[Contribution to the Reimagining Society Project hosted by ZCommunications]
Oppression and discrimination occurs across society in a variety of concurrent and interacting ways. While largely ignored or played down by the Left in general, Animal Advocacy and Liberation can be seen as a nexus for many progressive struggles. Meat and dairy industries, and others that rely on animals for profit, imprison and slaughter literally tens of billions animals each year[i]. The industry itself relies on low paid, often migrant labour, to work in stressful and often dangerous conditions [ii]. The creation of meat and animal based products in know to be environmentally devastating [iii], including ruining water systems, and the clearance of large tracks of forests for grazing. Tanneries, which are often located in developing countries with reduced environmental and worker protections, rely on dangerous and toxic chemicals [iv]; land clearing for cattle grazing threatens indigenous communities, creates soil erosion and threatens rainforests[v].
Like many facets of life in a globalized, neoliberal world, many if not most of the issues that concern the Left can be found within the meat and animal product industries. Importantly, on top of these concerns is the unnecessary enslavement and industrialized killing of sentient and feeling beings. Like previous explicitly oppressive systems the same arguments are used by many on the Left and Right as to why such oppressions are of little concern or must remain in place. With regards to the animals this system of prejudiced thought is known as anthropocentrism, where human concerns are placed as superior to non-human concerns. Like human slavery, misogyny and other forms of oppressive thought, those suffering as considered non-human, undeserving of acknowledgment of their agency and inherent worth. They are seen as commodities for those in power. That animals truly are non-human does not mean that they do not suffer from such systems and paradigms that humans have fought throughout history-the creation and justification of hierarchies based on artificial or biological distinctions.
Animal Liberation should not be a side issue to our other concerns. Meat and animal industries are industrialized creators of unhappiness, a nexus of the overlapping oppressions and exploitations that theories such as Complimentary Holism highlight. The Left must recognize that fighting for Animal Liberation is not just about the animals but confronting the wider systems at work that the animals die in their billions for. As Normon Solomon writes "Ideological assumptions gain power as they seem to disappear into the prevailing political scenery." [vi]. We must work beyond our own prejudices and habits to see that the long term picture for animals, for workers, for the environment, for social justice, requires a totalist analysis that is capable of expanding and recognising oppressive behaviours even in the most unassuming places so to step closer to ending all human made suffering.
Inherent in the Animal Liberation position is an anti-capitalist, or at least, anti-corporate/industrialist position. This critique is often dormant in Animal Liberation and advocacy efforts. However the nature of the animal industry is one that positions animals and their advocates in a position of antagonism. The forces of production are felt directly by the animals and are explicitly or implicitly challenged by animal liberation movements that challenge the use of living creatures are mere objects of production. The barbarism of profit and efficiency are most evident in meat production and this alienation is highlighted in gory detail, though in a different context, by the movement. The elements that are present within Animal Liberation arguments need to be expanded, to incorporate a wider critique, just as the Left has the moral and conceptual capability to expand our horizons.
Stopping animal exploitation and the industries developed around animal use would see government subsidies and damaging industry externalities cease to be at the public’s expense. The fast food industry would be severely affected, along with eating habits. Without the cheap and abundant meat and dairy products, with externalities of production and labour shouldered by the environment, a casualized workforce, and the global South, companies such as McDonald’s, KFC and Burger King, along with chain supermarkets and food companies, would be unable to keep costs low and profits high. This would force a change to more sustainable food products and possibly farming techniques. The epidemics of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol that plague Western nations would be addressed from efforts at reducing meat consumption and changing eating practices [vii]. To have such an understanding comes from learning about the real impact that our diets have, of seeing the damage and pain that’s created by meat and animal products. The development of such knowledge can often be revelatory enough to recognize the excesses and abuses present in throughout society.
Think for a moment about the impact of a greatly reduced or nonexistent mass animal based industry. Like previous moments when the connections between war, race, sexism, and class emerged, we need to see how addressing these issues along with animal liberation efforts is not only strategically necessary but morally necessary too.
By working for first better conditions and then the abolition of slaughterhouses then that’s one less industry profiting from relying on illegal and migrant workers who have limited ability to push for better working conditions and rights. By seeking mass change or abolition of slaughterhouses, dairy farms and tanneries then huge steps are taken in reducing our carbon footprint on the Earth [viii]. Efficiency is enhanced, land use more sustainable, rainforests less threatened. The impacts of these damaging industries would also cease to be felt by the poorest peoples of the world and the more isolated towns in the developed world [ix]. Water sources would be free from toxins [x]. Oceans replenished from overfishing. The first step in such efforts is to challenge our own comforts and eating habits, to question whether our own objections or dismissals of animal liberation arguments are due to their direct challenge to our own behaviours and desires. The impact of modern society’s reliance on fossil fuels has been well documented yet the similar impact of our current farming and dietary decisions has not been proportionally addressed. A change of diet is one simple but quite revolutionary step among many towards addressing these wider systems of oppression and exploitation.
Progressive economic models such as Participatory Economics (Parecon) have much to offer Animal Liberation efforts. Critical theories such as Complimentary Holism can make calls for animal liberation retain greater relevancy to those not immediately concerned with such issues via its totalist perspective. Participatory organizing and economics offers new means for animal liberation groups to organize. Efforts could be undertaken towards establishing participatory institutional arrangements within animal and farming industries, as a means to enhance animal and worker conditions and industry standards. Rather than seeking the bottom line, a participatory work place has the ability to greatly alter the practices of modern slaughter houses merely by removing the capitalist logic and pursuit of profit that has led to killing (dis)assembly lines. The arguments presented by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel regarding the reduction of environmental damage in a Participatory Economy due to goods reflecting their real social and environmental value is also true for animal based goods and meat. The removal of capitalist markets, which currently distribute and determine the value of animals and animal derived products, and the creation of a participatory economy, could be the key means in liberating animals, along with workers and the environment, from the current systems of oppression. In a Parecon the damaging effects on the environment, and possibly the suffering and killing of animals themselves, would be factored into the valuations given to animal based products. Such realistic valuing of animal goods would severely raise the costs of continued production and potentially limit or eliminate demand for such animal based products. Such a system however is still open to anthropocentric favour and distinctions, leaving the potential for animal suffering and conditions to be under valued or not considered. While it offers great hope for animal advocacy, the underlying logic that has striped animals of any agency is not just created by the current economic system but is entrenched in all aspects of society and human practice. This pervasiveness of animal suffering and anthropocentricism needs to be confronted directly as part of our efforts and vision.
Complimentary Holism and feminist perspectives can provide critical voices to curb and question some of the larger animal liberation organizations tendency to rely on sex and celebrity to sell their message. In the hands of animal liberation movements a totalist or holistic analysis has the potential to become further disseminated to new audiences, put into practice and passionately advocated for. The work of Carol J. Adams [xi] for example, highlight ways a totalist understanding can be expanded upon, examining the co-defining and accommodating oppressions of women and animals. For example, animal abuse is often a sign of domestic abuse; women are often referred to in animalistic terms or even seen or treated like cuts of meat- rack, rump etc.
More broadly, there are implicit acknowledgments of the true nature of our practices. Even recently, former US president Jimmy Carter likened Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as inhumane and ‘animal like’. In regards to humans such practices and actions are rightly condemned. The inhumanity needed to demean and kill is acknowledged as a moral and social failure. Applied to animals on a daily basis such actions are seen as normal or even justified as part of some natural order. Part of what makes the actions in Palestine and elsewhere inhumane is that the suffering and trauma experienced by human beings. What also makes such actions inhumane is the ability to inflict such suffering and death in the first place. The mindset that has been coerced after years of training, reinforced by cultural and social propaganda and practice, enables one to kill or destroy. Are such actions defined merely by whom they are applied to? By who suffers from them? Are they not also defined by the actions themselves, by the capability to enact such violence regardless of victim and consequence, and institutions that create such a capability? This is not an argument about moral equivalency but about extending moral consideration. The loss of a human being in violent and avoidable ways is very important and tragic, but that does not exclude a concern about the systems and logic of domination and killing that apply to animals. The two are one in the same. To eliminate inhuman practices we must identify them in all aspects our society and social practices. To seek change in some parts of our society and not others is logically and morally inconsistent.
More immediately, the pressures of inevitable environmental change, the dwindling of natural resources such as water and fertile land, will force dramatic changes on how the global North, eats and farms, particularly animals [xii]. As the environmental reality will inevitably change our diets, now is the time for progressives to have vision to take up these issues now, preparing for such changes by incorporating into our existing analysis and vision animal liberation concerns. This enables progressive movements to direct and take the lead regarding such changes in keeping with progressive aims- short and long term. Too often progressives are left reacting, fighting to correct the narrative, to create a foothold on an issue. Animal Liberation is one area that has connections to previous libratory struggles in both a moral and ethical sense; it incorporates a potential element of anti-capitalist critique and direct action, and is tactically and strategically important paradigmatically and environmentally. Such potentiality could be lost if Animal Liberation/Advocacy issues are continued to be dismissed or seen as a low priority. It leaves the potential of a vacuum, an absence of well defined alternatives, when change is forced upon our practices and habits, a vacuum easily filled by industry and regressive forces with the power and ability to set the narrative, filter it through the market and frame the changes and either set about delaying them or profiting from them, or both. Either way the Left will be left to play catch up ruing its missed opportunities.
By ignoring the interconnections existing around issues of animal liberation, we do ourselves a disservice strategically while deliberately marginalizing the suffering of tens of billions of beings.
After all our experiences of struggle, we should have the vision and courage to engage with new struggles for liberation, for in the end we all share common aims. Adding insult to injury is that animals rarely have the means to truly voice or rebel against these systems. That billions of animals die to meet our eating desires and little else is all the more horrific due to the scale of the senselessness. Profit and power are the real motivators behind such industries that seek to create, sustain and expand our voracious desire for animal flesh.
To enlarge and strengthen our efforts we need to acknowledge the relevancy and legitimacy in one another’s analysis by placing such analysis at the core of our existing efforts to create closer ties. At the moment the two movements seem to exist in relative separation. Many animal liberation/rights organizations while having great activist and advocacy networks and fundraising ability fail to relate their work to wider progressive efforts and analysis in meaningful ways. More conscious and concerted interactions by both the Left and Animal Liberation would be beneficial to both and lead to a mutually beneficial society.
A program of integrating our efforts may involve solidarity campaigns to accompany efforts to identify and expand the shared elements of critique and analysis. Such solidarity work would provide a means to create practical ties, along with information and skills sharing and would enhance and further the process of developing a more complementary analysis.
In the long term, especially in a post-capitalist society, the inclusion of animal considerations, like the necessity of environmental considerations could be factored into the decision making processes of institutions and people’s interactions with them and each other. One possible means for this is for groups or individuals to act as representatives of such concerns. This might manifest by having an environmental-impact consultant or animal rights consultant acting on behalf of non-human interests, unable to directly participate, within a consumer council, production council, or a neighbourhood polity. In keeping with participatory practices, such concerns would be taken into account and given proportional weight depending on how much a certain decision may affect an ecosystem or animal welfare. In this manner, animals and the environment have direct advocates working within a participatory council system.
An alternative at a broader institutional level may be the availability of detailed impact statements, from the local to global, that councils are encouraged to consult so decisions are properly informed. Within the economic realm, such information would be needed to help determine the true value/costs of goods as stated earlier regarding animals within a parecon. Such information however may be economically focused in nature. Similar reports and statements would need to be available, though perhaps qualitatively different, for polity decisions. Rather than having direct advocates, animals and environmental interests and concerns would be represented as part of the broader information exchange necessary to informing participatory processes. Through the iterative/legislative process such considerations could be weighed, thus allowing the treatment and position of animals a more meaningful presence within society.
A combination or variety of both approaches may be employed to best ensure that non-human interests are given meaningful voice.
I hope that the Left’s ability to create and pursue alternative visions for society enables us with the tools to also move past the limitations, and potential set-backs, of anthropocentrism regarding animals and the environment more broadly. There are many issues here that we can start discussing, especially the development of participatory means and analysis to address issues of animal liberation. We here at Z, and the Left generally, have recognized other forms of oppressions even when misunderstood, unpopular or denied by those in power. Now its time to recognize the rest [xiii].
[xiii] Propagandhi, "Nailing Descartes to the Wall (Liquid) Meat is Still Murder" from Less Talk, More Rock