A Note on #CowAppreciationDay

One of the most haunting statements I’ve heard about race-based oppression was uttered by Randall Robinson, repeated by Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary: “The worst thing you can do to a people is to rob them of the memory of themselves.”

It bears restatement: Human liberation movements and animal liberation involve different oppressions, and the way to unravel them involves different social mechanisms. Yet there is, it seems to me, something in Robinson’s message that can inform the theory of animal liberation.

Humans have robbed our domesticated animals of their ancestors’ evolution. The free-living ancestors of today’s cows are the aurochs, now extinct. Aurochs were not particularly friendly to our ancestors; but then, they had no such interest or obligation. A group of aurochs could trample a village. We, ever the clever primates, figured out how to trap them and breed smaller, more docile animals from them, so that instead of preparing hunting parties to stalk them, we could make them accessible and push them around.

To this day, cows trample a few dozen humans to death each year—I’ve found myself chased by cows in Wales; I’ll never forget my surprise and panic—but they’ve lost their ancestral stature and relationships forever. The vegan principle does not challenge us to integrate them into pleasant scenery or human friendships; it challenges us to stop breeding them into a dependent existence. To liberate our advocacy, we need to foster in ourselves an awareness, a recognition, that other animals are not our babies, not our housemates or helpmates; that domesticated or trained animals are limited, not perfected; that the freedom of living beings in habitat, without any need to seek human rescue or shelter or companionship, is a healthy thing to want; and that the lack of it is not.

Domestication, captivity, and caregiving are often taken for symbiosis. But these actions don’t bring us into harmony with the rest of living world. We can only hope to correct (or at least stop perpetuating) what we can perceive as domination. Images of animals doing things that impress or amuse us in controlled circumstances should, instead of being classified as cute, jar our senses. They should remind us of the evolution and history they could have had, had we let them be.


Adapted from On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century. Artwork released into the public domain by its author Pearson Scott Foresman
Advertisements

Kentucky Derby Champions: You Bet They Die

This Saturday, May 5th, brings us the 144th Kentucky Derby, with the Preakness (May 19th) and Belmont Stakes (June 9th) galloping close behind.

Every year, people celebrate Derby Day with parties, mint juleps, and sunbonnets. This year they’ll be marking the tenth anniversary of the end of Eight Belles, raced to death in the 2008 Kentucky Derby. Perhaps they’ll recall the two horses who died at the 2016 Preakness in Baltimore. Pramedya’s leg broke. And after winning the first race, Homeboykris collapsed and died before making it back to the barn.

Ten years prior, Barbaro won the 2006 Derby, but shattered a leg in the Preakness, and died soon after. Remember?

Or do we forget because the deaths are so common, so constant? Every year, 500 horses, more or less, die at a racetrack. Every year, spectators will gasp hundreds of times as they see with their own eyes that racing is animal torture.

Full story at Counterpunch.

 

Of Pets and Vegans

In memory of Sprite (with Frankie in banner photo).

For many years I’ve offered sanctuary to abandoned cats.

But there will come a time when I’m too old, meaning the risk is too high that I’ll die before they do. The worst thing I could do, even inadvertently, is to abandon them again.

At some point, I’ll just help other caregivers, should my means allow it.

My strategy of outliving the cats I adopt has, so far, been working.

As the vet and I were talking, and I sat crossed-legged on the floor stroking Sprite’s head, an agitated yap interrupted our conversation. The doctor opened the ICU locker and retrieved the noisy animal. “Little Jackson here isn’t used to not being held or carried around in a handbag.”

“What kind of animal is this?” I couldn’t tell.

The vet answered: “A mini Pom.”

The doctor met my startled gaze, nodded, and added: “As though Pomeranians weren’t already small enough.”

“You know,” I said, “This just frosts me. Dogs’ ancestors are wolves.”

The doctor answered: “And now you can’t tell this one from a Guinea pig.”

I like observant veterinarians.

“What’s the mini Pom in for?” I asked, looking at the tiny mammal in the vet’s arms.

“Broken cervical vertebrae. Bones broken in the neck. It’s a congenital issue for theses miniature dogs. Most of these dogs here, the big ones too, came to our emergency room because of congenital disorders common in their breeds.”

The Animal Liberation Movement Won’t Exist Until Advocates Stop Idealizing Pets

Each of the following slogans — you’ve read or heard theses and more, no doubt — invokes a fantasy, subtly or strongly. In each, only the use of animals in food agribusiness gets confronted, while the idea that we’re expected to have and to hold pets is left untouched.

“Friends, not food.”

“I began to wonder why we cuddle some animals and put a fork in others.”

“If you love some animals called pets, why do you eat others called dinner?”

You get the idea. Here it is, summed up in an advocacy banner graphic…

Authentic veganism — which is, at its essence, animal liberation philosophy — would confront the unnatural existence of every one of the animals we see in this banner.

The vegan question is not whether they want to live. Of course they do.

The vegan question is whether we had any right to breed them onto this Earth.

Here’s a variation on the theme — a screenshot of an activist group’s video.

 

I find this image disturbing on every level. Young pigs naturally would not be spotted alone like this (they live in family groups that have dozens of members); and the pig in this video is barely more than a newborn. And the message? Everything will be fine if we love pigs and groom them in a bubbling bidet.

#NationalDogDay warrants hard discussion about what we do to wolves on this planet — not expansion of a ridiculous adorbs fest on social media to include infant pigs.

Our Selves, Our Cats

We domesticated the wildcats. Another human achievement in the suppression of natural evolution. My pal Sprite was born outside, one of the millions alienated, by selective breeding, from an ancestral community of free-living felids. And then alienated again from the human community that’s supposed to care for the beings we’ve domesticated.

One of a community of free-living wildcats (Felis silvestris)

The vegan movement has largely ignored the cats, except to suggest they be forced to live ever more divorced from their evolutionary state by eating “vegan cat food” — which doesn’t exist, as the vegan principle doesn’t apply to the actions of cats.

In recent years, The Vegan Society has begun encouraging their supporters to feed their cats this nonexistent substance.

The Society has promoted a commentary by veterinary specialist Andrew Knight to back this position, but what I have read by Knight refers to an article that addresses reasons why some people want to use a vegetarian diet for their cats, and how vets can best communicate with such people. That article didn’t address crystal formation in high pH urine and urinary tract obstruction (UTI) — a very serious issue.

And in practical terms, many vegans, myself included, are rescuers in multiple-cat households who may also attempt to care for outdoor colonies. Sorting the cats’ food  according to UTI vulnerability would be prohibitively difficult even if it were a vegan action.

Dr. Knight asserts that “commercial pet foods constitute a vast industrial dumping ground for slaughterhouse waste products.” Understood. But that doesn’t logically lead us to conclude that cats should just eat plants.

Because veganism challenges human supremacy, to impose a philosophy-based diet onto a cat offends veganism.

Chris Kelly’s AR View

For years, Chris “Lone Primate” Kelly challenged the AR Views listserv, and faced more than a little anger for questioning the human prerogative to breed and keep pets. Chris has written the following commentary.


As a vegan who has loved and shared a home with cats, my decision to reject a vegan diet for them involved a lot of research, pro and con. Whether a cat can be conditioned to eat (or like) a totally vegan diet was not pertinent to me as it is abundantly clear cats are natural carnivores. My reasoning had more to do with being respectful to

Chris Kelly

their evolutionary nature and to a desire to opt out of human control whenever possible.

I have read and reread Veganism Defined (Leslie Cross, VP Vegan Society, 1951), and I feel supported in the above conclusion. Cross writes: “In a vegan world the creatures would be reintegrated within the balance and sanity of nature as she is in herself. A great and historic wrong, whose effect upon the course of evolution must have been stupendous, would be righted.”

The founding definition shows a deep respect for nature. Not all of nature’s beings can be vegan, nor are they meant to be — that is reality.  Making such a drastic (and some say experimental) change could be considered controlling and done for human benefit or comfort. In fact, it may be perceived as a sort of selective breeding, sending a message that pet keeping can be made to be harmless. This, in my opinion, hurts the very sensible and cogent argument for veganism.

As we know, the practice of pet keeping is far from harmless. The process of domestication is a cruel, frankensteinish interference in evolution and nature itself. Domestication is “the process of hereditary reorganization of wild animals and plants into domestic and cultivated forms according to the interests of people. . .”  (Encyclopedia Britannica.)

Domestication is a powerful, all-encompassing word, and, I believe, it should be used clearly and frequently in all abolitionist discourse. Why don’t the large “rights” organizations take a public stand against all domestication and call for the phasing out of pets? Could it be because they get a substantial amount of donations from “pet lovers”?

. . .Pet keeping is one of the most frivolous uses of nonhuman animals, while medical research and other user industries claim necessity and even noble justifications. How do we expect to ask for change in the latter when most pet owners are unaware of their own complicity?

We recognize domestication requires people of conscience to show empathy for those made incapable of independence. I have enjoyed the companionship and love of several dogs and cats throughout my life. Yes, their looks and behaviors were at times cute, adorable and heartwarming, but we cannot forget that they were (and are) enslaved and bred to suit the fancies and assorted motives of humans just as were all other domesticates. Portraying them in cutesy (and extreme) ways is another undignified use of animals.

Domestication in all forms is wrong and needs to be phased out.

If we take care of the victims made dependent by domestication and stand with the tenets outlined in Veganism Defined to respect nature, we will have a clear way forward.

—Chris Kelly, Carrollton, Texas, US

Our War on Deer Is a Product of Domestication

Brace yourself. With autumn comes the early “official” deer kills. They will go on through the winter.

The deer of Valley Forge National Historical Park (photographed in the banner image by Jeff Houdret) are among the communities annually targeted by the United States government.

The vast majority of deer in the Park get shot down again every year. This means very few, if any, deer who stay in the Park will live past age two.

The assault on the deer themselves and on their community’s evolution is grotesque.

Deer Kills Aren’t a “Single Issue”; They’re a Vegan Issue

Deer killing starts because we have created cows, goats, domesticated sheep, domesticated fowl etc. for people to eat and wear, and pets as well. All these animals, human property, must be protected from carnivores and omnivores who run free. (How dare they!)

So we wipe out the wolves and then we establish policies to kill those who rise up to take their place.

Coyotes, in most of the northern Americas.

Then we have “too many deer”? No, we have too few carnivores.

I’m working on a presentation on this connection, tentatively scheduled for Sunday 29 October, at SuTao Cafe in Malvern, PA, to kick off to World Vegan Month in Chester County.

The presentation will be informed by the work of two groups who have directly confronted government assaults on deer: Philadelphia Advocates for the Deer (PAD), and Compassion for Animals – Respect for the Environment (Chester County CARE).

Forced Sterilization of Deer Is Another Insult

Most other deer protection projects have rallied around pharmaceutical control as the “solution to the deer problem” but that answer oppresses and erases deer, just as mass killing does.

And the deer contraception crusade allows the public to retain the idea that animals such as wolves and coyotes have no business living.

Animal liberationists and environmentalists alike should be cultivating human respect for carnivores including coyotes. These beings have roles to play in a balanced bio-community. Our society must stop pretending that managing and micromanaging the balance of nature is humanity’s work.

— Lee.

VegFest in Buffalo, NY: A Slideshow About Caricatures and Memes

Animal advocacy produces many images in which selectively bred animals appear as cute, contented, and wanting to delight you or be friends with you. And generally we don’t regard it as needing further thought. It’s the imagery of endearment. Post adorable piglets, and maybe it’ll make people who keeping doing those bacon posts on Facebook see bacon in another way?

Popular advocacy images: What do they display or conceal about humanity’s relationship with all others?

On Sunday 6 August at the Western New York VegFest in Buffalo, I’ll present Cuteness, Memes, and Animal-Liberation Imagery: A Slideshow and Discussion.
We’ll look at how endearing imagery can work against animals and their defenders in a way the movement
has yet to explore.
This presentation asks: Does popular animal-advocacy imagery reinforce animals’ vulnerability? Is so, why should this matter to us?
Is there something we can learn here from the effects of race-based caricatures? What do we know about the power of imagery from the abolitionist struggle? To say all oppressions come from a common impulse, as I wrote in On Their Own Terms, isn’t to say that various groups are the same, or that the kind of inequality they’ve faced is the same. And facile analogies don’t help. Claire Heuchan has observed how “Black experience is regularly placed on a par with animals as a provocation.”
This is why it’s so important that the slideshow’s concept does not set out to compare caricatures reflecting white supremacy with caricatures that justify domestication. Distinct struggles against systems of domination should be known on their terms, even as they teach about the common source — the human urge to dominate and control — and ask ourselves how we’re challenging or continuing it.

Thanks to my patrons who make it possible for me to give up days of shift work to contribute this effort to the WNY VegFest. If you’d like to help this outreach continue, consider supporting it with a regular contribution (which can be as modest as $1 per month) on Patreon.

For Vegans, Earth Day Is Every Day

Last year for Earth Day I had the pleasure (and challenge) of introducing On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century to the Cleveland community. The Cleveland Animal Rights Alliance reserved space in the Cleveland Heights Public Library.

If you want to demolish the belief that people just want memes and platitudes (or don’t go to libraries), the Cleveland vegan community is your gang. Cleveland’s vegan movement is committed to thought, debate, intellectual and cultural work, and growth. I’m very lucky to know the Cleveland activists.

Today, for Earth Day, I revisit:

Earth Day slideshow (presented in Cleveland Heights, later published by Carolyn Bailey of ARZone). Selected slides from the presentation are included.

Feel free to start up some conversation here on any of the slides.

A hat tip today and every day to my fellow vegans. You’re determined to cultivate a way to human sustenance that stops ravaging the planet. For vegans, Earth Day is every day.

Love and liberation,

Lee.

Cuteness and Memes in Wildflower Cafe Slideshow

Start Your World Vegan Month at Wildflower Vegan Cafe

What’s Up? Enjoy cake and a cup of fair-trade coffee or a hearty vegan meal at Wildflower on the first Saturday in November, when I’ll facilitate a slideshow and conversation on Cuteness and Memes in Animal Advocacy.

Where? Wildflower Vegan Cafe, Village on High, Millville, NJ.  856.265.7955

When? 4 pm on Saturday 5 November 2016

We’ve all seen “Why love one but eat the other” images. Indeed, why do we love a puppy yet have no regrets when it comes to eating the calf? Then again…

Does setting the ideal in “loving” animals compromise nonhuman dignity? What can other social movements teach us about these idealized images?

Eric Nyman, owner of Wildflower Vegan Café, said, “Our business is nurturing bodies and minds. We’re excited to open November, which has traditionally been World Vegan Month, by offering space for Lee’s work on memes—inviting advocates and the public to consider how feel-good imagery might endorse exploitation.”

Event sponsored by Wildflower Vegan Café, and patrons of the art of animal liberation.