How about you’d once just ask just yourself in regards to other-than-human-animals

If I asked you “What makes up ‘animal life’?” and “What meaning does nonhuman animal life have, when you compare it to human life?”

Would your answer consist mostly of references to:
Biology and natural sciences? Philosophy? Religion? Or, a mixture of all, i.e. the common views held about nonhuman animal life?

How about you’d once just ask just yourself in regards to other-than-human-animals, as free from prejudice as possible, and use your own reason and observation and social experiences with nonhumans to a full extent, and view them on every possible level of friendly and social inter-species encounter.

Renuardine, vegans of color / DE

what_makes

The species-derogative ascription of instinct

ins_1a

Defining Nonhumans as ‘INSTINCTUAL’ is species-derogative and biologistic …

and even vegans innocently/unreflectedly apply this definition, because veganism only acts on the practical but not so much on the theoretical level: the definitions of nonhumans in culturally anthropocentric terms leave no space for a language that enables us to talk about Nonhumans in otherness-appreciative terms.

  1. We assume that Nonhumans can’t reason, but how do we define reasoning?
  2. We relegate nonhuman agency into a space void of what we call “moral” interaction, but what does “moral” interaction consist of, doesn’t ‘moral’ mean ‘socially conscious’?
  3. What about ‘animal language‘? Where we claim that our ‘exclusive’ language system is the decisive marker that puts us on the top of earthly existence.

 

Veganism and Anti-Speciesism

why_2a

This is a quick draft – some questions that I’d like to put, after thinking about why we still encounter a lot of speciesism even within a vegan context. What do you think: Do you feel that veganism has the tools ready for eliminating speciesism in society’s thinking and action?

Is there more anti-speciesist praxis that veganism can contain?

Yes, veganism [ethic] could cover issues such as philosophical, religious, scientific speciesist theories and practices.

How much anti-speciesist praxis does veganism contain?

The omission of all animal products and derivatives. The avoidance of some cultural practices that involve speciesism.

Is veganism automatically anti-speciesist?

Not necessarily, veganism still does tolerate an insensibility toward some overt and a variety of subtle forms of speciesism, it does however exclude “mild speciesism”, such as is pomoted by several authors famed for their animal rights advocacy.

Or even …

How speciesist is veganism?

This question depends on whether ignoring branches of societal factors of speciesism automatically makes you a speciesist yourself – even if you avoid as many animal products as possible.

You can for instance agree with a speciesist perspective while assuming you’d be vegan for ethical reasons, as long as that speciesist perspective is not yet covered by the canon of common vegan ethics. An example would be the question of using animal body parts in art, or philosophical and religious theories that empower the human oppression and exploitation of nonhumans, as precursors to their physical exploitation and humiliation.

How speciesist can veganism be?

A good example of this dilemma is the veganic practice, which so far does exclude nonhuman animals from living in mixed communities within their veganic projects. We only know of one veganic project, namely that of the Animal Place sanctuary, which promotes a shared habitat for humans and former farm animals.

Another problem is political inactivity and an ethical disinterest in questioning consumerism, and in the destruction of habitat driven by our economic systems. Veganism can effectively only operate on an interrelated basis in the end of the day; speciesism and other forms of societal discrimination are sociological problems, veganism very much operates on the level of alternative consumption and living practices – all happens within the same political spaces of society and environment/s.

Alex from moralcompassion.org: The Ethics of Eating Lives

Alex from the new site http://www.moralcompassion.wordpress.com/ shared this informative and important info touching on the foundations of ethical veganism (in its pure sense) with us: Meat consumption from a moral point of view: Is eating lives ethical? An essay that examines the problems with eating meat.

This text as a PDF

THE ETHICS OF EATING LIVES

A slaughterhouse worker “processing” cattle for human meat consumption.[1]

Human society has a long history of invented distinctions which have artificially been drawn between race, gender, class, sexual orientation and other perceived boundaries. Over the years, these perceptions and hierarchical structures have proven to be unjust, exploitative, and most of all, arbitrary. Granted, all of these segregations have been built within human species, yet they all show the same characteristics. Whether the system is called racism, separation of the classes, separation of the sexes or homophobia, they all state that the concerned target is less worthy because of its membership of another group than our own and that therefore its oppression is justified. Foreign races, women, lower classes, religious people, the LGBT people[2] and many more have all been oppressed solely because of their otherness in comparison to the oppressors. At some point, all of them have been seen as non-feeling, mere objects and there were almost no restrictions as how to treat or make use of them. It is astonishing how long it took humanity to acknowledge that once oppressed groups are sentient – able to feel pain and pleasure – in the exact same way as we are. Though no man for example can ever fully prove that women have the ability to feel pain and happiness just like they do, we have fortunately come to a point in history where we no longer seek to prove this; it has become common sense. Similarly, although white people can never scientifically show evidence that black people have the same emotions like they do, human society dedicatedly believes that they do have the same emotional life along with other races. Even though the experience of pain and other feelings are subjective, we just know that black people, women or homosexuals are every bit as sentient as we are, regardless of skin colour, gender or the difference in sexuality.

Slavery has been enabled by racism, the belief system that ones own race is superior to others and that those others can therefore be mistreated and systematically abused. Slaveholders and their defenders argued that slavery had existed throughout history and that it was the natural state of mankind. Our ancestors in many different civilizations, even long before its heyday, had practiced slavery, a fact that the defenders often used to support their actions. The argument that slaves were better treated than elsewhere and that they were taken care of, even after they had reached the end of their working lives, was often heard in the southern parts of the U.S., for example. Slave breeding was a common act which aimed at improving the skills and quality of slaves. Forced pregnancies lead to slave children, which meant an increase in supply and could thus replace old, useless or worn out slaves inexpensively. Women who tended to give birth to more than one child per pregnancy and consequently produced more than others were favored. Through breeding, the slaveholders could avoid buying new slaves or fill labor shortages. Religious arguments were also widespread, so too the belief that Africans must be animals on two feet. This assumption is based on the biblical belief that all humans on our earth stem from the eight white persons who were on Noah’s ark, yet black people are here with us today. Consequently, the deduction seemed to be that “the black has no soul to be saved”[3]. The author Millard Erickson comments: “Here we have the ultimate justification for […] discrimination and even slavery: blacks are not humans; consequently, they do not have the rights which humans have.”[4]

The debate of women’s suffrage involved many supporters who went to great lengths to justify their beliefs. A particularly peculiar justification was that once women were given the right to vote and became involved in politics, they would stop marrying, stop having children and that as a result, the human race would die out. Another argument often used was that women and men simply have separate spheres; men were naturally seen as superior to women.

In Ancient Greece, education was withheld from women and they were married to adult men as soon as they were sexually mature, as though they were mere property. Women did not have the right to buy, own or sell land and could not leave the house without a supervising person.[5]

Not too long ago and in many parts of the world even today, LGBT people are being oppressed, simply because their sexuality differs from heterosexual’s. Not only do they face psychological dejection when born into a society that condemns their naturally felt sexuality, but often physical assault too, which can in some cases lead to murder. At work they might have to bear the constant threat of victimization and discrimination. All too often, lesbian mothers are systematically denied the custody of their children and in schools, young people who open up about their sexual orientations, are bullied and socially excluded.

All the above-mentioned justifications surely seem ludicrous and silly to us nowadays, but they were taken very seriously by a wide section of society.

However, most countries have abolished slavery and many have made enormous progress concerning the women’s rights-issue and the LGBT’s-rights issue. Black people that were once subject to oppression are now accepted as citizens with the same rights as everybody else. Women that were once refused the right to vote, are now politically equal to men and are in some cases heads of state. With time, more and more states enable marriage-equality and thus create a society where LGBT people are accepted and can live free of prejudice.

All of these simplified examples show that we, as a species, seem to have finally understood that sentience, respect and ultimately compassion do not depend on external characteristics and that they do not need to be proven in order to exist. And what’s more important: we live by the realizations of the consequences of these awakenings, we have put them into practice.

Why is it then, that we still do not properly put those moral realizations into practice for all beings concerned? Why should the arguments, based on the facts of sentience and emotion be less valid when someone has fur instead of skin? Or if someone has feathers instead of hair? How is the line between nonhuman animals and human animals any less arbitrary than the one we drew between blacks and whites? “To mark this boundary [the boundary of concern for the interests of others] by some other characteristic like intelligence or rationality would be to mark it in an arbitrary manner. Why not choose some other characteristic, like skin color?”[6]

“Virtually every atrocity in the history of human kind was enabled by a populace that turned away from a reality that seemed too painful to face, while virtually every revolution for peace and justice has been made possible by a group of people who chose to bear witness and demanded that other bear witness as well. The goal of all justice movements is to activate collective witnessing so that social practices reflect social values.”[7]

Animals, especially the ones we abuse for consumption, are all sentient beings. There are many scientific proofs that shatter the perception that animals are mere meat-machines, soulless, numb objects, as they are often portrayed by meat-proponents. The Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness states that “[…] neural circuits supporting behavioral / electrophysiological states of attentiveness, sleep and decision making appear to have arisen in evolution as early as the invertebrate radiation, being evident in insects and cephalopod mollusks (e.g., octopus)”[8] and finally concludes that “the absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”[9]

The pretext ‘Human kind has always eaten meat’ very much follows the same logic that allegedly justified racism, as shown above. This idea, however, cannot count as a justification for the continuation of meat consumption, because – needless to say – actions that have always been done, are therefore not automatically rendered just. We have a long history of rape and murder, yet we oppose to those actions today. Again following the paths of racists and slaveholders, we might hear that some animals are better treated than others, that they have been given a little more space so that they actually could turn around or have had the possibility to go to a space to move about in. Regardless of the number of illusory, conscience-reassuring but false arguments we might come across, they can never change the facts. Meat always stems from an animal that once was alive and has then been killed for the consumers eating preferences only. When it comes to meat, the right of these sentient beings is being harmed as soon as we inflict pain on them solely for our purpose. When meat is no longer a necessity, it has become a choice. Anybody who eats meat is actively placing his appetite above the interest of the animals and above their very lives.

Just like slaveholders did, we breed animals, we shape their bodies to facilitate our exploitation of them. We impregnate them and steal their offspring, which we then eat. Psychologically, we have to degrade them to senseless machines in order to still function as humans next to this limitless horror. We reduce them to less than they are, the word “animal” itself is perceived as an insult. We do not have the decency to correctly name what we eat, we have to talk around it by using terms such as “pork” or “beef”. Slaughterhouse workers tend even more towards these euphemisms, as they refer to chickens as “broilers”, to pigs as “rashers” and to cows as “udders”.

Just as the membership of a race, gender, class or sexual orientation is of no importance when it comes to basic rights, neither does the membership of a particular species matter. The term speciesism has been established following the terms racism or sexism. Speciesism describes the discrimination based on species, just like racism describes the discrimination based on race. In other words, it is the belief that another species can be oppressed, abused and exploited solely because of their species. In virtually all cases, animal species are the victims of human speciesists, never vice versa. Generally, speciesists attach more value to humans than to animals not because of different qualities or capabilities but because of biased prejudices.

Speciesists often cynically ask whether – according to animal rights activist’s views – animals should be seen as equals to human beings. But animals do not need all the same rights that we humans do. The right to vote would be useless to them, because they do not have the desire to vote. The concept of preference utilitarianism, mostly coined by Peter Singer, suggests that animals deserve the same rights as humans where they have the same preferences or the same interests. Virtually all sentient beings have the strong desire to live, they avoid pain and do not want to be hurt. Furthermore, they feel emotions such as happiness, sadness, they grieve and are aware of their environment and their companion animals.[10] This results, or rather should result, in them having the same rights for exactly these aspects: the right not to be hurt, the right to live freely and the right not to be held as property. In his own words, Singer argues that “the extension of the basic principle of equality from one group to another does not imply that we must treat both groups in exactly the same way, or grant exactly the same rights to both groups. Whether we should do so will depend on the nature of the members of the two groups. The basic principle of equality does not require equal or identicaltreatment, it requires equal consideration.”[11]

If we take this system into consideration it is quickly shown that animal’s needs are not met at all. In fact, they are by far the most oppressed and mistreated group of all time on our planet. The Jewish writer Isaac Bashewis Singer is quite famous for his statement that for the animals “all people are Nazis” and thus for them, life “is an eternal Treblinka” [12] . All animals used for food are oppressed, mistreated and ultimately killed. We use their lives, we take their lives and we eat their lives only because we believe ourselves to be superior. But the superiority is an illusion when it comes to basic needs and emotions. They can and do suffer when harm is being inflicted on them.

__________________________________________________________

The discussion of all these issues on a philosophical level can be summed up by the word ethics. Animal ethics focus on the relationship between human animals and nonhuman animals and how one interacts with the other. However, there are some major problems when it comes to animal ethics.

Too often, animal ethics only discuss aspects of a practice without actually questioning essential basic conditions. They push fundamental questions aside and accept the legitimacy of purpose as appropriate standard. Unethical practices are often correctly recognized as such, but ethics fail to bring out the practice’s abolition. Instead, they seek to improve or rather adjust the system in which they place animals in a way that requires minimal improvement in real welfare and gives the impression of meeting consumer’s demands for ethically produced meat. This is where meaningless labels like “cruelty-free” come from. Animal welfare is a real barrier to profit, from a business point of view. It is cheaper to produce animals in masses and let some die before slaughter age than to care for them adequately.

Violent ideologies depend upon promoting fiction as fact and discouraging or even prohibiting any critical thinking or action that threatens to dismantle this system. A good example might be the defamation trial in Amarillo, Texas in 1996. A group of beef producers sued Oprah Winfrey for over $10 million for slandering beef in one of her shows. The program discussed mad cow disease and featured warnings which showed that American cattle are likely to find ground-up members of their own species in their feed – those who had died from BSE. Clearly, the disease could thus be found in the meat Americans eat, which prompted Winfrey to declare “It has stopped me cold from eating another burger! I’m stopped!”[13]

Her mistake was not that she had brought into light the more than dubious procedures of cattle business. Anyone can easily access those details if desired. What the group of beef producers did not like was her influence, the sheer number of people following her broadcasts. In other words, she simply reached too many people.

It is in this context that the so called “Ag-gag” laws have been put in place in the U.S., which forbid undercover filming or photography of agricultural activities. While supporters might claim they serve to protect agricultural industries from negative images, they are mainly used to keep activists from exposing the abusive and horrific truths that take place in today’s agricultural businesses. They make it almost impossible to prove mistreatment of animals used in agriculture, since they prohibit and outlaw the pieces of evidence themselves.

These precautions strongly suggest that there is something worth hiding. In fact, it is well hidden. It is striking, how easily one can spend a lifetime of meat consumption without once entering a place where it is processed.

“Because mass witnessing is the single greatest threat to carnism [the belief system that conditions us to eat some animals and not others], the entire system is organized around preventing this process. Indeed, the sole purpose of carnistic defenses is to block witnessing.”[14]

Chances are that we have been fed meat products during our childhood, based on our parent’s habits. The decision has often been made and the meat-based diet habit has been accepted even before a child is on its way. One could ask: “Is it really ever a decision? Do carnists even consider raising their children without meat and then decide that they prefer feeding them corpses?” In fact, it is a pattern that continues until it is thoroughly questioned. Most of us are born into a system that we become accustomed to without knowing it. It is the reason why we see the consumption of the few animal-species our ancestors have consumed as normal, the way it has always been and consequently we never ask ourselves, why we do so. Obviously, this does not justify our actions in any way. In contrast, it should push us to act according to our own values and should lead us away from passiveness towards activeness. In that sense, rethinking the grounds for our actions is a necessary liberation. Arriving at this level of consciousness, we have the possibility to make new choices and to adjust or alter old habits that we falsely think of as beliefs.

“Most people who eat meat have no idea that they’re behaving in accordance with the tenets of a system that has defined many of their values, preferences, and behaviours. […] And by carving out the path of least resistance, norms obscure alternative paths and make it seem as if there is no other way to be; […] meat eating is considered a given, not a choice.”[15]

I have recently been involved in a discussion about animal rights and the goal of activists to shift towards a world where animals are respected and not killed for any human purpose. We were talking about nations and the many different opinions that exist within them. My interlocutor explained to me that a state needs to be seen as a whole. Though many groups of people with many different views on life that they want to realize all coexist in the nation’s philosophy, the country is not capable to take them all into account. There may be a group whose goal it is to abolish all freeways and who demands a speed limit of 20 miles per hour in the whole country. There may be another group whose idea it is to ask the state for subsidies in order to build more parks and thus make cities greener. And there may be animal rights activists, who demand the closure of slaughterhouses, the ending of livestock breeding and finally the abolition of meat-consumption. Now, my friend asks me, what would happen to a state if it took all demands into consideration and helped with realizing every single one of them? If every idea of every group could ultimately sell itself and be put into action, the state would be torn apart quite quickly.

In that sense, my interlocutor wanted to demonstrate that certain ideas can neither be absorbed nor realized, even if they may be justified and beneficial. I logically agreed, because I recognized the problem that would occur if every inhabitant of a country could freely change the law according to his values. The big difference between animal rights activist’s demands and all the demands of other opinions however is, that there is a third party involved. This fact makes animal rights activist’s demands by far more important in comparison to other demands that one might have. Animal oppression is the cause for our demands and animal’s inability to ask for them themselves is the reason why it is us human beings who must fight for them. Animal right’s advocates do not have the opinion that animal abuse must end, but they are the ones that have acknowledged this truth.

This example might help understand why animal right’s demands cannot be shrugged off as if it were a phase that some people go through. Consequentially follows the promotion of a meat-free diet, as meat consumption represents the main contribution to the injustices that animals face.

Animal ethics are not only theoretical thought processes, but applied practices. The things we learn from them must have consequences in our daily lives. Meat consumption is not possible without taking lives and whether we have the right to do so does not solely depend on our perceptions. All sentient beings involved have rights, most importantly the basic right to live. Humans thus have rights too, but their rights end where those of the others begin.

Meat consumption strongly violates those rights as it always takes lives.

We have seen the numerous similarities of previous historical oppressions on the one hand and today’s topical oppression of animals on the other hand. It is of extreme importance to understand that animals are just as sentient as human beings and thus as every previously repressed group, an ethical fact which indisputably prohibits their slaughter for consumption. Meat products are no longer a necessity for the great majority of our planet’s population and thus have become a choice. We have this choice every time we act, especially as consumers and costumers. Our actions are powerful, given the fact that demand determines availability. Since we have that opportunity, it is our duty to choose the most ethical, rightful and compassionate way there is, which clearly is not to eat meat.

moralcompassion, 2015.

www.moralcompassion.wordpress.com

[1] Quartz, http://qz.com/178787/forget-hot-pockets-how-did-the-us-government-miss-8-7-million-pounds-of-diseased-and-unsound-beef-in-the-first-place/, last access on 20.05.2015.

[2] Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender.

[3] Millard J. Erickson – Christian Theology, Baker Book House Company, Seventh Printing, 1990, page 543.

[4] Same as footnote no° three.

[5] Unfortunately, women are still systematically oppressed in many parts of the world. The example above, however, should illustrate a situation that has since changed dramatically.

[6] Peter Singer – Animal Liberation, An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 1975, p. 9.

[7] Melanie Joy – Why we love dogs, eat pigs and wear cows, Conari Press, 2010, p. 139.

[8] The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, written by Philip Low, published on 7.7.2012, available onhttp://fcmconference.org/img/CambridgeDeclarationOnConsciousness.pdf.

[9] Same as footnote no°eight.

[10] Again, see The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, written by Philip Low, published on 7.7.2012.

[11] Peter Singer – Animal Liberation, An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 1975, p. 2.

[12] http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/14444.Isaac_Bashevis_Singer, last access on 20.05.2015.

[13] http://www.mcspotlight.org/media/press/oprah_15apr96.html, last access on 20.05.2015.

[14] Melanie Joy – Why we love dogs, eat pigs and wear cows, Conari Press, 2010, p. 139.

[15] Melanie Joy – Why we love dogs, eat pigs and wear cows, Conari Press, 2010, p. 106.

We asked Can Başkent about the interfaces of Atheism and Animal Rights

8 Questions – that we asked Can Başkent about the interfaces of Atheism and Animal Rights

We have asked Can Başkent about the visible and the invisible forms of violence against nonhuman animals and the environment carried out in religious contexts, and if an ethical veganism should entail a rejection of a top-down hierarchical view on the evolution and existence.

This text as a PDF

Can Başkent was born in Istanbul, Turkey. He studied math and philosophy as an undergraduate, received his masters degree in logic in Amsterdamand his doctorate in computer science in New York. He continued his academic path at the Sorbonne and the École Normale Supérieure in philosophy and worked at the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation (INRIA) as a researcher. As an activist Can has published a wide range of texts on anarchism, atheism, veganism and animal rights, he’s been engaged with the “Food not Bombs” campaign and launched a campaign to support the vegan prisoner of consciousness Osman Evcan. In 2011 Can founded the “Propaganda Press” (http://propagandayayinlari.net/), in 2013 he co-authored together with the vegan journalist Zülâl Kalkandelen (http://veganlogic.net/) the first enchiridion in Turkish about the political and economic aspects of ethical veganism: “Veganizm: Ahlakı, Siyaseti ve Mücadelesi” (Veganism: its Ethics, Politics and Struggle: http://propagandayayinlari.net/vegan.html). Can’s website is at  http://canbaskent.net/.

Tell me, did you think it was easy to be an atheist in this country, with the main problem being that offending the religious sentiments of others has been branded as a “crime”?
Ramazan’da Ateizm / Ramadan atheism, http://www.canbaskent.net/politika/86.html

Today religious discrimination is recognized as a violation of human rights. While it has been forgotten that religion is itself is a violation of human rights.
Bir Devrimcilik Olarak Ateizm / Reformist atheism, http://www.canbaskent.net/politika/85.html

Can: I’ve always thought that people panic for no reason inTurkey. As an atheist, I had no real difficulty or a problem except from receiving some ridiculous threat emails. The thing inTurkey is that such law is applied only to those people who are very popular. Unless you are on TV every now and then, be on newspapers all the time, prosecution does not care if a regular random citizen violates the law or not. So, it is safer than it looks, and we should not hide behind the fear of law.

1. Witnessing an act of killing

In your text ‘The Festival of the Sacrificed’ (Kurban’in Bayrami, http://www.canbaskent.net/vegan/19.html) you question why an argument of cognitive dissonance in a human being, who does not want to become aware of his/her own cruelty, (because he/she does have to become aware of it), could not be fully applied in the case of public animal sacrifices, so that the notion: ‘if slaughterhouses had glass walls, people would go vegetarian’, seems to be wrong at the annual Feast of Sacrifices for example. It seems there is a social acceptance for an outlived and visible brutality to nonhumans when such an event represents a tradition within the context of a religious praxis.

In the secular West the visibility of the kind of speciesism that is going along with the “killing for ‘meat’” (specifically) is a modified one: killing itself tends to stay mostly or partly invisible, being delegated to be carried out by others. Yet in a mass event of a ritual killing in the name of a religion, the same callousness: Animal = Meat and Animal = Sacrifice is directly visible for anybody, if he/she wants to see it or not. And if someone is willing to partake in the act, he/she can do so and kill a nonhuman on the street. These events have a strong public visibility and count as tied to specifically religiously coloured traditions.

Some people argue that it would be more honest if everybody would have to witness the killing of nonhumans. Is the killing of nonhumans, when it is sanctioned if not encouraged by a religion still the more basic act of speciesism, as being something deeply engrained in our society, while the killing of nonhuman animals for generating “meat” carried out mostly by the butchers or in a slaughterhouse represents a modernism of speciesism, which needs to be deciphered in different terms?

Can: First of all, I never thought that the reason why most people are not vegan is epistemological. It is not because people do not know or are not aware that what they eat/kill is sentient animals. You know, real psychopaths kill their victims physically facing them. Eating those animals, which is beyond hunting for instance, is a similar act. It is more violent, more “manly”.

Clearly, the religion simply reflects this dictum. As there is no god, as the religions were not really sent by a so-called-god, the “holy” texts simply reflect the dominant paradigm.

I have never thought that prioritizing different reflections and practices of speciesism can be a useful idea. However, as they are different reflections, they must be fought against in different terms.

Here is another piece of thought. Understanding the religious practices, the fear behind them, the neediness that established them are important steps in really comprehending as to why people really engage in such horrible acts. You cannot dissolve such crimes without crashing the ideal of “heaven”, fear from unpredictable, etc. So, there is a “humane” and “social” reason as to why it is rational why people sacrifice (young girls, animals, etc.) under these assumptions. So, as long as you cannot smash these assumptions, the rest cannot follow.

2. Coming to terms with entrenched positions?

Ethical vegetarianism can look back on a long history and tradition, dating back before the big monotheistic religions (Islam, Christianity and Judaism). Yet, it’s these religions that take a leading role in our discourse today about the ethics of life and moral behaviour.

The ethical critique against the general society (in the secular sense) phrased by vegan Animal Rights proponents is normally met with different grades of either dismissal and rejection (speciesism) or a relative open-mindedness and willingness to reconsider the questions about the dramatically problematic constitution of society in regards to nonhumans and the natural environment.

With religious belief-systems it seem we only can expect an opening for fundamentally new conceptions to a lesser degree, since their dogmas and principles have already been fixed in their goals in the historical past of the religion – and this would also include the evaluation of live and the determination of hierarchies of beings/existence: fauna, flora and the earth overall stand below God and below the human and will have to be either protected or tyrannized. Also, religious practices and traditions (apart from the dogma) bind the believer to the belief-system, and often imply a view on animals and nature as objects that must be dominated, and that “Man” can handle with benevolence but also with ignorance, without having to fear any further social reproach.

Religions don’t list the destructivity towards our fellow beings and the environment as a top sin, but claim an entitlement of their positions as moral instances and ethical signposts in every question of life. Can this claim of the big world religions, to be able to hand out ethical answers about the entire purpose and meaning of life, be authoritative and/or helpful at all, in times in which society increasingly develops a sensitivity towards the questions of animal- and environmental ethics?

And, to what extent do we have to allow religiously driven positions to access and shape our own ethical debate? Equally: to what extent can we, as Animal Right proponents, simply dismiss them as mainly anthropocentric positions?

Can: Pragmatically, who can deny the dominance of religious vegetarianism inIndia? As you can see, sometimes religions provide some pragmatical benefit, but it is, in the case of Hinduism, entirely coincidental. However, the real problem with people avoiding killing animals for religious reasons, is simply because it is a limited point of view. Yet, most people, religious or not, have limited point of views in life. What I mean is if we politically ignore or refuse the religion as a sociological fact, we risk losing the majority in our political struggle. A revolutionary political struggle can have one of its foot on reality while keeping the other on the future.

Religion is a social phenomenon enabling ruling people. It has an economical side as well as a “moral” side. Thus, it is not difficult to see that the moral code helps the clergy to gain economical (sexual, governmental, etc.) benefits. Thus, we cannot even call it an honest morality.

Politically, there must be a balance, I have to grant. If most people are somewhat believers, and if those people are your target in the animal liberation movements, you have to formulate anti-religious perspectives delicately and directly. This is more or less an art.

After all, in the animal liberation movement, people like you are not my targets, as you are already there. What I am trying to change is the people who eat sausages every day and go to church every week. If I annoy them, it means that more animals will die due to my arrogance and wrong strategy. This is a cost I am not willing to take.

3. Is the apex of existence where “Man” is?

Animal Rights and the protection of natural spaces and habitats for all living beings make up other political, social and moral goals than the goals that the main big religions pursuit, which hold men, being made in the “image of God”, at center-stage. Contrary to this, our non-anthropocentric and anti-speciesist resistance movements phrase new questions about ‘hierarchies-of-being’. Is the questioning of the ‘hierarchies-of-being’ – namely that man can’t dominate the world acting as a “crown of the creation” – a necessary paradigm shift in our thinking, or would it be enough for humans to just pledge to take more responsibility for their co-world and fellow beings, even if that would still just take place with that sense of anthropocentric hubris?

Can: Perhaps now it is a good time to underline that an anthropocentric approach is not an evil in itself. After all veganism is also anthropocentric. People / anthro does not have to be an evil. Thus, it is neither philosophically nor practically useful for us to think or act as non-humans. We have to be humans to be vegan, in other words (forcing your pets to be vegan does not count, for obvious reasons). That said, I believe in a variety in such movements: some people can be more people oriented, some can be more animal/ecology oriented, which is fine. This is [also] relevant to a broader and perhaps more heterodox understanding of god. This is a delicate issue.

If people come up with a harmless notion of god, what would I think? In my opinion, harm is not the only evil associated with god, and removing the harm element does not immediately make it alright. But, in practice, it can help humans and non-human animals. As I said before, we have to be alert when it risks losing animals for political correctness.

I hope you can see the paradox here: animal rights activists sometimes (indirectly) sacrifice animals too, for political correctness. This is an important point to consider.

4. Borders / Barriers?

Religions speak of the indirect duties that we have towards nonhumans and the environment as the compassion and reverence that we ought to have with Gods other creation, and this would count as a human virtue that is favored by God. In the animal liberation movement we form equations that describe nonhumans and the environment in their independent and autonomous dignity, we seek to describe them in their own value, and in this way we postulate different foundations that serve their protection and their defence.

If we confront the animal advocacy- and the environmental movements (as non-anthropocentric ethical frameworks) specifically with the religious belief-systems, as two different social epistemologies that are defining ethics, does the departure from anthropocentrism (the demand of the Animal Rights and parts of the environmental movement) contain a potential of conflict at the moment in which religion (as an anthropocentric framework) takes up a larger space within a society?

In other words: Does religious dogma and authoritarian aspiration (as aspects of religious belief-systems), create restrictions when it comes to the ethical debates that consider anthropocentrism as a barrier in ethical thinking?

Can: No. First of all, the religious philosophy is a very rich and broad field. There are so many great minds who spent their lives writing amazing treatises trying morality with religion. Averroes and Abelard are the first mind coming to my mind. Religion is more complex than what most atheists think, it had many many more great minds than what most atheists think as well. Of course, not every believer is like Abelard (one wishes that), but religious morality can create a crazy and very smart philosophy, and it did.

Of course, in practice, 99.9% of believers consider religious dogma as a framework of restrictions and taboos. In such a world, rational reasoning becomes impossible.

5. A duty to protest?

Can we presuppose a fundamental moral right to create our own spaces for perspectives in freethinking, in which nonhuman animals and the environment are included into the ethical centre, even if this puts us into an antagonist position in particular to strongly religious people and religious communities?

And going a bit further: Can such a freedom in thinking about the human-animal and the human-environmental-relation, exclude us from a “societal contractualism”?

Can: No. Any presupposition in morality can lead to an authoritarianism. If you look at all fascist and dogmatic moralities, you can always find such an essentialist point: they may assume people are evil, or in contrast, they assume people are good in spirit. Clearly, this makes the philosophy easier to construct and digest, but, it simply adds yet another metaphysical assumption to the moral philosophy and risks essentialism. Human and non-human contractualism is a very dangerous field in my opinion, which takes veganism beyond its realistic boundaries and reconstructs it, well, religiously. Namely, I advocate an empiric, dynamic and interactive morality that does not need a foundational assumption or right, that includes the right to live.

6. If there is no golden mean?

If both: religion and animal liberation could be connected in specific points, would we not have to worry that Animal Rights/Liberation and environmental protection again would only have to be contingent/conditional ethical concerns, and that through making compromises or through the combination of animal rights ethics and anthropocentric religion, we would again miss out on the desired fundamental shift in thinking?

In other words: Is it a legitimate fear that in a society, that is ethically and morally strongly influenced by religion, no really new and just perspectives and politics “beyond Homo sapiens” can be evolved?

And connected to this: Does a strongly biologistically assigned field (that is: all the subjects that evolve around nonhuman animals and their natural habitat/the environment) even require a fundamental shift in its ethical, social and political variables?

Can: Well, evolution is a continuous phenomenon. I cannot imagine how the animal liberation movement will be in a hundred years. Even in the past century, we have read an insane amount of good and original ideas supplemented with exciting revolutionary practices. I don’t see any reason why we would consume all future possibilities.

7. A utopia?

Could an anthropocentric religion be stretched and modified so far in its interpretation, that for example, the human alone wouldn’t have a privilege of being an “image of God”, but that instead the entire world would represent a value that needs to be equally merited with the highest respect and reverence?  Would religion even be able to maintain its own meaning, in their ability to create a form of exclusive or/and exceptional identity, if it didn’t have these hierarchical views on worldly existence?

Can: Of course. Many different interpretation of each major religion (including Islam and Buddhism) has this taste. Heteredox Islam provides quite interesting and cool examples on this for instance where every organism is seen as a reflection of god’s good.

8. Physical instincts vs. abstract mind?

With nonhuman animals we define sentience as the decisive and main criterion (in the secular and scientific context) to qualify the meaning and value of their lives in the world. These qualifiers are solely based on the biological constitution of a being and on our understanding of the biological traits.

In the great Abrahamic religions the meaning of live depends on God’s decrees and on the concept of “sin”. The notions of right and wrong, value and non-value, are measured against the parameter “God”.

So, on the secular, scientific plane we have the biological sentience of animality on the one hand, and on the other hand we have an abstract human framework of mind and belief in the religious view of “Man”. Aren’t such separations between sentience and mind perhaps the very point, that keeps the hierarchies and distinctions, that we deal with in speciesism, arbitrarily alive? Isn’t “feeling” also “mind”? The concepts of “Nature” and “God” thus create a dichotomy between a devalued bodily physicality and a God that is the upvalued mind of non-earthen-being. Is the reductionary and narrow concept of “instinct”, i.e. that the animal body should exclusively be ascribed sentience, but not vital mind and spirit, not the necessary conclusion of a religious past, which had already pinned down nonhuman animals as the despised nature-physique of a mindless and non-intelligent earthenly existence?

Can: These are very difficult questions to answer in one paragraph. There are examples for each cases ranging from Spinoza to Averroes, from Abelard to Siddharta. However, the Cartesian approach to animals has been refuted countless times, thus the philosophy adopted a broader and more scientifically oriented approach.

Thank you so much for helping us out with these questions Can!

Can: Thank you for these difficult questions :)

All links have been last accessed on: Oct 12th 2014.

Note: The German translation of this interview will later be published in TIERAUTONOMIE.

Moving beyond the horizon of humancentrism. What is an animal and what is a human?

Moving beyond the horizon of humancentrism:

What is an animal and what is a human?

Palang LY

This text as a PDF

The basic question about the categorical division into (nonhuman) “animals” and “humans” (homo sapiens), brings up, probably before the question of its moral implications, the question about what exactly hides beneath both these big generalized identities. Why has the view about that what-animals-are and that what-humans-are finally lead to us only viewing animals under biological terms today? Is it enough to attribute only an instinctual behaviour to nonhuman animals? Is it the ‘fault’ of animals themselves that we can’t relate to them in any further way than how we are relating to them currently? …

If we don’t accept the view that nonhuman animals are those who have to stand below humans within a frame given by a biological, divine or philosophical hierarchy-of-being, then such a claim doesn’t have to be solely morally motivated, but it can mean that we question the way in which both identities („animal“ and „human“) are understood. We can ask if the interpretation of the characteristics that are considered to make up the marking dividers within a human-animal hierarchy, are in reality a negation of the autonomous value of otherness in nonhuman animals. We know that the single criterion that serves as our standard is the human parameter, i.e. the human model counts as the ideal, as the standard, for creating norms. So what happens if we put this standard of measurement into doubt?

Conclusions deduced in the fields of biology and psychology – with those being the main sectors that deal with the foundational explicability of animal identity – nail the perspectives on relevant characteristics and on how animal characteristics (in either, the case of humans or nonhuman animals) have to express themselves and in which exact correlation they have to become measurable, in order to reach a certain relevance or meaningfulness from a human point of perspective.

So the problem lies in the question why humans won’t accept nonhuman animal autonomy when it can’t be made fathomable through the perception of a value-defined comparison. Why are own animal criterions and why is their independent meaningfulness (for the sake of themselves and for their situation within their natural and social inter- and co-specific contexts) rendered irrelevant when they cross our perspectivic glance, when these animal criteria could also lay outside of our hierarchical-framework?

To be willing to accept an autonomous meaningfulness of nonhuman animals, means to question a.) the deindividualization that our views and explanations about nonhuman animals purport and b.) the views that allows us to set nonhuman animals in comparison to us, as the-human-group, and that seek to sort out how the meaning of nonhuman animals might relate to anything that matters to us. The deindividualized view of nonhuman animals almost automatically goes along with a subtraction of their value in terms of meaningfulness and so takes us to the moral question.

If we can view nonhuman animals, apart from their localization in the realm of biology, for example also in a sociological context, then we could ask the question: „How do people act towards nonhumans animals?“ Can we explain the behaviour of humans towards nonhuman animals solely by referring to the common notion that one can’t really behave in any particular way towards nonhuman animals because they are instinctively set and supposedly communicatively restricted compared to us, and that thus our behaviour towards them can’t contain an own quality of a social dynamic? Can we legitimate our behaviour by referring to the narrow dimensions that we interpret into nonhuman animal behaviour? We probably can’t ask any of these questions a sociologist. Most sociologists would most likely prefer to deal with the Animal Rights movement instead of dealing with the interaction between humans and nonhuman animals overall.

Biology has already determined what the identity of nonhuman animals is, and even the Animal Rights movement has satisfied itself to a large extent with placing the moral question (which comes down to “how to we act towards each other” is a very basic sense) somewhere out of reach, by accepting the explanation of the identity of animals as something strictly biological.

A geometrical image ( – an observation alone is not necessarily bound to a moral conclusion)

Imagine two abstract groups. Group A consists of triangles and everything that surrounds them becomes mathematically relevant to their own triangular form. Say this happens as all which either resembles or doesn’t resemble a triangle gets a certain colour. Group B are circles. Now group A says that group B aren’t triangles (because A are triangles) and that they also weren’t squares or rectangles. Would any reason follow from this that they could exclude the circles as equally valid geometrical figures? The triangles are different compared with the circles, but both are geometrical figures and insofar of an equal value. They can be correlated due to each of their geometrical qualities, even when the circles do not match the characteristics of the triangles … .

As far as the question is concerned whether animals can be regarded in any way as moral agents, one should ask, does morality exist outside the human concept of morality? When we discuss morality we presume that the substance matter which the term comprises came into life through our perceptions, and because we define what „moral“ means, we can claim a described phenomenon as solely ours. What does morality consist of? Does morality solely exist because of a theoretical framework? Probably not. Morality on one side has something to do with basic social interaction, through that morality gains value. On the other side are the superordinate agreements about morality, which are declared and decided upon perhaps by an elite or a defining group/process, but through that the agreements about morality only contain a forced validity (the negative sense of the pure “mores” in contrast to the wider frame of ethics), which is disconnected to its own basis, that is: the meaning of social interaction between beings. In other words, a construct about morality excludes that what lays outside of its hierarchy (other forms of interaction that contain „social values“ are being categorically excluded).

But there does exists that what we perceive and experience in our daily encounters as „morally okay“ between nonhuman animals or humans in the whole environmental context.. The superordinate agreements in regards to morality are not of more validity, they are in essence a consequence that follows after an action takes place in reality. When we discard the human decorum that surrounds the term morality, we can say that every action has a moral implication. That would be morality taken as a social value.

Animals obviously have very different philosophies-of-living, seen in a neutral comparison to our philosophies of life, and I clearly believe one can use the term philosophy here to describe the yet unnamed phenomenon in nonhumans animals of how they structure and perceive their own lives.

I ask myself whether the human problem with nonhuman animals isn’t rather to be found in the differences in their „philosophies of life“, rather than in the reasons of biological differences or in an assumed moral impotence on the animals behalf.. The problem always seems to be the difference and the coinciding similarities. In many aspects we equal nonhumans animals, but most notably in the aspect of our dominance claim, we see nonhuman animals as „the losers“, the bottom of the evolutionary or divinely ordained hierarchical order, on which we can postulate our power.

That nonhuman animals are the losers amongst the biological animals is even an attitude that you can subtly lurking through in the AR movement. Only a few theorists and influential theories reckon a consistently unique, self-sufficient quality in both the closeness and distance amongst different animals (including Homo sapiens). There is no theory of Animal Autonomy so far. In the forefront of every argumentation stands: How do they measure against us? How do we compare? As if humans and nonhuman animals had to compete on an single, equal scale within our frameworks. Another related argumentation goes: how much of their „instinct“ could possibly still entitle them to be granted rights (that would protect them from humans (whereby it is questionable whether those who have prejudices against you, can really grant you your own rights)?

Human society, it seems, will always consider the „us“ and the „we“ as objectively more important, insofar as the „we“, the how „we“ are, is the criterion, and nonhumans animals are measured against this parameter. The crucial point is to accept others and to accept the validity of otherness, for expanding our narrow view of the world and understanding moral wrongs.

3 Questions. We asked Kim Socha about her upcoming book ‘Animal Liberation and Atheism: Dismantling the Procrustean Bed’

Kim Socha, a professor for English and an Animal Liberation activist, publishes her new book entitled: ‘Animal Liberation and Atheism: Dismantling the Procrustean Bed’ this October (http://freethoughthouse.com/animal-liberation-and-atheism.html). So we asked Kim three questions pertaining to the subject of ‘secularity as part of an Animal Rights approach’ that seemed most pressing for us, and we are looking forward to reading her book this Fall!!!

Q: Religions typically base that what you could call their “positive” relationship to nonhuman animals, on mercy (and taking care for the nonhuman animal’s “welfare”), and not on rights. We find attitudes similar enough in some secular philosophies, namely that a human only has indirect duties towards nonhuman animals, so that the animal basically depends on the “mercy” of a human/humans. How can an atheist Animal Liberation approach make sure that nonhuman animals are acknowledged in their own rights, and that their rights are proper, and not based on our mercy?

Kim Socha: “There is a common presumption that once one adopts a secular view of life (atheist, agnostic, humanist), he or she has also given up systems of thinking imbued in religious discourse. I don’t believe this is necessarily true. In my upcoming book Animal Liberation and Atheism: Dismantling the Procrustean Bed (Freethought House, October 7, 2014), I use a passage from philosopher Michel Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto to explain what I mean: “Secular thought is not de-Christianized thought, but immanent Christian thought. Couched in rational language, it nevertheless preserves the quintessence of the Judeo-Christian ethic.” In other words, just because one has given up the concept of Christ does not mean that person cannot and does not still think like a Christian in hierarchical, anthropocentric, and speciesist ways. (I do address other religious traditions in the book, but for the sake of brevity, I will focus on Western Christianity in this interview.) Thus, I don’t find it surprising that secular philosophers have also adopted oppressive views of other species, for those writing from that perspective have been raised in cultures saturated with religious thought, even if brought up in atheist environments. Atheist animal liberationists, therefore, must challenge others in their freethought communities to see the ways they have adopted religious views of lived reality, especially in terms of nonhuman animals. For example, while one cannot depict all atheists in broad strokes, the atheists I know support gay marriage because sanctions against it are based in religious ideologies; however, I find a lack of awareness amongst freethinkers about the ways religion has determined their views of other species. But as atheism takes away the idea that humans are special in some sort of divine way (i.e. they have souls), I think it opens a door for leveling hierarchy and destroying the myth of human supremacy. Humans are not, it turns out, as special as we’ve been led to believe—special meaning we have been chosen by a divine creator to escape mortality and live in paradise, assuming we take part in the correct rituals and worship the proper creators. We are animals, and my hope is that by acknowledging ourselves as such, we will consider the lives of other animals with more compassion and sensitivity. They too want to enjoy life, avoid death, and flourish until the inevitable end all beings must face.”

Q: In the history of the natural sciences, nature (i.e. the world) and its nonhuman animal inhabitants have been classified as lower than ‘the human’, and thus as being existent for human use. We see such attitudes expressed in the work of scientists starting from a Galen (http://www.dyingtolearn.org/animalUseHistory.html in antiquity) to a Descartes, and even later in the Linnaean (taxonomical) classification model which put the human as the “sapiens”, the “knowing”, on top of all animals. How much have these outlooks on nonhuman animals been driven or influenced by religious dogma and mythological traditions?

Kim Socha: “I believe there is a false dichotomy at play in Western culture, or at least in theUnited States, which poses science and religion at opposite ends of the knowledge spectrum. In contrast, science and religion often work harmoniously, even when they appear at odds, for they privilege human conceptions of “knowing.” To wit, only humans can “know” god, and humans are obliged to use their “superior” intellect to advance the cause of humanity even if that means using other species in research. (And, of course, we cannot forget that humans deemed less intelligent have historically been used in research and experimentation as well.) As such, the natural sciences have seen human intelligence as either the only type of intelligence of any worth or as the highest level of intelligence—at least high enough to justify the use of other species in the sciences. However, if one were to take the time to understand how other species understand the world (i.e. honey bees), they would be hard-pressed to deny nonhuman intelligence. And to be honest, I could care less if pigs are intelligent, even though they are. What matters to me is that they are suffering physically and psychologically by the billions simply because humans like the taste of their flesh. The worst example of devaluing nonhuman intelligence is Rene Descartes’ depicting nonhumans as “mere automata.”

No matter the religious perspective of history’s natural scientists, I would argue that “religious dogma and mythological traditions” have absolutely influenced the scientific community. Indeed, that is one area where science and religion meld: on the idea that Homo sapiens are superior to other species. This is true in almost all dominant religions, from the Abrahamic traditions to Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Jainism. Perhaps one could argue it is the nature of animals, including humans, to value their species over others, thus making it “natural” to use nonhumans to advance human development. Yes, some species prey upon others for survival, but that is not the whole story with Homo sapiens. We have distorted the “circle of life” philosophy beyond recognition by basing our economies and nearly every cultural institution on the exploitation of other animal species. In that process, we have destroyed natural habitats, caused changes in climate cycles, and ensured the extinction of other species. In a sense, I see humans as a “natural disaster,” but I don’t mean to be completely pessimistic here, for there are many who fight against the dominant discourse and challenge others to interrogate their cultural dispensations so we can acknowledge, and perhaps undo, the damage we have caused as a species.”

Q: Can atheism become the inevitable driving force in the Animal Liberation movement (and have an educating and empowering effect!) in a world that is nevertheless battling with its religious inheritances?

Kim Socha: “I have faith, in the most secular sense of the word, that there is promise in an atheist animal liberation movement. Indeed, there is much evidence to support the idea that most animal advocates are freethinkers (something I address in my book as well), even though many do not inherently connect their atheism/agnosticism/humanism to their perspectives on nonhumans. I think that connection needs to made more frequently and deliberately. Indeed, that is the premise of my book, as is the need for secularists to recognize the truth in Onfray’s observation that “[s]ecular thought is not de-Christianized thought.” I am not completely insensitive to those whose religious traditions are important to them, both culturally and spiritually, nor am I ignorant of the roles religions have played in various social justice movements. However, to get to my book’s subtitle—“Dismantling the Procrustean Bed”—I find that using religion to justify one’s opposition to oppression is not necessary. Our guttural reactions to a human suffering from starvation or a fox urgently attempting escape from a leghold trap is enough to let us know we should act for that being in need. Why do we need an almighty overseer to underpin our responses to cruelty and distress? Why do we need the promise of eternal salvation as reason to take action against subjugating cultural practices? These questions are especially apt when considering that so often the “almighty overseers” with which we are familiar value human life over that of other species. Life can still have meaning, and possibly more meaning if you give up the idea of immortality, without belief in the supernatural. There is still a distrust (and again, this may be more prevalent in the United States) of the godless amongst the general population, even though study after study has proven that areligious individuals are not any more immoral, unethical, or hedonistic than the religious; in fact, sociological studies have proven more radical activism and sensitivity toward the oppressed amongst freethinkers. I think this is because we believe in only one life, and we don’t feel the need to do good deeds to assure our spot in a celestial realm. We don’t want to suffer, and our acceptance of ourselves as animals attempting to survive in this world we are born into opens the door to seeing other species in the same way. As such, we can see our connections to other animals and make our brief time on Earth meaningful by making the world better for others, as opposed to climbing our way to heaven for personal gain.”

Q: Thank you for this interview Kim!

Fragment on the importance of a council system approach in AR

Untapped Animal Rights expertise and Animal Rights as an immediate concern to human individuals

A fragment by Palang L. Arani-May. Download as a PDF.

We want and we need to empower people in terms of thinking and speaking about their positive relations to the ‘nonhuman animal world’, and our broad goal is to include a rights language for nonhumans into our democratic political systems and into legislation.

I think we are moving too far in two different opposing extremes as what regards the message that we are bringing out to our newfound allies in AR, and that is also the message that will form a basis for Animal Rights politics in the future.

We express specific alert and we give answers:

  1. On one hand we hand out leaflets and make demos confronting people about issues in the way of showing our protest and raising awareness to those who are no yet much familiar with AR issues and concerns.
  2. On the other hand we lead (or some lead) a relatively detached expert-based approach to thinking about and discussing Animal Rights related issues.

Where does that leave the thinking individual who is starting to make AR a top subject for themselves?

We could say that’s their problem, they can either join a group to demo, donate, sign important petitions or become an expert and hold a talk / write a paper, or do both, or … ?

Inasmuch able to reflect on the rights of your nonhuman “next”, as about your own rights …

What I would hope to see is that we encourage others to understand that they are already able enough to phrase their own positive theses and opinions about AR. We all have a lifetime experience that we can draw upon, we can think, we can speak. We can transport our knowledge and thoughts about AR related issues to other people as a form of activism.

If we want to break the speciesist divides, we must overcome separating immediate human rights concerns from an immediate relation and understanding that anybody is inasmuch able to have about the rights of his – nonhuman – next.

To defend rights we have to postulate them. But we can only postulate and claim due rights (to live, to be free, to not be labelled as property, etc.), if we learn to stand for Animal Rights just like we stand for our own Human Rights.

People do have reasonable and common sense answers and solution for problems such as: whose life is “more important” in a specific situation where you have to decide about life and death (i.e. both lives are as important), or is something morally wrong or right, or how can we change difficult societal constellations, or how can we find new approaches to deep-rooted problems, etc, etc, etc.

I believe we need to create rather a councilsystem that enables and empowers, to increase the potentiality in society to thus create a healthy revolution with the goal of embedding Animal Rights and extending and readjusting our “own” ethics.

Image: Oil on canvas painting by Farangis Yegane.

A Question Answered by a Question … Can Animals Reason?

A question answered by a question

Can Animals Reason?

A fragment by Palang. This fragment as a PDF.

The question is not whether nonhuman animals have or can reason, but the question is: what is reason? To make the case clear by drawing an analogy: There has been a sexist denial of women “reasoning” in patriarchy, what we face in regards to nonhuman animals is now a biologistical barrier in the concept of “reasoning”.

Animals have been relegated into “the wilderness” (thus representing a condition of what in ancient Greece was named the zoe, a mere state of being, yet not of political agency) and humans made up a potential group of shared-interest-holders over nature as conquerable, exploitable, something human civilization was able to contrast its “virtues” against. An entire concept of politics could be built on a species contractualism (the state of the bios, the human-only life of qualified- and thus political agency, in the sense of setting itself against “wild nature”).

Yet back to reasoning: In different times and cultures we had different concepts of what exactly “reasoning” would entail. And such concepts would mirror themselves in the notions humans had about their societal, philosophical or religious ideals. Most notably we have the contrasting differences of “reasoning” in the histories of theFar East, theMiddle Eastand European and Western thinking.

Yet that shared divide between humans versus nonhuman animals must been an early momentum in “human history” overall.

Hannah Arendt frames a thought about such a total divide: “Solidarity: all terms of solidarity still purport the first and most basic solidarity between all humanity (i.e. of “the human”) against nature. Such a solidarity of one against everything else is yet never allowed amongst humans themselves. But there is no such thing as a necessity of solidarity. The idea of us all “sitting in one boat” is an example of this wrong idea of an absolute solidarity.

The concept of a group, with its relatedness of the part-and-whole category, stems from the solidarity of the human against nature.” [1]

So my main question would be:

Could it be, that the concept of reasoning had thus been divided in an unnamed, ignored or negated form of reasoning that we have in the nonhuman- and nature-complex? And that on the other side we have the kind of reasoning of the conquering, dominant human?

[1]  “Solidarität: Alle Solidaritätsbegriffe tragen noch deutliche Spuren der ersten und ursprünglichsten Solidarität aller Menschen (also des Menschen) gegen die Natur. Solche Solidarität von Einem gegen alles Andere ist aber unter Menschen nie erlaubt. Es gibt keine unbedingte Solidarität. Das “wir sitzen alle in einem Boot” ist ein Beispiel der falschen, verabsolutierenden Solidarität.
Der Gruppenbegriff mitsamt seiner Bezogenheit auf die Teil-Ganzes-Kategorie stammt aus der Solidarität des Menschen gegen die Natur.” (S. 127), ARENDT, HANNAH, Denktagebuch 1959 – 1973, Erster Band, Hrsg: Ursula Ludz und Ingeborg Nordmann, Piper Verlag, München, 2002.

Image: An etching by Farangis.

Anastasia Yarbrough: White Supremacy and Patriarchy Hurt Animals

White Supremacy and Patriarchy Hurt Animals

Anastasia Yarbrough

This text as a PDF (Link opens in a new window)

This talk is about the stories we tell about animal oppression. We as animal rights activists have an opportunity to tell deeper stories that don’t rely so much on tokenizing the struggles of people of color and women. Nor do they have to rely on tokenizing animals as romantic symbols of human identity. Instead, we can talk about animals’ struggles and lives, to the best of our knowledge, and reveal how they’re interconnected with different human groups’ struggles by telling the stories of the forces (and the identity groups behind the forces) that bind them all.

I. Who am I?

My name is Anastasia Yarbrough. I am facilitator consultant, musician, and community educator. I have been doing animal advocacy work for over 15 years, and most recently, in the last 5 years, I have been vocally and logistically active in the animal liberation movement. I used to serve on the board of Institute for Critical Animal Studies, and I currently am on the advisory board for Food Empowerment Project.
Acknowledgments
Breeze Harper for hosting this online conference. Adam Weitzenfeld and pattrice jones for being wonderful, inspiring scholar-activists who have also been attentive listeners with these issues I’ve been grappling with. And to all the activists out there who work for total liberation, even amidst the tremendous challenges.

II. Why talk about white supremacy and patriarchy specifically?

• These pervasive, intertwined forces serve as a major backbone to the Animal Rights Movement. The AR movement is concentrated in Eurocentric countries, and within these countries, the majority of the members are white, and the bulk of the leadership comprise of white men. As a result, the ideological basis for human-animal relations tends to be very Eurocentric and it’s not uncommon to see animal advocacy and vegan campaigns that promote a European ideal (i.e. campaigns against dog-eating in China). The eurocentrism makes it difficult for people who aren’t white to feel like they have a place in the movement, especially when they’re animal ethics don’t necessarily reflect the “mainstream.” And the influence of patriarchy becomes very obvious when the majority of the movement comprises of female activists but over 50% of the leadership in major, active animal advocacy nonprofits is male. When major events in the movement like the national conference don’t allow these issues to truly be addressed and are treated as trivial, not central to the strengthening of the movement, we have a problem.

• Great majority of AR organizations and leaders compare the modern AR movement to and use examples from anti-racist, anti-sexist movements of US history without an understanding of how racism and sexism operate in America, but rather just assuming they know because they’re activists for a similarly oppressed group (the diverse array of beings called “animals”).

o At the AR National Conference 2013 in Washington DC, Norm Phelps told participants in the opening plenary that AR activists are the Frederick Douglas and Harriet Tubman of our time. Nathan Runkle, at the same plenary, also said that the AR movement is the next evolutionary progression in the advancement for social justice; animal rights is the new major social justice movement.

• This heavy reliance on lessons from anti-racist and anti-sexist human rights struggles of the past is not a problem in and of itself. They are part of our heritage, and we can’t help but continue in their shadows. And the leaders from those movements are, after all, our ancestors and influential pioneers for social justice and environmental movements worldwide. But when leaders in the AR movement use lazy analyses to use them as leverage to further legitimize animal rights as a movement, it does not serve our movement and it misses the point. There’s a reason why the struggles of people of color, women, and animals look similar enough for comparison. That’s because they’re connected by systemic forces that fuel and maintain their oppression. Another speaker could do this analysis from any angle in the matrix. Today, I’m focusing on white supremacy and patriarchy.

III. How do white supremacy and patriarchy directly impact animals?

• Same forces, different groups

o White supremacy and patriarchy (what I will from now on refer to as “white patriarchy”) have been analyzed by critical race theorists and feminist theorists respectively for several decades in the United States. People of color have had to study whiteness and women have had to study patriarchy in order to survive. Whiteness and patriarchy are collectively understood to be social identity constructs reinforced structurally over time. That means, their initial creation were intentional and the people assumed the identities by choice. In the Anarchist Federation’s Women Caucus most recent anarchist analysis of privilege theory, they emphasized that identity groups like men and white people can’t actually give up their privilege no matter how much individuals from those groups want to. They’re born into those identities, raised in those identity groups, and are immersed in a system they cannot opt out of or choose to stop benefiting from. “You are not responsible for the system that gives you your privilege, only for how you respond to it.” Bell Hooks has often associated white patriarchy with acts of terrorism (i.e. slavery, rape, torture, and murder) against black people and black women, specifically. These acts of terrorism—slavery, rape, torture, and murder—are what we’re trying to abolish in the AR movement. It’s no surprise that they arise from the same system. How do we manage to live in society with all of this happening and be okay with it? Well, for one thing, white patriarchy doesn’t make itself visible. Like any social identity construct that maintains a social-economic system on the basis of exploiting more vulnerable individuals and communities, marginalizing those who interfere with the “mainstream” status quo, committing systematic violence for the benefit of privileged groups, and dominating the minds and bodies and space and reproduction of other groups, white patriarchy is an institution that manages to sustain all of this invisibly. We have to make a conscientious effort to make it visible. In the AR movement, when we talk about humans oppressing animals, we have opportunities to make visible the white supremacy and patriarchy behind the exploitation, the domination, the reproductive control, the marginalization, and the systematic killing. We can name the tokenizing of animals as mascots for their own exploitation and murder. We can call out shelter animal and feral animal killings as blaming the victim. We can talk about how wild animals are marginalized by habitat loss due to agriculture and urban development and “invasive/injurious” species become a convenient target for blame even though they’re not the primary cause. We can make visible the reproductive control, forced breeding, genetic manipulation, and rape that make institutions like laboratory research on animals, animal agriculture, pet-keeping, zoos and aquaria, hunting ranches, aquaculture, and animal entertainment industries go round. Tokenizing, blaming the victim, marginalization, and reproductive control are key tenets of white patriarchy. Under white supremacy in America, the mainstream tends to identify with animals and people of color once they’re dead or reduced into obscurity. This gives the illusion that we’re actually respecting these groups by romanticizing them and reshaping who they are in our imaginations for our own identities, now that our ancestors and contemporaries have removed them as a threat. But a major tenet of white patriarchy is the issue of citizenship. The only legitimate voices are those who are “true citizens” of the group. And in the AR movement, that is a huge obstacle in getting animals’ interests taken seriously.

• White patriarchy driving animal advocacy campaigns

o PETA campaigns are infamous for their racist and sexist campaigns. For that reason, I won’t go into too much detail with them here as another speaker in this conference will be offering an analysis of PETA. PETA, though, is an obvious example of white patriarchy driving its goals and strategies. Not just in the organization’s publicity stunts but also in their policies and practices involving animals directly. PETA has a track-record of killing more rescued dogs and cats than they place into homes. Nathan Winograd has been challenging PETA for years over their animal sheltering policies and practices. PETA sympathizers have retorted that what’s not mentioned in Winograd’s arguments are the animals who are adopted out and the dangers of overcrowding in shelters, that it’s better for animals to die a “merciful” death than to live a life in a shelter or worse, homeless. However, what this says to me is that for PETA the best kind of ethical relationship we can hope for with animals under PETA policy are with those who are dead because there isn’t enough capacity to hold them all under complete institutional control and it’s more efficient to kill them and congratulate ourselves on doing the right thing because we know what’s best. This is white patriarchy.

o Undercover investigations have been the primary tactic for exposing some of the worst offenses against animals. What often is not emphasized in undercover investigations of factory farm abuses or campaigns against dog-fighting or cock-fighting or exposés of illegal wildlife trafficking are the racialized components of these atrocities. The vast majority of the people who are doing the dirty work that gets plastered all over the news and bears the brunt of scorn and outrage from activists are people of color.

 Migrant workers from countries like Mexico and Guatemala comprise 1/5th of the agricultural workforce industry. They typically don’t have a high school diploma, so their options for work are slim, and they usually have very little say in the operations of these farms. They are just hands—often bloody hands—working 10-12 hour shifts. US imperialism and racism push them into jobs like this where options for livelihood are very few. They are more likely to be punished for animal cruelty than the operators of the farm who make the real profit. And animal advocacy organizations know this when they press charges; they’re just trying to take whatever “victory” they can get. In the end, this doesn’t help present or future animals because it allows corporations and their shareholders to avoid responsibility, it allows business owners to scapegoat impoverished and illiterate migrant workers who have very little legal protection, and it sends a misleading message to the public that the “bad guys” have been dealt with when in actuality they’ll just be replaced by another immigrant of similar standing who eventually loses his mind with the violence he must perform daily for several hours.

 Dogfighting is as old as civilization itself. And cockfighting started to appear in Europe around the 1400s. Both of these blood sports were primarily the activity of wealthy landowners, merchants, and aristocrats—in other words, people with money. Nowadays, these blood sports are associated with poor people of color. So campaigns against these vicious customs tend to look like white people chastising people of color, now that middle/upper-class white people are culturally “removed” from such barbarism.

 Illegal wildlife trafficking is an issue pervasive not just in animal advocacy but in environmental conservation as well. Campaigns and reports emphasize the illegal portion of wildlife trafficking so that they can invoke CITES and have some legal, policy weight, but that hasn’t made a big difference so far in the number of animals, alive and dead, being trafficked out of their native lands and waters. The regions where the bulk of this activity happens are southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. News media, documentaries, and campaigns tend to focus heavily on the “poaching” side of wildlife trafficking, which is exclusively poor people of color these regions. Though the business of wildlife trafficking will be part of a big crime syndicate, the people who are splattered in imagery and news articles are those with fewer resources and less leverage in the overall syndicate—people who are easy to replace, easy to scapegoat. It’s harder to make the wealthy consumers of wildlife products visible, it’s harder to challenge the rich, privately owned hunting ranches that profit in the business of “exotic” animal trafficking, it’s harder to target American and European private investors of militias and crime syndicates in these regions—so nobody really does. Because it’s easier to target poor people of color committing the actual violence and the actual crimes, they are the poster criminals, and white supremacy and colonialism can continue to go unchecked, unnoticed in its maintenance of this system.

o Racism, classism, and colonialism drive people of color to overly depend on the exploitation of animals, and because they don’t have the protection of wealth and whiteness, these people bear the brunt of the consequences, while the heavy enablers can continue business as usual.

IV. Racism & Speciesism: Are they interchangeable?

• Race and species are arbitrary distinctions that arose around the same time in European thought. They are both driven by phenotypic differences but carry the weight and legitimacy as though they are biologically rooted, and biological is often associated with “fixed.” In biology, the biological species definition is considered the ultimate species definition. If groups are shown to have individuals producing reproductively viable offspring, then they are truly a species. More often than not, this primary definition is too difficult to test in the field or in the lab, so other definitions based on morphological and phylogenetic differences between groups are considered an acceptable substitution. But what the morphological and phylogenetic species definitions do is make the labeling of species just as arbitrary as race theory. For both, it basically comes down to: if you look a little different, do things a little differently, vary somewhat genetically, and even live in a different region from the basis of comparison, that’s good enough to label your group a distinct species (and historically, race and species have been used interchangeably) until some other “expert” comes along and says otherwise.

• In my experience, what we as AR activists often label as speciesism tends to be racism, sexism, and ableism against animals. Animal agriculture, aquaculture, laboratory research on animals, pet-keeping, and even commercial and recreational hunting rely on the oppression of specific species for the benefit of certain human groups. But the arguments used to keep them in oppression are not so much speciesist as they are racist, sexist, and/or ableist. While dogs are targeted as a species of commercial breeding, it’s the races of dogs (otherwise called “breeds”) that are used as justification and incentive to continue selective breeding and reproductive control of dogs. And it’s the races that rig a dog slated for execution in certain counties just by being born to that race. Ecofeminist animal rights activists have pointed out for years that sexism is a major force driving the oppression of animals in agricultural industries, particularly dairy and egg where they would not exist without exploiting female labor. And even animal rights activists play into the traps of ableism, emphasizing the social-cognitive abilities of animals in a desperate attempt to get people to care about animals. Abilities of animal individuals and species may perhaps be the ground for which we justify how we treat animals. Once we activists are able to recognize them when they appear, it becomes easier to see what we’re really working with.

V. Conclusion

• Making white supremacy and patriarchy visible is very important to making animal oppression visible. They are often behind the atrocities against animals we’re struggling against.

• White supremacy and patriarchy affect the goals of the movement and the strategies employed. We can evaluate how our goals and strategies are carried along and By practicing an intention to make these forces visible, recognize what’s actually happening acknowledge our role in them all, we can take responsibility for the direction of .

• As other activists incorporate analyses of ablism, heterosexism, cissexism, and queerness, we have an opportunity for animal rights to become a genuine frontier intersectional movement. Are we up for the challenge?

More examples of white patriarchy:

• “I just installed a nose plate…so that he wouldn’t be nursing on his mom. He doesn’t need to anymore…He’ll get used to it. We’ve done it to other calves. And there’s little spikes on that plate, and that’s to irritate the cows udder if he tries to nurse and she’ll kick him away…Anyway, another fun thing to do on the farm.”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOMYfrFKHyE&feature=youtu.be