For Happy the Elephant, Personhood Is Yet Another Cage

My latest article for CounterPunch is provocatively titled, yes. Because while it’s right to improve life for a confined elephant, focusing on a being in permanent captivity makes a problematic case for personhood. 

On social media, the elephant personhood case is tagged #FreeHappy. This confuses the humans-in-charge regime with freedom. Moving Happy might be the best we could do under the circumstances, but it wouldn’t create freedom; Happy would remain a refugee. This needs to be said. We need to be serious about freedom if we’re claiming to struggle for it. We must defend other animals’ interests in thriving independently of human supervision before it’s too late.

Love and liberation,

Lee.

Photo source.

Zombie Chickens and Silent Lambs: Managing Suffering Is NOT Animal Liberation

Will activists ever let go of the popular “reduce the suffering” model of animal activism, and their corresponding campaigns to score “humane farming” victories?

Some states and nations are banning crates for veal calves and for laying hens. Does this make veal or eggs better?

No! There is no good animal agribusiness.

When “crate-free veal” calves are wrenched from the dairy cows who gave birth to them and kept in groups of calves, the bewildered young animals frequently mount or suck each other, or fight. Site managers use restraints on the “bully calves.” As for the egg factories, where hens have more space, there’s pecking and manure-borne disease. And for calcium-depleted laying hens, normal movements can break bones.

Commercial animals just can’t win. And then we slaughter them.

We Have the Power to Opt Out of the System.

In 1944, Donald Watson and a small group of like-minded people founded The Vegan Society. In a 2002 interview with the chair of the Society, Watson, then aged 92, said: “One of my earliest recollections in life was being taken for holidays to the little farm where my father had been born.” With the joy of being “surrounded by interesting animals” at this family farm, Watson’s “first impression of those holidays was one of heaven.”

One morning, a pig was killed. “And I still have vivid recollections of the whole process from start to finish,” Donald told the interviewer, “including all the screams of course, which were only feet away from where this pig’s companion still lived…And it followed that this idyllic scene was nothing more than Death Row. A Death Row where every creature’s days were numbered by the point at which it was no longer of service to human beings.”

That morning, Donald Watson saw the inevitable horror in keeping other animals for our own ends—even if their situation, up until their last moments, is largely pain-free.

The Vegan Society therefore defined “veganism” as:

…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.

Why Do Advocates Sideline the Vegan Call? Humans Love Our Luxuries.

For decades, Peter Singer, a professor at Princeton University and the author of Animal Liberation, has convinced activists to pursue husbandry adjustments for commercial hens and other commercially owned animals. The model keeps activists both busy and frustrated with the politically impossible work of making the treatment, transportation and slaughter of “livestock” bearable, while agribusiness expands and becomes more intensive as demand expands.

In 2006, Singer told an interviewer at The Vegan Society that “we need to cut down drastically on the animal products we consume.” Singer continued:

But does that mean a vegan world? That’s one solution, but not necessarily the only one. If it is the infliction of suffering that we are concerned about, rather than killing, then I can imagine a world in which people mostly eat plant foods, but occasionally treat themselves to the luxury of free-range eggs, or possibly even meat from animals who live good lives under conditions natural for their species, and then are humanely killed on the farm.

By calling the situation of purpose-bred animals “natural” and associating “luxury” with animal products, Singer further undermined veganism and weakened advocates.

Engineering Chickens Out of Their Feelings? Peter Singer Has Approved.

Paul Waters and Steven Pete were born with a life-threatening inability to feel pain. They described their experiences publicly. As children, they would chew their tongues, hit their heads, crash through glass, burn and cut themselves, and unwittingly injure other children. Children with this condition need constant protection to survive; some die from their injuries or resultant infections. The experiences of painless people (and the generosity of Waters and Pete in sharing their stories) helped us understand our need for pain sensitivity.

But Peter Singer is focuses on suppressing it, even if that means no feelings are left at all. In a 2006 interview for Salon.com, when Oliver Broudy asked for an opinion on bio-engineering chickens without brains, Singer answered:

It would be an ethical improvement on the present system, because it would eliminate the suffering that these birds are feeling. That’s the huge plus to me.

To believe zombie chickens are “an ethical improvement” is to promote a deep disrespect for the living beings who evolved here on Earth.

Meanwhile, as for commercial hens who have passed their laying prime, Singer told Salon

Those hens have been producing eggs for you for a year or 18 months. You have a responsibility to make sure they are killed humanely.

Killed humanely?

Not that Singer’s use of that term should surprise us. Singer’s concern has always been about managing suffering and not the profound unfairness of systematic oppression.

Vegans Need to Reclaim Animal Liberation.

We need to use our precious time defending animals’ interests in living untamed, on their terms. A leading reason for the planet’s lack of untamed space is the sheer vastness of our animal farming operations. And yet Singer also accepts animal breeding, including for farming. Singer, with Jim Mason in The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter (Rodale, 2006) wrote:

Raising lambs in the Welsh hills, for example, is a traditional form of husbandry that has existed for many centuries and makes use of land that could not otherwise provide food for humans. If the lives of the sheep are, on the whole, good ones, and they would not exist at all if the lambs were not killed and eaten, it can be argued that doing so has benefits, on the whole, for both human and animals.

Former animal farmer Harold Brown has said:

When someone portrays animal farming on any scale as a harmonious balance of natural forces, they are either delusional or lying.

I agree, Harold. Animals aren’t benefited when we purpose-breed them. In doing so, we take away from their communities all that made them free. Moreover, the whole issue for the Welsh Hills isn’t whether they can feed humans. There were other biological communities there before our sheep farms cleared them off.

Isn’t it finally time we stopped tinkering with dominion and reclaimed the term animal liberation for the vegan platform?

Photo credit: Pete Birkinshaw VIA FLICKR.com CC BY 2.0

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

The Whole Thanksgiving Thing

So, what’s everyone doing for Thanksgiving?

For me, it’s a time to gather with local friends who affirmatively appreciate being vegan. This year, I’ll be the one to host a very small gathering of friends with a vegan feast from SuTao, our best local vegan spot.

The last time I accepted an invitation to a non-100% vegan holiday gathering was more than twenty years ago. I know what I’m missing and I couldn’t bear it. That’s me. Most vegans do have ties to relatives and things are complicated. That said, no vegan I know has ever been grateful to sit at a table focused on a big greasy stuffed dead animal.

Over the last decade, I have heard an increasing measure of honesty around this time of year, at least about the human misery in this holiday’s chain of title. The truth is seeping in about the Native Americans who mourn their lost ancestors on the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. Heaven forbid anybody bring that up at the table! Never even heard about it for most of my life.

At the 1637 Pequot massacre, Europeans killed hundreds of indigenous adults and kids, burnt their village down, banned the word Pequot, and began giving thanks annually for having so quickly obliterated a community that had evolved over ten thousand years. It didn’t take the Puritans long to domesticate their violent memories into the official holiday called Thanksgiving. The place, now Mystic, Connecticut, is today packed with tourist draws, including an exhibit of trapped beluga whales.

My surroundings are similar in Chester County, just west of Phildelphia, where towns commemorate genocide. In the town of Wayne, a mural on the Post Office interior wall depicts General Anthony Wayne triumphantly standing over the body of an indigenous person. This sordid tribute to domination is highlighted by ceiling lights.

Also appearing in the mural, like props on a stage, are an eagle appearing to glorify the conquest, and a bridled horse, ready to be used in more of the same.

In nearby Valley Forge National Historical Park, too, there’s a statue of this same general. That’s the Park where the U.S. government annually baits and shoots deer, driving them off to ever-narrowing strips of greenery along the surburban roadways. Did I mention that the National Park Service puts out an education package about the Trail of Tears?

I live on a multi-unit property where the buildings have names that glorify the European settlement period: Kings, Patriots, Militia, Flintlock, Settlers, Puritan, Pilgrims, Colonial, etc. In that period, millions of acres were seized and granted to states for the land-grant colleges which, as Harold Brown tells us, etched animal husbandry into the development of the country. The descendants of displaced indigenous people have never received compensation. Their sacred ceremonial sites were pillaged, and the artifacts locked in museum displays.

Indigenous languages and ecological knowledge are nearly extinct. Everyone is harmed by the loss. In this time of climate crisis, much of what’s going or gone could be life-sustaining. We need thought, conversation, planning and action to restore what’s salvageable, to try to repair wrongs. We need to come together to create a mental shift in humanity.

Why is our task so hard? Because our cultural nomenclature is based on the dominator mentality and its much-vaunted exploits. Local leaders changed the name of the town Louella, Pennsylvania to Wayne, in tribute to the local “Indian fighter” general. You’d think they could have contemplated calling the place Sorry Does Not Cover It, Pennsylvania. Not yet.

So, the endless distractions just keep on not-ending. Preparations for traditional gatherings can be distractions when those traditions are just what we need to transcend. We need to reclaim our time, and focus on our potential…

To crowdsource

A refusal

To war any more on the bio-community

A refusal

To war against, or wall off, so-called other people.

This is a commitment worth celebrating.

Let me finish by quoting one of this blog’s readers, Lynn Kennedy, who works with Indigenous people in Canada in the area of mental wellness and substance use:

The effects of colonization continue to impact current generations. Across North America, more and more people are being awakened to the injustices being done to Indigenous peoples and people of colour and are speaking out against the injustices being wrought on these peoples. I hope this extends to the continued barbaric injustices to farmed animals, and the impact on our natural world and our collective futures.

With that hope, here is a recipe for Cashew Nut Roast that Robin Lane gave me when I was a new vegan. It’s a nutty roast I really love to make. It can stand for turning the unthinking celebration of false memories into a healthful insistence on telling the truth.

Cashew Nut Roast

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients (organic when you can):

½ pound cashew pieces 4 ounces of brown rice 6 ounces of rye toast crumbs—including caraway seeds, or a dash of celery seed. 1 medium onion, chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 large, ripe tomatoes 4 tablespoons olive oil Up to ¼ cup vegetable broth (depends on the consistency you prefer) 2 teaspoons brewer’s yeast ½ teaspoon dried basil ½ teaspoon dried thyme A squeeze of lemon and a pinch of ground pepper

Preparation:

Cook rice until tender; grind cashews. (This can easily be done by hand by carefully running a rolling pin or jar over bagged nuts.)

Chop onion and garlic finely and heat in oil until they are slightly brown; chop and add one of the tomatoes; simmer until soft and add the broth.

Combine all of the above ingredients and press into two 9-by-5-by-2½-inch loaf pans or glass round pie baking dishes. Slice second tomato and use to decorate top, then bake for 30 minutes or a bit longer at 350 degrees F / 175 C.

Cut the Cashew Nut Roast into slices to serve as a main dish, or as a side dish as an alternative to bready stuffing.

May every reader feel the support of vegan friends this season.

Love and liberation,

Lee.

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.

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 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.