Domestication, captivity, and caregiving are often taken for symbiosis. But these actions don’t bring us into harmony with the rest of living world. We can only hope to correct (or at least stop perpetuating) what we can perceive as domination. Images of animals doing things that impress or amuse us in controlled circumstances should, instead of being classified as cute, jar our senses. They should remind us of the evolution and history they could have had, had we let them be.
This Saturday, May 5th, brings us the 144th Kentucky Derby, with the Preakness (May 19th) and Belmont Stakes (June 9th) galloping close behind.
Every year, people celebrate Derby Day with parties, mint juleps, and sunbonnets. This year they’ll be marking the tenth anniversary of the end of Eight Belles, raced to death in the 2008 Kentucky Derby. Perhaps they’ll recall the two horses who died at the 2016 Preakness in Baltimore. Pramedya’s leg broke. And after winning the first race, Homeboykris collapsed and died before making it back to the barn.
Ten years prior, Barbaro won the 2006 Derby, but shattered a leg in the Preakness, and died soon after. Remember?
Or do we forget because the deaths are so common, so constant? Every year, 500 horses, more or less, die at a racetrack. Every year, spectators will gasp hundreds of times as they see with their own eyes that racing is animal torture.
Full story at Counterpunch.
In memory of Sprite (with Frankie in banner photo).
For many years I’ve offered sanctuary to abandoned cats.
But there will come a time when I’m too old, meaning the risk is too high that I’ll die before they do. The worst thing I could do, even inadvertently, is to abandon them again.
At some point, I’ll just help other caregivers, should my means allow it.
My strategy of outliving the cats I adopt has, so far, been working.
As the vet and I were talking, and I sat crossed-legged on the floor stroking Sprite’s head, an agitated yap interrupted our conversation. The doctor opened the ICU locker and retrieved the noisy animal. “Little Jackson here isn’t used to not being held or carried around in a handbag.”
“What kind of animal is this?” I couldn’t tell.
The vet answered: “A mini Pom.”
The doctor met my startled gaze, nodded, and added: “As though Pomeranians weren’t already small enough.”
“You know,” I said, “This just frosts me. Dogs’ ancestors are wolves.”
The doctor answered: “And now you can’t tell this one from a Guinea pig.”
I like observant veterinarians.
“What’s the mini Pom in for?” I asked, looking at the tiny mammal in the vet’s arms.
“Broken cervical vertebrae. Bones broken in the neck. It’s a congenital issue for theses miniature dogs. Most of these dogs here, the big ones too, came to our emergency room because of congenital disorders common in their breeds.”
The Animal Liberation Movement Won’t Exist Until Advocates Stop Idealizing Pets
Each of the following slogans — you’ve read or heard theses and more, no doubt — invokes a fantasy, subtly or strongly. In each, only the use of animals in food agribusiness gets confronted, while the idea that we’re expected to have and to hold pets is left untouched.
“Friends, not food.”
“I began to wonder why we cuddle some animals and put a fork in others.”
“If you love some animals called pets, why do you eat others called dinner?”
You get the idea.
The vegan question is not whether we need to cuddle animals we bred to eat.
The vegan question is whether we had any right to breed them onto this Earth.
Here’s a variation on the theme — a screenshot of an activist group’s video.
I find this image disturbing on every level. Young pigs naturally would not be spotted alone like this (they live in family groups that have dozens of members); and the pig in this video is barely more than a newborn. And the message? Everything will be fine if we love pigs and groom them in a bubbling bidet.
#NationalDogDay warrants hard discussion about what we do to wolves on this planet — not expansion of a ridiculous adorbs fest on social media to include infant pigs.
Our Selves, Our Cats
We domesticated the wildcats. Another human achievement in the suppression of natural evolution. My pal Sprite was born outside, one of the millions alienated, by selective breeding, from an ancestral community of free-living felids. And then alienated again from the human community that’s supposed to care for the beings we’ve domesticated.
The vegan movement has largely ignored the cats, except to suggest they be forced to live ever more divorced from their evolutionary state by eating “vegan cat food” — which doesn’t exist, as the vegan principle doesn’t apply to the actions of cats.
In recent years, The Vegan Society has begun encouraging their supporters to feed their cats this nonexistent substance.
The Society has promoted a commentary by veterinary specialist Andrew Knight to back this position, but what I have read by Knight refers to an article that addresses reasons why some people want to use a vegetarian diet for their cats, and how vets can best communicate with such people. That article didn’t address crystal formation in high pH urine and urinary tract obstruction (UTI) — a very serious issue.
And in practical terms, many vegans, myself included, are rescuers in multiple-cat households who may also attempt to care for outdoor colonies. Sorting the cats’ food according to UTI vulnerability would be prohibitively difficult even if it were a vegan action.
Dr. Knight asserts that “commercial pet foods constitute a vast industrial dumping ground for slaughterhouse waste products.” Understood. But that doesn’t logically lead us to conclude that cats should just eat plants.
Because veganism challenges human supremacy, to impose a philosophy-based diet onto a cat offends veganism.
Chris Kelly’s AR View
For years, Chris “Lone Primate” Kelly challenged the AR Views listserv, and faced more than a little anger for questioning the human prerogative to breed and keep pets. Chris has written the following commentary.
As a vegan who has loved and shared a home with cats, my decision to reject a vegan diet for them involved a lot of research, pro and con. Whether a cat can be conditioned to eat (or like) a totally vegan diet was not pertinent to me as it is abundantly clear cats are natural carnivores. My reasoning had more to do with being respectful to
their evolutionary nature and to a desire to opt out of human control whenever possible.
I have read and reread Veganism Defined (Leslie Cross, VP Vegan Society, 1951), and I feel supported in the above conclusion. Cross writes: “In a vegan world the creatures would be reintegrated within the balance and sanity of nature as she is in herself. A great and historic wrong, whose effect upon the course of evolution must have been stupendous, would be righted.”
The founding definition shows a deep respect for nature. Not all of nature’s beings can be vegan, nor are they meant to be — that is reality. Making such a drastic (and some say experimental) change could be considered controlling and done for human benefit or comfort. In fact, it may be perceived as a sort of selective breeding, sending a message that pet keeping can be made to be harmless. This, in my opinion, hurts the very sensible and cogent argument for veganism.
As we know, the practice of pet keeping is far from harmless. The process of domestication is a cruel, frankensteinish interference in evolution and nature itself. Domestication is “the process of hereditary reorganization of wild animals and plants into domestic and cultivated forms according to the interests of people. . .” (Encyclopedia Britannica.)
Domestication is a powerful, all-encompassing word, and, I believe, it should be used clearly and frequently in all abolitionist discourse. Why don’t the large “rights” organizations take a public stand against all domestication and call for the phasing out of pets? Could it be because they get a substantial amount of donations from “pet lovers”?
. . .Pet keeping is one of the most frivolous uses of nonhuman animals, while medical research and other user industries claim necessity and even noble justifications. How do we expect to ask for change in the latter when most pet owners are unaware of their own complicity?
We recognize domestication requires people of conscience to show empathy for those made incapable of independence. I have enjoyed the companionship and love of several dogs and cats throughout my life. Yes, their looks and behaviors were at times cute, adorable and heartwarming, but we cannot forget that they were (and are) enslaved and bred to suit the fancies and assorted motives of humans just as were all other domesticates. Portraying them in cutesy (and extreme) ways is another undignified use of animals.
Domestication in all forms is wrong and needs to be phased out.
If we take care of the victims made dependent by domestication and stand with the tenets outlined in Veganism Defined to respect nature, we will have a clear way forward.
—Chris Kelly, Carrollton, Texas, US
Brace yourself. With autumn comes the early “official” deer kills. They will go on through the winter.
The deer of Valley Forge National Historical Park (photographed in the banner image by Jeff Houdret) are among the communities annually targeted by the United States government.
The vast majority of deer in the Park get shot down again every year. This means very few, if any, deer who stay in the Park will live past age two.
The assault on the deer themselves and on their community’s evolution is grotesque.
Deer Kills Aren’t a “Single Issue”; They’re a Vegan Issue
Deer killing starts because we have created cows, goats, domesticated sheep, domesticated fowl etc. for people to eat and wear, and pets as well. All these animals, human property, must be protected from carnivores and omnivores who run free. (How dare they!)
So we wipe out the wolves and then we establish policies to kill those who rise up to take their place.
Coyotes, in most of the northern Americas.
Then we have “too many deer”? No, we have too few carnivores.
I’m working on a presentation on this connection,
tentatively scheduled for Sunday 29 October, at SuTao Cafe in Malvern, PA, to kick off to World Vegan Month in Chester County.
The presentation will be informed by the work of two groups who have directly confronted government assaults on deer: Philadelphia Advocates for the Deer (PAD), and Compassion for Animals – Respect for the Environment (Chester County CARE).
Forced Sterilization of Deer Is Another Insult
Most other deer protection projects have rallied around pharmaceutical control as the “solution to the deer problem” but that answer oppresses and erases deer, just as mass killing does.
And the deer contraception crusade allows the public to retain the idea that animals such as wolves and coyotes have no business living.
Animal liberationists and environmentalists alike should be cultivating human respect for carnivores including coyotes. These beings have roles to play in a balanced bio-community. Our society must stop pretending that managing and micromanaging the balance of nature is humanity’s work.
If you want to demolish the belief that people just want memes and platitudes (or don’t go to libraries), the Cleveland vegan community is your gang. Cleveland’s vegan movement is committed to thought, debate, intellectual and cultural work, and growth. I’m very lucky to know the Cleveland activists.
Today, for Earth Day, I revisit:
Feel free to start up some conversation here on any of the slides.
A hat tip today and every day to my fellow vegans. You’re determined to cultivate a way to human sustenance that stops ravaging the planet. For vegans, Earth Day is every day.
Love and liberation,
Start Your World Vegan Month at Wildflower Vegan Cafe
What’s Up? Enjoy cake and a cup of fair-trade coffee or a hearty vegan meal at Wildflower on the first Saturday in November, when I’ll facilitate a slideshow and conversation on Cuteness and Memes in Animal Advocacy.
Where? Wildflower Vegan Cafe, Village on High, Millville, NJ. 856.265.7955
When? 4 pm on Saturday 5 November 2016
We’ve all seen “Why love one but eat the other” images. Indeed, why do we love a puppy yet have no regrets when it comes to eating the calf? Then again…
Does setting the ideal in “loving” animals compromise nonhuman dignity? What can other social movements teach us about these idealized images?
Eric Nyman, owner of Wildflower Vegan Café, said, “Our business is nurturing bodies and minds. We’re excited to open November, which has traditionally been World Vegan Month, by offering space for Lee’s work on memes—inviting advocates and the public to consider how feel-good imagery might endorse exploitation.”
On Earth Day weekend 2016, the Cleveland Animal Rights Alliance invited me to the Cleveland Heights library to offer a presentation (public; free vegan pizza and homemade dishes) on Why We Need an Animal Liberation for the 21st Century.
So we focused on the subtitle and reasons to recharge the phrase animal liberation.
Discussions of rights so often veer into questions about who qualifies. We laud certain animals for demonstrating (often at great cost to the animals themselves) that they can decipher and respond to our cues, or adapt to our domestic environments, or act like us. Our assessments of what animals deserve can trap them again. As Catharine MacKinnon observed more than a decade ago, the model that “makes animals objects of rights in standard liberal moral terms—misses animals on their own terms.”
And lately I’ve been leaning to liberation as our real objective: it evokes those living on nature’s terms, autonomous, free.
We can credit Peter Singer as a catalyst for a rising conversation, in the English-speaking world, of animals’ interests and human responsibility. Singer personally underscored this in the New York Review of Books three decades after having published Animal Liberation.
The thing is, the theme of Peter Singer’s 1975 book was not so much liberation as pain management.
To Singer, Animal Liberation promotes a principle that most people already accept: we should minimize suffering. This became the keynote argument for the animal-rights advocacy that followed.
The next slide, quoting Singer at Taking Action for Animals (sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States, 2006), highlights a point of contention. While many advocates agreed with Singer’s opinion that pain sensitivity is what draws our ethical consideration, some wouldn’t wave off our role in their deaths this readily.
Many advocacy groups followed Singer, though, and never established precepts against killing. The Animal Legal Defense Fund wrote up a Bill of Rights for Animals that accepts killing though livestock must be stunned into unconsciousness prior to slaughter.
The idea that causing a conscious being’s death is allowable under the “liberation” banner is bizarre, yet taken for granted in a lot of advocacy. To this day, exposés don’t decry the killing so much as the way animals are killed.
Peter Singer’s “equal consideration” for nonhuman interests will essentially regard animals as containers of pain and pleasure. To cut down on the most suffering, the activist is urged to oppose glaring abuses in animal husbandry. Here’s the point as originally stated in Singer’s Animal Liberation:
To a large extent, even rights advocacy (while taking great pains to differentiate itself from Singer’s brand of utilitarianism) reflects Singer’s model.
Singer, who wrote Animal Liberation during a key decade for human equality movements, says equal consideration ought to be extended to nonhuman animals. But according to Singer this consideration will only the cover interests we deem similar to those we seek to protect for ourselves.
This might seem logical on its face, but I’m not convinced it’s a fair (or even relevant) way to judge the interests of other animals who have no need for our assessments.
Nautical Dogs and Sterile Deer
Animal-advocacy theorists have presented hypothetical emergencies to justify our preference for putting humans first. Picture a lifeboat that can’t carry an entire group of humans and a dog to safety. Who gets to stay in the boat?
Tom Regan’s Case for Animal Rights came out in 1983. In Regan’s version, the dog loses. Regan assigns a human and dog equal moral significance: we all experience our lives. Yet Regan distinguishes the value of the lives lived by the humans and dog from the value of beings themselves. And then allows the sacrifice of any number of dogs to save the human.
This assertion was repeated quite recently by Gary L. Francione and Anna Charlton, who, in Eat Like You Care: An Examination of the Morality of Eating Animals (2013), say they “will not challenge these widely-shared moral intuitions” that “may tell us that in situations of genuine conflict between humans and animals, humans win. But our intuitions also tell us that in situations in which there is no conflict, we cannot inflict suffering on animals simply because we get enjoyment from doing so.”
Here’s the message the 21st century is sending to animal advocacy: There is hardly any uncontested space on this planet. There are more than seven billion of us, and everywhere, humans are “winning” while everyone else is disappearing.
People now impose contraception on deer so we can spread ourselves out without having to deal with the “conflict” of animals in our way. Or we oust untamed animals in the name of human rights. In India, a Tribal Rights Bill was introduced to redress discrimination by allocating land to several million indigenous forest-dwellers—while annihilating the region’s last few hundred tigers. Is erasure of tigers acceptable because the tigers would have had less possible sources of satisfaction than the indigenous people? Or does ethical decision-making require a thought process more complex than that?
Under new global climate patterns, lifeboat scenarios will happen a lot. Environmental crises are unfolding more quickly than could have been predicted when many animal-rights texts were written.
Chapter Nine of On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century reviews advocates’ agreement to control the fertility of free-living animals over the years. In 1975, Singer suggested that animals have an interest in our research and development of fertility control over free-living communities.
The assumption that free-living animals might wreck their environment and need us to step in as supervisors matches the claims of administrative officials ready to lower the boom on animals in woods, parks, and fragments of green space. In 2008, when deer were targeted near Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, rights advocate Tom Regan accepted the premise that the local deer must be controlled, but argued that it should be done by pharmaceutical means. The contraceptive substance porcine zona pellucida (PZP), made from the membranes of pig ovaries, triggers the deer’s immune system, forcing the body to attack the deer’s own eggs.
Regan’s position startled and disappointed me—for Regan’s book The Case for Animal Rights had urged: “With regard to wild animals, the general policy recommended by the rights view is: let them be!” But support for human-controlled reproduction in free-living communities had precedent in animal-rights legal work. In the 1990s, Gary Francione and Anna Charlton, on behalf of their Animal Law Project at Rutgers, explained their action on behalf of Pity Not Cruelty, Inc. to change deer-control policy in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania:
“We are assisting the plaintiffs in the Lower Merion challenge in the dissemination of information concerning non-lethal methods to decrease any deer/human conflicts, including the possible use of immunocontraception where the deer population can be verified to have increased considerably.”
This presents the deer’s very act of reproducing as a possible situation of true conflict. The stance ignores the obvious—balancing the deer population isn’t up to humans; it’s the role of native carnivores and omnivores.
Today, communities are demanding the systematic spaying of deer.
A liberatory theory ought to call for the neutering of cats (TNR) or to prevent dogs from mating, they already lack the ability to reproduce and raise their young on their terms. Phasing out the breeding of animals as pets would, essentially, put wildcats and wolves off-limits to selective breeding to suit our whims. But contraception for free-living animals is animal control—nothing more, nothing less. Note the importance of distinguishing selectively bred animals from communities of animals who could actually experience autonomy, and shouldn’t be denied that opportunity.
I’ll let the next slide speak for itself.
But for context, let’s talk about how much room we take up on this planet, thanks to some work made available by Californians for Population Stabilization.
Humanity’s mass (we’re the red bar segments in the next chart) has eclipsed the collective weight of all Earth’s free-living land mammals (green segments).
Add to this the weight of our entourage of purpose-bred animals (blue segments).
Witness our expansion as we press the rest of Earth’s bio-community off the chart.
Can we so readily accept the claim of “too many of them”?
Shoppers gonna shop. Can we accept that some (really fancy) husbandry improvements support the liberation mission, sort of?
OK, let’s look at an e-mail I received from Whole Foods Market in London on 15 April 2016, just one week before Earth Day. It says…
“While organic dairy cows yield on average a third less than intensive production, the benefits of organic dairy are huge. In order for a dairy to achieve organic certification the herd must be pasture-grazed throughout the grazing season.”
The cows are on pastures (read: sprawl – and let’s explain it as such to our shopping friends), and they only “yield” a third of what densely confined cows produce. So, if all the cow’s milk shoppers switched to organic, they’d effectively demand three times as many cows? Look at these cows.
The next slide joins the two above advocacy positions: (a) constricting the populations of free-living animals, and (b) allocating more space to animal husbandry. Both positions, and certainly the two combined, support human claims to habitat and, in turn, the disappearing of the untamed.
Both campaigns arguably advance ye olde humane-treatment principle “based on values that most people accept” but neither supports true animal welfare. The vegan response to these campaigns is non-participation. (That doesn’t mean doing nothing! We need to give our active support both to vegan-organic farming and predator coexistence initiatives.)
Peter Singer and Jim Mason, in The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, suggest animal husbandry could be a beneficial system for the animals involved. Hogwash. The hills were the habitat of wolves and wildcats before we came in with our animal husbandry.
As for an incremental step on the way to rights for animals, let’s be clear: no improvement in the conditions for purpose-bred animals cuts the mustard. The more connected to nature the farm is, the more reasons for the farm owner to set traps or call the “nuisance control” professionals.
Free-living animals lose where they’re overlapped by controlled ones, as the owners continually introduce problems into habitats.
No authentic rights await purpose-bred animals; the concept is an absurdity we can accept only as long as we accept purpose-breeding.
Cultivating Active Respect
One rights scholar has said: “If we are going to make good on our claim to take animal interests seriously, then we have no choice but to accord animals one right: the right not to be treated as our property.” Will this resolve all the problems?
Reindeer were domesticated back in 14000 BC; dogs were bred from wolves about 13000 BC—long before modern conceptions of rights and property.
Because domination is a deeper, broader problem than property status, we’d best think of abolitionism—the call to stop treating animals as commodities—as a component of animal liberation. We’ve got to get over our practice of warring against other beings, displacing them, hijacking their reproduction and demolishing their spaces. Authentic animal-liberation theory conceives of affirmative action to facilitate animals’ flourishing on their own terms. This means cultivating active respect for animals’ connections with their own communities, for their interests in the climate, in the land, water, and air they require to experience freedom.
And while the interest in shifting other animals’ legal status from property to person is worthwhile, the outcome will be limited if we base our claims on their remarkable abilities to adapt to human environments. Or if we focus on pain control.
The argument for nonhuman personhood, in the 21st century, will defend the life experiences for which animals themselves evolved, free from our assessments or supervision.
Thank you . . .
to Cleveland’s vegan community for encouraging this exploration of our movement and the writing of the book itself. Having a launch date helped to move the new work from a computer file to a book! Bill, thank you for choosing the graph slide and explaining its elements during the presentation. Thanks to all our animal writers, including those not mentioned and those critiqued here, for their contributions to the advocacy dialogue. This writing is not an attempt to compete or compare. It’s intended, in the vegan spirit of collective progress, to help refine our wayfinding, knowing that involves dynamic and sometimes knotty discussions.
Photos of the Earth Day Celebration and book launch in Cleveland Heights courtesy of the Cleveland Animal Rights Alliance. THANKS TO ARKIVE.ORG FOR OFFERING A HUB FOR PHOTOgraphers of animals in Habitat, and encouraging the sharing of these images. Encampments meme: Tiffany Warner on PINTEREST, Pinned from KnowYourMeme.Com
My new work On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century is now in print as a paperback.
One aspect of the book I’d like to mention here is the decision to reclaim the “animal liberation” idea.
I was trained as a legal thinker. For years, no wonder, I liked the term “rights” as a signal of serious consideration and respect for the interests of non-human animals. To declare our support for “rights” meant we weren’t satisfied with an anti-cruelty tradition that accepted the habit of forcing other animals to conform to human purposes, as long as we abided by some set of “humane” standards.
But of course the nonhuman communities do not themselves construct rights; we do.
Perhaps the question of animal rights ought to be reversed, and examined with regard to ourselves: Should humans have the right to domesticate other animals?
To make them dependent on us?
Should we be so entitled? Why?
A questioning of that entitlement is key to an authentic call for liberation. The 1970s conception of “animal liberation”—which still influences major campaigns of high-profile charities—by-passed that question, and in some ways even assumed that animal control in nature is a good thing. The serious effects of “missing animals on their own terms” could do with a reversal, today.
To find the book where you are, please look:
- here for Britain (current list price £8.09);
- in Canada (currently CDN $16.90).
The “Look Inside” function is enabled so you can browse some of the interior.
matt shaw says the book examines “crucial points that other vegan/animal rights/animal liberation writers have either overlooked or shied away from.”
It does. And I hope the ensuing thought and conversations will take these points further, into the policy sphere, and ultimately renew and strengthen public interest in the idea of animal liberation.
Animal farming generally depends on feed crops and wherever crops are grown as feed, pesticides and manure applications are common. What is not absorbed into the crop fields seeps into streams, rivers, and bays – resulting in toxic algal blooms and ever-expanding dead zones that suffocate aquatic animals.
And the human habit of animal husbandry defeats the integrity of animal communities and habitat in other ways as well: because we see animals as rightly appropriated for human food, there’s also the classification of free-living animals as game; there’s our habit of moving various animals between regions (and then adding insult to injury by calling them invasive).
Indeed, animal agribusiness can be understood as a traffic in introduced species.
Read on (article is just below the cover): Growing Green International No. 35 pages 1, 36.
And, wherever you live on Earth, please consider becoming a member of the Vegan Organic Network.