Episode 25 takes us to a place that’s a little more uncharted, at least as far as discussions on the left go. We wanted to talk about animal issues, how wanting to address animal exploitation fits into a liberatory perspective, and try to bridge a little bit of the gap that’s existed between radical politics and animal rights. To have this conversation, we invited Lauren Corman, former host of the radio program Animal Voices and currently a professor at Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario, to be our guest.
Its not an exaggeration to say that this was the most difficult topic we’ve tried to cover. Both Tessa and I have been vegan for years and animal issues fit in with our understanding about what needs to change in the world, but spending our time on the radical left, especially among socialists, we’ve learned to downplay that area of our lives because of dismissals, judgment and ridicule by erstwhile comrades. The odd thing is that in my personal experience I’ve had many one-to-one conversations with radicals who agree that the way we treat animals is cruel and unnecessary, environmentally disastrous and terrible for our health, but when this comes into the open its considered not a political question.
It doesn’t help that animal advocates don’t often represent themselves in the best possible way. The mainstream organizations often consider animal abuse more immediate than human political questions, given that they’re dealing with slaughter. PeTA especially perpetuates sexist tropes, makes racially insensitive comparisons, and allies itself with any individual who will show interest in animals irregardless of their behavior to other humans. In practice, many animal rights activists seem most interested in consuming vegan products and have little understanding of the way that class plays into our social location, vis a vis animals.
So how to approach this? We invited Lauren specifically because her work has been in looking at animal issues through an intersectional lens, looking for ways to advocate for animals that is socially responsible and works in coalition with others for social justice and radical change.
Lauren approaches this conversation from a “non-instrumental” perspective, meaning that her reasons for “bringing animals into the sphere of moral concern” is not because it will benefit humans, per se, but because animals in themselves have sentience, the capacity to suffer and to live emotionally meaningful lives. In that way, even if caring about animals, changing diet and our relationship to animals wasn’t environmentally beneficial, better for our health and longevity, or didn’t support better relationships between humans, it would still be worth respecting animal interests.
We talk about veganism, a practice where one abstains from all animal products both in your diet and in clothing, because it is considered the main lived expression of the animal rights position.
Since I imagine that many people will not come to the conversation with all that information on hand, I’ll provide some quick resources here. First, in getting a more direct understanding of animal rights, author Gary Francione runs a website, Abolitionist Approach, that explains a nuts and bolts approach to animal rights veganism. Second, I mentioned in the introduction that the United Nations has urged that the world changes its diet to be meat and dairy-free as a critical environmental measure. Lastly, I’ll point readers to Bob Torres’ book, Making a Killing, which comes at animal issues using Marxist political economy and anarchist ethics. He explains how animals are a part of capitalist commodity production, and therefore its not possible to respect animal interests within capitalism.
That should do it for a first post. Certainly earning our Black Sheep name this time…