FROM OUR ARCHIVES: Articles you should have read the first time around, but didn’t (Essay reposted as a result of specific requests by various readers. This article first ran in February of 2007.)
(Art by Sue Coe)
Adventures in the left blogosphere while trying to introduce a discomfitting issue—
It’s a little known fact that factory farms produce more greenhouse gases and land pollution than ALL modes of transportation combined. To be a defender of animals you only need to be a serious environmentalist.
By Patrice Greanville
In general, pigs are clean, intelligent, social animals. However, factory farms frustrate their natural desires to exercise, explore, play, root, stay clean, and socialize normally. (Courtesy: Compassionate Action for Animals)
NOT TOO LONG AGO I posted, mostly on impulse, as a result of hearing about yet another execrable crime committed against helpless animals (by the usual suspects)…a plea for “progressives” to consider amplifying their scope of moral consideration to include all sentient beings subject to tyrannization. As a lifelong leftist and animal liberationist I am well acquainted with the temperament and idiosyncrasy prevailing in both tribes, and knew quite well that the “left”—however we may define it, has been less than helpful in the struggles to introduce a modicum of compassion in the brutal interactions between humans and non-humans. I know that it seems inane to ask people who are already horribly busy and overstretched coping with the constant tsunami of crime and idiocies produced by this system by the hour…to take yet another “cause” on their shoulders. I am also quite clear about the fact that the Left has never weaned itself off of the 19th century hangover proclaiming “man” (generically speaking) as the measure of all things and therefore center of the universe. This victory of secularism and democracy with a very small “d” was in fact the result of long centuries of struggles against church and king to give rationality and the “common man” a legitimate place at the table of societal decision making. This impromptu essay, therefore, reflected some of these theses.
I posted the blog, as a trial balloon, on SmirkingChimp and DailyKos, large sites occupying what we might call the centrist-liberaloid part of the spectrum. The vast majority of the folks who visit (and participate in) the sites probably see themselves as far more progressive in their politics than they really are, as their commentary reveals a preponderance of mainstream Democrats, ABBrs (Anyone But Bush), Obamabots, a sprinkling of social democrats, and a vociferous contingent of extreme centrists (who naturally never see themselves as extremists). Refreshingly, most of the featured writers seem to be well to the left of the audience (at least at these sites).
I mention these features of SmirkingChimp and Daily Kos to give you the context for what happened next. In a nutshell, my post bombed. (It is reproduced in toto below). The article seemed to touch a raw nerve and the response was almost uniformly poor. Frankly, because, as I said earlier, I know the mentality of the traditional left and that of leftoids so well, I didn’t expect a massive conversion…still, the fierceness of the rejection, the level of intellectual lazines, ignorance, sarcasm and derision, was not exactly reassuring, in fact it was downright alarming considering that it is these people who will sooner or later have to undertake the transformation of America, for the better, one hopes.
Eventually, disgusted with this exhibition of sheer stupidity, disgraceful for the standards of progressivism, my own son posted a rebuttal (which I have the pleasure of reproducing below). I think the sheer quality and eloquence of his words will dissipate any thought of my having fallen victim to nepotism. Well, here’s the main post:
At least seventy-five billion animals—yes, 75 thousand millions of creatures—are estimated to die each year as a result of human activities ranging from factory farming to hunting (1), the fur garment trades, commercial exploitation of various kinds, and biomedical research. That’s more than 200 million creatures every single day, including birds, cows, and hogs, all of them highly sociable animals. And this mind-numbing figure does not even include marine animals, which, in our irreverence, we tend to count by the ton.
The way we go about killing animals, wherever they may be found or kept, land, sea or air—murdering and torturing are better words—is astonishing. We do it with abandon and we do it in such institutionalized, “tradition” approved ways that only a minority ever realize the extent of the tragedy. Since the era of modern fishing began 200 years ago we have decimated the oceans, ostensibly infinite reservoirs of life, converting many maritime regions into what Farley Mowat has accurately decried as “seas of slaughter.” Our tyrannical imprint on nature permeates our most hallowed customs. In the USA alone every year almost 50 million turkeys are killed just for Thanksgiving Day, to commemorate a date that is of questionable historical merit, and which, despite the fact that the sacrificial victims have grown from a handful to tens of millions, rarely stirs any introspection.
Sadly, such incidents are but a mere drop in an invisible sea of abuse whose actual roots date back to our earliest times as a species with self-righteous “dominionistic” claims over nature.
SEVENTY-FIVE BILLION ANIMALS is a stunning figure, yet this figure, regarded by many experts as conservative, does not include our indirect killing: animals mistreated or dead as a result of habitat destruction, widespread pollution, apparently “harmless” recreational activities such as sport fishing and boating, and the collision of animals with “modernity” (up to 250 million animals die annually as roadkill on the American highways alone). Nor is it a reliable gauge for what we inflict on sea creatures, as previously mentioned. We have become indeed not only the most appalling tyranny over every other sentient creature on this planet, including many segments of our own breed, but also a raging, self-righteous cancer extending itself with impunity to every corner of the earth.
Time to do some rethinking
Confined and overcrowded on factory farms. Pigs often become frustrated, bored, aggressive, stressed and more susceptible to disease.
Today, as a result of a voracious industrialism, ecological destruction (to which meat production contributes a significant share) and other related issues, self-defined progressives can’t afford to go on pretending that suffering on such egregious scale is just a peripheral issue, the concern of kooks or affluent diettantes with little interest in other social issues.
Due to a deeply embedded and largely unexamined 18th Century heritage of philosophical “superhumanism” (“man is the measure of all things”) and the rest of that self-celebratory rubbish, which, we should mention in passing, arose as a reaction to a greater form of human stupidity, the one granting God and King total control over human agency, the Left continues to endorse or acquiesce in human supremacist attitudes toward animals.
This moral blindness is inexcusable for those who rightly see themselves as the moral vanguard of humanity. [Check this article, for example: Rethinking Revolution: Animal Liberation, Human Liberation, and the Future of the Left by STEVEN BEST . It’ll probably challenge many of your assumptions.] The bottom line is that speciesism—an underhanded and primitive form of fascism applied to animals and nature in general—is by far the oldest and most pervasive form of enslavement known on our planet. I don’t use the word “fascism” as purely hyperbole in this context or for dramatic effect. I wish it were mostly hyperbole, but the similarities run too deep. Fascism, which worships institutionalized violence, is distinguished for its unilateral proclamations of superiority by a certain race or breed, with such spurious superiority endowing said race with the “right” to dominate, exploit, and annihilate at will any group deemed “inferior.” If that pretty much doesn’t describe eloquently our despicable behavior toward non-human animals, I don’t know what does.
I realize quite well that to raise this topic is to ask for trouble. The fight to expand the realm of moral consideration to animals—to make such inclusion a matter of right—arouses deep animosities, including in the midst of many people who otherwise define themselves as card-carrying progressives or, as our opponents across the political tracks like to say, “bleeding hearts.” Well, I guess the bleeding of the human heart does not encompass in most cases the suffering of other sentient beings—especially those already classified by tradition as “raised for food” (as if such categorization all by itself erased the need to debate the matter further).
I mean no offense to anyone on this blog but I’ve been through this before, so I know the score, and what I’m saying here is that I am resigned, I expect to see sarcasm, derision, flippancy, intellectual laziness, and, why not, even intellectual dishonesty—for such is the likely response elicited by the deep reservoir of human chauvinism that afflicts so many in our species.
This pig was found dead with frozen blood discharging from his nose and mouth, and several abrasions and cuts on his face, neck, and front legs. The large amounts of blood suggest that this animal was still alive when abandoned outside in the Minnesota winter. The way the blood is splattered also suggests he was unable to move, yet struggled, flinging his head around before finally dying.
Words change, expand, become obsolete, drop and add connotations and meanings, and sometimes die, like the things and realities they were initially created for. And besides, just like there are many varieties of capitalism, socialism and communism, so you also have distinct varieties of fascism. In some, all the bells and whistles are found that connote “classical fascism” —the jackboots, the open corporatization of the state, and so on and so forth, as we have come to know it. In others, it’s more of an all-encompassing worldview, a system of values, a subterranean ideology that justifies a malignant treatment code. But here’s what we need to remember: The boots, the marches, the endless wars, the nauseating violence, the paraphernalia of fascism and the fascination with death—all of that cannot happen in the absence of an ideology that has its own roots in the oppression of others by virtue of a self-serving, unilateral declaration of superiority. Thus, it is undeniable that the core concept fueling speciesism is also found behind racism, classism, and male chauvinism. They all feed at the trough of hatred or profound lack of empathy toward “the other.”
Now—as we all have learned—human chauvinism cuts very deep and pervades every nook and cranny of what we optimistically still call civilization, and has done so for millennia. No one is immune to its infection, including many folks who regard themselves as impeccably “progressive”. Indeed, it is from their ranks that you often hear some of the worst and most derisive epithets. The usual argument is that progressives, always a thin line against barbarism, have better things to attend to than the fate of “mere” chickens and cows. Compassion, to such individuals, has obviously left the building; it is fungible, divisible, and comfortably apportionable according to inclusion or exclusion in certain categories of privileged sentience. They obviously don’t see—refuse to see—the parallels with so many other struggles they may have honored or participated in, nor do they see how the liberation of animals is an integral part of a serious environmentalist agenda. No, here they draw the line, and reason, kindness, and the most elementary fairness fly out the window.
But such narrow-minded and intellectually lazy positions will surely be exposed—sooner rather than later—for the pretentious sham they truly are. For now, in the age of an utterly deranged industrialism, with a global system blatantly proclaiming as its organizing principle the pursuit at any cost of infinite growth in what to any sensible person is a very finite and fragile planet, the tyranny of humans over nature has acquired monstruous proportions. The colossal dimensions of animal exploitation by the industrial method and the death of one species after another grimly attest to that.
In view of these incontestable facts, no one with a scintilla of decency should turn his or her back on such knowledge. It is the duty of all people who haven’t yet done so, and especially of progressives, to re-examine their assumptions about animals, about their everyday conduct in choosing food and clothing and transportation modes, and to join the last struggle against the first tyranny. By doing so, they will re-invigorate the environmental movement, rendering it less abstract and more passionate, because while fighting for nature is a noble and urgent call, fighting for nature’s oppressed creatures is a matter of long overdue justice.
PATRICE GREANVILLE, TGP’s editor in chief, is an independent leftist and sometime economist who has always supported animal liberation, and who sees no contradiction whatsoever in such praxis.
COMMENT BY PAUL DONOVAN—[WhatsLeft]
The Status Quo Never Knows Best
“Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence.”–Albert Einstein
This quote sums up the violent opposition met by narrow-minded thinkers on this thread. We are destroying this planet at a rapacious rate, and animals are just as entitled to live in it as we are.
I’m not standing on a moral high horse here, or trying to infringe on your somewhat lame summertime backyard fantasies of munching on hot dogs, but to be so knee jerk, and violent to the truth, just to preserve your own fragile guilty egos, is an insult to moralist philosophy, planetary citizenship, and basic “human” decency.
We are all hypocrites here – but to deny that you aren’t one is to be a coward. I’m a hypocrite, perhaps, in not fully complying with moral vistas I recognize as valid, but I am willing to live with the fact that what Greanville is saying here is the truth. This is a tragic way to treat our fellow Earth inhabitants…If you don’t agree then go kick your dog, or eat your cat, because at least that’s kinder than how we treat the animals on factory farms, that are brutally raised to be slaughtered, others displaced from their habitats, and others who suffer and die in cruel traps. Many of these animals, like elephants and pigs are just as intelligent, and sensitive to pain, as your dog Sugar, or cat Fluffy.
We can’t live with the truth, and that’s the reason the Democrats will most likely lose the next election (oh God forbid that thought never crossed your minds…excuse me for thinking that it’s not in the bag).
Moreover, you all think you can have your cake and eat it too, and go on living the American nightmare without an ounce of accountability.
I am a leftist, way further to the left than most of you, but I almost hope the Republicans win, just so you will learn your lesson that you can’t support mediocrity and get real results. The animal struggle is no different than the struggle against Bush. These problems of ignorance and mass stupidity are systemic, and the sooner you learn it, the better off we will all be.
To stand against global morality, equality for all (not just a select few as usual), and truth, is to be a reactionary.
Hopefully, in the future, this world won’t be a place guided by a stupid caveman “free market” economy. The economy of the future needs to be rational, and promote good will – All the profit system does is encourage people to kill animals for a profit, with no more morality than Cheney causing mass death and misery in Iraq, so the energy companies can flip a big profit. Profit over people, animals, and the environment, is the root cause of all of that torment we feel in our spirits. If you feel different then go blow a big hole in the side of an Exxon oil tanker and kill some more sea life…
If you think I am wrong, then by all means side with the guy proud of his beaver hat* – he’s going to take you places.
Centrism is the problem!
Paul Donovan is currently completing a law degree. He served with distinction as a former editor with Cyrano’s Journal, and remains as politically active as his regular school load will permit.
WhatsLeft | Jan 31 2007 – 8:53pm |
*Paul is here referring to a guy who taunted me by saying he owned TWO beaver hats and was mighty proud of that.—PG
Notes (1)The precise figure is difficult to ascertain due to the immensity of human/non-human interactions of an exploitive kind, but 75bn creatures of all kinds is currently regarded as extremely conservative, especially now that growing affluence in China, South Korea and even Vietnam, have pushed the consumption of meat and other animal foods to new heights.