Tag Archives: Ireland

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.

 

 


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 science, race, and speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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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.


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

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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Irish Car Bombs aren’t Cruelty-Free, but Not for the Reasons You Would Expect

Content Warning: Discusses violence against civilians and children in Ireland during The Troubles.

A couple drops a shot of Baileys Irish Cream into a pint of Guiness

As St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, I notice the usual sharing of veganized Irish recipes on social media sites. As with many Western countries, traditional Irish foods tend to be heavily based on Nonhuman Animal products.1 Usually vegans at least catch a break in the alcohol department, with most popular beers and liquors being animal-free. Sadly, this is not the case for many Irish drinks like Bailey’s and Guinness.2 Even brands that are vegan in America are not vegan there. With few options, I am left drinking a lot of crappy Coors Light or expensive local brews when I visit.

I can understand the social desire to drink what everyone else is drinking, especially on popular drinking holidays like St. Patrick’s Day. One of the biggest inhibitors for vegans is that desire to fit in. There is one known Guinness variety available in America that is vegan, but good luck finding it. As for Bailey’s, the veganized recipes are drearily complicated. Then, there is the inevitable desire to combine the two to create the ubiquitous “Irish Car Bomb.”

For those who aren’t in the know, the Irish Car Bomb is a widely available American drink that is especially popular on St. Patrick’s Day. It consists of a shot of Bailey’s dumped into a pint of Guinness. The drinker must consume the drink quickly before the cream in the Bailey’s curdles the beer. Yuck.

I went vegan years before I reached the legal drinking age, so I’ve never had one. Neither do I feel as though I’m missing out. Definitely not vegan, or appealing. However, this is more than a matter of nonvegan ingredients. This drink represents an important intersection in oppression.

The thing is, Irish car bombs are a symbol of national tragedy. For a period in the 1960s- 90s known as “The Troubles,” intense political skirmishing occurred in Northern Ireland with a clear ethnic and religious undercurrent. This was a gruesome time. Cities became dangerous places; folks were afraid to go out at night. Car bombing was commonplace. People were killed, some of them children. At times, bodies of victims were so dismembered from the explosions, their cleanup necessitated a shovel.

The Troubles are part of a centuries-long history of Irish oppression, with many millions suffering, starving, and dying. Even today, Northern Ireland has the highest rate of PTSD in the world. Meanwhile in America, vegans are more preoccupied with a good time in the bar with “cruelty-free” novelty drinks.

Child stands next to burning rubble and exploded car

Veganism as a political endeavor is first and foremost about Nonhuman Animals, but it cannot end with Nonhuman Animals. Vegans must begin to recognize intersections. This will necessitate a firm rejection of any objectification or commodification of human suffering in “vegan” products and Nonhuman Animal rights campaigning. So long as the movement fails to take seriously the oppression of vulnerable humans, it will appear calloused, ignorant, and illegitimate.

The vegan movement should, by all means, encourage the creation of plant-based alternatives, but this should be coupled with a respect for the suffering of others. It will be a mistake to taint the vegan project with bigotry and ugliness. Can we call our soy-Bailey ‘n beer mix by another name perhaps? Otherwise, let’s just stick to Jameson’s.

 

Notes:
1. A detailed vegan sociological history of the Irish foodscape can be found here.
2. Guinness has announced that its production process will be altered in late 2016 to become vegan-friendly, while Bailey’s introduced a vegan variant in 2017.

You can read more about eradicating racism and ethnocentrism from effective vegan outreach in A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave 2016).


A version of this post originally published on March 15, 2015 on the Academic Activist Vegan.

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What is Post-Speciesism?

Goat in a grassy meadow, "Atlantic Happy Hogs" brand

Photo from Atlantic Hogs, a “free range” institution in Ireland

 

Speciesism  is institutional discrimination and, to a lesser extent, individual prejudice against Nonhuman Animals based on their species. Speciesism is violence against Nonhuman Animals that is perpetuated by the privileged human species,1 usually for the benefit of humans. It is conducted based on the belief that nonhuman species are lesser in some way. Speciesism relies on the understanding that there is an “us” and a “them,” that humans are at the top, and other animals are below.2

Post-speciesism is an ideology which suggests that species does not matter and/or that speciesism is either a thing of the past or that it is currently being adequately attended to. Post-speciesism relies on the belief that we are “all one” and that we all have an equal place on earth or in the “circle of life.” Violence against other animals continues on to the benefit of humans, but this is no longer interpreted as a form of oppression or domination. In other words, differences in life opportunity that are based on species identification are erased from the narrative.

This erasure is essential to upholding oppression in a society where social justice ideology has been gaining momentum. For instance, Ireland’s commitment to a “green” economy commodifies humanity’s concern with speciesism, rebrands speciesist institutions, and sells essentially the same products for a much higher price because humans are paying for the symbolic value that has been attributed by post-speciesism. “Humane” labeling is the Nike swoosh that differentiates one t-shirt or tennis shoe from the next and justifies the higher price. These labels denote quality and rely on consumer trust to extort the higher price. Post-speciesist ideology facilitates this trust.

Top image shows a skewered pig's corpse charred and sliced, while bottom image shows a happy piglet in clover. Reads, "Atlantic Spit: Amazing Taste for Exciting Part. Our mission is to breed and produce happy animals that will be mouth watering, when they reach they table..."

Atlantic Hogs advertisement in Galway, Ireland

 

Post-speciesism obscures systems of oppression and relationships of domination. It makes human supremacy invisible. It allows a smiling piglet like the one above to be juxtaposed with a burned and bloodied dismembered corpse dripping body fluids and then interpreted as “mouth watering” for an “exciting party.” Species doesn’t matter here: we’re all happy. This isn’t like the old days of speciesism where violence was out, open, and celebrated. In the post-speciesist world, hurting other animals is a thing of the past because these are “happy animals” and the party is exciting.3

This post-speciesist rebranding helps speciesist industries to stand out in a heavily competitive marketplace. As with all capitalist endeavors, ideologies are necessary to obscure exploitation, to make consumption pleasurable, and to encourage the fetishization of the product.

This fetishization process is especially poignant in LUSH Cosmetic’s consumer base. While the company relies heavily on the exploitation of Nonhuman Animals in its mostly non-vegan product line, it appeals to post-speciesist ideology to stand out among the thousands of bath & body chains and create a strong customer loyalty. For instance, LUSH enjoys a faithful following from the majority of the vegan community and even funds some advocacy projects, despite its continued commitment to violence against animals. Post-speciesism thus becomes a diversion.

Screen capture of LUSH's online statement about their "Fresh Organic Free Range Eggs"

 

Consider Lush’s ingredient description for eggs:

Our organic free range eggs come from a farm that’s around 50 miles away from Lush headquarters in Poole. The farmers adhere to strict organic animal welfare standards, so the chickens are well looked after and are given plenty of space to roam outside. They eat quality organic food and are happy and stress-free in their sheds. These are the high standards of care that we expect, and demand, when animals are making such an important contribution to our products.

Notice that the inherent violence of domestication is obscured from the narrative, as is the fate of male chicks who will be killed as part of the process of egg production. The hens are also framed as consenting workers who “make contributions” to the corporation. Everyone is happy and has their place. No one is being hurt. Differences based on species identification are not relevant.

But we know that they are.

As with post-racism and post-feminism, post-speciesism is an ideology that obscures differences in experience based on identity and the very real and very violent consequences of those differences. In doing so, systems of oppression are also obscured to the benefit of society’s most privileged. Post-speciesism, as with many ideologies, is also integral to the smooth operation of the capitalist system, the system from which all oppression originates.

 

This essay was originally published on July 29th, 2015 on The Academic Activist Vegan.

 


Notes

1. Violence here is used interchangeably with oppression. Practically all human uses of other animals involve violence. Importantly, domestication itself is an act of violence. This violence can also be indirect, such as human-created pollution and ecological destruction that threaten free-living species.

2. Just as women can engage sexism against other women, Nonhuman Animals can engage speciesism against other Nonhuman Animals. Importantly, this discrimination must take place within the context of a human institution for the ultimate benefit of anthroparchy. For instance, horses and dogs are often used by humans to hurt or kill other animals and women are sometimes used by men to traffic prostituted girls and women or to produce or cast pornography. Otherwise, violence engaged by Nonhuman Animals exists as a strategy of survival. Nonhuman Animals that are biologically carnivorous would not be said to engage speciesism, as this is relegated to survival. The actions of lions, wolves, dolphins, etc. do not occur within institutions of speciesism as that of humans do. Nonhuman Animals that harm humans are not engaging speciesism for this same reason. 

3. Atlantic Hogs further facilitates this non-violent idyll by informing customers that veterinarians are present in the abattoir. Of course, veterinarians are associated with healing, nurturing, and life, which obscures the reality of suffering and violence that is taking place for human benefit.
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