lucid, lu·cid: having full use of one's faculties; having a clear mind; transmitting light; able to be seen through with clarity
"Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing." ~ Camile Pissarro
Salute to AfroCelt Sound System
Animals and Social Justice Movements
by Moses Seenarine
- Why are these two groups not viewed as similar by social justice activists?
- Are ideologies that support speciesism present in ideologies that encourage and justify classism, sexism and racism?
- Is there a correlation between dominant groups’ view of non-human animals, and how they view people who they see as not fully human?
- Is there a similar process of othering that occurs with food animals and animalized humans? an othering process that makes non-human animals, women, minorities and the poor, so distinct, so separate, and ultimately so inferior, that dominant groups can systematically justify oppressing them?
- Can we free one group if we allow the same kinds of oppressive ideologies to enslave another group?
- How can we address liberation for all oppressed humans and non-human animals alike?
Animals and Intersectionality
All social justice movements are concerned with some form of identity-based politics. Many groups organize around race, culture, religion,location, and/or language; some work on labor, working class and anti-imperialist issues; women primarily support the feminist movement; groups formed around sexual identity advocate for gender, gay/bi/trans, and men’s rights,and so on. One limitation of identity-based organizing is that animal oppression is largely excluded from human, specieist politics. But is it?
Classism and Specieism
Consider how people from the working and underclass are viewed - as animalized humans: violent, primitive, impulsive, irrational, and simple-minded.In the global maquiladoras and sweatshops, working-class laborers are treated as livestock – confined to small workstations, working long hours at repetitive tasks in often hazardous conditions, granted limited bathroom breaks and mealtimes, subjected to harassment, physical and sexual abuse, etc. In developed countries, minimum-wage workers in service industries are employed as part-time casual labor without benefits, and treated like an inferior breed of animal-like humans unworthy of the poverty wages they earn.
Wealth is associated with intelligence, according to the dominant upper-class ideology, which confirms that the poor lack intelligence and skill to succeed. Living in animal-like conditions, the poor’s very impoverishment is used as evidence of an inherent primitive nature, and their inability of ever becoming fully “civilized” or humanized humans, which justifies lower wages.
At the intersection of classism and specieism, workers inside factory farms suffer some of the worse working conditions and lowest pay. However, the intersection of animals and the working-class goes much deeper. The exploitation of animals serves as a model for the exploitation of human labor in the modern manufacturing processes. The father of modern industry and the manufacturing process, Henry Ford, drew inspiration for his factory floor plans from the Chicago stockyards, slaughterhouses, and cattle rendering process he studied, and since then, working conditions in manufacturing and service industries have increasing mirrored those in factory farms.
Another example of intersection is that many poor, working class communities are equivalent to being nutritional deserts, areas dominated by fast foods chains, convenience and liquor stores, and severely lacking in healthy options like vegetarian and organic food. Factory farms and slaughterhouses are often located in working class neighborhoods, adding pollution to unhealthy diets.
Since, the poor are animalized through the intersection of classism and specieism, raising the status of animals will also improve the social and economic conditions of the poor. Few class-based movements make this connection-Marxists, communists, anarchists, etc. Instead these groups simply replicate upper-class ideology regarding non-human animals, and willingly participate in lowering the status of animals to a utilitarian human value. Despite valiant efforts in understanding the exploitation of human labor, having false consciousness regarding animals, ironically, undermines the goals of class-based movements, and serves to keep the status quo in place.
Sexism and Specieism
Ecofeminists like Carol Adams, Marti Kheel and others have shown that under patriarchal society, women are equated to animals, as animalized humans,and the bodies of women and non-human animals are often interchangeable. Female bodies, both human and non-human, are objects for male desire and satisfaction. Both women and non-human animals are valuable in so far as they satisfy male desires. And, both are meant to be dismembered and devoured, literally and figuratively.
Marti Kheel argues that men unconsciously suffer from a deep insecurity regarding the creative capacities of females and nature, and that masculine identity is constructed in opposition to both. Masculinity is an un-natural state that always has to be shown and re-proven. Male rituals of hunting,sacrifice and war demonstrate superiority over “lower” animals, and create transcendental bonds across time that allows men to “rise” above nature through memory and tradition.
To supersede Gaia, men invented supernatural gods in the sky, and elevated thinking and the intellect over the “lowly” material world of instinct, of which females are seen as being a part. As part of patriarchal dualism, human females are animalized and viewed as emotional, irrational, wild, and incapable of transcending their biology to achieve higher forms of spirituality and intelligence. Females’ lowly status justifies their subordination and abuse.
Men’s violence against female bodies is prevalent, acceptable, desirable and even amusing. One way for feminists to raise the status of human females is to raise the status of all females, human and non-human alike. While feminists reject the patriarchal oppression of human female bodies, many uncritically accept the similar patriarchal oppression of non-human female bodies. Feminists who take part in the patriarchal diet against animals, perpetuate masculine violence and patriarchal dualism, and support male desire to transcend females and nature.
Racism and Specieism
During the European colonial expansionist period, the dominant racist order viewed non-human animals in newly conquered lands as mere resources for human use. Animals were trapped for their fur, and birds for their feathers, often to extinction. Millions of buffaloes and other animals were systematically slaughtered to stop their transcontinental migration in North America. This low status of animals was easily transferred to local people, viewed as animalized humans.
Africans and Native Americans were viewed as animal-like savages lacking human reasoning and incapable of becoming “civilized” or modern humans. The animalization of non-white peoples justified centuries of European war,capture, enslavement, and genocide of hundreds of millions. Native Americans were scalped for $1, paid for by the federal treasury. Until the mid-60s,indigenous Australians came under the Flora And Fauna Act, which classified them as animals, not human beings. Killing an indigenous Australian meant you weren’t killing a human being, but an animal.
In her book, The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery, Marjorie Spiegel points out that non-human animal domestication preceded the enslavement of humans, and that the methods used in the enslavement of Africans were influenced by animal husbandry practices. Enslaved Africans were animalized, called names of a dog or horse,and similarly locked into metal collars, branded, whipped, beaten, and punished. They were sold as property at auctions, and potential enslavers inspected them like cattle. These ideas of Africans as animal-like persisted well into the 20th century in racist IQ studies, eugenics, and the lynching of “sexually uncontrollable” black men.
One way to counteract the low status of animalized minorities would be to raise the status of all non-human animals, since how we think about animals - how we determine their value, how we treat them, whether we recognize their abilities or not,whether we respect their lives or not - affects the way people think about,determine the value of, and treat human beings who are animalized. Yet, there is reluctance among activists working on racism issues to sympathize with what is happening with non-human animals because for so long non-whites were treated like animals. Eating animals may be part of a coping strategy for separation and psychic enhancement.
Many non-white cultures have conceptualized human and nun-human animals as part of the same natural environment. However, European philosophy, science and religion consider nature in purely human utilitarian terms. This has led to the destruction of entire ecosystems, and the torture and enslavement of billions of animals in modern factory farms, fur farms, and vivisection labs. By willingly participating in this specieist ideology, non-whites support the same racialized human-animal hierarchy they are struggling to change.
Animals and Social Justice Movements
Animals do intersect with class, sex and race. The same ideology that supports speciesism is present in ideologies that encourage and justify classism, sexism and racism.Since there is an easy substitution between non-human animal bodies and those of the working class, women and minorities, we can’t free one group if we allow the same kinds of oppressive ideologies to enslave another group. In order to fully replace any part of the specieist hierarchy used to justify class, sex and racial oppression among humans, all species have to liberated.
But, the dominance of patriarchal specieist thinking is so perverse that most of the so-called“environmentalists” in movements to protect natural resources, endangered species, biodiversity, etc., do not make a connection to the oppression of food animals on their plate. Indeed, factory farmed animals are othered to such an extent, that it is deemed inappropriate to even talk about their oppression. This term is reserved for humans and humanized animals only, which supports the idea that industrialized factory farms do not, and cannot oppress animalized food animals.
Animals and Social Justice Ideology
Social justice movements operate on a some basic premises, such as equality and fairness,self-definition and self-determination, and access and control over resources. These basic principles are embraced by many groups working across a broad spectrum of issues – from immigration reform based on fairness, to the self-defining pride movements of Blacks, Latinos, lesbians and gays; from rights of the disabled based on fairness, to trans-gender rights and same-sex marriage based one quality; from abortion rights based on self-determination, to equal pay and women’s equality based on fairness; from quality public education based on fairness and access to resources, to limiting special interests and maintaining a meritocracy based on equality; from local, community-based decision-making based on self-determination, to workers control over the means of production and the state, based on control over resources.
Social justice activists working to improve the status of animalized humans, have for centuries used the same basic principles of fairness, self-determination and control over resources to oppose grievous forms of enslavement, genocide,sexism, and classism among humans. Although there were some successes, many of the problems of othering and animalization for oppressed groups still remain.This is because the dominant, specieist paradigm underlying all of the others has not been challenged by social justice movements, except in limited cases,for example, environmental groups trying to save endangered species, and animal welfare agencies working on behalf of humanized animals, or pets.
Even though humans and non-human animals live on the same earth, due to the universal othering of animals, and men’s desire for transcendence over animals and nature, conveniently for humans, the two groups are not considered as part of the same community. But are they separate? Humans share a common ancestor tree with many other species, and both exist in the same global environment. In regards to social justice principles, humans are not superior, and there is a lot we can learn from other species. Animals are thinking, self-aware beings, capable of planning ahead, who form lasting social bonds with others and have a rich social and emotional life. Animals have a sense of fairness and equality, and share resources. Non-human animal communities strive for self-determination as part of their evolution, and compete with others for access and control over resources. Humans are triumphant, and defeated animals can’t really stand up for themselves, so why are they not included in social justice movements?
What if social justice activists accepted that non-human animals are oppressed, and human and non-human animals are equal citizens of a common community – a fragile planet with limited natural resources? What if social justice movements applied the principles of fairness, self-determination and control, to the status of non-human animals?
Movements would be started to abolish the enslavement of all non-human animals, and to stop their killing for sport, medicine, or eating of their flesh. Activists would work to close factory farms, animal-experiment labs, fur farms, and to prevent all forms of animal labor. Social justice activists would advocate for humans to grant equal access and control over natural resources to non-human animals, and for animals to have a self-determination, free from all human influence.
- Eat whole grains - Whole grains are cheap and easy to cook. To start, put a pot of brown rice (or barely or millet, or quinoa--variety is important) on the stove and let it cook while you take a shower and get ready for work. Easy peasy. Eat some with lunch and dinner for two days.
- Chew well - Complex carbohydrates (whole grains, vegetables,) need a particular enzyme in your saliva in order to be absorbed completely. Without this enzyme, all the other enzymes in your stomach and small intestine are compromised. By chewing well (50-100 times a mouthfull--gulp!), your body absorbs the food (and its essence) as a liquid, leaving you a calm, serene, and beautiful DYNAMO!
- Give Up Dairy and Pick Up Sea Vegetables - Neither China nor Japan have ever included dairy food in their daily diets, and they seem to be doing okay; much less breast cancer than in the West, very little osteoporosis and obesity a downright rarity. A huge percentage of Africans have lactose intolerance--their bodies literally reject the stuff!
- Try natural sweeteners - Barley malt, rice syrup and amazake (a sweet rice drink) are all REGULAR ingredients on the macrobiotic diet. Even a little maple syrup passes muster! Unlike white sugar, which behaves much more like a drug than a food (and has as many deleterious consequences), natural sweeteners contain minerals which helps them to be abosorbed more gently by the body. They don't take your blood sugar for the roller coaster ride that white sugar does.
- Be patient - If you are not using macrobiotics to recover from a serious health condition, you have the privilege to experiment. Use your body like a chemisty set, really learning the effects that different foods have on you. Maybe you need a Twinkie hangover to really appreciate a brown rice buzz. By doing this research, your body will begin to choose what it prefers over the long haul.