Beyond “Animal Rights”

Beyond “Animal Rights”

by The Paw Report

By

Alessandra Seiter

This piece was originally published on Chickpeas & Change.


I want to complicate the movement’s primary framing of its goal as achieving “animal rights.”

First, I’d like to lay out my understanding of veganism – built upon the work of other radical activists before me – as a radical politics steeped in anti-speciesism (if we define speciesism as the belief of the inherent superiority of human beings over all other beings on earth). As Ida Hammer notes, veganism is a social change movement “based on the […] ideal of non-exploitation,” and certain practices like eating an animal-free diet logically flow from this principle that we should not exploit others (November 2008). This view of veganism as a struggle for societal change rightly frames vegans as those “who seek out the root of a problem so that [they] may strike at it for a solution” (Dominick)—the definition of a radical. As radicals, vegans “base [their] choices on a radical understanding of what animal oppression really is, and [their] lifestyle is highly informed and politicized” (Dominick), rather than steeped in the mere refusal to consume the bodies of other animals.

To form a radical movement, activists must move beyond measures to reform existing structures of oppression, and instead demand a revolutionary dismantling and rebuilding of society. In the wise words of Audre Lorde, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

However, the mainstream “vegan” movement focuses heavily on reforming oppressive structures, such as lobbying for legislation to ban gestation crates and other forms of cruelty found in animal agriculture, and shifting the animal-based market to a plant-based (but still capitalist) one. Generally, the movement takes the stance that human conceptions of other animals can shift to embrace anti-speciesism under the exploitative structures of capitalism, white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy that have constructed our notions of being. Um, no.

Another exploitative structure that the mainstream “vegan” movement upholds is the nation-state, defined academically as “a form of political organization in which a group of people who share the same history, traditions, or language live in a particular area under one government” (Merriam-Webster). The modern world was founded upon the nation-state, and structures all dominant forms of political life today. Perceiving itself in a state of perpetual crisis under the “threat” of those who do not fit the standardized definition of a citizen (think of refugees, immigrants, “terrorists,” etc.), the nation-state “undertake[s] the management of the biological life of the nation directly as its own task” (Agamben). In other words, the nation-state controls the lives of all those within its jurisdiction (and often those beyond).

One integral aspect of the nation-state is the notion of rights. Though posited as a set of values by which the nation-state’s legislative body must abide in order to ensure the well-being of its citizens, rights truly function as another method of control by deeming certain bodies as worthy of political life, and others as lesser beings unable to function as fully political beings. As historian Faisal Devji notes, rights “can only be guaranteed by states and are thus never truly in the possession of those who bear them” (3099); indeed, it is only in forms of political organization in which power is concentrated in elite hands that rights come to hold any meaning (Fotopoulous & Sargis).

Thus, by advocating for the bestowal of rights upon other animals, “vegan” activists work to uphold the inherently violent and oppressive nation-state—a structure that must be challenged in order for the collective liberation of all beings to truly take form.

The “vegan” movement’s operation within a rights-based framework also works to more explicitly uphold speciesism, since it assumes that other animals desire to be indoctrinated into our anthropocentric institution of the nation-state. This framework therefore implies the superiority of human-created ideas and structures over those of other beings.

So if not rights, then for what should we as radical vegans strive? I definitely don’t purport to have all the answers here, but I would like to share with you some of Gandhi’s lesser-known ideas – as paraphrased by Devji and further interpreted by me – about how to reconceptualize what it might mean to act as a political being. Though abstract, these ideas have certainly opened up for me new possibilities of what form radical veganism might take.

Gandhi proposed and enacted a politics based on moral duties rather than rights, in which each individual would commit to their moral duties rather than fighting for their rights, such that we no longer have any dependence on the state. Our duties would question how one’s self ought relate to others, and in a way that does not prioritize one’s own needs. In this politics, we would think of ourselves as moral agents rather than victims whose rights are threatened. Even though the focus in this politics would be on the individual, this focus would not be a neoliberal one since it’s devoted to building relationships and community with others.

Whether or not we as radical vegans ultimately consider Gandhi’s framework to be helpful, I do think we need to determine the goals of radical veganism, and act from those principles.

References

Agamben, Giorgio. Means without End: Notes on Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000. Print.

Anonymous. “Animal Liberation: Devastate to Liberate, or Devastatingly Liberal?” The Anarchist Library. 8 May 2009. Web. 20 February 2015.

Devji, Faisal. The Impossible Indian: Gandhi and the Temptation of Violence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012. Kindle file.

Dominick, Brian A. “Animal Liberation and Social Revolution.” The Anarchist Library. 1997. Web. 20 February 2015.

Fotopoulos, Takis and John Sargis. “Human Liberation vs. Animal Liberation.” The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy 2.3 (June 2006): n. pag. Web. 20 February 2015.

Hammer, Ida. “Reclaiming Veganism from the Margins.” The Vegan Ideal. 21 June 2008. Web. 20 February 2015.

—. “Veganism: Not to be Confused with Animal Rights.” The Vegan Ideal. 19 November 2008. Web. 20 February 2015.

“Nation-state.” Merriam Webster. Web. 20 February 2015.

Staudenmeier, Peter. “Ambiguities of Animal Rights.” Institute for Social Ecology. 1 January 2005. Institute for Social Ecology. Web. 20 February 2015.

Subversive Energy. “Beyond Animal Liberation.” The Anarchist Library. 27 May 2012. Web. 20 February 2015.

Indian villages relocate so Nature can move in

Up until recently, the village of Ramdegi was a bustling farming community in central India’s Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve. Today, the village’s human population stands at exactly zero, though its streets and fields are now teeming with a different kind of life.

As part of an ongoing effort to reduce human conflict with wildlife, the Indian government has been encouraging communities living in and around nature reserves to relocate for the sake of peaceful coexistence — and last month, everyone in Ramdegi did just that. Around 200 families agreed to accept incentive packages to move beyond the reserve’s borders, freeing the land to be reclaimed by the surrounding biodiversity.

It didn’t take long before the village, now completely void of people, to be filled anew. A little over four weeks after the last human departed, Ramdegi is now home to herds of bisons, deer, antelope, and boars — grazing on the budding meadows that were once cropland and cattle farms.

Predators too, once reviled by villagers for killing their livestock, are returning to Ramdegi. According to the Times of India, even a tiger has been spotted prowling the grounds of the empty village, free from dangerous and often deadly conflicts with humans that have driven the species to ‘endangered’ status.

This is not the first time an entire village has moved out so nature could move in. Across India, nearly a hundred communities have already voluntarily relocated to widen tiger reserves, and dozens more are expected to follow suit in the years to come.

Human ingenuity may be unmatched in its ability to tame wild landscapes for our own ends — but as Earth’s other inhabitants struggle in the resulting wake, human capacity for compassion in making room for nature just might prove to be the greatest quality of all.

tiger

Have Humans Adapted to Eating Meat and Does it Even Matter?

Have Humans Adapted to Eating Meat and Does it Even Matter?

It is a question I’ve answered many times on this blog, so I decided it deserved its own post.

From Huffington Post article, Shattering the Meat Myth:

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine President Dr. Neal Barnard says in his book, The Power of Your Plate, in which he explains that “early humans had diets very much like other great apes, which is to say a largely plant-based diet, drawing on foods we can pick with our hands. Research suggests that meat-eating probably began by scavenging—eating the leftovers that carnivores had left behind. However, our bodies have never adapted to it. To this day, meat-eaters have a higher incidence of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other problems.”

There is no more authoritative source on anthropological issues than paleontologist Dr. Richard Leakey, who explains what anyone who has taken an introductory physiology course might have discerned intuitively—that humans are herbivores. Leakey notes that “[y]ou can’t tear flesh by hand, you can’t tear hide by hand…. We wouldn’t have been able to deal with food source that required those large canines” (although we have teeth that are called “canines,” they bear little resemblance to the canines of carnivores).

In fact, our hands are perfect for grabbing and picking fruits and vegetables. Similarly, like the intestines of other herbivores, ours are very long (carnivores have short intestines so they can quickly get rid of all that rotting flesh they eat). We don’t have sharp claws to seize and hold down prey. And most of us (hopefully) lack the instinct that would drive us to chase and then kill animals and devour their raw carcasses. Dr. Milton Mills builds on these points and offers dozens more in his essay, “A Comparative Anatomy of Eating.”

The point is this: Thousands of years ago when we were hunter-gatherers, we may have needed a bit of meat in our diets in times of scarcity, but we don’t need it now. Says Dr. William C. Roberts, editor of the American Journal of Cardiology, “Although we think we are, and we act as if we are, human beings are not natural carnivores. When we kill animals to eat them, they end up killing us, because their flesh, which contains cholesterol and saturated fat, was never intended for human beings, who are natural herbivores.”

If humans were “designed” to eat meat, why is it that most of our leading causes of death are directly linked to the ingestion of animal proteins (yes, even when it’s organic, boiled and skinless)? Why are vegans generally healthier and live longer lives? Doesn’t sound like our bodies have adapted too well to these products yet, if they’re still killing us. I’ve never heard of a lion with high cholesterol, after all.

Here’s a chart of our anatomy, compared to other animals:

Noting the similarities, I think it’s safe to conclude that we have indeed developed to be herbivores (specifically, frugivores).

But does any of our evolutionary background even matter in terms of modern-day veganism? I would say no. Since it is apparent that humans can thrive on a plant-based diet, it seems entirely irrelevant what we may have adapted to eating in the past.

So the question isn’t ‘is meat healthy’? (it isn’t) or ‘did our ancestors eat meat’? (they didn’t) or ‘do our bodies align with meat-eaters’? (they don’t). The question is ‘if we can live long, healthy lives without animal products (we can), why do we continue to exploit and abuse sentient, feeling beings?’ The answer is in the hands of carnists because I can’t see any way to justify it. Maybe they think “humane” meat is better, but if the whole process of breeding, enslaving, and killing animals is unnecessary (and actually, very unhealthy) how can we defend it at all?

The Lie We Live

– See more at: http://erinjanus.com/the-lie-we-live-video/#sthash.gHtPJx1Y.dpuf

This is a short documentary film I made and wrote questioning our freedom, the education system, corporations, money, the American capitalist system, the US government, world collapse, the environment, climate change, genetically modified food, and our treatment of animals.

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My name is Spencer Cathcart and if you want to contact me email freshtastical@gmail.com

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What We Must Do While Waiting For Revolution

Originally posted on Species and Class:

by Roland Windsor Vincent

There are not yet enough animal activists and revolutionaries to burn down the slaughterhouses and storm the halls of government.

Not enough of us to take over the corporate offices of the animal slaughter industries and arrest the boards of directors.

Not enough revolutionaries to occupy Wall Street and arrest the criminals who control the US economy.

We aren’t strong enough to bring down the government, the courts, and the thugs who protect them.

One day we may be.
I hope I live to see it.
An end to capitalism.
And end to the fascist state.
An end to those who run Big Agriculture, an end to slaughterhouses, feed lots, packing plants, and factory farms.

Until that day comes we must protect those animals we can. Rescue all we can possibly save. Recruit animal activists wherever possible.

And plan for the Revolution.

I am frequently asked…

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