Catharine MacKinnon wrote:
Loving women is an improvement over hating them, kindness to animals is an improvement over cruelty, but neither has freed them nor recognizes their existence on their own terms.
A lot of sex inequality problems have been brushed under the rug through the generations, covered by the notion that romantic attention is the “natural” way to elevate people whose assigned identity at birth was female. And that their role as society’s caregivers was their “natural” form of creativity. There’s nothing wrong with romantic attention or caregiving when freely given and received. But loving someone does not necessarily mean acknowledging their existence on their terms.
As for kindness to animals, it matters, of course. The rejection of blatant cruelty should be a baseline of human decency.
But that kindness is incomplete when we routinely decline to acknowledge other animals on their terms. Not as (even beloved) adjuncts of our lives, but as animals who ought to be capable, free members of their own communities, free to evolve without our interference. If we can agree that animal liberation is about that freedom, then we need to think about other beings as optimally free from human society rather than treated kindly within it.
And this recognition, in turn, underscores the importance of distinguishing two groups of animals:
- Animals who rely on the care ethic as long as they are alive, for they cannot escape the trap of being tamed by humans (and please let’s not sugarcoat it).
- Animals who could flourish on their own terms (those who live free from our management (whether cruel or protective).
The Respectful Stance
We treat free-living animals as though they were supposed to be under our management when we impose reproductive control on them. The concept may be well-intentioned: a sort of lesser-evil remedy to reduce the numbers of inconveniently located birds or deer or other grazers. The respectful stance is to campaign for the birthright of free-living grazers and carnivores alike to continue to co-evolve. Let animals balance themselves, as they have done since the beginning of time, long before we showed up.
Conversely, we treat dependent animals as though they were untamed when we say animals bred as pets should have the “right” to roam free, or when we “liberate” animals raised in captivity into backyards, ponds, rivers and woods.
Autonomy is real for a wildcat in habitat. For house cats, not so much. I’m not disrespecting house cats here, but being honest about how we have treated them. We domesticated these cats out of their natural habitats. To serve our purposes, we deliberately (through selective breeding) diminished the coping skills they evolved with. Please, let’s not sugarcoat it.
Dogs are widely praised for their motivation to co-operate with us. But again, a lot of this isn’t their choice. Meanwhile, wolves, who attend to the demands of their own communities, not ours, are vilified for existing anywhere near us. We have gradually exterminated animals who scare us, and produced other animals who will accommodate our desires. And we end up calling it love. Please see MacKinnon, above.
The Beginning of Radical Love
Domestication has become so customary that few people question it, and almost everyone accepts it. We need a coherent animal-liberation philosophy that questions it at all stages. It’s only fair.
Hard questions would come from a social movement that interrogates our control over other animals, whether we perceive them as food, entertainment, service providers, therapists, research subjects, guards, or beloved beings in our homes. That interrogation, I believe, is the beginning of a deep, transcendent love.
A movement of radical love would put us at risk. It would meet social resistance. It would have us do what our society seems to fear most: acknowledge other beings on their own terms.
With best wishes to all for Valentine’s Day,
The bobcat photo has been released into the public domain by its author, Kramer Gary, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This applies worldwide.