Crossposted at Thomas Paine’s Corner thanks, Jason.
Steve Best speaking to a group of anti-vivisection activists before the UK implemented its own version of the Iron Curtain
By Steve Best
Thomas Paine’s Corner
4/18/09 Continue reading
By Dr. Steven Best
“Animals are those unfortunate slaves and victims of the most brutal part of mankind.” John Stuart Mill
In South Africa, the elephant has emerged at the center of heated political debates and culture wars, as the government and national park system maneuvers to return to the practice of “culling”—a hideous euphemism for mass murder of elephants. Culling advocates—including government officials, park service bureaucrats, ecologists, “conservationists,” large environmental organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund, farmers, and villagers—argue that elephants have had deleterious effects on habitat and biodiversity and their herds need to be “managed” and reduced. Farmers and villagers complain that elephants are breaking reserve fences, destroying their crops, competing with their livestock for food, endangering physical safety and sometimes attacking and killing humans. The consensus among these parties is that biodiversity, ecological balance, and human interests trump the lives and interests of elephants, and that the most efficient solution to the “elephant problem” is the final solution of culling thousands of lives.
Opponents of culling include animal activists in South Africa and the world at large, ecologists, and thousands of Western tourists fond of elephants and the desire to see them in their natural habitat. In addition to the moral argument that elephants have intrinsic value and the right to exist—quite independent of their utility for humans—critics dismiss the claim that elephants threaten habitats and biodiversity. They emphasize that numerous alternatives to controlling elephant populations other than gunning them down exist, such as contraceptives and creating corridors between parks to allow more even population distribution. Against hunters and villagers alike, many culling opponents argue that elephants are worth much more alive than dead, and that elephants and humans alike win by developing the potential of ecotourism. The ethically and scientifically correct policies are not being adopted, critics argue, because government and “conservationists” are allied with the gaming, hunting, and ivory industries, and all favor a “quick fix” over a real solution. Animal advocates worry that the resumption of culling will reopen the global trade of ivory and argue that the ivory industry is driving this policy change.
This essay supports the rights of elephants to live and thrive in suitable natural environments and opposes all justifications for culling elephants and exploiting African wildlife in general. My purview is much broader than elephants, hunting, and the ivory trade, however, as I see the human-elephant “conflict” as a microcosm of the global social and ecological crisis that involves phenomena such as transnational corporate power, state totalitarianism, militarism, chronic conflict and warfare, terrorism, global warming, species extinction, air and water pollution, and resource scarcity. The approach of the South African government and people toward the “elephant problem” has global significance and is an indicator of whether or not humankind as a whole can steer itself away from immanent disaster and learn to harmonize its existence with the natural world.
By Dr. Steve Best, Ph.D.
(lots of photos at original source)
In 2002, arch-conservative Matthew Scully wrote a book called, Dominion: The Power of Man, The Suffering of Animals, and The Call to Mercy, that was universally and uncritically acclaimed by the animal advocacy movement. Because this movement is overwhelmingly single-issue in its focus, and in most cases doesn’t care about a person’s views or politics except how they relate to animals, no one had a problem with the fact that Scully was a senior speechwriter for President George W. Bush. He wrote some of the key fear-peddling diatribes that got Bush elected and he was recently re-enlisted to help Bush sell the Iraq war “surge” to the American people.
As someone who is concerned about a person’s overall political standpoint, and who would not embrace a Leftist who is a speciesist anymore than an animal rights person or vegan who is a racist, I had some serious problems with Scully and the fawning adulation of his book by virtually the entire animal advocacy movement. Many people, such as Karen Dawn (the founder of DawnWatch.com), saw it as a key sign of progress that the conservatives were embracing the animal cause (in welfarist form), and thus concluded that animal advocacy could be introduced to an entire new audience of people–some very rich, powerful, and influential ones at that.
No one mentioned that Scully had blood all over his hands by sycophantically serving Bush-Cheney (providing the “eloquence” they lacked) and the neo-con invasion and occupation of Iraq – all at the cost of more than 100,000 innocent Iraqi lives, over 4,000 US troop deaths, countless US troop casualties and destroyed lives, and over three trillion dollars.[i] And all based on lies and blatant deceit by Bush and his henchmen, all of whom – were there any justice in this country or backbone in the Democrats – would have been impeached and jailed for crimes of the highest order.
Nor could I understand the praise over Scully’s book. Really, Dominion is two books: the first sections are indeed well-crafted and hard-hitting critiques of factory farming and hunting. But the bulk of the book was just nauseating, amateurish, antiquated medieval/early modern natural law theory which tried to justify the critique of animal cruelty in cosmic laws, rational imperatives–as if the issue of animal welfare or rights were not controversial and could not be seen in endless ways by diverse groups of people. It had a very uncomfortable authoritarian tone to it: here are the moral laws of the universe; here is moral truth. And he urged the same naïve Socratic belief that contaminates the thinking of the pacifists who dominate the animal advocacy movement – the idea that if we can only reason with people, show them this “Truth,” they will no longer abuse animals. As if there were no violence and cruelty in the human heart, no desire to dominate the weak, no lust for profit off slavery of any group.
And consider the subtitle: notice that he is calling for MERCY (to the slaves) not LIBERATION (of the slaves). And we needed a burdensome arsenal of arcane metaphysics, philosophical, and legal theory to reach this conclusion? A few rights/abolitionist voices tried to expose the severe limitations of this overwrought speciesist and welfarist tome, but they were drowned out by the roar of the multitudes celebrating the movement’s “revolutionary” breakthrough into new social sectors — so “new,” in fact, that there were now more white, elite, and “privileged” people in the animal advocacy/vegan movements than before.
To whatever degree he cares about animals, Scully’s real constituency are rich, white, Republicans and — having written speeches for Bush in the aftermath of 9/11 — he had already become a shining star in the firmament of right-wing ideologues and corporate fat cats, each of whom need the best PR and BS teams they could assemble. And thanks to the fawning adulation of the likes of Karen Dawn, Scully overnight became the new darling of the animal movement. When not making the rounds of Congress or aerial warfare conventions, Scully continued to write speeches for Bush and anyone on the Right with the right fee. And, as it turned out, as so many of us were bracing ourselves for the nauseating Republican National Convention in early September 08, not wanting to hear another disingenuous word from “straight-talking” McCain but curious to hear about unknown Alaskan female governor whom he shrewdly chose to win Hillary’s armies of disaffected, we learned — at this crisis moment and critical juncture for the Far Right — that Matthew Scully stepped in to write the kind of speech the McCain team thought necessary to disguise their malignant and predatory policies in terms of populism and family values. Right-wing soldier that he is, Scully stayed up the entire night before the speech and gave the magic words to which Sara Palin only had to give life in order to sell this sordid spectacle and sham to the US public and bring us another 4 more years of Bush—or probably much, much worse.
The moment was tense. The stakes were high. An unknown — a woman! — was walking onto the stage to accept her party’s nomination for Vice President. But could she prove herself at the podium? Thanks to Scully’s adroit words and Palin’s androgynous mix of feminine soft talk and macho militarism, the chronically anxious Right erupted into a roar of elation as they felt they had, with the addition of Palin, finally found the ticket they wanted — one entirely devoted to militarism and privatization, increasing their already obscene levels of wealth and waging a full-blown culture war against abortion, sex education in the schools, the ban on prayers in pubic places, and so on.
Well, as the right-wing pundits droned on all next day, Palin/Scully “blew it out of the water.” Even Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Joseph Biden said she was going to be “a tough debater” and had “a very skillfully written …speech.” And one awestruck fan gushed, “Palin sounded at times like she was speaking a foreign language as she gave voice to the beautifully crafted words that had been prepared for her on Wednesday night.”
Congratulations, Scully, you did it! You galvanized and unified the most reactionary forces of the country that want to finish the job — on the Constitution, liberties, privacy, human rights at home and abroad, the United Nations, international justice, restrictions on trade, unions, animal protections and the environment — that Bush brought to such a high level in eight years. There is nothing innocent about what Scully does: he is a hack, a propagandist, a demagogue, a mouthpiece for nihilistic ideologies that are anything but “pro-life.” To the degree that Bush, Cheney, McCain, and Palin are truly menacing forces — who threaten not only neighboring nation states but the entire planet itself, Scully is their Paul Joseph Goebbels: a total ideologue, a skilled orator (on paper), and a devotee to the party line.
Whereas Obama is known to have fairly progressive views on animals, Palin is an aggressive supporter of hunting and herself an avid hunter. She goes so far as to champion aerial hunting of wolves and threatened to sue the EPA if they listed the polar bear as an endangered species.[ii] Beyond her regressive views on animals, she has helped mobilize the base of the far Right in a way McCain could not do himself because she is such an extreme conservative. According to MoveOn.Org:
**Palin recently said that the war in Iraq is “God’s task.” She’s even admitted she hasn’t thought about the war much—just last year she was quoted saying, “I’ve been so focused on state government, I haven’t really focused much on the war in Iraq.”
**Palin has actively sought the support of the fringe Alaska Independence Party. Six months ago, Palin told members of the group—who advocate for a vote on secession from the union—to “keep up the good work” and “wished the party luck on what she called its ‘inspiring convention.’”
**Palin wants to teach creationism in public schools. She hasn’t made clear whether she thinks evolution is a fact.
**Palin doesn’t believe that humans contribute to global warming. Speaking about climate change, she said, “I’m not one though who would attribute it to being manmade.”
**Palin has close ties to Big Oil. Her inauguration was even sponsored by BP.
**Palin is extremely anti-choice. She doesn’t even support abortion in the case of rape or incest.
**Palin opposes comprehensive sex-ed in public schools. She’s said she will only support abstinence-only approaches.
**As mayor, Palin tried to ban books from the library. Palin asked the library how she might go about banning books because some had inappropriate language in them—shocking the librarian, Mary Ellen Baker. According to Time, “news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving “full support” to the mayor.” [iii]
Unfortunately, thanks to Scully, Palin’s “homespun” speech (professionally crafted by a DC-insider), was a smash at the RNC, and she “hit it out of the ballpark” as nearly every conservative pundit said the following day. And so we have Scully — who wrote a book critical of hunting – to thank not only for supporting a psychopath whose lust for killing animals perhaps rivals that of Ted Nugent, but for reinvigorating a fascist movement that has excellent chances at winning the next election, and taking the US even deeper into the innermost circles of hell, as somehow I suspect that McCain-Palin will be even worse for the US, the world, animals, and the planet than Bush-Cheney.
And yet, still we hear hardly a word from the animal community about what a thug and criminal Scully is and what a traitor he is to the animals, to fellow humans, and to the entire planet. The most pathetic comment I have heard so far is from Karen Dawn, a well-known animal activist and social butterfly who runs the newsletter, Dawnwatch, which comments on media representations of animal issues. Given her social and economic status – the fact that she lives in the affluent area along the California coastline, that she is a regular in the LA party and cocktail scene, that she loves to see and be seen with celebrities – it is not surprising she takes an apolitical view of animal issues, and in fact believes that this movement ought to strive to be a powerful single-issue, DC-based powerhouse like the NRA.
Here is Dawn’s self-serving, cowardly, and deplorable commentary the day after Palin’s speech:
“The news this week is the Republican Convention, and the animal news is the choice of Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate. Before I write any further on that issue, I need to stress that DawnWatch is entirely non partisan. If you’ve read [her new MTV-style book] Thanking the Monkey you know of my commitment to non-partisan animal activism. It would be unfair to the animals for their advocates to alienate half of the human population. And in Thanking the Monkey, I explain that the somewhat common assumption [which I personally have argued for in detail] that animal advocacy is a left wing issue is false. Democrat voting records are better on animal issues overall, but the exceptions are shining. Republicans John Ensign of Nevada, and Christopher Shays of Connecticut are just two of those current outstanding exceptions. And former Senator Robert Smith of New Hampshire, an ultra right wing conservative, is the only person to date to speak passionately against vivisection on the Senate Floor.
Perhaps most notably, one of the finest books ever written [!] on animal protection is “Dominion: The Power of Man, The Suffering of Animals, and The Call to Mercy.” It is by Matthew Scully, who worked as a senior speechwriter for George W Bush, penning the book on his off hours. Scully sees his compassion, or mercy, for animals, and his vegan lifestyle, as perfectly in line with his Catholic conservative values …
In an extraordinary twist of fate, Scully was selected to write Sarah Palin’s speech, which aired last night. Let us hope that in the time Scully and Palin spent together working on the speech, he began to influence her thinking. I hope every Republican on this list will urge her to read his book!”[iv]
“Let us hope that in the time Scully and Palin spent together working on the speech, he began to influence her thinking.” How naïve and deep in denial can this woman be?! Does Dawn think that Scully and Sarah had a reasonable and open chat about the evils of hunting?! That he gently reminded her that animals are not meat machines to shoot down in cold blood, just as he appreciatively received his lucrative paycheck for selling out the planet by helping some of the most dangerous forces in our history in their bid to win an election? I suspect Scully talked far more with Palin about his fee than her bloody proclivities to kill animals.
Dawn is indeed critical of Palin’s zeal for hunting and her abysmal environmental record, but she would rather be an enabler to this carnage than offend her powerful, rich, and influential friends. I do not exaggerate when I draw a line connecting McCain/Palin to Scully and to opportunists like Dawn.
In contrast to Dawn’s vapid view that we can bring all people and parties into the animal cause, another animal advocate (infinitely more authentic and profound than Dawn), Norm Phelps, penned (in a personal email to me) some extremely critical remarks on Scully and the far Right:
“I think the fact that Matthew Scully wrote her convention speech (which was a masterpiece of viciousness) should give us all pause about the notion that conservatives will ever be serious animal advocates. I used to think that AR [animal rights] was a non-political issue and that we should keep it that way in the interests of converting as many people as possible and having the greatest impact on society. I no longer think that. I now believe that the mindset that leads conservatives to pursue policies that are hostile to the well-being of most of humanity (everyone except themselves and those to whom they are close) almost invariably leads them to policies that are hostile to the well-being of most animals (everyone except those to whom they are personally close, such as their companion animals).
“There is nothing that I find more perplexing and discouraging than the blatant speciesism that is rampant in most progressive circles. But in spite of this, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the liberal to progressive end of the political spectrum is where we have to concentrate our efforts and where we will ultimately find our victory. Conservatives can, in many cases, be persuaded to welfarism (properly so called, not as redefined by the so-called “abolitionists”), but not to AR. Scully’s vehement denunciations of AR in Dominion are, I think, an important indicator of this, as is the fact that this man who wrote so eloquently of the suffering of animals could put his gifts in the service of a woman who practices and celebrates all manner of barbaric cruelty to animals. Scully obviously considers the lives and suffering of animals less important than politics as usual.”
Phelps is right to argue that the Left is just as abysmal in its views on animals, and yet draws this distinction:
“The speciesism of liberals/progressives contradicts their fundamental values, which creates an opportunity for animal advocates. The speciesism of conservatives reinforces their fundamental values, which creates a solid wall. But I still think it is dangerous for the AR movement, as a movement, to align with other social justice movements until we have succeeded in raising their consciousness about animals to the point that the alliance can be formed on a basis of at least approximate equality. And I think a lot of groundwork needs to be done before we reach that point. I guess where I’m headed is that we need to be taking that groundwork seriously and getting busy at it—which, of course, is what you’ve been doing for some time now.”[v]
While I agree with Phelps that Leftists are Paleolithic in their views on animals and we should not be too ready to tie ourselves to a human rights/social justice platform as it is, and that we do need indeed to educate the Left, I have also disagreed with him (in quite friendly terms) that animal liberation is winnable without human and Earth liberation and a progressive alliance politics that fights against the main threat to the planet today, which is the capitalist grow-or-die economy.[vi]
But while we examine the problems with both the Right and the Left, let us not lose focus on the idiocy, cowardice, and opportunism in our own movement, for there are far too many “animal advocates” who are in fact advocates for something far less noble: money, power, glory, fame, and self—advancement. If it was not obvious with the writing of Dominion six years ago, Scully in particular has since revealed himself to be a sham, fraud, charlatan, prevaricator, hypocrite, and (neo-)con man, an enemy not only to animals, but also a de facto opponent of women, science, secularism, freedom of speech, and the environment.
Like the politicians he serves, Scully talks out of both sides of his mouth at once and serves each and every contradictory cause that advances his own good. No principled or consistent person writes a book against hunting, and then writes a speech for a vicious defender of hunting and avid killer herself. Can any animal advocate among us ever imagine doing this?! This is the moral and logical contradiction that would haunt a Kantian, someone with a conscience, anyone with principles or moral consistency. But it never troubles a utilitarian-opportunist.
In a nation rife with political and historical idiocy, layer upon layer of confusion, and pernicious myths linking capitalism with democracy and justice, the masses are so easily manipulated by the power elite that they can be convinced that the Clintons (who are at best center left on the political spectrum) are communists!
And nor is his work done. The Far Right loved his Palin speech so much that they will surely contract him again. Without hyperbole, I say that Scully is less a “progressive vegan and animal welfarist” than he is a reactionary and a dangerous man. He has been the words, phrases, metaphors, rhetoric, narratives, jokes, and overall a key voice and mouthpiece of the Extreme Right who want to take this country back to pre-Enlightenment, pre-secular medieval serfdom where rights mean only property rights, liberty falls to security and hierarchy, and democracy is a forgotten dream.
To end by reiterating a crucial point: Mathew (Straight-Laced, Compassionate Conservative, Corporate and Family Values Man,) Scully is not just a hypocrite or opportunist. He is a menace to all life, beings, species, and nature. This is not an ad hominem attack, it is simply a fact. Look who he works for and examine what they do. Because of the gigantic powers he brings to life, puffs up, drives forward, and legitimates with the rhetoric of his folksy, small-town populism, he represents gigantic global corporations that destroy families and communities. Because Scully casts the spell and brings out the smoke and mirrors that cover up lies and package a hideous program of destruction as “progress,” and because he gets the job done, time after time, Scully is a significant danger — and I do not exaggerate — to this entire planet.
Scully’s real project is not “dominion.” It is domination–corporate hegemony of the planet and the advancement of the US Empire. To the extent his discursive artistry helps to disarm Congress and to lull Americans back into their complacent and jingoistic sleep, Scully shares responsibility with Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, Gonzalez, Rice, Halliburton, ExxonMobil, Monsanto, and ConAgra for turning this beautiful planet into a living hell for most of its inhabitants and for leaving behind a wasteland and battlefield that will prove even more difficult (if not impossible) for future generations to survive, as ever more species vanish forever.
[i] For data on the ever-mounting numbers of Iraqi civilians and US soldiers killed and injured, see the Iraq Body Count website at: http://www.iraqbodycount.org/. On the soaring costs of the war, see Linda J. Bilmes and Joseph E. Stiglitz, “The Iraq War Will Cost Us $3 Trillion, and Much More,” Sunday March 9, 2008, The Washington Post, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/07/AR2008030702846_pf.html.
[ii] On Palin’s regressive record on animals and the environment, see John Dolan, “Party whores: Sarah Palin’s Big, Sleazy Safari,” September 2, 2008, AlterNet, at: http://www.alternet.org/story/97207/sarah_palin%27s_big%2C_sleazy_safari/; “Environmentalists can’t corral Palin: GOP vice presidential candidate nicknamed the ‘killa from Wasilla’, Associated Press, posted September 4, at MSNBC.com, at: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26546967/; and ““SARAH PALIN SUPPORTS SHOOTING WOLVES AND BEARS FROM AIRPLANES,” Defenders of Wildlife, at: http://www.defendersactionfund.org/. This page includes a disturbing video link to what this barbaric practice that Palin ardently supports looks like in reality.
[iii] “Who is Sarah Palin,” MoveOn.Org., at: http://pol.moveon.org/emails/palin_announcement.html?rc=homepage.
[iv] Karen Dawn, “Palin provides vital opportunities for animal friendly letters,” September 4, 2008, at:
[v] Phelps cited with permission in a personal email to me on September 4, 2008.
[vi] Steven Best, “Rethinking Revolution: Animal Liberation, Human Liberation, and the Future of the Left,” The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy, Volume 2, Issue #3, June 2006; at: http://www.inclusivedemocracy.org/journal/vol2/vol2_no3_Best_rethinking_revolution.htm
Steven Best, Ph.D. is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas, El Paso. He has published numerous books and articles on philosophy, cultural criticism, social theory and animal rights. He has appeared on TV shows like Extra! and is frequently interviewed by national print and radio media including the New York Times and National Public Radio. Best is Cyrano’s Journal Special Editor for Animal Rights, Speciesisim and Human Tyranny over Nature.
h/t: Andrew via email
Subject: Comment from a NYTimes reader
Given how mean-spirited Palin’s speech was, particularly her community organizer digs, I thought that this was quite snappy:-)
“Mrs. Palin needs to be reminded that Jesus Christ was a community organizer and Pontius Pilate was a governor.”
Sent to me by Jason Miller from Thomas Paine’s Corner. Thanks, Jason.
By Dr. Steve Best
In August 2005, when HSUS (hereafter think “H$U$”) Executive Vice President Mike Markarian publicly “applaud[ed]” the FBI for arresting and imprisoning six amazing activists from Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), my outrage over this self-serving betrayal of activists and animals alike inspired me to write “The Iron Cage of Bureaucracy,” a fierce critique of HSUS and its chief executive, Wayne Pacelle. I condemned HSUS for its divisive attacks on animal rights militants, its bureaucratic rigidity, its cowardly conformism, and its disturbingly cozy relationships with the animal exploiters they claim to oppose. Continue reading
Currently, it is estimated that in the US “somewhere between two percent and five percent of the nation’s eaters classify themselves as vegetarians, of that number perhaps five percent are strict vegans” (Koerner 2007). Although “vegetarians” renounce animal flesh, they consume animal fluids (milk and milk-derivates such as cheese, yogurt, butter, and ice cream) and/or eggs. The vegetarian tribe is divided into “lacto-ovo” vegetarians who eat dairy products and eggs, “lacto-vegetarians” who eat dairy but no eggs, and “ovo-vegetarians” who eat eggs but no dairy. Some describe themselves as “vegetarians” who eat fish (“pescetarians”) or chicken (“pollo-vegetarians”) or both (“pesco-pollo vegetarians”). In truth, these oxymoronic hybridists are carnivores whose pretense to vegetarianism depends on the double fallacy of equating “meat” with “red meat” and conflating sentient beings (e.g., chicken and fish) with nonsentient things (plants).
But vegetarianism itself has been criticized as inadequate and inconsistent by a more radical approach known as “veganism” (pronounced “vee-gun-ism). For every reason vegetarians renounce meat-eating, vegans find it necessary also to repudiate dairy, cheese, eggs, and honey; clothing items such as fur, leather, wool, and silk; and animal-tested products including shampoo, cosmetics, and, drugs. Vegans believe that vegetarians only partially – and therefore inconsistently — break from a health-destroying, violent, and ecocidal system. For, like meat and the livestock industry, dairy and egg products are toxic and disease-promoting; milk cows, birds in battery cages, and veal calves are confined and killed for “lacto-ovo” consumption; and dairy and egg farms pollute the air and water. Thus, vegan pioneer Donald Watson (1910-2005) disparaged vegetarianism as “but a half-way house between flesh eating and a truly humane, civilised diet” (1944). As with vegetarianism there are sub-categories of veganism, including fruitarianism, raw food veganism, and freeganism (a minimal consumption lifestyle).
“Vegetarianism” (which I will use here to include veganism) has a long and rich history as old as Western society itself (see Berry 1998, Iacobbo and Iacobbo 2004, Spencer 2002, Walters and Portmess 1999 and 2001, Spencer 2004, Tristram 2007, and Phelps 2007. As a health-promoting diet and an ethic rooted in compassion for all living beings (ahimsa), vegetarianism emerged over three thousand years ago as a philosophy and practice of the ancient religions: Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. From this matrix, vegetarianism migrated into Western society through the Greek philosopher, Pythagoras (ca 496-552 BCE), whose vegetarianism and animal protectionist ethics spread throughout the ancient world and resurfaced in the seventeenth century (indeed, until 1847, those who abstained from meat were called “Pythagoreans”). At the dawn of modernity, vegetarianism became increasingly influential throughout European society, such that radicals deployed its non-violent and egalitarian outlook as a critical weapon against class rule and Western barbarism and prominent medical figures espoused it as ideal for health and morality as well (Stuart 2007).
Deep Vegetarianism, Radical Holism, and the Omnicidal Juggernaut of Corporate Agriculture
In the turn to the twentieth century, however, the influence of vegetarianism in the US began to wane as the livestock industry became increasingly powerful and meat became an affordable staple for working-class families (Rifkin 1992). Amidst a culture believing that meat promotes strength and vegetarianism encourages weakness, a dramatic revival, growth, and broadening of vegetarianism began in 1971, with the publication of Francis Moore Lappe’s book, Diet for a Small Planet. In this and subsequent books (1977, 1998, 2003), Lappe described a corporate-controlled, industrialized, factory-farmed system of animal agriculture that was inefficient, wasteful, cruel, and destructive to every facet of the environment. The global livestock industry was, as well, a vehicle of Western imperialism that displaced millions of people from the land, destroyed independent farmers, exacerbated poverty and inequality, and aggravated world hunger by diverting resources into producing feed rather than food. To this destructive, unethical, unjust, and unsustainable system of agriculture, Lappe contrasted a vegetarian mode of farming that produced maximum output with minimum input; that promoted health, rights, justice, and democracy; and that was environmentally sound and sustainable.
Lappe’s work — along with Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation (1975), Singer and Jim Mason’s Animal Factories (1990 ), and John Robbins’ Diet for a New America (1998 ) — vividly portrayed the human, animal, and environmental costs of the global meat culture and inspired the vegetarian environmentalism movement. The panoramic outlook advanced here fused issues of health, animal rights, social justice, world hunger, violence, globalization, and environmentalism into a holistic theory unrivalled in depth, comprehensiveness, and awareness of the multidimensional crisis – health, moral, social, and environmental – facing humanity. Since these theorists’ pioneering lead, a number of significant books have documented the central role of the livestock industry in the devastation of the social and natural worlds (see Mason and Singer 1990 , Jacobs 1992, Rifkin 1992, Hill 1996, Robbins 2001, Lyman 2001, and Jacobson 2006). Beginning in the 1990s, vegetarian environmentalists described how the livestock industry was the principle cause of the most serious threat confronting humanity: global warming.
By 2000, growing alarm over the human, animal, and environmental toll of the global meat, dairy, and egg industries percolated into scientific sectors, international government bodies, and – in a bewilderingly slow and hesitant way – some mainstream environmental groups such as the Sierra Club. Throughout 400 startling pages, a landmark 2006 United Nations report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” identified the livestock industry “as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global” (Steinfeld et. al. 2006). The data compiled in this report and countless thousands of corroborating studies leave little room for doubt in identifying the livestock industry as the main planetary threat. The number of farmed animals in the world has quadrupled in the last 50 years, putting an incredible strain on air, land, and sea. Livestock uses 70 percent of all agricultural land and 30 percent of the earth’s entire land surface (Steinfeld et. al. 2006). Crops grown for animal feed rather than human food consume 87 percent of the nation’s fresh water, 90 percent of the soy crop, 80 percent of its corn, and 50 percent of all grains (Vesterby and Krupa 1997, Pimentel 1997). Compared to a vegetarian diet, meat production demands 7 times more land (Leckie 2007), 8 times more fossil fuel energy (Pimenel 1997), and ten times as many crops (Cornel University Science News, 1997, Robbins 1998 and 2001, Horrigan et. al. 2002). In this grotesquely irrational, inefficient, indirect system of carnivorous consumption, 41 million tons of plant protein for cows returns a paltry 7 million tons of protein for humans (Pimentel 1997).
Not only inefficient and wasteful, the livestock industry is a key cause of air pollution, soil erosion, and desertification, and the main source of water pollution. Agriculture produces two-thirds of the ammonia gases that produce acid rain. US farms generate 130 times as much excrement as the nation’s entire population (Worldwatch Institute 1998). Factory farm effluvia – a toxic brew of manure, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and fertilizers — poison water supplies, decimate fish populations, degrade coral reefs, and have generated over 150 oxygen-starved “dead zones” in the oceans (Larsen 2004).
Moreover, 70 percent of the Amazon rainforest has been slashed and burned to graze cattle and much of the remainder goes to producing feed. In addition to being a principle cause of forest destruction and species extinction, the livestock industry is the primary cause of global warming (Steinfeld et. al. 2006). Meat, dairy, and egg industries emit 18 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions, 37 percent of the methane gas (20 times stronger a heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide), and 65 percent of nitrous oxide gases (300 times more potent than carbon dioxide). The UN report concluded that the livestock industry produced more greenhouse gases than the world’s transportation systems combined (Steinfeld et. al. 2006).
The Missing Piece to the Puzzle
These alarming facts clearly demonstrate the importance of vegetarianism and animal rights for environmentalism and the urgency of finding the common ground for a triangular alliance. Yet rather than uniting in the war to prevent massive die-offs, catastrophic breakdown, and irreversible climate change, vegetarian and environmental camps divided, torn apart by deep differences in philosophy and lifestyle (see Motavalli 2002, Sapontzis 2004). Both camps break with the domineering and dualistic mindset of anthropocentrism, but whereas vegetarians and animal rights advocates reject its mirror image in speciesism, environmentalists cling to speciesist ethics that privilege human interests and frame animals as resources for human use.
Environmentalists promote the need for a new “ecological consciousness” and “land ethic,” but rarely if ever champion vegetarianism and a new ethic to govern our relation with other species. Whereas vegetarians identify themselves as environmentalists, few environmentalists embrace vegetarianism. At stake are competing views on animal rights, whether or not hunting and meat-eating are ethical and compatible with environmental values, and how to balance the values of individuals and ecosystems.
Thrill Kill Cult
Ethical vegetarians shift the criterion for having rights from rationality to the far broader characteristic of sentience, such that a necessary and sufficient condition of having rights is the capacity to experience pleasure and pain (Singer 1975, Regan 1983). Given the fundamental moral axiom that it is wrong to cause injury, suffering, or death to another individual unless there is a compelling reason to do so, ethical vegetarians argue that — except in very rare cases such as self-defense or “subsistence” hunting — we never have adequate reason to harm animals. This is true not only for exploiting animals for “sport,” “entertainment,” and fur, but also killing them for food.
Many environmentalists opposed to industrial agriculture agree that factory farming is cruel and unethical, but nonetheless assert that animals raised on small “family” farms without intensive confinement and manipulation is acceptable and good. Their justifications for raising animals for slaughter include the argument that animals would not live at all if not bred for food, that they live a satisfying and worthy life on non-industrial farms, that killing and consuming others is a natural fact of life, and that animals exist to serve the interests of human beings. This position turns on a “welfare” rather than “rights” position (see Regan 2004), such that the moral wrong is in causing animals severe or unnecessary suffering (such as on factory farms) rather than exploiting them for human purposes. On the welfare view, slaughtering animals for food is ethical, so long as it is done “humanely” – a concept ethical vegetarians dismiss as Orwellian doublespeak, insisting that there is nothing “humane” about violent killing.
Whereas vegetarians view hunting as unnecessary and therefore unjustifiable killing, environmentalists support hunting as a recreational lifestyle. Indeed, they argue that hunting has positive ecological benefits by stabilizing game populations such as deer that would otherwise overpopulate (Lott 2007, Miniter 2007). Vegetarians respond that hunting in fact is the prime cause of deer overpopulation, and argue that hunters’ predilection to kill large healthy males over weaker individuals and females disrupts ecological and evolutionary dynamics (Pickover 2005). Unlike the animal rights ethic, which defends the rights of sentient individuals as inviolable, environmentalism is a holistic ethic that values ecosystems and species populations over individuals. Whereas many environmentalists champion Aldo Leopold’s “land ethic” (1970) as the most comprehensive embrace of the biotic community (Callicott 1993), animal rights philosopher Tom Regan (1983) denounced it as “environmental fascism” that sacrifices the individual to the whole. Others still worked to reconcile these contrasting positions (Jamieson 1997).
While some environmentalists might agree with vegetarians that factory farming is cruel, they support obtaining meat from non-commercial wild sources through “sustainable” hunting and fishing. Moreover, environmentalists argue that small-scale, organic farming is “humane” and beneficial for the environment (Eisenstein 2002, Pollan 2007). Whereas low value land – such as prairie and steppe regions – is unsuited for plants, it can be used to graze cows and sheep and thereby improves land efficiency and productivity (Science Daily 2007, Land 2007). Rebutting vegetarians who boast the ecological virtues of a plant-based diet, environmentalists point out that a frugal organic farmer who consumes modest amounts of meat from his own cows can leave a lighter “ecological footprint” than a vegetarian who drives a Hummer, is a frequent flyer, and buys produce from global rather than local sources.
Such a scenario could indeed be true, but vegetarians respond that they have not taken an innocent life to satisfy their need to eat and they resent the glib and clichéd responses by environmentalists concerning the value of an animal’s life. As the world has yet recognize a global ecological crisis spiraling out of control (Agence-France Presse 2007), vegetarians rightly argue that environmentalists have been slow to grasp the disastrous impact of meat consumption. Vegetarians point out that environmentalists have not explained how their vision of a global network of small farms can satisfy the competitive need for profits (Collin 2003), let alone the surging demand for meat — especially in the world’s most populous nations, China and India – and a burgeoning population projected to double to 12 billion by 2050 (Worldwatch Institute 1998, Steinfeld et. al. 2006, Freston 2007). Moreover, they argue, environmentalists’ uncritical praise for “organic farming” as the alternative to factory farming confuses hype for reality and increasingly is yet another form of mass production and killing of animals (Cienfuegos 2004, Davis 2007, PETA).
Now or Never
In sum, environmentalists’ work on behalf wilderness preservation benefits animals and ecological holism is a necessary broadening of ethics beyond the “sentientism” of ethical vegetarianism. Animal rights campaigns to protect species are crucial for sustaining ecological systems, and vegetarians promote a comprehensive vision for a new world. These are fertile grounds for alliance politics, and yet there are deep if not incommensurable differences over the ethics of meat-eating and hunting, a sentientist ethic opposed to a land ethic, and the value of ecosystems and populations contrasted to the rights of individual animals. While it remains to be seen whether these differences can be negotiated in favor of a strategic alliance, but it is certain that productive working relationships among the vegetarian, animal rights, and environmental communities would give humanity more of a fighting chance to confront the greatest challenge it has ever faced.
Vegetarianism is not a panacea for ever-worsening social and environmental crises, but it is a crucial part of major changes that people — in the developed worlds above all — must make. These include reducing their population numbers and consumption levels and shifting from industrial to local agriculture, from chemically-intensive to organic farming, and from fossil-fuel to alternative energy. Yet the shift from a meat-based to a vegetarian or plant-based diet would benefit not only the environment in every facet, but also endangered species, billions of animals suffering in factory farms and slaughterhouses, farmers displaced from their land, and billions of people suffering from diseases of excess (in the developed world) and of lack (in the undeveloped world).
Moving from a carnocentric diet is especially important in the US, whose citizens consume 260 pounds of meat per year, more than any other nation. The mountain of meat quaffed by glutinous Americans is 1.5 times the industrial world average, three times the East Asian average, and 40 times the average in Bangladesh. Some researchers are optimistic that even small reduction in meat consumption by enough people in the US and other Western nations could have a significant regenerative impact on the earth. Leo Horrigan of the Center for a Livable Future writes: “One personal act that can have a profound impact on these [environmental] issues is reducing meat consumption… Considering [the tonnage Americans consume] even modest reductions in meat consumption … would substantially reduce the burden on our natural resources.”
If true, small changes can have large consequences if enough people accept the responsibility and take the initiative. Vegetarians can considerably lighten their ecological footprint by going vegan; vegans can always waste, consume, and pollute less; and both should be active in social movements rather than being lifestyle environmentalists trying to heal the planet one tofuburger at a time. And if environmentalists are not changing their ideas, lifestyles, policies, platforms, and priorities to address the issues engaged head-on by the vegetarian communities, I cannot think of a more momentous failure in their professed calling to defend the earth.
Dr. Steve Best is Cyrano’s Journal Special Editor for Animal Rights, Speciesisim and Human Tyranny over Nature.
Award-winning writer, noted speaker, public intellectual, and seasoned activist, Steven Best engages the issues of the day such as animal rights, ecological crisis, biotechnology, liberation politics, terrorism, mass media, globalization, and capitalist domination. Best has published 10 books, over 100 articles and reviews, spoken in over a dozen countries, interviewed with media throughout the world, appeared in numerous documentaries, and was voted by VegNews as one of the nations “25 Most Fascinating Vegetarians.” He has come under fire for his uncompromising advocacy of “total liberation” (humans, animals, and the earth) and has been banned from the UK for the power of his thoughts. From the US to Norway, from Sweden to France, from Germany to South Africa, Best shows what philosophy means in a world in crisis.
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