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.

Coming Soon…New Book on Animal Liberation

Readers of VeganPlace and my fellow bloggers will, I hope, be excited to know that I’m making a debut as an “indie” by way of Kindle Direct Publishing. The new work, for which VeganPlace will become a discussion platform, is just days away from publication. This week, I’ll announce the Kindle link, price, and so forth. It might be free for the first five days, and in any case it will be under a tenner.

And COVER jpg fileI’d love for you to read it and review it. Writing a review will be the single most helpful thing you can do to support this work, beyond reading it. Keep in mind that this is a book by an indie vegan author, not an e-pub ninja; so don’t expect technical perfection on the first go. The e-publication phase has been much more difficult than I’d expected. The information technology-loving Cathy Burt has stepped up at the eleventh hour to work out a few glitches, although, given our time limitations, a paragon of production is not a reasonable goal. We’re learning as we go.

As for the substance, you might well ask what makes this new book worth your time. I believe the concept of animal liberation has never been more relevant, but…that concept is due for renovation. On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century updates the idea of animal liberation, as it explores the hits and misses of animal-rights and environmental advocacy, and presents a brief guide to the burgeoning vegan movement.

And why would I say a new animal-liberation philosophy is so important? Look at the way world leaders are now reacting to weather and climate dynamics. Finally they are reacting, but that’s basically to figure out how we can keep doing what we’ve been doing in supposedly “sustainable” ways. Until we redefine our role within Earth’s great biological community, the changes we find ourselves forced to accept will mean coping with one emergency after another.

Animal liberation should come to the fore during discussions of “sustainable” gatherings and products. Promoters of sustainable animal agribusiness or sustainable meals made with local vegetables and flesh of pigs, cows, or fish purchased from small farms or local waters don’t usually want to talk about animal liberation. It is important to meet these organizers where they are: to acknowledge their concern about a topic of great importance, and then to direct their attention to the question of whether their unspoken ethic of human dominion is sustainable.

On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century offers ways of uncovering our personal connections with the current climate and extinction crises. It explores the human potential to fit our own habitat, while allowing nonhuman communities to thrive in theirs.

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…


 

“I believe Lee Hall is one of the most interesting and insightful writers working in animal rights. This book gets all the thumbs-up.”

— Jonathan Hussain, rescuer and campaigner, Grass Valley, California

“In On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century, Lee Hall reclaims the concepts of animal liberation, animal rights and animal welfare, and compels us to reimagine what it means to be an animal activist.”

— Sangamithra Iyer, Satya Magazine

Veganism Defined

Veganism is a social movement. It’s based on the principle that human beings should live without exploiting animals.

Vegans seek to end the use of other animals for food, commodities, work, hunting, vivisection—and all exploitation of animal life.

In the hope of achieving the ideal, vegans commit to living as closely to it as personal circumstances permit.

Karen Pearlman - bee on sunflowerWhile veganism is not a diet, vegans do apply the principle to their diets, committing to complete and consistent vegetarianism.

People become vegetarians for various reasons—humanitarian, ecological, health-based, etc. Veganism, though, is a principle—that we have no right to dominate and control other animals—so we follow a consistent, animal-free diet. Free of flesh, whether of mammals, birds, or sea animals, free of eggs, free of honey, free of animal milk and its derivatives, our culinary arts are plant-based, wholesome, and guided by fairness. We seek animal liberation—that is, reintegration of other animals within the balance and sanity of nature itself.

Our purpose is to redeem a great mistake, with the stupendous effect it has had upon the Karen Pearlman - windblown sunflowercourse of evolution. As veganism spreads, the conception of other animals as existing within Earth’s great bio-community for us to possess will begin to fade away.

The purpose of veganism transcends welfare; its goal is liberation—of other animals and of the human spirit.

It is not so much an effort to make the present relationship between ourselves and other animals bearable, as an uncompromising recognition that because it is basically one of master and slave, that relationship has to be abolished before something better and finer can be created.


EXPLANATORY note: this work is not mine; It’s part of a collective exercise. I’m a member of The Vegan Society, and I subscribe to THE DEFINITION OF VEGANISM OFFERED by its foundING MEMBERS. take a look at VEGANISM DEFINED FOR THEIR FULL DEFINITION, POSTED COURTESY OF THE INTERNATIONAL VEGETARIAN UNION. I DOUBT I COULD improve upon That striking piece, nor do I need to. But, prompted by conversations with Will Anderson of GreenVegans.org, Harold, James and Jenny of HumaneMyth.org, and other thoughtful people at the 2015 North American Vegetarian Society’s Summerfest conference, I’ve given my 21st-century language a go in conveying the basics of the definition originally published in 1951. Appreciation to PHOTOGRAPHER and friend KAREN BETH PEARLMAN.

Our Privilege to Look

A link going around Facebook is asking:

Should animal advocates use graphic images of animals suffering or cute pictures of happy animals to get their message across? What simple techniques make people twice as likely to donate money or volunteer their time to help animals?

And come to  think about it, that’s mainly what one sees in animal advocacy: graphic images of animals suffering or cute pictures of happy animals.

Meanwhile, in real life, animals are doing much more than suffering and being cute. In their countless and varied communities, they lead lives of infinite richness.

Consider the “simple techniques” question, posed by someone in another area of social justice. By way of illustration, imagine someone in an immigration advocacy group asking:

Should refugee advocates use graphic images of refugees suffering or cute pictures of happy refugees to get their message across? What simple techniques make people twice as likely to donate money or volunteer their time to help refugees?

When I worked in migrant advocacy, I noticed a photo of the same emaciated child and mother on various fundraising websites. Refugees and asylum-seekers live and move in many roles. They might be homeless; they might be teaching international law. How do they feel when seeing refugees portrayed over and over as mouths to feed, while the fundraising campaigners who use the images have no idea what their lives are like or what their talents are?

Maybe the child and mother whose faces keep appearing, if they are alive somewhere today, are highly skilled people; in any case, these refugees are more than their victimhood.

I’ll get back to the “cute pictures of happy animals” in a later post. But real quick: For an advocacy group or sanctuary to depend on baby-faced animals to solicit funds parallels the conduct of zoos. Circuses, commercials and comedy hours often show chimpanzees smiling, though the smile on the chimpanzee’s face is a signal of fear. Pandas’ big eyes are there not to attract human caregivers; rather, as George B. Schaller writes:

The eye patches enlarge the panda’s small, dark eyes tenfold, making the stare more potent. In addition, a staring panda often holds its neck low, a position that not only presents the eye patches to an opponent but also outlines the black ears against the white neck, in effect presenting two pairs of threatening eyes. Conversely, to show lack of aggressive intent, a panda averts its head, covers the eye patches with its paws, or hides its face…

In other words, pictures that signal vulnerability, whether intended to raise funds or to move people to join a campaign, may inadvertently defy reality and respect for beings, or whole groups of beings, who are represented as helpless, perpetually needing rescue.

MasksThe “simple techniques” for drawing donors and supporters involve short-cutting: The animal advocate who uses shocking pictures and employs emotional words that require no thought (a high percentage of alerts include “cruel” or “horrific” or “barbaric”) can get by with limited understanding of ethical, environmental or political issues. That can be convenient when membership drives, a petition full of signatures, or fundraising take over as goals. It can also fail to respect the audience, and fail to accord genuine respect for the individual or population with interests at stake.

Even the gentlest, most painstaking and studious advocacy films interpret others’ lives through the camera’s lens. Often, the photographer or videographer was a passive witness to a harrowing event, infusing a disturbing element to the very process of obtaining the imagery.

Watching animals is normal for us. We were carefully and frequently taught as children to regard other animals as spectacles. So it takes a conscious awareness to question our privilege to look, and our prerogative to do what we like with the images.

image source