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.
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.