Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism
Imagine you’ve been kidnapped. You find yourself in a tiny cell, with other people, barely enough room to turn around.
At some point, after your captors have taken what they need from you while you’re alive, you’re aware that they plan to kill you. You’ve heard the terrified screams of fellow captives as they have been led to their death.
Some well-meaning campaigners who are aware of your plight are concerned about your welfare. They think your cell should be made a few inches bigger so they can comfort themselves with the fact that
before you were brutally murdered, you could at least stretch your legs out. Just.
Other activists - usually labelled ‘militant’ or ‘radical’ - are not interested in lobbying for your right to bigger cells; they want nothing short of the abolition of your exploitation.
Who would you rather have fighting your corner?
This is the reality facing billions of animals today. Last week on October 2 World Farm Animal Day was celebrated and October 4 was World Animal Day. In Australia this week it is Be Kind to Animals Week (October 1-7) while November 1 is World Vegan Day.
What better time to not only reflect on our treatment of animals but to challenge the assumption that we have a right to use them in the first place simply because they are not human. The following examples provide a
tiny snapshot of some of the atrocities inflicted on animals in Australia today:
- Battery hens’ beaks are cut off with a hot wire guillotine, an extremely painful process and many have great difficulty eating properly for the rest of their short lives. After their bodies are spent from constant egg laying
they are shackled upside down on a conveyor belt to await slaughter.
Male chicks born in battery operations are simply disposed of – usually by being shredded alive in a macerator.
- Dairy cows are forcibly inseminated and kept perpetually pregnant. When their calves (whom they carry for nine months, much like human mothers) are removed, they bellow with grief at the loss of their young. Milking
machines attached to the cow’s body result in painful infections of the teats such as mastitis. And, like battery hens, once the cow’s body can endure no more, she is shipped off to be slaughtered.
- Wild animals in zoos exhibit psychotic behaviours due to being forced into unnatural feeding patterns and existence in concrete prisons, while those in circuses spend long hours in small travelling cages, with the rest of the time being ‘rehearsed’ using cruel methods involving whips, spikes and electric prods.
And yet we hold ourselves up as a nation of so-called animal lovers.
In a previous article on Unleashed I wrote about carnism – the invisible ideology that allows people to eat some animals and treat others like a member of the family. Carnism is a sub-ideology of speciesism.
Coined by British psychologist Richard Ryder in 1973, speciesism is a form of discrimination that assigns rights and values based on species membership, with humans at the top of the hierarchy and non-humans at
the very bottom.
Speciesism is at play when we insult someone by calling them an animal. Historically such a strategy has been used by white colonialists to disempower and traumatise people of colour. And
while the experiences of different oppressed groups may vary, the tactics of the oppressor are often similar in that they position those they wish to dominate, exploit or abuse as ‘other’ or ‘less than’.
Animal rights advocacy is unlike other social justice campaigns because the oppressed group is unable to lobby on their own behalf. This throws up questions of animals’ sentience and intelligence, but even a cursory
look at the work of writers such as Jonathan Balcombe, former senior research scientist at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, reveals animals experience rich and complex emotional inner lives.
Sadly even people who stand up for equality and compassion in other areas have a blind spot when it comes to non-humans. It’s easier to brand animal rights activists as ‘mad’ or ‘extreme’, rather than acknowledge
that the food on your plate, or shoes on your feet are products of immense suffering - and eliminate them.
Let me be clear: this is not an attack on economically disadvantaged or Indigenous people for whom consuming animals or their by-products may be a necessity to survive. That said, global systems of food production - which exploit both animals and invariably people of colour - are in dire need of transformation so that it becomes cheaper to buy a bag of healthy, organic vegetables than a piece of rotting carcass.
But those who are in a position to make a choice about not consuming animal products should do so. The perception that veganism is a privileged lifestyle accessible only to the middle-classes is incorrect. Expensive ‘substitutes’ such as faux meat aside, it is more than possible to embrace veganism on even the tightest of budgets.
It’s time to reject speciesism and acknowledge that animals deserve rights - the right to live their lives free from exploitation by humans - not welfare reform that only serves to perpetuate and justify their oppression.
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