The introduction and questions providing the catalyst for Best’s deconstruction of capitalism, corporatism, speciesism and the like are
“As ye sow, so shall ye reap…”
Endless resource wars, globalization, privatization, profits over life, exploitation, raping the Earth, poisoning and irradiating the environment, exponentially criminal levels of unnecessary suffering caused by the concentration of wealth into the hands of a few, Climate Change, alarming rates of species extinction, Peak Oil, a jungle of cronyism and corruption so dense you couldn’t hack your way through it with the sharpest of machetes, and increasingly powerful monopoly entities intensifying their stranglehold on the “free market” are the rotting fruits that comprise the bitter harvest we are reaping by the bushel-basketful.
And our Karma’s not through with us yet. Not by a long-shot. As long as we maintain our jejune, myopic, and infinitely idiotic devotion to capitalism, all but a select few of the Earth’s inhabitants will continue to suffer unnecessarily. Ultimately, our malignant system, premised as it is on infinite growth and the relentless pursuit of profit, will be our undoing and will destroy the planet. While it is true that many of the ills that capitalism has amplified into crises have plagued humanity in some fashion throughout history, and it is clear that we all harbor varying degrees of greed, ruthlessness, and selfishness in our hearts, at what point do we wake up and recognize that we are committing mass homicide, ecocide, and suicide through our monumentally stupid loyalty to a socioeconomic paradigm that essentially ensures that most human beings will frequently manifest the most rotten aspects of their natures?
When Dr. Steve Best (our “czar” of animal and earth liberation at Cyrano’s Journal Online) agreed to my request for an interview via email, I had no inkling that the result would be such a powerful intellectual weapon in the struggle against capitalism. I also didn’t realize how inspiring it would be to engage another non-member “fellow traveler” of the ALF and ELF, particularly one with Best’s depth of knowledge and passion.
Departing from his passionate commitment to animal liberation, Dr. Steve Best presents an incredibly comprehensive and convincing case that it is both morally imperative and essential to the continued existence of life on Earth that we anti-capitalists prevail:
1. What inspired you to become a leading intellectual proponent of the Animal Liberation movement?
I don’t know how “leading” I am (or “intellectual”), and the elitist tinges of this – Marx’s intelligentsia as the “head” of the “body” of the sensate working masses – sets off a riot of discordant sounds in my head as it is disharmonious with the decentralist emphasis of anarchism and ALF principles. All that aside, however, it’s not like I have a cutthroat squadron of American Idol-like professoriate contestants vying for my title. Or, I might say, the Kiss of Death on the academic market. It’s sad but true, that no other philosophers – certainly not dogmatic peaceniks like Peter Singer, Tom Regan, and Gary Francione – have slithered down the brick walls of the ivory tower with their bed sheets to proclaim their allegiance to the most elementary moral principle and axiom of common sense – the right to self-defense (whereby we are what I call the “extensional” or “proxy” agents of animals who for the most part cannot defend themselves).
Known and very popular cialis coupon which gives all the chance to receive a discount for a preparation which has to be available and exactly cialis coupons has been found in the distant room of this big house about which wood-grouses in the houses tell.
So, as for those who have burned their paper-thin veneer of detached, objective scholarly commitment and ripped off the straightjacket of academic normalization, I stand alone. Or at least among a crowd large enough to dance on the head of a pin. Some academics have written about animal and earth liberation issues, and some defend animal liberation tactics amidst beer-induced bravado, but few make the transition from scholarship of animal liberation to public advocacy, which I think is crucial. And of course I have in mind here a particularly type of peddle-to-the-metal advocacy that flouts corporate/speciesist laws and defends pretty much whatever it takes to break down the doors that hold animals captive to the most brutal bastards Satan could conjure up, including criminal action and sabotage tactics – and of course the ALF will emblazon the night with a fire bomb but not harm a hair on a vivisector’s head, apropos to their nonviolent credo. But the peaceniks regurgitate the repressive and speciesist discourse of the corporate-state complex and demonize the tough tactics all-too often needed to liberate an animal as “terrorist” or “violence.” But no sooner do they bray these platitudes of betrayal do they sink in the quicksand of hypocrisy and inconsistency. For any schoolchild knows that sometimes sabotage and even “violence” are necessary to stop evil.
Let’s face facts: academics on the whole are a cowardly bunch of self-serving narcissists, spineless sycophants who eschew controversy and pathetically ingratiate themselves with administrators and bureaucrats. First, they are normalized into silence and conformity in order to win their bid for tenure, a highly political process that dispatches iconoclasts, non-conformists, and proponents of radical or controversial ideas. After enduring 5 years of submissiveness and self-repression, newly tenured professors theoretically have the right to speak their minds freely, but by then they often are thoroughly conditioned and co-opted, and there are always further rewards and punishments dangled in front of them, meted out according to the speech-acts they choose. These superfluous gasbags and oxygen thieves could possibly redeem themselves if they began each day by studying the spine-shivering words of Dr. Martin Luther King (who didn’t fear losing his life, let alone a job): “Cowardice asks the question: Is it safe? Expediency asks the question: Is it politic? Vanity asks the question: Is it popular? But conscience asks the question: Is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it simply because it is right.”
That said, it is important that academics do speak out in favor of any and all liberation movements because, for better or worse, society tends to accord them some degree of respectability, more than to the young anarchist with nose rings and purple spike-haired. Thus, academics play an important role in helping to legitimate a movement like the ALF and radicalism in general, and it is a sign of maturity and growth when liberation movements are studied by scholars. Moreover, rather than degenerate in chronic and excessive onanistic bouts with esoteric and meaningless theory-babble, academics can use their analytical skills to speak and write persuasively about radical causes and the meaningful and urgent issues of the day. They should get their head out of the clouds because it is hell here on earth. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.
Every serious liberation movement has had its historians, interpreters, scholars, and public representatives, and it is high time that these people emerge in support of animal and earth liberation movements. This was one of the core reasons that seven years ago I co-founded (with Tony Nocella) the Institute for Critical Animal Studies (ICAS) (http://www.criticalanimalstudies.org/). ICAS is the first and only scholarly center dedicated to philosophical research and dialogue on the principles and practices of animal liberation and how it relates to environmental and social justice struggles. Thus, we prefer to speak of “total” liberation (of humans, animals, and the earth) as it all hangs together. The Center promotes philosophical discussion of these issues through an online journal, research databases, a speaker’s bureau, and conferences on total liberation issues.
Whereas other scholars and the entire field of animal studies runs from and censors discussion of issues such as direct action, sabotage, revolutionary change, and radical alliance politics, these issues are the sine qua non of our journal, The Journal for Critical Animal Studies (http://www.criticalanimalstudies.org/JCAS/index.htm), and we proudly and gladly provide a completely unique peer-reviewed forum for radical theory and politics, especially for viewpoints identifying the centrality of animal liberation and ethical veganism for other liberation projects.
2. In coming to “animal consciousness,” did you have a sudden epiphany, was it a gradual evolution, or did your enlightenment occur in some other way?
No, it came in bursts and leaps, not gradually. I had a number of epiphanies along the path of my intellectual and political evolution. The first epiphany, the one that led me down the path of veganism and ultimately to a position of animal consciousness, happened 25 years ago in a White Castle fast food restaurant (talk about profane spaces!) in Chicago as I was biting into a double cheeseburger. As I usually ordered just a single cheeseburger, the double was so excessive, so over the top, so absolutely dripping with gore and vile, that I was completely nauseated. For the first time in my carnivorous life I made a concrete connection between the processed slop in my hands and the bones, tissues, muscles, tendons, blood, and life of an animal. With no prior knowledge of vegetarian issues – no contact with any book, video, speaker, or person of this persuasion – I threw the burger out in utter revulsion. I stumbled around in a dietary no man’s land for two months, not knowing what to eat, until I met some vegetarians who assured me of the value of my uninvited intuition and pointed me in the right direction.
As a newly awakened vegetarian in the early 1980s, I was also becoming a dedicated human rights activist involved with Central American and South African liberation issues. Although alert to the health impact of meat and dairy products, I had no clue about the innumerable barbaric ways human beings exploit animals. Even while researching the evils of juntas, death squads, genocide, fascism, and imperialism, my picture of humanity and the world was still too rosy. That changed in the midst of a second stunning epiphany when in 1987 I read Peter Singer’s book, Animal Liberation. Like so many other people, that book changed my life in an instant. I became ill from the emotional stress of what I was learning about the exploitation of animals in factory farms, slaughterhouses, vivisection labs, and other human-manufactured hellholes.
Once I recovered from the shock, I exuviated into a very different person. Realizing that animals suffered far more than human beings in the quantity and quality of their pain, suffering, and death, I shifted from human rights to animal rights activism. Whereas most human beings have at least some rights, no animals have the most basic right to life and bodily integrity. When I studied the impact of meat production on world hunger and the environment, I realized that by helping the animals I would also be helping humans in the most productive way possible. In a third epiphany, I saw animal rights as the most radical, complete, and holistic form of activism.
I might say I had a fourth epiphany regarding the need and justification for militant tactics such as sabotage, and this completely opened my mind tactically and philosophically, such that I could begin to think and argue in a consistent and coherent way that escapes every animal advocate who renounces ALF tactics as “violent,” “terrorist,” or morally illegitimate. This happened in the late 1990s during the process of researching a book I co-edited with Tony (entitled Terrorists of Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals (Lantern Books, 2001). Ineluctably, I found myself inexorably moving from a neutral position to one of agreement with ALF philosophy and tactics. It just seemed eminently logical to defend, even knowing in detail what the objections were against it (as I laid out in the introduction to the book), and it was just a matter of giving assent to reason and having the courage of my convictions.
3. For those readers unfamiliar with the Animal Liberation Front and the battle against speciesism, please give us a quick primer.
The ALF grew out of the hunt saboteur movement in England in 1970s. Activists turned from legal tactics of hunt disruption to illegal tactics of sabotage when they grew weary of being assaulted and jailed and sought more effective tactics. A hunt sab group known as the Band of Mercy broadened the focus to target other animal exploitation industries such as vivisection and began to use arson as a potent tool of property destruction. Two of its leaders were arrested in 1974 and released a year later. One turned snitch and left the movement, the other, Ronnie Lee, deepened his convictions and began a new ultra-militant group he called the Animal Liberation Front that would forever change the face of direct action struggle. The ALF migrated to the U.S. in the early 1980s and is now an international movement in over thirty countries including Russia and Mexico.
The ALF is a loosely associated collection of cells of people who go underground and violate the law on behalf of animals; they work under the cover of darkness rather than the glare of day. They break into and enter prison compounds (euphemistically referred to as “research laboratories” and the like) to rescue animals, and they also destroy property in order to prevent further harm done to animals and to weaken exploitation industries economically.
Official ALF guidelines are: (1) to liberate animals from places of abuse; (2) to inflict economic damage to industries that profit from animal exploitation; (3) to reveal the horrors and atrocities committed against animals behind locked doors, and (4) to take all necessary precautions against harming any human or nonhuman animals. Anyone who follows these guidelines – and ideally who is vegan — belongs to the ALF.
The men and women of the Animal Liberation Front pattern themselves after the freedom fighters in Nazi Germany who liberated war prisoners and Holocaust victims and destroyed equipment-such as weapons, railways, and gas ovens- that the Nazis used to torture and kill their victims. Other comparisons would include the Apartheid movement, led by Nelson Mandela, who used and supported violence in the fight for liberation in South Africa, and the current struggle by Palestinians against their Israeli oppressors.
Similarly, by providing veterinary care and homes for many of the animals they liberate, a comparison can be made to the US Underground Railroad movement, which helped fugitive human slaves reach Free states and Canada in the 1800s. Whereas corporate society, the state, and mass media brand the liberationists as terrorists, the ALF has important similarities with some of the great freedom fighters of the past two centuries, and is akin to contemporary peace and justice movements in its quest to end bloodshed and violence toward life and to win justice for other species.
On the grounds that animals have basic rights, animal liberationists repudiate the argument that scientists or industries can own any animal as their property. Simply stated, animals have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, all of which contradict the property status that is often literally burnt into their flesh. Even if animal “research” assists human beings in some way, and there are significant doubts that it does, that is no more guarantee of legitimacy than if the data came from experimenting on non-consenting human beings, for the rights of an animal trump utilitarian appeals to human benefit.
The blanket privileging of human over animal interests is simply speciesism, a prejudicial and discriminatory belief system as ethically flawed and philosophically unfounded as sexism or racism, but far more murderous and consequential in its implications. Thus, the ALF holds that animals are freed, not stolen, from fur farms or laboratories, and that when one destroys the inanimate property of animal exploiters, one is merely leveling what was wrongfully used to violate the rights of living beings.
The ALF believes that there is a higher law than that created by and for the corporate-state complex, a moral law that transcends the corrupt and biased statues of the US political system. When the law is wrong, the right thing to do is to break it. This is often how moral progress is made in history, from the defiance of American slavery and Hitler’s anti-Semitism to sit-ins at “whites only” lunch counters in Alabama.
4. What is your relationship or connection with the Animal Liberation Front?
If I told you, I would have to kill you! Actually, I am what they used to call Communist sympathizers –a “fellow traveler” of the ALF. Clearly, as all my work is visible, public, and aboveground; I am not a member of the ALF. I couldn’t monkeywrench my way out of a paperbag. I am a philosophy professor who writes about, and supports, justice and liberation movements of all kinds.
Yet the obvious fact that I don’t have roots in the underground or don a balaclava at night has not prevented green-baiters from defamatory public accusations. Take the case of David Martosko, “research director” of the Center for Consumer Freedom, a Washington-based corporate front group lobbying to protect food, liquor, and tobacco industries from any regulation whatsoever. In 2004 this McCarthyite corporate pimp appeared before the Environment and Public Works Committee, a contemporary version of the House Un-American Activities Committee. In place of Senator Joseph McCarthy, Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) presided. Inhofe is the ultra-right wing fanatic who never met a corporate crook he didn’t love and has stepped forth as one of the most aggressive opponents of global warming, which he declares is nothing but a “myth” and “hoax” (see my article on Inhofe at: http://www.drstevebest.org/Essays/SenatorJamesInhofe.htm).
So there Martosko was, gesticulating in full glory, among friends and kindred spirits. With no evidence whatsoever, with full awareness that he was spewing slanderous lies, and with full intent to spark a witch hunt against me; on live C-Span TV; before members of Congress, the head of the FBI, and top law enforcement agencies; as pompously as possible; and in grave and urgent tones, Martosko declared: “Dr. Best is at the epicenter of the organizational aspects of what the ALF is doing. Dr. Best is part cheerleader, part recruiter. He uses his classroom freely and openly to indoctrinate adolescents with ambitions and simultaneously praises the ALF and ELF. He is a conduit for terrorism to the mainstream.” When asked by Inhofe about my alleged influence in the ALF, Martosko – conjuring up surreal images of me as the ultimate salesman, the Willie Loman of the underground, quick with a smile and a handshake — smugly replied, “He closes the deal, he seals the deal.” When asked by Inhofe if he believes that I “advocate criminally-based activity,” Martosko intoned before the court: “It is a fact.” He railed against the injustice that I, as a “spokesman for terrorists” and liberation army recruiter should be able to use my faculty post to indoctrinate my students and mend “violent extremists” a dash of intellectual legitimacy.”
For the record, Herr Martosko, Herr Inhofe, and other Brown Shirt agents of Green Scare persecution, let it be clear: I defend the ALF only in words, never deeds; I work for animal rights only in legal ways, never illegal ways; and I operate openly in the aboveground movement, and never clandestinely with the underground profiles in courage. I am not a member of the ALF, nor do I know or communicate with anyone in the ALF. My relation to the ALF as an outside sympathizer is entirely peripheral, and hardly stems from a command post at its “epicenter,” a ludicrous metaphor for a decentralized movement. And although I commend and support the just and courageous actions of the ALF, I have never attempted to recruit students into its ranks. Hell, it’s hard enough to get my students to attend a vegan potluck for extra credit, let alone join a clandestine criminal movement!
5. Personally, I applaud the actions of groups such as the ALF. Forgive me for asking the obvious, but what is your opinion on their efforts?
I came out in favor of the ALF because after careful study of their history, arguments, and results, I concluded that their actions are effective, necessary, and just. Governments, animal exploitation industries, and most mass media characterize the ALF as violent terrorists, but I see them as freedom fighters and counter-terrorists. The ALF is a new justice movement defending innocent beings under attack and fighting the real terrorists who torture and kill animals without justification.
Breaking and entering locked buildings, smashing fur store windows, torching delivery trucks — it all sounds nothing short of vandalism or even terrorism. But I believe ALF actions are defensible because (1) what happens to animals is wrong, and (2) legal channels to stop it are blocked by speciesism and corrupt governments that support the property rights of industries over the moral rights of animals.
I believe that no door, no law, no profit margin, no government, and no cop should ever stand in the way between an animal and its freedom. I wish that legal methods of animal liberation were adequate to free animals from their oppressors, but unfortunately they are not. Governments are grotesquely corrupt and speciesist and serve their corporate masters. Animals are too important a resource and commodity for corporations to voluntarily free them, and so animal liberation requires militant tactics such as raids to rescue animals and property destruction to weaken, cripple, or eliminate oppressors.
It is unfortunate that the problem of animal exploitation is so extreme that some people have been moved to take extreme measures to address it. We should direct our moral criticism to the causes of the ALF, rather than the ALF response to them.
If you do not support the ALF, you need a lesson in history and a logical consistency check. Despite the lies of the corporate-state-media complex, and the ignorance of many animal advocates, the ALF has nothing to do with Al Qaeda, the SS, or the Republican Guard that tyrannized the Iraqi people before Bush-Cheney got their turn. The ALF is the animal rights version of the Underground Railroad, the anti-Nazi resistance movement, and contemporary peace and justice struggles. Like the Underground Railroad, the ALF breaks the law in order to rescue exploited animal slaves and shuttle them to freedom in loving homes. Like the anti-Nazi resistance, the ALF will smash the oppressors’ property and any implements of violence or death in order to slow down or stop their killing machines.
Unlike some brave warriors fighting Nazis, however, the ALF has never used physical violence against any animal exploiter. And like all contemporary movements fighting for peace, justice, and human rights, the ALF intends to help secure all these values for the most defenseless victims of all, the animals who are utterly dependent upon us for their liberation.
The ALF belongs to the long and noble traditions of direct action and civil disobedience that include the Quakers, Henry David Thoreau, Harriet Tubman, the Suffragettes, Mohandas Gandhi, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. From the Boston Tea Party to the Battle of Seattle, there are important historical anticipations of or parallels to the ALF whenever oppressed people find they have to break the law and destroy property in order to realize ideals of freedom, rights, justice, and democracy.
Whereas some argue that property destruction is violence, the ALF correctly identifies itself as a non-violent movement — one that attacks only the property of animal exploiters, and never the exploiters themselves in order to stop their obscene violence, create conditions of peace, and rescue animals from their bloody hands. Only in our perverse capitalist world, one that values property over life, does it make sense to demonize the ALF and elevate these freedom fighters – these counter-terrorists — to Public Enemy #1 on the domestic terrorism list. The real terrorists occupy the corporate suites and highest political offices of the land. They wear suits, not balaclavas; they terrorize with money and banks not guns and bombs. Their actions are legal, but what does that tell you about the scandal of the law?
The defense of direct action, civil disobedience, sabotage, and armed resistance rests on the distinction between what is legal and what is ethical, between the Law and the Right. There are textbook cases where legal codes violate codes of ethics and justice: Nazi Germany, U.S. slavery, and South African apartheid. In such situations, not only is it legitimate to break the law, it is obligatory. In the words of Dr. King, “I became convinced that non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.”
The true forces of ethics and justice have involved groups such as the Jewish Resistance, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, Gandhi and the Indian independence movement, the Suffragettes, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, and Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress. All of them broke the law, destroyed the enemy’s property, or committed violence; they were beaten, jailed, killed, and denounced as extremists or the equivalent of terrorists.
Yet who will argue that their actions were wrong? Today we lionize Nelson Mandela as a great hero, but he and the ANC used violence to win their freedom. People forget that the much-heralded Suffragettes in England and the U.S. used arson and bombs to help win the emancipation of women. No movement for social change has succeeded without a radical fringe, without civil disobedience, property destruction, and even violence — so why should one expect it to be any different with the animal liberation struggle?
Opponents of direct action, civil disobedience, and sabotage (typically those with vested interests in the status quo) believe that illegal actions undermine the rule of law and they view principled lawbreaking and “criminal” actions as a threat to social order. Among other things, this perspective presupposes that the system in question is legitimate or that it cannot be improved upon. It also misrepresents direct activists as people who disrespect the law, when arguably they have a higher regard for the spirit of law and its relation to justice than those who fetishize political order for its own sake. Champions of direct action renounce uncritical allegiance to a legal system. To paraphrase Karl Marx, the law is the opiate of the people, and blind obedience to laws and social decorum led millions of German Jews to their death with almost no resistance. All too often, the legal system is a structure to absorb opposition and induce paralysis by delay.
Despite the incriminations of animal exploitation industries, the state, and the mass media, the ALF is not a terrorist organization; rather they are a counter-terrorist outfit and the newest form of freedom fighters. There are indeed real terrorists in today’s world, but they are not the ALF. The most violent and dangerous criminals occupy the top positions of U.S. corporate and state office; they are the ones most responsible for the exploitation of people, the massacre of animals, and the rape of the planet.
6. The last I heard, you had lost your Chair of the Philosophy Department at the University of Texas, El Paso because of your radical activism. What is your status with UTEP today?
With the sweet irony of understatement, let me just say it is, in one word, untenable. Given my increasingly visible and controversial profile, my “colleagues” – the word is far too generous – felt that they were going to have their own “Ward Churchill problem,” such that a principled professor draws unwanted controversy to a university. From the heights of their irrelevancy and the throne of theory-for-theory’s sake, they were contemptuous of my activities and resentful of a colleague in the spotlight. With Machiavellian ruthlessness, following a methodical plot, they ambushed me in a department meeting; in their terrifying totality and mob-mindset, armed with a battery of lies, they dispatched me to the dungeon of marginality. As their putsch had full support of the administration – who publicly characterized the coup as “a normal rotation of the Chair position” – there was nothing I could do, and not one faculty member on campus uttered a word of protest. And so they preside over their dullness and dead theories, gloating in their triumph. But it was a Pyrrhic victory for it was splashed across the internet and newspapers, even landing on the front page of the Chronicle of Higher Education, fully obvious between the lines that I was ejected from my post by a band of power-hungry dimwit without a scintilla of scruples (http://chronicle.com/free/v51/i48/48a00801.htm).
Since I am tenured, the university could not fire me, but for all I know a Phase II of the plan is already underway.
For anyone holding a romantic view of “higher education” there are at least two lessons here: (1) like society at large, there is no “free speech” in the academy, and professors espousing radical politics (especially in activist causes and public forums) encounter retaliations of one kind or another; (2) there is absolutely no connection between “higher education” and higher principles; in fact, there seems to be an inverse relation such that the most arrogant, egomaniacal, and narcissistic assholes around have a PhD attached to their name.
There is an amusing and ironic footnote to this sordid affair, however, which is that the UTEP Wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Texas_at_El_Paso) lists two “notable people” associated with the university: one is Urbici Soler y Manonelles, the late Spanish sculptor, and the other is identified as “Steven Best, professor of philosophy and co-founder of the North American Animal Liberation Press Office”! I swear I had nothing to do with this, but my hat is off to the author of this mischief.
7. I note that you were banned from entering the UK to attend an animal rights conference in 2005. Why was this and are you still prohibited from traveling there?
After the “7/7” bombings in London on July 7, 2005, Home Office Secretary Charles Clarke ominously stated that the “rules of the game have changed.” The Home Office drafted new “rules of unacceptable speech” to apply to any non-UK citizen alleged to promote, defend, justify, or advocate “violence” or “terrorism” in any way. The new rules and laws in the post-7/7 setting granted the British government the power to jail citizens who support “terrorism” for up to six years (and I have many animal activist friends rotting in England’s prisons) and to ban any non-citizen such as myself for “unacceptable speech” – such as expressed in a lecture, printed essay, or website.
In August 2005, I received a second letter from the Home Office (I had a warning the year before) that condemned me for supporting the ALF, accused me of promoting violence and terrorism, declared me to a threat to the “public order,” and banned me from the entire UK. They based their decision upon objectionable statements they found in my books and essays, and objected most of all to my completely innocuous metaphorical statement in a speech at Oxford earlier that summer, in which I declared that in good time the animal liberation movement will “wipe vivisection off the map.” A fairly innocuous metaphor I thought, but to their paranoid and tyrannical minds, it was a serious threat of bloody murder.
Thus, the first person the Home Office used the new “rules of unacceptable speech” against was not a Muslim cleric chanting “Death to the West” in the streets of central London, but rather a philosophy professor living in the desert of west Texas! The Home Office granted passage to Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a Muslim cleric who has defended suicide bombings. They even granted shelter to the brutal Chilean dictator, August Pinochet. Yet they banned me from their territories, along with fellow animal liberationists Jerry Vlasak, Pam Ferdin, and Rod Coronado.
In my response letter, I proudly admitted that I champion rights and justice for all species, and I reiterated my support for the ALF. I insisted that the ALF is a non-violent organization and that the true violence and terrorism is committed against animals by exploitative industries and the states that support them. It is true, I wrote, that I provided an “intellectual justification” for the ALF, but then again – examining intended or unintended consequences — so does any modern democratic constitution or bill of rights, so did J.S. Mill, Mohandas Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and anyone who promoted concepts such as rights or justice that apply to any person.
England has a long and distinguished history of democracy that has been betrayed in the most grotesque fashion. From the Diggers to the Suffragettes to the animal liberation movement, struggles in England have advanced democracy, rights, and moral evolution for our species as a whole. Facing a second prison sentence in the Bastille for his satires of the government, Voltaire sought shelter in England in 1726-1729. He subsequently described to the world how much more free, liberal, and advanced England was than his native France. In the 1840s, Karl Marx was expelled from several European countries for advocating free speech, workers’ democracy, and, indeed, global revolution, but he found a safe haven in England.
Currently, however, England is heading down a dangerous slippery slope of censorship. Will they next ban Peter Singer next for his defense of euthanasia and infanticide, also illegal acts? Or perhaps Tom Regan, whose contribution to Terrorists or Freedom Fighters is entitled “How to Argue for Violence”? It is frightening to see England follow the same path as the US by repressing civil liberties in the name of security. The recent involvement of the FBI in England affairs is hardly reassuring, as the specialty of the FBI in the US has been to suppress democracy and disrupt political organizations. As evidence that they are in fact sliding further down the slope of tyranny, they recent banned my friend, Gary Yourofsky, a former ALF prisoner and currently a dynamic vegan educator. Yet, unlike me, Gary has never been to England nor ever intended to go! Yet they found pro-animal liberation statements in his writings that offended their speciesist, corporate, fascist mindsets, and so by glorious fiat they sent another missive across the Atlantic to further guarantee the safety of their citizens from the “terrorist threat” of those hardened criminal souls who preach animal rights and vegan ethics.
The only method in their madness is their commitment to defend the profits of the animal research and pharmaceutical industries. Clearly, with so much money at stake in the billion dollar vivisection industry (fed by universities, private companies such as HLS, the pharmaceutical industries, and so on) the animal rights movement in England has become not only an ideological and political threat, but, far more seriously, an economic threat. Just as human slavery was once a huge part of modern capitalist economies, so animal slavery is fundamental to capital accumulation today. The animal rights movement has rocked the core of the British establishment and they are beginning to take extraordinary measures against us. This includes measures to criminalize previously legal activities such as home protests, to place free speech in a choking straightjacket, and to increase penalties for breaking laws protecting corporate rights to murder and butcher billions of animals.
8. What other countries have prevented you from crossing their borders?
That’s it! … so far! I’ve agitated for animal liberation in countries all over the world, most recently in South Africa, but only the UK has shown this profound level of contempt for free speech. It’s odd, for instance, that South Africa, not too long ago one of the worlds most violent and repressive governments of course, today boasts one of the freest constitutions in the world, and I can tell you that my revolutionary politics there were not questioned or scrutinized one iota. I’m about to go to speak on animal liberation for a week in Moscow and St. Petersburg, in a model dictator state, but I expect to be accorded a much broader range of rights and respect than one could possibly find in the garrison state of the UK.
But I have some catching up to do with my militant friends. Gary Yourofsky has been thrown out of 5 countries, including the UK and Canada, and Jerry Vlasak holds the prize distinction of being kicked out of at least 6. He has told Gary and me in an avuncular kind of way, to “try and keep up.” Ha ha, we’re trying, Jerry; we’re trying,
9. You have likened the Animal Liberation Movement to the Abolitionist Movement against slavery in the US. What are some of the parallels that you see?
With the fateful transition from nomadic hunting and gathering bands to settled agricultural societies some 10,000 years ago, the first form of domination and slavery was of humans over animals – in their “domestication” and use for farming and other purposes — and this has set the tone of power relationships ever since.
“Domestication” is a euphemism that disguises extreme cruelty and coercion that involved confinement, castration, hobbling, branding, and ear cropping. To exploit animals for food, milk, clothing, plowing, and transportation, farmers and herders developed technologies such as whips, prods, chains, shackles, collars, and branding irons. From the dawn of agricultural society to the present, human civilization has been built on the backs of slaves, animal slaves above all.
People often say that animals are “the new slaves.” No, they were the first slaves. They’re the first beings human oppressors used to confine, torture, cage, chain down, auction, and sell for labor and profit. The domination of animals paved the way for the domination of humans. The sexual subjugation of women was modeled after the domestication of animals, such that men began to control women’s reproductive capacity, to enforce repressive sexual norms, and to rape them as they forced breeding in their animals. Slavery emerged in the same region of the Middle East that spawned agriculture, and, in fact, developed as an extension of animal domestication practices. In areas like Sumer, slaves were managed like livestock, and males were castrated and forced to work along with females. Whips, prods, chains, shackles, collars, branding irons and other brutal technologies of control and confinement used throughout the modern international slave trade were first perfected on animals.
Stealing blacks from their native environment and homeland, placing chains around their bodies, shipping them in cramped quarters across the ocean for months with no regard for their suffering and death, branding their skin to mark them as property, auctioning them as servants and slabs of meat, separating family members from one another as they screamed in protest, breeding them for service and labor, exploiting them for profit, beating them out of hatred and anger, and killing them in huge numbers when they were no longer of service – all these horrors began with the human exploitation over animals and continue today, in even worse forms, in fur and factory farms, slaughterhouses, laboratories, and other hell-holes where humans show animals no mercy.
Animals in experimental laboratories, factory farms, fur farms, leather factories, zoos, circuses, rodeos, and other exploitative institutions are the major slave and proletariat forces of contemporary capitalist society. Each year, humans confine, exploit, and slaughter tens of billions of animals (50 billion for food consumption alone). The raw materials of the human economy (a far greater and more general domination system than capitalism), animals are exploited for their fur, flesh, and bodily fluids. Animals are slaves in every meaningful sense of the word: they are held captive against their will; caged, chained, and confined in oppressive conditions from which they cannot escape; exploited for profit and labor, reduced to the status of objects, commodities, and property; brutalized and tortured; forced into a life of intensive labor that produces value and profits for exploiters; and bred to produce the next generation of slaves so the process can repeat itself endlessly.
In factory farm conditions that resemble mechanized production lines and concentration camps, animals are forced to produce maximal quantities of meat, milk and eggs; this coercion takes place not only through physical confinement but also through chemical and genetic manipulation. Producing milk or eggs is hard, physical labor that, as with Nazi compounds, terminates in death.
So too we must point to the exploitation of other animals as well, such as the lions, chimps, elephants, and bears forced to work in circuses; when not made to peddle bicycles, wear tutus, or dance, they travel the country in crowded boxcars that are too hot or too cold, and are kept in cages or chains when not “performing” – i.e., when not working under the omnipresent threat of severe beating. We must mention as well the millions of laboratory animals who although may lead oppressively sedentary lives, their bodies are pumped full of drugs, chemicals, and toxins to stimulate their brains, hearts, lung, and kidneys; they yield to needles, probes, lights, knives, and gloved hands until the suffering of their stressed and sickened bodies produces raw data for research reports, and then they are thrown away like trash.
Both racism and speciesism are born out of the need to maintain an economy and society rooted in bondage; only through slavery can the privileged – whether the white minority elite or the vast human populace in general – enjoy conveniences and live comfortable lives. After the US Civil War, the Cotton Economy became the Cattle Economy as the nation colonized the West, slaughtered millions of Indians and sixty million buffalo (the massacre of animals pivotal to the genocide of the people), and began intensive operations to produce beef. Once the slavery of African-Americans in the US officially ended in 1865, the systematic capitalist and industrial forms of enslaving animals was just beginning, and animal labor power became crucial for economic growth and the production of an endless array of commodities by using any and every component of their bodies.
In the postindustrial conditions of the twenty-first century, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies such GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Novartis, and Pfizer, and drug testing corporations such as Huntingdon Life Sciences, have become major components of global capitalist networks, and their research and testing operations are rooted in the breeding, exploitation, and killing of millions of laboratory animals each year. In the postmodern world of pharming (pharmaceutical farming), companies like GTC Biotherapeutics use genetically modified goats to churn out drugs for diseases such as hemophilia and cancer, reducing and reshaping animals to organ machines that labor within conditions of mass confinement.
As animals are prisoners and slaves, it also makes perfect sense to speak of their liberation and to call the militant sectors of the contemporary animal rights struggle a –new abolitionist movement that quite consciously sees itself as the heir to its predecessors in the nineteenth century. Nineteenth century abolitionists were not addressing the slave master’s “obligation” to be kind to the slaves, to feed and clothe them well, or to work them with adequate rest. Rather, they demanded the total and unqualified eradication of the master-slave relation, the freeing of the slave from all forms of bondage. Similarly, the new abolitionists reject reforms of the institutions and practices of animal slavery as grossly inadequate and they pursue the complete emancipation of animals from all forms of human exploitation, subjugation, and domination.
The new abolitionism is advanced by a broad array of forces, from peaceniks like Gary Francione to nonviolent saboteur and direct action groups like the ALF and SHAC to groups like the Animal Rights Militia that openly advocate the use and legitimacy of violence against animal exploiters. While Francione has advanced a powerful and important critique of animal welfarism (such as so deplorably manifested in the “humane meat” and “cage free” egg campaigns promoted by HSUS and PETA), his own claim to this historical heritage is quite dubious. Francione advances a one-dimensional, single-issue politics of veganism that is pitched to an elite, all-white, Whole Foods crowd, that replicates capitalist consumerism in a New Age, Moo Shoe, touchy-feely, ultra-privileged, lily-white crowd.
Francione’s “vegan revolution” is dead in the starting gate, for he has no concept of the need to build bridges to other social movements (more precisely, he sometimes grasps this interconnectedness of different systems of domination, but never translates this insight into practice. And if not already mainstream and elitist enough, Francione – along with his feckless followers in groups such as Friends of Animals – dogmatically pursues purely legal and “peaceful” tactics, uncritically regurgitates the corporate-state propaganda that vilifies militant direct action as “eco-terrorism” and demonizes the ALF as the “top domestic terrorist threat” in the US. While Francione tries to define himself as the “radical abolitionist” antithetical to the “new welfarist” capitulations and betrayals of a corporate suit such as Wayne Pacelle, in fact, he is Pacelle’s doppelganger in their shared vilification of the ALF and SHAC, and some of the most effective tactics ever developed in the history of this movement.
Thus, I see Francione as a pseudo-abolitionist, as a bourgeois, consumerist, elitist apologist for capitalism and its repressive state system, as I find myself puzzled and agitated over the idolatry and uncritical following he has garnered from those rightly alienated from HSUS and PETA. Francione advocates the abolition of animal exploitation, whereas I militate for the abolition of capitalism and of domination and hierarchy in any and all forms. I therefore espouse the concept of total liberation, rooted in the axiom that animal liberation is impossible in the context of capitalism and that the liberation of animals, humans, and the earth needs to be theorized and fought for as one inseparable struggle.
Arguably the best example of the new abolitionism that builds on the militancy of nineteenth century abolitionism is the ALF, because they represent the no-compromise, anti-reformist, kick-ass, militant spirit rife throughout the 19th century abolitionist movement. Moreover, because they liberate animal slaves and shuttle them through a clandestine network of veterinarians and loving homes, they are today’s embodiment of the Underground Railroad. But the ALF is more in the tradition of Lloyd Garrison than David Walker, Henry Garnet, Nat Turner, and John Brown in that they are non-violent in their philosophy and tactics, whereas these abolitionist predecessors advocated the use violence against white slaveowners and Turner and Brown took up swords, knives, and guns in their bold acts of resistance.
Slavery has once again become a focal point of social debate and struggle, as attention shifts from the bondage of human over human to the enslavement of human over nonhuman. The new abolitionist movement seeking animal liberation has emerged as a flashpoint for moral evolution and social transformation, as some of the hottest political battles today are over the politics of nature and animal ethics. A war has erupted between those who will kill every last living thing for power and profit, and those prepared to fight these omnicidal maniacs tooth and nail. We are witnessing perhaps the dawn of a new civil war, this time about animal slavery and the subjugation of nature by corporate powers. As Blacks and anti-racists continue to struggle for justice and equality, the moral and political spotlight is now shifting (or rather, broadening) to a far more ancient, pervasive, intensive, and violent form of slavery that confines, tortures, and kills animals by the billions in an ongoing global holocaust that has catastrophic consequences for humanity itself.
Just as nineteenth century abolitionists sought to awaken people to the greatest moral issue of the day, so the new abolitionists endeavor to enlighten society about the crucial importance of animal oppression. As Black slavery raised fundamental questions about the meaning of American “democracy” and modern values, so animal slavery provokes critical examination of a human psyche damaged by violence, arrogance, alienation, and greed. Whereas racial standpoint theory illuminated core pathologies of modernity in the critique of colonialism and imperialism, so animal standpoint theory exposes key causes and destructive dynamics of the violent dominator cultures that have emerged and spread over the last ten thousand years. And while W. E. B. Du Bois said that “The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line,” we could say with equal relevance that the problem of the twenty-first century is the problem of the species line.
10. Please tell us a bit about the International Journal of Inclusive Democracy and your role with them.
The Inclusive Democracy project was developed in the 1990s by Takis Fotopoulos (an amazing and encyclopedic intellect!) in the pages of Society and Nature and Democracy and Nature. These journals, both now defunct, assembled by an international collective for a global readership, were dedicated to analyzing the broad array of social and environmental problems, such as stemmed from three major causes of crisis: a grow-or-die capitalist economy, hierarchical social relations pitting human against human and the social world against the natural world, and an instrumentalist mindset whereby elites and exploiters view other humans, animals, and the environment as nothing but means to self-aggrandizing ends. In 1997, Fotopoulos systematized his ideas in a landmark work entitled, Towards an Inclusive Democracy: The Crisis of the Growth Economy and the Need for a New Liberatory Project. In 2005, the Inclusive Democracy project and international collective moved online, where The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy emerged and now commands a significantly larger readership than was possible in print form.
Inclusive Democracy aims to develop a radical theoretical analysis of — and political solution to — the catastrophic social and environmental impact of the market economies spawned by modern capitalist nations. As inclusive, the project aims to incorporate a wide diversity of social voices (or at least legitimate expressions of difference not dedicated to ending difference and democracy by imposing authoritarian rule onto others) into revitalized public spheres. As inclusive in nature, the project is also a (radical) form of democracy in its commitment to maximal autonomy and self-regulation of people in communities, and thus the deepest enrichment of individual and social life.
Rejecting the totalitarian pseudo-democracy of state socialism and market-based capitalism, Inclusive Democracy seeks a synthesis of direct democracy of ancient Greece and modern libertarian socialism, fused with other perspectives in the goal of abolishing all social hierarchies (such as involve statism, classism, sexism, racism, and so on) and dissolving centralized power into the participatory democracies of confederated communities. The project is by nature a radical or revolutionary form of democracy in that it departs from the all-too apparent axioms that (1) the capitalist socioeconomic model is inherently dysfunctional and destructive (such that a “just,” “green,” or “sustainable” capitalism is an oxymoron and delusion), and therefore (2) the current world order cannot be reformed, but rather must be qualitatively transformed in a deep, fundamental, and system process of change that can only be characterized as a social revolution.
Inclusive Democracy considers the ultimate cause of the present multidimensional crisis to be the concentration of economic and political power in the hands of various elites. This power is advanced through the predatory objectives and operations of the global market economy and it is stabilized and legitimated (to varying degrees) through its political complement in the state system of “representative democracy.” Whereas political representation – what Rousseau called the “alienation of the will” — deludes people into believing that elected officials serve universal and public interests rather than private and particular advantages, and that they, as citizens, ultimately hold the titles and deeds of power and authority, Fotopoulos exposes indirect democracy as “liberal technocracy” run by and the corporate-state complex and national and international elites.
Where one might expect the multifaceted crisis in society and nature to generate an appropriate political response, another crisis has formed. Theoretical and political opposition to global capitalism – in any significant and truly radical form embodying democratic social and political alternatives — has collapsed. Elitism, bureaucratic domination, and the destruction of nature was grotesquely replayed in various “communist” or “socialist” states that intended or alleged to present an “alternative” to capitalist systems. The European tradition of Social Democracy, dating back to Edward Bernstein and the German Social Democratic Party in the early twentieth century, presented itself as an alternative to both capitalism and bureaucratic socialism, but unavoidably succumbed to the failed logic of reformism that attempted to repair rather than radically transform a system with inherent structural flaws. Social Democracy mounted no effective alternative or opposition and today is but a museum piece amidst increasing the privatization and market domination of European nation states.
Since the 1960s, many critical theories and movements have emerged, but none proved to be significant or enduring forces of opposition and radical change. From the “new social movements” and subsequent “identity politics” formations (feminism, civil rights, gay and lesbian liberation, multiculturalism, anti-nuclear groups, and so on) to apolitical, reformist, and esoteric postmodernism; from mainstream Green parties to mystical and individualist orientations of much deep ecology, Fotopoulos finds political expressions that are either coopted by academia or the corporate-state complex, or disable themselves through reformist, subjectivist, and mystical approaches. And while the emergence of militant “anti-” or “alter-globalization” movements that emerged in the 1990s showed promise in their alliance politics and united demands for social justice, Fotopoulos nonetheless finds that they lack a coherent “anti-systemic” perspective (i.e., a holistic and radical critique of the totality of capitalist systems), as they also fail to pose viable political alternatives to market domination and social hierarchies.
Yet the project of Inclusive Democracy is not merely to negate all hitherto existing radical movements but rather to incorporate the best elements of the past – inclusively – in a critical synthesis that spawns something new and directly relevant to the current crisis era. This project involves merging the best of classic Athenian democracy with Cornelius Castoriadis’ autonomy project, the socialist libertarian tradition, Bookchin’s linking of social and ecological concerns in one revolutionary politics, and the best of radical currents in the new social movements.
Inclusive Democracy constitutes the highest form of Democracy since it secures the institutional preconditions for political (or direct) democracy, economic democracy, democracy in the social realm and ecological democracy. At the subjective level, Inclusive Democracy is grounded on the conscious choice of citizens for autonomy, and not on dogmas, religions and irrational systems or closed theoretical systems, which rule out any questioning about the ultimate grounds of these beliefs ― the cornerstone of democracy.
Political democracy involves the creation of institutions of direct democracy at the political level, so that all decisions are taken by the demotic assemblies (i.e. the local citizen assemblies at the level of the demos) which confederate at the regional, national, and ultimately continental and global levels and consist of delegates, who are subject to immediate recall by the demotic assemblies. The function of regional, national and confederal assemblies is only to implement and coordinate the policy decisions of the demotic assemblies. Political democracy secures, therefore, the re-integration of society with polity, and replaces the state as a separate authority over the citizens ― an arrangement which, essentially, has transformed citizens into subjects.
Having started off on the Left, and being acquainted with a wide body of left socialist and critical theory, including the writings of Murray Bookchin, and believing that what we need is not animal liberation but total liberation, not monkeywrenching machines but transforming the institutions of society at all levels toward radical inclusiveness and participation, I was naturally interested in what Takis was doing by formulating a radical, systemic critique of capitalism and trying to maintain a true revolutionary viewpoint in a bleak political scene dominated by factious identity politics, postmodern relativism and despair, and Left accomodationist moves toward reformism and reconciliation with a global economic system that is spiraling out of control, completely unsustainable, increasingly rapacious, nothing short of insanity and the primary threat to the entire planet today.
I’ve enjoyed many friendly and stimulating exchanges with Takis, and in fact I just edited an anthology of newly published writings on Inclusive Democracy entitled, Global Capitalism and the Demise of the Left: Renewing Radicalism through Inclusive Democracy. But we’ve had some serious disagreements too, specifically over animal rights and the relationship between animal liberation and social liberation generally, and we even hashed it out on the pages of The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy. From a Left, systemic, anti-capitalist, revolutionary standpoint, Takis has made some penetrating criticisms that apply in one form or another to virtually the entire animal advocacy movement, critiques with which I happen to agree – specifically, he has underscored the fact that the animal advocacy movement is overwhelmingly is a reformist, single-issue, interest group that poses no challenges to class hierarchy and corporate domination. In rebuttal, I argued that some animal liberationists are anti-capitalist, pro-alliance, and revolutionary in outlook (such one often sees expressed in ALF communiqués), but that there is an even larger problem on the flip side, such that Leftists are once again behind the historical curve – morally, scientifically, and politically.
11. I’m extremely curious to get your opinion on why so many progressives, Leftists, and radical have such a glaring moral blind-spot when it comes to Animal Liberation. Your thoughts?
Mainly, it’s the influence of modern humanism, which itself emerged from the larger context of Western ideology and philosophy completely tainted by anthropocentric arrogance, alienation, delusions of grandeur and control, and an instrumentalization and verification of all life. To put it simplistically, there are two strands in Western history: an egalitarian, vegetarian, animal protectionist philosophy that began with philosophy itself through the profound and enduring teachings of Pythagoras, and the hierarchical, carnivorous, speciesist worldview canonized by Aristotle. Unfortunately, the Pythagorean perspective was overwhelmed by the Aristotelian outlook, which after all was much more functional for a society oriented around slavery, war, expansionism, growth, and conquest. The Greek hierarchical worldview flowed into the dominant currents of Christianity and from there poured into the ideology of modern science, rationalism, Enlightenment, industrialism, and capitalism.
To be sure, the move from a God-centered to a human-centered world, from the crusades of a bloodthirsty Christianity to the critical thinking and autonomy ethos of the Enlightenment, were massive historical gains, and animal rights builds on them. But modern social theory and science perpetuated one of worst aspects of Greek and Christian philosophy, namely the view that animals are mere resources for human use. Indeed, the situation for animals worsened considerably under the impact of modern sciences and technologies that spawned vivisection, genetic engineering, cloning, factory farms, and slaughterhouses.
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels lumped animal welfarists into the same petite-bourgeoisie or reactionary category with charity organizers, temperance fanatics, and naïve reformists, failing to see that the animal welfare movement in the US, for instance, was a key politicizing cause for women whose struggle to reduce cruelty to animals was inseparable from their struggle against male violence and the exploitation of children. In works such as his 1844 Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, Karl Marx advanced a naturalistic theory of human life, but like the dominant Western tradition he posited a sharp dualism between human and nonhuman animals, arguing that only human beings have consciousness and a complex social world. Denying to animals the emotional, social, and psychological complexity of their actual lives, Marx argued that whereas animals have an immediate and merely instinctual relation to productive activity and the earth, human labor is mediated by free will and intelligence. If Marxism and other Left traditions have proudly grounded their theories in science, social radicals need to realize that science – specifically, the discipline of “cognitive ethology” which studies the complexity of animal emotions, thought, and communications – has completely eclipsed their fallacious, regressive, speciesist concepts of nonhuman animals as devoid of complex forms of consciousness and social life.
Social ecologists and “eco-humanists” such as Murray Bookchin condemn the industrialization of animal abuse and killing but never challenge the alleged right to use animals for human purposes. Oblivious to scientific studies that document reason, language, culture, and technology among various animal species, Bookchin rehearses the Cartesian-Marxist mechanistic view of animals as dumb creatures devoid of reason and language. Animals therefore belong to “first nature,” rather than the effervescently creative “second nature” world of human culture. Like the Left in general, social ecologists fail to theorize the impact of animal exploitation on the environment and human society and psychology. They ultimately espouse the same welfarist views that permit and sanctify some of the most unspeakable forms of violence against animals within current capitalist social relations, speaking in the same language of “humane treatment” of animal slaves used by vivisectors, managers of factory farms and slaughterhouses operators, fur farmers, and bosses of rodeos and circuses.
The Left traditionally has been behind the curve in its ability to understand and address forms of oppression not directly related to economics. It took decades for the Left to recognize racism, sexism, nationalism, religion, culture and everyday life, ideology and media, ecology, and other issues into its anti-capitalist framework, and did so only under the pressure of various liberation movements. The tendency of the Marxist Left, in particular, has been to relegate issues such as gender, race, and culture to “questions” to be addressed, if at all, only after the goals of the class struggle are achieved. Such exclusionist and reductionist politics prompted Rosa Luxemburg, for one, to defend the importance of culture and everyday life by exclaiming, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be a part of your revolution!”
For another example of the profound limitations of so-called “progressive” thinking, let’s climb to the mountaintops of humanism. Amidst the violence, racism, war, and social turbulence of the 1960s, Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned a future “world house.” In this cosmopolitan utopia, all peoples around the globe would live in peace and harmony, such that religion fulfils their spiritual needs and capitalism satisfies their material needs.
But even if this sentiment could possibly be realizable within an economic system that breeds violence, war, destitution, extinction, and ecocide, until humanity radically alters its relation to animals King’s worldhouse is still a goddamn slaughterhouse¬ — a concentration camp and extermination factory operated by and for the top predators. King’s “dream” for the human species is a nightmare for the billions of animals butchered each year for food, clothing, “science,” and other exploitative purposes.
The humanist nonviolent utopia will always remain a violent dystopia and hypocritical lie until society extends equality and just and equal treatment to other animals. Humanist “revolutions” are superficial by definition. Humanist “democracy” is speciesist hypocrisy. Humanism is just tribalism writ large.
Or consider the case of noted socialist writer, Michael Albert, who confessed the following in a 2006 interview with Satya magazine: “when I talk about social movements to make the world better, animal rights does not come into my mind. I honestly don’t see animal rights in anything like the way I see women’s movements, Latino movements, youth movements, and so on … a large-scale discussion of animal rights and ensuing action is probably more than needed … but it just honestly doesn’t strike me as being remotely as urgent as preventing war in Iraq or winning a 30-hour work week.”
This blows my mind – the complacency, detachment, arrogance….It is hard to fathom privileging a work reduction for humans who live relatively comfortable lives to ameliorating the obscene suffering of tens of billion of animals who are confined, tortured, and killed each year in the most unspeakable ways. Like most within the Left, Albert betrays a shocking insensitivity to the suffering of billions of sentient individuals and he lacks the holistic vision to grasp the profound connections among the most serious problems afflicting humans, animals, and the environment.
Appallingly, the environmental movement is no better. Despite their platitudes about “respect of life,” Western Green parties and the Sierra Club ally themselves not with the animal rights and vegetarian communities bur rather with the hunting and meat-eating crowds. There has been a deafening silence on the relation between global warming and animal agriculture. One exception is Greenpeace, but their response was not to take this profound opportunity to promote veganism, but rather to eat kangaroos, whales, and other animals that do not promote the greenhouse gas emissions of cattle.
In short, the modern “radical” tradition – whether, Marxist, socialist, anarchist, or other “Left” positions that include anti-racism and feminism — stands in continuity with the entire Western heritage of anthropocentrism, and in no way can be seen as a liberating philosophy from the standpoint of the environment and other species on this planet. Current Left thought is merely Stalinism toward animals.
Animal liberation is the culmination of a vast historical learning process whereby human beings gradually realize that arguments justifying hierarchy, inequality, and discrimination of any kind are arbitrary, baseless, and fallacious. Animal liberation builds on the most progressive ethical and political advances human beings have made in the last 200 years and carries them to their logical conclusions. It takes the struggle for rights, equality, and nonviolence to the next level, beyond the artificial moral and legal boundaries of humanism, in order to challenge all prejudices and hierarchies including speciesism.
Since the fates of all species on this planet are intricately interrelated, the exploitation of animals cannot but have a major impact on the human world itself. When human beings exterminate animals, they devastate habitats and ecosystems necessary for their own lives. When they butcher farmed animals by the billions, they ravage rainforests, turn grasslands into deserts, exacerbate global warming, and spew toxic wastes into the environment. When they construct a global system of factory farming that requires prodigious amounts of land, water, energy, and crops, they squander vital resources and aggravate the problem of world hunger. When humans are violent toward animals, they often are violent toward one another, a tragic truism validated time and time again by serial killers who grow up abusing animals and violent men who beat the women, children, and animals of their home. The connections go far deeper, as evident in the relationship between the domination of humans over animals and the hierarchy of sexism and racism.
It is becoming increasingly clear that human, animal, and earth liberation movements are inseparably linked, such that none can be free until all are free. This is not a new insight, but rather a lost wisdom and truth. Recall the words of Pythagoras, the first Western philosopher, who 2500 years ago proclaimed: “For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.”
A truly revolutionary social theory and movement will not just emancipate members of one species, but rather all species and the earth itself. A future revolutionary movement worthy of its name will grasp the ancient conceptual roots of hierarchy and domination, such as emerge in the animal husbandry practices of the first agricultural societies, and incorporate a new ethics of nature – environmental ethics and animal rights – that overcomes instrumentalism and hierarchical thinking in every pernicious form.
12. Since your early focus on post-modernism, there has been a significant shift in your work, such that you are writing almost exclusively on animal liberation and radical environmentalism issues (working closely with co-editor Tony Nocella).
Yes, I am increasingly interested in animal liberation politics and in writing about the planetary crisis in as concrete and political way as possible. Tony and I decided to put together a few critical anthologies whereby we engaged some of the most crucial issues of the day and assembled a diverse cast of radicals who ordinarily would not come together, in order to make political as well as theoretical questions, to not only talk about alliance politics but to do or enact it in practice in these books, such that the theory book itself is a concrete form of practice.
Our first effort, Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals, has proven to be a very popular book and in fact it is the first and only academic anthology on the ALF and the theoretical, ethical, historical, and political issues of animal liberation. Sue Coe created the striking cover image, Ward Churchill wrote the preface, Ingrid Newkirk penned the Afterword, and Anthony and I wrote a substantive introduction to critical ALF issues and controversies. The book delves into the history, philosophy, and tactics of the ALF as well as its relation to social movements such as feminism and the American Indian Movement. The book features leading voices from both academic and activist camps. Half of the contributors are women, three are Native American Indians, and some such as Rod Coronado and Gary Yourofsky are former ALF activists/prisoners now working aboveground. The volume covers a wide variety of topics such as how to defend “violence,” media coverage of ALF actions, feminism and the ALF, and “open” rescues vs. the “closed” rescue tactics of the ALF. I hope that the book can dispel the many shabby arguments against the ALF, generate a productive debate about philosophy and tactics, and cross over into the human rights community in order to discuss our commonalities and promote bridge-building. Whatever one’s views on direct action and the ALF, everyone interested in animal rights should read this book. I hope the FBI buys lots of copies too – maybe they will learn something!
Following the same interdisciplinary and multiperspectival approach, Tony and I put together an even richer book, Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of the Earth (AK Press, 2006). Here too, along with a rich historical and critical introduction on the origin and trajectory of modern Western environmental movements, we employ a pluralist, multiperspectival, interdisciplinary, boundary-transgressing, bridge-building approach that brings together sundry people and positions. With over forty contributors, Igniting a Revolution features a wide array of critical perspectives on social and environmental issues, ranging from social ecology, deep ecology, Earth First!, ecofeminism, and primitivism to Native Americans, Black liberationists, political prisoners, and animal/Earth liberation movements. An important task of the book is to decouple environmentalism from white, male, privileged positions; to diversify it along class, gender, racial, ethnic, and other lines; and to remove it from its single-issue pedestal. The book argues that a revolutionary environmentalism is necessary to the extent that ecological and social problems are systemic and inherent to capitalism or even “civilization” itself. Revolutionary environmentalists renounce reformist approaches that aim only to manage the symptoms of the global ecological crisis and never dare or think to probe its underlying dynamics and causes. This book has made an immediate impact among academic and activist communities and has won broad acclaim for the unique and important book that it is.
13. And you’re currently completing a new book on animal liberation issues. Tell us about that.
In the new book that I am currently completing for Rowan and Littlefield, entitled Animal Rights and Moral Progress: The Struggle for Human Evolution (2009), I argue that the next logical and necessary step in Western cultural evolution is to broaden the notion of rights to include animals and thereby to fully represent and protect their interests in law. The book shows how human beings have written the narratives of their own historical development without proper grounding of their existence in relationship with other species and the natural world. The book covers the broad scope of human biological evolution from australopithecines to Homo forms, and debunks key historical myths such as “man the hunter” and “man the carnivore.” With due attention to the complexities of writing a historical narrative, I argue that there is a progressive movement in modern Western development that can be charted through the universalization of rights and the expansion of the ethical community. I claim that the next necessary and logical stage of moral development involves animal liberation, whereby humans learn that animals deserve fundamental rights, grant them these rights, and change their social institutions, practices, and mentalities accordingly. Animal liberation is part of a general “ethics of nature” humanity needs to embrace, one that fosters respect for all life and the earth as a whole, and expands the ethical boundaries of community and citizenship from the current ideal of global humanism to the broader idea of the biocommunity.
In many ways, this book is an attempt to tell a story, a new story, a grand narrative of human history from an animal standpoint that examines the importance of animals to our existence and the planet as a whole in ways humans have rarely imagined outside the conceptual straightjacket of speciesism. A key thesis of what I call “animal standpoint theory” is that animals have been key driving and shaping forces of human thought, psychology, moral and social life, and history overall, and that in fundamental ways, the oppression of human over human is rooted in the oppression of human over animal. The animal standpoint sees the freedom and happiness of humans and animals to be inseparably interconnected, and highlights the grave consequences for humans when they violate animal lives on a massive and global scale such as is characteristic of modern societies. While not widely recognized as such, the animal standpoint is a crucial perspective for critical theory, offering unique insights into human history, the origins and dynamics of hierarchy (including patriarchy, slavery, and racism), the ubiquity of warfare and violence, social and ecological crises, and the conditions necessary for a viable future. As the critical theory of society is immeasurably enriched through the animal standpoint, so the animal standpoint needs a critical social theory to understand how animal exploitation in the modern world is driven by capitalist profit and growth imperatives, operated within a despotic state apparatus that serves corporate interests and violently suppresses dissent, and is embedded within a repressive technical and instrumental rationality that objectifies nature, animals, society, and human lives within alien machinery and instrumental logic.
14. What do you say to critics who call you an extremist and a terrorist?
I plead guilty to the former, and not guilty to the later. In extreme crimes, in the face of extreme evil and violence, moderate positions don’t cut it, and one is forced to take extreme measures to stop extreme wrongs. The western environment and animal advocacy movements have advanced their causes for over three decades now, but we are nonetheless losing ground in the battle to preserve species, ecosystems, and wilderness. Increasingly, calls for moderation, compromise, and the slow march through institutions can be seen as treacherous and grotesquely inadequate. In the midst of predatory global capitalism and biological meltdown, “reasonableness” and “moderation” seem to be entirely unreasonable and immoderate, as “extreme” and “radical” actions appear simply as necessary and appropriate.
As eco-primitivist Derrick Jensen observes, “We must eliminate false hopes, which blind us to real possibilities.” Where the social superego tells us to be respectful, play by the rules, have eternal patience, and take that long march through the institutions, 19th century abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison speaks a little more sense “I do not wish to think, to speak, or write, with moderation … Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present!’’
Now let’s get real. Terms such as “violence” and “terrorism” are the most abused words in the English language today; they are products of the corporate-state propaganda machine; they are peddled uncritically by the media and have become so hegemonic that the Ultimate Orwellian Reversal of Meaning has been accomplished, such that those fighting for rights, justice, and compassion are demonized as criminals and terrorists, and those brutalizing innocent beings and raping and poisoning the common earth are valorized as the crème de la crème of respectability.
When people use the same discourse of “terrorism” to describe those who fly fully-loaded passenger planes into high-rise buildings and those who rescue abused animals from breeders and factory farms, the word has been drained of any meaning. When corporations and states deploy the language of terrorism it is sheerly for propaganda purposes, to cover up their own terrorist acts and to denounce in the strongest language possible anything that threatens their interests. Clearly, “terrorism” is not a word, but a weapon. The state uses it to brand it adversaries as terrorists, to malign their cause and demonize them, and thereby to legitimate their own cause and to secure it by any means necessary.
I define terrorism as any intentional act of violence toward an innocent sentient being in order to advance an ideological, political, and economic agenda. It is a strange kind of terrorist who has never injured a single person, who is compassionate toward the suffering of others, and who risks his or her own freedom to save another from harm, violence, and death. It is not the ALF who are violent terrorists, but rather the UK and US governments and war machines, global corporations raping and pillaging the world, vivisectors in their blood-stained coats, and all facets of the animal exploitation industry. They are terrorists on the grounds that they intentionally harm and kill innocent living beings for ideological, political, and economic goals.
The ironies are all too painful. When beagle puppies are crippled and punched in the face, when monkeys are strapped into restraint devices that smash their skulls, when kittens have their brains invaded with electrodes, and when rabbits and guinea pigs are pumped with toxic chemicals until they die, we are asked to believe that this is science, not terrorism. When over 10 billion animals each year in the US alone are confined and killed in unspeakably vicious ways by food industries, we are told this is business, not terrorism. In this sick and violent society, property is more sacred than life, and thus only those who destroy property are branded as criminals while the real terrorists perpetuate the “banality of evil” (Hannah Arendt) through the daily affairs of torture and killing. For every scratch an activist might inflict on an animal exploiter, a sea of blood flows from the bodies of animals; consequently, it is the height of perversity to brand activists rather than animal exploitation industries as the ethical misfits.
Torching a research or vivisection laboratory is considered more heinous than anally electrocuting mink or conducting the LD50 tests that pour industrial chemicals into the bodies of animals until half of them die. The loss of one building is deemed more noteworthy than the devastation of rainforests or the eradication of species. Critics whine about the possibility of physical violence by the ALF but fall silent before the actuality of state terrorism, animal massacres, and environmental destruction on a global scale. They decry death threats, but never death. They deplore rare activist attacks on exploiters but never violence against activists. The U.S. is rife with volatile hate groups—ranging from neo-Nazis militiamen to right-wing Christian zealots—that have a long record of violence, including killing hundreds of people in the Oklahoma City bombing, yet the government positions the ALF above all of them as the more dangerous “domestic terrorist” threat. While Al Qaeda and sundry terrorist cells openly threaten attacks on the nation, the FBI deploys hundreds of agents and squanders millions of dollars to harass activists who rescue cats and dogs. Those who exploit human beings, animals, and the Earth are dignified with labels such as “scientist,” “developer,” or “businessmen”; others who dare attack the property of the powerful are branded as “terrorists.” It’s a game of corrupt semantics where those who monopolize power monopolize meaning.
The hypocrisies, inanities, ironies, distortions, lies, and contradictions that billow forth from a barbaric society that pretends to be civilized and humane are so massive, staggering, and outrageous that they are numbing to contemplate. In this Orwellian world where slavery is freedom and war is peace, it is difficult to find truth and logic. It is not the ALF’s tactics that deserve vehement condemnation, but rather the industries that exploit animals so viciously, the legal systems that institutionalize their interests, the media moguls that denigrate animal rights, and the states that run the whole insane asylum.
15. So give us some sense of what “violence” means for you and….is violence always wrong in all conditions?
If violence is the intentional infliction of bodily harm against another person, then how can one “hurt,” “abuse,” or “injure” a nonsentient thing that does not feel pain or have awareness of any sort? How can one be “violent” toward a van or be a “terrorist” toward brick and mortar? How does one harm or terrorize a laboratory or fur farm with spray paint or a firebomb?
One simply does not – unless someone owning or associated with the property is adversely affected. People whose homes, cars, or offices are damaged suffer fear, anxiety, and trauma. Their business, livelihood, research, or careers may be ruined, and they are harmed psychologically, economically, professionally, and in other ways.
Admittedly, none of this is good from the point of view of an ALF victim such as a vivisector, foie gras chef, or fur farmer. But is it sound to call sabotage “violence”? Perhaps, if one relied on a general psychological definition involving something like “mental trauma,” but one could just as well argue that sabotage is the lesser violence compared to what it tries to prevent, that it simply is not violence, or that violence, including physical attacks against human persons, is acceptable and legitimate in a war against the warmongers.
If any definition of violence is warranted, it should be in our understanding of a “person” – any being that is sentient and the “subject of a life.” Since animals are not only sentient, but also psychologically and socially complex beings, they are subjects in every significant way human beings are. Thus, every injury to an animal ought to be considered injury to a person, and hence violence. And if destruction to corporate property is violence then why is it not violence of a far greater magnitude to slash and burn forests, annihilate oral reefs and ocean floors with massive fishing trawlers, dump endless tons of carcinogenic wastes into waterways, and industrial strip mine mountains until their peaks are reduced to pebbles?
Typically, those who vilify saboteurs as “violent” leap to the conclusion that they are “terrorists,” failing to realize that there is an important difference insofar as one can use violence in morally legitimate ways in conditions ranging from self-defense to a “just war.” The ALF is not a terrorist organization because (1) they never physically injure people, and (2) they never target anyone but those directly involved in the war against animals.
Truth be told, one can use violence in morally legitimate ways in conditions ranging from self-defense to a “just war.” One could plausibly argue that the ALF are acting in defense of the defenseless, that they are combatants in a just war, and that animal exploiters are legitimate military targets. Pacifist arguments assume that nonviolent methods of resistance can solve all major social conflicts (they cannot) and that a human life has absolute value (it does not). Philosophically speaking, one has to wonder what kind of absolute value is attached to the life of a vicious killer such as a famous Safari Club member who wins prizes for “bagging” endangered species in comparison to the life of the rare elephants, lions, and gorillas the bastard kills. Why ought the human “right” to kill to be protected over an animal’s right to live through a code of nonviolence?
Let’s do away with any false absolutist position and some serious hypocrisy while we are at it. Just as causing physical violence to another “person” is not always right, nor is it always wrong. There is wide assent that violence is legitimate to defend innocent human beings from being wrongly harmed or killed by others. In the paradigm case, who truly condemns the use of property destruction and violence to free Jewish prisoners from Nazi genocide? Resistance fighters blew up train tracks, gas ovens, and killed German soldiers at every possible opportunity. Bravo!
But if discussion turns to the use of property destruction or physical violence to liberate animals from oppression, suddenly there is outcry that this tactic is wrong, violent, and counter-productive. Appealing to critics to overcome the fallacy of speciesism and to think in a rigorously consistent manner, I simply ask: why? Why are the anti-Nazi resistance fighters heroes while the ALF are terrorists? Why is violence acceptable to use in defense of human beings but not animals? This gross inconsistency ought to embarrass every unprejudiced and logical person and it is a scandal when paraded about by a so-called “animal advocate.” It is just a disguised form of speciesism whereby extraordinary actions are courageous and laudable if done on behalf of human animals but despicable and deplorable if taken for nonhuman animals.
Beginning in 1976, the ALF declared war against animal oppressors and the state that defends them, but the ALF did not start the conflict. The ALF did not so much wage war as it entered into a war that animal exploiters long ago began. If one party succumbs to a war initiated by another party, it employs violence in self-defense and so its actions are legitimate. Animals too have the right to self defense. But since they cannot defend themselves (except for instances such as where elephants or tigers justly kill their trainers), humans must act on their behalf. And if violence is needed to save an animal from attack, then violence is legitimate as a means of self defense for animals. If one likes, this could be called extensional self defense, since humans are acting on behalf of animals who are so vulnerable and oppressed they cannot fight back to attack or kill their oppressors.
16. So to wrap this up for us, can you bring us back to the big picture?
Let’s be clear: we are fighting for a revolution, not for reforms, for the end of slavery, not for humane slavemasters. Animal rights advances the most radical idea to ever land on human ears: animals are not food, clothing, resources, or objects of entertainment. Our goal is nothing less than to change entrenched attitudes, sedimented practices, and powerful institutions that profit from animal exploitation.
Our task is especially difficult because we must transcend the comfortable boundaries of humanism and urge a qualitative leap in moral consideration. We are insisting that people not only change their views of one another within the species they share, but rather realize that species boundaries are as arbitrary as those of race and sex. Our task is to provoke humanity to move the moral bar from reason and language to sentience and subjectivity.
Animal rights is the next stage in the development of the highest values modern humanity has devised – those of equality, democracy, and rights. Our distorted conceptions of ourselves as demigods who command the planet must be replaced with the far more humble and holistic notion that we belong to and are dependent upon vast networks of living relationships. Dominionist and speciesist identities are steering us down the path of disaster. If humanity and the living world as a whole is to have a future, human beings must embrace a universal ethics that respects all life.
Growth is difficult and painful, and the human species is morally immature and psychologically crippled. Human beings need to learn that they are citizens in the biocommunity, and not conquerors; as citizens, they have distinct responsibilities to the entire biocommunity.
The meaning of Enlightenment is changing. In the eighteenth century it meant overcoming religious dogma and tyranny; in the late twentieth century, it demanded overcoming racism, sexism, homophobia, and other prejudices; now, in the twenty-first century, it requires overcoming speciesism and embracing a universal ethics that honors all life.
The fight for animal liberation demands radical transformations in the habits, practices, values, and mindset of all human beings as it also entails a fundamental restructuring of social institutions and economic systems predicated on exploitative practices. The new struggle seeking freedom for other species has the potential to advance rights, democratic consciousness, psychological growth, and awareness of biological interconnectedness to higher levels than previously achieved in history.
We must not only educate, agitate, and enlighten, but also coerce and frighten, for moral progress does not work through gentle nudges or ethical persuasion alone. Society is inherently conservative, and change is blocked either by the corruption of the powerful or the apathy of the powerless. Sometimes society has to be pushed into the future, and justice has to be forced past the barricades of ignorance and complacency by the most enlightened people of the time. Within this framework, direct action and civil disobedience are key catalysts of progressive change.
But we must also abandon reformist, single-issue strategies that do nothing but raise the stock shares of Smithfield Foods and HSUS, bring about the “victories” of watered-down and poorly enforced legislations, and bring animal liberation politics into the front seat of revolutionary struggle; we won’t sit in the back anymore-our struggles and changes are too crucial for moral enlightenment, ecological revitalization, social justice. Animal liberationists have to get with the Left critique and join forces with social justice movements, just as the left, social justice world, and human rights proponents have to broaden not only their midst but their political bases and coalitions.
Societies must change on every possible front, from the economic, political, legal, and education institutions to the transportation systems, energy technologies, and modes of consumption. Yet vast social, political, and economic changes by themselves are inadequate, unless accompanied by equally deep psychological changes, such as demand a Copernican revolution in human identities, whereby people realize that they belong to the earth, and the earth does not belong to them.
Thus, revolutionary change is necessary at all levels of existence, unfolding in a process of total revolution that addresses the interconnectedness of forms of domination over humans, animals, and the earth. We must dismantle every form of hierarchy — human over human, and human over animals and nature – and reconstruct our societies city by city, community by community. We must eliminate every vicious form of prejudice and discrimination — not only racism, sexism, and homophobia, but also the lies, ugliness, and violence embedded in speciesism and humanism.
The crisis in the natural world reflects a crisis in the social world, whereby corporate elites and their servants in government have centralized power, monopolized wealth, destroyed democratic institutions, and unleashed a brutal and violent war against dissent. Corporate destruction of nature is enabled by asymmetrical and hierarchical social relations, whereby capitalist powers commandeer the political, legal, and military system to perpetuate and defend their exploitation of the social and natural worlds. To the extent that the animal and earth exploitation problems stem from or relate to social problems, they thereby require social solutions. One cannot change destructive policies without changing the institutions and power systems that cause, benefit from, and sustain them. Where the exploitative policies of corporate globalization cause poverty in nations such as Brazil and South African, people who are poor and desperate will cut down trees or poach animals to survive. The goal to end the rape of nature and the slaughter of animals must thereby address the root causes of poverty, making animal liberation inseparable from human liberation.
An effective struggle for animal liberation, then, means tackling issues such as poverty, class, political corruption, and ultimately the inequalities created by transnational corporations and globalization. It means drawing on the crucial resources provided by a left tradition that includes Marx, Bakunin, Kropotkin, the Frankfurt School, Gramsci, feminists, anti-racists, post-colonialists, alter-globalizationists, and so on. Whatever the anachronisms and limitations of Marx, he supplied indispensable critical concepts, methods, and tools to understand the nature and logic of capitalism, the inherent oppression of market systems and private property, the cooptation of the state for the agenda of corporate monopolies, and much more.
Human and animal liberation movements are inseparable, such that none can be free until all are free. Whereas people cannot develop peaceful, humane, and sustainable societies so long as they violently exploit animals (and thereby disrupt the environment in profound ways), so animals cannot be emancipated without profound psychological and institutional changes in societies. The changes required do entail mere reforms such as “government accountability,” but rather ultimately require the dismantling of the structures of transnational capitalism that profit from the exploitation of people, animals, and the earth. In modern settings, the complex of crises in the human, animal, and ecological worlds emerges in a political context defined primarily by class domination, unsustainable growth imperatives, and massive economic inequalities that translate into debilitating political inequalities.
Whereas the animal advocacy movement tends to be single-issue in its mindset and tactics, it is important to frame the struggle for animal liberation as part of the global struggle against capitalism, for today animal slavery is driven by capitalist growth and profit imperatives which themselves must be eliminated. Although speciesism (as well as racism and sexism) obviously predates capitalism and has far deeper roots than modernity and class systems as a whole, capitalism reinforces speciesism (as well as racism and sexism) in numerous ways. These range from capitalist commodification, profit, and growth imperatives to its mechanistic-instrumental worldview and the system of private property that extends from land and animals to DNA itself (in the current regime of biopiracy and the postmodern gene rush to create and patent new forms of life). Animal liberation can never be fully realized within a global capitalist system spiraling out of control, and thus must be part and parcel of a larger struggle against class domination and hierarchies of all kinds.
A new revolutionary politics will build on the achievements of democratic, libertarian socialist, and anarchist traditions. It will incorporate radical green, feminist, and indigenous struggles. It will merge human, animal, and earth standpoints in a total liberation struggle against global capitalism and its omnicidal grow-or-die logic. Radical politics must reverse the growing power of the state, mass media, and global corporations in order to promote decentralization and democratization at all levels, and to extend basic rights to the other sentient beings with whom we share this planet.
Whether one’s focus is human rights, animal rights, or defending the earth; in whatever part of the globe one lives; to whatever culture one belongs; we must recognize that people everywhere are fighting for the same basic rights and principles and opposing the common enemies of global capitalism, state domination, militarism, and hierarchical domination of all kinds. The domination of humans, animals, and the earth stem from the same power pathology of hierarchy and instrumentalism, such as can only be fully revealed and transformed by a multiperspectival theory and alliance politics broader and deeper than anything yet created.
There is a desperate need for more expansive visions and politics on both sides of the human/animal liberation equation, as it calls for new forms of dialogue, learning, and strategic alliances. Each movement has much to learn from the other. In addition to gaining new insights into the dynamics of hierarchy, domination, and environmental destruction from animal rights perspectives, Leftists should grasp the gross inconsistency of advocating values such as peace, non-violence, compassion, justice, and equality while exploiting animals in their everyday lives, promoting speciesist ideologies, and ignoring the ongoing holocaust against other species that gravely threatens the entire planet. Conversely, the animal rights community generally is politically naive, single-issue oriented, and devoid of a systemic anti-capitalist theory and politics necessary for the true illumination and elimination of animal exploitation, areas where it can profit great from discussions with the Left.
Every justice struggle up to the present has been relatively easy. Now it gets hard. We are involved in a serious battle — a war — that will be lengthy, protracted, costly, and most likely violent as it heats up (exactly like earlier struggles to end human slavery). Animal liberation is the most difficult liberation struggle of all because speciesism is primordial and universal. Speciesism is arguably the first of any form of domination or hierarchy and it has spread like a deadly virus throughout the entire planet and all of human history. The problem is not limited to Western culture or to the modern world, such that there is some significant utopian past or radical alternative to recover. The problem is the human species itself, which but for rare exceptions is violent, destructive, and imperialistic.
Universally, humans have vested interests in exploiting animals and think they have a God-given right to do so. To change these attitudes is to change the very nerve center of human consciousness. That is our task – no more and no less.
We can change; we must. The message of nature is evolve or die.
Steven Best, Ph.D. is the former Chair of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Texas, El Paso. He has published numerous books and articles on philosophy, cultural criticism, social theory and animal rights. He has appeared on TV shows like Extra! and is frequently interviewed by national print and radio media including the New York Times and National Public Radio. Best is Cyrano’s Journal Special Editor for Animal Rights, Speciesisim and Human Tyranny over Nature.
Indefatigable Associate Editor Jason Miller’s main turf is his Thomas Paine’s Corner blog, Cyrano’s largest, plus numerous editorial, administrative and promotional tasks, including our newsletter, Mind Detox. His passion and loyalty to the idea of a new society is CJO’s blessing.
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