Rethinking the politics of animal liberation

INTRODUCTION: It is clear to most reasonable people that apart from the Eternal Treblinka of non-human animals, other crises weigh heavy on our biosystem: Anthropogenic climate change, deforestation, water loss and pollution, soil loss, the sixth great extinction crisis and the resultant threat to ecosystems stability, islands of plastic the size of small countries floating in the Pacific and Atlantic, seemingly perennial global conflict – nowadays most often in the pursuit of war industry profits ala Naomi Klein's disaster capitalism, or in order to maintain a state of exception whereby fundamental rights can be made null and void - the spread of dread illnesses, the poisoning of our food with toxic additives of all kinds, the invasion of the food supply by GMO's touted as panacea by hegemonic corporations...The list is long and it's all fueled by an out of control economy promulgating a deadly myth of infinite growth that is profoundly at odds with the reality of our finite planet. How nice it would be if, in the face of all this, the most pressing task ahead of us was a roundtable discussion of the hermeneutics of the animal as it appears in the work of Jacques Derrida, or discerning traces of, or extrapolations to, an anti-speciesism in Giorgio Agamben or Donna Harraway, or extending various normative ethical and jurisprudential approaches beyond the usual human boundary, as though the associative weight of all these noble and satisfying academic pursuits would suffice to convince us and our peers so thoroughly of our convictions that the world would be impelled to change to meet the conclusions they draw. Admittedly, the becoming-animal of the academy is somewhat heartening. Who, after all, could fail to be a little bit encouraged when hearing major philosophers like Derrida say the following: "Although I cannot demonstrate this here, I believe– and the stakes are becoming more and more urgent– that none of the conventionally accepted limits between the so-called human living being and the so-called animal one, none of the oppositions, none of the supposedly linear and indivisible boundaries, resist a rational deconstruction– whether we are talking about language, culture, social symbolic networks, technicity or work, even the relationship to death and to mourning, and even the prohibition against or avoidance of incest– so many ‘capacities’ of which the ‘animal’ (a general singular noun!) is said so dogmatically to be bereft, impoverished." - Derrida However, it does not seem at all clear to me that much of the work here offers us a particularly effective path towards resolution, or even praxis. The often superficial 'becoming animal' of the academy, with all its zoontologies, zoosemiotics, and so forth does not come close to a full practical engagement with any relevant issues; in many ways it is merely another instance of insular and distracting ludic transversality, the narcissistic shuffling around of pieces on a board that was warned of by over sixty years ago by Herman Hesse in Magister Ludi – The Glass Bead Game: "Castalia is a symbolic realm where all spiritual values are kept alive and present, specifically through the practices of the Glass Bead Game. It depicts a future society in which the realm of culture is set apart to pursue its splendid isolation." - Herman Hesse, The Glass Bead Game It seems to me that, whether they emerge in the academy or in activist circles, many of our discussions unfold within, reinforce, and are thus captured by, a specific set of social and economic conditions, underpinned by values antithetical to the sustainable and consistent application of

an early proto-anti-industrialist sees it: "The chief premise common to both technology and science is the notion that there are no desirable limits to the increase of knowledge. It is unsustainable and the bills for three centuries of industrialization are now due. legal. and conceptual.Lewis Mumford Total liberationist Dr Steve Best also describes the situation well: "The global capitalist world system is inherently destructive to people. isolated individual standing atop a world of resources external to herself and in contrast to which her subjectivity is constructed) . without allowing for the ethical values that lead us to those causes to illuminate the other causes those values should equally be applied to. Here's how Lewis Mumford. consumerist-utilitarianism. or the anti-feminist pornography of meat. It cannot be humanized. short-term-gain (not to forget the concomitant myth of the rational. Our Cartesianism. that quantitative productivity is an end in itself.the approach these activists take when confronting ecological and human rights issues.animal ethical issues into highly limited statements of consumer intent directed to an ever-deferential and ultimately unaccountable so-called 'representative' body that forces us to enact all so-called 'resistance'. or made green-friendly. also allows us to artificially separate the ethics we apply to a specific group from a full unfolding into other domains that appear within their scope. of material goods.a paternalistic authoritarian other that positions itself as the single legitimate recipient of our demands . for example this contrast is both stark and ironic. cultural. There are other aggravating factors: The values capitalism inculcates . all so-called 'direct action'. Ronnie Lee and Peter Young are the Facebook friends of many otherwise docile vegetarians. What is fascinating in this regard is not that this sentimental mass expresses adulation for midnight maneuvers in animal research laboratories and battery farms.acquisitiveness. moral. Folk heroes like Keith Mann. THE EXCEPTIONALISM OF ANIMAL RIGHTS: Illegal action: Given the rhetoric it well as the restrictive reinforcement provided by the State . and that every means should be used to further expansion. political. and nature. civilized. Given the strong analogies animal activists are so fond of drawing – factory farms and the holocaust.Steve Best Clearly these values and conditions threaten the entire context within which such rights could ever be afforded. animals. that they live vicariously . technological. we see each of the 'causes' we affiliate ourselves with as an enclosed instance of consumerism. as a set of performances that do little more than legitimate these same forces of oppression. but rather must be transcended through revolution at all levels—economic. our Enlightenment humanist myth of rational man caught up in an entirely anthropocentric teleological unfolding. of environmental control. Let's now look at one of the clearest examples of this single cause exceptionalism: the radical approach of many animal activists to the animal rights cause and the way in which this radicalism is strongly contrasted – or even antithetical to ." . one would be forgiven for thinking that the animal rights movement was composed primarily of balaclava-clad members of the Animal Liberation Front." .

or even able to conceive of. Vigilantism has no place in a decent society!' If this is not yet clear. The rule is simple: when addressing animal issues. It is worth noting in this regard that Ronnie Lee. yet fail to see how unlikely it is that people will be willing to. when challenging those who see the exploitation of non-human animals as legitimate given man's place at the very top of the hierarchy of objectified nature. but not when you're a Greek protester whose country has been sold up the creek by Goldman Sachs in collusion with the IMF and your own government. which is something the system cannot survive. Property damnage: Property damage is okay when you're smashing up a vivisection lab.the rampages of non-human animals placed in exploitative contexts like circuses or zoos.through them. patriarchy. whereas when dealing with social or ecological issues. it does seem that at least some of those entering labs by cover of night have a useful analysis of property and systemic injustice: “We're very dangerous philosophically. Part of the danger is that we don‘t buy into the illusion that property is worth more than life…we bring that insane priority into the light. This view is perhaps best revealed through contrast with the surprisingly large crossover between feminism and veganism: the arguments and alternative values inherent in a full critique of patriarchy are almost identical to those that emerge within an honest consideration of non-human animal exploitation. How then does it make sense to simultaneously vilify the direct and. remind yourself of the common responses to human liberation actions undertaken by. 'they should just let justice take its course. Former spokesman for the ALF to heart here. expressed strong anti-Statist leanings. of intrinsic rights. the structural 'diagram'. and certainly not when you're a jobless protester in Orange Farm. South Africa. racism. that we generalize in all our other interactions with the natural world and its inhabitants. Domestication. and that many actual ALF'ers are anarchists.”) Equality and intrinsic rights: Animal rightists are also fond of using the language of equality and non-exploitation. We also defend – or even romanticise . illegal direct action is the preferred course of action. the radical choice is to vote for the democrats and get a WWF-linked credit card. yes. the founder of the ALF. theirs and ours: We tend to use sympathetic constructions of animal others in order to domesticate them. anti-authoritarian. sometimes violent actions of oppressed and marginalised humans (oppressed no matter what capitalist rhetoric might have to say about their freedom)? (If we take the words of David Barbarash. Leonard Peltier or Marie Mason were liberated from prison by brave abolitionists. who takes to lining streets with flaming tyres and destroying police cars when your needs – the addressing of which is enshrined in your post-apartheid constitution – are consistently ignored by those in power (who are ostensibly too busy servicing their own 'needs'). extending these notions to other species when most of us continue to adhere to very similar entrenched hierarchies within the systems unique to just our own. and an appeal to legitimated hierarchies on other. the likely response from the armchair ALF'ers would be. heteronormativity and cultural arrogance. to name a few – become the model. desperate individuals in occupied Palestine against Israeli forces. for instance. Direct action that illegitimates the power of the state on one hand. but that they would likely balk at such activities were they undertaken in order to liberate innocent human beings. If political prisoners like Mumia Abu Jamal. it is not so . It is not too much of a stretch to imagine that these entrenched hierarchies – authoritarian Statism.

the ability to be subjects as well as objects of justice – we can easily find some cases where we grant rights to humans where these criteria are lacking – the severely disabled. the capacity for reciprocity. the violent savages. in the colonies of rodents. even though it is originally from the utilitarian perspective of Peter Singer. But the world and its possible encounters are not exhausted by these 'consumer' relations. And this is only the surface of human exploitation. exploited and objectified. only animals: Abolitionist animal rightists like Gary Francione and Tom Regan question the property status of animals by appeal to intrinsic rights. for instance. in the . its truly strange otherness. or the very young. The marginally applied argument from marginal cases: One of the strongest arguments for affording non-human animals rights. described here by Petr Kropotkin: “Wherever I saw animal life in abundance. for instance. all red in tooth and claw. food and clean water. The subject. who is now best regarded as a new welfarist. When confronted with arguments about what criteria non-human animals lack – rationality. hard nature. In fact. so many animal rights activists use near-Social Darwinist might-is-right rhetoric to defend privilege and relative freedom in their own lives from the poor and subjugated humans seeking their fundamental rights to sanitation. of love. Solidarity. Let's not discuss. where your vegan chocolate came submitting the whole of the world to our closed-off.much that we literally infantilise a subset of animal others with names and treats and comfy cushions but rather that we don't allow animality its full range of expression. we have little hope of rescuing non-human animals from being anything more than quantifiable goods. sweatshop workers manufacturing t-shirts in developing countries are imprisoned. those Slavoj Zizek so powerfully calls 'the subjects supposed to rape and pillage'? To talk of solidarity. yet just like non-human animals it only takes sufficient distance to assuage our sense of complicity. on the lakes where scores of species and millions of individuals came together to rear their progeny. we have even moved away from the original observations of Darwin. is the argument from marginal cases. yet unless we also see how capitalism creates the very values that lead to such objectification in the first place.yet within our species it's competition that counts: why should our hard-earned tax money be spent on the lazy poor. the notion of self that is perpetuated in this manner. How strange it is then that. housing. for now. the one that must reduce and assimilate everything in the world to its own image through facile consumption. is the one constructed by capitalism. The humaneness required here – a humaneness we're ironically most likely to demonstrate through the consumption of cause-related paraphernalia like donations to Greenpeace or the purchase of Sea Shepherd t-shirts . Hereby we also domesticate ourselves and suppress our own potential for strange otherness . how we are fundamentally defined by our capacity to choose between consumer options. of shared living in relation to our non-human animal others is not even lip service if we cannot also begin to foster these same egalitarian values in our own human communities. instead of the appeals to empathy and nurture they deliver nightly from across the dinner table. in defending our callousness by appeal to secondary to fulfillment: just like non-human animals. The property status of animals. but not with each other: Animal activists do go so far as to talk about solidarity between species – how we have an ethical responsibility to look after these other inhabitants of the Earth . a priori notions of unitary subjectivity without allowing for ourselves to become in any way other through a sustained and open encounter with the world. as.

Whatever the case. as Derrida insists. wish to merely step over to the other side of that boundary they so tirelessly rally against. and during which scores of thousands of these intelligent animals came together from an immense territory.migrations of birds which took place at that time on a truly American scale along the Usuri. These accounts offer little more than a functionalist. To me it seems as though traditional normative ethical approaches are insufficient. Charges of simple misanthropy might be premature though. except as some kind of myopic consumer tokenism or displacement. deontology. instead of transgressing species boundaries. utilitarian account of being that is blindingly reflected in the current crisis of exploitation of the natural world and its framing as a mere pile of resources. the values we hold in relation to non-human animals and the arguments we use to support our actions in this regard are positioned exactly against the values we so often seem to exhibit in encounters within our own species. onto a single issue that can act as a filter for our passion.Kropotkin Misanthropy: Many of the above examples of the selective applications of ethical considerations and actions imply a deep-seated misanthropy. it seems obvious that one cannot talk of speciesism. Kantian universalism applied to the Cartesian subject lacks all nuance. as though many of those who are most passionate about the plight of our furred and feather cousins have become entirely disenchanted with humanity and. is blind to our situatedness. Summary: In summary then. Consequentialism. let's take a quick look at the ethical discourses we apply to questions of the animal. our deep knowing that something very big and complicated is very wrong and in need of radical change. reductionist. virtue ethics. Eudaimonia is captured by systemic prejudices and there is no real . and especially in a migration of fallow-deer which I witnessed on the Amur. It might be that. Even virtue ethics is guilty of submitting the final measure of what is said to be virtuous to power. of porous boundaries and slippery categories. especially not when it is so clear that without resolving the fundamental social problems I've been alluding to. all of these tend to assume the sanctity of the subject position. a situational vacuum in which the ethical encounter unfolds. non-human animals and the whole of nature. unless we fully engage the discourses of power that reinforce the objectification and exploitation of these other beings. values fostered by the power relationships we apply to the world just as they are applied to us every moment of our lives by the forms of capitalism and the State. our boundedness. and its further evolution. there is little hope for any real. in a uniquely effective way. in order to cross the Amur where it is narrowest — in all these scenes of animal life which passed before my eyes.” . flying before the coming deep snow. I saw Mutual Aid and Mutual Support carried on to an extent which made me suspect in it a feature of the greatest importance for the maintenance of life. human and non-human alike. resulting in virtues measured by how well they reify current conditions and understandings. the homogeneity and interchangeablity of all subjects and situations. ETHICS: Before briefly discussing solutions. lasting reconciliation between humans. We cannot hope for a full recognition of the rights of non-human animals. yet retain such a generalised misanthropy. the preservation of each species. current biases. the discursive and material constitution of this transient multiplicity of flows and processes that constitutes each of us. or questions of the animals. animal rights allows many of us to displace our revolutionary impulses.

(Environmental virtue ethics may be is a first step in this direction.from captivity. is what is 'out there'. even outside its human-ness. .. that would stop the logging trucks in their tracks and shut down the polluting power plants and still the oil pumps and lift plastic from the ocean and divert food to the needy and replace all GMO's and monocrops with permaculture gardens and liberate the voices of all oppressed and marginalised peoples around the globe. So we can neither lodge the human in the self.flourishing as long as the unit of analysis is the subject and not the ecosystem. emotion. of which animal rights in isolation from issues of social and ecological justice is a prime exemplar.. a set of actors wholly separate to ourselves. but find instead the relations of exposure and responsibility that constitute the ‘being’ of the human in a sociality outside itself. but rather in the awareness of one’s interconnection with others. precariousness. Power concedes nothing without a real demand and the performance of a demand is not a real demand. "An ethical life pursues that which enhances and strengthens the subject without reference to transcendental values.) In moving beyond the sanctity of the subject as enshrined in traditional normative ethics. I do not think we will find some final salvation in subjective and highly convoluted explorations of ethics and post-humanities that. Petitions and protests can serve to raise awareness. as we saw. radical action. instinct." . chiasmatically related through the idea of precarious life. ignorance. Wherever the human is. they merely serve to reproduce themselves. a set of performances legitimated by and legitimating the very system that needs to be dismantled. to free all non-human animals – and human ones too . if it can become ecological virtue ethics. perhaps somewhat tellingly.Rosi Braidotti “The concepts of animals or the animalistic become a sort of conceptual dumping ground for all the features of ourselves that we don’t like and want to expel from our definition of “the human”: irrationality. but unless they are coupled with an appeal for real. the myriad flows and complex processes and creative unfoldings we are so deeply enmeshed in.Judith Butler Regardless of the power and vitalism of these contemporary ethical approaches. or it is always distributed among beings. are. regardless of what people like Gary Francione might say. just as we saw during the unprecedentedly vast street marches that arose in opposition to the war in Iraq several years ago. the body in a word. nor ground the self in the human. millions of marchers had no impact on US imperialism then and they have no impact now. it is always outside itself in the non-human. undertaken on behalf of the entire biocommunity. What we need is much more simple. among human and non-human beings. it is. The environment." . What we need are not more sophisticated ethical arguments. Ecology is what we are part of. Single issue campaigns. would somehow magically suffice to turn the world vegan. SOLUTIONS: We need to radicalize our thinking and challenge all of our sacred cows. No. however. remember. the poststructuralist and neo-materialist feminists who have taken the lead by applying the populations thinking and process ontology of Gilles Deleuze and others to these pressing ethical questions. if they were just delivered with sufficient conviction or eloquence.

fundamental systemic change. our modes of production.that continue to oppress us. The violence an abuser enacts against his victim is not the same as the violence his victim enacts against her abuser. So did umkhontho we Sizwe. soul-destroying machineries of capitalism and the State is not the same as the violence enacted by capitalism and the State against each and all of us. creativity. necessary step to be taken by those of us who allow ourselves to fully accept the implications of animal liberation from the exceptionalism of the ALF to the inclusive justice of the ELF and beyond. Steve Best has said that: "Victims of oppression cannot advance by oppressing and victimizing others. Not in the sense that unionised Marxists need to seize the means of production in some kind of proletarian moment of divine redemption. Indeed.” . Violence is only violence in context. we need to effect massive. hegemony. endless accumulation. Even our relationships." . So did the Native North American peoples. that we should need to break with this in order to achieve it. As Ward Churchill says in his book. More importantly and positively than the need to accept the possibility of violence though. may lie our only hope. human and non-human alike. Many former Animal Liberation Front'ers recognised this in the 1990's. companionship and a proclivity for life that is truly lived. consensus. but if we are to be effective we can no longer flippantly dismiss anything beyond peaceful placard-waving as somehow antithetical to our ends. We urgently need a system that reflects these values. deference to authority. We cannot hide behind the rhetoric of fundamentalist pacifism any longer either. and find. The violence – which is almost always more accurately seen as property damage – that is enacted against the destructive. So did the Indian fighters against colonialist rule. the more we discuss the implications of this now. mutual aid. So did the Black Panthers. We need permaculture and communal living and relationship with instead of stewardship of or control over. We cannot deny the possibility that at some point violence will be necessary. they became the Earth Liberation Front.An effective campaign is more like class struggle. in our own communities: egalitarianism. but in the sense that we need to expand the boundaries of our class – the class of the exploited – to include all other life on Earth and position the full force of every moment of every life in the swelled ranks of this enlarged proletariat against the systems .Ward Churchill I do not wish to fetishize violence. and they operate only within the context of complete denial. our education. as a priori wrong. Therein. however. the more successfully we will be able to absorb its impact then. trust. The suffragettes knew this. no matter what you think Gandhi might have said. It seems the height of contradiction. that emphasises power to not power over. We need to fundamentally alter our economics. that doesn't encourage or necessitate hyper-individualism. overly-simplistic prohibitions to act serve only to facilitate our oppression and our right to extensional self-defense against great ongoing violence. . therefore. Pacifism As Pathology: “The desire for a non-violent society is the healthiest of all psychological manifestations.Steve Best I would add that they cannot advance by ignoring the oppression and victimization of others either.and if necessary those who refuse to disengage from them . There is but a single short. progress as an ends in itself and the desacralization of the whole of the natural world. The hierarchies and the endless competitive consumerism that mark our social existence are diametrically opposed to those values all of us naturally seek. these dogmatic.

an order that will guarantee to every human being free access to the earth and full enjoyment of the necessities of life.or we can have anarchy . not just ourselves. not just human liberation. we can begin the task of living anew right now. it is likely that we will. but also. it comes close to capturing the pursuit of ecosophy that Felix Guattari. them will become us. one thing is for sure: some kind of confrontation with power. This involves sharing animal rights with ecological justice and social justice activists. Anarchism stands for a social order based on the free grouping of individuals for the purpose of producing real social wealth. environment will become ecology. a sense of solidarity worthy of the name impels us to act on behalf of all. We do not need to wait for the revolution. liberation from the shackles and restraint of government. We can give up all the comforts that shield us from the existential horror of our own mortality and begin to explore everything I've been speaking about. Here. indeed.” . in admittedly anthropocentric terms: “Anarchism really stands for the liberation of the human mind from the domination of religion. following Gregory the poorest. a prominent anarchist from the beginning of the last century describes it. the liberation of the human body from the domination of property.chosen for us. and inclinations. we can call ourselves libertarian socialists if that makes us feel better. one thing is certain. we are in the presence of a circle that leads me to postulate the necessity of .Even how we make decisions.Emma Goldman If the term remains unpalatable due to its common connotations. the unitary subject of Enlightenment humanism will become partial. is almost inevitable. of the richly diverse possibilities of life. concrete and embedded multiplicity. encouraging liberal or politically apathetic animal rights people to engage in radical political discourse without reducing any of these to any other or believing that one is foundational or primary. When we put everything I've been saying together and consider it in all its glorious heterogeneity. this enhanced sense of all being in this together. What I'm talking about. we can replace it with whatever we wish. Willing workers on organic farms and refugees in recovery from Western civilization will not be spared this encounter and. If we choose well. however it plays out. is anarchism. of course. tastes. in countering the forces of subjugation with all our being instead of actively avoiding them. the domesticated animal other would become simply another index of animality. importantly. CONCLUSION: So we need not just animal liberation. although a revolution – or even countless revolutions – might well be necessary. Regardless of how we refer to this alternative way of living though. not just earth liberation. talks about in The Three Ecologies: "Without modifications to the social and material environment. naturally and through necessity. most savage sense of the word . but a total liberation that is far more than the sum of its parts and that is radically anarchist. Revolution or not though. according to individual desires. What is anarchism? Here's how Emma Goldman. We can choose anarchism – in the best sense of the word: radical egalitarian horizontalism . there can be no change in mentalities. evolve new values and also a renewed vision of the world. in the full sense of the term.

including speciesism.Steve Best .Felix Guattari In closing. in order to challenge all prejudices and hierarchies. the insights of animal rights do seem uniquely situated to address the foregoing problems. and nonviolence to the next level." . equality." . subjectively. beyond the artificial moral and legal boundaries of humanism. but only if we follow through all their implications and allow ourselves to be radically altered by them. materially and spiritually. inequality. To quote Steve Best once more: "Animal liberation is the culmination of a vast historical learning process whereby human beings gradually realize that arguments justifying hierarchy. baseless. and fallacious. politically. Animal liberation builds on the most progressive ethical and political advances human beings have made in the last 200 years and carries them to their logical conclusions. and discrimination of any kind are arbitrary.founding an "ecosophy" that would link environmental ecology to social ecology and to mental ecology. although it is not foundational. It takes the struggle for rights.

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