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Monday, September 7, 2009

The case for animal liberation - by Justin George


This contribution by radical activist and writer Justin George challenges readers with a passionate defence of animal rights. Not all readers will agree, but George’s article will give readers pause for thought.

Animal Liberation and Participatory Theory

By Justin George
It's funny to note that while largely ignored or played down by the Left in general, Animal Liberation can be seen as a nexus for many progressive struggles. Meat and dairy industries, and others that rely on animals for profit, imprison and slaughter literally tens of billions animals each year[i]. The industry itself relies on low paid, often migrant labour, to work in stressful and often dangerous conditions[ii]. The creation of meat and animal based products in know to be environmentally devastating[iii], ruining water systems. Tanneries, which are often located in developing countries with reduced environmental and worker protections, rely on dangerous and toxic chemicals[iv]; land clearing for cattle grazing threatens indigenous communities and ruins land and threatens rainforests[v]. This is just from meat production.


Cheap and abundant meat and dairy products, with externalities of production shouldered by the public and environment, allow companies such as McDonald's, KFC and Burger King, along with chain supermarkets and food companies to keep costs low, with a mostly teenage, casualized workforce, ensuring profits remain high.


Like many facets of life in a globalized, neoliberal world, many if not most of the issues that concern the Left can be found within the meat and animal product industries. Importantly, on top of these concerns is the unnecessary enslavement and industrialized killing of sentient and feeling beings. Like previous explicitly oppressive systems the same arguments are used by many on the Left and Right as to why such oppressions are of little concern or must remain in place. Like human slavery, misogyny and other forms of oppressive thought, those suffering as considered non-human, undeserving of acknowledgment of their agency and inherent worth. They are seen as commodities for those in power. That animals truly are non-human does not mean that they do not suffer from such systems and paradigms that humans have fought throughout history-the creation and justification of hierarchies based on artificial or biological distinctions.


Adding insult to injury is that animals rarely have the means to truly voice or rebel against these systems. That billions of animals die to meet our eating desires and little else is all the more horrific due to the scale of the senselessness. Profit and power triumph are the real motivators behind such industries who seek to create, sustain and expand our voracious desire for animal flesh.


Animal Liberation should not be a side issue to our other concerns. Meat and animal industries are industrialized creators of unhappiness, a nexus of the overlapping oppressions and exploitations that theories such as Complimentary Holism seek to address. The Left must recognize that fighting for Animal Liberation is not just about the animals but confronting the wider systems at work that the animals die in their billions for. We must work beyond our own prejudices and habits to see that the long term picture for workers, for the environment, for social justice, so to step closer to ending all human made suffering.


Think for a moment about the impact of a greatly reduced or nonexistent mass animal based industry. Like previous moments when the connections between war, race, sexism, and class emerged, we need to see how addressing these issues along with animal liberation efforts is not only strategically necessary but morally necessary too.

By working for better conditions or the abolition of slaughterhouses then that's one less industry

profiting from relying on illegal and migrant workers who have limited ability to push for better working conditions and rights. By seeking mass change or abolition of slaughterhouses, dairy farms and tanneries then huge steps are taken in reducing our carbon footprint on the Earth[vi]. Efficiency is enhanced, land use more sustainable, rainforests less threatened. The impacts of these damaging industries would also cease to be felt by the poorest peoples of the world and the more isolated towns in the developed world[vii]. Water sources would be free from toxins[viii]. Oceans replenished from overfishing.


Government subsidies and externalities would not be placed upon the public, reducing the numbers of those in power who profit from neoliberal legislation.

The fast food industry would be severely affected, along with eating habits. The epidemics of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol that plague Western nations would be addressed from efforts at reducing meat consumption and changing eating practices[ix]. To have such an understanding comes from learning about the real impact that our diets have, of seeing the damage and pain that's created by meat and animal products. The development of such knowledge can often be revelatory enough to recognize the excesses and abuses present in throughout society.


Our vision and theory, such as participatory economics, has much to offer Animal Liberation efforts. Theories such as Complimentary Holism can make calls for animal liberation retain greater relevancy to those not immediate concerned with such issues. Participatory organizing and economics offers new means for animal liberation groups to organize.

To work towards such institutional arrangements within the industries they critique, as means to enhance worker conditions and industry standards. Rather than seeking the bottom line, a participatory work place has the ability to greatly alter the practices of modern slaughter houses merely by removing the logic that has led to killing (dis)assembly lines.

The arguments presented by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel regarding the reduction of environmental damage in a Participatory Economy due to goods reflecting their real social and environmental value is also true for animal based goods and meat. The costs outlined above along with the suffering inflicted upon the billions of animals would alter the valuation of meat and animal goods, reducing and perhaps stopping its use all together due to actual costs to society and nature. Complimentary Holism and feminist perspectives can provide critical voices to curb and question some of the larger animal liberation organizations tendency to rely on sex and celebrity to sell their message.


In the hands of animal liberation movements such ideas have the potential to become further disseminated to new audiences, put into practice and passionately advocated for. But to do so we need to acknowledge the relevancy and legitimacy in each other's analysis by placing them at the core of our existing efforts and creating closer ties.

At the moment the two movements seem to exist in relative separation. Many animal liberation/rights organizations while having great activist and advocacy networks and fundraising ability fail to relate their work to wider progressive efforts and analysis in meaningful ways. More conscious and concerted interactions by both the Left and Animal Liberation would be beneficial to both.


By ignoring the interconnections existing around issues of animal liberation, we do ourselves a disservice strategically while deliberately marginalizing the suffering of tens of billions of beings.


After all our experiences of struggle, we should have the vision and courage to engage with new struggles for liberation, for in the end we all share common aims. There are many issues here that we can start discussing, to develop participatory means and analysis further in addressing animal liberation.


We on the Left generally, have recognized other forms of oppressions even when misunderstood, unpopular or denied by those in power. Now its time to recognize the rest.[x]

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