Animal Liberation and Social Revolution

Brian A. Dominick

a vegan perspective on anarchism or an anarchist perspective on veganism, with a preface by Joseph M. Smith

Preface: Sharpening the Tools of Revolution

To embrace veganism and forgo the consumption and utilization of animal products is not an end, but a beginning; a new start affording the practitioner an opportunity to see everyday realities in a different light.

However, to speak of the suffering of non-human animals and the benefits of a vegan lifestyle is often a disheartening situation to the vegan, for typically the first reaction of her audience is to disagree. Opponents of veganism say that the way vegans view human-animal relationships (i.e. radically) is wrong, and that, looming on the horizon, is a severe cost for such blatant societal insubordination. Ultimately, they prophesize, the error of veganism will become obvious and, eventually, the idea thrown away.

In a strange way, however, veganisms’s critics are correct.

Not until one realizes what makes veganism “unreasonable,” will the individual realize the true reasoning behind what it means to be vegan. Not until one questions what it is that depicts veganism as “wrong,” in the eyes of non-vegans will one gain the ability to adequately address the wrongs driving their refusal to accept humanity’s violent and unwarranted treatment of non-human animals. Not until the principles of veganism are applied to the rubric of injustice as a whole will one understand the need for veganism at all.

They are correct because veganism in isolation defeats the purpose for which it is intended.

And so it goes, for the alienation experienced as an effect of breaking social conventions is often enough to make one “question” her commitment to veganism.

As a philosophy, veganism stands in defiance to ideologies touching the core of Western thought. Opposed to the irrational belief systems which establishment institutions socialize people to “accept,” the principles of veganism challenge individuals to confront the dogma they are issued and to construct new ethics and values based on the premises of compassion and justice.

Confronting the existing belief systems, however, is a frightening concept to a society that has voluntarily conscripted itself to the dominant social paradigms of the state. However, as Brian Dominick so skillfully illustrates in the following essay, it is precisely this confrontation that we must agree to make if we are honest in seeking a true assessment of what social liberation has to offer. In the totality of this process, veganism is but one element in the compound structure of social revolution. It is in this light that Brian’s essay shines its brightest. Animal Liberation and Social Revolution is a compact framework designed to assist us as we embark on the endeavor of recognizing what roles compassion, critical thinking, and rationality (ought to) play in our simultaneous deconstruction and transformation of society. Relentless in his quest to set the proverbial wheels of this transformation in motion, Brian presses us to confront the oppressive ideologies we harbor within ourselves and to uncover their linkages to the injustice that pervades every sphere of our existence.

It is Brian’s belief that each of us has been given the tools to draw these necessary conclusions. It makes no difference if you are an anarchist approaching veganism, a vegan approaching anarchism, or neither of the two. All that is required is the willingness to roll up your sleeves, sharpen those tools and start drawing, in a concerted effort, to challenge humanity’s myopic vision of what constitutes a just society.

Joseph M. Smith

November, 1995

* * *

Everyone has a limited amount of time and energy, and time taken in active work for once cause reduces the time available for another cause; but there is nothing to stop those who devote their time and energy to human problems from joining the boycott of the produce of agribusiness cruelty. It takes no more time to be a vegetarian than to eat animal flesh…. When non-vegetarians say ‘human problems come first’ I cannot help wondering what exactly it is that they are doing for humans that compels them to continue to support the wasteful ruthless, exploitation of farm animals.

—Peter Singer
Animal Liberation

Introduction: The Veganarchists

For some time now, animal liberation and the activists who struggle in its name have been embroiled in heated discourse and action. Although animal lib theory and activism have rarely been welcomed or taken seriously by the mainstream Left, many anarchists are beginning to recognize their legitimacy, not only as a valid cause, but as an integral and indispensable aspect of radical theory and revolutionary practice. While most people who call themselves anarchists have not embraced animal liberation and its corresponding lifestyle—veganism—growing numbers of young anarchists are adopting ecology- and animal-inclusive mindsets as part of their overall praxis[1].

Likewise, many vegans and animal liberationists are being influenced by anarchist thought and its rich tradition. This is evidenced by growing hostility among some animal lib activists towards the statist, capitalist, sexist, racist and ageist Establishment which has been escalating the intensity of its war not only on non-human animals, but also on their human advocates. The relatively new community of animal liberationists is rapidly becoming aware of the totality of force which fuels the speciesist machine that is modern society. As such awareness increases, so should the affinity between animal liberationists and their more socially-oriented counterparts, the anarchists.

The more we recognize the commonality and interdependence of our struggles, which we once considered quite distinguished from one another, the more we understand what liberation and revolution really mean.

Besides our far-reaching vision, anarchists and animal liberationists share strategical methodology. Without pretending to be able to speak for all, I will say that those I consider true anarchists and animal liberationists seek to realize our visions via any means effective. We understand, contrary to mainstream perceptions of us, that wanton destruction and violence will not bring about the end we desire. But unlike liberals and progressives, whose objectives are limited to reforms, we are willing to admit that real change will only be brought about if we add destructive force to our creative transformation of oppressive society. We can build all we want, and we should be pro-active where possible. But we also understand that we can make room for free creation only by obliterating that which exists to prevent our liberation.

I am vegan because I have compassion for animals; I see them as beings possessed of value not unlike humans. I am an anarchist because I have that same compassion for humans, and because I refuse to settle for compromised perspectives, half-assed strategies and sold-out objectives. As a radical, my approach to animal and human liberation is without compromise: total freedom for all, or else.

In this essay I wish to demonstrate that any approach to social change must be comprised of an understanding not only of social relationships, but also of the relationships between humans and nature, including non-human animals. I also hope to show herein why no approach to animal liberation is feasible without a thorough understanding of and immersion in the social revolutionary endeavour. We must all become, if you will, “veganarchists.”

* * *

Some animal advocates think that recognition of animal rights means opposition to abortion. Nothing could be further from the truth. Abortion represents a unique moral problem that is replicated nowhere else in society. Even if the fetus is regarded as a rights-bearing “person,” the reality is that this subservient right-holder lives inside the body of the primary right-holder—the mother. We can either leave the decision to terminate pregnancy to the mother, or we can leave the decision to some white male legislator or judge who cannot get pregnant. In our patriarchal society, those are the only choices that we have. In our view, opposition to oppression commits us to support freedom of choice.

—Anna E. Charlton, Sue Coe & Gary Francione
“The American Left Should Support Animal Rights: A Manifesto”

What is Social Revolution?

“Revolution” is one of those words whose meaning varies greatly from one person’s usage to another’s. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that no two people share the same idea of what “revolution” really is. This, in my mind, is what makes revolution truly beautiful.

When I speak of revolution, I am referring to a dramatic social transformation. But my revolution is not defined by objective changes in the world around me, such as the overthrow of the state or capitalism. Those, to me, are merely symptoms. The revolution itself cannot be found outside of us. It is wholly internal, wholly personal.

Every individual has a perspective. We each see the world in a different way. Most people, however, have their perspectives molded for them by the society in which they live. The overwhelming majority of us see the world and ourselves in ways conditioned into us by the institutions that run our lives, ie, government, family, marriage, church, corporations, school, etc. Each of these institutions, in turn, is generally a part of what I call the Establishment—an entity which exists solely for the perpetuation of the power of a relative minority. Fueled by that elite’s passion for more and more power, the Establishment necessarily draws power from the rest of the world by way of oppression.

The Establishment employs many forms of oppression; most of them commonly acknowledged but rarely understood, much less opposed. First, there is classism, which is economic oppression; statism, or the subjugation of people by political authority; sexism and homosexism, oppression based on heterosexual (male) supremacy or patriarchy; and racism, a general term for oppressions founded in ethnocentrism. Beyond these more commonly acknowledged oppressions, there is ageism, the dominance of adults over children and young people; and, finally, the oppressions which result from anthropocentrism, namely speciesism and environmental destruction[2].

Throughout history, the Establishment has been dependent upon these oppressive dynamics[3], and has increased and concentrated its power as a result of them. Consequently, each form of oppression has become interdependent upon the others. The infusion of these different oppressive dynamics has served to enhance and complement each other in versatility as well as strength.

So the force behind the institutions which have socially engineered us is the same force behind racism and speciesism, sexism and classism, and so on. It would be reasonable to assume, then, that most of us, as products of Establishment institutions, have been socially engineered to foster oppression inside and among ourselves.

Revolution is the process—it’s not an event—of challenging the false wisdom and values we’ve been indoctrinated with and of challenging the actions we’ve learned to make and not make. It is we who are the enemy; overthrowing the oppressors in our heads will be the revolution—watching their constructs fall in the streets will merely be a (joyous!) sign that we are revolting together in a unified, unrestricted manner. The social revolution is a collection of internal processes. Radical social change of the objective conditions in whose context we live can only come about as a result of such revolution.

Radical Veganism

Two more words, the meanings of which are more often than not misconstrued, are “radicalism” and “veganism.” The cooptation of these terms by short-sighted and self-centered liberals has removed the potency originally bestowed upon them. Again without claiming a monopoly on “true” definitions, I will offer my personal meanings for these terms.

Radicalism and extremism are not at all synonymous, contrary to popular belief. The word “radical” is derived from the Latin root, “rad,” which actually means “root.” Radicalism is not a measurement of degree of ideological fanaticism, to the right or the left; rather, it describes a style of approach to social problems. The radical, literally speaking, is someone who seeks out the root of a problem so that she may strike at it for a solution.

Radicals do not limit their goals to reforms. It is not their business to make concessions with victimizers to bring about an alleviation of oppression’s resulting misery. Those are tasks usually left to liberals and progressives. While acknowledging that there are often gains to be found in reforms, for the radical, nothing short of victory is a satisfying end—an end defined as a revolutionary change in the roots of oppression.

By my definition, pure vegetarianism is not veganism. Refusing to consume the products of non-human animals, while a wonderful life choice, is not in itself veganism. The vegan bases her choices on a radical understanding of what animal oppression really is, and her lifestyle choice is highly informed and politicized.

For instance, it is not uncommon for self-proclaimed vegans to justify their care free consumption of corporate products by claiming that animals are helpless while humans are not[4]). Many vegetarians fail to see the validity of human liberation causes, or see them as subordinate in importance to those of animals who cannot stand up for themselves. Such thinking exposes the liberal vegetarian’s ignorance not only of human oppression, but of the deep-seated connectedness between the capitalist system at large and the industries of animal oppression[5].

Many people who call themselves vegans and animal rights activists, in my experience, have little or no knowledge of social science; and, often, what they do “know” about the connections between society and non-human nature is laden with misnomers. For example, it is not uncommon to hear vegans argue that it is the consumption of livestock which causes world hunger. After all, more than 80% of the US’s grain harvest is fed to cattle, and that would be more than enough to feed the hungry of the world. It seems logical to conclude, then, that the end of human consumption of animals in the United States would bring about the feeding of hungry people elsewhere. Vegan guru John Robbins seems to hold this belief.

But it is entirely false! If North Americans stopped eating meat next year, it is unlikely that a single hungry person would be fed newly-freed grains grown on US soil. This is because the problem of world hunger, like that of “overpopulation,” is not at all what it seems. These problems have their root not in the availability of resources, but in the allocation of resources. Elites require scarcity—a tightly restricted supply of resources—for two major reasons. First of all, the market value of goods drops decisively as supply increases. If grains now fed to livestock were to become suddenly available, the change would drop the price of grains through the floor, undermining the profit margin. Elites with investments in the grain agricultural market, then, have interests directly corresponding to those of elites who own part of the animal agriculture market. Vegetarians tend to think that vegetable and grain farmers are benign while those involved in animal husbandry are vile. The fact is, however, that vegetables are a commodity, and those with financial interests in the vegetable industry do not want to make their product available if it means growing more to make even less profit.

Second, it is the case that the national and global distribution of food is a political tool. Governments and international economic organizations carefully manipulate food and water supplies to control entire populations. At times, food can be withheld from hungry people as a means of keeping them weak and docile. At other times, its provision is part of a strategy intended to appease restless populations on the verge of revolt.

Knowing all this, it becomes reasonable to assume that the US government, so tightly controlled by private interests, would subsidize the non-production of grains, in order to “save the industry from collapse.” Farmers would likely be paid not to grow grains, or even to destroy their crops.

It is not enough to boycott the meat industry and hope that resources will be re-allocated to feed the hungry. We must establish a system which actually intends to meet human needs, which implies social revolution.

This is only one of many connections between animal and human exploitation, but it illustrates well the need for total revolution. A revolution in the relationship between humans and animals is narrowly focused and is, in fact, preempted by the very nature of modern society. One reason animals are exploited in the first place is because their abuse is profitable. Vegetarians tend to understand this much. But the meat industry (including dairy, vivisection, etc) is not an isolated entity. The meat industry will not be destroyed until market capitalism is destroyed, for it is the latter which provides impetus and initiative to the former. And to capitalists, the prospect of easy profits from animal exploitation is irresistible.

The profit motive is not the only social factor which encourages animal exploitation. Indeed, economics is only one form of social relationship. We also have political, cultural and interpersonal relationships, each of which can be demonstrated to influence the perception that animals exist for use by humans.

The Christian Bible, and Western religions in general, are full of references to the alleged “divine right” of humans to use our non-human counterparts for our own needs. At this moment in history, it is absurd for anyone to even think that humans need to exploit animals. There is little we can gain from the suffering of non-human animals. But God supposedly said we could use them, so we continue to do so, despite the fact that we have out-evolved any real need we might have once had for them.

Vivisectors claim we can learn from non-human animals, and they use this assertion to justify the torture and murder of sentient beings. Radicals need to realize, as vegans do, that the only thing we can learn from animals is how to live in a sane and sound relationship with our environment. We need to observe animals in their natural environment, and mimic their environmental relationships, where applicable, in our own. Such an understanding of harmony between humans and nature will someday save and add value to more lives than finding a cure for cancer through the “science” of animal torture ever will. After all, the root of most cancer is in human mistreatment of nature. No radical would expect a solution to such a problem to be found in further destruction of nature by way of animal experimentation.

The correlations between speciesism and racism—between the treatment of animals and people of color—has also been explicitly (and graphically) demonstrated. In her book, The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery, Marjorie Spiegel astutely draws astounding comparisons between the treatment of animals by humans and the treatment of “inferior races” by whites, claiming “they are built around the same basic relationship—that between oppressor and oppressed.” As Spiegel illustrates, treatment of non-whites by whites has historically been startlingly similar to that of non-humans by humans. To decide one oppression is valid and the other not is to consciously limit one’s understanding of the world; it is to engage oneself in voluntary ignorance, more often than not for personal convenience. “One cause at a time,” says the monist[6] thinker, as though these interrelated dynamics can be sterilized and extracted from relation to one another.

Male dominance in the form of patriarchy and speciesism brought about by anthropocentrism has been exposed with poetic clarity by Carol Adams in her book The Sexual Politics of Meat. Feminism and veganism have much in common, and each has plenty to teach to and learn from the other. After drawing concrete comparisons between the patriarchal perspective and treatment of animals, Adams describes and calls for recognition of the deep connection between vegan and feminist lifestyles.

One comparison between interpersonal relations and human-animal relations which has not been thoroughly examined, to my knowledge, includes the adult treatment of children and young people, as well as the adult treatment of the elderly. In each case, the oppressed is seen as someone not in possession of full agency for her or his actions. For instance, children and old folks alike are seen as feeble and incompetent (regardless of their actual potential for responsibility). Ageism is rooted in something I call adultocracy, which refers to the notion that adulthood is possessed of a certain quality of responsibility not found in the aged or young. Like animals, those oppressed by ageism are treated as objects devoid of individual character and value. They are exploited whenever possible, spoiled when deemed “cute,” but almost never given the respect offered adult humans. That children, the elderly and animals are living, thinking, sentient beings is somehow lost in the adult quest for dominance and power. Not unlike patriarchy, adultocracy doesn’t require formal hierarchy: it asserts its dominance by convincing its victims they are indeed less valid than their adult oppressors. Non-humans, too, can be easily invalidated. Simply depriving them of any freedom to develop individual character is a major step in that direction.

There is no question that the state is on the side of those who exploit animals. With a few exceptions, the law is decidedly anti-animal. This is demonstrated as much by government subsidization of the meat and dairy industries, of vivisection[7] and military use of non-humans, as by its opposition to those who resist the animal exploitation industry. The politician will never understand why the state should protect animals. After all, every sphere of social life condones and encourages their abuse. Acting in the present “interests” of (human) constituencies will always translate, however absurdly, into acting against the interests of the animal kingdom, a vast constituency which has yet to receive the right to vote.

But, the anarchist asks, if every animal were to be granted suffrage and then asserted their need for protection by voting, would we have a better society? That is, Do we really want the state to stand between humans and animals, or would we rather eliminate the need for such a barrier? Most would agree that having humans decide against animal consumption without being coerced to do so is the optimal choice. After all, if alcohol Prohibition caused as much crime and violence as it did, imagine what social strife meat prohibition would create! Just as the Drug War will never make a dent in the problems brought about by chemical dependency and its corresponding “underworld,” no legal War on Meat would have a prayer of curbing animal exploitation; it would only cause still more problems. The roots of these types of problems are in socially-created and -reinforced desire to produce and consume that which we do not really need. Everything about our present society tells us that we “need” drugs and meat. What we really need is to destroy that society!

The vegan must go beyond a monist understanding of non-human oppression and understand its roots in human social relations. What’s more, she must also extend her lifestyle of resistance to a resistance of human oppression.

* * *

Here in the zoo, in this place of hypnotic fascination, human beings come to see their own instincts caged and sterilized. Everything that is intrinsic to human kind, but smothered by capitalist society, reappears safely in the zoo. Aggression, sexuality, motion, desire, play, the very impulses to freedom are trapped and displayed for the alienated enjoyment and manipulation of men, women and children. Here is the harmless spectacle in which everything desired by human beings exists only to the degree that it is separated from the reality of human existence…. The condition of slavery automatically poses the question: What are the prospects for liberation? It hardly needs to be stressed that the notion of revolutionary transformation between humans and beasts [sic] is all but unthinkable today.

—The Surrealist Group

Comparing the suffering to that of blacks (or any other oppressed group) is offensive only to the speciesist; one who has embraced the false notions of what animals are like. Those who are offended by comparison to a fellow sufferer have fallen for the propaganda spewed forth by the oppressors. To deny our similarities to animals is to deny and undermine our own power.

—Marjorie Spiegel
The Dreaded Comparison

Violence in Everyday Life

Our society, few would disagree, is one based largely on violence. Everywhere we turn, it seems, there is violence, a perception enhanced exponentially by corporate-controlled media images.

This violence, as part of our culture and our very existence, undoubtedly has a profound affect on us the extent of which we can hardly hope to ever truly understand. Those who are on the receiving end of violence naturally suffer a severe amount of disempowerment. Because power is a social concept, we as people do not necessarily comprehend what it means to us. When we perceive a loss of power, one of our typical reactions is to assert what little power we have left. Once we have internalized the effects of oppression, we carry them with us, often only to become victimizers ourselves. It is an unfortunate truth that victims often become perpetrators specifically because they themselves are victimized. When the victimization takes the form of physical violence, it often translates itself into still more violence.

That in mind, we can see clearly why abuse of animals—whether directly, as is the case regarding the mistreatment of pets, or indirectly, as through the process of meat eating—correlates to social violence. Humans who are mistreated themselves tend to mistreat others, and animals are among the easiest, most defenseless victims. This exposes yet another reason social oppression must be struggled against by those concerned for the welfare of animals.

What’s more, this cause-effect dynamic works both ways. It has been shown that those who are violent towards animals—again, directly or indirectly—are also more likely to be violent towards other humans. People fed a vegetarian diet, for instance, are typically less violent than those who eat meat. People who abuse their pets are unlikely to stop there—their children and partners are often next.

It is absurd to think that a society which oppresses non-human animals will be able to become a society which does not oppress humans. Recognizing animal oppression thus becomes a prerequisite to radical social change.

* * *

Early this century, Thomas Edison devised a way of demonstrating, in one blow, the power of electricity and the impact of the motion picture camera. He filmed the public execution of an elephant

—Larry Law
Spectacular Times: Animals

Alienation in Everyday Life

At the root of oppression, contends the radical, is alienation. Human beings are social creatures. We are capable of feeling compassion. We are capable of understanding that there is a social welfare, a common good. Because we can feel empathy towards others, those who would pit us against each other as societies, communities and individuals, or as humans against nature, must alienate us from the effects of our actions. It is difficult to convince one human to cause suffering to another. It is even difficult to convince a human to harm a non-human animal for no reason, or to directly contribute to the destruction of her own natural environment.

When one society goes to war with another, it is imperative that the leaders of each society convince “the masses” that the adversary population is vile and sub-human. Further, the leaders must hide from the people the real results of war: mass violence, destruction and bloodshed. War is something that happens elsewhere, we are told, and those “foreigners” who die are deserving.

Oppressive dynamics in social relationships are always based on an us-them dichotomy, with the oppressors seen in clear distinction from the oppressed. For the oppressors, the “us” is supreme and privileged. The wealthy “understand” their riches are acquired by “fair” and “just” methods. For instance, both oppressor and oppressed are led to believe it is the poor’s inability and incompetence which holds them down. There is no recognition of the fact that economic privilege automatically precipitates inequality. There simply isn’t enough to go around when some are allowed to take more than their even share. But the wealthy are alienated from this truism. They have to be, else they would not be able to justify the inequity to which they contribute.

It is the same for every oppressive dynamic. It has to be.

The vegan understands that human exploitation and consumption of animals is facilitated by alienation. People would not be able to live the way they do—ie, at the expense and suffering of animals—were they to understand the real effects of such consumption. This is precisely why late capitalism has entirely removed the consumer from the process of production. The torture goes on elsewhere, behind (tightly) closed doors. Allowed to empathize with the victims of species oppression, humans would not be able to go about their lives as they presently do.

Humans must even be kept alienated from the simple rationale behind veganism. In order to maintain an us-them dichotomy between human and “animal” (as though we are not animals ourselves!), we cannot be allowed to hear basic arguments in favor of transcending this false sense of duality.

We are told that humans can employ complex linguistics and intricate styles of reasoning. Non-humans cannot. Humans are people, all others are beasts at best. Animals are made less than human not by nature but by active dehumanization, a process whereby people consciously strip animals of their worth. After all, the inability to speak or reason in an “enlightened” capacity does not subject infants or people with severe mental retardation to the violence non-humans suffer by the millions every day.

Let’s face it, the dichotomy between human and animal is more arbitrary than scientific. It is no different than the one posed between “whites” and “blacks” or “reds” or “yellows”; between adult and child; between man and woman; between heterosexual and homosexual; local and foreigner. Lines are drawn without care but with devious intent, and we are engineered by the institutions which raise us to believe that we are on one side of the line, and that the line is rational to begin with.

In everyday life, we are alienated from the results of our most basic actions. When we purchase a food product at the grocery store, we can read the ingredients list and usually tell whether animals were murdered and/or tortured in the production process. But what do we learn of the people who made that product? Were the women paid less than the men? Were blacks subjugated by whites on the factory floor? Was a union or collectivization effort among employees crushed? Were a hundred slaughtered on a picket line for demanding a living wage?

When I, as a male, converse with a woman, or with someone younger than me, am I dominant and overbearing as I’ve been conditioned to be by a patriarchal society? Do I, as a “white” person, see myself (even subconsciously) as “above” “blacks”? Indeed, do I look at people of color as being somehow inherently different from me? These are the questions we are not encouraged to ask ourselves. But we must. In order to overcome alienation, we must be vigilantly critical not only of the world around us, but of our own ideas, perspectives and actions. If we want to extinguish the oppressors in our heads, we must constantly question our beliefs and assumptions. What, we must ask ourselves as individuals, are the effects of my actions, not only on those around me, but on my natural environment?

As a key component to the perpetuation of oppression, all alienation must be destroyed. As long as we can ignore the suffering in the slaughter house and vivisector’s laboratory, we can ignore the conditions in the Third World countryside, the urban ghetto, the abusive household, the authoritarian classroom, and so on. The ability to ignore any oppressions is the ability to ignore any other oppression/s.

* * *

More than just a refusal to take part in violence against non human animals for food, clothing, etc, veganism is a refusal to take part in the violence that affects society as a whole. Veganism works to expose and end the subtle indoctrination of industry in capitalist society that wishes to desensitize humanity to the violence against the many for the gain of the few.

—Joseph M. Smith
“The Threat of Veganism”

With its modern technology—mass media, rapid transport systems, computers, economic plans, etc—capitalism can now control the very conditions of existence. The world we see is not the real world, it is a view of the world we are conditioned to see…. Life itself has become a show contemplated by an audience…. Reality is now something we look at and think about, not something we experience.

—Larry Law
The Spectacle: A Skeleton Key

The Revolutionary Endeavor

Understanding ourselves and our relationship to the world around us is but the first step towards revolution. We must then apply our understandings to a practical program of action. When I speak of action, I am not merely referring to weekly or monthly events when we, in collaboration with an organized group, state our beliefs at a demonstration, or when we execute a planned raid on a facility of oppression.

Action is not so limited. It can be found in our daily lives, our routine and not-so-routine activities. When we assert our beliefs by speaking out in conversation, on the job, at the dinner table, we are acting. In fact, whether we realizing it or not, everything we do is an action or series of actions. Recognizing this allows us to transform our everyday lives from repressed and alienated to libratory and revolutionary.

The role of the revolutionist is simple: make your life into a miniature model of the alternative, revolutionary society you envision. You are a microcosm of the world around you, and even the most basic among your actions affect the social context of which you are a part. Make those effects positive and radical in their nature.

The revolution must become part of our lifestyle, guided by vision and fueled by compassion. Every thought we think, every word we speak, every action we make must be rooted in radical praxis. We must liberate our desires through constant critique of what we have been taught to think, and a persistent quest for what we truly want. Once our desires are known, we must act in their interest.

After identifying how our society works, and deciding what we essentially want, we must commence to dismantle the present and assemble the future—and we must go about these tasks simultaneously. As we tear down the vestiges of oppression, we must also create, with both focus and spontaneity, new forms of social and environmental relationships, facilitated by fresh, new institutions.

For instance, economically speaking, where there is private ownership today there must be social ownership tomorrow. Where production, consumption and resource allocation are now dictated by irrational market forces, in the future there must be a rational system for the acquisition and distribution of material goods and services, with a focus on equity, diversity, solidarity, autonomy, and/or whatever we deem to be the values which guide our visions.

As visionary, the vegan sees a world free of animal exploitation. Further, she sees a truly peaceful and sane relationship between human society and its natural environment. The deep ecology movement has shown us that non-animal nature has value which cannot be quantified in economic terms, just as vegans have demonstrated the worth of non-human animals, a worth that cannot be calculated by economists, only measured by human compassion. That compassion, demonstrated for the proletariat by socialists, for women and queers by feminists, for people of color and marginalized ethnicities by intercommunalists, for the young and aged by youthists, and for those at the end of the state’s gun barrel by libertarians, is the same compassion as that felt by vegans and radical environmentalists toward the non-human world. That each of us needs to become all of these “types” of radicals—and to incorporate their ideologies into one, holistic theory, vision, strategy and practice—is a truism we can no longer afford to ignore. Only a perspective and lifestyle based on true compassion can destroy the oppressive constructs of present society and begin anew in creating desirable relationships and realities. This, to me, is the essence of anarchy. No one who fails to embrace all struggles against oppression as her or his own fits my definition of an anarchist. That may seem like a lot to ask, but I will never stop asking it of every human being.

* * *

The anti-human garbage of a rotting system … must be destroyed and will be destroyed. … It won’t come soon enough for us. Breakdown begins at home. The society that abolishes all adventure makes the abolition of that society the only real adventure.

—Anti-Authoritarians Anonymous
“Adventures in Subversion”

Theory will either be a practical theory—a theory of revolutionary practice—or it will be nothing…nothing but an aquarium of ideas, a contemplative interpretation of the world. The realm of ideas is the eternal waiting room of unrealized desire.

—The Spectacle


Well over a year after having written the first version of Animal Liberation and Social Revolution, I find myself wishing it had been more inclusive. Indeed, there is no critique of the anti-choice (abortion) tendencies within the animal liberation movement (except the quote on page 3). These tendencies are strong and growing, and they are a threat not only to the reproductive freedom of women but also to the rational basis for veganism. Veganism, in short, does not equal pro-life.

Also, the tactics of the animal lib movement are in dire need of critique. From pointless protests to violent attacks, the movement has become increasingly angry and decreasingly grounded.

Finally, I wish I’d discussed the concept of “animal liberation” more fully. Can we truly liberate animals? Isn’t liberation a subjective process, with us able only to liberate ourselves?

These and other questions must be dealt with sooner or later. I suppose they will have to await another pamphlet.

Brian A. Dominick

August, 1996

Afterword to the Third Printing of
Animal Liberation and Social Revolution

When the second edition of this pamphlet went to press about a year ago, I appended a brief “Afterwords” proclaiming my concern with some of the notions expressed in the original text. Rather than make serious editorial changes to the content of the essay, which I believe still stands as a solid tract, I have opted to discuss some of my more recent conclusions on the topic.

On Liberation

Among the problems I now have with the original piece is my own and others’ use of the term “liberation” to describe what is actually the freeing of animals from exploitation and oppression at the hands of humans. I believe liberation to be a particularly human concept, based on the subjective process of consciousness-raising and self-empowerment. Liberation is personal, and it is much more complicated than merely removing physical chains. When a prisoner is released from the confines of incarceration, he or she is not necessarily “liberated” from the oppressions of an authoritarian society. He or she is simply “free” from the cell. Achieving liberation—itself perhaps an impossible ideal for any earthly being—is something beyond the capabilities of any animal.

It can be argued that animals who are abused and violated (and quite obviously suffer psychological damage) must, like oppressed humans, undergo a process of psychological or subjective recovery. But even personal recovery, theoretically within the capacities of many nonhuman animal species, is not truly liberation. Since liberation, as I define it, requires the raising of social consciousness, for which nonhumans (and some humans) simply do not possess the capacity, its texture is more complex than that of recovery.

This may all seem a matter of semantics. However, I insist it is much more. For too long human liberation has been perceived to be solely a social/structural process. When we change the conditions of society, we become liberated. I believe a much more dialectical approach is in order. We must become liberated, as collectives of individuals, before we can restructure society in such a manner that it is conducive to liberation. At the same time, before we can become personally liberated (ie, empowered, enlightened, etc), we must restructure society and its institutions. This seems like a catch-22 of sorts, making of us tail-chasing cats. But when we look at this dialectically, as a gradual, bilateral, process of ebb and flow, the complexity of liberation theory begins to give way.

Self-proclaimed “animal liberationists,” typically dedicated and sincere activists to be sure, tend to miss two points. First, one can only liberate oneself. The most we can hope to do for others is free them from the restraints which prevent their self-liberation. Second, only those who can comprehend the complexity of their own oppression can combat it through a process of liberation. For countless centuries, the best attempts of humans at freedom have translated into desperate struggles to simply be free from the authoritarian impositions of oppressive society. Like caged animals, there has been little else in our site other than the destruction of the cage itself. Unlike caged animals, however, we have the potential to understand why the cage exists in the first place. We know there are always more cages, and until we destroy the social machine which produces those cages (for both humans and nonhumans), the closest we can expect to come to liberation is momentary and relative freedom.

Redefining Veganism

I would also like to clarify my definitions of some terms, most importantly “veganism.” My original definition was accurate, I believe, but becomes confused in context of the rest of the essay, not distinct enough from what I call “vegetarianism.” Let me be clear: veganism is the conscious abstinence from actions which contribute, directly or indirectly, to the suffering of sentient beings, be they animals or humans, for ethical reasons. People come to veganism through two primary paths: concern for animal rights/welfare/freedom, and concern for the natural environment (severely harmed by animal husbandry). Abstinence from the consumption of animal-derived foods alone is simply vegetarianism. Abstinence from meat consumption, typically referred to as “vegetarianism,” is appropriately termed “lacto-ovo vegetarianism,” because its practicioners continue to eat dairy and eggs. Most vegetarians are such because their diet is healthier. They thus have no obvious reason to abstain from consuming leather goods, products tested on animals, and so forth.

It is important to note that veganism is not an absolute state of being. First of all, there are many interpretations of what constitutes a sentient being. Some argue that all animals, from mammals to insects, are fully deserved of inclusion in the category. At the extreme, there are those who believe that plants and animals are equally deserved of the distinction, and thus choose only to eat fruits and nuts (these people are commonly referred to as “fruitarians”). Still others insist many animals which cannot be demonstrated to have individual will, distinctive character, complex nervous apparatuses or any semblence of emotion, such as insects and crustations, are not “sentient” by their definition. I have no space here to delve into the debate, but suffice it to say whatever the specifics of one’s own definitions, it must be understood that we share the same general principles, and are all attempting to live by them as best we know how.

Secondly, veganism is an ideal to which we can only hope to live up. So many products which have become “necessities” of modern life, such as vehicles, photographic film, etc, contain parts derived from animals. Pet food is another controversial issue. It is important to stress that we can only expect to do our best, to take huge personal steps toward our ideal. Even if all we do is quit eating meat this year, while falling short of what vegans consider a fairly simple conversion to compassionate living, we are dramatically reducing our personal contribution to the exploitation of nonhumans. Burnout ensues when we place impossible demands on ourselves, and further alienation is a typical result of extreme demands placed on others.

The Liabilities of Lifestylism

I’m the first to be disgusted by those stodgy radicals, mostly of the “old school,” who proclaim lifestyle changes must, at the very least, take a back seat to the “real” work of social change, which is limited to the restructuring of social institutions. Still, their critique of those who, on the opposite end, believe personal change will actually be the revolution when practiced on a large scale, is rather important. We must avoid either extreme. Unfortunately, contemporary anarchists and vegans alike tend toward the lifestylist approach. As I described in the first section of this addendum, there is a vital dialectic involved. And, as I mentioned in the body of Animal Liberation and Social Revolution, the simple act of changing one’s lifestyle, even when joined by millions of others, cannot change the world, the social structures of which were handcrafted by elites to serve their own interests.

Some radicals go so far as to claim our lifestyles will change “after the revolution.” Such a notion is just silly. Those of us who have been raised to be blind consumers, compliant citizens, husbands, wives, and so forth, must radically alter our everyday activities, else we will be incapable of running a future, libratory society. Indeed, we won’t even seek to radically change the world around us until we learn to stop valuing the superficial, spectacular effects and elements of the present. We won’t establish a socialist economy which discourages the production of meat due to its high social and environmental costs unless we are willing to give up meat. An inevitable undertaking of a sane economy will be the abolition of animal exploitation industries, and that will be obvious ahead of time to those with the power to construct such an economy (ie, the people). But why would we strive toward a system which would result in our inability to eat meat if we cannot bear to give it up now?

Lastly, it’s important to note that lifestyle changes, such as going vegan, really don’t constitute any kind of concrete activism. There is much more to being an activist than just taking a stand, especially a quiet one.

Brian A. Dominick

October, 1997

[1] Praxis: The fusion of theory and practice; a lifestyle consciously rooted in social theory.

[2] There are other oppressions (eg. ableism) but the injustices I have mentioned are those which most clearly and directly reinforce the Establishment.

[3] Though not every society has manifested them as the West does today.

[4] In many countries, people are prevented from demanding humane work conditions by the militaries. In this ages, such things happen because so-called “Third World” countries—or at least the elites that run them—want to entice investment from the West. This is best accomplished by demonstrating the impotence of the popular work force as a political weapon. In such countries, the treatment of human labour “resources” is scarcely better than that of non-human animal “resources” here at home. Purchasing a product on the North Amerikan market which was made under these types of conditions is indirectly sponsoring the perpetuation of those conditions, and is thus not truly vegan.

[5] Many self-proclaimed vegans think this way, and it is truly sad. I call them “liberal vegetarians” here simply because, though they do not consume animal products, they have by no means made a holistic attempt to free themselves from being oppressors through their lifestyles. At this moment, there is no escape from the massive markets of late capitalism. However, there is a compromise point at which we can achieve an understanding of the effects of our actions as well as adjust and refocus our lifestyles accordingly. In other words, there are more ways to limit violent consumption besides vegetarianism. You are what you consume.

[6] Monist: Any social theory which emphasizes one oppression as being more important than another; a single issue-focused approach to revolution.

[7] Vivisection: The practice of experimenting on animals through operations and other forms of coercive torture.

Vegan Anarcho-Primitivism

Interview with Layla AbdelRahim on anarcho-primitivism, red anarchism and veganism

We contacted Layla AbdelRahim and asked her to answer our questions. Layla willingly responded and her answers are really comprehensive.

Who is Layla AbdelRahim? from Wikipedia: Layla AbdelRahim is a Canadian comparatist anthropologist and author, whose works on narratives of civilization and wilderness have contributed to the fields of literary and cultural studies, animal studies, philosophy, sociology, anarcho-primitivst thought, epistemology, and critique of civilization and education. She attributes the collapse in the diversity of bio-systems and environmental degradation to monoculturalism and the civilized ontology that explains existence in terms of anthropocentric utilitarian functions.

Her books Children’s Literature, Domestication, and Social Foundation: Narratives of Civilization and Wilderness (Routledge 2013) and Wild Children – Domesticated Dreams: Civilization and the Birth of Education[4] (Fernwood 2013) make a contribution to children’s literary theory and a critique of education as rooted in the civilized need for the domestication of children as resources.
AbdelRahim received her A.B. from Bryn Mawr College and a Ph.D. from the Université de Montréal, Department of Comparative Literature. Her dissertation entitled Order and the Literary Rendering of Chaos: Children’s Literature as Knowledge, Culture, and Social Foundation, examines the effect of ontological premises on human self-knowledge (anthropology) and the repercussions of such knowledge on the anthropogenic destruction of the world’s life systems and diversity.

More about Layla AbdelRahim:

Q: How did you get to Anarcho-primitivism?

A: My ethical stance vis-à-vis other living beings was formulated before I could speak. I was born in Moscow. My Russian grandparents had a small farm in the south of the Moscow region. Seeing how they loved the animals they “raised” and the forest that surrounded the tiny village made me aware of the inherent contradiction between claiming to love someone and then killing that nonhuman person for food in cold blood. I have thus resolved at the age of four not to consume the flesh of others.

My grandparents and parents’ relationship to animals, wilderness, government, and technology was complex and they allowed me to explore and formulate my own position even while influencing my experiences while growing up. For instance, my father was a Sudanese geologist who loved wilderness. Some of the happiest memories I have of my family either go back to the Russian village or to a long sojourn in a geological camp in Darfur, when the Savannah still thrived before the geologists found the uranium mine and other “natural resources”. I remember my father critiquing the political and colonial predatory system that the discovery of these “resources” was going to rekindle, but even as a child without the anthropological or political vocabulary, I still knew that this critique was limited to “European colonialism” versus “Sudanese national independence”, whereby the suffering of the wild animal and human tribes that lived in the area who were affected by the strife of civilisation remained unacknowledged in this narrative. I knew with all my heart though that the link between geology and mining, encroachment of civilisation and the destruction of life that I was witnessing growing up in Sudan was critical to understanding and overcoming the violence in which I grew up both on a personal and the social levels. I returned to the Darfur region less than two decades later and the life that harmoniously roamed the wilderness in the late 1960s by the early 1980s has disappeared from the Hofrat al Nihas area. There remained only sand, radiation, war, and death.

I began to articulate this link between technology, “knowledge”, and civilisation as being at the heart of the problem of the devastation of life on earth when I was in my third year of civil engineering studies. The assignments to envision roads and engineer dams revealed to me how the very concept of anthropocentric architecture was at the root of the desertification that I saw crawling from the north of Africa engulfing kilometres of fragile harmony of life surviving colonialism. War, racism, sexism, and species extinctions were obviously linked, but at the time I had not formulated my critique yet. Shortly after finishing my third year, however, I quit those studies and instead joined the efforts to help victims of war and to stop desertification, war, and extinction. This led me to journalism of war and later to my studies and research in anthropology, sociology, and comparative literature, with my real-life experiences, my childhood exposure to five languages and historical accounts, as well as my ethical stance guiding my critique of the current epistemological systems and socio-economic and environmental paradigms and praxis.

Q: Do you think that AP is real?  The most common answer is, that AP is utopia, or there is no way back and also that we have so many incredible (nano)technologies, that will solve all our problems in the future, not only environmental problems, but also social problems.

laylaabdelrahimA: Anarcho-primitivism is a theory and critique of hierarchical and parasitic political and socio-environmental economic systems. The arguments are based on observations of how life came about and thrived in this world for billions of years. Anarcho-primitivist critiques are different and there is no monolithic body of knowledge or “party line”: for instance, there are those who draw on hunter-gatherers, others on Christian anarchism of Leo Tolstoy or Jacques Ellul, yet others on vegan gathering traditions. Because these thinkers or critics of civilisation are interested in observing the principles of life, they draw from a variety of disciplines such as palaeontology, ethology, anthropology, biology, among others. One does not need to be an anarcho-primitivist in order to observe that the principles that allow for systems of life to thrive are based on diversity and wild relationships. By “wild” I mean “undomesticated” and existing for a purpose of their own, regardless of whether they came to exist by divine intervention or a geological accident and not for the purpose of exploitation in a “food chain”. These systems of life thrive on viable relationships where diversity is key. Anarcho-primitivist critique compares these observations of the principles of life with the principles of civilisation and hierarchical socio-environmental and economic systems. This comparison reveals that monoculturalism and domestication are not viable systems. I discuss these mechanisms in-depth in my work, particularly how the domestication of human children follows the same principles of simplification, death threat, monoculturalism, and consumption of life as that of nonhumans. You might be interested to read my theatre play where I explore these links between ontology, theology, and anthropology entitled Red Delicious (available on my website  and as e-book on the “In the Land of the Living” website “In the Land of the Living”).

Namely, the ontological basis of technology is the consumption of “resources” and slavery becomes the basis for these parasitic relationships where life, force, and effort get consumed in a one way energy flow. Basically, this establishes relationships of dependence where the enslaver depends on a “resource”, whether human animals, nonhumans, or machines, to labour for the benefit of the “owner” and where the “resource” is coerced to exchange her life and wild purpose of being for the right to live and work. My book, Wild Children – Domesticated Dreams: Civilization and the Birth of Education (Fernwood, 2013) delves in-depth into the ontological, epistemological, and methodological problems of domestication.

Because, as I argue in the book, the premise in civilisation is to consume, kill, and colonise, it yields an anthropology rooted in predation: both killing and rape. Namely, civilised knowledge constructs the human as the ultimate predator and the world existing in a “natural” hierarchical “food chain” to be controlled, reproduced, and consumed. Again, observation of the principles of life reveals that hierarchical systems of subsistence are parasitic and unsustainable since, in order to thrive, life needs diversity, mutuality, and symbiosis. By constructing an anthropology rooted in consumption of labour, flesh, and life, civilisation thus yields unviable cultures of socio-environmental relationships and hence we are witnessing the anthropogenic death of the world, which is literally being devoured by civilised human animals. This is an emergency situation and we do not have the luxury to reflect on whether we can “go back” or just scamper along trying to salvage our dying bones.

Hence, the real question we are facing is not whether the observed societies of undomesticated human and nonhuman people are utopic – it is not the wild who is utopic, for wilderness has successfully thrived until now and I have lived in and with wilderness in both Russia and Sudan. The real problem is that civilisation has proven to be “utopic”. For, it never delivered on its promises: it has increased fertility of monoculturalism so that today domesticated nonhuman and human animals constitute 98% of vertebrae biomass on earth whereas, before the advent of agricultural civilisation in the Fertile Crescent ten thousand years ago, 99% of vertebrae biomass consisted of wild species. It created diseases and early mortality through desertification, war, hierarchical (lack of) access to food and water, etc. It has colonised the world and devastated it (I cite research and data in my book for these numbers). Even the ocean is turning into a desert and suffocating on plastic, acid, and civilised garbage.

Therefore, to hope that technologies will deliver us from this dying hell is analogous to – even though infinitely more painful and tragic than –the joke I often hear in Eastern Europe: you cure a hangover with vodka. We all know how vodka cures and in itself, like the other legal and illegal drugs, it is a symptom of the despair into which dependence on technological predation has plunged us. The need for inebriation is our inability or unwillingness to face our truth: we chose civilisation and hence we chose death. The real question now is: can we muster the strength to make a different choice? Anarcho-primitivism does not provide solutions, but its critiques show us where we have failed and point to a diversity of ways where we can go and how we can heal ourselves and our world.

Q: What did domestication take from us, in social terms, and consciousness? With consciousness i mean knowledge. Did domestication have a major impact on human development? Eg. It is clear that the development of non-human animals, which were domesticated, was stopped?

A: Domestication has most definitely taken away our intelligence and knowledge of how to live in the world. Education teaches us how to survive in civilisation: i.e. how to be dependent on the hierarchy of experts who take away our awareness of ourselves and the world. Instead of learning about the world through empathy and presence – “what does it feel like to be you?” – we are taught how to apply schemas and representations to understanding what those higher up in the food chain of “human resources” want us to “know”. Also, by learning how to apply these schemas and formulae to real life situations without understanding the complexity of what is at stake, we forfeit our chance at enjoying a more holistic comprehension of the world and also of adaptation to new occurrences.

In the wild, human and nonhuman children learn how to assess each situation and to understand each encounter correctly, because they know that lives and decisions are interconnected and they are not always predictable. If we are not prepared to be surprised we could perish. At the same, it is not always a fearsome experience. As Kropotkin observed in his Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, living in the wild is for the most part a good experience, predation being its less prominent aspect, since herbivores have historically outnumbered predators, who in turn eat less and sleep more. The aim of domestication, in contrast, is to ensure control and prediction of “assets” and “resources”. Hence, its programme is antithetical to evolution, diversity, improvisation, change, and surprise. The “resources” that such a system yields are dependent on the one who controls their lives and their food. Dependent “resources” are thus rendered incapable of thriving outside of that system of coercion and threat. They have to be dumbed down and hence are lied to. They are misled, victimised, threatened, and consumed. Nonetheless, as I argue in my book, human and nonhuman animals yearn wildness and it takes them much less to go feral than the decades it takes to domesticate them into oblivion.

Q: AP criticism of education is for most people not understandable, especially for the functioning of the “modern” world. What would you (on introduction) say to these people?

A: Even for myself, this link between education and domestication was not an obvious one. In fact, my book on education came as a side effect of my research on war, in medical anthropology in Sweden, and on the connections between the construction of “otherness”, the law, and the medical body in the courtroom in France – all of which led me to my doctoral dissertation on the epistemological, ontological, and anthropological understanding of narratives of civilisation and wilderness. The connection became clear when I was critiquing the foundation of civilised knowledge as based on classification and the separation of species. Namely, I realised that highlighting the differences in understanding the human as separate from the nonhuman or of life as different from nonlife constituted the epistemology that justified cruelty and that was at the root of sexism and racism. Comparing this socially constructed understanding of our humanity as predatory and alien to how noncivilised human and nonhuman people related to the world made me see how the project of education was critical for domestication, because it provided both the “knowledge” that justified oppression, colonialism of life systems by human predators, exploitation, and consumption as well as established the methodology to reproduce this culture of subsistence and socio-environmental economics.

In other words, if you want people to kill for you, you need to ensure that they do not know the experience and the truth of the one they kill. They need to be alienated from the one they kill and this alienation and predation has to be naturalised: you construct an anthropology of humans as superior to nonhumans and “inferior” humans as nonsentient beings who do not feel pain, who exist for your consumption. Or, you construct an identity of the people you are sent to kill as different as enemy to your group, rationalise that they asked for it and instil the fear that they will kill you if you do not do it first, etc. But epistemology is not sufficient by itself, you then need to create a situation of constant lack and endangerment in order for people to internalise fear and violence. This is where the methodology of civilised pedagogies plays a critical role: human children are torn from their parents at an early age, incarcerated in same-age groups within classroom walls, where they are constantly threatened with starvation by means of low grades and future unemployment if they do not learn the abstract “knowledge” and civilised grammar of hierarchy and obedience. This pedagogy mirrors the methods used on nonhuman animal slaves: a horse is fed only when it has yielded more profit to the domesticator than what was spent on sustaining her and if she refused to work, she is killed. In this sense, the famous Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov has not discovered anything new when he articulated his theory of the training of dogs. In my book on education, I explore other pedagogies of “unschooled” children and recount my observations of how they learn.

Q: What do you think about the traditional or red anarchists? Especially, when we speak about their neutral attitude towards technology, domestication and often also towards colonialism. (actually their attitude towards AP and its ideas is the same as the attitude of major society)

First, the term “traditional” is highly problematic, because it establishes a bias towards a specific perspective as the “majority” “norm” and thus normalises that perspective which gives it power while marginalising or establishing as “deviant” or “abnormal” other perspectives thereby disempowering their adherers. The question that such a term raises is: traditional according to whom? Noncivilised, nontechnological, acapitalist societies based on mutual aid and symbiotic socio-economic cultures of subsistence have been the norm throughout the history of the world and until the present. Uncontacted human tribes continue to exist and resist civilisation around the world to this day. So do wild nonhumans. Even those surrounded by civilisation do not give up the wilderness of their landbase easily, hence the resistance to the construction of Monte Belo dam by the Xingu indigenous peoples of Brazil or the Mi’kmaq resistance to shale gas drilling in Canada are only some of the examples of contemporary resistance to civilised violence. In fact, domestication and civilisation – along with their systems of governance – have been resisted consistently ever since agricultural sedentary cultures began colonising the gatherer and nomadic nonhuman and human animals. In other words, resistance to civilisation in a variety of forms has been the traditional practice around the world for more than ten thousand years while “red anarchism” has existed only sporadically in the European historical enclaves and other Western nation states for only a few centuries.

Second, the concept of anarchism itself is contextual. Wild societies, whose cultures of subsistence are based on symbiotic socio-environmental relationships, cannot be defined as “anarchist”, because anarchism is resistance to systems of governmentality in hierarchical cultures and their methods of coercion, exploitation, and consumption that the governing systems impose. In other words, anarchism is important for understanding the problems of governance, for articulating the critiques of domestication, and for tactical purposes of resistance and overcoming a subsistence system based on suffering, desertification, and death. These critiques arise in specific circumstances and are therefore contextual and hence often limited and biased. For instance, a wealthy white male writing a theory of anarchism and designing anarchist praxis in a 19th or 20th century white supremacist society ultimately depends on the “imperialist”, racist, sexist, and speciesist “privileges” which shelter him from experiencing the reality of human or nonhuman “prey”. That is why, even if there may be great value to his analysis, nonetheless, his understanding and recommendations would be biased and limited, because he would not always be cognizant of what it is like to be the prey on a daily, minute by minute basis, because epistemologically and experientially he knows the world through a predatory lens. Often then, the very science on which these men base their critiques stems from this naturalised predatory perspective from which they benefit and their epistemology works to confirm to them the “natural” aspect of predation thus veiling from them the ways in which their own existence, subsistence, and resistance depend on the victimisation of whole groups of persons designated as “prey” in their socio-economic niche.

Excellent illustration of such myopia in critique of civilisation today would be the work of Jared Diamond that continues to build on the assumption that the noncivilised and undomesticated world is based on violence and predation. In leftist anarchism this predatory perspective can be traced in such conclusions as drawn by contemporary theorists such as David Graeber. For instance, in June 2009, Graeber and I had a public discussion in the Anarchist Anthropology group on the Open Anthropology Cooperative in which he sweepingly accused anarcho-primitivists of living in their mothers’ basements and telling me that he knew what the Bangladeshi farmers wanted: to grow food. First, using “mothers’ basements” as an insult to dismiss a theory relies on patriarchal exploitation and degradation of women. This means, that in Graeber’s eyes “masculine” anarchists who use the predatory system to advance themselves in the world without relying on “mothers” – or the feminine class that is constructed to breed and reproduce human resources – are the etalon of success; while the feminine class is belittled and kept in the background of economic success – even can be seen as “failure” in this usage. Second, this requires the ability to tune out of the arguments of one’s interlocutor, in this instance, Graeber is deaf to the actual arguments of anarcho-primitivists and sweeps them under the rug because he associates them with the “loser” class – the women, the mothers. Finally, to keep the patriarchal system of (re)production of resources in tact the white male dominant class needs “Bangladeshi” and other farmers and workers to remain in their niches and to keep wanting to grow the food and (re)produce resources and technologies for the “intellectuals” on the front-lines of patriarchy. “How do you know that the Bangladeshi farmers do not want to be anarchist anthropologists instead?” I asked Graeber. But Graeber was offended by my response, because, as he explained to me later for some reason he did not expect “this” from me: I was, apparently, expected to agree with his expertise and not voice a disagreement with the leftist intellectual rationalisation of the raison d’être of Bangladeshi and other farmers, Malaysian workers in car industry, Chinese computer factory workers, et al and ad infinitum.

This explains why there is a racial and gender hierarchy in what most white people consider to be “anarchist theory”. For, it is usually a small minority, namely, white men, most often from the ruling class, who have the infrastructure and the social, symbolic, and material capital that allow them to think and produce as well as to access the public sphere as a dominant voice. White women and lower white classes have to struggle much more than their white male counterparts to be allowed into this sphere of influence and social power. The perspectives of people of colour and of nonhuman wilderness are ousted from the dominant “public” sphere. People of colour are mostly silenced in publishing and media outlets unless they respond to the needs of white supremacy or become revolutionaries in countries that have colonial dependence on the “European” (Western or Northern) metropolis and its parasitic relationship to the rest of the world. In this respect, even the “revolutionary” people of colour are used by the Wesetern “radicals”, particularly the leftist anarchists, as props for their own agenda that aims at establishing the white leftists in the vanguard of politics without threatening their racialised and gendered privileges, which include access to “technologies”, i.e. to the living and nonliving slaves and labour. Because of this intrinsic dependence on slave labour, these “anarchists” rely on the same schemas in their encounters with human and nonhuman animals and their use of technology and media. However, since most people around the world (more than 70% of whom are people of colour) constitute the resources of labour for white supremacy, then most of non-white perspectives tend to be critical of the “Western” socio-economic model that continues to exploit them and hence a critique of technology is more present in those discourses. However, these perspectives are kept outside the realm of influence by keeping the media and the publishing industry focusing on the production of “white” anthropocentric knowledge and dismissing non-white perspectives as a priori irrelevant, insignificant, marginal, and trivial.

I have plenty of encounters with radical, anarchist, and mainstream publishing and media that confirm this. Here is one example to illustrate how it works: at the 2007 Anarchist Bookfair in Montreal, I approached Autonomedia press based in New York. When I explained to the co-partner of the press my work and offered that should their publishing press be interested in taking a look at my manuscript, I would be happy to send it to her, she told me condescendingly that I should first inform myself about their literature. “We publish anarchist books. You should first get acquainted with what we do. We do not publish Mexican cookbooks” she informed me.

Autonomedia has published several white men who had taken Islamic names, such as Peter Lamborn Wilson known as Hakim Bey and Michael Muhammad Knight, because this symbolic action – of taking an Arabic name by a white male – appears to be radical. However, when meeting a brown woman face to face the publishers fail to understand what I was explaining about my work. In the case of Autonomedia, the publisher applied the schema of a brown woman being associated with the lower status occupation of “cook” and instinctually dismissed me as incapable of producing a critique worthy of her publishing house’s attention. This association with Mexican cuisine is not only sexist however; it is also racist, because in my case, even if my last name is Arabic, the brown skin and the petite stature allowed her to not bother with figuring out the “correct” stereotype but to generalise my occupation as trivial regardless of geographical accuracy. We see that this white woman operates with the same schema with which David Graeber was operating in the example above, a formula used to belittle and dismiss as “irrelevant” the kitchen that feeds the men – especially the white men – and the white supremacist paradigm, regardless of whether these individuals involved are radical or mainstream. The production of theory and the expectation of who “knows” and who is “trustworthy” is thus a social capital that works as investment for the “traditional” voices in the hierarchy and thereby excludes the majority of the perspectives of those who actually feed the world; after all, most humans do not come from the ruling class, they are rather “ruled” and their lives in the kitchen or the field consumed. Most of them, if given the option would not want to keep the world as status quo and to keep their “professions” as is.

Since “social anarchists” or “red anarchists” find themselves higher up the food chain, it is thus easy for them to remain blind to the fact that the white supremacist system works for their benefit and that technology is important for them to keep their predatory “privileges” intact as technology allows them to live off of others, mostly nonhuman people and people of colour: the eternal question of who does the mining, the drilling, the farming, the sewing, the cooking, the cleaning, the production of technologies, energy, ad infinitum.

Furthermore, this hierarchy in itself works as a successful mechanism of oppression that is also at work in the so called “post-colonial” spaces, where the people of colour who are in positions of power over “former” colonies know that their own predatory place in the food-chain is secured if they keep supplying the white supremacist economic model. In this sense, the food-chain hierarchy also colludes in keeping the anarchist voices of non-white and nonhuman perspectives silenced and marginalised including in their own “post”colonial lands. Moreover, even for Europeans, understanding anarchist thought and traditions depends on the region, era, and the highlighted struggles articulated by those who are “leading” the resistance, which is not always representative of how the people may view their struggles. The terms “Bolshevik” and “Menshevik” during the Russian revolution are revealing: the word Bolshevik meant majority voices in the Second Party Congress split from the Mensheviks (meaning the minority) in 1903, but in fact this was the minority opinions in the larger revolutionary scale where anarchists and other factions prevailed. So, engaging with any ideas requires us to be sensitive to the individual work and the dialogue it provokes in a wild, non-traditional engagement with interpretation, understanding, and action. Again, in my book on education, I discuss in-depth how we know, understand, and interact from an anarchist perspective.

By virtue of my complex background, variegated experiences in a spectrum of socio-economic classes, and exposure to a wide range of historical narratives, revolutions, post-colonial struggles as well as having lived on five continents I am extremely sensitive to the perspectives that direct our understanding and praxis. In my own theoretical explorations, I am willing to dialogue with a wide spectrum of thinkers and scientists. I hence do not shy from citing white male thinkers such as Errico Malatesta, Petr Kropotkin, or Karl Marx, among others. But I make sure that I also include indigenous, ELF, ALF, or writers, thinkers, and revolutionaries from the whole world and listen to the nonverbal experience of nonhuman people.

However, my background is not a prerequisite for the possibility of attaining enlightenment in the experience of others. Leo Tolstoy was exemplary in this sense, because he had the capacity to empathise so completely with a character he was depicting that he could know how an old horse suffers or an ostracised by patriarchal society woman would find it impossible to go on living. Writing the story of “An Old Horse” or Anna Karenina with honesty, Tolstoy could not find any justification for civilisation, technological society, and thereby for the culture of slavery. This knowledge had dire implications for his life, actions, and relationships. Such people have existed throughout the history of civilisation. However, for real change to come, we need more people from the “privileged” classes to refuse their privileges and join the ranks of the humans and nonhumans on whom they prey. They need to understand what is it like to be forced to exist as the machine, as the prostheses of a willful domesticator, the ultimate predator – that foolish ape who has brought the world to the brink of extinction. Because, as Philip Dick tells us in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, when you realise that you may be holding the last tiny spider on your palm and you weep for it with your whole body and soul, it is not the anthropocentric solidarity of “red anarchism” that will bring that spider back to life, but a heroic act of reaching out across the borders of speciesism and diving beyond the frontiers of the ontological machine – that ultimate slave – that we can regain the paradise lost, which is wilderness and which is life.

Q: On your website i read a discussion, from which i have concluded that you’re a vegan? Is it true? If you are a vegan, what do you consider the benefits of veganism? Do you know, a lot of people would ask how is AP related to veganism; people have to go back to hunting.

A: The problem with critiquing predation in terms of veganism is that such a critique then accentuates the personal preferences in consumption rather than highlighting the larger ramifications of how we construct our anthropology. It is this concern that my opening statement in the “Mythical Predator” discussion articulates: namely, whether we should continue to define ourselves in terms of our “consumption” and “preferences”, which leaves the debate in the realm of predation, or whether we should revise our anthropology in terms of our environmental role as symbiotic frugivore gatherers along with other primates. Hence, even though in my own personal food choice, I have decided at the age of four not to consume the flesh of others, and it is easier to clarify in North America my food limitations in terms of veganism, I still articulate my critique in terms of the epistemological construction of humanity as evolutionary “successful” because of their predatory anthropology. Again, I discuss this more in-depth in my book on education and I am dedicating a big part in my current book project that aims at critiquing the civilised evolutionary theory. Finally, I address this point in my Question and Answer period during my October 8th lecture at the Department of Criminology, Kwantlen Polytechnic University B.C., which can accessed here:

Layla addititonally send screenshot discussions with David Graeber:

Wild Comfort

Sorrow, Gladness, and the Stream of Living Things

Seeking sweet refuge in the earth’s mystery and beauty, by Kathleen Dean Moore, from the book Wild Comfort

I have felt the comfort and reassurance of wet, wild places—the steady surge and flow of the sea on sand, water slipping over stones. There is meaning in the natural rhythms of dying and living, winter and spring, bones and leaves. Even in times of bewilderment or despair, there is the steadfast ground underfoot—pine duff, baked clay, stone turned red in the rain. I am trying to understand this, the power of water, air, earth, and time to bring gladness gradually from grief and to restore meaning to lives that seem empty or unmoored.

One autumn, my life became an experiment in sadness. A friend drowned. Another died of Lou Gehrig’s disease. My father-in-law faded away like steam from stones. Then another friend was killed in a head-on collision.

I don’t know what despair is, if it’s something or nothing, a kind of filling up or an emptying out. I don’t know what sorrow does to the world, what it adds or takes away. What I think I do know now is that sorrow is part of the earth’s great cycles, flowing into the night like cool air sinking down a river course.

To feel sorrow is to float on the pulse of the earth, the surge from living to dying, from coming into being to ceasing to exist. Maybe this is why the earth has the power over time to wash sorrow into a deeper pool, cold and shadowed. And maybe this is why, even though sorrow never disappears, it can make a deeper connection to the currents of life and so connect, somehow, to sources of wonder and solace. I don’t know.

And I don’t know what gladness is or where it comes from, this splitting open of the self. It takes me by surprise. Not an awareness of beauty and mystery, but beauty and mystery themselves, flooding into a mind suddenly without boundaries. Can this be gladness, to be lifted by that flood?

The snakes have spent the winter underground, thick and torpid in dark cracks between the rocks along the railroad. They tangle together down there, sealed in by a glaze of ice. In March, Frank and I checked all the snake tins on our land, thinking that a warm week might have tricked the snakes into coming up early. Snake tins are door-size scraps of corrugated metal roofing that we’ve scattered along the fencerows. Snakes shelter there in the spring, warmed by heat collected in the metal folds. On a good snake morning, lifting a snake tin can be like opening a door to the underworld and peering into its dark, bare-earth tunnels, its flickering red tongues.

That early in the season, all we found were mice and voles in nests woven with dried grass. A large vole shot out of a nest and ran in tight circles, dropping blind babies from her teats like ripe plums. Under another tin, we found the skeleton of a mouse, its neck craning awkwardly and its eye sockets watching the sky, a mouse fearful to its very bones.

But now in April the snakes are back. They must have emerged while we were away, flowing across rocks with a sound like children whispering, and gliding under alders to the tins where new mice are being born. The rubber boas always show up first, about the time when vultures return from Mexico and skunk cabbages poke through mud in the swale. When Indian plums bloom and varied thrushes begin to call, we start finding garter snakes. Gopher snakes emerge from the ground when the field strawberries bloom.

It’s not just snakes that are emerging this Oregon morning. Steam rises from the creek. Blackberry shoots thrust through the soil. Barn swallows arc into warm air above the railroad, chasing midges. Rain that fell like dead weight all winter long defies gravity in the spring. Mist floats over the river and drifts away east. Even my own spirits are lifting, as if heavy snow has melted off my shoulders and I am light again. I would not be surprised to see Persephone herself crawl on her elbows from under a mat of dead grass, dirt in her hair and snakes in her hands.

On our land, farmers long ago cleared away the fallen trees and sheets of bark that might have sheltered snakes. Hard luck for the snakes, because skunks hunt the fencerows and red-tailed hawks patrol the fields. So we put tins out 10 years ago, scrounging metal roofing from junkyards. This was our children’s Father’s Day present to Frank, to carry floppy sheets of metal on their heads across the fields, drop them into sunny places that looked vaguely snaky, traipse back for another, all day long. Then we waited impatiently for the earth under the tins to ripen. Under a good, ripe snake tin, the dirt is rich and lumpy and crawling with food. There are slugs and earthworms, grubs, fat juicy ant eggs, nests of newborn mice sometimes, and black beetles—a dark, slippery, shining, damp abundance. Voles dig a network of tunnels and are eaten for their trouble.

I check the snake tins in the morning, before the snakes leave for the hunt. The first tin is empty except for a centipede. But when I lift the next one, I’m startled by a huge coiled gopher snake. Dusty and mottled as dirt, the gopher snake lifts its tail and opens its mouth in a good-enough imitation of a rattlesnake. They’ll bite if they have a chance, and even though they’re not poisonous, who wants dirty fangs clamped on her thumb?

I cross the field to the next tin. By now robins are calling their morning songs and sunlight comes in sideways. This is usually a good tin, under the oaks at the edge of the field. I’m not disappointed. Here are a garter snake and three little boas in a pile. I don’t bother the garter snake. It will try to bite, but that’s not the worst of it. Pick up a garter snake and it will force its way through the cracks between your fingers; your fingers are not strong enough to resist that push. You will find yourself pouring a snake from one hand into the other and back again. Once you put the snake down, you will discover that your hands are marked by brown snake-stain with a smell you can’t wash off—like skunk, but not so lemony. More like dog manure.

But the rubber boas! Soon I am cradling a boa in cupped hands. The temptation to caress a rubber boa is almost overwhelming—its skin is so clean, its darting tongue just a tickle, its little lips pitted with warmth sensors, its eyes like flakes of gold no bigger than the head of a pin. Even the females, the biggest ones, are barely two feet long—brown on top, yellow on their bellies, and uniformly thick for their entire length, so they look like gingerbread dough pushed out the big hole of a cookie press into long, looping piles. Their tongues are red and forked. When a tongue flicks out, it gathers molecules from the air. When it flicks in, each tine of the fork sticks into its own little pit on the top of the snake’s mouth, and the essence of the air surges straight into its little brain—not tasting, not smelling, but in another way directly knowing the acid of adult eagerness or the sweet milky warmth of the morning.

You can scoop a boa into your hands and it will sit there in a pile, until your blood warms its muscles and it uncoils almost imperceptibly and winds itself smoothly around your wrist. Sometimes the prehensile tail will grope over your hand and grip one finger, like small children do. Then you can sit with your back to the spring sun and cradle a snake in your hands and rejoice quietly, and the snake will settle into the warmth and stillness.

Scientists surmise that a snake, like a mouse, has more than 400 genes for receptors in its vomeronasal system, this sensory system that somehow reads the air. The genes encode the receptors, the chemical streambed that carries the dark world into a snake’s centers of fear, lust, hunger, thirst, and satisfaction. The human genome has multiple receptor genes too, probably 139. But all but 2 of them are broken and degenerate. I can hardly bear to think of this loss: 137 ways to drink in the world are lost to us, crumpled in our exalted minds.

Humans still have rudimentary sensing organs tucked into their brains, Jacobson’s organ. But they are withered and useless, the remains of the vomeronasal system that still sends messages from the snake’s tongue to its brain—withered and useless, like the two rudimentary leg bones tucked under a boa’s skin, left over from the time its ancestors scuttled like lizards. Now humans can no more sense the full meaning of the air than snakes can walk. If I were to sit in damp grass in the dark, I could only listen, mourn this terrible loss, and breathe deeply of what is left to me of the world.

One night, Queen Hecuba left her daughter Cassandra alone in the temple. The small girl, her skin golden in moonlight, lay still among the glossy snakes, listening as only a child can listen, and learned the great truths that the snakes had brought up from the underworld. What, I want to know, did they tell her?

Maybe this: that there was a time when humans could breathe love and danger, when we could breathe the shape of strawberries and the presence of children, when we could breathe lions and sweet tubers, when the whole effervescent world poured into our consciousness like music. If the snakes’ story is of this loss, I’m not surprised that Cassandra stood by the city gates and tore her hair and howled.

Or maybe the snakes taught Cassandra the importance of backward-pointing teeth, to keep dying mice from crawling out of her throat. Or maybe they taught her the secrets of constriction: Hold on tight. Swallow everything whole. Or, do not be surprised when your skin itches and you want to be shed of it—maybe this. Snakes, licking a child’s ears clean and closing her eyes. Snakes, with their soft flanks, smoothing the hair off her forehead. Whispering. Listen: You cannot make your own warmth. You must go to warmth, you must accept it. The fires long ago went out in Hades. The underworld is damp and cold. Whispering. Hide your head under the coils of your body and stick out your tail; better to have your tail bitten off than your head. Whispering. You once were as wise as a snake. You have forgotten so much more than you know.

But the cells hold their memories.

Do not be surprised that the return of the light lifts your spirits. Do not be surprised that warmth on your back calms you and makes you glad. Feel your spirits lift as the sun rises higher in the sky: This is part of you, this snaky gladness, part of who you have been for a million years. Find the warm places; do not expect them to come to you. When you find them, stay there and be still. Be still and watchful. In this quiet, taste the air. Lick up the taste of it. Listen. Listen with the full length of your body against the ground.

In the afternoon, Frank and I fished for halibut. With two small fish in the boat, we were headed back to the cabin. Frank had just brought the skiff around the point and opened it to full throttle, so we were moving fast when I shouted to him.

“There’s something wrong with that water.”

He slowed down to see what I was pointing at. Only 50 feet ahead, a large ring disturbed the water. Inside the ring, the water was rising into a dome.

“Stop! That water’s not right.”

Inside the circle, herring started jumping for their lives. Then straight up through the dome rose humpback whales, enormous and powerful, like a space shuttle launch, like a school bus launch, seven or eight, I don’t know how many, my god, the pressure wave! Their huge mouths gaped open. Water flooded off their flanks.

“Back up!” and Frank found the gear.

The whales toppled and fell.

Beaten by the roiled water, we ground backward as fast as the boat would go. I heard a sound that I had never heard before—a roar like trumpeting elephants. Then the whales were back, diving and dodging in a confusion of black backs and white water, as they crashed after the broken and fleeing fish. Gulls shrieked down to snatch wounded herring that the whales left behind.

Has a Buddhist monk ever seen this? The giant rising up of what had been hidden?

We are camped on the empty beach of a desert island in the Sea of Cortez. It’s just five of us—Frank and me, our daughter Erin, and two friends. We have a cache of canned food piled in a sea cave in a sandstone cliff. Salsa casera, refried beans, canned peaches. Our rice and tortillas are in a cooler, which, entirely lacking in ice, is simply a way to keep ring-tailed cats out of the food. The tequila is wrapped in a jacket and stowed in the hatch of the most stable kayak, safe from all hazards—rolling stones, sun, stray lizards, pirates. We have The Log from the Sea of Cortez, Steinbeck; Ed Abbey’s Desert Solitaire; and a photocopy reduction of Rachel Carson’s book The Sense of Wonder. Plastic carboys of water, a porta-potty—we will survive until the panga that delivered us picks us up again in a week.

The sun set suddenly not long ago. First it was there, slumped on the water like an egg yolk, peppered by frigate birds settling onto Isla Pelícano for the night. Then the sun was gone as suddenly as if it had exploded, spraying yellow streamers into a wild lavender sky. The color faded, and then it was night.

Utterly night, dark and shining. There is no glow from a distant city, not an anchor light or a running light on a passing skiff, not a moon. Just black, black night, stars beyond counting, and the lustrous cell membrane of the sea. Like night-roosting gulls, we settle shoulder to shoulder on the high-tide rim of the long sweep of beach. The surge slides silently, invisibly up to our feet, sighs away. We can hear thuds from distant bat rays. The rays fling themselves into the air, hang there like panicked picnic tables, and thunk back into the water. There is no seeing this tonight, but we know that heavy sound.

We sit in the dark and listen. The breeze is cool, the water is warm, the tequila sharp on our throats. We lift our heads like deer, turn them like owls. Nighttime creatures we have become, moist-eyed and urgently eared. Finally, Frank says what I have been thinking.

“Does anybody else hear breathing?”

Ah. I have heard this too. Not inhaling, but rhythmically, almost explosively exhaling. Without a word, Frank and I grope for life jackets and launch the kayak.

I’m afraid of a lot of things—the suction of open cliffs and deep water, venomous sea snakes, mouse diseases—but night has always seemed friendly to me. It feels good, out on the water, warm and cool at the same time. We paddle without headlamps, sometimes with our eyes closed, balancing with our bodies, navigating in a rough sort of way by the darker mass of the cliff that forms the cove and the swell that rounds the point. When we have left the bay, we stow our paddles and let the boat float. Dark on dark on dark, the air, the water, the cliffs; darkness not so thick you could cut it with a knife, but hard and shining and glassy. It would take a stone chisel to flake the darkness of this sky.

A swell lifts and drops us. The bow slaps the water. Sparks scatter and drown. The bow sparkles again on the next swell. “Bioluminescent algae,” Frank whispers. “Pyrrophyta, the fire plants.” It’s the first either of us has spoken. I nod invisibly, then smack my paddle, raising an angel’s wing of sparks. We have seen this on other beaches, the light from millions of one-celled dinoflagellates. When they are disturbed, a chemical called luciferin and the enzyme luciferase pulse from their separate pockets, mix together with oxygen, and release a blue-white flash.

We are quiet again, wondering, listening, rising and falling on the azure-lightning illumination of the face of a wave and the bending reflections of countless stars.

We hear it then, the breathing, approaching off the starboard bow.

Suddenly, streaks of light splatter toward our boat. They leap from the sea and patter against the swell, thousands of them flying clear of the water. They hit the boat like pebbles, clunking and bouncing off the hull, sparking back into the sea. I duck reflexively and brace my paddle for balance, but the lights strike the paddle blade too. The sea is alive with them, plunging toward our boat. They dive and flash. In the midst of the melee, a large blur of blue light surges toward our bow. Sparks glint to the heavens. Starlight plummets onto the sea, the fallen stars, the Lucifers. Their spread wings blaze one last time, then slide under the dark waves.

The glow veers away, and the sparks fade. Sharp exhalations echo from the port side now, receding into the distance. We are left rocking on the suddenly dark sea. I can feel Frank brace a paddle to balance the boat. Somehow, I have lost my own paddle over the side. Neither of us says a word. What is there to say? I have never seen anything like this, the whole hard world come to astonishing life.

Eventually, I collect myself enough to retrieve my floating paddle and pull it across the boat. Glory.

Frank holds a flashlight over the side and flips the switch. The response is instantaneous. Small fish leap and carom around, knocking their heads into the boat. He flicks off the light. They vanish.

“I’d say that was a porpoise,” he says, “attacking a school of sardines. When the sardines see a big bulge of bioluminescence coming toward them, I think they know to get out of the way.”

And suddenly it was all the more marvelous. Not just light careening around, scudding through outer space, dropping from stars, splashing from waves, exploding from the streaming protoplasm of cells—but light running for its life. Tiny leaps of light, synapse to synapse, behind the bright eyes of fleeing fish, the bright flash of fear or the driving light of hunger. What sparks sizzle between what synapses in the microscopic spaces of a mind and in the streaming dark dome of the sky? I don’t know. This is new to me. All I know is that the world has revealed itself as more wonderful than I had ever imagined.

When I was young, I waded every Sunday in Rocky River, a stream that flows through a beech-maple woods under the western approach to the Cleveland airport. Back then, my father was park naturalist at the Trailside Museum and his job was to lead people along the water, enjoining them to poke with sticks at the green strings of algae, turn stones to find caddis fly larvae in pebble cases, sniff at the muskrat mud piles marked with pee. “Shh. Listen,” he would say, and we listened: a towhee scratching, a woodpecker drumming far away.

My mother dredged knee-deep through warm water, through the pea-green smell of the river, and brought back a canvas bucket of water. Then we all pressed around to see what we could see, these mysteries drawn from a place hidden to us: I remember fairy shrimp monstrous and hairy through my mother’s hand lens.

I never understood why my parents, so in love with that river, arranged that when they died, their ashes would be interred in a brick wall in their church. For whatever reason, the preacher had pushed an envelope of their ashes through a mail slot between the bricks, first my mother, then, 10 years later, my father. It seemed wrong to me, I told the church secretary at my father’s funeral, that people who had lived so lightly and died with so few regrets, people as thin and joyous as birdsong, would now be bricked inside a chimney.

The secretary thought hard, her cheeks flushing. “There isn’t much room in the wall, you know,” she confided. “So only a pinch of each person goes into the chimney.”

“Where is the rest of my parents?”

She looked hard at me, dropped her eyes.

“Generally, we put extra ashes in the trash cans behind the church. I suppose they go to the landfill.”

The stench of cabbage rotting in the rain and the rush of crows’ wings flooded my mind, the flurry of black feathers, and the calls of crows rattling over the mounds of trash. I didn’t know what to think of my mother and father flying so completely away. But they would get a kick out of that, to be taken up into the body of a bird, their calcium crusting against the open spaces in the bones that lift its wings. And if they stayed for a while in the landfill, I don’t think they would mind that—just a dogleg in their journey into what my father called “the stream of living things.”

That’s how my father explained death when I was young. Maybe because he was the only biologist in a small town, he ended up with all the dying animals no one knew how to save. My sisters and I would take the shoebox delivered to our door and lift rags to find a droop-necked crow fallen out of a tree or a clutch of baby rabbits, their nest run over by a mower. Rabbits, nestling birds, naked possum babies: We tried to save them. We put them in a box of rags over the pilot light of the clothes drier to keep them warm and took turns dripping milk into their grimacing mouths. They died, all of them. We buried them one by one under a big maple by Rocky River.

When you die, my father told us, all the elements of your body wash into the stream of living things. Back then, I pictured Tinkertoy calcium molecules and phosphorus and all the fortified nutrients in Raisin Bran flakes tumbling down Rocky River, oxygen eddying around submerged rocks, nitrogen pouring over the lip of a rocky ford, all drifting downstream into some other life, an oak tree maybe, or a gosling. “You don’t cross a river to a new place when you die,” he told us. “You become the river.”

Kathleen Dean Moore is an essayist, philosophy professor, activist, parent, and lover of all things green or flowing. Excerpted from the book Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature (Trumpeter, 2010).

Wylden Freeborne hosting on anarchy radio

Wylden Freeborne filling in. More progressive garbage from Chris Hedges and Derrick Jensen discussed. Critical response from caller. Layla Abdel-Rahim guest caller from Montreal, Quebec, discusses the myths of civ, the lie of civ safe space and the wildness of Black Bloc. Update on Wild Roots Feral Futures, 2012 . Music by Di Nigunim and Hayduke Lives (think Edward Abbey)!

An Anti-Civilization Mythology

An Anti-Civilization Mythology: A Review of Lierre Keith’s “The Vegetarian Myth”

by Abbey Volcano

I understand completely why someone might want to write a book about the “myths” of vegetarianism. We live in a world where capitalism has this amazing ability to co-opt anything and everything (you’ve almost got to admire what a good job capitalism does at that). “Green” capitalism is a case in point. Even radicals may have a hard time resisting the pull of green capitalism, though perhaps by accident. For vegans and/or vegetarians (heretofore referred to as “veg*ans”) who use their diets as a radical act, if they are promoting what to eat or not eat, buy or not buy, then there is really no way to avoid advocating for a different way of consuming—something capitalists can make loads of profit off. In addition, it’s easy to critique the idealism that some veg*ans hold: that, by way of their diet, they are not engaging in the hurting or killing of any animals, nor hurting the earth for the most part. This is of course obviously not true. Another easy critique to have of veg*ans is of their often-claimed belief that we can change the world by our diets alone; a silly idea, at best
Lierre Keith’s book The Vegetarian Myth aims to discuss the “myths” of vegetarianism, but she sees these myths as something quite different than what most anarchists advocate for: a basic critique of capitalism and the need for actual movements that not only resist the structures we live under, like capitalism and the state, but also movements that provide space for resisting the ways we’ve come to relate to ourselves, each other and the non-human world (and create new, egalitarian and sustainable relationships!). Keith does point to a few things that are easy to get behind, but most of her book is a diatribe against veg*ans as people, as well as how, health-wise, a veg*an diet is a diet that will kill you—literally. I went back and forth from reactions like “that’s a good point” when she wrote of the destruction of the earth that is part and parcel of monocrops and agriculture in general, to reactions like “wow, that’s really offensive” when she wrote three entire chapters dedicated to explaining why a veg*an diet is basically “wrong” and “immature.”

The book has two different themes that are distinct. One theme focuses on the material ways that mass-agriculture and the cultivation of monocrops are destroying the earth—and quickly. The other theme is that of a couple different philosophical arguments like: agriculture is the base of all evil, as well as the argument that veg*anism is actually wrong and detrimental to the earth and our human bodies, and that veg*anism is “immature” and that all humans should be eating meat. I’ll break this review down by responding to the question of agriculture, responding to her critiques of veg*anism “the diet” as well as “the person,” and I will finish off the review with my take on the violent pieing of Lierre Keith that took place at the 2010 Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair.

As far as agriculture being the basis of all (organized) evil—that needs to be challenged, of course. Having said that, the way agriculture often (mis)utilizes irrigation and deforestation; plants annual grains; depletes (almost all) top soil, rivers and aquifers; causes desertification and total removal of tons of species; misplaces animals, human and non-human alike—I think it’s easy to make the case that agriculture, as we know it, is swallowing entire ecosystems whole (p. 42). At the same time, Keith concludes, like many anti-civilization theories, that agriculture is the basis of all domination, coercion and control and that we need to go back to a way of living that came before agriculture (agriculture is synonymous with civilization in her text). To do that, we’d need to kill about 5 billion people; so, it’s easy to see immediately, the problem with this analysis. In my thinking, domination, coercion and control are what we need to eradicate. I am so used to reading texts that reduce domination to the economic sphere that reading a “civilization-reductionist” text was a breath of fresh air—a breath, however, that will never bring us to a state of being that is truly free, participatory and healthy for all living things. Killing off (or the need to kill off) 5 billion people is not an answer to anything. We need to find ways to exist sustainably (buzz word of the year) with each other and the non-human world, something I think is possible without killing off billions of humans and forcing people to eat meat.

Keith is correct that veg*an monocrops are detrimental to the earth. Anyone who has studied diet and sustainability has seen those statistics that “growing” meat is less sustainable and more wasteful than growing vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes: for as much water as it takes to grow the grain to feed the cattle, we could just grow the grain and eat that; that far more fossil fuels are used to “grow” meat rather than to grow crops; that methane from cattle is awful for the environment. At the same time, we need different ways of growing crops; the way we’re doing it now is depleting top soil, creating salinization of the waters and causing desertification. It’s not as simple as “eating meat will save the world”. On the other hand, there are different ways of raising cattle and other animals that we slaughter for meat. One of Keith’s main points in the book is that cattle and such aren’t supposed to be eating grain in the first place; factory farming itself is unsustainable and has caused much of the crises that many blame “meat” in general for, when we need to be blaming the ways we “grow” and feed cattle and other livestock, perhaps not the existence of livestock itself.

This is where Keith could use a much bigger (or any, really) analysis of capitalism and its role in the livestock “industry”. Keith’s main point about grain-fed beef and other livestock is that the reason humans eat other animals is that the animals we feed on feed themselves on the grasses that we can’t digest, that is, we get the grass’s nutrients through the animal we eat that have eaten the grasses. Eating animals that eat grain is pretty ridiculous since we can just eat that grain ourselves. At the same time, the grain we feed animals is awful for their own health and livelihood, and ours, in return, when we eat them. Eating animals can be nutritious if they eat the food they naturally feed on, if you look at the nutritional content of factory-farmed and grain-fed animals (as food for humans), the nutrients aren’t there and the animals have become unhealthy to eat in the first place.

Moving on from there, the rest of the book is a diatribe against veg*ans as people. She writes three chapters: “moral vegetarians,” “political vegetarians” and “nutritional vegetarians”. All three types of vegetarians are proven “wrong” by Keith. Funny thing is, none of those chapters describe me and my veg*anism—but that’s beside the point. She argues that vegetarianism is an “immature” standpoint and that when and if folks adopt an “adult knowledge,” we will see that eating meat is “natural,” glorious and correct (I’m paraphrasing here). “Adult knowledge,” according to Keith, is basically that death is embedded in all life, that we should accept that and stop trying to get out of “killing” and start eating meat like we’re supposed to (p. 77). Keith seems to think that vegetarians are folks with “child-like” brains that ultimately want to close their eyes and pretend like death isn’t happening all around them—I’ll let readers decide how they feel about this notion on their own. There are a slew of other silly conclusions from Keith, one being that anorexia is ultimately the fault of vegetarianism (p. 230) and that vegans are “obsessive” and “rigid” due to their lack of proteins and fat (p. 236)—in my opinion, some vegans are obsessive and rigid because of their dogmatism and ideological arrogance (along with many anarchists, for that matter). In short, it doesn’t take any particular diet to be an asshole with the Correct Line that everyone MUST adhere to.

I ultimately feel like her book is a rant, filled with massive sweeping statements (many quite insulting) that rely on some really unfounded “scientific” claims that don’t seem to have any good sources, or that are the exact opposite of other “scientific” studies—so who do we believe if both premises can be “proven right” (veg*anism is “good” and also “bad”) ?

“filled with massive sweeping statements (many quite insulting) that rely on some really unfounded “scientific” claims that don’t seem to have any good sources, or that are the exact opposite of other “scientific” studies”

If you want to pull something useful from this book, here it is: 1) we need to reassess the way we mass-produce everything from lettuce to cattle, 2) we need to let go of ideologies as “identities” and use them as ways to understand, not let them control us or our conceptions of, well, anything, really, 3) capitalism is one of the main causes of unsustainable food production (I’m being generous here, she never really states this, which is one of my main critiques of the book), 4) a veg*an diet won’t save the world.

Having written all this, and as a veg*an, I am totally against the attack of Lierre Keith at the 2010 Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair this past March. I attended the book fair, randomly, and was outside during her talk. But three able-bodied men attacked a woman who needs a cane to walk. They didn’t try to embarrass her or humiliate her with a pie plate full of (veg*an) whipped cream. Instead, they directly attacked her with three pies filled with not only whipped cream, but also with hot pepper and cayenne (à la what cops use as pepper spray). Furthermore, what does this say about the anarchist “movement” in the States? That if we disagree with people we should physically attack them? That doesn’t give much hope for progress within our struggling “movement,” or the fact that many veganarchists thought the attack was “delightful” and not sexist or ableist at all. Ok, I’ll let the readers try to figure out that one too. Funny thing is—they attacked Keith in the middle of her speech when she was denouncing factory farming.

My conclusion of all of this in a nutshell? Diets alone won’t change the world, but we need to contract, specific to this book, different relationships with animals and the non-human world, relationships that are good for all of us. We also need to develop different ways of conception: ways that allow folks to exist as veg*ans or not, but that don’t create identities out of diets (or much at all, really) and find ways in which we can rally around broad agreements instead of physically attacking folks we disagree with. New social relationships combined with mass movements can change everything—and must.

Abbey Volcano is a member of North Eastern Federation of Anarchist Communists and the Workers Solidarity Alliance. She lives in Syracuse, New York.

The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith – corrections

The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith

Corrections to Some of the Many Errors and Misconceptions

The Claim: Lierre claims that grazed animal farming/polyculture can feed nine people per ten acres. (P. 101)

In Reality: Lierre lists the food produced on a 10 acre perennial polyculture. Her numbers are based on Michael Pollan’s exposition of Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and are arrived at by dividing the numbers for Salatin’s 100 acres of grass by 10. But Pollan explains at great length (P. 222-225) that the 100 acres of grass is really 550 acres because the adjacent 450 acres of forest are essential to the health of the farm. Accordingly, ten acres of land actually feed about two people rather than her estimate of nine. Lierre says that if you live in New England you should eat what grows there. However, with this level of productivity, you couldn’t feed all of New England on all the land in New England.

The Claim: “I built my whole identity on the idea that my life did not require death…Did the lives of nematodes and fungi matter? Why not? Because they were too small for me to see?” (P. 18, discussed throughout the book)

In Reality: This is a straw man argument. These views are not held by most vegans. The goal of veganism is to eliminate direct, unnecessary suffering at the hands of humans — not to magically end all death. Why shouldn’t the cow with its undeniable ability to suffer take precedence over plants and organisms with limited or non-existent nervous systems such as the nematodes Keith frets about in this book?

The Claim: Lierre claims that sustainable farming is not possible without domesticated livestock. “I would need domesticated animals—their labor and the products of their bodies—to farm sustainably. I needed their manure and their unspeakable bones, their inconceivable blood.” (P. 58)

In Reality: How then does she explain the success of vegan organic agriculture in the UK and US, where no animal inputs are used? How does she explain that the most successful organic CSA in the country actually uses no animal products on their fields (Honey Brook Farm in New Jersey)?

The Claim: “Understand: agriculture was the beginning of global warming. Ten thousand years of destroying the carbon sinks of perennial polycultures has added almost as much carbon to the atmosphere as industrialization, an indictment that you, vegetarians, need to answer. No one has told you this before, but that is what your food—those oh so eco-peaceful grains and beans—has done.” (P. 250)

The Reality: Much of Lierre’s book is borrowed from Richard Manning, a well-respected environmentalist and author. Manning understands that human dependence on grain monoculture is not a result of the small percentage of concerned people who decide to be vegetarian, but is rather a historical mistake of which we all share the burden of repairing. Despite Lierre’s insistence, vegans do not need to eat grains nor any sort of annual crop. Why did she target vegans when compared to average corn-fed Americans, vegans consume much less grain? On the topic of climate change, Lierre fails to address that regardless of type of feed or forage, ruminant animals emit an abundance of methane. She, along with other grass-fed proponents, point out that growing pasture sequesters carbon in the subsoil and claim that farms like Polyface are carbon-neutral. However, she ignores the fact that soil only retains a limited quantity of carbon—once pasture is healthy, it is carbon stable. Any pasture-based livestock production contributes, pound-for-pound of meat, to climate change as much (if not more) than conventional livestock production—an indictment that you, Lierre, need to answer.

The Claim: “We’ve been doing what we’ve been endlessly badgered to do since the 1960s. We’ve eaten, according to the USDA, less fat, less meat, fewer eggs. Our dietary fat has fallen 10 percent, hypertension has dropped 40 percent and the number of us with chronically high cholesterol has declined 28 percent.” (P. 203)

In Reality: Americans eat more meat now than in the 1960s according to the USDA ( While the average percentage of calories from dietary fat consumption has decreased, dietary fat intake increased from 135 g to 178 g from 1960 to 2006 (

The Claim: “We owe our bodies what we owe the world; we must inhabit both and, in the act of inhabiting, nourish both. This food must also be an apology for what my kind has done, and part of the repair. It must protect this land, and extract from me the promise of more. My food is those things, all of them. It’s based on the forests and grasses that nestle this planet in soil and air.” (P. 271)

In Reality: Lierre’s own blog posts demonstrate that she can’t stick to her own ideals. She has posted entries where she raves about the perfection of grain-fed pork and happily offers a bucket of mass-produced, processed chocolate laden with factory-farmed dairy to trick-or-treaters last Halloween. If this is what she’ll post on her own blog, what other unsustainable foods is she eating? (,

The Claim: “…there are no good plant sources of tryptophan. On top of that, all the tryptophan in the world won’t do you any good without saturated fat.” And later Keith blames the lack of tryptophan in vegetarian diets for depression, insomnia, panic, anger, bulimia and chemical dependency. (P. 10)

In Reality: A cup of roasted soybeans contains nearly three times the adult RDA of tryptophan and a cup of pretty much any other bean will get you between 50-60% of the RDA. Two tablespoons of coconut oil more than meet the adult saturated fat RDA. Nuts, dark chocolate and avocado are all rich in saturated fat.

The Claim: “Sixty grams of soy protein—that’s one cup of soy milk—contains 45 mg of isoflavones.” (P. 215)

In Reality: The soy milks available in supermarkets have about 6 to 11 grams of soy protein per cup. According to Lierre’s often-cited Weston A. Price Foundation, a cup of soy milk contains only 20 mg of isoflavones.

The Claim: “I am of this world, carbon and breath like my parents, my siblings, the creatures great and small, single-celled or green, that create the miracle the rest of us consume. They gave me this body and the air it needs, the food it eats. All they ask is that I take my place, a predator, dependent and beholden, until I am prey.” (p. 271)

In Reality: The animals humans consume are quite literally prey, but unless Keith intends to be eaten by a wild animal, her claim of being “prey” is a specious one based on her decomposition. She considers this a repayment to the biosphere for its kindness in feeding her, but that same repayment is unacceptable from edible animals.

The Claim: Lierre claims that “Researchers from Cornell showed that E. Coli 0157:H7 could be stopped by a very simple action: feeding cows hay for the last five days of their lives.” (P. 99)

In Reality: In the study Lierre refers to, the researchers showed that overall E. Coli levels (i.e. including strains other than 0157:H7) in three cows were decreased by feeding the cows hay for five days. They conjectured that 0157:H7 levels would be similar. However, subsequent research suggests that grass-fed beef does not have lower levels of 0157:H7 (

The Claim: “The pursuit of a just, sustainable, and local economy will eventually lead us to the grim conclusion that there are simply too many of us. The world population is supposed to reach 8.9 billion by 2050. Meanwhile the oceans will be fished empty by 2050, the aquifers and water tables will be well out of reach, and the last trace of topsoil rendered dust. We are already living on fossil fuel and this—right now—is the historical moment when oil will peak. It will never be this cheap or accessible again. What then?” (P. 120) Counterpoint: Keith has no answer to “What then?” The only answer one can deduce from the book is that she advocates nothing short of the elimination of agriculture and civilization and a drastic reduction of population to some level that she considers sustainable. Simultaneously, she believes that civilization’s doom (and consequently, an enormous loss of human life) will soon be upon us, so maybe it makes sense that her ideas are not solutions.

The only thing worth taking from The Vegetarian Myth is the idea that the simple act of going vegan automatically solves all problems with our food production. That said, it is still the easiest and most substantial immediate action a person can take on the path to a sustainable lifestyle. True, some vegans and organizations do exaggerate the ecological benefits of eating highly processed, conventionally-grown vegan food; however, a balanced plant-based diet of mixed perennial and annual fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes is far more sustainable than any diet based on ruminant, energy-hungry, greenhouse-gas emitting livestock.

Further Reading:

Veganic Agriculture Network:

Plants for a Future:

Vegan Organic Network:

Animal Rights & Anti-Oppression:

The Permavegan:

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: