New blog: orcas and animals

Orcas and animals is a new blog which explores anarchism, animal rights and veganism. Produced by Kevin Watkinson who has written for Species and Class and covering similar ground to what’s on offer here, it is most welcome. The latest post, “Orphaned lambs and political opportunism”, shows how politicians use animals as commodities and opportunies to further their careers:

The three leaders of the main political parties all treat animals as commodities, in a similar way to most of their supporters, and in this way they try to appear as ‘normal’ members of society.

Other posts include a look at the commercialisation of veganism, how society decides whether or not animal suffering is necessary and an especially interesting article called “Species and class” which examines how society and even the animal rights movement determines some animals as being of more significance than others.

Relevant, thoughtful and well worth reading.

https://network23.org/orcasandanimals/

Orphaned lambs and political opportunism.

cambotlambRecently David Cameron had his picture taken feeding orphaned lambs at Dean Lane farm. It was a photo opportunity too good to miss to show the ‘caring and compassionate’ side of the Prime Minister. Unfortunately, it also appeared as a cynical ploy to many people, where the corporate media fell over itself to print the pictures, because everyone loves to see ‘baby lambs’.

However, if loving cute fluffy baby lambs involves sending them to the slaughterhouse so we can dine on their flesh, then it is no form of love that I choose to recognise. We no more need to dine on lambs than we need to consume cats, dogs, or any other animal.

David Cameron exploited the extrinsic value of the lamb, because within our society, animals are viewed as commodities that only have value insofar as they can be used in some form or another. Their intrinsic value, that is, their desire to live, is ignored in favour of the dominant human-centred discourse of exploitation.

However, it is not just David Cameron that has used animals to ‘prove’ a point. Nick Clegg decided to show Ed Milliband how to eat a bacon sandwich with absolutely no consideration to the pig that suffered so he could fill his stomach. It was treated as little more than a joke. The three leaders of the main political parties all treat animals as commodities, in a similar way to most of their supporters, and in this way they try to appear as ‘normal’ members of society.

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Ed Milliband looking ‘normal’. Unfortunately much has been made of Ed Milliband’s appearance rather than the ‘substance’ of Labour policies.

The view of animal exploitation as normality, perpetuated by politicians and reinforced in the corporate media, has negative consequences for the health of people, the integrity of the environment and of course non-human animals themselves.

Normalising animal exploitation is a boon for industries that feel threatened by the philosophy of animal liberation. Whether it involve meat, dairy, eggs, vivisection, circuses, pets or zoos the system of animal exploitation is rarely undermined but instead reinforced, where alternative narratives around animal liberation are marginalised in favour of reassuring society about their habits and traditions, which when viewed critically are far from the ‘reality’ we were brought up to believe.

The photos of David Cameron and the lamb present a very limited ‘reality’ of animal life.  It could be argued that we would have found greater integrity in the slaughterhouse than on the petting farm, but what would the papers have made of that?

 

Species and Class

Leg_of_a_chained_elephantThe recent story about Ringling Bros. dropping their elephant act (post dated to 2018) had many mainstream animal rights organisations rejoicing at the ‘victory’. However, away from the celebrations, there seemed to be few questions asked about what was going to happen to the elephants next? When will other animal acts in the circus end? Or contemplation about how this fits into the broader context of animal liberation.

When we first look at the animal circus, we can identify a traditional reliance on class to promote the business model. We have been raised to feel awe inspired by the ‘great’ animals: tigers, lions, elephants, orca, and bears, have all subsequently appeared as a main attraction. These ‘powerful’ animals are held up as having the capacity to dominate others (usually through predation), whilst also possessing an enhanced ability to shape their environment. In the circus they appear to fall furthest when tamed (domesecrated) to perform the cheap tricks that also exemplify human superiority. This view of animals reflects a hierarchical perspective that tends to take precedence over examples of co-operation and organisation that can be considered equally remarkable.

The media stories about the elephants focussed on reaction from mainstream animal groups. Ingrid Newkirk talked about the years Peta had spent protesting against elephant use, but mainly overlooked the other animals imprisoned and forced to participate in demeaning acts. Peta have since claimed that Ringling bros. were forced to retire the elephants because of chronic illness, and are consequently manipulating the situation to demonstrate how responsive they are to public concern.

HSUS forgot their recent embarrassment regarding circus animals, and celebrated that people no longer believed bullhooks were for elephants. Conveniently overlooking the fact they never had to be for elephants at all.

The broader classification of animals into different groups has meant that many activists chase one issue after another. Essentially fighting fires when animal suffering is raised in the media, and as a consequence, rarely addressing the structural issue of animal exploitation and the Animal Industrial Complex. This approach objectifies progress in the language of short term ‘victories’, whilst often providing a vehicle for self-promotion that fails to reflect the philosophy of animal liberation. This is not to say there can’t be achievements along the way, where animals will suffer less because of pressure placed on exploiters. However, our progress is hindered by focussing on incremental changes made by industry, rather than clearly presenting the ideas and practices consistent with animal liberation.

In broader terms, it seems to make little sense to discriminate between elephants and camels, or between seals and orcas. So why do we protest in such a way that infers a priority to free different species? We can protest about certain forms of animal exploitation, but it only makes sense if we concurrently draw attention to the context of animal liberation. It is only from the anthropocentric perspective that animals are divided into groups to be consumed in a variety of ways. So it is this very anthropocentrism that needs to be challenged. Instead of celebrating these incremental changes sanctioned by animal exploiters, we need to draw attention to their assumed ‘right’ to use animals, otherwise the issue of animal exploitation is not addressed on a fundamental level. Their ability to separate exploited animals is essentially a divide and rule tactic that we ought to be more aware of, and one that we should clearly oppose rather than re-enforce tacitly or otherwise.

It is true that media generally offers little help when attempting to get this message across, especially where circuses and other animal exploiters contribute to the advertising revenue stream. However, a great deal of the way we communicate can take place at a grassroots level where we can decide for ourselves the message we want to put across. This allows us to be clear that change is reliant on understanding how the system of animal exploitation functions. So, in order to address that situation we need to make evident an inclusive approach to animal liberation, emphasising veganism as a core tenet that provides people with a framework for action.

Further reading:

From animals to anarchism’ by Kevin Watkinson and Donal O’Driscoll (2014).

‘Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden History of Animal Resistance’ by Jason Hribal (2011).

‘Animal oppression and Human Violence: Domesecration, Capitalism and Global Conflict’ by David Nibert (2013).

‘Protest Inc. The Corporatization of Activism’ by Peter Dauvergne and Genevieve Lebaron (2014).

When is unnecessary suffering necessary?

waterbA recent article in The Guardian approached this issue with a story on former Australian cricketer Glenn McGrath. The feature had McGrath apologising for photos taken in 2008 at a shooting safari in South Africa. In the end, it wasn’t quite clear whether he was apologising for his actions, or whether he was apologising for the wide circulation of the photos. Nevertheless, the negative reaction to this incident led to a narrative that rejected unnecessary suffering toward animals.

In the published story McGrath mentioned the legality of the hunt, inferring a comparison to other forms of animal exploitation that exist within a legal framework. However, this only stands to emphasise that morality and the law are not necessarily the same thing. Though the legality of this incident was not in question, the media interest remained, partly because of the spectacle of ‘outrage’ around animal treatment, and the presence of a celebrity to carry the story.

As vegans we would naturally argue against unnecessary suffering, but would not consider shooting animals on a safari any more necessary than chasing down a fox with a pack of hounds, visiting incarcerated animals in a zoo, or consuming various parts of an animal exploited for food. From a vegan perspective animal exploitation is something which is morally unjustifiable; to be avoided as far as is possible and practicable. Therefore we don’t see a need to separate one form of use from another.

So why does the mainstream press compartmentalise certain forms of suffering as unnecessary? The straight forward answer is that news media reflects society, and vice versa. Across the spectrum of news media animal stories are covered, including those stories that involve exceptional suffering to animals in slaughterhouses, such as those recently revealed by the undercover footage of Animal Aid and Hillside Animal Sanctuary. However, the story itself did not examine the inherent suffering that takes place every day in the same establishments. Arguably another part of the reason is that newspapers sell advertising to companies that exploit animals, and it is reasonable to consider they would not appreciate their core business model being undermined by critical perspectives appearing in the press.

This approach can also be supported by a misrepresentation of veganism in the media. A quick google search online for the term ‘vegan’ reveals an overwhelming link to diet. This places veganism into a category where people miss an opportunity to be challenged by the broader vegan philosophy. Instead, veganism tends to be regarded as a diet or fad that other people participate in, which avoids the inherent challenge to our fundamental beliefs and subsequent behaviour toward animals.

The mainstream narrative in the McGrath story suggests it is natural to feel upset by instances of ‘unnecessary’ suffering. This would reflect an overwhelming abhorrence toward dog fighting or badger baiting, whilst there is also great disdain shown toward the practice of eating cats and dogs (considered carnism by Melanie Joy). But by pointing the finger at other nations and practices, we deliberately overlook the inconvenient truth of our own complicity in the system of unnecessary suffering. So it rests on vegans and those representing a broader social justice movement to point out this inconsistency; bridging the gap between the outrage that people feel when viewing unnecessary suffering toward animals, and the traditions perpetuating a system that falsely compartmentalise forms of suffering under the guise of legitimacy or necessity.

Veganism: Politics or Practise?

bth_veganblume_kleinRecently, an apparent conflict has arisen between the perceived philosophy, politics and practise of veganism. There are those that believe we need to promote a liberal form of veganism, minimising political context and emphasising ‘vegan consumerism’ or ‘mainstreaming’. Where ‘anyone’ can consume vegan products and avoid those which are not.

In contrast there are those who emphasise the philosophical basis of veganism, where ideas about opposition to exploitation and cruelty to animals take prominence. This perspective tends to be expansive (1) in that it considers different forms of exploitation, how exploitation is related to domination, and how the system utilised to discriminate against animals (because they are ‘only’ animals) is also used against people, who are also marginalised and oppressed within the present economic and political system.

From the depoliticised perspective of veganism there is no direct challenge to the broader political or economic system we currently live under, a system which is dependent upon exploitation for its continued existence. Capitalism is allowed to carry on as normal, and provide us with our various vegan treats.

In this way we do not draw the connections between the situation of animal exploitation and human exploitation. The liberal view allows for all comers to adopt the definition of veganism, including nazis or other fascists. Within these hierarchical systems there can be animal exploitation or not, dependent on the nature of the ruler/elite. However, within a politicised definition of veganism which emphasises the context of exploitation and domination, it isn’t possible to be vegan whilst ignoring those aspects of domination that can also be applied to people (human animals).

A liberal definition of veganism is one that refers to the practise of veganism without consideration to its origin (2). In the liberal form people can be vegan who adopt the practise merely to improve their physical wellbeing (3), ignoring completely the issue of animals, and can openly discard the diet as a fad when it becomes convenient to do so. Within a liberal definition people like Bill Clinton are vegan, but he was never vegan anyway (consuming fish), in this example the mainstream press reported on his veganism without considering the contradictions. He wasn’t challenged from an animal standpoint, and neither was the media challenged by mainstream groups on their definition (or [mis]use) of the term ‘vegan’.

At times, It has been claimed we would be ‘stronger together’ by accepting a liberal definition. However, in turn, it hasn’t been acknowledged that the liberal view could be dismissed in favour of a definition reflecting opposition to all animal exploitation. There is no reason why philosophy and practise can’t walk hand in hand, so that we can be consistent with the original definition of veganism, and expansive beyond consideration for ‘the animals’ or merely ‘vegan’ consumerism, so we openly oppose forms of exploitation regarding both human and non-human animals, and the environment that we live in.

Resources:

From animals to anarchism’ by Kevin Watkinson and Donal O’Driscoll. (2014)

‘Making a Killing: The political economy of animal rights’ by Bob Torres. (2008)

Food Empowerment Project

Movement for Compassionate Living

Vegan Information Project


 

1. This approach does not present an easy to follow yellow brick road, there are many challenges along the way that require us to re-evaluate deeply held beliefs whilst learning and adapting to situations we find ourselves in. See particularly the Vegan Information Project for further material.

2. Pages 2 – 9 of a leaflet published by The Vegan Society demonstrates an original way in which people, animals and the planet were considered in regard to veganism. However, whilst the contemporary Vegan Society mention these aspects, they fail to critique those elements of ‘mainstream’ society that are in opposition to the philosophy of veganism. So instead of defining veganism as something which is rooted in social justice, they emphasise that veganism is for ‘everyone’. In this way they are confused about the meaning of veganism, and often appear to define veganism as merely the boycott of non-human animal exploitation.

3. Similarly, some environmentalists emphasise the impacts of animal farming on the environment, and go so far as to adopt a plant based diet. However, this group does not challenge the commodity status of animals or consider animal liberation as a social justice issue.

20-26 April: World Week for Animals in Laboratories

WWAIL is calling for a global grassroots week of action from 20-26 April 2015 in keeping with the traditional remembrance of laboratory animals that has been marked by World Day for Animals in Laboratories on 24 April. Rather than the traditional march, all actions will be organised by and for local groups or grassroots campaigns.

There will be a diverse range of activities challenging vivisection in as many ways as possible. These will include demonstrations, street stalls, film showings, solidarity for activists either in prison, facing or recovering from repression.

Please email your actions and events and we will publicise them. Email them to: info@wwail.org

Send us your reports afterwards and we can put them on the website so everyone can be inspired by your amazing events.

This decentralised week of action has been organised with a commitment to eradicating all forms of oppression. See our anti-oppression statement here:  http://wwail.noflag.org.uk/?page_id=41

For more information about the reality of vivisection today, see the information and resources page here: http://wwail.noflag.org.uk/?page_id=11

www.wwail.org

Gary Yourofsky for the Nobel Peace Prize?

There is a petition on the change.org site calling for Gary Yourofsky to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His sponsor says his ideology of “all living organisms are equal” and promotion of veganism means he has raised awareness of not only animal suffering but also “slavery, racism, hunger, global warming, pollution, so on”.

In case you aren’t aware of who he is, Yourofsky is an American animal rights and vegan activist who used to be part of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and who now lectures  in schools and colleges. Films of these lectures on Youtube have received millions of hits. Some of Yourofsky’s views have aroused enormous controversy but before coming to that I’d like to deal with the Nobel itself.

The Nobel prize was the brainchild of a 19th century Norwegian arms dealer called Alfred Nobel. His most famous invention was dynamite and he became extremely wealthy from peddling instruments of death and bequeathed most of his vast fortune to setting up a number of awards in areas such as physics, chemistry, peace and literature.

Nobel was one of the ruling elite and basically that’s what the awards are about: our rulers conferring awards to this they like. Recipients of the peace prize include Henry Kissinger, who ordered the bombing of Cambodia and the coup against the Allende regime in Chile, Menachem Begin, who oversaw the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and Barrack Obama, who has authorised a massive escalation in drone attacks killing hundreds of innocent people.

This vividly demonstrates the utter hyprocrisy of “nonviolence” when it’s on the ruling class’ terms. The likes of Gandhi never received the award, yet leaders who start wars do. In other words when governments and states kill it’s ok, when people fight back and try to topple those regimes it’s terrorism.

The vast majority of anarchists are not pacifists. Renouncing violence only plays into the hands of the ruling class who are only too ready to use it to maintain their power and domination over the rest of us. The state always tries to monopolise the use of force to give itself legitimacy but we should not recognise that.

Therefore it would be ridiculous for anyone wishing to radically transform society or build an egalitarian world to want to have anything to do with the Nobel Prize.

Now to Yourofsky. It’s ironic that his proposer says he should be recognised for raising awareness of “slavery, racism, hunger…“, because those are precisely things he doesn’t care about  He is absolutely clear about his feelings for the human race: it is – in his own words – “the SCUM of the earth.”

Yourofsky has lectured in Israel at a university on the occupied West Bank, and when asked about the Palestinian cause replied: “When people start eating sliced up Jew flesh, or seared Palestinian children in between two slices of bread with onions, pickles and mustard, then I’ll be concerned about the Middle East situation…I care about animals, who are the only oppressed, enslaved and tormented beings on the planet. Human suffering is a joke.”

Yourofsky is regarded as dangerous by the British government and has been banned from entering the country. But more importantly his views are dangerous to the animal rights movement itself. He is deeply misanthropic and also speciesist; humans are oppressed, enslaved and tormented as well as animals. And in most cases the cause is the same. Yet his own prejudice blinds him to that realisation.

Misanthropy in animal rights is nothing new and Yourofsky is only the latest and loudest manifestation of it. There has always been an undercurrent of it in the movement, in opposition to the leftwing social justice stance held by the majority of activists.

Ronnie Lee once wrote an article for Arkangel magazine in which he said:

“Despite the sadness it brings, to be aware of the evil of animal persecution and to be involved in the battle against it is truly a reason to be alive. What reason do ordinary unenlightened people have, dragging out their tiny meaningless lives, changing nothing, achieving nothing, merely taking up space in an already grossly overcrowded world.”

Ronnie now rejects that but those words could have come straight out of Yourofsky. At the time there was a heated debate in Arkangel and in the wider AR movement over whether racism and fascism should be tolerated. The pages of the magazine had articles for and against and even published one from a known “Third Positionist” fascist.

What was shown then and continues to be evident today is whenever the stop the world I want to get off ideology of misanthropy prevails, the far right rushes in to fill the vacuum. It is impossible to de-politicise animal liberation; if leftwing values of social justice, equality and solidarity are jettisoned, then antagonistic ideas take hold.

Nearly 25 years ago grassroots campaigners decisively rejected misanthropy and right wing extremism but it didn’t go away. From time to time it reared its ugly head, such as when London Animal Action issued a statement condemning the use of racist language on demos at the National Institute of Medical Research in Mill Hill.

Nevertheless these were mainly seen as minor problems. During the last few years, however, they have become far worse. A toxic cocktail of low morale, collapse in support, state repression and the rise of social media has led to a resurgence in the “humans don’t matter” tendency. Facebook in particular has seen bitter disputes, some of which have spilled over into the real world with threats and abuse from fascist sympathisers.

Two years ago Aran Mathai founded a group called the Non-Humans First Declaration. He claims to be inspired by Yourofsky and the 269 Life campaign. This took its name from a calf destined for slaughter in Israel who was tagged with that number and its supporters have publicly branded themselves with it.

Non-Humans First’s aim is to “eliminate human supremacism from the animal rights movement” by bringing together “people of all races, genders, sexualities and political persuasions to recognise the emergency situation of non human animals and to prioritise this before their own struggles.”

In practice this means demonstrating alongside known fascists and this is what happened when a self-professed white supremacist joined a protest outside Dogs 4 Us in Leeds in 2013.  Standing alongside such people is not a problem to Mathai since “human issues” are of little significance compared to animal ones

In reality, however, the separation is artificial. Human and non human animals are both exploited  and the root cause of that can be found in the inequality and hierarchy of class society. Anarchists believe that only through class struggle and the abolition of capitalism can a world where all are free be achieved.

For Mathai, however, animal rights is something completely different. In an interview published on the website Negotiation is over, he says:

It is a matter of making it more costly and difficult for the corporations to abuse animals than not. When it is not in the corporation’s best interests to abuse animals, they will stop. Then government policy will change, followed by public opinion, all led by the corporations themselves.

The naivety of this statement is obvious. Mathai doesn’t spell out exactly how he thinks activists should make it too expensive to abuse animals than not, but we can only assume he means campaigns targeting specific companies. That is exactly what was tried by the likes of SHAC and we know the result. It’s facile to suggest a small number of activists can take on and defeat a whole industry, especially given what has happened in terms of repression over the last 10 years.

Non Humans First and Yourofsky are not the way forward. Instead all they can offer is an ideological dead-end where an increasingly blinkered and isolated coterie of self righteous adherents remain imprisoned by their own tunnelvison.

New book on the Swedish ALF

Until All Are Free is a new book to mark the 30th anniversary of the inception of the Swedish Animal Liberation Front. Written by the activist collective Red Fox – whose members have been part of the animal rights movement for more than 20 years – it provides a unique document of “one of the most prominent and active branches…Executing direct actions in the small country in Northern Europe to save animals from oppression and cruelty.”

It runs to nearly 200 pages with more than 300 photos and contains five in depth interviews with activists and “gives the reader the chance to get closer to the activist than what has previously been possible. The large amount of pictures covers animal liberation actions all the way back to the 1970s and is largely taken by the activists themselves during or just after their actions.”
Amongst those interviewed is the founder of the Swedish ALF Emily E:son, who was a single mother of two when she “placed an ad in the local paper to find others who were willing to risk their own freedom rescuing animals in need.” How weird that sounds. Imagine trying to place an ad like that in a newspaper these days.

In order to have as wide a readership as possible, Until All Are Free is written in both Swedish and English. There will be a limited print run and it will initially be sold at a discounted price. The first shipping date will probably be March or April 2015.

For further details about the book and how you can order a copy see:  www.untilallarefree.se/en/

 

Another scientific “breakthrough”: GM cows resistant to TB!

It’s been reported in the Guardian that GM cattle have been created in in China that are either resistant to bovine TB or have suffered very minimal effects of the disease. This is being hailed by certain scientists in this country as the answer to the epidemic here.

Prof Mike Coffey is quoted as saying: “This would slow down any spread of the disease and slowly reduce the national level in herds.” He added: “The GM approach cuts out the middleman”, a reference to the speed at which resistant animals can be produced in contrast to  traditonal breeding techniques.

The term “middleman” refers to a person who buys goods from producers and sells them to retailers or consumers. That it’s used to describe this process tells us all we need to know about the commodification of animals and agriculture under capitalism.

TB is endemic in modern farmed cattle because the animals’ immune systems have been damaged by intensive farming. Cows are treated as milk machines whose sole purpose is to provide the maximum profit for the farmer. After 5-6 years when their yield drops they are slaughtered for cheap meat. Cows naturally live for 20 or more years.

Their calves – which are the inevitable by-product of lactation – are taken away within one day of being born. Female calves are sold at market and most male calves are shot – up to 100,000 die this way each year in the UK.

Such an unnatural and cruel system leads to diseases like mastitis and TB. Badgers have been blamed for the latter and they are being culled in certain areas. This been fiercely opposed by activists and most experts disagree with it. It has also – surprise, surprise! – failed to reduce the disease on farms.

Now cows themselves are being made to suffer through these insane experiments in which they are given a mouse gene which is supposed to protect against TB. In fact 10 of the 23 genetically modified calves didn’t even survive into adulthood.

The article quotes another scientist from Edinburgh University as saying: “The world faces unprecedented population growth on the backdrop of competing pressure on agricultural land and resources . Society needs to embrace many strategies to address the global challenge.”

That’s correct. The huge increase in population is in farmed animals, currently running at about 60 billion and forecast to increase by 50% in the next 30 or so years. This research, if successful, would only add to that and cause immense suffering in the meantime as well.

The strategy that should be embraced is one that puts animals and agriculture before profit, by building a green, anarchist and vegan world where humans can live in harmony with each other and the rest of nature. So-called “solutions” such as GM plants or animals do nothing to achieve this and are not the answer.

 http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/mar/02/mouse-gene-could-help-produce-tb-resistant-cattle-study-shows

An earlier post on the cull: https://network23.org/redblackgreen/2014/09/22/cull-tories-not-badgers/

New animal rights group in the UK

A new grassroots animal rights group was launched today. It’s called the Animal Justice Project and its founding statement says it is an international, non-profit organisation dedicated to the ending of animal experimentation and other forms of speciesism” and will endeavour to “create a society where all animals are treated equally, with compassion and respect, as well as an end to their exploitation in laboratories and farms”.

From the its website, it appears the emphasis will be on campaigning against vivisection. Since the state clampdown of the mid noughties, quite a few groups have tried to re-energise that part of the movement but most have failed. One of the exceptions has been the British Heartless Foundation which has held days of action against BHF charity shops.

For decades the AR movement in Britain was measured by the strength of its anti-vivisection activism and direct action groups like the ALF. Both have suffered in recent years but any attempt to revive that spirit of radicalism has to be applauded. The AJP’s campaigns have still to be announced and news of them is awaited with interest.

Of course any organisation is only as good as its supporters. If it inspires people to take part and gives them hope they can bring about change, then it can be a force to be reckoned with. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by being inclusive and participatory and holding meetings. Bringing people together, exchanging views, listening to ideas – there is no substitute for that. We may live in a world of social media but there is nothing like direct human contact.

Good luck to the Animal Justice Project and all those involved in it. Here’s hoping it is just the fillip that animal rights in the UK has been waiting for.

http://www.animaljusticeproject.com/index.html