Dave Pollard's chronicle of civilization's collapse, creative works and essays on our culture.
A trail of crumbs, runes and exclamations along my path in search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.



January 23, 2005

A PRAGMATIC APPROACH TO ANIMAL RIGHTS

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 19:26
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There’s been another well-intentioned discussion over at Salon TableTalk about animal rights, as Soybean, the originator and moderator of the discussion, attempted to persuade other progressives that “Using animals for food and clothing causes suffering, is bad for human health, is bad for the environment and is a huge public safety risk.” When the discussion, as in past similar threads, degenerated into name-calling, Soybean asked me to diagnose what had gone wrong. My answer was that discussion forums are not a particularly good vehicle for persuasion at the best of times (they’re more useful for debating, and for gathering ideas and collaborating with others), and also that there is a tendency for those of us who are idealists on the subject of animal rights (or any progressive subject for that matter) to tick off pragmatists by not offering a practical, achievable process to achieve our stated objective.

That got me thinking about a pragmatic approach to animal rights, one which could unite all progressives in common cause, and become an integral part of all progressive organizations’ agendas.

The end-game on animal rights for us radical idealists — a large part of the planet set aside as wilderness with minimal human intervention allowed; an end to factory farming (and perhaps even all animal agriculture) as a means of providing human food and clothing, and acceptance of a vegan lifestyle — is just too big a jump for many progressives to accept in a single leap. Some progressives even see such an agenda as anti-humanist, at a time when the people of many countries are desperately striving to achieve self-sufficiency and an end to poverty, through the raising of farmed animals. To them, more wilderness means less land for the struggling poor, and they have a point.

What I have been chatting with Soybean on is a two-stage approach with both a short-term and long-term vision. The short-term vision, the first stage, is to enact laws that punish people who needlessly abuse domesticated animals or subject farmed, laboratory, or wild animals to extreme or protracted cruelty or suffering. This is, I think, an acceptable goal to the vast majority of people on the planet: It is consistent with almost every human moral code and its acceptance does not impose significant economic hardship on anyone. Even this first stage, however, will require both sides on the sometimes rancorous debate over animal rights to hold their nose when they agree: For many of us, the word ‘needlessly’ is a weasel word that could be used to excuse otherwise inexcusable behaviour. It is, for those with more advanced animal rights agendas, a pitifully small step in the right direction. At the same time, even this will be troublesome to farmers and laboratories who will be concerned about how the courts could interpret ‘needlessly’, ‘abuse’, and ‘extreme or protracted cruelty or suffering’. They will see it as threatening to their livelihood by opening them up to ‘frivolous’ prosecution by animal rights ‘extremists’, and as the thin edge of the wedge to further incursions and eventual shut-down of their operations.

I believe the courts would be able to establish precedents fairly quickly and easily on the definition of these terms, and we would then finally have laws with teeth that could reduce the extraordinary number of heinous and deplorable cases of unprosecuted and unprosecutable animal abuse and neglect that occur every day. At the same time, we need to start working to develop genuine innovations that would replace much of the need for the most morally repugnant factory farm and laboratory practices, and so allow the broadening of the term ‘needlessly’ in these first-stage laws. Such innovations could include:

  1. Procedures for testing on tissue cultures instead of live animals (already in use in much of Europe, and in Japan);
  2. Processes to make free-range organic farming economically competitive with factory farming (these could be greatly enabled by eliminating the agricultural subsidies that today go almost entirely to big agribusiness, or at least by making such subsidies available equally to organic and small family farms, so that there is a level playing field); and
  3. Invention of new organic, vegetable-based proteins with flavours, colours and consistency and nutritional value indistinguishable from animal foods (without genetic manufacturing or the use of petrochemicals, please), to ultimately render raising animals for food unnecessary.

As these new innovations occur, we could remove the economic objections to the ending of factory farming, laboratory and medical testing and other inhumane treatment of animals as part of commercial activities, by providing viable alternatives. These alternatives would also remove some of the moral objections to the ending of the use of animals in medical research, by rendering the use of live animals in such research unnecessary.

I’m not saying this will be easy. It will take a concerted effort by a lot of creative and motivated entrepreneurial businesses. But what better goal for a young entrepreneur with a scientific bent than to invent something that will enormously reduce the suffering of animals without adversely affecting the achievement of human ends that currently require such suffering?

Let’s be clear about one implication of what we’re talking about here: Ultimately, we will be reducing suffering to farmed animals by substantially eliminating these creatures, which are utterly dependent on humans for their well-being (or lack of it), from the planet. With very few exceptions (like foxes and mink) farmed animals could not and would not survive in the wild. The 70% of the arable land mass of Earth currently used to graze such animals would then go to other uses: either human uses (mostly urban sprawl) or semi-wilderness (increasing the planet’s biodiversity).

In Soybean’s discussion thread, there was absolutely no disagreement over the objective of reducing unnecessary animal suffering. We all seem to ‘get’ this as being a worthwhile end. It’s that word ‘rights’ that gets people up in arms, and that’s what the second stage, and achievement of the longer-term goal, is all about.

The second stage of this pragmatic approach to animal rights is to provide just two ‘rights’ for all sentient creatures on the planet: the right to self-determination (i.e. not to be treated as ‘property’ of humans) and the right to live in a healthy and sustainable ecosystem.

Animals are, under the law, either property (in which case they have no rights) or not (in which case they can have some rights). Until relatively recently in civilization’s history both women and slaves were considered ‘property’. As society became enlightened, laws were enacted in most countries under which both these human groups ceased to be property, and were given some or all of the same rights as other humans. The two basic rights, what might be called the Core Inalienable Rights, are the rights of self-determination and healthy survival that I describe above. They are consistent with both the laws of nature and the fundamental expressions of rights in many human charters (they even equate, roughly, with the right to “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness”.

Granting these two rights to all sentient species will be a much longer-term proposition, because to do so strikes at some fundamental economic and moral tenets of civilized man, tenets that have been around for thirty millennia, as long as civilization itself.

As I’ve described in an earlier post, books like Richard Manning’s Against the Grain explain the history of agriculture and how and why animals went from being free creatures (with essentially the same implicit rights as humans, in gatherer-hunter cultures) to being human ‘property’. These books also explain the evolution of land as ‘private property’ as human population soared with the advent of agriculture to the point that, for the first time, it became scarce. The only way we can extend the right to live in a healthy and sustainable ecosystem (in a broad sense, the right to life itself) to animals would be to do one or more of the following: (a) abolish the concept of private property entirely, (b) reduce it to apply only to small parts of the Earth’s surface, and allow the rest of the planet to return to near-wilderness state, or (c) so massively reduce human population that land ceases to be scarce and the whole need for private property goes away. My personal belief is that (a) and (b) are non-starters: The only way we will be able to give the rest of the creatures on this planet ‘the right to life’ would be if, as a result of a sharp drop in our own numbers, we no longer needed all the land that currently precludes us leaving it to other species. I’m not holding my breath. The current Sierra Club debate over immigration, which pits one set of progressive values (including animals’ right to life) against another (including our responsibility to look after all our fellow humans on the planet), shows how intractable this problem is.

And even if we could miraculously solve the economic challenges that preclude us giving animals a fair share of the planet’s resources in a reasonably livable state, we would still have to overcome the moral challenges. Even among progressives, there are many who challenge whether animals are sentient beings, capable of self-awareness, self-management, intelligent thought and deep emotion — as When Elephants Weep and other scholarly works have patiently and thoroughly demonstrated. But such science can take centuries to overcome religious and other moral dogma, which is why the term ‘animal rights’ stirs up such a stink while ‘animal welfare’ does not. It’s also the reason why farmers and labs so vehemently and irrationally deny that animals have self-awareness and feelings — how could they live with themselves if they acknowledged it? The comparison to slavery is entirely fair — abolitionists threatened not only the economic foundations but the moral foundations of America, which is why they fought a bloody civil war over it. The comparison to women’s rights is also entirely fair — equality for women is deeply troubling in many third world countries where they have always treated women as property. Imagine yourself as someone who had bought a slave or a wife, trying to reconcile your actions with a dawning realization that what you have done, and what you have been brought up to believe, is actually morally repugnant, ghastly, horribly wrong. This same illumination about animals will be a slow, agonizing process.

So I think, pragmatically, animal rights advocates should start by getting all progressive organizations to adopt, as a key plank in their platforms, the need for laws against the needless abuse of domesticated animals and against the subjecting of any sentient creature to extreme or sustained cruelty or suffering, and the desirability of finding innovative, economically viable alternatives to factory farming and the use of live animals in laboratory testing and medical research.

Giving animals ‘rights’ is a great ideal, but one our civilization has neither the economic capacity nor the moral will to grant, so there is no point yet in pushing this as part of the progressive agenda. And while a vegan lifestyle is a healthy and worthy personal life choice, it will not become a mainstream choice until it becomes an easy, affordable, and aesthetically preferable one. Innovation, not moral suasion, is the key to making it so in our lifetime.

The use of the wolf image is a reference to the decision last year of the government of Alaska to allow the resumption of the despicable practice of shooting wolves from airplanes, a practice that causes enormous suffering, and whose sole economic purpose is to increase the size of caribou and elk herds so hunters can pay for the privilege of killing the artificially-created excess.

EXTERMINISM, BY GLENN PARTON

Filed under: How the World Really Works — Dave Pollard @ 11:09
Following is the first part of a new, previously-unpublished three-part essay about the implications of last year’s US election, written by Glenn Parton, best known for his eco-philosophic and psychological essays The Machine in our Heads and Humans in the Wilderness. The ideas in the essay are Glenn’s, not mine, and you can tell him what you think through the comment facility below, or e-mail him directly. I’ll add my two cents at the end of part three.

Exterminism, by Glenn Parton

The 2004 Election established a new stage of American Empire or Global Capitalism, beyond Fascism to what is best described as Exterminism, because the end of the Bush Republican agenda is not merely the conquest and exploitation of the entire world, but rather, The End Of The World or Armageddon, either by causing World War 3 or catastrophic ecological collapse. This agenda cannot be adequately explained in terms of selfishness, greed, or the endless pursuit of money. Something much more irrational and pathological is going on: there is mental illness in the White House, Congress, Courts, Pentagon, and various intelligence agencies such as the CIA, FBI and Homeland Security. If politically aware people do not stop the self-destructive insanity that has taken over the American political process, the course of world history, and the fate of the earth, then we might as well say that we want to die because that is definitely what is going to happen to all of us, sooner or later.

The Republican Party is getting away with terrible thingsófor examples, state-sponsored torture and murder, and massive poisoning of fish, meat, air, water, drugsóbecause tens of millions of psychologically damaged people are seeking, consciously and unconsciously, deliverance or release from personal suffering through political and social suicide. These people voted not only against their own economic interests, but also against their own survival, and the survival or biological interests of everyone. What is the underlying pathology that has pushed ìcraziesî such as Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz to the top? If we donít understand this problem, and solve it, then the replacement of Rumsfeld and DeLay, and Bush and all his appointees is futile because many others will rise.

In a word, fear is propelling us toward global disaster, but in order to understand it we must distinguish between rational fear and irrational fear. If you are in Sudan or Iraq right now, then your fear is rational because of imminent danger. Irrational fear, on the other hand, is the fear of something that is not there, or a gross exaggeration of something that is there; it is a misinterpretation of reality. Another term for irrational fear is paranoia, and the inner mechanism of paranoia is projection (what is inside is experienced as coming from the outside). This means that paranoids are afraid of themselves. What is it that so many Americans fear about themselves?

The answer that this Election provides is that paranoid people fear their own erotic nature because they have adopted (through force) a false morality, an anti-sexual morality that persecutes and punishes them for expressing or even acknowledging this dimension of essential human nature. For two thousand years, Christianity has been trying to wipe out or deny the sexual nature of human beings, spreading sexual sickness across the land, and now many Americans have been made mentally ill by the accumulating effects of self-hatred to the point that they are ready to die, want to die, believe that they deserve to die.

Thanks to the ìgeniusî of Karl Rove and the Republican propaganda machine, the sexually sick have been politicized, republicanized, and neoconed. War and hate-propaganda appeals to those who have wounds that never heal because it offers them a Final Solution to their suffering. Not having the courage to improve their own miserable lives, many are drawn to the indirect and coded Republican strategy of social suicide, called the War On Terror, which is nothing but a detour to oneís own death via the death of everyone. The War On Terror must be understood, at its source, as a war against the true self, whose core is Eros, and it can only be won (in a morbid way) through Exterminism.

Not everyone in the GOP is sexually sick, some are ignorant, while others are too rich to care or think. Nor are sick people only in the Republican Party, or in the Churches, but the Party has become a gathering place for ideologues, with the sickest of the sick as leaders, who are determined to achieve the impossible goal of self-conquest at all costs. 11/2, 2004 (not 9/11, 2001) was a critical threshold in American history, the day that self-destructive people consolidated and expanded control over the lives of everyone.

In response, Democrats, Greens, Socialists, Communitarians, and everyone above Republicans on the evolutionary scale of consciousness should form a coalition of the politically awake with a dual strategy:  1) we need to develop and practice a politics of emergency (electoral politics, petitions, demonstrations, educational films, political conversations, and other acts of resistance) that stops, or significantly slows down, the Republican Party agenda, and 2) we need to articulate and practice a long-range visionary agenda that transcends Party politics.

The political issues that mobilized Republicans and independently sick Americansófor examples, anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, anti-sex education, anti-Hollywoodóhad to do, directly or indirectly, with opposing sexual freedom. Those with ìspines of tempered steelî (to quote Zell Miller) are threatened by the breakdown of ìtraditional family values,î with its rigid self-discipline and self-denial of sex, so they are escalating a cultural war against the natural self, but it will not work because the more a person represses sexual desire, the more it grows, distorting and twisting the resisting personality into madness. This Culture War has already organized itself into a Project for the New American Century, which is about suffering to death by means of our own Imperial Will.

With Republican self-loathers pulling the political and economic levers, life in America and elsewhere is going to get ugly fast. Be prepared to work harder and longer for less, for an ascetic culture with a vengeance, with no appeal or sympathetic ear in the corridors of power. Squeezing the joy out of life, reducing its quality, is the Republican plan for converting everyone to the worldview that human nature is ìseriously flawedî (as the patron saint of the neocons, Leo Strauss, said), or that the world is ìa dark and forbidding placeî (as the conservative columnist, George Will, said), leading eventually to the collective conclusion that life is not worth living. The evangelical spirit of capitalism, making the earth a living hell, is the self-fulfilling prophecy of the Apocalypse.

In sum, it was both fear and ìmoralityî that decided the outcome of this Election, or more precisely stated, it was the fear of sadistic morality, fear of a false value system, that is at war with the natural erotic self. No amount of rational argumentation, facts or evidence will influence people who are caught in the self-destructive eschatology of original sin, Atonement, and the Rapture. With nuclear weapons in America still on hair-trigger alert, launch-on-warning, there is real danger of a miscalculated, unauthorized nuclear war, but on a deeper level a nuclear or ecological holocaust has already been born in the deranged mind of Bush Americans, and if we ìstay the course,î then The End Of The World will not be an accident.

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