It’s an Animal Liberation Thing; They Wouldn’t Understand.

I’m talking about pollination. It’s not what they say it is.

They say it’s significant because we need it for our almonds. They talk about conserving bees to the extent they can get them to keep working to produce our food supply.

They don’t talk about the interest of the bees.

We can exploit the beejeesus out of animals until, one day, legal panic sets in because we’ve just about cleared them completely from the face of the Earth.

American Bumble Bees Are in Crisis.

The population of American bumble bees dropped by 89% in the past two decades. The bees no longer live in much of the United States. What if the bees are listed under the Endangered Species Act? Will we see increased attention to bee habitat? Agribusiness could have to make changes. We might need to look at the impact of pesticides, climate crisis, and sprawl. Grazing businesses, “green” energy sites, and real estate developers are all implicated in sprawl.

The National Association of Home Builders has opposed ESA listings for other bee communities, so we can guess what they’ll do here. At its core, home building sprawl is a human population issue.

The Answer Is as Plain as the Peas on Your Plate: Go Vegan.

Stop supporting grazing. Just stop. Join the conscientious objectors. We don’t need animal ag. It’s bad for us, for other living communities, and for the Earth as a whole.

Farm animal waste, runoff, and feed operations are detrimental. The very complexity of animal agribusiness multiplies the harm done by our food systems.

We can opt out today, right this second.

And there’s more to being vegan than what’s on our plates. Consider human population a vegan topic; let’s talk about it (without xenophobia). Consider how we maintain our immediate physical surroundings. What we do to the climate, we do to habitat. And what we do to habitat is at the core of veganism.

Good Gardening Helps: Veganism Respects Our Shared Habitat.

Leaf blowers not only emit toxic gases; Doug Tallamy has explained that when leaves are banished, the land loses a form of temporary stormwater holding, and therefore leaf blowing exacerbates erosion and flooding. And bees have connections with leaves. Some bees and wasps try to nest under leaves.

Homo suburbanus has decided that lawns are necessary, and that chemicals are needed to maintain them. Common lawn sprays are tested on animals. What kind of people are we, that we’d blind rabbits to have a dandelion-free lawn that repels bees?

Native plantings matter so much, in so many ways. Never mind the birdfeeders; get natural nourishment rooted in any green space you might have. Of course there is a money incentive that keeps the landscapers in their old habits. Contracts for toxic chemicals communicate entrenched economic relationships among human businesses. But new relationships can be forged.

New year; new us. We need to strive to coexist with the naturally evolving life on our patch of Earth. This is a matter of liberation ethics.

Dominion: A Matter of Interpretation?

God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them, saying:“Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth.”
Genesis 1:28

It doesn’t matter whether we interpret dominion as domination or stewardship. An authentic call for respect would transcend it…

And looking back on the Judeo-Christian context of the dominion directive, we know we’ve been “fertile and multiplying” our way to the Anthropocene age. What are the consequences for climate, for life on Earth as we know it? 

Read more: Published today at CounterPunch. 

Banner image: dominion

(Every Day Is) World Vegan Day

Today, the First of November, is World Vegan Day. And isn’t it great to watch the word getting out? Since the term was coined in 1944, much has unfolded.

The people who started things off first called themselves the non-dairy vegetarians. They weren’t breaking away from the vegetarian movement that arose in Britain and the United States in the 1800s. They were taking its mission seriously.

Veganism Is No Mean Feat. 

To emancipate other animals, vegans set out to “renounce absolutely their traditional and conceited attitude that they had the right to use them to serve their needs.”

Free-range farming was never a step in the right direction for them. The founding members considered the animal farms of England unacceptable—no matter that these farms were free-range and familiar features on the landscape. Why? For one thing, the grazing animals would be killed when they outlived their use to their owners. For another, covering the land with purpose-bred animals had ruined ages of natural evolution of animal life in untamed habitat.

So, what would they use in their recipes? “Fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains and other wholesome, non-animal products.” They would opt out of “flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, honey and animal milk and its derivatives.” Vegans drew this line in their effort to create honestly humane agriculture. 

It’s a Call for Liberation.

Defining veganism in 1951, the Vegan Society asserted:

“[V]eganism is not so much welfare as liberation, for the creatures and for the mind and heart of man; not so much an effort to make the present relationship bearable, as an uncompromising recognition that because it is in the main one of master and slave, it has to be abolished before something better and finer can be built.”

So these agitators explicitly connected their vegetarianism with a liberation call, based on a stated conviction that humanity has no right to exploit other aware beings for our ends. 

Society co-founder Donald Watson, who pointed to the Essenes as one example of a group that had conscientiously avoided animal exploitation, must have also been inspired by Frances Power Cobbe, founder of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection. Present, too, at the time of the Vegan Society’s formation were opponents of “cruel sport”; the vegans merged these anti-exploitation initiatives into an animal liberation platform with personal commitment as its basis, and an emphasis on continuous public outreach to raise awareness of, and challenge, humanity’s ordinary uses of animals.

Why November?

When people at The Vegan Society resolved to set aside day to celebrate the movement, they first considered the 2nd of September. That was the birthday of Donald Watson, who put together and sent out the first copy of Vegan News—and many copies to follow—and was the best known of the Society’s founders. But Watson wanted nothing to do with the “great person” narrative. So the group settled on November, the month Vegan News was first printed.

Good call. The vegan principle has a long history and doesn’t need to be credited to any one person. 

It’s up to every vegan to be veganism’s representative.

Donald Watson in the garden—like every other vegan.

Why the Word Vegan?

The term vegan was adopted in the 1940s by Vegan Society founding members Donald Watson and Elsie Shrigley. Dorothy (Morgan) Watson had first offered the word to Donald—at a dance they both attended. (Thanks to Patricia Fairey and George D. Rodger of The Vegan Society for this intriguing piece of information.) The word came from the first three and last two letters of vegetarian—“because veganism starts with vegetarianism and carries it through to its logical conclusion.”

To be a vegetarian means having a certain diet. To be a vegan means making a commitment to respect. 

Vegans know animal agribusiness is hazardous to our health and to our environment, and that animal husbandry involves unjust treatment of other conscious beings. We won’t participate. Nor do we want to be at war with free-living animals. 

As World Vegan Month Begins, Don’t Make a Wish. Make a Commitment.

And for those of us who have already committed, what’s left to do? In our time ahead, as the word vegan spreads through the grocery aisles, let’s think about the meaning of vegan as a movement. The way it encompasses kindness, solidarity, and respect. We won’t always agree, but we can we figure out how to disagree without hurting, and to agree without competing. We can strive, with integrity, to work through our differences and cultivate community.

Here’s one thing we should be able to agree on from the start. Turning animals into our things is a ruthless habit, regardless of whether the results strike us as cruel or cute, and it’s a habit humanity can break. 

Of course, the vast scale of animal use presents a major challenge, now as ever. But here’s the key. We “consumers” can make our own decisions about what sorts of consumption we’ll accept.

Veganism is direct action.


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Image sources: The Vegan Society (Birmingham, England).

Liberation or Bust

For several years, I served on the board of Primarily Primates, a Texas primate refuge. During that time, I sponsored Lee, a Java (Long-tailed) macaque. Caged, tattooed, wearing a restraining collar, Lee had served as a model for toxic reactions to chemicals. The refuge removed the collar and sent it to me, together with this portrait photo.

A Java (Long-tailed) macaque who got out of the lab alive.

It’s not hard to imagine being a trapped macaque. Macaques are very much like us in their physical and mental responses. Should they have rights?

Arguably so. But several cases have been made for the personhood of great apes, and that line of advocacy has yet to pan out in any meaningful way. Imagine how long it would take to get to the case for macaque rights. And even if, by some miracle, we one day win rights for all of the primates of the planet, and even if those rights, by some miracle, receive international assent, what will the state of the biosphere be by then? Would our recognition of their personhood ensure that they, and the other beings of the edge of the forests, can live on their own terms?

It hardly seems possible. Respect is a tall order. In the literature of governments, Long-tailed macaques are called vertebrate pests. Translation: Humans dragged and dropped Java macaques around the world and now these primates pick crops out of our farms. 

In their native territories, Java macaques face continuing habitat loss. They are subjects of “culling due to human-macaque conflicts.” They are stalked to be eaten and for so-called sport. They are snatched and bred and sold into the international trade for research. They even have a laboratory trade name: cynomolgus monkey.

Restraining collar worn by macaques in the toxicology lab.

Because they gravitate to the edges of forests, they’re visible. In places such as Java, they’ve been presumed abundant. But everywhere they are, they’re stalked.

The late Ardith Eudey, who, with Shirley McGreal, founded the International Primate Protection League, and who for many years chaired the IUCN Primate Specialist Group’s Asia section, rang alarm bells about the severe threats to long-tailed macaques, including the trafficking of these primates to labs. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature did take note, reclassifying Macaca fascicularis from abundant to vulnerable. If we are entering a pandemic era, the quest for vaccines and treatments will continue to promote the lab primate trade, even as humans keep driving climate turmoil and expanding agribusiness, deforestation and sprawl. The primates of the forest’s edge do not have time to spare.

It’s All Connected: Earth Restoration; Animal Liberation; Human Rights.

And this is what animal liberation has to be about. Creating root-level sanctuaries: habitat where once-targeted beings are off-limits to exploitation and able to live where and as they’ve evolved to live. Every element of nature that sustains them carries ethical meaning. This is something our law, which has blessed our systematic exploitation of other animals, is not yet equipped to understand.

In 1805 the Supreme Court of New York, in Pierson vs. Post, addressed competing claims to the body of a hunted fox. When declaring that full physical control over an animal creates ownership, Pierson vs. Post cited legal influencers going back as far as the second century A.D. It’s time for something completely different: knowledge that respects natural biological communities as a whole, and for their own sake. Otherwise, “sustainability” dialogues will keep prioritizing humanity’s interest in extraction, excavation, and exploitation.

In 1972, Christopher D. Stone published an article titled Should Trees Have Standing? Law, Morality, and the Environment. The piece urged judges to consider the case law that reclassified human slaves as legal persons, asserting that progress for the classes of previously rightless humans could guide the evolution of rights for living beings. The debate made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice William O. Douglas cited Stone’s piece in the 1972 case Sierra Club v. Morton, involving an effort to protect an undeveloped wilderness. Alas, Justice Douglas wrote for the dissent.

Still, the idea percolates. Pittsburgh in 2010 passed a rights-of-nature provision to stop a fracking project. People in the United States, Ecuador, and elsewhere have worked on ways to appoint legal guardians to represent biological communities in courtrooms, and to direct compensation for violations of nature’s rights into eco preservation and restoration. This sort of legal work has meaning, I think. Of course, I also think it has to be accompanied by a vegan commitment at the deepest level. Perhaps the synthesis between these quests can offer a comprehensive framework for respecting animals and nature on their own terms.

Banner photo: Long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis). Lake Gardens, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. By Gary Houston (Universal Public Domain CC0 1.0). Portrait photo: Primarily Primates, Inc.

“Why Love One Animal and Eat the Other?” Is an Incomplete Question

Many advocates point out the unfairness in loving some animals and eating or wearing others. Who, though, is highlighting the unfairness in insisting on having other animals—whether to love them or to eat or wear them?

And yet we must recognize dominion in all of its forms: an imposed vulnerability to human control, no matter how adorable the dependent animal might appear to us.

Most of us have a hard time looking beyond “cute” and perceiving vulnerability and how our kind has systematically created it. We were so often taught that having animals meant learning to appreciate life, to take responsibility, even to love.

But questioning the existence of pets is not uncaring, cold, or unloving. Striving for a society that seeks, as far as possible, to respect other animals’ own ways of being on Earth is to care and love profoundly.

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Excerpt from On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century (Ch. 1, RIGHTS AND CARE: HITS AND MISSES).

Photo by Nishant Aneja via Pexels.

Self-Love and Liberation

It’s the night of the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Joe Biden just got vaccinated, and Britain is on the verge of increased lockdown measures because of a new Covid-19 variant discovered in London.

Vaccines will curb Covid-19, but they clearly can’t end it, as they do not address its root causes. And we face still more pervasive emergencies: 

  • New virus vectors, on account of the continued mass confinement of animals and a destabilized climate.
  • Summer wildfires, strong storms, flooding, sea level rise, loss of our own habitat and the habitat of other beings. 
  • Social unrest due to climate-driven migration.
  • Imbalances in biological communities, including extinctions. 

Vegans stepped up to avert these emergencies well before Covid-19. To be vegan is to reject the belief that other life on the surface of this planet is suitable for Homo sapiens to move or manipulate. Without systematic animal confinement, Covid wouldn’t exist.

To quote Kirsti and Vinnie of SelfLoveVegan, once we begin to love all sentient beings, we begin to love ourselves. Nothing less will spare us, and every other biological community on Earth, from an endless string of gradually or abruptly worsening emergencies.

Nothing less than love will do, and love means a transformation of our human identity. Instead of feeling entitled to control other life, we find ourselves compelled to respect it. In a profound sense, vegan advocacy might just be the most essential work in the human world.


Special solstice post inspired by patrons and supporters. Photo: Harold and Vinnie beside the SelfLoveVegan food truck at the 2018 American Vegan Society annual general meeting and garden party, by Lee.

A Chat With Green Vegan Grandma

Have some time to unwind? Listen to a conversation with Green Vegan Grandma Janine Bandcroft. The key topics in our conversation include: 

And so much more.

Janine calls our conversation `Animal Liberation — On Their Own Terms. Essential philosophy for a time of global zoonotic pandemic.` Works for me.

#Pride, #AnimalLiberation, and #BlackLivesMatter

June is Pride Month — dedicated to, and celebrated by, LGBTIQ+ and allies worldwide.

I believe animal advocacy, at its best, works to challenge and transcend domination wherever it is found, and I think that belief explains why so many vegans from the movement’s earliest days have conscientiously objected to war.

It’s why so many of us sense that heterosexist oppression stems from the same place as human supremacy.

This month 51 years ago, at Stonewall Inn, an interracial group including nonbinary and transgender people rose up against vindictive policing. They rose up against bigotry, hate, and hurt. Their pain and their courage combined to open up new pathways to self-actualization for the rest of us. Pathways to respect. To love. To many more acts of protest, and to unforgettable times of joy and celebration. 

And yet the torture and death of George Floyd reminds us, again, that — as far as we have come — the struggle for human freedom is still grotesquely immature. It tells us respect still takes a back seat. And it is a setback for every living being on the face of this Earth.

Pride month 2020 is a time of sorrow because of yet another murder in a pattern of authority-wielding murders, another profound loss to the collective conscious soul. Why? Why can’t we just be decent?

The Art of Animal Liberation must be committed to human dignity and respect for nonhuman life as a dual striving. The loss of George Floyd makes the reason all the more intense, and the need to speak up for the #BlackLivesMatter movement all the more urgent. 

My CounterPunch bio identifies me as working for animal liberation. It feels right to have that bio follow a piece about the selective way “looting” is discussed in connection with #BlackLivesMatter protests. It feels right to spread the word that we’re all on this planet together, and no one is free as long as bullets, cages, and chokeholds rule our culture. Authoritarianism has got to go. Humanity must change now. There is no more “I won’t see the change in my lifetime, but…” because now we’re bracing for the storms of a distorted climate. It was always time for respect to ascend, and the very existence of a future, for us, should not be taken for granted.

Banner Photo: Mike Von

On Making Others Do Disgraceful Work

My friend Lois Baum recently gave an invited sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rochester, NY. In the sermon, Lois quoted a statement attributed to an animal liberation summit, circa 2010: 

Veganism is a moral and ethical way of living; the practice of non-cooperation and non-participation in anything that exploits nonhuman animals, humans, or the environment. It is a moral baseline for our conduct and how we are revealed to the world.

A spot-on description, I think, of the connected ethic of a vegan life.

Making Others Do Disgraceful Work 

And it leads me to think again about the humans who do the disgraceful work of killing living animals and turning their bodies into commodities for human consumption. 

I do not believe vegans should invest in undercover investigations of these employees’ actions. Some people disagree. Here is my logic.

Time and time again, the “successful” undercover investigation means:

  • Workers get caught, punished, and driven out (and many if not all of them are leading the most exhausted, marginal, and fragmented of lives already).
  • The company increases surveillance of the workers who remain.
  • If regulators do suspend the company’s business, the business usually tidies up and reopens.
  • The case against the company involves employees’ failure to follow regulations. It is never about real caring, real fairness, and it’s definitely never about justice. (Injustice is heaped on, as workers’ precarious lives slide into worse ruin.) 
  • Arguments resume on whether “ag gag” laws should tighten up to prevent undercover investigations, as the company swears up and down that it is now adequately self-monitored.

One of the points made by early vegans is that we shouldn’t expect other human beings to do disgraceful work for us, work which we’d avoid doing ourselves.

That, I think, invokes an empathy and fairness principle. It does not assume that we should blame these employees for doing what they do…badly.

Animal agribusiness is all unfair, and so many humans are implicated. Only a few people are vulnerable enough to be cast out of society for the way they do it.