Apocalypse Fatigue: How Do You Cope?

We’ve been hearing a lot about what will happen in 2050 if humans don’t change our ways.

Make that 2021.

As far as our abilities and circumstances permit, we must change the way we think and live.

The change must be radical — root-level.

The change must encompass deep empathy and awareness.

This is our challenge if we live on Earth now.

‘Unprecedented’: more than 100 Arctic wildfires burn in worst ever season

After posting an update similar to this on Facebook, I took a look at my vegan friends’ replies: It’s already too late.

It’s True, of Course. We Can’t Go Back.

For so many aspects of the Anthropocene, it is — quite suddenly — way too late to turn back the clock.

Still, I want to live by that adage about planting the tree even if we know the world will end tomorrow.

In fact, better than planting the tree is leaving the trees where they are in the first place. As vegans, that’s essentially what we do.

Even if the world as we know it will end tomorrow.

Ethics Count Anyway.

There are reasons, I suspect, that we have an ethical faculty, and we strive to heed its guidance.

We are, at the end of the day, embodied energy in the universe. We’d do well to represent what we most respect — flawed and confounded though we might be.

Never before has a generation faced what we’re facing now. Sure, the Anthropocene was put in motion long ago. But here we are, the late-20th and early 21st century people, witnessing the results.

Let me ask. How are you coping, as an aware vegan on the edge of the human-driven bio/geological breakdown?

While there is still so much to love, protect, respect, admire, enjoy, adore. While it is never too late to love.

Of Course, Vegans Felt the Trauma All Along.

We knew we’d lost the aurochs forever, while purpose-bred cattle cover the world.

We saw pet shops and pet supply stores smother the land that was once the home of the wolves and wildcats — free-living forebears of pets.

We knew the cattle, the calves, the pigs, the birds, and sometimes horses too, were passing by, a stone’s throw away on the ever-widened roadways, en route to their death at the hands of tired and injured workers.

We knew about the animals caged in university labs. We knew the zoos had captured polar bears and orcas, the federal government was killing free-living carnivores by the hundreds of thousands, and dolphins were forced into everything from TV acting to “assisted therapy” to fancy dinner entertainment. We knew we’d exhausted the bees.

We Became Aware of Our Membership in the Master Class.

So, some time ago, our unconscious allegiance to our own kind turned into conscious critique.

And the pain of a conscious and critical mind, we knew, is nothing like the pain the animals feel. We came to know survivor’s guilt as an unspoken element of the vegan experience.

After the fabulous vegan food was cleared off the table, we went home and thought to ourselves: The most vital nourishment is understanding, support, and love from another who knows.

It still is.

A few years ago I wrote:

Consider that a transformation of our human identity will spare us, and every other biological community on Earth, from enduring an endless string of gradually or abruptly worsening emergencies whose roots we fail to address. Consider, if you will, relinquishing the human assumption that the Earth is ours.

That’s new territory. We’re going to need skills. We’re going to need each other.


Banner photo: Jacqueline Godany, via Unsplash. Chart: U.S. Department of Energy via NOAA. Not sure who deserves credit for the term “apocalypse fatigue”; but the term’s been around at least a decade.

On Embracing the Term “Animal Liberation”

I have found compelling reasons to embrace the term animal liberation. Liberation of other animals from human dominion is the clearest expression of animal-rights advocacy. A genuine liberation philosophy—as distinct from a goal of reducing the suffering within industries—champions respect for animals in the places they’ve evolved to inhabit, and requires that we stop fouling, commandeering, and destabilizing our environment.

It’s tempting to immediately add: And this will ensure our own survival, too! True, yet a genuine liberation principle makes clear that we are one community among many, not the very point of Earth’s existence.

We seem to be scurrying about, suddenly aware that the atmosphere is coming undone, hoping to clean up our act just enough to manage to keep our sense of entitlement over Earth. The point of a genuine liberation theory is a deeper cultivation, a way-finding principle for living among many groups of beings, within the whole of Earth’s living community, with decency and respect.

We rush through our days in a society fixated on business, while a civilization-changing crisis unfolds in slow motion. Humans have been pushing Earth’s limits for a long time, and now there are massive infrastructures and administrations pushing at the most hectic possible pace.

“What can one person do now?” we think, as we post the latest re-cap from Science Daily and then go out the door to drive to work. Like the waxy wings of a high-flying Icarus, our cleverly manufactured means of support are coming apart.

Government representatives hold conventions to debate what must be done to slow the atmospheric effects of our industries. The stakes are immense. Earth’s poles, with their great shelves of ice, are important to Earth’s gravity. If warming water seeps under the Antarctic ice and weakens that gravitational pull, the surface of our planet could be inundated with water. And should global temperatures continue rising at the current rate, tiny undersea plant life could fail to achieve photosynthesis. What most of us haven’t considered before is our reliance on that undersea plant life to supply most of the oxygen in our atmosphere.

In short: Earth as a whole ecosystem, with all its splendid biological communities, is straining under the pressure exerted by more than 7 billion humans.

It’s impossible to really think about animal liberation without challenging human population growth. The Earth is finite. And it does not belong to the Homo sapiens at the expense of everyone else.


Photo by Jiri Sifalda via Unsplash

For Vegans, Earth Day Is Every Day

Last year for Earth Day I had the pleasure (and challenge) of introducing On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century to the Cleveland community. The Cleveland Animal Rights Alliance reserved space in the Cleveland Heights Public Library.

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:

Earth Day slideshow (presented in Cleveland Heights, later published by Carolyn Bailey of ARZone). Selected slides from the presentation are included.

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,

Lee.

Cuteness and Memes in Wildflower Cafe Slideshow

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.”

Event sponsored by Wildflower Vegan Café, and patrons of the art of animal liberation.

Support Animal Liberation Advocacy—Direct!

Big news: I’m now on Patreon.

If you visit Vegan Place regularly, you know On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century is in print. Through Patreon, you can fund the transfer of the book’s ideas into public advocacy.

Photo credit: Suzannah Troy

Photo credit: Suzannah Troy

I’m committed to doing at least one presentation monthly.

Through public presentations, I am:

  • Connecting dots for environmentalists.
  • Painting a picture of a new human identity in relation to Earth’s other life.
  • Showing how vegans spare animals from being turned into commodities—and how the commitment to becoming vegan can and does relieve the pressure on our whole global bio-community.

You can support this work of creation and outreach today, at my Patreon page.


Q. What is Patreon?

A. Think of it as a way to be a patron of the arts—in my case, the art of animal-liberation philosophy. And you don’t need to be rich. For the price of a cup of coffee each month, you can contribute meaningful support, as part of a community of funders.

Q. Lee, you teach law and legal studies. Aren’t you already supported?

A. I do animal-liberation work with no institutional support. I am an adjunct professor who, as many adjuncts do, also holds a retail job to make ends meet. Tenured and tenure-track professors are supported; indeed, most tenured professors receive high salaries, benefits, and substantial paid time away from the classroom so that they can do research, attend conferences, etc. But schools are in a race to the bottom when it comes to paying for instructional staff. Most of today’s college and university teachers are educated working-class contributors who—for equivalent work to that performed by fully paid professors—are drastically underpaid, and receive no time off for research and writing.

Q. So in effect, adjuncts are subsidizing the education of U.S. students! This needs to change. Right now, Lee, what work of yours can a “patron” support?

A. This quarter (through 2016), I’m focusing on achieving the ability to produce at least one educational presentation each month. Public presentations are vital to getting the word out about animal liberation, yet they require time I’ve lacked, given my schedule at the retail job. It’s simple: I can’t be in two places at one time. Your support enables my active presence in communities.

Q. So you believe Patreon is an effective way to support advocacy and policy work?

A. Yes, in this sense: Say you’ve considered giving to a nonprofit, knowing the group will direct your donation to a variety of things—very timepatreon logo-limited campaigns, executive and administrative salaries, fundraising, branding consultants and so forth—when your intention is to support focused vegan education. You might prefer a direct channel to fund an educator; and Patreon, which has developed a category for public educators, works well for that.

More questions or comments? Feel free to add them below.

A New Animal Liberation: Why?

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 beenKai and Candice 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.

Slide4

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. Slide5

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.

Humane slaughter is an oxymoron

Yes!

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:Slide6

To a large extent, even rights advocacy (while taking great pains to differentiate itself from Singer’s brand of utilitarianism) reflects Singer’s model.

Slide8

– Peter Singer. nybooks.com/articles/2003/05/15/animal-liberation-at-30/

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. Slide10

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 CLE Leespread 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.Slide16

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.

Slide17

The Swarthmorean, 18 Dec. 2008

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.

Slide20

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.

Slide21

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.

Slide22Humanity’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).

Slide24

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. Slide25It 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.

Slide27

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.)

Slide31Peter 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.

Slide34

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?

Slide36

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.

Slide37And 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. Slide38

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.
CLE convenors

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

In Print

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?

Photo credit: Suzannah Troy

Photo credit: Suzannah Troy, New York City

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:

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.

With love,

Lee.

The First Step

If we do acknowledge and encourage the predator-prey relationship as a sound process, what does that mean for ourselves—the human primates? How far should we suffer the large predators to roam? How much risk can we accept? We’ll take these hard questions as they arise. The first step is to acknowledge risk as part of a healthful life experience.

We have forged an elaborate and very often beautiful human history. If we hope to safeguard our future, we’ll need to let go of our identity as masters and regain that surge of emotion—of awe….

More at magazines-500-350x294CounterPunch, whose editors kindly highlighted this excerpt of On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century.

Floor Show: Looking Back on the Newkirk Biopic “I Am An Animal”

How time flies. I Am an Animal: The Story of Ingrid Newkirk and PETA (Stick Figure Productions for HBO®, a division of Time Warner) is now eight years old. Its website labels it “unavailable” (though it can still be found).

Yet a biopic of Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) since its founding in 1980, remains significant in the story of animal advocacy. And this film speaks to an ever-relevant topic: the effects of emotionally charged rhetoric and images of animal abuse. As I’ve noted at the Species and Class blog, many animal charities employ graphic video footage of industrial animal handling. I’ve also briefly noted this in the newly published On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Centuryciting this biopic. Here, then, is a brief exploration of the biopic and what it might tell us about popular advocacy.

I Am an Animal begins by recounting Newkirk’s role in the documentation of animal handling in a Maryland primate laboratory, focusing on filth and untreated wounds, and the subsequent prosecution, which got attention “like no other anti-cruelty group had done.” Newkirk, who was a Maryland law enforcement officer and a director of animal cruelty investigations in Washington, D.C., had found a calling. PETA was born.

Early in the film Newkirk invokes the day when everyone will think animals are not ours to eat, wear or experiment on, borrowing a slogan then associated with the British Union of the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), whose simple magazines and straightforward messages PETA closely mimicked in the early eighties. By the nineties, PETA’s magazine had gone glossy, and high-profile media stunts became the group’s hallmark.

A well-known slogan usually associated with PETA originated with the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection. Here it is on a post card sent to me by the first vegan I ever (knowingly) met, Robin Lane.

A well-known slogan usually associated with PETA originated with the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection.

I PROVOKE, THEREFORE I AM

According to filmmaker Matthew Galkin’s Press Notes: “PETA is aggressive and its marketing tactics are obscene and offensive to a lot of people. Yet Ingrid has grown PETA into the largest animal rights group in the world.”

As for the “obscene and offensive” Newkirk explains: “Everybody is obsessed with sex and obsessed with violence”; so PETA’s choice “is no attention or some attention.” Galkin introduces the audience to PETA’s Milk Gone Wild, a rejected Super Bowl anti-milk video. Remember that one? PETA promoted it by exclaiming: You won’t BELIEVE what we’ve packed into this video! You’ll see the HOTTEST girls baring it all – AND MORE!!! No rules, no parents, no limits, and of course no cows. The sexism has continued for years in PETA’s public campaign designs: the need to be “edgy” supposedly dictates sexual objectification and even jokes about gendered violence.

Another of Galkin’s scenes has Newkirk reviewing a staffer’s proposal for PETA’s Animal Liberation (“Are Animals the New Slaves?”) display, juxtaposing pictures of a hoisted steer and a lynching. When a media-relations employee asks if the slavery exhibition should avoid the use of Holocaust images, Newkirk says it would be fine to use them as well, especially if they happened to find a “super-duper one.” In this film we learn a lot about how it became accepted, and then routine, for campaigners to replicate the traumas of subjects – human or not – who can’t consent to being displayed as victims. Today, this routine is confronted by writers such as Claire Heuchan at Media Diversifiedobserving that “Black experience is regularly placed on a par with animals as a provocation.”

JUST A THING

Newkirk’s home – perhaps to the surprise of viewers who associate advocacy with rescue – isn’t shared with any other animals. Newkirk says people “should work to help them” and not “accumulate them” – neglecting the reality of homeless domesticated animals as our refugees, our asylum seekers.

Newkirk’s “work to help them” includes killing, as the film then shows. In North Carolina, Newkirk approaches an underfed dog. “You look like like a sorry soul!” Newkirk quizzes the owner quickly, several times interrupting the answers, then sets down a bowl of food and tells the owner, a soft-spoken person with dreadlocks, that the dog has a serious case of worms. After offering the owner free veterinary care – “We have to sign him over for that. Let me get my clipboard” – Newkirk takes the dog.

In the van, Newkirk comments, “He’s just a thing. He’s one more thing that they have, I think. Sort of a passing nice idea, you’ve got yourself a pet. But the reality of care is – not understood.” Yet the ultimate proof that you’re a “thing” is that somebody can destroy you. And this is exactly what Newkirk proceeds to do. At PETA’s headquarters, where the dog is found to have an abnormal red blood cell count in addition to worms, Newkirk directs an employee to kill the dog. No one tries to communicate with the dog’s owner in more than the authoritative language of the expert assuming control. PETA’s dual message is clear: Some people shouldn’t have animals. Advocates perform a lethal kind of sanitation role.

THE KILLING FLOOR

Then we watch the filmmaker filming another filmmaker. Chris, a young PETA employee, is tapped to videotape a ConAgra site where turkeys are slaughtered for the Butterball brand. On the killing floor – where, from dawn to dusk, a four-person team works the shackles to process some 50,000 bird into bodies every day – Chris breaks down and can’t run the hidden camera. Galkin’s crew films the two-month period in which Chris descends into despair.

Though Chris’s constant technical failures suggest a gut resistance to an active role in violence, Newkirk is not impressed. “We can’t afford to just lollygag around with some young person who can’t get their act together .” By failing to produce what Newkirk wants, “he’s screwing the birds over.”

A more experienced infiltrator is deployed to catch the company’s violations of the Arkansas anti-cruelty statues and the Poultry Inspection Act. A press conference is planned. Whereas Newkirk says footage of abuse has the potential to change the world, the group doesn’t challenge the agricultural use of birds or animals generally; the articulated idea is to score a victory with a big company, and on the grounds that workers in the investigated plant have inflicted “gratuitous” harm. Butterball assures PETA that if there is any abuse found, they’ll fire the employees responsible.

PETA’s street campaigners then convey PETA’s mixed message: “Like a free DVD?” “Boycott Butterball; we found them molesting birds at a processing plant in Ozark.” “Go vegetarian this holiday, but at the least don’t support Butterball.” So, what does animal advocacy want?

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?

When Newkirk hugs a designer who promises to use no wool in a coming season, fashion mogul Marc Bouwer qualifies the vow as meaning products of the Australian Wool Industry – a particular business group PETA has targeted. “We definitely won’t use wool from Australia, that’s for sure!”

Again, what does animal advocacy want?

Newkirk’s PETA, for all its brashness, can’t give a clear response. The PETA website suggests that a “perfect world” of freedom for horses isn’t possible, so just don’t use whips and spurs, for “gentle methods can be employed to teach a horse to allow a rider on his or her back.”

Newkirk states that PETA’s “main goal is to stop suffering, as much suffering as we possibly can” but isn’t too interested in animals living in their free, uncontrolled states. When a staffer shows Newkirk footage of a person hitting tigers, Newkirk first says, “Do we have more of this?” and then stops short. “I am deeply worried,” Newkirk says, “because we keep doing these investigations into exotics, and it’s all worthwhile…but the one thing that everybody needs to get involved in is empathy with the animals they eat and don’t think twice about”; and attention is redirected to assembly-line turkey processors. Then, evidently lumping all undomesticated animals into a cute class, Newkirk says, “All animals feel – not just the cute ones with the big eyes, not the fluffy bears, and the smiley dolphins, but all the animals.”

But animal liberation isn’t a movement to make conscious beings feel better in captivity. It involves opting out of animal agribusiness, not ensuring workers follow the Poultry Inspection Act; it means advocating for the interests of free-living animals and defending the habitat they require to experience their lives. And it means careful attention to root causes of social inequality, not generalizing about, and policing, the financially poor.

Amidst today’s social-movement dialogue, with its attention to intersectional critiques of objectification, and on today’s Earth, with human domination driving mass extinctions, nearly every aspect of Newkirk’s focus is gravely obsolete. Would someone like to explain, then, why its base of financial support is ever increasing?

New Book on Animal Liberation Now Available

ASIL OTOT AL

Cover of On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century

I’m pleased to report that On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century is now available.

Carolyn Bailey of AR Zone has called it “one of the most important books on animal activism for a long time” (cheers, Carolyn!) and I hope friends at Vegan Place will find it worth your valuable time.

Click on any direct link to find the book where you are: here for a link to the book on Amazon.com (U.S.); or here for Britain. In Canada; in Spain.

At this time it is only available on Kindle, but the good news is that a Kindle reader can be freely obtained from the sites linked above, to use on a regular computer, tablet, or phone. I hope to do a print edition later in the year.

Let me know what you think. Love & liberation,

Lee.