Tag Archives: History

Gender and Victorian Animal Advocacy

Although the nonhuman animal rights movement in the West is frequently framed by activists and remembered by historians as gender-neutral, Donald’s (2020) Women against Cruelty (which examines meeting notes and campaigning documents reaching back to the movement’s founding in the early 19th century) demonstrates just the opposite. Women’s affinity for anti-speciesist activism within the context of a prevailing sexism which pitted all female pursuits as lesser-than would prove a difficult hurdle to surmount with regard to social movement resonance. This is not to reify or reduce women’s contributions. Women against Cruelty catalogs a diversity of feminine and feminist approaches to advancing the interests of nonhuman animals: some religious, some scientific, and some intersectional. Many women favored educational outreach, while others relied on rational debate, shocking images, direct intervention, and legal resistance.

Donald showed that women’s efforts in some ways discredited the movement through feminine associations, but, in other ways, women also buoyed it with their consistent and energetic support. Women, it is clear, existed as the movement’s foundation, providing critical insight, labor, donations, and tactical innovations. As Donald uncovers, women consistently made up the majority of various organizations’ memberships as well. However, the strict gender norms of Victorian Britain ensured that their desire to participate in the public affairs of anti-speciesism would be difficult to reconcile with their expected domestic role as caretakers (and their supposed natural affinity to other animals, a connection that many women saw as a strength but many men saw as a reason to discredit them). The Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA), for instance, routinely confined women’s participation and restricted their leadership in campaigning.

To an extent, the tension between feminine and masculine social spheres actually reflected a tension between religiosity and the changing mores of the Industrial Revolution. Activism of the 18th and early 19th centuries was imbued with Biblical doctrine, but adherence to this approach would diverge under the growing influence of capitalism. Women, responsible as they were for upholding society’s morals, became agents of a romanticized Christian vision of equality and compassion, while men, privileged with the duty to advance society through industry and politics, became immediate opponents given the importance of speciesism (and other forms of domination) to this agenda. Thus, on one level, women and girls policed speciesist cruelty, but, on another, they also came to police the unchecked power of men who increasingly pushed the boundaries of social order through conquest, colonialism, and science. The treatment of nonhuman animals, in other words, came to symbolize the uncomfortable and monumental transition into modernity.

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Readers can learn more about the history of women’s activism in my 2019 publication, Piecemeal Protest: Animal Rights in the Age of Nonprofits. The beautiful cover art for this text was created by vegan artist Lynda Bell and prints are available on her website, artbylyndabell.com.

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What Sociology Can Tell Us about Empathy for Animals

Empathy for Animals is a Core Human Value

Humans across the globe share their homes with dogs, cats, rodents, and other animals. We call them companions, pets, or even family members. Thousands of pounds are invested in these animals with regard to food, treats, toys, clothing, kennels, healthcare, and even birthdays and funeral services. Clearly humans deeply care about other animals. At our core, we have empathy for animals other than ourselves.

Exploitative Economies Distort Our Empathy for Animals

So why do so many humans stop short of extending this compassion to animals categorized as food, clothing, or labour? Sociology offers a variety of explanations according to theoretical perspectives. Many sociologists, however, point to the economic structure of a society and the commodification of nonhuman animals. David Nibert has argued that our switch to a hunting economy not only created a society newly structured around the oppression of animals (speciesism) but it also created a society divided by gender. The transition to agriculture entrenched speciesism further with the advent of domestication. This also introduced class division since agriculture allowed for surplus goods (and unequal distribution).

By the late 1500s, early capitalism and colonial expansion spread and deepened speciesism across the globe (and, in doing so, introduced racial division as well). Today, in late-stage capitalism, speciesism (animal agriculture in particular) is more intensive than ever. It is rapidly normalizing in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and other previously colonized spaces as a result of Western coercion. These are regions where plant-based consumption was once normative. The loss of traditional foodways is not only harmful for nonhuman animals identified as “food,” but the global poor identified as their consumers. Social stratification, in other words, is rooted in the adoption of speciesism as a primary economy both past and present.

Distorted Empathy for Animals Includes Humans, Too

Notice how human oppression codeveloped with animal oppression. This intersectionality is key to the sociological understanding of speciesism. Species, race, class, gender, and other social categories are economically functional. They ensure that unpleasant jobs will be filled and that labour may be exploited for low cost (or for none at all). These categories also represent social difference and tend to facilitate conflict and discourage cooperation. For sociologists, this tendency is politically relevant. A divided society, after all, is more easily manipulated by the dominant class in support of its own interests.

The most fundamental social division is that between humans and other animals. It is this animalization which separates those who are marginalized from those who are centered in society with regard to social recognition and allocation of resources. Women are animalized, people of color are animalized, humans with disabilities are animalized, homosexual people are animalized, ethnic minorities are animalized, and non-binary and trans humans are animalized. Even nonhuman animals themselves are animalized.

This is because “animal” is a social category imbrued with symbolic meaning. Just like race really has more to do with power, prestige, and access to resources than it does with one’s actual skin color, species is also not so much about one’s biological makeup (i.e. if one has hands or hooves, skin or scales). All groups, whether human or nonhuman, that are labeled “animal” are described as physically and cognitively inferior to the dominant class and can be denied rights accordingly.

Unteaching Empathy

True, nonhuman and human animals are indeed biologically different. But there are many more commonalities between the two groups. Why do we emphasize difference over sameness? I have described a society that is fundamentally in conflict. In order to maintain such a volatile system, powerful ideologies must be introduced and enforced through institutions and socialization. Psychologists point to a variety of cognitive and emotional mechanisms for managing the discomfort humans feel when faced with contradictions in their empathy toward other animals. Sociologists, however, are interested in how our empathy for some animals and our lack of empathy for others is learned (or, more accurately, is taught).

We are taught by our parents that some animals are for petting, some animals are for admiring, some are pests we should kill, and others are food we should eat. Doctors (who generally lack nutritional training) teach us that eating animals and drinking nonhuman breastmilk is good for us. We are taught by our teachers, museums, and zoos that nonhuman animals are ours to exploit. Mainstream media (which long since converged in the 1990s under the ownership of a handful of powerful billionaires) programs us that animals are objects and our using them is good for the economy. We’re being taught these lessons from childhood throughout our life course.

Reclaiming Empathy

Fortunately, if speciesism is something that is learned, that means it is something which can be unlearned. Sociologists are also interested in how social change happens and how social justice can be achieved in a society that is fundamentally unequal. Although the system may be rigged against us (and nonhuman animals), individuals can resist the erosion of our empathy by choosing food, clothing, and entertainment which does not harm other animals. Individuals can also work to create a more inclusive, peaceful world by getting active in our communities and putting pressure on policy-makers. It is possible to reclaim our empathy for animals.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the sociology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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A History of The Vegan Society

World Vegan Day was launched in 1994 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of The Vegan Society. Since then, veganism has become a cultural triumph making November 1st a day for celebration not only for veganism but for the society’s organizational success. Its radical vision and democratic structure make it an unlikely hero–I undertook a content analysis of all issues of The Vegan Society’s publication, The Vegan, to chart its rocky road to the 21st century.

The Vegan Society emerged in England in November of 1944 following a friendly but drawn-out schism within the British Vegetarian Society. While the fledgling organization was small, radical, and almost completely unfunded, it would manage to survive into the 21st century, influencing global food culture and challenging humanity’s relationship with food and other animals. What I uncovered was an organization that struggled to maintain its radical agenda in a social movement environment that had largely professionalized.

Throughout the early-to-mid 20th century, The Vegan Society prioritized Nonhuman Animal liberation, but with the neoliberalization of nonprofits in the 1980s, the organization opted to incorporate, turning a volunteer organization into a corporate competitor. A number of changes occurred as a result. The bureaucratic structural style allowed it to accommodate spikes in public interest associated with popular documentaries (such as The Animal Film), but it also necessitated a heavy reliance on fundraising to support its ambitions for growth. As a consequence, the radical claimsmaking of years prior tempered to emphasize vegan lifestyles and nutrition.

Today, The Vegan Society rarely engages the cutting-edge animal rights discourse it once did, but instead plays to less abrasive climate change themes which are not in any way animal-centric. This is a story common to organizational veterans of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. Few organizations are able to maintain a radical agenda while also pursuing mainstream politics and economic growth. What this means for Nonhuman Animal liberation in the long term is questionable.

Read the full article here.
 


Readers can learn more about the social movement politics of Nonhuman Animal rights and veganism in my 2019 publication, Piecemeal Protest: Animal Rights in the Age of Nonprofits. The beautiful cover art for this text was created by vegan artist Lynda Bell and prints are available on her website, artbylyndabell.com.
 
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Vegan Sausage Rolls are Resisting the Brexit

In the United Kingdom, a number of grocery chains ranging from Aldi’s to Sainsbury’s unveiled a new line of vegan options for the start of 2019. One such chain rolled out a rather unassuming vegan sausage roll, just one cruelty-free option amid a sea of animal products. But this one little veggie roll seemed to represent all that the conservative right had come to loathe. Right-wing news journalists are lashing out on social media, and an off-shoot of France’s yellow vest movement materialized in Manchester to protest the roll as a threat to the nation itself. “We Want Our Country Back” the vest slogans read.

In her 2015 publication The Vegan Studies Project, Laura Wright forwards the idea of anti-vegan animal nationalism, a concept positing that veganism upsets notions of national identity. Veganism is frequently associated with liberalism gone wild, a marker of snowflake privilege. More insidiously, however, since many vegan dishes hail from non-Western countries (especially mock-meats), it is also disparagingly associated with the “other,” the “east,” and uncivilized, unevolved barbary. In that respect, the resistance to veganism is often highly racialized.

The United Kingdom makes for an especially interesting case study in anti-vegan animal nationalism. Across the many centuries of British colonialism, Britain’s “beefeater” culture was heralded as factual evidence as to the superiority of Great Britain. It became a marker of civilization itself. Furthermore, it became a justification for the violent oppression of the potato-eating Irish, rice-eating Indians, and other colonial conquests in Africa, Asia, and the Carribean where plant-based eating was the norm. Political discourse of the era pointed to vegan eating as a marker of weakness and a veritable plea for Britain’s paternalistic, merciful rule.

In the era of Brexit, the Greggs protest demonstrates that these same food-based cultural tropes about the “other” persist as the slight majority of the country’s voters chose to remove themselves from the European Union to “protect their borders” and clamp down on immigration from regions deemed undesirable. Food politics, it would seem, feed ethnocentrism.

But Britain is today a very multicultural and diverse country, with, for the purposes of our discussion, restaurants and food shops serving the culinary needs and nostalgias of its former colonies as well as those regions never colonized by Britain at all but woven into the culture through processes of globalization. Food is so integral to culture and belonging, it is no wonder that these shifts on the high street are causing discomfort for some. For a population of conservatives harkening to an age of imperialism in which whites predominated in the “home country” and freely enjoyed the wealth extracted from colonized peoples of color (who were kept at a distance across oceans and continents), this modern multiculturalism disrupts this legacy of guiltless privilege and effortless oppression.

And so, when Greggs launched its simple vegan sausage roll, literally inserting the otherized, liberalized, orientalized plant-based fodder into the most cherished of all British meaty fare, conservatives were forced into a reckoning. For me, a vegan of nearly two decades, Greggs vegan sausage rolls offer me a chance to explore British cuisine in all its multicultural glory without imposing violence on other animals. But they also celebrate Britain’s resistance to the right-wing backlash that has temporarily thrown the country asunder. Dare I say, Greggs veggie rolls represent our beautifully persistent march toward a more equitable and diverse society.

Yum.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the politics of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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Animal Abolitionism, a 19th Century Holdover

The desire to totally liberate other animals from human oppression is generally thought a product of late 20th century imagining. In today’s capitalistic  movement, activists and organizations scramble to specialize and copyright their particular brand of activism, often to the effect of invisibilizing a rich activist history.

In researching for my new book on factional debate in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, I noticed that, while the abolitionist faction seems to have developed as a distinct collective in the 21st century following the energizing work of the late philosopher and activist Tom Regan, the very arguments that distinguish it were developed much earlier in the 19th century.

The abolitionist approach to Nonhuman Animal rights probably originates from its appropriation of tactics and rhetoric associated with the antislavery movement. Early vegetarian reformers were deeply involved in anti-slavery efforts, even positioning vegetarianism as a means of ending slavery. In fact, the term “abolitionist” itself is usually traced to this hugely influential movement. Like other movements against oppression, the anti-slavery cause was divided over whether or not to advocate for complete abolition or abolition-oriented gradual reforms.

Anti-slavery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison considered many anti-cruelty and vegetarian activists as colleagues, and abolitionist papers reported on vegetarian events. These early reformers also supported women’s suffrage, and explicitly encouraged women to speak at vegetarian conferences. Vegetarian suffragettes also made the connection that ending animals’ oppression was the key to ending women’s oppression.

Although born of an intersectional past, abolitionism would gradually detach as the Nonhuman Animal rights movement gained momentum. For anti-speciesists of the late 19th century onward, abolitionism referred almost exclusively to nonhumans. Regardless, the belief that the oppression of Nonhuman Animals should be abolished rather than modified or reformed is a concept that is as old as is the movement. Heated debates between welfarists and abolitionists in the early years of the SPCA in England and the AHA in America are recorded in meeting notes. Frances Power Cobbe and other antivivisectionists, enraged by reformist legislation that effectively legitimized and protected vivisectors, explicitly identified as abolitionist. Even Donald Watson and the early vegans were abolitionist, regularly lambasting welfare reforms in early issues of The Vegan.

Today’s abolitionism as was developed by Regan, then, is merely one wave of many. It is a shame that Post-Regan abolitionism has completely diverged from its early connection to anti-racism and anti-sexism, but it is heartening to rediscover this legacy of compassion and refusal to compromise.

 


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the politics of speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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Colonizing England and the Naming of Animals

 

While many recognize Great Britain as a great imperialist power responsible for untold suffering over the centuries, some might be surprised to learn that the island itself was the site of extensive colonization prior to medieval times. Historians have described it as a sort of “back water” with little political influence, making it an easy target for neighboring powers. There were the Vikings, the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons, and the Normans, all staking their claim at one point or another. With colonization came pillaging and war, but also significant cultural shifts.

Many of the stone fortresses that non-Brits associate with the English landscape were a result of the Norman takeover in 1066 following the Battle of Hastings. They were built to secure their new rule in this foreign kingdom. The Normans also brought with them French culture and immediately began to usurp land and money, ousting the majority of the old Anglo-Saxon elite. But the takeover required more than castles, land, and money, it also required some manipulation of the symbolic landscape.

Sociologists argue that language holds a certain power: it can uphold particular social norms and reinforce social hierarchies. This is why vegan sociologists often place the word “meat” in quotation marks, or refer to animals as “nonhuman animals.” Using language in this way can disrupt oppressive values and force the reader or listener to think critically about their relationship with the oppressed. Sometimes, marginalized groups will actively seek to associate with language that empowers them. For instance, in an article published with T.O.F.U. Magazine, I discuss how parents will sometimes name their daughters male names in order to improve their social status (parents will also stop naming their male children these names as they become “contaminated” with femininity).

Following the Norman conquest, an interesting phenomenon took place in the British language. The new elites tended to be French, while the large majority of the population were poor farmers who were Anglo-Saxon. The French language became a marker of privilege. William and other Norman names became quite popular in England, even among the peasants (The Battle of Hastings was won by England’s new Norman king, William the Conqueror).  By the end of the Middle Ages, the English language had absorbed quite a bit of French (as it had with a number of other languages like Latin, Gaelic, and German), but there was a time when status was tied to an association with French culture.

This is the interesting part for animal studies scholars: following the conquest, two separate languages were used to describe Nonhuman Animals, and this was based on their class association. Animals that were muddy, stinky, brutish, and still alive, were referred to in Anglo-Saxon English. Once butchered, cooked, and served at the table in a “refined” state that no longer resembles the living creature it once was, the corpse was referred to in French terminology. Pig was English; Pork was French. Sheep was English; Mutton was French. Cow was English; Beef was French.

The word “shambles” is also Old English in origin and refers to a slaughterhouse or butcher’s shop (the popular phrase “My life is a shambles” literally means that it is as messy and chaotic as a slaughterhouse). Incidentally, the French term abattoir did not come into common English use until the 19th century. Association with the “unrefined” matter of Nonhuman Animal “husbandry” and slaughter was a mark of low class status. Adding to this association, only wealthy Norman elites could afford to eat Nonhuman Animal products. Impoverished Anglo-Saxon peasants ate mostly plant-based diets.

This linguistic history, I think, demonstrates a very interesting linkage between colonization, class, and speciesism. Nonhuman Animals simply become political objects used to reinforce social hierarchies, meaning that their suffering goes unacknowledged by historians. Nonetheless, it makes for an interesting case for the entanglement of human and nonhuman oppression.

 


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the politics of speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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On Moral Relativism and Animal Liberation

White Veganism

Intersectionality is a concept that is often rejected in the Nonhuman Animal movement, a problem that is strategically calamitous.  The movement is mostly white-identified, meaning that most leaders and rank-and-file activists fail to consider how anti-speciesist claimsmaking could offend or even oppress disenfranchised humans.  Because privilege tends to be invisible to those who have it, this propensity to hurt others frustratingly does not register with many white vegans.

This is a pivotal problem because the Nonhuman Animal rights movement regularly targets the actions of marginalized groups as “low-hanging fruit.”  While white vegans may not be conscious of this fact, the speciesist actions of minorities are easy for the movement to pick on because society at large already oppresses these populations. Campaigns that target minorities are more likely to garner support from a white supremacist public because suspicions of Nonhuman Animal cruelty become yet another reason to discriminate.  Examples include dog fighting, cock fighting, bear baiting, fur wearing, the consumption of dogs and cats, whale hunting, poaching, and hoarding.  These are all traditionally associated with marginalized demographics such as lower class persons, women, people of color, and non-Westerners. Vegan researchers have noted that it has typically been these forms of speciesism that the movement rallies behind, while the actions of society’s privileged go ignored or underresourced.

Racist campaigns resonate in a racist society.

Moral Relativism

Anti-racist vegans are sometimes charged with “moral relativism” when challenging the presumed race neutrality of anti-speciesist claimsmaking. Moral relativism is the idea that what is right or wrong is contextual, changing based on the social circumstance or culture. Anti-racist vegans insist that claimsmaking must be cognizant of cultural differences to be effective, while “color blind” vegans retort that pro-intersectional vegans must not care about Nonhuman Animal suffering. Nonhuman Animals, they argue, are left vulnerable to protect political correctness.

I strongly suspect, however, that this argument is disingenuous. The “moral relativism” defense is merely a deflection that seeks to protect the status quo and avoid critical examination. Nonhuman Animal suffering is thus exploited and objectified to protect the superiority of white veganism.

The argument is not that vegans should condone or ignore speciesist behaviors engaged by non-white or non-Western cultures. The argument is only that creating single-issue campaigns that sensationalize the behaviors of people of color is racist.  These campaigns reflect white privilege in that they provide white vegans the power to judge others as lesser and protect the in-group sense of superiority.  Such an approach is offensive to marginalized groups. It exactly explains why the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is overwhelmingly white and has historically had huge difficulties building links to other movements.

Western society has been violently constructed to benefit whites, and one of those benefits is the constant validation of white ideas and opinions.  White vegans are simply not used to being criticized on cultural sensitivity because white culture is the default culture. A white supremacist society constantly reinforces the white vegan’s self-perception of goodness, righteousness, and moral superiority. This is not to blame or shame white vegans, of course, but only to insist that this bias be acknowledged.

A White Supremacist Origin

The Nonhuman Animal rights movement is white supremacist in origin (see M. Lundblad’s 2013 The Birth of a Jungle).  The movement gained momentum in the late 19th century, coinciding with the abolition of slavery and the fight to increase basic civil liberties for Britons and Americans of African decent. Advocacy and racism often overlapped as Blacks were framed as brutish, unfeeling, cruel people who could never be so pure of heart as to care about the suffering of other animals.  Nonhuman Animal advocacy was intentionally framed as a thing white people did,  a thing only white people were capable of doing.  At this time, narratives of Black men savagely raping white women were rampant, resulting in thousands of lynchings across the American South (see the work of Ida B. Wells). Blacks, Asians, Latinos, and Native Americans were also considered biologically subhuman and thus incapable of voting or receiving serious education. White society saw these groups as inherently evil and in need of control. Anti-speciesist narratives coincided with and supported these discriminatory ideologies. White activists understood that racist campaigns resonate in a racist society.

It is this history that continues to shape race relations today, and it cannot be erased from anti-speciesism efforts. People of color are institutionally oppressed by a racist criminal justice system which continues to believe that Brown and Black peoples are inherently cruel, evil, and in need of control. Should the vegan project be complicit with this dangerous stereotyping? Surely not, as the animalizing of people of color is not only an injustice to people of color, but also reinforces the cultural belief that the animal is bad. I have thus far argued that racist campaigns resonate in a racist society, but justice and compassion can also resonate. Racism is neither a stable nor progressive tactic. It only upholds the very violence the Nonhuman Animal rights movement seeks to dismantle.

Moving Forward

Ignoring the past and present of Western racism will only disservice the movement in underscoring the stereotype of veganism as a “white thing” that whites use to feel superior and brag about their privileged consumption patterns. When white vegans insist on avoiding a racialized lens, they actually underscore veganism’s racialized nature. You see, white is a race, too, and protecting its supremacy in a social movement is a political act with consequences. Veganism is not, never was, and never will be “color blind.”

White vegans can advocate for other animals in ways that do not ostracize or alienate underprivileged people (see the work of Dr. Breeze Harper).  This will involve self-reflection and awareness when planning. It also requires dialogue with those who have historically been denied participation in decision-making. This will entail a bit of extra effort, but it is worth it. Activists will not achieve real change for Nonhuman Animals by acting out of ignorance and disrespect for others.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about racism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and its consequences for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on June 11, 2013.

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A Month of Vegan Research: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation

animal-rights-dakota-pipeline

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


nibert-entanglementsDavid Nibert. 2002. Animal Rights/Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation.  

Animal Rights/Human Rights makes a clear and convincing sociological argument for the social construction of speciesism and stratification. Human oppression and the oppression of other animals are linked and often compound one another. This oppression is a product of an economically-driven unequal power dynamic.  Those who benefit from this inequality seek to reinforce and perpetuate the system with the support of ideology, the state, and the internalization of powerlessness by those being exploited.

Nibert makes the interesting observation that our use of other animals is not a natural or inevitable phenomenon, but rather a cultural manifestation that reflects institutional arrangements. Human animals once lived harmoniously in their ecosystem as foragers, as this system was much more reliable and efficient. It was not until major changes in the landscape and the increased presence of migrating large mammals approximately 20,000 years ago that hunting became accessible to humans. Nibert notes that the switch to hunting (and eventually livestock keeping) moved human society away from egalitarianism.  This marked the beginning of speciesism, but also the beginning of gender and class divisions soon thereafter. Inequality developed with a fervor from this point and ideologies and state institutions were promulgated to support it.

Nibert argues that this indoctrination is achieved through daily experiences in a stratified and hegemonically controlled society.  Speciesism and other systems of oppression are largely a product of the economic system in which they operate. To develop this proposition, Nibert walks us through progression of human society from prehistoric times, early agricultural systems, feudalism, and to finally global capitalism. Capitalism has been particularly despicable in that it amplifies the exploitation of the oppressed and also normalizes it. When oppression is accepted as normal, natural, and necessary, that oppression is legitimated and is rendered invisible.

homelessness-and-dogs

Nibert’s solution is to move away from a capitalist society. In fact, an approach that ignores the role of capitalism is very unlikely to counter the growing level of oppression of other animals in the era of the new global economic order. Nibert warns that working for a “kinder” capitalism is not practical. Without challenging the hierarchical system, there is little hope for progress. Instead, we might use the opportunities currently available in the capitalist system to transcend it. Nibert cites successes in abolishing a significant amount of vivisection in New Zealand. Because New Zealand is a country that is not economically dependent on the biomedical industry, it exists as an example of how exploitation can be curbed when there is not an institutional reliance on that exploitation.

One major oversight in this publication is the lack of a clear vegan message.  In his latest publication, Animal Oppression and Human Violence: Domesecration, Capitalism, and Global Conflict, however, liberation politics are better emphasized.

This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 1, 2013.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about intersectional theory and its relevance for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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A Month of Vegan Research: The Hidden History of Animal Resistance

animal-resistance

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.

This essay has a content warning for discussion of extreme racial violence.


 

Jason Hribal.  2010.  Fear of the Animal Planet:  The Hidden History of Animal Resistance.  Petrolia, CA:  AK Press/Counterpunch.

fear-of-the-animal-planet

The Nonhuman Animal rights movement is relatively unique in that humans must fight on behalf of those who cannot fight for themselves.  Or so we think. Activists often frame Nonhuman Animals as “innocent victims,” “the voiceless,” “helpless,” etc.  Their concept of other animals becomes paternalistic and often assumes a “human savior” complex.  In doing so, activists erase a long history of Nonhuman Animal agency and resistance.

Hribal uncovers the strange social construction of animality over the centuries. Medieval Europeans, for instance, did not consider other animals innocent in the least.  Nonhuman Animals were sometimes put on trial and punished the same as humans.  Nonhuman Animals were thought to possess rationality, free will, and moral agency, just the same as humans. They were even thought capable of premeditation.

By holding other animals accountable for their behavior, the criminal justice system functioned to control other animals.  Many nonhuman “crimes” could be linked to their resistance to enslavement and exploitation.  Today, humans have stripped other animals of all personhood and cognitive abilities, allowing for full objectification and control.

pig-on-trial

This process was also present in early America when African slaves were often put on trial.  Although whites highly animalized people of color, whites did presume they had some degree of rational intelligence.  In my rural Appalachian community, there was a famous trial of a black slave named “Blue” (Daniel Wright) who, refusing to obey orders, killed his “master” with a cradle (a multi-pronged sickle) while harvesting grain in the fields.  Strangely, instead of executing Blue outright, they proceeded with a trial.  Because he was considered property, not human, the county actually reimbursed the owner’s family with $320 after the hanging (the first legal execution in the county).  One must consider that the added effort of a trial must serve the additional purpose of social control (demonstrating law, order, and the power of the state).

In nearby Richmond, Virginia (capital of Virginia and later the capital of the Confederacy), slaves (and free blacks) utilized the court system (with certain restrictions, as in, African Americans could not testify against whites).  Obviously, the court system was intended to uphold the interests of whites and “slaveholders.”

After slavery, these discriminatory trials persisted (Remember To Kill A Mockingbird?).  The US criminal justice system is known to be extremely racist even today, with 1 in 3 African American males imprisoned at least once in their lifetimes.  Lynchmobs, parading Klansmen, and police with high-pressure hoses and trained dogs can maintain an unequal social system, but the quieter, more “civilized” court system is more efficient and effective.  It’s also least likely to inspire outrage and organized retaliation.

animal-fights-back

Hribal covers instances of escape and fighting back, providing both historical and current examples of nonhuman resistance.  He argues that these actions are deliberate.  Nonhuman Animals are acting with intent and they are asserting their own desires for freedom.  This is an important point.  The ideology of oppression would have us believe that those we enslave and exploit benefit from it and are content with the system.  When oppressed persons (human and nonhuman alike) resist, it is important evidence against the “naturalness” or “normality” of the prevailing system.  Hribal’s work is important in placing the Nonhuman Animal movement in the forefront of civil resistance movements.  It recognizes the personhood of other animals and challenges our human supremacist view that infantalizes other animals as helpless victims.

You can read in-depth reviews of the book here and here.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about the Nonhuman Animal rights industrial complex and its consequences for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 9, 2013.

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A Month of Vegan Research: The History and Legacy of Animal Rights

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The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


Diane Beers.  2006.  For the Prevention of Cruelty:  The History and Legacy of Animal Rights Activism in the United States.  Athens, OH:  Ohio University Press.

animal-rights-historyThere are several historical accounts of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement available, but this is perhaps the book I cite most frequently.  Beers’ exploration begins with the pre-World War II era where advocate organizations were (not unlike today) “predominantly white, male, urban elites led groups, while a middle- and upper-class constituency dominated by women supplied the rank and file” (8).  Before 1945, she reports, “most women asserted their voice through their impressive financial support and extensive volunteerism as members, not leaders” (9).

Many advocates were simultaneously involved in other social justice causes, with many from the ranks of abolitionists and suffragists.  Beers reports that England was several decades ahead of the United States in spearheading anti-speciesist efforts.  She cites America’s growing pains as one reason for the slow growth, but the abolitionist mobilization around the Civil War era did inspire an anti-slavery imagination.  Indeed, early  Nonhuman Animal activists relied heavily on slavery analogies.  “Back to the land” movements of the same era also inspired vegan ethics.

Humanitarian efforts of the Progressive era pushed for animal issues alongside other reform efforts.  Gender stereotypes and elitism continued to plague the movement, however, typing women as natural caregivers gave them the leverage to become active outside the home.  At this time, organizations were also under fire for their preference for conservative agendas.  Critics called these organizations a serious barrier to anti-speciesist progress.  Beers explains:

In part, evidence supported their charges.  As the national organization’s reputation and influence as apolitical insider spread, its policies increasingly reflected the interests of the opponents, and conventions increasingly ousted radical delegations.  Furthermore, industrialists generously funded the association, and that patronage created inherent limitations for campaign strategies and reforms.  More radical groups might simultaneously publish explicit exposés, prosecute companies for violations, admonish consumers for eating cruelly produced meat, and even endorse vegetarianism, but the AHA carefully avoided any tactics that would antagonize its proindustry beneficiaries.  (71)

Predictably, organizations defended this compromise as both a pragmatic necessity given political and economic realities and a benefit to the movement overall.   They also charged that abolitionist goals were utopian and only served to make the movement look fanatical, thus alienating the public. Sound familiar? Following World War II, the welfare movement and the animal rights movement had, for all intents and purposes, split ways.

This era also saw the rise in humane education, with activists hoping to reach young people with messages of social justice and compassion before they could be indoctrinated with the oppressive ideologies of the state. All was quiet on the animal rights front in the strained years surrounding World War I, but the movement grew alongside the growth of Nonhuman Animal exploitation following the war.  Post-war consumption practices made advocating concern for Nonhuman Animals especially difficult. Though successes were marginal, this period did pave the way for the radical activism of the post-1975 period.

Of course, the wave of social justice activism of the 1960s breathed new life into the movement:

Just as the abolition and suffrage movements of the nineteenth century created precedents for the ethical consideration of all creatures, the civil rights and feminist struggles of the late twentieth century blazed a trail of liberation ideology that animal defenders inevitably walked. (149)

A history of moderate tactics in tandem with anti-communist sentiment would stifle radical advocacy to some extent, although key publications in anti-speciesism in the late 20th century would popularize the goal for liberating other animals.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about the history of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and its consequences for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 16, 2013.

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