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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.

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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.

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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

victorian-women-and-animal-activism

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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A Month of Vegan Research: The Significance of Animal Suffering

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


 

Elizabeth DeCoux.  2009.  “Speaking for the Modern Prometheus:  The Significance of Animal Suffering to the Abolition Movement.”  Animal Law 16 (1):  9-64.

This Article reviews the theories and methods of Abolitionists and Welfarists and suggests one reason that they have failed to relieve animal suffering and death: Welfarists use the right tool in the service of the wrong goal; Abolitionists work toward the right goal but expressly decline to use the right tool. Specifically, Welfarists accurately portray the appalling conditions in which animals live and die, but they inaccurately claim that welfare measures can remedy those appalling conditions without any challenge to the property status of animals. Abolitionists correctly assert that the exploitation of animals must end, and they depict the astonishing rate at which animals are killed and eaten, but they typically spare their audience the unpleasant subject of animal suffering. The thesis of this Article is that the tide of animal suffering and death will turn only when Abolitionists employ the tool used to achieve social change throughout the history of the United States: accurately depicting the suffering of the oppressed, in image and narrative.

DeCoux’s article critiques the Nonhuman Animal rights movement as a failure, with vegan numbers stagnated because of our stubborn refusal to engage images of suffering.  She outlines a rich history of human abolitionist work that utilized suffering, which is not only extremely interesting but offers a learning experience for abolitionists still at work today.

sad-puppy

I respond to this article in my own publication, where I charge that anti-reform activists do indeed rely quite heavily on images of suffering.  The issue is that images of suffering have long been used as fundraising tools, prompting many activists to engage reasoned argument with hopes of highlighting a vegan anti-speciesist solution.

Audiences have been primed by decades of “humane”-centered welfare discourse. This has groomed concerned viewers to react to intense emotions by supporting reform, or more specifically, by financially supporting the organizations that exploit images of suffering.

The concern is that most of this fundraising is actually invested into organizational infrastructure and further fundraising, not Nonhuman Animal liberation. Furthermore, reform does nothing to challenge the systemic issue of speciesism; it only increases public comfort with speciesism and improves the image of exploitative industries.

 

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 11, 2013.

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The Surprising History of John Harvey Kellogg and His War on “Meat”

John Kellogg

But although the sheep goes dumb to the slaughter, do not its [sic] eloquent eyes appeal for mercy?  Do not the bleating of the calf, the bellowing of the bull, the cackling of the frightened geese, the gobbling of the reluctant turkeys, and the cries of the hundred of other creatures that we call dumb, but to each of whom nature has given its [sic] characteristic mode of speech, rise in eloquent protest against the savagery to which the instincts inherited from our cannibalistic ancestors habitually lead us?  That we are able in cold blood to take the lives of these innocent beings, then to bury their carcasses in our stomachs, as do the savage beasts of the forest, is made possible only by the fact that the ancient savage still leaps and yells in our hearts. (Kellogg 1923: 219-220).

Dr. Kellogg’s 1923 The Natural Diet of Man [sic] offers an interesting perspective into the vegetarian/vegan movement of the United States 100 years ago.

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Take, for instance, the preface and final chapter in which Kellogg complains of the “meat” industry’s reaction to post-war declines in flesh consumption.  As he explains, the industry launched an “Eat More Meat” campaign, flooding newspapers with scientific claims to “meat’s” essentialness to human health.

Take, also, the cringe-worthy examples Kellogg reprints in the chapter entitled, “Newspaper and Magazine Misinformation.”  The “meat” industry has been bombarding the public with strategic advertising to increase profits for a century or more.

Despite this entrenching ideology, Kellogg seems confident the industry would not succeed:

The packers are certainly trying to “raise the wind” in behalf of their industry, but they will not succeed.  When they set to work to find “scientific data wherewith to correct adverse propaganda,” they will find nothing to correct.  The physiologists have been stating the simple, incontrovertible facts about meat, which show its uselessness and harmfulness, and there is not a word to be said in its favor which has not already been said and resaid so many times during the past that there is nothing new to say.  […] it is not to be believed that these eminent and efficient promoters of national welfare can be persuaded by the packers to back up their “Eat More Meat” campaign, which has been organized, not in the interest of the public welfare, but simply to enrich the pocketbooks of breeders and butchers. (361)

What right have packers and breeders to undertake to exploit the consumers of food simply to create a market for their products? (362).

For a time, the scarcity of WWI normalized vegetarian and low-meat eating

For a time, the scarcity of WWI normalized vegetarian and low-meat eating

Despite this optimism, the role of “meat” in the project of oppression is deeply rooted and the “science” the industry creates is just as biased but convincing as it ever was. Kellogg, however, was witnessing the very formation of an ideology in an era of great social change. “Meat” was shaping nationhood.

Indeed, “meat”-eating and colonialism went hand-in-hand at this time.  British colonizers, for example, explained their supremacy in India as a direct consequence of the physical and mental superiority granted from consuming flesh.  Indians, who primarily ate plant-based diets, were argued to be weak, stupid, and ripe for subjugation.

This ethnocentrist and racist ideology permeated the Western defense of flesh consumption.  Dr. Kellogg counters in The Natural Diet by highlighting many of the amazing and physically exerting feats that Indians regularly achieved.  He suggests that any feebleness suffered by Indians and other colonized vegetarian groups was more accurately attributable to starvation. British imperialism, in other words, was the source of harm, not a vegetable diet.

Incidentally, Kellogg was certainly no egalitarian himself by any right. Notably, he founded a eugenics society at his Battle Creek sanitarium where he hosted conferences on “racial betterment.”

All patients at Kellogg's Battle Creek Sanitarium were expected to practice vegetarianism. Photo from Willard Library.

All patients at Kellogg’s Battle Creek Sanitarium were expected to practice vegetarianism.
Photo from Willard Library.

 

While primarily concerned with “meat’s” impact on human health, Kellogg does make an ethical appeal to vegetarianism near the end of his book:

With winter’s frost an evil day arrives,–a day of massacre, of perfidy, of assassination and bloodshed.  With knife and ax he turns upon his trusted friends,–the sheep that kissed his hand, the ox that plowed his field.  The air is filled with shrieks and moans, with cries of terror and despair; the soil is wet with warm blood, and strewn with corpses (220).

As this prose attests, plant-based eating was serious business for Dr. Kellogg. He required vegetarianism of all patients sojourning in his Battle Creek sanitarium   In fact, when patients were caught sneaking “steak,” he was known to place their meal under the microscope to grant them a closeup view of the bacteria active in the decomposing flesh. In a shock tactic that remains favored by vegan activists today, he hoped the exposure would repel and disgust them from further digression.

Perhaps understandable for the time, The Natural Diet of Man [sic] explicitly argues for vegetarianism, with only a fragmented acknowledgement of vegan politics. He does, however, note that a completely plant-based diet is just as healthful and nutritionally sufficient as a vegetarian one. It is also cheaper, he concedes.  Kellogg even recommends nut milk, a suggestion would be unheard of in today’s corporatized and monopolized food system. That’s just as well. Today’s Kelloggs cereal is fortified with animal-derived Vitamin D. Nut milk or no, it would not suitable for vegans.

 

 

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.Readers can learn more about the relationship between colonialism, racism, and speciesism as well as the media politics of nonvegan industry in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


A version of this essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on May 25, 2013.

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