This excellent piece was originally posted as a comment to the Armory article John Sanbonmatsu Attacks Roland Vincent. It deserves to be read and shared by every animal activist, everywhere.
by Marcia Mueller
According to Dr. Sanbonmatsu, it seems Mr. Vincent is too radical and Mr. Pacelle is not radical enough.
When it comes to the issue of animal cruelty, Dr. Sanbonmatsu does “get it.“ In the introduction to the book he edited, Critical Theory and Animal Liberation, he gives a catalog of horrendous examples of abuse: There is the picture of the young boys, complete with adult audience, who are beating foxes to death with a baseball bat. One fox, “crouched, tongue lolling, exhausted almost to the point of death, gazes vacantly, a look of hopelessness or resignation visible on his pinched face.” He notes the unwanted animals in Puerto Rico thrown from bridges, run over by vehicles, or killed with machetes as a form of recreation. He discusses the “pogroms,” or routinized extermination, in slaughter houses and the mass slaughter of Asian poultry with the H5N virus when birds were “burned alive, suffocated, strangled, shot, and beaten with pipes . . . as though they themselves were to blame for the excruciating illness which their own squalid confinement and brutal treatment had made them susceptible. (pp. 1-3).
However, Dr. Sanbonmatsu’s solution is problematic: “The fact is that until and unless we can convince at least a sizable minority of our fellow humans to end the speciesist system, there is no prospect that we will be in a position to begin dismantling that system.”
When will we finally be able to do that? Individuals have criticized animal cruelty as early as the days of Pythagoras, and advocates have been trying to pass laws against it since the early 19th century. Although we have made some advances, we have not come nearly far enough. Progress has been slow and unsteady. Successes have met with resistance.
Take animal agriculture as just one example, since it is responsible for some of the most egregious cruelty for the greatest number of animals. The abuse and killing of “food” animals is institutionalized in every country and every society. Attempts at improvement have failed.
On June 10, 1822, Dick Martin’s law was passed in England, which made it illegal to “wantonly and cruelly beat or ill-treat [any] horse, mare, gelding, mule, ass, ox, cow, heifer, steer, sheep or other cattle . . . .” The law imposed a “fine of not more than five pounds or less than ten shillings, or imprisonment not exceeding three months.” But the abuse continued.
Fast forward to the America of the 21st century, when farm animals continue to be the victims of extreme violence and cruelty. They are often excluded from state anticruelty laws under what are called “standard agricultural practices,” which seek to minimize costs and maximize profits. Such practices include dehorning and castrating without anesthesia, lack of veterinary care for sick and injured animals, “euthanasia” of baby pigs by slamming them into concrete floors, and using fork lifts to shove sick and disabled animals into transport trucks and onto slaughter house floors. The brutality of that slaughterhouse floor in America has been documented by observers since Upton Sinclair’s expose, The Jungle. Animals’ Angels has documented the horrors of auction lots and the transport of horses to slaughter, with foals being born on the transport truck and then trampled to death. Other horses arrive at their destinations battered and crippled. One appeal after another, even with thorough documentation, seldom leads to change or punishment, this in spite of Animal Welfare Act regulations that are supposed to ensure humane transport. Thus farm animals are just one of the species who are victimized by human beings and for whom no help arrives. Even documenting the cruelty by undercover investigations has led to attempted ag-gag laws to criminalize the investigations rather than the abusers.
Nevertheless, advocates have followed Dr. Sanbonmatsu’s advice in trying to eliminate speciesism and bring about culture change for all animals. We have passed out leaflets, written letters to Washington, DC (where they will compete for legislators’ attention with lobbyists from Big Ag, Big Pharma, and other wealthy corporate abusers ), and we have engaged in protests. We haven’t gotten very far. Laws are passed with exclusions and loopholes. Legislators neglect to allocate funding for enforcement. Federal agencies or local authorities do not have the will to punish. Animal rights protests never reach the size or get the attention of the Civil Rights marches of the 1960s or even of Ferguson or Baltimore. A “protest” of six people marching against wolf hunting does not discourage the hunters or the NRA, just as a “protest” against gestation crates by fifteen people at Wal-Mart does not influence Smithfield’s treatment of its pigs. Only now have some circuses decided to free their elephants, but that still leaves other animals, such as horses and big cats under their control.
Sometimes advocate voices do reach the numbers needed to get attention, as when Black Fish was aired and revealed the unnatural lives of the whales in Sea World and drove down audience numbers. When Cecil was murdered by Dr. Walter Palmer, thousands commented, donated, and called for an end of trophy hunting. But a few weeks later, Dr. Jan Seski was accused of illegally killing a lion in Zimbabwe; that death received much less attention. A short time later, a German millionaire, Rainer Schorr, killed one of the biggest elephants in Zimbabwe; the elephant’s murder also received less attention. But when Safari Club International held its convention in Las Vegas last summer, it attracted 18,000 trophy hunters from six continents. And that just included the “elite” hunters. It didn’t include the good old boys who take to the hills every fall with their guns and bows to wound and kill deer, elk, and moose. Laws against cruelty to wildlife, including steel-jaw traps, are virtually never passed or enforced. Cecil’s example reveals that it is not just the numbers that are important but also the persistence of those who complain.
After describing the enormous breadth and the atrocities of animal cruelty, Dr. Sanbonmatsu notes the following: “When atrocity becomes the very basis of society, does society not forfeit its right to call itself moral?” (p. 12). Animal advocates believe causing suffering and death to living beings is, indeed, evil. However, Religion, that arbiter of morality, disagrees. Philosophers from Aristotle to Kant and theologians from St. Augustine to St. Thomas Aquinas and beyond declare animal lives do not count as a moral issue. The Catholic Catechism teaches that we should have respect for animals, and not cause them un-necessary harm. However “animals should not be treated like people, and it is okay to eat meat, wear leather and experiment on animals. “ The Church also does not condemn the outright torture of animals in Spanish-speaking countries to celebrate the festivals of its saints nor does it speak out against rodeos or other prevalent forms of abuse, including hunting. Most of the major religions agree. In 2014 the Oak First Baptist Church in Paducah, Kentucky, gave away guns to attract more people into the congregation. The East Bay Calvary Community Church in Traverse City, Michigan, gave new converts a chance to win 80 guns. Apparently mixing guns and God works well in hunting country.
So the history shows that culture change happens slowly while millions of animals die. Laws, if passed, are ineffective. Morality exists for Homo sapiens alone.
Then there is direct action. The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) saved lab animals, freed fur animals, and damaged property, as well. Their work helped those animals who were saved, but did little lasting good, and the activists when caught went to prison. Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) effectively protested company CEOs of Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) which provides animals used in research. SHAC members protested employees at the office and at their residence. They also targeted secondary companies, those who did business with Huntingdon Life Sciences. SHAC was successful enough that some of those companies severed their ties with Huntingdon and caused its stock to plunge. However, protesters eventually went to prison, and HLS is back in business. The activity of the ALF and SHAC, as well as even peaceful protests and undercover work, has led to retaliation in the form of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.
Then there is direct action against the people who are guilty of the abuse, a strategy yet to be tried but condemned by Dr. Sanbonmatsu and others who recoil at the idea of harming humans. Many advocates feel such action would constitute condign punishment for the abusers. I suspect most of us fantasize about flash mobs of vigilantes punishing the man who raped and hanged a pit bull in Washington State or the people who set cats on fire or drag horses to death behind their trucks. We think about waylaying the slaughterhouse workers who spend their days slashing and pounding living beings to death. That we refrain is probably more a matter of futility than morality. With a world population of over 7 billion, millions of them poverty-stricken, any dispatched slaughterers would be quickly replaced. They are mere cogs in the killing machine.
As for Wayne Pacelle, he has made the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) a major force in highlighting and combatting animal abuse. Although a vegan himself, as a CEO he is a pragmatist, not a purist. His HSUS is more of an animal welfare organization than an animal rights organization, which I believe explains some of his recent disappointing decisions, particularly involving farm animals.
To sum up, the animal rights movement has not produced enough motivated activists to create major changes in the culture of abuse. Our legal system has not worked for animals. Our moral codes do not include them. Harming or “taking out” abusers that are a dime-a-dozen would accomplish nothing.
So time to try socialism. Roland has outlined exceedingly well the path to achieve the “revolution” and the manner in which it will help animals when they are no longer exploited in astronomical numbers by capitalism.
Dr. Sanbonmatsu also believes that animal liberation cannot do without socialism and that socialism without animal liberation is false and one-sided: “. . . to affirm a socialism without animal liberation is to affirm a civilization based on continued antagonism with the rest of nature. It is to suggest that an ideal society, a society of universal freedom and justice, could be founded upon enslavement, exploitation, and organized mass killing of other persons [sic]. . . . A speciesist socialism thus contradicts itself causally and materially because speciesism itself serves as one of the crucial ideological props of the capitalist system, a system which, in its anti-ecological iniquities, more and more poses a threat to human civilization itself (p. 31).
Sounds a like meeting of minds here.
Sanbonmatsu, John. Critical Theory and Animal Liberation (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2011).
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