The Expanding Circle

…health, the environment, and social justice…

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Meta

Posts Tagged ‘speciesism’

Bailing the Bog

Posted by tinako on October 2, 2015


…about some, but not others.

I would normally be eating breakfast right now, but since I am Fasting Against Slaughter today on World Farmed Animals Day, it seems like a good time to write.

Two tasks I’ve been doing for an Animal Rights group lately have made me ponder.  I’m organizing the large number of issue flyers we bring to tabling events, and responding to messages for help for animals via social media.  We can refer people to animal rescue organizations and hope for the best, but we are an educational org and don’t do hands-on rescue.  It is heartbreaking to feel so helpless in the face of the real-time suffering people bring to our virtual doorstep.  But as I told a recent correspondent regarding farm animal abuse that she witnessed, rescue is mopping up the mess that meat makes.  And isn’t that true of most of our brochures?  “What’s wrong with…” Leather & Wool, Circuses, Dog Fighting, Fur Trim, Dairy, Cage-Free Eggs, Devocalization.  This display rack represents a small portion of the mess that speciesism makes.

I was thinking this morning that attacking this multitude is like a game of Whac-a-mole, but that is a violent analogy I would prefer to avoid.  So instead let’s talk about dikes, as in the little Dutch boy trying to stop a dam leak with his finger.  To me this metaphor means that one person can make a difference, but it’s not a good long-term strategy, much less a permanent solution.  I like this analogy with Animal Rights, because behind that dike is a body of water, and behind all the exploitation is speciesism.  With the pressure of speciesism present, the only thing holding abuse back at all is human decency, and that is pretty darn leaky.

Now, once we look over the dike at the bog*, maybe we start thinking that the real solution is to drain it.  This means that instead of talking about making cages a little bigger or even not eating chickens, we can speak generally about our underlying assumptions about animals that define how we relate to them.  Speciesism.

After we’ve been working on that for a while, we notice that this bog has other dikes on it, and we wander over to see how they’re holding up.  Just as leaky, and the victims getting drenched all around the bog are other races, other genders, other sexualities, other abilities.  The bog turns out not to be speciesism, but the general belief that some lives are worth less than others.  What is the word that encompasses all the ways that people decide others are not as important as themselves?  Let me know what you think – I’ve been looking for this word that links all these assumptions.


This is more bizarre than usual – I’m suspicious of what BowWow BBQ might be.

Now, some of the people working over on the other dikes have also figured out that we need to drain the bog, so they’re bailing away, and that’s great, but you notice that sometimes they are bailing the water towards your dike.  An example of this would be a social justice or rescue organization holding a chicken barbecue fundraiser.**

“Hmm,” you say, “This is all one bog.  Wouldn’t it be better to bail outside all the dikes?”

“We are focused on those suffering outside our dike,” is the reply.  “Those outside your dike are not as important.  Everyone knows that, so if anyone heard your suggestion, they would be offended that you think so little of this dike that you compare it to that one.” Or, “We need to solve this problem first.  After we’ve bailed this side of the bog completely dry, maybe we can bail your side.”  So they continue to throw the water towards your end of the bog, and you wonder in what way these bailers, who rank the value of lives according to degree of perceived difference from themselves, differ from those who have filled the bog in the first place.  Who is filling the bog?

And water does what it does when it’s pushed instead of drained, and human nature does what it does when biases are rearranged instead of uprooted.  And we remember Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words freshly:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Here are some rearrangements for you to ponder:

*Disclaimer – I have nothing against real bogs, which are valued ecosystems.  We should only be draining metaphorical bogs, symbols of stagnation, disease and decay.

** An example going the other way would be a sexist animal rights protest.  There are lots of these.

Posted in AR, Social Justice | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The Abolitionists

Posted by tinako on June 18, 2014

abolitionistsThis PBS series, available on DVD, was terrific.  I have been thinking a lot about how to apply the lessons of the past to the current abolition movement and the task ahead of us.  The five people depicted by actors on this cover dedicated the better part of their lives, decades, to abolition.

I was struck by how long they needed to work, in the face of how many disappointments and failures, virtually alone, at great risk to their lives, and with victory coming suddenly, at the whim of one man who until the moment he freed the slaves couldn’t seem to make up his mind – Abraham Lincoln didn’t come out of this series smelling quite as well as he did in his other movie.

I had always had the sense that abolition was pretty much inevitable, an undeniable truth, but instead I learned that something difficult is only inevitable if an incredibly dedicated group of individuals refuse to give up, and it was really disappointing to see that in the end, violence seemed to be the only solution.  It isn’t clear to me how slavery would have ended in a seceding south without their defeat in the Civil War, in which over half a million people were killed.  I began to wonder how Gandhi and King were able to succeed without violence, and realized that while their foes, white Americans and Englishmen, benefited mightily from their respective discriminations, the bigots were perhaps not as completely dependent as southern slaveowners.  Women’s rights and gay rights were even less of an economic issue to the opponents.  Unfortunately for everyone, I think the animal exploiters have much more in common with plantation owners than with bigoted segregationists, colonizers, anti-suffragists, or homophobes.  And Native Americans, steamrollered under the ultimate economic property, land, are an excellent example of our ultimate failure to do the right thing.

There are so many parallels between these two abolition movements, but one that really struck me is that Americans were certain the economy would be destroyed without slaves.  An economy without animal exploitation seems equally unthinkable to today’s businesspeople and politicians.

If the first abolition movement only succeeded with violence, is it a good model for the second one?  Is there a better way?  Can Gandhi and King’s ideas apply to a struggle that will probably be more difficult even than the one against human slavery?  Many still struggle with racism to some degree – have we as a people changed enough so that we can see the truth of speciesism when it is laid out for us?

Posted in AR, Social Justice | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Our Struggle

Posted by tinako on April 17, 2014

mlkI have been reading Martin Luther King Jr.’s writings.  I’m doing this for several reasons: He’s one of my top four heroes, I remember being moved when I read his “Letter From Birmingham Jail” in college, race relations are being highlighted this year in the newspaper and other forums, and I want to understand the history of racism, bigotry, and civil rights better, but my foremost purpose is that I want to know how the lessons of the past can be applied to the present issue of animal rights.  How can this man’s struggle to shame people into recognizing their better self help those of us today who want to bring another truth to light: speciesism is not a more logical or reasonable a position than racism.

I’m not going to explain speciesism here; I refer you to the first chapter of Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation for an argument which is difficult to deny.  No, here I’d like to share some of King’s words which seem particularly suitable for scaling up, or are at least food for thought.  For example,

In their relations with Negroes, white people discovered that they had rejected the very center of their own ethical professions.  They could not face the triumph of their lesser instincts and simultaneously have peace within.  And so to gain it, they rationalized. – MLK, “Our Struggle

This resonates with a quote from Kafka, as he looked at a fish in an aquarium: “Now I can look at you in peace.  I don’t eat you any more.”  Can you hear the compassion of King’s words?  His writings are filled with compassion for those whose psyche’s are torn, a wall between their values and their actions so that impossible simultaneity is avoided.  Surely we can see this dissonance in people who say “I love animals” and “Pass the pork.”

King continues, “They argued that his inferior…position was good for him.”  King is referring to rationalizing segregation due to believing black people would not succeed if they set their sights too high, but we could just as well apply it to animals when we rationalize that animals won’t survive in big, bad nature, and so we must protect them by exploiting them on farms – it’s good for them! – this argument is taken directly from Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

White people “quickly were conditioned to believe that [segregation’s] social results, which they had created, actually reflected the Negro’s innate and true nature.”  We take animals out of any sort of natural environment, separate them from their parents, deny them their most basic needs, and terrify them, and then they are called stupid when they don’t seem to understand how to get on or off a transport truck quickly.

King continues that black people, immersed in racism, came to believe they were sub-human and accepted “an uneasy peace in which the Negro was forced to accept injustice, insult, injury and exploitation.”  It is one of the few consolations in the situation of animal rights, that animals don’t know they don’t deserve this.  I’ve walked past polluted rivers and new housing developments and, sad as it makes me, I find a small relief that the displaced and injured animals don’t know about injustice, don’t know about our selfishness, don’t know it’s Man, Man, Man.

In the case of animals, they never will.  One enormous difference between the civil rights and animal rights movements is that the oppressed cannot rise up.  They are utterly helpless.  They cannot march in the streets or refuse to enter the slaughterhouse.  One by one the exploiters will have to face that triumph of their lesser instincts.  Who will help them see?  Who will open the doors?  Who will have the courage to testify for those who can’t?

Posted in AR, Social Justice | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »