Friday, March 11, 2011

Veganarchism - Radical Veganism.

This part four of an ongiong 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:

Preface: "Sharpening the Tools of Revolution" by Joseph M. Smith
Introduction: The Veganarchists
What is Social Revolution?
Radical Veganism

Radical Veganism

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

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

Radicals do not limit their goals to reforms. It is not their business to make concessions with victimizers to bring about an alleviation of oppression's resulting misery. Those are tasks usually left to liberals and progressives. While acknowledgeing that there are often gains to be found in reforms, for the radical, nothing short of victory is a satisfying end-an end defined as a revolutionary change in the roots of oppression. By my definition, pure vegetarianism is not veganism. Refusing to consume the products of non-human animals, while a wonderful life choice, is not in itself veganism. The vegan bases her choices on a radical understanding of what animal oppression really is, and her lifestyle choice is highly informed and politicized.

For instance, it is not uncommon for self-proclaimed vegans to justify their care free consumption of corporate products by claiming that animals are helpless while humans are not1. Many vegetarians fail to see the validity of human liberation causes, or see them as subordinate in importance to those of animals who cannot stand up for themselves. Such thinking exposes the liberal vegetarian's ignorance not only of human oppression, but of the deep-seated connectedness between the capitalist system at large and the industries of animal oppression2.

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

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

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

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

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

This is only one of many connections between animal and human exploitation, but it illustrates well the need for total revolution. A revolution in the relationship between humans and animals is narrowly focused and is, in fact, preempted by the very nature of modern society. One reason animals are exploited in the first place is because their abuse is profitable. Vegetarians tend to understand this much. But the meat industry (including dairy, vivisection*, etc) is not an isolated entity. The meat industry will not be destroyed until market capitalism is destroyed, for it is the latter which provides impetus and initiative to the former. And to capitalists, the prospect of easy profits from animal exploitation is irresistible. The profit motive is not the only social factor which encourages animal exploitation. Indeed, economics is only one form of social relationship. We also have political, cultural and interpersonal relationships, each of which can be demonstrated to influence the perception that animals exist for use by humans.

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

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

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

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

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

There is no question that the state is on the side of those who exploit animals. With a few exceptions, the law is decidedly anti-animal. This is demonstrated as much by government subsidization of the meat and dairy industries, of vivisection3 and military use of non-humans, as by its opposition to those who resist the animal exploitation industry. The politician will never understand why the state should protect animals. After all, every sphere of social life condones and encourages their abuse. Acting in the present "interests" of (human) constituencies will always translate, however absurdly, into acting against the interests of the animal kingdom, a vast constituency which has yet to receive the right to vote.

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

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


^1: In many countries, people are prevented from demanding humane work conditions by the militaries. In this age such things happen because so-called "Third World" countries -- or at least the elites that run them -- want to entice investment from the West. This is best accomplished by demonstrating the impotence of the popular work force as a political weapon. in such countries, the treatment of human labor "resources" is scarcely better than that of non-human animal "resources" here at home. Purchasing a product on the North American market which was made under these types of conditions is indirectly sponsoring the perpetuation of those conditions and is thus not truly vegan.

^2: Many self-proclaimed vegans think this way, and it is truly sad. I call them "liberal vegetarians" here simply because though they do not consume animal products, they have by no means made a holistic attempt to free themselves from being oppressors through their lifestyles. At this moment, there is no escape from the massive market of late capitalism. However, there is a compromise point at which we can achieve an understanding of the affects of our actions as well as adjust and refocus our lifestyles accordingly. In other words, there are more ways to limit violent consumption besides vegetarianism. You are what you consume.

^3: Monist: Any social theory which emphasizes one oppression as being more important than another.; a single issue-focused approach to revolution.

1 comment:

  1. Recently I wrote a blog entry offering a leftist critique of the ideology of “Green” environmentalism, deep ecology, eco-feminism, and lifestyle politics in general (veganism, “dumpster diving,” “buying organic,” "locavorism," etc.). I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the matter and any responses you might have to its criticisms.