Tag Archives: Intersections

Can Veganism Save the World? This is Hope

Although human relationships with the environment grow increasingly of interest to the scientific community, this same community resists a serious consideration of the role that Nonhuman Animals play in human ecology. In the green discourse, Nonhuman Animals are either objectified or ignored altogether.

As such, the critical exploration of human-nonhuman relationships in the context of climate change and environmental justice is largely relegated to activist scholars. One such researcher is Will Anderson, who’s This Is Hope: Green Vegans and the New Human Ecology presents the first comprehensive book in which Nonhuman Animals are included in the discussion as meaningful agents. Arguably, Anderson’s work acts an environmentally-focused version of Singer’s Animal Liberation. Its central thesis is that environmentalism makes no sense so long as humans persist in their systematic violence against Nonhuman Animals.

“Managing” Nature and Other Animals

The bulk of environmental literature speaks of Nonhuman Animals, not as individuals, but as abstract species categories. When individuals are lost from consideration, any number of injustices can be enacted upon them in the name of “conservation.” This includes “hunting” and lethal “wildlife management.”

In This Is Hope, readers learn how “hunters” artificially remove individuals from the environment to the effect of tampering with evolution. “Hunting” ensures that genes are systematically eliminated from populations in ways that would not otherwise occur naturally. This surely occurs when “hunters” target males, specifically those with larger bodies or more impressive antlers.

Subsequently, humans intentionally create fragile ecosystems that will require human management. The projects of “humane washing” and “green washing” are leveraged by animal exploiters and apologists to justify this forced management. As a result, continued exploitation is abetted while the more ethical (and logical) vegan solution goes ignored.

Environmental Injustice for Other Animals

Anderson’s book offers an extensive overview of how Nonhuman Animals, both domesticated and free-living, are impacted by human activity. This predominately occurs through a process of otherization. The division currently existent between humans and other animals is, as he indicates, socially constructed by humans.

His approach to this thesis is personal. Anderson shares many of his own interactions with various Nonhuman Animal communities and environmental groups to support his claims. Readers learn how Nonhuman Animals matter to the environmental discourse through case studies, research reviews, scientific evaluations of sentience, and the emotional power of anecdotal stories.

There is a discussion of the complexities involved in human and nonhuman oppression. Poverty, ecocide, misogyny, speciesism and other oppressions, he insists, are all interrelated. He also touches on the complexities involved with navigating violence against Nonhuman Animals among indigenous populations.

A fundamental issue of environmental justice for other animals is what Anderson refers to as “neo-predation.” Human predation on Nonhuman Animals is exacerbated because it is based on the increasing human population and its increasing consumption. In simply taking up space, creating noise pollution, laying roads and structural barriers, and introducing invasive species (like cows and crops), humans inflict wide-reaching damage.

A Vegan Ecology

Many significant obstacles to creating a vegan ecology exist. For one, environmentalists are wary to adopt veganism for fear of appearing too sentimental. This problem is one that is faced by many feminized social movements. The nonprofit industrial complex also seems to be at work, since so many professionalized, funding-dependent NGOs dominate the arena of conservation. They are evidenced to stifle radical discourse.

According to Anderson, differing cultural beliefs regarding the environment and Nonhuman Animals means that change-makers have no agreed upon goals. This, in turn, makes collaboration difficult. The nonprofit industry’s hyperfocus on membership and financial support is another complicating factor. “Hunters,” being important funders, enjoy the protection of their interests and a silencing of anti-speciesist ideas. Likewise, professionalized groups generally skirt association with veganism to avoid seeming unreasonable. Finally, the wealth of counter-claimsmaking promulgated by “fur,” “fishing,” and “wildlife management” industries also inhibits progress.

Points to Consider

Empathy

Anderson’s thesis is predicated on his case for the critical importance of “empathy.” However, “empathy” strategies could overshadow the material strategies necessary to truly protect and respect other animals. I would suggest that the logic of social justice and rights may be more effective or should at least be incorporated.

Empathy, while foundational to social justice efforts, could actually maintain human superiority if not buttressed. For instance, feminists do not argue that women deserve recognition and protection only because men should empathize with them. Instead, most feminists insist that women matter because they are sentient beings in their own right who deserve to be free of violence. For some two hundred years, women have rallied to codify this recognition in law and culture. Empathy is important in motivating concern, but I would hesitate to build a theory of social justice on wavering emotional states.

Carnism

Second, Anderson liberally draws on the language of “carnism “coined by Dr. Melanie Joy to describe neo-predation and anthropocentric human ecology. As I have argued elsewhere, “carnism” is a corruption of the more inclusive accurate term “speciesism.” Carnism refers specifically to consuming Nonhuman Animals for food, but a truly vegan approach would recognize that violence against animals entails much more than what humans eat. Animal liberation also extends to what humans wear, how they entertain themselves, and how they exploit other animals for labor, science, and so forth.

Overpopulation

Third, Anderson runs into problems with his focus on human population. He mostly discusses human population growth in the abstract sense, yet it is developing countries where this growth is specifically occurring. Population has largely stagnated or even declined in the West, where individuals have greater wealth and access to social services. Thus, those who politicize human population should be careful to consider just which groups of people are under scrutiny. It is usually the world’s poor and disadvantaged.

People of the Third World bear little responsibility for the destruction and occupation of nature. That responsibility is placed squarely with privileged Western populations. Anderson acknowledges global social inequalities throughout the text, but he, unfortunately, fails to do so in the context of population discussion. Population growth needs to be stopped and reversed, he insists, but exactly how this plan will be implemented goes unexamined. In reality, anti-population growth initiatives violently target poor brown peoples, specifically vulnerable women.

Privilege of Place and Movement

Anderson also suggests that people living in areas in which food must be transported at high cost or in areas that require large amounts of energy for heating and cooling should consider moving. Yet, this is an option generally only available to the socially privileged.

Indeed, a similar shortcoming arises when Anderson suggests that all populations of the world are “uniquely responsible” for the environmental crisis: “There are no exceptions” (303):

Rich and poor, indefensible over-consumers and low-scale consumers, all are drawn into the fray because we each have our varying degrees of impact that require responses. (304)

However, the majority of the world’s human population is so incredibly impoverished that its most pressing responsibility lies in basic survival. Furthermore, Anderson’s narrative of shared responsibility overlooks centuries of Western domination that has manifested this dramatic inequality. Anderson calls for change-makers to adopt “humanity” as their primary identity over nationality, ethnicity, or tribal identification. But, this position overlooks serious social and global hierarchies.

Hope

Although This is Hope repeats many problematic tropes endemic to the vegan movement’s failure to think intersectionally, its merit lies in its faith in change. Veganism, Anderson insists, is the most important means to diminish social inequality and suffering in human and nonhuman societies. For this reason, it remains a vital text in climate change resistance strategies.

A version of this essay was originally published in 2013 on The Academic Activist Vegan.


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Readers can learn more about the politics of overpopulation in vegan rhetoric 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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The Problem with Milk Not Jails

Food Justice and Prison Abolition

The American prison system threatens not only urban communities but extends into rural areas as well. The food justice movement has become increasingly aware of this association and has aligned with other collectives focused on prison abolition. Strategies often entail combatting incarceration by providing employment and economic growth. They hope to accomplish this by reconnecting the community with value-added food production and mindful consumption.

New York-based collective Milk Not Jails is one such initiative. Small farming in the United States has become less and less profitable, while, in contrast, the exploding private prison industry offers many tantalizing opportunities for profit. Milk Not Jails posits that the decline of animal agriculture has encouraged impoverished rural areas to switch from the mass incarceration of Nonhuman Animals to the mass incarceration of people of color. Subsequently, it advocates that communities switch out prisons with more dairies as a measure of resistance. It also engages in heavy community outreach to increase the demand for dairy and sustain the model.

Intersectional Failure

As with many anthropocentric food justice campaigns, Milk Not Jails exhibits a limited intersectional perspective. While Milk Not Jails hopes to alleviate the systematic exploitation of vulnerable lower class communities and communities of color, it does so by bolstering the systematic exploitation of vulnerable nonhumans.

Intersectional failure is a term that legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw applies to situations in which activists prioritize relatively privileged groups in social justice campaigns. Her work, for instance, has examined how the Black Lives Matter movement prioritizes men of color, giving scant attention or leadership opportunities to women of color.

Social movement theory supports Crenshaw’s concerns. Researchers have observed that a lack of intersectional awareness and poor coalition-building decrease a movement’s ability to resonate, gather resources, and reach goals.

Dairy and Environmental Inequality

Milk Not Jails exemplifies this intersectional failure in several ways. First, dairy production (and any Nonhuman Animal production for that matter) is not sustainable. Even localized farming practices create large amounts of waste and pollution. Nonhuman Animals made “livestock” consume massive amounts of water and grain, regardless if they lived on small farms or factory farms.

Climate change is the inevitable result of these farming practices. Indeed, the United Nations has identified animal agriculture as the leading contributor to greenhouse gas, surpassing even that created by transportation. Climate change is an injustice to all of Earth’s inhabitants, but it disproportionately harms vulnerables in the Third World.

Domestically, Nonhuman Animal agricultural operations are usually located in areas of poverty. They disproportionately impact poor whites and people of color who do not have the political power to resist stinky, polluting, dangerous agricultural facilities. Milk Not Jails may be only aggravating this environmental injustice.

Dairy and Colonial Conquest

Second, diets based in Nonhuman Animal products are rooted in a colonialist history. Sociologists have observed that colonial expansion was largely fueled by the desire to expand animal agriculture. This refers not only to the expansion of production but also the expansion of consumption. The traditional diets of many colonized people (such as those living in Asia, Africa, and Latin America) are plant-based. As colonized peoples were absorbed into settler cultures, their traditional diets were undermined and replaced by Western dietary expectations.

As a result, people of color living in the West today suffer the ill effects of animal products dumped on their communities at artificially low prices under the guise of healthfulness. Dairy is especially suspect, as most people of color are lactose intolerant. Biologically, people of European descent are more likely to exhibit the genetic glitch that allows them to consume the breastmilk of another species far past the age of weaning. Given its roots in white settler culture, dairy is promoted as “normal” and “natural” even though most humans cannot safely consume it.

Dairy and Class Oppression

Third, the consumption of dairy (and other Nonhuman Animal products) is directly linked to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, gout, obesity, and a litany of other serious, life-threatening illnesses. Diet related diseases already disproportionately impact poor persons and communities of color.

Dairy and Species Oppression

Fourth, dairies are themselves prisons. From a vegan perspective, Milk Not Jails truly advocates Nonhuman Jails Not Human Jails. Farmers forcibly impregnate young cows repeatedly in order to produce breastmilk for human consumption. These mothers, still babies themselves, must endure the intense grief and anxiety of separation from their children. Calves are most frequently removed within the first 24 hours and fed on formula so that all of mother’s milk can be redirected to humans.

Today’s cows, due to genetic manipulation, produce about ten times the amount of breastmilk they otherwise would. As a result, about 1 in 4 dairy cows suffers mastitis, a painful infection of the udder.

Although cows live about two decades without human intervention, their bodies become so worn out from dairy production that most are deemed “spent” and sent to slaughter before they reach the age of six. Many of them are too sick and disabled to walk to their death. These victims are termed “downers” and are often pushed to slaughter with forklifts.

Female calves are doomed to the same fate as their mothers. Male calves are jailed in veal crates. Veal facilities typically imprison babies in isolation and darkness. Their diet and movement are restricted to ensure that their muscles remain anemic, underdeveloped, and “tender” for the consumer. Consequently, many babies are too weak to walk to slaughter. Many go lose their sight, wits, and lives before their execution.

Milk Not Jails hopes to bring justice to vulnerable communities. By relying on nonhuman breastmilk to achieve that goal, it demonstrates a critical instersectional failure. By promoting dairy, activists are inadvertently promoting the continued oppression of people of color, peoples of the Third World, lower class persons, and nonhuman persons.

 

A version of this essay first appeared on the Academic Activist Vegan on September 23, 2013.


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Readers can learn more about intersections of gender, race, and class in vegan politics in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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Civilizing Horses and Travellers in Post-Colonial Ireland

 

Postcolonial Ireland entered the 20th century as a newly minted nation-state hoping to establish itself as a legitimate competitor in the capitalist world system. Having been subjugated under colonial animal agriculture for over four centuries, freedom from British rule would not bring freedom from British influence as Ireland opted to maintain its animal agricultural economy following decolonization in 1920. Not unlike the cows, pigs, and sheeps in their care, Irish humans had themselves been animalized under colonization, a British tactic that heightened as the nationalist movement for home rule became a credible threat. Celtic revivalists sought to reconstruct the Irish as a distinct, noble race in response, even going to far as to depict the Gaelic ethnicity as angelic in appearance and behavior (Curtis 1971). Defining its postcolonial economy by animal agriculture, furthermore, allowed Ireland to underscore its transition from the simian, brutish subhuman status the British had imposed to the civilized European construction of humanity. The Irish were no longer subjects among animals but took the place of the British in ruling over animals. This dominion supported a new national identity.

Concurrently, the animal welfare movement was rising to prominence in the United States and United Kingdom. Its leading tactic, humane education, was predicated on the belief that a society’s degenerates could be shaped into upstanding citizens in learning to care for other animals (Davis 2016). This logic was applied with great gusto to imperial and colonial subjects. Indeed, humane efforts were ultimately a project of civilizing. This project did not bode well for the animalized Irish, who had been relegated to the statuses of mongrels and vermin as they spilled onto American and British soil looking for work and resisted colonial order on their own. Irish immigrants and colonists alike were depicted as unproductive, unredeemable burdens on the state. Much of the early welfare campaigns and humane literature featured the Irish as instigators of speciesist violence who were resistant or even incapable of improvement.

Not surprisingly, then, the Irish state took great interest in humanizing its populace in the eyes of the world. To accomplish this, it emphasized its cultural prowess, economic capability, civility, and very humanity. In the early part of the 20th century, the state also employed an isolationist economic tactic with hopes of raising Ireland to the status of its peers and relieving its dependency on others, investing its resources in the development of Irish agriculture in the process. By the 1950s, this approach had proven a failure, and Ireland began to open itself to commerce in European market. In 1973, it officiated this relationship by joining the European Union. An independent Ireland thus remained under the influence of Great Britain, maintaining the British-imposed and British-benefiting animal-based economy to legitimize itself. It also maintained Britain’s ideological conflation of humaneness with civility. Postcolonial vestiges of animality would put Ireland’s Traveller population, a holdover from the colonial system, at a distinct disadvantage.

Travellers were recognized by the European Union as a unique ethnicity only in 2017. Genetic testing has revealed that Irish Travellers are biologically distinct from the settler population, but they are also distinct from the Roma Gypsies of Europe and America. It is thought that Irish Travellers emerged out of the disastrous famine years in a countrywide strategy for survival. Beginning in the 17th century, colonialists wrested land from the Irish and disrupted traditional property inheritance norms, which would be compounded by a sudden spike in the peasant population made possible by the life-sustaining, hardy, and cheaply produced potato. Famine only exacerbated this precariousness. Hundreds of thousands were evicted from their rented land, and Ireland’s “gypsies” began traveling in search of sustenance and odd jobs. They have been on the move ever since, existing today in the few remaining communal spaces on the literal margins of society. The Travellers’ resistance to the traditional markers of civilization (such as formal education, property ownership, and regular employment) encouraged considerable conflict with the settler community. Eager to prove its membership in civilized Europe, the Irish state took a harsh approach to Travellers in the 20th century, forcing assimilation and enacting policies designed to remove the unsightly and embarrassing Traveller presence that had become an eyesore with its large caravan encampments and raucous activities.

Two of the most damning policies to impact this community was the closing of the commons which transitioned Ireland into the European model of private property, and, relatedly, the 1996 Control of Horses Act which prohibited horses to roam freely. The move to secure horses is especially relevant given that it was couched in rhetoric of public nuisance and animal welfare, much as were the early welfare campaigns of the late 19th and early 20th century that had targeted the Irish. The latent function of the act was the undermining of an important cultural resource in the Traveller community. As Travellers are migrant and do not own land, their ability to keep horses legally under the new law is impeded. Across the country, cities have pushed to ban sulky racing as well, the fast-paced running of horse carts often in busy roads (which only adds to the excitement). The extreme suffering (and oftentimes death) of the nonhumans contenders (frequently young, inexperienced horses who are physically immature) has caused a moral outcry among settlers.

Travellers have responded in fierce protection of their cultural heritage. Horses had been integral to sustaining the community in the 19th century, pulling caravans and acting as economic currency and status symbols. Travellers traded in horses, both live and dead for resale or slaughter. To this day, Travellers are often disparagingly referred to as “knackers” given the importance of horse slaughter and rendering to their survival. More than this, horses were and are integral to their social life. Festivals and get-togethers revolve around horse trading, display, and competition, especially for the men. A machismo culture, the ability to train and compete horses offers a rare opportunity for boys and young men to engage masculine gender roles. Given the extreme discrimination and prejudice that the community faces in modern Ireland, this relationship with horses has become the central avenue for masculine expression. Traditional masculine markers such as successful employment, educational attainment, home ownership, land ownership, and respect in the public sphere are largely unobtainable for Traveller men, necessitating that they innovate through horse culture. The Irish state’s interference with horse ownership subsequently threatens the well-being of Traveller men, who, with a suicide rate three times that of the settler population, are already highly vulnerable. Horses are truly a lifeline for these men.

There is clearly a moral conflict manifest in the role of horses in post-colonial, civility-conscious Irish society, one that might best be addressed by a vegan feminist perspective in acknowledging the disruptive influence of colonialism and its tendency to manifest and inflame race, ethnicity, and species. This perspective explicitly draws attention to nonhuman animals, who, in becoming political symbols in situations of conflict, are relegated to absent referents. Subsequently, there is a need to rejoin horses to the conversation, as well as a need to emphasize that the construction of animality and humanity under colonialization is harmful not only for nonhuman animals, but also marginalized human groups.

 

Works Cited

Curtis, L. 1971. Of Apes and Angels. Smithsonian Institute Press.

Davis, J. 2016. The Gospel of Kindness. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

 

 


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Readers can learn more about the politics of science, race, and 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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Irish Vegan Feminism: Intersections of Sexism, Speciesism, and Resistance in Postcolonial Ireland

In Animal Rights, Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation, David Nibert (2002) suggests that the switch from an egalitarian economic structure to hunting initiated gender distinction such that sexism and speciesism are most accurately recognized as intersecting systems. Ecofeminists, too, have underscored the deep relationship between the objectification, commodification, and oppression of women and other animals (Adams 2000, Gaard 1993), a doctrine that can be described as vegan feminism. Although vegan feminism has been applied liberally to the experiences of women and other animals in the West, it has primarily focused on the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada, severely underserving historically oppressed nations which are well positioned to illuminate patterns of intersecting inequality. This essay applies vegan feminist theory to the postcolonial nation-state of Ireland, explicitly recognizing that the historical processes of anthroparchy, patriarchy, and colonialism in collectively shaping its national identity and political economy.

In the era of colonialism, dietary patterns were employed to rationalize and justify conquest and subjugation (Adams 1990). British “beefeaters” thought themselves morally, cognitively, and physically superior as a result of their carnivorous diets, whereas Indian “rice eaters” and Irish “potato eaters” where rendered effeminate and in need of rule. Indeed, Nibert (2013) argues that the colonialist system acted in tandem with the world capitalist economy, satiating the need for new resources and markets. Domestication, or, as he calls it, domesecration, was instituted across various nonhuman species to increase their exploitability. In Ireland, nationalists were keenly aware that Britain’s imposed system animal agriculture was directly tied to the suffering of Ireland’s people vis-à-vis consistent food insecurity and eviction. Others understood it as a means of pacifying and weakening the Irish constitution, advocating vegetarianism as a means of liberation. In fact, many female activists, who themselves felt domesecrated by the patriarchal rule of British colonists and Irish men alike, acknowledged the relationship between nationalism, feminism, and animal welfare. Many (such as Charlotte Despard pictured here) incorporated vegetarianism into their politics (O’Connor 2016).

Charlotte Despard

Somewhat unique for its time, Ireland’s 1916 uprising and eventual independence in 1922 explicitly incorporated feminism and recognized women’s role in manifesting the republic. Entry into the patriarchal nation-state system, however, quickly soured this liberal streak, and, by 1937, Republican feminism had disintegrated into a deeply conservative Marianism. Women were no longer agential comrades, but damsels in distress and angels of the home. Their second-class citizenry became essential to the functioning of the new society, marking Ireland as a country of traditional values but also providing considerable value in unpaid productive and reproductive labor in homes and farms. This shift coincided with the decision to reinforce animal agriculture as the leading Irish industry. Both women and other animals became livestock for the new Ireland. Although the lowered status of women and the economic exploitation of other animals were both symptoms of colonial rule, Ireland opted to rebrand these systems rather than purge them. According to vegan feminist theory, this correlation was not happenstance, but instead a predictable outcome of participation in the androcentric nation-state system. Economic structures based in the oppression of animals are frequently dependent on gender inequality as well (Wrenn 2017), but, as a feminized postcolonial nation, Ireland was itself vulnerable to exploitation from wealthier core countries made powerful by centuries of colonialist practices.

Irish National Dairy Council advert from the 1970s reads "WATCH IT FELLAS! Women are clever. They know the value of Irish cheese. Great Manfood. So watch it! Cheese is manfood!" Shows three women smiling at camera holding plates of cheese.In the decades since, global influences may sometimes challenge Ireland’s hierarchical structure. Incorporation into the European Union, for instance, has improved wages for women and welfare standards for other animals. Western influences have also ushered in more radical developments in feminism, veganism, and anti-globalization ideology. In its bid to remain competitive and culturally distinct, however, Ireland has doubled down on its misogynistic and speciesist policies. Inflexible anti-abortion and divorce policies are pitted as necessary to protect women and Irish tradition, while ever expanding animal agriculture is also hailed as higher welfare and foundational to Irish tradition. That said, as Ireland enters the postmodern era, the negotiation of global citizenship and economic participation increasingly involves a vegan or feminist perspective. In some cases, these epistemologies merge, much as they did at the dawn of the republic at the turn of the 20th century.

Works Cited
Adams, C. 2000. The Sexual Politics of Meat. New York, NY: Continuum.

Gaard, G. 1993. Ecofeminism. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Nibert, D. 2002. Animal Rights, Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation. New York, NY: Rowman and Littlefield.

——. 2013. Animal Oppression and Human Violence. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

O’Connor, M. 2011. The Female and the Species: The Animal in Irish Women’s Writing. Bern, CH: Peter Lang.

Wrenn, C. 2017. “Toward a Vegan Feminist Theory of the State.” Pp. 201-230, in Animal Oppression and Capitalism, edited by D. Nibert. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Press.


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Readers can learn more about the intersections of species and gender in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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A Vegan Feminist Response to Nonhumans First

Content Warning: This post contains graphic descriptions of violent anti-speciesism protests which involve racism, sexual assault, violence against women, and child abuse.

 

The Logic of Non-Humans First!

As intersectionality discourse has gained resonance in Nonhuman Animal rights spaces, the challenge to the previously invisibilized white- and male-centrism has inspired organized resistance. Perhaps the most visible of these countermovement efforts is the  Non-Humans First Declaration. Explicitly dismissing the importance of race, class, and gender, the declaration insists that the advancement of Nonhuman Animals should be prioritized at any cost.

The declaration was authored by a collective known as Non-Humans First!, a project of the Israeli direct action group 269life. In the 2010s, 269life rose to prominence in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement with the deployment of numerous morally shocking reenactments of violence against humans intended to allegorize nonhuman oppression.

One such public demonstration featured a woman and a child as representatives of victims of dairy production. Male activists ripped the woman’s child away, placed it on the ground, and proceeded to sexually assault the screaming woman, beating her so aggressively that she bled. The event ended with men dragging her by the neck into an unmarked van, symbolizing the eventual slaughter of dairy cows.

In another street demonstration, unclothed white activists mimicked the buying and selling of Africans by appearing in chains and branding one other with hot irons to draw connections between human and nonhuman chattel slavery.

As these examples demonstrate, the aim is to trigger the traumatic memories and realities of marginalized communities. Their discomfort is believed to inspire solidarity, encouraging audiences to recognize nonhuman oppression and become vegan.

Thus, 269life’s anti-intersectionality manifesto should be interpreted within a repertoire of violent direct action. The intention may be to highlight intersections of oppression, but, ultimately, these tactics do not respect intersectional politics as they are a product of appropriation Regardless of intention, they aggravate human inequality to make their point.

However, causing harm to vulnerable humans is not considered especially relevant. The Non-Humans First! approach demonstrates that harm to humans is ill-considered or outright provoked by its activists. For that matter, anti-speciesists who choose the latter option of provocation and ascribe to bigoted views are welcomed to participate as comrades. As the manifesto states:

No one should be excluded from participation in animal rights activities based on their views on human issues. The non-human animals are in a situation of immediate emergency and need all the help they can get! 

While it is true that the Nonhuman Animal rights movement has lagged behind similar social justice efforts, the frustration with slow-coming change and the desire to cling to any and all available resources should not cloud strategy and common decency. Nonhumans do not need all the help they can get if that “help” encumbers movement progress by aggravating social inequality and alienating potential allies.

Non-Humans First!:

Furthermore, the women’s rights, anti-racism, etc. movements have no requirement that participants reject species oppression and nor should the animal movement demand the adherence to human rights positions while animals are still in a state of emergency. Of course, every rule has its exceptions (as decided by individual groups) but these kind of bans and exclusions should not be the norm in animal rights.

Here, Non-Humans First! posits that, because there is no requirement for human rights groups to include speciesism, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement should not worry itself with respecting other humans. This is a hypermasculinized logic of “everyone out for themselves,” one that is explicitly adversarial and renders alliance-building unfeasible.

Furthermore, it is grounded in fallacy. It is inaccurate to suggest that Nonhuman Animals are in a state of emergency, but that human animals are not. Victims of war, genocide, rape, starvation, disease, slavery, etc. are most certainly in a state of emergency as well. Non-Humans First! activists wrongly presume that those who would be harmed by their offensive protests are on more or less an equal social footing, but the 21st century remains deeply unequal. Most of the world’s humanity can only dream of the privilege that is enjoyed by the average anti-speciesist activist.

 

The Privilege to Frame Suffering and Need

Indeed, it is the relative privilege afford to many Non-Humans First! activists that most likely accounts for their anti-feminist position. The suffering of the underprivileged (children, women, people of color, non-Westerners, etc.) is easily disqualified by those who do not have direct experience with it. However, the patriarchal norms of the white-centric Nonhuman Animal rights movement allow that such rhetoric is likely to resonate with other activists. Non-humans First! posturing draws on white male Western epistemology that structures anti-speciesist collective action, but it has little impact outside of movement circles where such ideas are understood to be threatening and otherizing.

 

The Entanglement of Oppression

Another reason why this approach lacks effectiveness is due to the nature of oppression. Inequalities cannot be cherry-picked. Working to end the oppression of some while abetting or aggravating the oppression of others only serves the cultural belief that oppression is acceptable.

For that matter, oppressions function in tandem and are frequently entangled. Non-humans First! will find it difficult to prioritize nonhumans without inadvertently impacting human causes. When 269 Life sexually assaults and beats women in demonstrations because “no tactical idea should be excluded from the discussion based on its conflict with human rights ideology,” it employs powerful ideologies of misogyny to shock or even threaten its audience into compliance. The repercussions are not theoretical, but have physical consequences for girls, women, and others who are vulnerable to sexual violence. Rape culture remains as pervasive as ever, and violence against women is normalized, trivialized, and even encouraged. It should be the business of anti-speciesists to denounce violence, not participate in it.

The Non-Humans First! campaign shirks responsibility in this regard by insisting that vulnerable humans are not deserving of any rights themselves until speciesism is attended to:

We are aware and concerned about the fact that some human rights improvements within a fundamentally oppressive system towards non-humans leads to increased oppression of non-human animals. For example, economic improvements leading to increases in factory farming, meat consumption, animal labs, etc. We therefore call on human beings to free their own (non-human) slaves before demanding their own rights.

But this is simply not how oppression works.

By way of an example, slaughterhouse employees are often undocumented, and have few rights whatsoever. They experience the one of the highest rates of job injury and death in all U.S. industry, while female employees face regular sexual harassment, assault and rape. Slaughterhouse workers are routinely denied benefits and job security. As a consequence, many are living in poverty and disability, struggling to stay alive and to support their families.  How is it that these persons are in a position to “free their own slaves” if they are structurally prevented from attaining even their own rights? Slaughterhouse work is so dangerous and unrewarding, workers must be assumed to be living in serious precariousness. Why else would someone enter such an occupation? In such instances, there is little choice for workers wishing for employment that aligns with their values.

When anti-intersectionalists frame human participation in immoral industries as a matter of “choice,” they obscure the fact that this is a “choice” that privileged persons rarely (if ever) have to seriously consider. Choice rhetoric works to obscure social inequality. It incorrectly blames individuals targeted by exploitative systems for the consequences of exploitative systems.

Choice rhetoric also makes little sense when considering systemic human oppressions that target minors and dependents. Child slavery and sex trafficking continues at staggering rates across the world, for example, and children are certainly not in a position to prioritize speciesism over their own welfare. Choice requires power, and only an elite few are privileged with this agency. Even if children and other vulnerables are unable to renounce speciesism, they should not be abandoned. Nor should tactics be designed that inflame the problematic ideologies and institutions that target them.

 

The Sociology of Bridge-Building and Burning

Understandably, intersectionality is a difficult concept for many activists to accept given the tremendous violence facing other animals, but the unfortunate reality is that not everyone has the “privilege” to fight specifically for Nonhuman Animals.  Many humans must focus on their own health and safety simply to survive. By villainizing vulnerable humans, Non-Humans First! creates an atmosphere of discomfort and hostility which suggests that underprivileged persons are simply part of the problem if they object to questionable tactics and are not entitled to be anti-speciesists themselves if they cannot prioritize other animals.

Although it seeks to achieve the opposite, the Non-Humans First! campaign thus nurtures division between representatives of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement (who are predominantly male and almost exclusively white, middle-class persons) and disadvantaged groups living with rape, violence, murder, enslavement, poverty, hunger, disease, and other deprivations. Solidarity, not shaming, is what is needed.

Social movement theory warns that marginalizing the large demographic of disadvantaged humans and focusing only on the interests and worldviews of the tiny fraction of elite movement leaders is ineffective. This approach will not build a strong, credible, respected, or powerful movement. Animal rights will remain marginal because it will appear out of touch with the reality of social inequality. Scientific research supports that effective social justice strategies rely on a reasoned, evidence-based, logical, non-violent framework, one that is congruent with movement goals and not antithetical to them.

 

An earlier version of this essay first appeared on the Academic Activist Vegan on September 8, 2013.


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

Readers can learn more about the intersectional politics of Nonhuman Animal rights movement 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: Identity and Effectiveness

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

 


Rachel Einwohner.  1999.  “Gender, Class, and Social Movement Outcomes:  Identity and Effectiveness in Two Animal Rights Campaigns.”  Gender and Society 13 (1):  56-76.

Animal rights organizations in the United States are predominantly female and middle class. What are the implications of the composition of these groups for animal rights activists’ abilities to achieve their goals?  In this article, the author examines the role of class and gender in the outcomes of an anti-hunting campaign and an anti-circus campaign waged by one animal rights organization in the Seattle area. The article shows that hunters make classed and gendered attributions about the activists, whereas circus patrons do not view activists in terms of these statuses and end up taking their demands more seriously. It is suggested that an “identity interaction” between the activists’ class and gender identity and that of their targets helps to explain these different reactions. The analysis also highlights the role of emotion in social movements, especially the ways in which targets perceive and react to activists’ emotional displays.

free-speech-and-hunter-harassment

Activist identity influences social movement outcome.  The Nonhuman Animal rights movement is predominantly female and middle class, and these class and gender patterns impact our campaigns.  Einwohner specifically looks at hunting and circus campaigns and finds that hunters make classed and gendered attributions about the activists. Circus goers, however, do not view activists in this stereotyped way and are more receptive to the activists’ claimsmaking.  Hunters are more likely to be from the working class and male, while circus goers are usually families from a variety of class backgrounds.

Emotion also matters, especially with large numbers of women, as women are generally stereotyped as overly emotional.  However, targets of campaigning also express emotions (frustration, anger, defensiveness, etc.) which must be considered in strategy.  Einwohner advises to pay attention to systems of race, class, and gender and how those systems influence interactions between advocates and their targets.

 

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

 

Readers can learn more about effective Nonhuman Animal rights advocacy in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 18, 2013.

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A Month of Vegan Research: Readability of Vegan Outreach Literature

effective-animal-advocacy

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


 

Humane Research Council.  2011.  Readability of Vegan Outreach Literature.  HRC:  Olympia, WA.

Increasingly, advocates are becoming aware of how whiteness, class, and privilege have shaped the anti-speciesism movement in a way that makes it almost inaccessible to disadvantaged populations.  The fact that most vegan literature reads at a level far beyond that of the average American speaks volumes about the lack of reflexivity in anti-speciesism outreach.

Literacy inequality especially impacts people of color, non-natives, people living in poverty, and others subject to educational barriers.  This report shows that the ani movement is shaped by well-off, educated white elites writing about ethics in language and conceptual frameworks that only other privileged persons can understand.  This significantly restricts the ability of the movement to expand.

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Summary of Results (from report):

  • The average U.S. adult has a 9th or 10th grade reading level, and 44% of adults have an 8th grade reading level or lower.
  • HRC recommends developing vegan outreach materials at a 7th or 8th grade reading level in order to ensure comprehensibility for a large proportion of the target audience.
  • However, all of the vegan outreach materials evaluated in the current study are written at an 11th grade reading level or higher, indicating that the vegetarian movement’s most popular materials might be incomprehensible to half or more of the target audience.
  • Based on six readability tests, the average readability scores ranged from a low reading level of 11th grade for PCRM’s vegetarian starter kit to a high of 15th grade (beyond college level) for the Humane Myth brochure.
  • Additional research including focus groups (and possibly one-on-one interviews) would allow a more comprehensive evaluation of the materials beyond basic readability.

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

 

Readers can learn more about effective Nonhuman Animal rights advocacy in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 3, 2013.

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What Black Lives Matter Can Teach White Vegans

Content Warning: Post discusses racism, sexism, and a number of other forms of discrimination, as well as the Nonhuman Animal rights movement’s protection of discriminatory attitudes and tactics.

SouthernLivesMatter

 

This is a story about symbols and solidarity. It is also a pained confession of my sometimes uncomfortable identity as a white Southerner, one that I hope can constructively add to the dialogue. As I repeatedly come up against white fragility and hostility in the Nonhuman Animal Rights movement as it responds to coalition-building and diversity efforts, I felt compelled to share my thoughts here, born of both personal experience and research in social movement studies. If you have been directed to this essay or otherwise found yourself here and you are white-identified, I encourage you to read on with an open mind. I am not judging you, I am only imploring you.

I grew up in a small town in rural Virginia. The Confederate flag was constantly present in my life. Some people hang the flag on their porch. Lots of “good ol’ boys” plaster their trucks with them. My classmates regularly wore t-shirts featuring the flag to school. Civil War heritage is a major part of life in Virginia as well, probably because much if not most of the war was fought in our state. I am and always have been a history nerd, and I even participated in Civil War living history events and “reenactments” as a teenager.

In graduate school as a young woman, the flag came up in discussion in a sociology theory class. The professor was using it as an example of how symbols become socially constructed and can hold different meanings. He asked us who in the room was not offended by the flag. I am embarrassed to say, I was the only one that raised my hand. I was also the only person from a rural and poor background in the class (poor people where I come from don’t often make it to college, and they rarely find their way into graduate school). I was acutely aware of that. When “outsiders” criticize the confederate flag, some whites interpret this as another attack on poor, working-class Southerners who, to be fair, are disproportionately burdened by a substantial amount of structural classism. Race, of course, still matters, but it is conveniently erased from the framework.

I believe I said something along those very cliche lines of, “It doesn’t mean what you think it means. I don’t see it as racist.” Then I made some awful comparison about the swastika, insisting that Hindus shouldn’t have to abandon the symbol just becomes some people think it’s racist. Oh and didn’t you know that some African Americans fought on the side of the South in the Civil War?

Yep.

That happened back in 2007 and I still remember it vividly because I am mortified by it. I thought I was being critical, but I was really just thinking about myself. It isn’t about me, though. It’s about how others are hurt by these symbols. It’s about the systems of oppression that are still ongoing, still disadvantaging, and still costing lives.

Deep down, Southerners are not ignorant of this meaning. We know it’s not just about Southern culture and working class pride. A few summers later, I was tubing the river in the area where I grew up. I got ahead of my group and while I waited on the banks for them to catch up, two older white men came up to me and started a conversation, having recognized me through their friendship with my late father. While we were shooting the breeze, one of them made an off-hand comment about how they used to have a rebel flag hanging up on a tree by the river entrance to “keep the n*****s away.” I was more or less a stranger to them, but I was white, which made them feel comfortable acknowledging the flag’s implicit meaning. Shocking how I once convinced myself that these racist symbols could ever be “colorblind,” or that my naive personal interpretation as a privileged white person could ever supersede the larger societal meaning.

I share this story because I learned from it, regret past attitudes, and wish I had not sided with self-interested defensiveness. I wish I had thought of others’ interpretations, not just my own. After all, I live in a society, not a bubble. As Black Lives Matter dominates headlines and protesters fill the streets, there has been renewed contention over the flag’s use, which has, in turn, inspired white defensiveness and counter-mobilization. For whites, the contention is a symbolic attack on their way of life (and, whether or not they are willing to admit it, their privilege). For African Americans and other people of color, it’s an attack on their very right to life and safety. The two are not comparable.

BLM

The flag is just one of many examples where meaning is contested and racial inequality runs the risk of erasure. In my observations of the vegan movement, I have seen race issues ignored altogether, silenced by white gatekeepers, or derailed with appeals to Nonhuman Animal lives. Beyond the excuses (“We have to focus!” “Animals are suffering more!”), much of the resistance has to do with activists taking personal offense when their approach is criticized: “I’m not racist! This tactic doesn’t make me racist!” “This has nothing to do with violence against women!” “Speciesism is just like the Holocaust; that’s how it really is!” etc.

Here’s the thing: 

When activists engage tactics that simulate the rape of women or disseminate images and sounds of cows being raped as a scare tactic, the movement appears sexist and callous.

When white activists publish cookbooks from an imagined stereotypical “thug” perspective, and keep pushing the book despite the protests of people hurt by these stereotypes, the movement appears racist and callous.

When middle-to-upper class (even millionaire) activists insist over and over that veganism is “easy” when, for so many living under structural oppression, it absolutely is not easy, the movement appears classist, racist, and callous.

When cis-gender activists belittle transgender persons who advocate for transgender rights instead of prioritizing speciesism, the movement appears trans-antagonistic and callous.

When thin-privileged activists politicize obesity and post billboards mocking women of size by calling them “whales” with the intention of shaming them toward veganism, the movement appears sizeist and callous.

Who would want to associate with such a movement? If participants are attracted by racist, sexist, classist, or sizeist claimsmaking of this kind, are they associates the movement will benefit from? Are these the best ambassadors for a social justice movement?

Importantly, many vegans engaging these problematic tactics have been exposed to patient explanations from people who are actually living under the oppressions themselves. Yet, vegans continue to defend these tactics with gusto, doubling down on defensiveness. In retaliation, it is vegan feminists and allies who are accused of bigotry, taking things too seriously, or looking to start trouble and drama. I am reminded of a small protest that took place at the Animal Rights National Conference in 2016 in which an audience member took his turn during the Q&A to ask the white male speaker to consider not taking up so much space at conferences to make room for marginalized voices who are rarely given platform. The moderator shut down the protester, and the audience erupted in applause. They were not clapping in support of the protester’s brave actions, but rather the moderator’s restoration of (white supremacist) order.

Defensiveness over mindfulness.

Me-myself-and-I thinking subjected me to public embarrassment in that graduate classroom so many years ago, and I have learned a very important lesson since that day. Activism isn’t about one’s own interpretation. Given that the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is largely white-identified and middle-class, the prevailing interpretations can never be considered universal. A failure to acknowledge privilege equates to a failure in resonance. Activists must consider the interpretation of those who are being hurt by movement rhetoric, attitudes, and behavior.

There are consequences resulting from this ignorance. If the goal is to grow the movement, shouldn’t activists be more concerned with the interpretations of others rather than their own? After all, resonating with the audience is one of the most important goals for any social movement.

Ethics matter as much as efficacy, however. Defensiveness over white privilege runs counter to the ethical position the Nonhuman Animal rights movement espouses. The white supremacist hijacking of symbols in an effort to racially neutralize them for the interests of privilege is not in alignment with justice. “All lives matter” claimsmaking, for instance, is frequently cited by white vegans who perhaps wish to capitalize on the visibility of Black Lives Matter mobilization to draw attention to other animals who are also suffering extreme violence. Black Lives Matter claimsmaking, however, is not race-neutral, and when whites attempt to make it so, this is an act of racism.

“All Lives Matter” is not alliance-building, it’s alliance-destroying. It suggests that mobilization to improve the life chances and well-being of the Black community is somehow unwarranted or distracting. It erases difference, and when difference goes invisible, this invisibility supports systems of inequality that feed on difference. Difference exists whether or not whites choose to acknowledge it, and rejecting its existence is complacency with oppression. Nor should readers forget the Nonhuman Animal rights movement’s historical legacy of racism. Appropriating the symbols of Black liberation when the movement has, for years, both excluded and oppressed Black persons is especially problematic.

All lives can’t matter until Black lives matter. Espousing that Black lives matter does not mean that Nonhuman Animals do not matter, or that white lives do not matter, or that anyone else’s lives do not matter. It only means that the systemic oppression faced by Blacks is abominable and must stop. White vegans have an obligation to support this effort, not to derail it.

White vegans, it’s not about you.

 

A version of this essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on July 15, 2015.


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

Readers can learn more about the legacy of racism in vegan advocacy and the importance of a pro-intersectional approach 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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Tim Wise Anti-Racism in Education Workshop

Corey Wrenn and Tim Wise Monmouth University 09-21-2015

Today I had the amazing privilege of attending a 5 hour education workshop with the esteemed Tim Wise at Monmouth University. During lunch, I was able to discuss with him one-on-one some of the patterns of white privilege and systemic racism I’ve been researching in the Nonhuman Animal rights / vegan movement. In particular, I shared with him the reactions experienced by anti-racist vegan leaders like Dr. Breeze Harper of the Sistah Vegan Project, Aph Ko of Aphro-ism, and Sarah K. Woodcock of The Abolitionist Vegan Society. While he was shocked at the push back they receive, he was also not surprised having come up against the wrath of the white-centric movement himself in the past. I was glad for the opportunity to build movement connections with one of my favorite activists.

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Status Contamination in Animal Rights

tofu-08-cover-store

My article, “Status Contamination: Women, Nonhuman Animals, and Intersectional Liberation” was published today in issue #8 of T.O.F.U. Magazine on sexism in the animal rights movement. Copies of the magazine are available on a pay-as-you-can system.

 

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