Sunday, August 29, 2010

Moving Animals: Spectacular Animal Films (Part 2)

3. The Animals Film (Beyond the Frame 1981, 137min)

To my knowledge, The Animals Film was the first documentary to me made on the animal protection movement and the first to be aired on public television--an amazing feat given that it was released just 6 years after the publication of Animal Liberation, 1 year after Henry Spira's ad campaign against Revlon, 2 years before The Case for Animal Rights, and 3 years before Unnecessary Fuss. Filmed in the United States by an Israeli and released in England, TAF had been the most comprehensive film on animal welfare up until the release of Earthlings 16 years later. Yet, despite its age, sadly, little has changed since its release except that industry practices and problems have increased in magnitude and extended into other countries. (In 1980, about 5 billion animals were slaughtered in America annually compared to nearly 9 billion by 2000). In fact, it is my opinion that despite the praise for Earthlings and the absence of knowledge about this film, TAF is better. (Whether it is more effective at recruiting vegans--Earthlings supposedly is nicknamed "the Vegan maker"--, that is for empirical studies to determine).

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Moving Animals: Spectacular Animal Films (Part 1)

Eadweard Muybridge's "The Horse in Motion" (1878)
"Animals: The Most Moving Things in the World"
--Jim Mason in An Unnatural Order (2005 [1993])

“The animal look can be seen as a continuation of the photographic look... Animals appeared to merge with technological bodies that replaced them... If the animal cannot die but is nonetheless vanishing, then it must be transferred to another locus, anther continuum in which death plays no role... the cinema developed, indeed embodied, animal traits as a gesture of mourning for the disappearance of [animals]"
--Akira Lippit in Electric Animal (1998)

Moving Animals, Animal Affect, and Effective Movies
Since its inception, the animal movement has relied upon images to evoke sympathy--from William Hogarth's "The Four Stages of Cruelty" (1751) that connected cruelty to animal to cruelty to humans, to the anti-vivisectionist posters that re-figured the medical oppression of women to that of animal others, and PETA's "Holocaust on Your Plate" and "Animal Liberation" exhibits that juxtaposed images of human and nonhuman oppression. Undercover investigation footage of labs, in particular, played a crucial role in the 1980's, especially within the efficacy of the ALF and PETA (videos like Unnecessary Fuss and Inside Biosearch). However, with increased vandalism and exposure, the Animal Industrial Complex has been vigilant to guard its practices from public knowledge. Since the 1990's, these industries have installed hi-tech security systems in addition to lobbying for the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act [AETA], which gained increasing government backing post-9/11. Such footage, has been crucial to educating the public about animal welfare within the age of televisions, computers, and cinema. Over the last decade, activists have even accompanied themselves with video harnesses to literally carry the animals' voices to protests and demos.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Social(ist) Animals: Toward Mutual Aid against the Great Butcher

Sue Coe. 2004. "Ox Pull." From "Bully!: master of the Global Merry-go-round" Source:
"However, even vegetarianism in your hands, would make a capital article...  its connection with modern socialism, atheism, nihilism, anarchy and other political creeds... Brussels sprouts seem to make people bloodthirsty, and those who live on lentils and artichokes are always calling for the gore of the aristocracy and for the severed heads of kings... in the political sphere a diet of green beans seems dangerous." -Oscar Wilde, The Complete Letters, p. 334, from a letter dated Nov. 12, 1887.

Ten months ago, Paul D'Amato's article  "Socialism and 'animal rights'" sparked a small controversy that fizzled out within a month of its release. Unfortunately, out of the dozen responses only two or three were more argument than opinion. My aim here is to provide a more rigorous and comprehensive critique of D'Amato's article absent in the responses in order to better reconcile the perceived tension between socialistm and animal rights.

In "Socialism and 'Animal Rights'," D'Amato's reasoning starts off strong, making critical and important insights on the idea of animal liberation; however, it soon strays into weak, dangerous, and unnecessary territory. D'Amato comes to several conclusions (not presented in this order):

  1. "There is a clear connection between how a rapacious capitalism mistreats animals... environment... [and] human[s]"
  2. "Non-human animals are helpless… incapable of organizing and fighting for their rights"
  3. "To compare the condition of animals to that of... [humans] for freedom and equality is to view the latter through a paternalistic lens, rather than a lens of human liberation"
  4. "we need to insist on the essential differences between human beings and other animals, and reject the idea of 'animal liberation.'"
  5. "seeking more humane treatment of animals is not the same as calling for 'animal rights'"
In the first conclusion, he displays sympathy for nonhuman animals and their human allies. In the second, D'Amato properly points out the obvious but sometimes overlooked fact that no other (with a possible exception of a few) species can and/or is capable of politically organizing to declare their rights. This point leads into the subtitle and thesis of D'Amato's piece: to compare the animal liberation movement to human liberation movements is paternalistic (and reeking of white, middle-class, male privilege).

I'm totally on board with D'Amato's thesis if we are only discussing movements and not also mental, material, and legal outcomes. But he does not enclose his argument to his thesis; he continues on to argue that humans are essentially different from all other animals (despite being careful to say that humans are only "qualitatively" different"), and that the "liberation" and rights of nonhuman animals be rejected in favor of merely "more humane treatment." It is these last two conclusions, I find objectionable and weakly argued.

In this response, I will critique four positions D'Amato either asserts or  ignores. First, he implicitly argues that one cannot have rights unless one asserts one has them, a contractualist argument that would exclude many humans from possessing rights. Second, he explicitly draws on evolutionary biology to make arguments for an essential difference between humans and other animals that contradict themselves and are analogous to arguments that have been used to rationalize racism. Third, D'Amato misses how worker and animal exploitation are not only  increased by capitalism, but that they are intersecting oppressions that mutually reinforce one another just as socialism and animal rights are ethico-political positions that intersect and mutually reinforce one another. Finally, he is naive to the historical, cultural, and ecological ties between the exploitation and well-being of human and animal.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Deconstructing Veganism: Commodity, Reciprocity, & the Killing Contract

As I previously mentioned, most of my blogging over the last year has been on Facebook. I do not have the time to write as masterful posts with extensive and precise citations as before, so I cannot promise future posts will be as organized and nuanced as previous ones. That said, although I have not done so in the past here, future posts like this one will be in response to either a provocative blog entry elsewhere on the web or several related news stories. If we are both so lucky, these posts will probably be shorter reads. Well, we'll see!

Insturmentalism: the Logos of Animal Capital
Anastasia  @ Animal Visions, a highly welcomed blog that just hit the cyber-scene, writes in "What’s the deal with animal use?":

From an ecofeminist and indigenous perspective, use of another living being is not inherently bad; in fact, it’s necessary for survival. The use becomes a major problem when it’s one-sided. That is, living beings in the ecosystem are made... into resources in order to serve one species, and members of that species do not give back in response to what they have received. ... What’s missing in this scenario is reciprocity, which is also missing in our conceptualization of exploitation... The act of “use” wouldn’t be a problem because everyone would be used, and the use would simply be an act of life, a way of participating in the biosphere. Alas, as it stands, we do not. Our global civilization exploits many and holds no values for giving back...

Do animal liberation proponents really want to abolish all forms of animal use, thereby disregarding our interdependence in the biosphere and severing any possibility for us to give unto other animals and to be open to our use in return? This animal liberation proponent certainly doesn’t.
I really like this and is kind of what I've been thinking about for several years and why I share Donna Haraway's (2007) criticism of abolitionist views that always cast nonhuman animals as victims, ignoring their agency and affect upon humans. Animal rightists have overlooked that their positioning of nonhuman animals as "voiceless", "defenseless," and "helpless" have only re-instituted their passivity, having presupposed a human-reason-agent vs nonhuman-passive dualism. Writers like Haraway, but especially James Hribal (2003, 2006, 2007, 2010), have repositioned animals not as slaves, a la Marjorie Speigel's Dreaded Comparison (1996), but as "the working class." Reconfigurations of animals as fellow agents on the one hand may affirm their subjectivity and role in society, while on the other risks reinstating their oppression on new terms (as I will argue against reciprocity being a sufficient condition for ethical relations).

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sperm Banks & Meat-Markets: The Sexual Economy of Meat

"$uper Cow", $uper Profits: Cyber Chattel, $ex Exchange, and $perm Banks
In a recent National Geographic program on the technoscientific management of "nature," we get a glimpse at a very much neglected element in contemporary animal agribusiness, the sperm banks by which, animals are, according to Jacques Derrida (1997), "exterminated by means of their continued existence or even their overpopulation”:

Selective breeding is the first stop on our tour of how man is using science to control nature... In fact, selective breeding is all about managing sex...Over a hundred years, Farmers have only allowed the cows and bulls with the largest muscle mass to mate
The technoscientific sacrifice of animal heathcare for economic welfare is explained:
There is a gene that regulates the growth of muscles in cattle. These cows have been selectively breed from animals that contain a copy of this gene that doesn't work. As a result their muscles grow far larger than normal. To insure that the effective gene is passed on, sex for the Belgian Blues has been replaced by technology in the form of artificial selection
The men in the video discuss the homoerotic, predatory gaze:
The bulls are shaved to best display their muscles... so you can see where all the meat is...  because when you look at him, you cannot help but think of lunch