters often use shock tactics and graphic imagery to get their message across

Then there is the hypocrisy, real unlike that conjured against animal rights activists by the far-right, which certain vegan groups display over the killing of animals;

Hypocrisy is the mother of all credibility problems, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has it in spades. While loudly complaining about the “unethical” treatment of animals by restaurant owners, grocers, farmers, scientists, anglers, and countless other Americans, the group has its own dirty little secret.

PETA kills animals. By the thousands.

From July 1998 through December 2009, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) killed over 23,000 dogs, cats, and other “companion animals.” That’s more than five defenseless creatures every day. PETA has a walk-in freezer to store the dead bodies, and contracts with a Virginia Beach company to cremate them.

Of course, PETA represents a different strain of the animal rights movement than those who argue that the meat industry are engaged in an animal holocaust. I am not using the former’s actions as an argument against the latter’s stance – my point here is perspective. I can agree that the mass slaughter of animals, racing ahead of the consumptive demand for meat, is wrong and needs to be addressed. However, it is not the actual act of using animal flesh for food that is the problem, and indeed if the issue is needless slaughter then the unwillingness of the largest vegan campaign group in the world to take care of the animals placed with it is more deserving of condemnation alongside the multinational meat industry than those who enjoy steak.

Rights and suffering

Those who hold to the abolitionist strain of the animal rights movement would call this “welfarism.” That is, they believe that seeking such things as humane slaughter amounts to “promot[ing] longer chains for the slaves and call[ing] that incremental change.” Instead, they say that “all sentient beings should have one right: the right not to be treated as our property.”

The argument against the rights-based approach, whether seeking a broad set of legal rights or the singular right not to be owned, is that the concept of “rights” is unique to the human condition. In the animal kingdom, instinct and survival rule. Often, as Peter Kropotkin argued, this translates into mutual aid and compassion – the need for survival of the pack, tribe, or species often over-riding the self-preservation of the individual. But the inverse of this is the instinct to hunt, and to kill, in order to maintain that survival.

This is where the case for “speciesism,” as a phenomenon to be overcome, falls flat. Speciesism undoubtedly exists, as we can see when a cat kills a mouse for food, or when a father rescues his child from a burning building first rather than the family dog. But few would argue that this is morally unacceptable. Indeed, a man who brought a dog out of a fire whilst leaving his child behind would be seen as, at best, insane.

There are plenty of instances where species becomes irrelevant as a factor, such as herbivores of several species travelling together for safety against a predator, the reciprocal bond between humans and their pets, or the existence of Ligers and Prizzly Bears. However, such cooperation occurs in tandem with competition and speciesism, rather than as a counterpoint to it, and the limits of each behaviour are defined by nature and instinct. Humans are the only species which can consciously choose whether or not to be speciesist – and even here there remain limits imposed by familial bonds and evolutionary social constructs.

In place of the rights-based approach, which is clearly flawed in several ways, we have utilitarianism. Nature itself is utilitarian, and so the contradiction of “rights” – that only humans can put them into practice – disappears. The Cartesian argument that animals do not feel pain – responsible for so much barbarism in the past – is a nonsense. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued, the key fact is that animals are sentient;

[Here] we put an end to the time-honoured disputes concerning the participation of animals in natural law: for it is clear that, being destitute of intelligence and liberty, they cannot recognize that law; as they partake, however, in some measure of our nature, in consequence of the sensibility with which they are endowed, they ought to partake of natural right; so that mankind is subjected to a kind of obligation even toward the brutes. It appears, in fact, that if I am bound to do no injury to my fellow-creatures, this is less because they are rational than because they are sentient beings: and this quality, being common both to men and beasts, ought to entitle the latter at least to the privilege of not being wantonly ill-treated by the former.

Giving animal legal rights is a wasted endeavour, as they cannot even in theory exercise those rights, but the fact that they can suffer imposes on us an obligation of care not to force unnecessary suffering, pain and torment on them any more than we would upon our own species. This includes random acts of cruelty, barbaric blood sports, inhumane farming and food production practices, and the euthanasia of perfectly healthy animals. It does not, in my opinion, justify the enforcement of veganism upon humans any more than it does another omnivorous species. It also does not preclude keeping pets as companions, as long as they are treated with the care and affection one would treat any other familial dependent.

Masked members of the Animal Liberation Front with lambs. The ALF adere to a strict policy of nonviolence towards humans or animals, though their direct action against property is portrayed as "violence" and "terrorism."

Making an argument for a meat-free lifestyle, even a meat-free society, is not the same as enforcing such through coercion, and those who strongly believe in such should advocate their position if they can do so lucidly. It is through education, not war or policing, that ordinary people will change their actions.

Animal liberation, direct action, and “ecoterrorism”

But what of the institutions that harm animals? Obviously, there needs to be pressure by protesters if anything is to change, and a push towards environmentally sustainable production methods that do not harm animals. But does this justify what the authorities call “terrorism” and “animal rights extremism?”

If ecoterrorism means harming individuals, such as research scientists or factory farmers, then the answer is unequivocally no. Bringing harm against others, without the justification of self-defence, is not acceptable. The most notorious animal liberation group – the Animal Liberation Front – agree with me on this front. They stipulate that “anyone who carries out direct action according to ALF guidelines is a member of the ALF,” and these guidelines are quite explicit in the purpose of such action;

  1. To liberate animals from places of abuse, i.e. fur farms, laboratories, factory farms, etc. and place them in good homes where they may live out their natural lives free from suffering.
  2. To inflict economic damage to those who profit from the misery and exploitation of animals.
  3. To reveal the horror and atrocities committed against animals behind locked doors by performing nonviolent direct actions and liberations.
  4. To take all necessary precautions against hurting any animal, human and non-human.
  5. To analyze the ramifications of any proposed action and never apply generalizations (e.g. all ‘blank’ are evil) when specific information is available.

The fourth and fifth point are important, as they are in line with the anarchist position on nearly all matters. The ALF state explicitly that “the ALF does not, in any way, condone violence against any animal, human or non-human. Any action involving violence is by its definition not an ALF action, and any person involved is not an ALF member.” As such, “in over 20 years, and thousands of actions, nobody has ever been injured or killed in an ALF action.” Under such conditions, and noting the caveats outlined above in regard to capitalist production, freedom of choice, and utilitarianism over the idea of animal “rights,” I cannot condemn direct action “ecoterrorism.”

As to whether the cause represents a distraction from the class struggle, that is for individuals to decide when taking up activism for their own causes. Personally, I would argue that it is not something that can simply be dismissed. A perspective on harm and suffering caused to sentient beings is necessary when we are standing opposed to capitalism, which has institutionalised such harm and suffering on the back of the profit motive. The issue of how corporations such as McDonalds and KFC treat the animals they use can be tied in with the issue of how they treat their workers.

What animal liberation anarchists must not do is lose sight of such a perspectives. In doing so, they only open the way to attacking the individuals who have to work within it rather than the system itself, and they become the violent zealots that the authorities would have us believe all animal liberationists are.

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Comments
14 Responses to “Animals in anarchy”
  1. sophieziv says:

    Hey there Phil,
    Really been enjoying reading your blogs over the last few days, just discovered them. I wanted to bring up a point or two on this one. You write:

    ” If we go back further and say that hunting (for food, not for sport) is wrong, then we must condemn all of the carnivorous animals in nature. Not to mention those other species which, being omnivorous and able to survive without meat, still choose to kill for food.”

    I think this is a bit of a strawman. Most vegetarians/vegans don’t condemn carnivorous animals or other omnivorous ones, specifically because of the point which you make later, “Humans are the only species which can consciously choose whether or not to be speciesist.” Other animals don’t have the choice, and we do. This is, of course, what Tolstoy is arguing when you quote him, but you don’t really seem to deal with the question. You assert that you think Tolstoy and others are incorrectly locating the immoral action in the eating of meat and the killing of animals for meat, and that the real immorality is in the mass production of animals for meat.

    I certainly agree with you that the mass production of animals for meat is immoral, for all of the various reasons you cite. However, I am not convinced that the small scale raising and killing of sentient beings for meat isn’t immoral as well, or that it isn’t a moral choice, as Tolstoy implies. If we accept, as you seem to, that sentience is really the key criteria, and not rights, which I think I agree with, why doesn’t it apply to small scale farming of meat?

    I agree with you that making lucid arguments rather than any sort of authoritarian enforcement is the correct way to change eating behaviour. I do think, though, that Tolstoy and others are making a lucid argument that you haven’t really dealt with yet, and I would like to see you address the question more directly. You state, “it is not the actual act of using animal flesh for food that is the problem,” but why isn’t it a problem if it involves killing a sentient being unnecessarily? (In cases like the fire that you mention, or a situation where one would either have to kill an animal or a human to survive, speciesism does seem the appropriate choice; I don’t disagree with you on that. But when we can choose between killing animals and not killing animals, why is the choice to kill animals not a problem and why is it not a moral choice?)

    Look forward to hearing your response.

    – Sophie

    • Phil Dickens says:

      Hi Sophie,

      Thanks for your comments. An interesting conundrum there.

      In answer your question, my point regarding farming was concerning the fact that it is possible to farm animals without causing suffering and pain.

      This is important to point out in the first instance because it allows for those involved in such industries to support the notion of reduced animal suffering rather than blocking it because they view it as a threat to their very livelihood. The other point on that is that I can envision circumstances where eating meat would be either neccesary or the best available alternative, and thus didn’t want to condemn it outright.

      A surival situation in the wild, for instance, or people still living a hunter-gatherer existence, would require meat eating.

      There is also the fact that as long as we have domesticated animals we have a duty of care to feed them, including those that eat meat. Even if we’re not consuming the flesh ourselves, this still requires killing animals. Again, I would make the point that doing so humanely is vital, as is getting away from mass-production, but it would nonetheless remain neccesary, alongside non-meat animal farming.

      So, we have a duty of care based on the fact that they can suffer and feel pain, yet the fact that they are instinctive creatures without a higher consciousness means that they have no “rights” to exercise. It’s a fine balance, and I do believe that killing animals can be immoral (as in the PETA-euthanasia example), but also that it can be a neccesity within various situations.

      Vague and rambling as that was, I hope it answered your question.

  2. Anthony says:

    “Scientific researchers”? Hmm. That`s what you call vivisectors? I`m wondering when you will ever need, for example:
    a) a head transplant
    b) an extra head sewn on to your shoulder
    c) a heart sewn onto your neck
    d) to be able to glow in the dark
    e) electric shocks applied to your penis until you expire from the pain
    f) your food-bowl/dishes electrified
    g) to grow an ear on your back
    h) to have your skull smashed with hammers
    i) to be propelled into a concrete wall
    j) to be dropped from a great height to see if you land on your feet
    k) your disembodied head to be artificially kept alive and conscious
    … the list could go on and on.
    Vivisectors are not scientists, and vivisection is not science. Vivisection has never saved or cured or helped a single human being.
    Vivisection is a capitalist alibi for NOT pursuing science!
    Read Hans Ruesch: Slaughter of the Innocent; The Naked Empress (The Great Medical Fraud); Pietro Croce: Vivisection or Science, and see the websites: http://www.hansruesch.net; vivisection-absurd.org.uk;britishantiviv.org and CIVIS (NY, Hans Ruesch.
    For photographic evidence of several years gathered in a booklet, read Vivisection is Scientific Fraud by Hans Ruesch.
    See the film Unnecessary Fuss.

    As to the question, a house fire: your pet or a human: my answer is that species is irrelevant. I would save my dog, who is my friend, and with whom I have a relationship, over a human who is a stranger to me or whom I dislike or who otherwise means nothing to me.
    Similarly, I would make the point of NOT saving a vivisector!
    Only a revolution will open the doors of those hideous “labs”, and then the true horror will be revealed!
    There are cases, as Gandhi points out, when NOT to use violence is iniquitous!

    • Phil Dickens says:

      Anthony,

      Whilst being affronted by my choice of terminology (and, at that, a once-only use of said term), you’ve overlooked the fact that I have at no point justified vivisection. In fact, I am against it and against any form of unneccesary suffering and violence against living beings. The point, in the sentence which used the offending term, was that (contrary to media allegations) the ALF are opposed to violence against humans as to violence against animals.

      The conundrum of the house fire, on the other hand, was between a pet and a human relative. I would, for example, save my child before my dog or my two cats. In fact, I would save any child first, as I don’t believe one can justify saving any being before a child, even when that child is a complete stranger.

  3. Anthony says:

    Thank you for this.
    Language is important, though. There is too much on the side of the vivisectors and their multi-billionaire backers, namely, that they are “scientists” and “researchers”. Even many libertarian socialists believe this, and the type of Cartesian speciesism that is rampant among such socialists, anarchists, marxists, etc., permits some (i.e. the SPGB) to publish a recent article swallowing the supposed necessity of “some” vivisection and even to provide a link for their readers to the Research Defence Society website, in order to “read the facts” and confound the “lies” of antivivisectionists, who “try to obscure the issue”!!!
    Since (not yourself, I can see that) for many on the Left, ethics are completely irrelevant with regard to nonhumans, it is important, since these Leftists are purely amoral utilitarians where other animals are concerned, to pay attention to our terms and stress the fact of the 100% illegitimacy, medically and scientifically, of vivisection.

    With regard to the relative business: it would depend on the relative. For instance, any member of my family bar my mother would have to roast, if it was them or my dog! And I dare say that goes for many families under capitalism today: if the truth be told!
    But all such hypothetical situations seem to me similar to each other. How unlikely such a situation is, and how do we know what we would do? Some who think themselves brave might not save anyone come the crunch, whilst others who appear timid might be suddenly heroes when pressed. Surely one would save whomever was first in one`s path and whomever it was sequentially possible to rescue?

    • Phil Dickens says:

      I’d like to think that such a situation would never come about. Like having to choose between your child and our wife, it’s an impossibly horrible situation that I would never wish to contemplate. I think, however, it was derived to demonstrate the power of instinctual speciesism in most humans when faced with extreme situations.

  4. Anthony says:

    If speciesism is instinctual, why is it not so in me, nor in innumerable others?
    Why does the thought of lab animals suffering each second affect me so much that I am prostrate, whereas the thought of human suffering does not, even though I am against human suffering too? And I know that, right or wrong, I`m not alone in this. (And one doesn`t choose how one feels.) The house fire case is another crass speciesist way of trying to dismiss anti-speciesism. (Not in your case, but in others; I know you don`t mean it like that)… Like what we get from people: “Awww, be kind to E-Coli!” and “Awww, you wouldn`t squash a mosquito about to bite you then?” and “What about the AIDS virus then?”
    The thought of lab animals suffering every second of every day while I walk about here on a sunny afternoon and see dupes forking out of their pensions and paypackets to “medical research” charities (!) and giving me short shrift when I try to hand them a leaflet, is overwhelming, and I need long periods of rest…. Especially as I`ve seen photos of vivisectors LAUGHING as they torture!
    So why am I, and others, like that, if one is instinctually a speciesist? Because I, and others, are in that case unnatural?

    • Phil Dickens says:

      I don’t think speciesism is natural any more than racism. I think that it can appear so, but that this is a misinterpretation of kin altruism. Empathy and compassion, even for complete strangers, is as much a byproduct of evolution as strong familial bonds are. The concepts of speciesism and racism, on the other hand, were developed as justifications for cruelty an inhumanity in the pursuit of profit or some similar motive.

  5. Anthony says:

    You are quite right in my estimation. However, do you have any thoughts on why most anarchists and socialists, and all marxists, are Cartesians, in spite of 4 centuries of moral progress and of refutations of Cartesianism? Although you yourself are a flesh-eater, you are not a flesh-eater in the sense of these people: vengefully so, and full of ridicule for ethical vegetarianism. They also are eager to swallow the capitalist lie of the so-called “necessity” for vivisection, when they do not swallow other capitalist lies. Theirs is a vengefulness which eagerly supports such lies where nonhuman animals are concerned.
    Yet is was not always the case.
    It was not the case among thinkers and moralists of the early 19th century, and it was not the case even as late as 1907, when the Brown Dog Affair brought antivivisectionists, the working class and socialists together.
    So what happened?

  6. Matthew says:

    IMO the entire idea of moral status being based solely or primarily (or indeed, at all directly) on the possession or potential for language or ‘rationality’ is flawed. But what seems much problematic to me is the notion that ontological ‘membership’ to an arbitrary abstract category (in this case, species) which supposedly on average is far “stupider” than than the idealized (adult) “human subject”, grants such a being such a drastically reduced moral status relative to humans that us literally enslaving them, farming them for food, and using them for practically any purpose is A-OK if we don’t cause them so-called “unnecessary” suffering.
    And appeals to nature such as “we’re omnivores, and heck animals do it too” are so obviously wrong and irrelevant it’s almost surprising to me this is pretty much the most common “objection” to moral vegetarianism.
    Now, you bring up the specter of “coercion”. I certainly agree that education is, in general, more effective than trying forcing to people to be vegan. But implicit here is that you think it is ALWAYS wrong to ‘force’ a vegan lifestyle on people in principle. Suppose, for analogy, someone suggested we should not force predatory human cannibals to stop, or that ethnic genocide is defensible behavior. Clearly you would disagree. IMO the claim that we should NEVER forcibly stop consumers or producers of (again, IMO) comparable animal exploitation necessarily depends on the belief (explicit or otherwise) in a strict ontological and moral division between humans and other animals, on them being fundamentally different from “us”. If you really DO accept that there are no morally relevant differences between humans and other animals (as you would if were actually a utilitarian), believe in anarchism; and believe that NO innocent human, no matter their cognitive capacities, should ever be killed or enslaved for trivial pleasures, then to be consistent you should believe in abolitionism.

  7. Rob Butz says:

    Coming to this quite late, but I just wanted to say I’ve enjoyed the conversation.

    I’m vegetarian (and hoping to transition into veganism down the road) and I also identify as a class-struggle anarchist. If you had asked me a few years ago what I thought of animal rights I would’ve also had stereotypical dismissals— “oh, veganism, white bougie distraction, check” — and merely mentioning “speciesism” was enough for me to respond with an eyeroll. But a friend of mine in the IWW runs an animal shelter and is vegan, and her ‘lucidity’ has rubbed off on me. I’m also taking a Critical Animal Studies course that deals with the work of Steven Best and his critiques of speciesism within anarchism and marxism. He’s really worth a read and his work is publicly available online.

    After watching quite a few films of factory farming, vivisection labs, reading quite a bit of philosophy and finding it easy to be vegetarian, I guess you could say I’ve reached the ethical conclusion that it’s morally repulsive to use or kill animals, the same way it’s wrong to harm or exploit a human. I’m in a course right now called Critical Animal Studies at my university, and so I’m engaged in a lot of reflection lately about how “absolute” one can be about this… Obviously, I don’t feel it’s my place to include the tribal society who might still hunt animals for sustenance in some kind of universal blanket condemnation, without getting to deeply understand and know that society. So I would consider myself an abolitionist with some slippery edges (if only for the fact that moral and ethical stances are by their nature slippery).

    I just want to make a few points that relate specifically to marxism/anarchism. The first thing is that an “ethical response” to animals does not have to express itself as taking up a struggle for “rights,” for quite a few reasons. I don’t think that the idea of rights is totally bankrupt, but at the same time, rights are a statist construct that afford the state all kinds of exceptions to undo them when something “important” is going on from the point of view of capitalists. And “rights” are constructed, after all, around humans (you can argue them in a court of law, for example, where an animal can’t, except through a human proxy). I can understand why people argue for “animal rights” because in the absence of few other constructs that somewhat mitigate the absolute dominance of capital and violence over our lives, you’d have to be crazy not to make use of rights. So I’m down with that struggle for “animal rights” as long as it remains self-critical about the nature of rights.

    What do I consider essential (and attractive) about ethical veganism? I think what has to be at the basis of “rights” (or however one would defend or express solidarity with non-human animals) is that animal “subjectivity” and “personhood” and “singularity” are recognized as something other animals possess besides us. I think it’s also crucial that we become practiced, as humans, in learning to “encounter” and feel this subjectivity in other animals. For those of us who get attached to our pets, we already knows what this feels like. Obviously, other animals have striking dissimilarities to us; cats are not like people. What I mean is that, when you’re in the presence of a human, even if they’re someone you’ve met for the first time, you generally have the sense (unless you’re a sociopath perhaps) that there’s a full *person* standing there before you even if you don’t know much about them.

    I think that ethical response to animals is something crucial to cultivate, but not in the limited sense in current “speciesist” society, where it is okay to feel that way about your pet (maybe), but slaughterhouse animals can’t be felt that way about. I respond ethically and empathetically to factory farmed animals. They’re individuals and experience themselves as such, so it feels like it wrong and evil to use them for this purpose (other than through using animals instrumentally and not giving a crap, because we’re materially and psychically rewarded for doing so). I think if we don’t give up instrumentally using animals we’re back to installing structures of domination that will have reflections in human society.

    Now here’s what I think is crucial to recognize: I think classical marxist and anarchist theory (unless you add to and revise them somewhat) are responsible for making the “subjectivity” of animals, to most marxists and anarchists, “invisible.” I think a lot of this response can be traced back to Marx’s pronouncement in Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts about “species-being.” Marx really sets up “species-being” (aka special human qualities) as the only possibly reason you’d ever seek large-scale social transformation that effects humans. It also sets up humans as the only sensible recipients of your solidarity. So you have to act “as a human” “for the sake of humans” — and this isn’t recognized as a construct of capitalism by Marx. Furthermore, two other things: in that essay you’ll notice he gives great attention to the subjectivity of the lives of workers. The species-being move, however, constructs the subjectivity of animals as just generically “Animal.” That pretty much objectifies animals right there, makes them not much different than rocks or trees. However, Marx acknowledges our “animality,” so it also sets up the dichotomy in another way: to be a serious revolutionary is to act on the human part, not your animal part. (This last point, I need to investigate more, because I don’t think I fully understand the implications of the essay “Alienated Labour” for animals.)

    But yeah: if species-being If this is installed in our most radical, anti-systemic philosophy, how can we “recognize” animals as also deserving of this solidarity? So I’m guess I’m down with a lot of continental philosophers who also question that mythical figure of the “human” that Marx sets up, but at the same time, keep what’s radical about marxism and anarchism. I think all it entails is thinking of ourselves as agents of social change differently and in fuller ways.

    A final note: I know that this can sound “anti-civ” to some ears. I don’t intend this next point to be at all, but we have to remember also that mainstream classical anarchism and marxism are handed down to us as specifically “modernist” political philosophies and proposals for action. Zygmunt Bauman, among others, has a really terrific critique of modernity where (for various reasons) he says that its “ethics” get turned inwards to valorizing our clever architectures and designs, and the more we take control as humans and hammer this thing called “society” into the shape that’s in our heads, like it’s a piece of sheet metal, that’s considered “ethical.” I think anarchism and marxism suffer ethically as philosophies as a result of this modernist inheritance, and have a kind of thin ethics, in some ways, in spite of their great and moving solidarities with others in the working class. At the end of the day, at least as its classically conceived, that “solidarity” is about getting together with others to bash society into the shape you want it to be (break class power) in that modernist form. “Others” like capitalists, environment and animals are more or less material that we act on, and we give them ethical consideration only in ways that are like a “distant second” to working class priorities.

    I realize that all of the above is SUPER OVER SIMPLIFIED. Obviously there have been and are people who think and have thought through marxism, anarchism, ethics, etc. As a side note, I think that anarchism, in part, was developed as the foil to this kind of “instrumental” ethics they saw in marxism… more anarchists I’ve read seem attentive to “ethical questions,” I guess. That’s likely probably just a bias on my part because I’ve read more anarchist-identified writers than marxist-identified ones. But contemporary anarchists also seem to have this implicit idea of “prefiguring” society in one’s actions, that it’s better to conduct social transformation and revolution in a way that resembles the society you want to have, rather than get into authoritarian organizations that say “we’ll be brutal and use people instrumentally now, but only till we win the revolution.”

    OK I’ll stop now before I get flagged with CARICATURE ALERT! It’s probably already happened several times. Thanks again for the great post and discussion everyone.

  8. Joe Plant says:

    Speciesism it the result of relentless brainwash. That’s all I’ll say for now.

  9. Joe Plant says:

    It is wrong on a small scale. In Tom Regan’s contribution to a cow at my table and he said that he thinks humane slaughter is an oxymoron. I’ve thought about humane slaughter before and since seeing his contribution I’ve thought something similar. I think there’s no such thing because humane implies treating animals in a way you’d treat humans, humans wouldn’t “slaughter” other humans. Also animal welfare is nonsensical because they advocate killing animals, which is the end of welfare. Welfare Implies life and slaughter is obviously death. I agree with him totally that killing animals painlessly is unjustified. I think that people see animals as living objects therefore they think the death of animals is no different than a dead battery or a used light bulb. Someone from a programme called Dirty Sanchez said about hooligans that before they beat someone up they switch there brain off. I think animal rights is anarchism for non-humans. Unless it’s necessary to kill humans out of necessity as well as animals that is pure speciesism.

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