This part six of an ongoing series of posts featuring essays written by Brian A. Dominick and published in a pamphlet called "Animal Liberation and Social Revolution: a vegan perspective on anarchism or an anarchist perpective on veganism" (with a preface by Joseph M. Smith). First published by Critical Mess Media in 1995.
Previous posts in this series:
Alienation in Everyday Life
At the root of oppression, contends the radical, is alienation. Human beings are social creatures. We are capable of feeling compassion. We are capable of understanding that there is a social welfare, a common good. Because we can feel empathy towards others, those who would pit us against each other as societies, communities and individuals, or as humans against nature, must alienate us from the effects of our actions. It is difficult to convince one human to cause suffering to another. It is even difficult to convince a human to harm a non-human animal for no reason, or to directly contribute to the destruction of her own natural environment.
When one society goes to war with another, it is imperative that the leaders of each society convince "the masses" that the adversary population is vile and sub-human. Further, the leaders must hide from the people the real results of war: mass violence, destruction and bloodshed. War is something that happens elsewhere, we are told, and those "foreigners" who die are deserving.
Oppressive dynamics in social relationships are always based on an us-them dichotomy, with the oppressors seen in clear distinction from the oppressed. For the oppressors, the "us" is supreme and privileged. The wealthy "understand" their riches are acquired by "fair" and "just" methods. For instance, both oppressor and oppressed are led to believe it is the poor's inability and incompetence which holds them down. There is no recognition of the fact that economic privilege automatically precipitates inequality. There simply isn't enough to go around when some are allowed to take more than their even share. But the wealthy are alienated from this truism. They have to be, else they would not be able to justify the inequity to which they contribute.
It is the same for every oppressive dynamic. It has to be.
The vegan understands that human exploitation and consumption of animals is facilitated by alienation. People would not be able to live the way they do-ie, at the expense and suffering of animals-were they to understand the real effects of such consumption. This is precisely why late capitalism has entirely removed the consumer from the process of production. The torture goes on elsewhere, behind (tightly) closed doors. Allowed to empathize with the victims of species oppression, humans would not be able to go about their lives as they presently do.
Humans must even be kept alienated from the simple rationale behind veganism. In order to maintain an us-them dichotomy between human and "animal" (as though we are not animals ourselves!), we cannot be allowed to hear basic arguments in favor of transcending this false sense of duality.
We are told that humans can employ complex linguistics and intricate styles of reasoning. Non-humans cannot. Humans are people, all others are beasts at best. Animals are made less than human not by nature but by active dehumanization, a process whereby people consciously strip animals of their worth. After all, the inability to speak or reason in an "enlightened" capacity does not subject infants or people with severe mental retardation to the violence non-humans suffer by the millions every day.
Let's face it, the dichotomy between human and animal is more arbitrary than scientific. It is no different than the one posed between "whites" and "blacks" or "reds" or "yellows"; between adult and child; between man and woman; between heterosexual and homosexual; local and foreigner. Lines are drawn without care but with devious intent, and we are engineered by the institutions which raise us to believe that we are on one side of the line, and that the line is rational to begin with.
In everyday life, we are alienated from the results of our most basic actions. When we purchase a food product at the grocery store, we can read the ingredients list and usually tell whether animals were murdered and/or tortured in the production process. But what do we learn of the people who made that product? Were the women paid less than the men? Were blacks subjugated by whites on the factory floor? Was a union or collectivization effort among employees crushed? Were a hundred slaughtered on a picket line for demanding a living wage?
When I, as a male, converse with a woman, or with someone younger than me, am I dominant and overbearing as I've been conditioned to be by a patriarchal society? Do I, as a "white" person, see myself (even subconsciously) as "above" "blacks"? Indeed, do I look at people of color as being somehow inherently different from me? These are the questions we are not encouraged to ask ourselves. But we must. In order to overcome alienation, we must be vigilantly critical not only of the world around us, but of our own ideas, perspectives and actions. If we want to extinguish the oppressors in our heads, we must constantly question our beliefs and assumptions. What, we must ask ourselves as individuals, are the effects of my actions, not only on those around me, but on my natural environment?
As a key component to the perpetuation of oppression, all alienation must be destroyed. As long as we can ignore the suffering in the slaughter house and vivisector's laboratory, we can ignore the conditions in the Third World countryside, the urban ghetto, the abusive household, the authoritarian classroom, and so on. The ability to ignore any oppressions is the ability to ignore any other oppression/s.