Tag Archives: Post-Speciesism

Are Teddy Bears Vegan? President Roosevelt and the SPCA

Speciesism, like any ideology of oppression, is effective in its banality. Consider the “teddy bear.” Have you ever stopped to consider its origin? It is not so cuddly as you might imagine.

Teddy bears trace back to the early 20th century. Known as the Progressive Era, this was an age of considerable change and insecurity as the country modernized and reformed. As feminists pressed for women’s rights, traditional male power was challenged and provoked resistance. Rugged masculinity became a popular “cure” for a populace thought have become weak and effeminate. This was complicated by American imperialism and war, both of which necessitated ideological support for the systemic violence, dominance, and colonization that characterized the American agenda.

As such, nationhood was bound to the celebration of masculinity and the denigration of all that was feminine. Unfortunately for Nonhuman Animals, they would become prime targets in this conflict. Prior to the turn of the 20th century, “hunting”1 was primarily associated with the lower classes engaged in substance-killing and the upper classes engaged in sport-killing. Humane societies had little interest in harassing the poor, and even less interest in antagonizing elites who could easily become a political threat. According to HSUS historian Bernard Unti,2 this changed with the election of Theodore (“Teddy”) Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s gregarious, rough-n-tumble warrior-“cowboy” persona brought hunting center stage. Humane advocates could not ignore the president’s gratuitous violence and its potential influence on impressionable youth.

Roosevelt’s “hunting” exploits drew considerable media attention and criticism from humane organizations, namely the Massachusetts SPCA. The criticism was well deserved. In one African “safari,” Roosevelt and his team were responsible for killing 11,000 animals. “Hunting” became a ritual display of Presidential power. As he visited towns across the US, citizens would present nonhuman victims, some of whom were tame, for Roosevelt to dispatch in “canned hunts.”

In one such case, one of the victims presented was in especially pitiful shape. Already mangled by “hunting” dogs, the gasping bear had been tied to a tree to await Roosevelt’s shot. Rather than maintain the pretense of a “hunt,” Roosevelt instructed his guide to “euthanize” the bear by violently stabbing him death. The bear apparently struggled considerably in this final fight for his life. The incident went viral, and Roosevelt was commended for his “compassion.” Like many epic tales of Roosevelt’s exploits, there was a political tilt. The violent and paternalistic control of Nonhuman Animals spoke not only to America’s relationship with women and foreign powers, but also to people of color. The Smithsonian, for instance, reports that the Teddy bear story analogized Roosevelt’s disdain for lynching in the South. Whatever the intended meaning, the President and bears were linked ever since. The popularity of the story sparked the sale of “teddy bear” souvenirs.

Animal-killing generally worked in Roosevelt’s favor, and he dismissed his critics with racism, ableism, and sexism. Vegetarians were simply “flabby Hindoos,” while humane activists were “soft-headed.” To Roosevelt, killing was natural, necessary, and good for the character and the nation.

Today, teddies are associated with childhood, sweetness, and even love, but their legacy is riddled with patriarchal, imperialist violence and the mass killing of Nonhuman Animals. There is also an unmistakable undercurrent of misogyny, as violence enacted on animals was a measure of reasserting masculine dominance. The animalizing of African Americans in the South in the teddy bear legacy also gives pause.  Critical Animal Scholars have also examined children’s toys as a powerful means of socializing human supremacy. I am not prepared to classify teddy bears as nonvegan, but I do advocate an honest appraisal of their questionable history.

 

Notes
1. Euphemistic terms are placed in quotations to denote their contested nature.
2. Readers can learn more about the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt and the history of humane activism in the United States in Bernard Unti’s 2002 The Quality of Mercy: Organized Animal Protection in the United States 1866-1930 (open-access). More information is also available from the Theodore Roosevelt Association.


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 the Nonhuman Animal rights movement in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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If You Care about Animals, In-Vitro Meat is Not the Answer

In Vitro Meat

Posed as the perfect neoliberal solution to relieving speciesism while protecting markets and consumer desires, a number of non-profits have positioned themselves in support of in vitro research in pursuit of “lab grown meat.” However, I am critical of solutions that seek to address the inherent problems of free market capitalism with yet more free market capitalism.

Consider that in vitro meat, while theoretically sparing millions of nonhumans the torture of agricultural industries, completely overlooks the millions of other nonhumans raised in the food system who are not directly slaughtered for their flesh, as well as those who exist outside the food industry altogether. Indeed, the most glaring shortcoming of the in vitro scheme is that it overlooks speciesist attitudes as problematic in of themselves.

In vitro meat purports to meet the supposedly insatiable public demand for Nonhuman Animal flesh (a demand that is, incidentally, artificially controlled by industry) without the guilty conscience of knowing this consumption requires the killing of Nonhuman Animals or considerable environmental pollution. Yet, only a portion of the nonhumans humans exploit are specifically raised for “meat.” In vitro schemes beg the question as to what will happen to nonhumans who are indirectly killed for flesh when their bodies become unproductive in other industries.

Dairy cattle, veal calves, wool producing sheep, layer hens, and racehorses, for example, all go to slaughter when their bodies become “spent” and they become a burden on the industry. Unless dairy and eggs become obsolete, these animals will still be sent to their deaths regardless of in vitro markets.

And what of “leather” and “fur”? In vitro meat does nothing to reduce the demand for animal flesh used for fashion.

What of rodeos, zoos, and circuses? In vitro is totally unrelated.

And vivisection? Not only does in vitro fail to solve the problem of using Nonhuman Animals as test subjects, but it will inevitably require considerable amounts of pain and death to create in vitro meat.

In a nutshell, the in vitro meat scheme ignores speciesism. It ignores an ideology of oppression. Beyond excluding many other facets of animal exploitation, it also condones the consumption and oppression of Nonhuman Animals as a symbolic matter. To “okay” this behavior, even if it is not directly hurting the select few nonhumans represented, is hugely detrimental to the advancement of Nonhuman Animal rights.

Consider a campaign to reduce sexual harassment and violence against women in which non-profits and activists strategically offer blow up dolls or “real dolls” for men to insult, beat, brutalize, or otherwise have their way with. Surely, some women will directly benefit in having the wrongs usually inflicted upon them now inflicted on their non-sentient representations. But, one must consider the symbolic consequences that will inevitably arise in a society that has normalized objectifying, sexist, and violent attitudes towards women. One could not expect that the position of women would be advanced to any significant extent if representations of women (that are actual objects) are made freely available for the privileged to buy, sell, trade, consume, and dominate. Sexism and violence would (and do) continue against women. This happens because such a strategy only supports women’s subjugated status and aggravates their objectification. A society that symbolically normalizes oppression will facilitate actual oppression. That’s common sense.

 

Finished faces wait to be united with their respective Real Doll bodies. Real Dolls is a San Diego based company that makes hi-end silicone sex dolls. The dolls sell for about $7000 each and can be customized to the clients needs. .

Technology has provided a number of substitutes for women’s bodies, but normalizing this desire to own and abuse women has serious consequences for real women are still hurt at epidemic levels in a misogynistic society.

 

If activists are in the business of combating speciesism, then in vitro meat should not be included on the tactical platter. It’s only meaningful relationship to anti-speciesism is its potential to assuage the human guilt that inevitably arises from the unnecessary consumption of sentients. The core concern, that being the rights owed to Nonhuman Animals, is obscured. Incidentally, in vitro meat schemes also ignore the terrible damage that animal products inflict on the health of vulnerable human communities.

This willful obfuscation is a strong indication that in vitro meat is a manifestation of post-speciesism. Post-speciesism supposes that speciesism is a thing of the past, or is otherwise being attended to. Species difference is thus made irrelevant, and systemic discrimination is made invisible by the fantasy. It is an ideology that works to squelch political opposition and the potential for contentious action.

In vitro meat will reduce some violence against some Nonhuman Animals, but it will allow for many other forms of violence. It reproduces the notion that Nonhuman Animals are “food,” and the institutions slaughtering them as such will not realistically end simply because in vitro becomes available. So long as prejudice and discrimination against other animals remains unchallenged, their exploitation and death will continue indefinitely.

Considering the limited nature of activist time and resources, I suggest instead a structural focus that centers the promotion of veganism. The results will be far more socially rewarding: environmental destruction will be reduced, human health will flourish, and, more importantly, Nonhuman Animals will be afforded the equal consideration they deserve. Relying too heavily on scientific and technological advancements to solve social problems could prove disastrous (though they tend to be friendlier to the capitalist interests of non-profits and their funders). In vitro science is a display of domination and privilege with limited cultural potential for achieving social justice.

 


A version of this essay was originally published on The Examiner on July 17, 2012.

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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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