The way we go about killing animals, wherever they may be found or kept, land, sea or air-murdering is probably a better word-is astonishing. We do it with abandon and we do it in such institutionalized, "tradition" approved ways that only a minority ever realize the extent of the tragedy. Thus, since the era of modern fishing began 200 years ago, we have made furious progress toward a complete decimation of the oceans, ostensibly infinite reservoirs of life, thereby converting many maritime regions into what Farley Mowat accurately decried as "seas of slaughter." And, in another small example, In the USA alone, every year almost 50 million turkeys are killed just for Thanksgiving Day, to commemorate a date that is of questionable historical merit, which some observers, with ample justification, regard as obsolete if not idiotic. And such incident is a mere drop in an invisible sea of abuse whose actual roots date back to our earliest times as a species with self-righteous "dominionistic" claims over nature.
Forty-eight billion animals is a stunning figure, yet this figure, regarded by most experts as conservative, does not include animals mistreated or dead as a result of habitat destruction, widespread pollution, apparently "harmless" recreational activities such as sport fishing and boating, and the collision of animals with "modernity" (up to 250 million animals die annually as roadkill on the American highways alone). We have become indeed not only the most appalling tyranny over every other sentient creature on this planet, including many segments of our own breed, but also a raging, self-righteous cancer extending itself with impunity to every corner of the earth.
Progressives of all stripes, it's time to rethink some positions
Today, as a result of the massive ecological devastation and other related issues triggered by runaway industrialism, self-defined progressives can't afford to go on pretending that suffering on such egregious scale is just a peripheral issue, or the concern of affluent dilettantes with little interest in other social issues, for the fate of animals-as the living environment- and the fate of all ecosystems are indissolubly bound. You can't fix one without addressing the other.
But why, you may ask, the paucity of action, if not outright hostility, on the part of many sectors of the left toward issues of animal liberation?
This obtuse attitude has many strands, embraced long ago, in a different historical context. As is often the case with systems of thought or social organization, in their infancy they may be good, appropriate and progressive, but in their older age they become impediments to human progress, especially in the ethical arena. They need to be re-examined and removed.
The long shadow of superhumanism
Due to a deeply embedded and largely unexamined 18th Century heritage of philosophical humanism, according to which the advocates of reason sought to dethrone blind faith and the tyranny of religion as the main arbiters of social conduct, the Enlightenment ended up crowning a new sovereign, "man", whose lay creed soon degenerated into an insidious narcissism whose effects we continue to see to this day. We may call this bastard offshoot of humanism, "superhumanism".
The sorry repercussions of embracing superhumanism-a new absolutistic faith- are everywhere to be seen. For with superhumanism in the saddle man became "the measure of all things," and a rich vein of self-celebratory rubbish came to the fore, which, as mentioned previously, arose first as a response to a greater form of human stupidity, the one granting God and King total control over human agency. It was therefore logical that, as the historical heir and handmaiden to the humanist tradition, the Left would endorse then and continue to endorse or acquiesce today in human supremacist attitudes. Fact is, even old Karl Marx, as decent and intelligent a human being as we have the good fortune to encounter, was content to see the old stranglehold of religion and narrow privilege pass from centerstage, ushering a new, supposedly more benign democratic game to be played for the benefit of the masses. (Why that didn't happen is not Marx's fault, but that's another story.)
A second possible reason for the Left's reluctance to embrace animal liberation issues from the automatic opposition shown by progressives to any policy or proposal ostensibly injuring the rights or livelihood of workers or long victimized populations, such as Native Americans. A lot of PC posturing is involved in this, and you know it, even if this is by and large an admirable stance that any decent right-thinking person should support. Still, in matters of social design the devil is always in the details, and such "details" -many of them contradictory-abound when we tackle the question of job loss.
It's probably understood by this audience that the right of any person to a decent, safe and secure livelihood should be an established fact of modern civilization, and the fact that it isn't is rightly the object of constant agitation on the Left. But job loss-and occupational attrition when it occurs as a result of economic obsolescence- is a very complicated question, and when such issues collide with the right of animals to live their lives undisturbed, free from human exploitation, sparks are sure to fly and they do. In such cases, the Left remains curiously silent or automatically sides with the human interest, its natural constituency, but in doing so, out of custom, laziness, opportunism, or cowardice, it ends up underwriting an ethic of myopic short-term self-interest which, practiced with alacrity from the plutocrats at the top to the lowly orders at the bottom, is precisely one of the main toxic features of the system the Left is working so hard to retire.
Fur-sealing in Canada is one such issue; where pandering by the government to human chauvinism was transparent in the recent season, and then there's a whole long roster of conflicts between management and labor and society, in mammoth, ecologically-sensitive industries where we all have an interest, such as hog farming, logging, strip-mining, and chicken production, to name a few, and where management cynically brandishes the "right of workers to a job" to deflect attacks from animal defenders and environmentalists. In too many clashes of this sort, the minute workers enter the fray on the side of continued employment under any circumstances-as is to be expected-the whole question of how such activities are conducted, at what price for the actual victims, and whether or not such occupations are or should be regarded as obsolete or socially undesirable-is dropped in favor of solidarity. Fact is, poor metaphor as this may be, job loss is the new crucifix often brandished by employers to keep the specter of the Left at bay.
This moral blindness is inexcusable for those who rightly see themselves as the moral vanguard of humanity. For the bottom line is that speciesism-a surreptitious form of human fascism applied to animals and nature in general-is by far the oldest and most pervasive form of brutal tyrannization encountered in the sorry annals of human history. I don't use the word "fascism" as hyperbole in this context or for dramatic effect. I wish it were hyperbole. But the fact is that fascism is noted for its unilateral proclamations of superiority by a certain race or breed, endowing said race with the "right" to dominate, exploit, and annihilate at will any group deemed "inferior." If that pretty much doesn't describe eloquently our despicable behavior toward non-human animals, I don't know what does.
Regrettably, speciesism pervades every nook and cranny of human civilization and has done so for millennia. But now, in the age of runaway industrialism, with a dominant global system of social organization that firmly believes in infinite growth in a very finite planet, it has acquired simply monstruous proportions, as the grotesque dimensions of animal exploitation by the industrial method easily illustrate, and the death of one species after another seem to corroborate.
Once apprised of the facts, no one with a scintilla of decency can turn his or her back on such knowledge. It is therefore, the duty of all progressives to re-examine their assumptions about animals, about their everyday conduct in choosing food and clothing and transportation modes, and to join this struggle. By doing so, they will re-invigorate the environmental movement, rendering it less abstract and cold and more passionate, because while fighting for nature is a noble and urgent call, fighting for nature's children is a matter of simple justice.
PATRICE GREANVILLE, editor of Cyrano's Journal [ http://www.cjonline.org ] is an independent leftist and sometime economist who has always supported animal liberation, and who sees no contradiction whatsoever in such praxis. Having suffered, as a result of his opposition to corporate values, from unemployment and underemployment for most of his adult life, he is not cavalier in his opinions on job loss.