This is a rambling response to a question someone I respect posed in her blog:
How can you advocate for a bill to “protect animals and their owners from harm” and eat another animal that night for dinner? How can you allow another animal to go through the terrifying, horrendous, oppressive, and murderous process that it takes to get its body or its products onto your plate? Because it’s not as cute as a dog?
domestication itself is oppressive. we shouldn’t “own” anything. we shouldn’t have “pets” — that’s just another euphemism for anthropocentric system of the enslavement and control of other species. and we shouldn’t be thinking in inherently abusive and exploitative terms such as “resources” (“sustainable resource management” is an oxymoron). [all that begs the question, what SHOULD we be doing?]
that makes us all hypocrites (no matter, we were all hypocrites to begin with anyway). i love Derrick Jensen’s explanation of why hypocrisy is (to an extent) irrelevant, and often an tool and excuse to continue or excuse oppressive thought and behavior:
we kill things to live. violence and death are a part of life. oppression doesn’t have to be, though. there’s a deal implicit in our consumption, embodied by native cultures that have depended for thousands of years on close, even intimate localized relationship with salmon (and other life): i eat you to live, i take upon myself the responsibility of doing everything i can to ensure the welfare of your population.
in the context of our dependence on modern industrial society (yes, iPhones and computers included) we fail to uphold our end of this deal. not only with other animals, but with all living things. each iPhone is the product of dozens of pounds of mined materials, toxic waste and the energy infrastructure to power the entire process. how many animals (humans and non-humans) die for each iPhone in existence?
i have no problem with veganism as a diet. as a political philosophy, i don’t think it goes nearly deep or far enough. eating is inherently violent. the first predators appeared shortly after the first autotrophs, and there is mounting evidence that even autotrophs are predatory in some manner (ref. Christian de Quincey: Radical Nature — consciousness is inherent in all matter).
Because one thing is for certain – we’ll never end violence against women as long as we allow violence of any type to occur.
This is dismal to me, because the terminal conclusions of this logic argues that all living things should just commit suicide, in order to stop the violence inherent in living. when i walk, i trample the ground, compress it, kill the living soil, kill insects, smash seeds. i casually walk through carefully-woven webs that took a spider a large portion of their life to build. i am an accidental godzilla. sometimes i even smash seeds intentionally that were otherwise capable of sprouting into full-grown plants when i use my mortar and pestal. but that is nothing compared to what we do via Kat and concrete.
overall, the salmon of the pacific northwest benefited from the natives who harvested (relatively few of) them each run. until we displaced those cultures — ones that idealogical veganism would define as morally reprehensible by virtue of their violent dependence on the flesh of vertebrates — with ours, one of dams, pesticides, toxins, clear cuts, overfishing, genocide, femicide, and a massive sense of entitlement. entitlement to use force and violence several times that which is necessary to be happy and healthy, amplified through modern technology. a dependence on power and technology, rather than on skill and technique.
in certain parts of the world, it is impossible to gain adequate sustainable nutrition from the local ecosystem without some sort of dependence on animal flesh or other animal products — mostly through relationships with ruminants of some sort. i consume. you consume. there are microbes that consume us all…most after we die, some while we are alive.
i don’t think the momma deer cares much whether her calf dies at the hands of a skilled human hunter who apologizes and gives thanks or at the jaws of a pack of wolves who rip out its trachea and break its neck. do the wolves apologize and give thanks? the savagery of the wolf hunt is arguably more painful and terrifying than falling asleep to a poison dart. that doesn’t make it more oppressive. in yellowstone, trees started dying when humans drove out or killed the wolves. the deer population exploded, and they started killing off all the young trees. the old ones died, and there were no young to replace them. by introducing the wolves back to yellowstone, we (humans) righted our wrong and helped the deer once again uphold their end of the bargain: consuming the flesh of trees, protecting the welfare of the tree population.
the people i’ve met who have cared the most about the oppressive, sociopathic destruction of the environment of the pacific northwest — enough to actually do something meaningful about it — are by and large hunters or fishers (natives or the like). they care because they see the entire popualtions of the animals with which they’ve entered into a deal (your life for mine, and my life for the welfare of your population) systematically threatened or destroyed by the insensitive, excessive practices of our culture.
Evan Stark argues that violence is just one of many tactics and strategies men use in a patriarchy to systematically control and entrap women. the movement to end violence against women has stalled insofar as we fail to see the more fundamental problem of the systemic crimes against women’s liberties, of which certain types of violence are a symptom — a means to a larger end.
anthropologists have long observed the connection between the way we treat one-another and the way we treat our non-human environment. to pretend that we can live free from any connection to violence is to either submit fully to the decontextualized sense of self (cogito ergo sum) that underlies many of the problems we face, or to wish suicide upon ourselves by turning the violence necessary for our life inward — a form of cannibalism.
the world will be less violent without oppression, but it will not lack violence, nor will it lack tragedy. it will, however, lack much of the intensity and infuriating arbitrariness of the violence that humans unleash upon one-another and the rest of the world, such as the heart-wrenching story about a husband’s abuse/murder of a dog as a means of threatening/controlling/punishing someone else.
when we’ve abolished the oppressive system of domestication (including pet ownership) and let other species roam wild and free, i will get back to you on your question of “why not dogs?” and the answer at that point will be simple and practical. in the mean time: i don’t much see dogs as food right now. “cuteness” is arbitrary for me, and has nothing to do with whether i see something as food. i accept that there are others who do see dogs as food, and that’s fine to me. AJ is a part of my family, and i protect him (and he protects me) as family.
one of the problems with oppression is in projecting a narrow, exploitative definition of purpose onto another: your sole point in life is to serve/benefit me. we look at a forest and see board feet. we look at cows and see beef.
in sustainable cultures, the perception of others as “consumables” is a fleeting, momentary phenomena, often highly ritualized to clearly demarcate the boundaries. most of the time, others are autonomous beings. overall, this is a much more respectful and ethical way to interact than hegemonically failing to see the forest through the board feet, so to speak.
the fact that we raise animals/plants “as food” or “materials” is oppressive and wrong — not the fact that we consume them. those are two completely unrelated things that needn’t coexist (and haven’t coexisted for the vast majority of human history!).