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.