Tuesday, 20 May 2008
By Dr. Steve Best
As ye sow, so shall ye reap
Endless resource wars, globalization, privatization, profits over life, exploitation, raping the Earth, poisoning and irradiating the environment, exponentially criminal levels of unnecessary suffering caused by the concentration of wealth into the hands of a few, Climate Change, alarming rates of species extinction, Peak Oil, a jungle of cronyism and corruption so dense you couldnt hack your way through it with the sharpest of machetes, and increasingly powerful monopoly entities intensifying their stranglehold on the free market are the rotting fruits that comprise the bitter harvest we are reaping by the bushel-basketful.
And our Karmas not through with us yet. Not by a long-shot. As long as we maintain our jejune, myopic, and infinitely idiotic devotion to capitalism, all but a select few of the Earths inhabitants will continue to suffer unnecessarily. Ultimately, our malignant system, premised as it is on infinite growth and the relentless pursuit of profit, will be our undoing and will destroy the planet. While it is true that many of the ills that capitalism has amplified into crises have plagued humanity in some fashion throughout history, and it is clear that we all harbor varying degrees of greed, ruthlessness, and selfishness in our hearts, at what point do we wake up and recognize that we are committing mass homicide, ecocide, and suicide through our monumentally stupid loyalty to a socioeconomic paradigm that essentially ensures that most human beings will frequently manifest the most rotten aspects of their natures?
When Dr. Steve Best (our czar of animal and earth liberation at Cyranos Journal Online) agreed to my request for an interview via email, I had no inkling that the result would be such a powerful intellectual weapon in the struggle against capitalism.
Departing from his passionate commitment to animal liberation, Dr. Steve Best presents an incredibly comprehensive and convincing case that it is both morally imperative and essential to the continued existence of life on Earth that we anti-capitalists prevail:
1. What inspired you to become a leading intellectual proponent of the Animal Liberation movement?
I dont know how leading I am (or intellectual), and the elitist tinges of this Marxs intelligentsia as the head of the body of the sensate working masses sets off a riot of discordant sounds in my head as it is disharmonious with the decentralist emphasis of anarchism and ALF principles. All that aside, however, its not like I have a cutthroat squadron of American Idol-like professoriate contestants vying for my title. Or, I might say, the Kiss of Death on the academic market. Its sad but true, that no other philosophers certainly not dogmatic peaceniks like Peter Singer, Tom Regan, and Gary Francione have slithered down the brick walls of the ivory tower with their bed sheets to proclaim their allegiance to the most elementary moral principle and axiom of common sense the right to self-defense (whereby we are what I call the extensional or proxy agents of animals who for the most part cannot defend themselves).
So, as for those who have burned their paper-thin veneer of detached, objective scholarly commitment and ripped off the straightjacket of academic normalization, I stand alone. Or at least among a crowd large enough to dance on the head of a pin. Some academics have written about animal and earth liberation issues, and some defend animal liberation tactics amidst beer-induced bravado, but few make the transition from scholarship of animal liberation to public advocacy, which I think is crucial. And of course I have in mind here a particularly type of peddle-to-the-metal advocacy that flouts corporate/speciesist laws and defends pretty much whatever it takes to break down the doors that hold animals captive to the most brutal bastards Satan could conjure up, including criminal action and sabotage tactics and of course the ALF will emblazon the night with a fire bomb but not harm a hair on a vivisectors head, apropos to their nonviolent credo. But the peaceniks regurgitate the repressive and speciesist discourse of the corporate-state complex and demonize the tough tactics all-too often needed to liberate an animal as terrorist or violence. But no sooner do they bray these platitudes of betrayal do they sink in the quicksand of hypocrisy and inconsistency. For any schoolchild knows that sometimes sabotage and even violence are necessary to stop evil.
Lets face facts: academics on the whole are a cowardly bunch of self-serving narcissists, spineless sycophants who eschew controversy and pathetically ingratiate themselves with administrators and bureaucrats. First, they are normalized into silence and conformity in order to win their bid for tenure, a highly political process that dispatches iconoclasts, non-conformists, and proponents of radical or controversial ideas. After enduring 5 years of submissiveness and self-repression, newly tenured professors theoretically have the right to speak their minds freely, but by then they often are thoroughly conditioned and co-opted, and there are always further rewards and punishments dangled in front of them, meted out according to the speech-acts they choose. These superfluous gasbags and oxygen thieves could possibly redeem themselves if they began each day by studying the spine-shivering words of Dr. Martin Luther King (who didnt fear losing his life, let alone a job): Cowardice asks the question: Is it safe? Expediency asks the question: Is it politic? Vanity asks the question: Is it popular? But conscience asks the question: Is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it simply because it is right.
That said, it is important that academics do speak out in favor of any and all liberation movements because, for better or worse, society tends to accord them some degree of respectability, more than to the young anarchist with nose rings and purple spike-haired. Thus, academics play an important role in helping to legitimate a movement like the ALF and radicalism in general, and it is a sign of maturity and growth when liberation movements are studied by scholars. Moreover, rather than degenerate in chronic and excessive onanistic bouts with esoteric and meaningless theory-babble, academics can use their analytical skills to speak and write persuasively about radical causes and the meaningful and urgent issues of the day. They should get their head out of the clouds because it is hell here on earth. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.
Every serious liberation movement has had its historians, interpreters, scholars, and public representatives, and it is high time that these people emerge in support of animal and earth liberation movements. This was one of the core reasons that seven years ago I co-founded (with Tony Nocella) the Institute for Critical Animal Studies (ICAS)(http://www.criticalanimalstudies.org/). ICAS is the first and only scholarly center dedicated to philosophical research and dialogue on the principles and practices of animal liberation and how it relates to environmental and social justice struggles. Thus, we prefer to speak of total liberation (of humans, animals, and the earth) as it all hangs together. The Center promotes philosophical discussion of these issues through an online journal, research databases, a speakers bureau, and conferences on total liberation issues.
Whereas other scholars and the entire field of animal studies runs from and censors discussion of issues such as direct action, sabotage, revolutionary change, and radical alliance politics, these issues are the sine qua non of our journal, The Journal for Critical Animal Studies (http://www.criticalanimalstudies.org/JCAS/index.htm), and we proudly and gladly provide a completely unique peer-reviewed forum for radical theory and politics, especially for viewpoints identifying the centrality of animal liberation and ethical veganism for other liberation projects.
2. In coming to animal consciousness, did you have a sudden epiphany, was it a gradual evolution, or did your enlightenment occur in some other way?
No, it came in bursts and leaps, not gradually. I had a number of epiphanies along the path of my intellectual and political evolution. The first epiphany, the one that led me down the path of veganism and ultimately to a position of animal consciousness, happened 25 years ago in a White Castle fast food restaurant (talk about profane spaces!) in Chicago as I was biting into a double cheeseburger. As I usually ordered just a single cheeseburger, the double was so excessive, so over the top, so absolutely dripping with gore and vile, that I was completely nauseated. For the first time in my carnivorous life I made a concrete connection between the processed slop in my hands and the bones, tissues, muscles, tendons, blood, and life of an animal. With no prior knowledge of vegetarian issues no contact with any book, video, speaker, or person of this persuasion I threw the burger out in utter revulsion. I stumbled around in a dietary no mans land for two months, not knowing what to eat, until I met some vegetarians who assured me of the value of my uninvited intuition and pointed me in the right direction.
As a newly awakened vegetarian in the early 1980s, I was also becoming a dedicated human rights activist involved with Central American and South African liberation issues. Although alert to the health impact of meat and dairy products, I had no clue about the innumerable barbaric ways human beings exploit animals. Even while researching the evils of juntas, death squads, genocide, fascism, and imperialism, my picture of humanity and the world was still too rosy. That changed in the midst of a second stunning epiphany when in 1987 I read Peter Singers book, Animal Liberation. Like so many other people, that book changed my life in an instant. I became ill from the emotional stress of what I was learning about the exploitation of animals in factory farms, slaughterhouses, vivisection labs, and other human-manufactured hellholes.
Once I recovered from the shock, I exuviated into a very different person. Realizing that animals suffered far more than human beings in the quantity and quality of their pain, suffering, and death, I shifted from human rights to animal rights activism. Whereas most human beings have at least some rights, no animals have the most basic right to life and bodily integrity. When I studied the impact of meat production on world hunger and the environment, I realized that by helping the animals I would also be helping humans in the most productive way possible. In a third epiphany, I saw animal rights as the most radical, complete, and holistic form of activism.
I might say I had a fourth epiphany regarding the need and justification for militant tactics such as sabotage, and this completely opened my mind tactically and philosophically, such that I could begin to think and argue in a consistent and coherent way that escapes every animal advocate who renounces ALF tactics as violent, terrorist, or morally illegitimate. This happened in the late 1990s during the process of researching a book I co-edited with Tony (entitled Terrorists of Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals (Lantern Books, 2001). Ineluctably, I found myself inexorably moving from a neutral position to one of agreement with ALF philosophy and tactics. It just seemed eminently logical to defend, even knowing in detail what the objections were against it (as I laid out in the introduction to the book), and it was just a matter of giving assent to reason and having the courage of my convictions.
3. For those readers unfamiliar with the Animal Liberation Front and the battle against speciesism, please give us a quick primer.
The ALF grew out of the hunt saboteur movement in England in 1970s. Activists turned from legal tactics of hunt disruption to illegal tactics of sabotage when they grew weary of being assaulted and jailed and sought more effective tactics. A hunt sab group known as the Band of Mercy broadened the focus to target other animal exploitation industries such as vivisection and began to use arson as a potent tool of property destruction. Two of its leaders were arrested in 1974 and released a year later. One turned snitch and left the movement, the other, Ronnie Lee, deepened his convictions and began a new ultra-militant group he called the Animal Liberation Front that would forever change the face of direct action struggle. The ALF migrated to the U.S. in the early 1980s and is now an international movement in over thirty countries including Russia and Mexico.
The ALF is a loosely associated collection of cells of people who go underground and violate the law on behalf of animals; they work under the cover of darkness rather than the glare of day. They break into and enter prison compounds (euphemistically referred to as research laboratories and the like) to rescue animals, and they also destroy property in order to prevent further harm done to animals and to weaken exploitation industries economically.
Official ALF guidelines are: (1) to liberate animals from places of abuse; (2) to inflict economic damage to industries that profit from animal exploitation; (3) to reveal the horrors and atrocities committed against animals behind locked doors, and (4) to take all necessary precautions against harming any human or nonhuman animals. Anyone who follows these guidelines and ideally who is vegan belongs to the ALF.
The men and women of the Animal Liberation Front pattern themselves after the freedom fighters in Nazi Germany who liberated war prisoners and Holocaust victims and destroyed equipment-such as weapons, railways, and gas ovens- that the Nazis used to torture and kill their victims. Other comparisons would include the Apartheid movement, led by Nelson Mandela, who used and supported violence in the fight for liberation in South Africa, and the current struggle by Palestinians against their Israeli oppressors.
Similarly, by providing veterinary care and homes for many of the animals they liberate, a comparison can be made to the US Underground Railroad movement, which helped fugitive human slaves reach Free states and Canada in the 1800s. Whereas corporate society, the state, and mass media brand the liberationists as terrorists, the ALF has important similarities with some of the great freedom fighters of the past two centuries, and is akin to contemporary peace and justice movements in its quest to end bloodshed and violence toward life and to win justice for other species.
On the grounds that animals have basic rights, animal liberationists repudiate the argument that scientists or industries can own any animal as their property. Simply stated, animals have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, all of which contradict the property status that is often literally burnt into their flesh. Even if animal research assists human beings in some way, and there are significant doubts that it does, that is no more guarantee of legitimacy than if the data came from experimenting on non-consenting human beings, for the rights of an animal trump utilitarian appeals to human benefit.
The blanket privileging of human over animal interests is simply speciesism, a prejudicial and discriminatory belief system as ethically flawed and philosophically unfounded as sexism or racism, but far more murderous and consequential in its implications. Thus, the ALF holds that animals are freed, not stolen, from fur farms or laboratories, and that when one destroys the inanimate property of animal exploiters, one is merely leveling what was wrongfully used to violate the rights of living beings.
The ALF believes that there is a higher law than that created by and for the corporate-state complex, a moral law that transcends the corrupt and biased statues of the US political system. When the law is wrong, the right thing to do is to break it. This is often how moral progress is made in history, from the defiance of American slavery and Hitlers anti-Semitism to sit-ins at whites only lunch counters in Alabama.
4. What is your relationship or connection with the Animal Liberation Front?
If I told you, I would have to kill you! Actually, I am what they used to call Communist sympathizers a fellow traveler of the ALF. Clearly, as all my work is visible, public, and aboveground; I am not a member of the ALF. I couldnt monkeywrench my way out of a paperbag. I am a philosophy professor who writes about, and supports, justice and liberation movements of all kinds.
Yet the obvious fact that I dont have roots in the underground or don a balaclava at night has not prevented green-baiters from defamatory public accusations. Take the case of David Martosko, research director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, a Washington-based corporate front group lobbying to protect food, liquor, and tobacco industries from any regulation whatsoever. In 2004 this McCarthyite corporate pimp appeared before the Environment and Public Works Committee, a contemporary version of the House Un-American Activities Committee. In place of Senator Joseph McCarthy, Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) presided. Inhofe is the ultra-right wing fanatic who never met a corporate crook he didnt love and has stepped forth as one of the most aggressive opponents of global warming, which he declares is nothing but a myth and hoax (see my article on Inhofe at: http://www.drstevebest.org/Essays/SenatorJamesInhofe.htm).
So there Martosko was, gesticulating in full glory, among friends and kindred spirits. With no evidence whatsoever, with full awareness that he was spewing slanderous lies, and with full intent to spark a witch hunt against me; on live C-Span TV; before members of Congress, the head of the FBI, and top law enforcement agencies; as pompously as possible; and in grave and urgent tones, Martosko declared: Dr. Best is at the epicenter of the organizational aspects of what the ALF is doing. Dr. Best is part cheerleader, part recruiter. He uses his classroom freely and openly to indoctrinate adolescents with ambitions and simultaneously praises the ALF and ELF. He is a conduit for terrorism to the mainstream. When asked by Inhofe about my alleged influence in the ALF, Martosko conjuring up surreal images of me as the ultimate salesman, the Willie Loman of the underground, quick with a smile and a handshake smugly replied, He closes the deal, he seals the deal. When asked by Inhofe if he believes that I advocate criminally-based activity, Martosko intoned before the court: It is a fact. He railed against the injustice that I, as a spokesman for terrorists and liberation army recruiter should be able to use my faculty post to indoctrinate my students and mend violent extremists a dash of intellectual legitimacy.
For the record, Herr Martosko, Herr Inhofe, and other Brown Shirt agents of Green Scare persecution, let it be clear: I defend the ALF only in words, never deeds; I work for animal rights only in legal ways, never illegal ways; and I operate openly in the aboveground movement, and never clandestinely with the underground profiles in courage. I am not a member of the ALF, nor do I know or communicate with anyone in the ALF. My relation to the ALF as an outside sympathizer is entirely peripheral, and hardly stems from a command post at its epicenter, a ludicrous metaphor for a decentralized movement. And although I commend and support the just and courageous actions of the ALF, I have never attempted to recruit students into its ranks. Hell, its hard enough to get my students to attend a vegan potluck for extra credit, let alone join a clandestine criminal movement!
5. Personally, I applaud the actions of groups such as the ALF. Forgive me for asking the obvious, but what is your opinion on their efforts?
I came out in favor of the ALF because after careful study of their history, arguments, and results, I concluded that their actions are effective, necessary, and just. Governments, animal exploitation industries, and most mass media characterize the ALF as violent terrorists, but I see them as freedom fighters and counter-terrorists. The ALF is a new justice movement defending innocent beings under attack and fighting the real terrorists who torture and kill animals without justification.
Breaking and entering locked buildings, smashing fur store windows, torching delivery trucks it all sounds nothing short of vandalism or even terrorism. But I believe ALF actions are defensible because (1) what happens to animals is wrong, and (2) legal channels to stop it are blocked by speciesism and corrupt governments that support the property rights of industries over the moral rights of animals.
I believe that no door, no law, no profit margin, no government, and no cop should ever stand in the way between an animal and its freedom. I wish that legal methods of animal liberation were adequate to free animals from their oppressors, but unfortunately they are not. Governments are grotesquely corrupt and speciesist and serve their corporate masters. Animals are too important a resource and commodity for corporations to voluntarily free them, and so animal liberation requires militant tactics such as raids to rescue animals and property destruction to weaken, cripple, or eliminate oppressors.
It is unfortunate that the problem of animal exploitation is so extreme that some people have been moved to take extreme measures to address it. We should direct our moral criticism to the causes of the ALF, rather than the ALF response to them.
If you do not support the ALF, you need a lesson in history and a logical consistency check. Despite the lies of the corporate-state-media complex, and the ignorance of many animal advocates, the ALF has nothing to do with Al Qaeda, the SS, or the Republican Guard that tyrannized the Iraqi people before Bush-Cheney got their turn. The ALF is the animal rights version of the Underground Railroad, the anti-Nazi resistance movement, and contemporary peace and justice struggles. Like the Underground Railroad, the ALF breaks the law in order to rescue exploited animal slaves and shuttle them to freedom in loving homes. Like the anti-Nazi resistance, the ALF will smash the oppressors property and any implements of violence or death in order to slow down or stop their killing machines.
Unlike some brave warriors fighting Nazis, however, the ALF has never used physical violence against any animal exploiter. And like all contemporary movements fighting for peace, justice, and human rights, the ALF intends to help secure all these values for the most defenseless victims of all, the animals who are utterly dependent upon us for their liberation.
The ALF belongs to the long and noble traditions of direct action and civil disobedience that include the Quakers, Henry David Thoreau, Harriet Tubman, the Suffragettes, Mohandas Gandhi, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. From the Boston Tea Party to the Battle of Seattle, there are important historical anticipations of or parallels to the ALF whenever oppressed people find they have to break the law and destroy property in order to realize ideals of freedom, rights, justice, and democracy.
Whereas some argue that property destruction is violence, the ALF correctly identifies itself as a non-violent movement one that attacks only the property of animal exploiters, and never the exploiters themselves in order to stop their obscene violence, create conditions of peace, and rescue animals from their bloody hands. Only in our perverse capitalist world, one that values property over life, does it make sense to demonize the ALF and elevate these freedom fighters these counter-terrorists to Public Enemy #1 on the domestic terrorism list. The real terrorists occupy the corporate suites and highest political offices of the land. They wear suits, not balaclavas; they terrorize with money and banks not guns and bombs. Their actions are legal, but what does that tell you about the scandal of the law?
The defense of direct action, civil disobedience, sabotage, and armed resistance rests on the distinction between what is legal and what is ethical, between the Law and the Right. There are textbook cases where legal codes violate codes of ethics and justice: Nazi Germany, U.S. slavery, and South African apartheid. In such situations, not only is it legitimate to break the law, it is obligatory. In the words of Dr. King, I became convinced that non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.
The true forces of ethics and justice have involved groups such as the Jewish Resistance, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, Gandhi and the Indian independence movement, the Suffragettes, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, and Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress. All of them broke the law, destroyed the enemys property, or committed violence; they were beaten, jailed, killed, and denounced as extremists or the equivalent of terrorists.
Yet who will argue that their actions were wrong? Today we lionize Nelson Mandela as a great hero, but he and the ANC used violence to win their freedom. People forget that the much-heralded Suffragettes in England and the U.S. used arson and bombs to help win the emancipation of women. No movement for social change has succeeded without a radical fringe, without civil disobedience, property destruction, and even violence so why should one expect it to be any different with the animal liberation struggle?
Opponents of direct action, civil disobedience, and sabotage (typically those with vested interests in the status quo) believe that illegal actions undermine the rule of law and they view principled lawbreaking and criminal actions as a threat to social order. Among other things, this perspective presupposes that the system in question is legitimate or that it cannot be improved upon. It also misrepresents direct activists as people who disrespect the law, when arguably they have a higher regard for the spirit of law and its relation to justice than those who fetishize political order for its own sake. Champions of direct action renounce uncritical allegiance to a legal system. To paraphrase Karl Marx, the law is the opiate of the people, and blind obedience to laws and social decorum led millions of German Jews to their death with almost no resistance. All too often, the legal system is a structure to absorb opposition and induce paralysis by delay.
Despite the incriminations of animal exploitation industries, the state, and the mass media, the ALF is not a terrorist organization; rather they are a counter-terrorist outfit and the newest form of freedom fighters. There are indeed real terrorists in todays world, but they are not the ALF. The most violent and dangerous criminals occupy the top positions of U.S. corporate and state office; they are the ones most responsible for the exploitation of people, the massacre of animals, and the rape of the planet.
6. The last I heard, you had lost your Chair of the Philosophy Department at the University of Texas, El Paso because of your radical activism. What is your status with UTEP today?
With the sweet irony of understatement, let me just say it is, in one word, untenable. Given my increasingly visible and controversial profile, my colleagues the word is far too generous felt that they were going to have their own Ward Churchill problem, such that a principled professor draws unwanted controversy to a university. From the heights of their irrelevancy and the throne of theory-for-theorys sake, they were contemptuous of my activities and resentful of a colleague in the spotlight. With Machiavellian ruthlessness, following a methodical plot, they ambushed me in a department meeting; in their terrifying totality and mob-mindset, armed with a battery of lies, they dispatched me to the dungeon of marginality. As their putsch had full support of the administration who publicly characterized the coup as a normal rotation of the Chair position there was nothing I could do, and not one faculty member on campus uttered a word of protest. And so they preside over their dullness and dead theories, gloating in their triumph. But it was a Pyrrhic victory for it was splashed across the internet and newspapers, even landing on the front page of the Chronicle of Higher Education, fully obvious between the lines that I was ejected from my post by a band of power-hungry dimwit without a scintilla of scruples (http://chronicle.com/free/v51/i48/48a00801.htm).
Since I am tenured, the university could not fire me, but for all I know a Phase II of the plan is already underway.
For anyone holding a romantic view of higher education there are at least two lessons here: (1) like society at large, there is no free speech in the academy, and professors espousing radical politics (especially in activist causes and public forums) encounter retaliations of one kind or another; (2) there is absolutely no connection between higher education and higher principles; in fact, there seems to be an inverse relation such that the most arrogant, egomaniacal, and narcissistic assholes around have a PhD attached to their name.
There is an amusing and ironic footnote to this sordid affair, however, which is that the UTEP Wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Texas_at_El_Paso) lists two notable people associated with the university: one is Urbici Soler y Manonelles, the late Spanish sculptor, and the other is identified as Steven Best, professor of philosophy and co-founder of the North American Animal Liberation Press Office! I swear I had nothing to do with this, but my hat is off to the author of this mischief.
7. I note that you were banned from entering the UK to attend an animal rights conference in 2005. Why was this and are you still prohibited from traveling there?
After the 7/7 bombings in London on July 7, 2005, Home Office Secretary Charles Clarke ominously stated that the rules of the game have changed. The Home Office drafted new rules of unacceptable speech to apply to any non-UK citizen alleged to promote, defend, justify, or advocate violence or terrorism in any way. The new rules and laws in the post-7/7 setting granted the British government the power to jail citizens who support terrorism for up to six years (and I have many animal activist friends rotting in Englands prisons) and to ban any non-citizen such as myself for unacceptable speech such as expressed in a lecture, printed essay, or website.
In August 2005, I received a second letter from the Home Office (I had a warning the year before) that condemned me for supporting the ALF, accused me of promoting violence and terrorism, declared me to a threat to the public order, and banned me from the entire UK. They based their decision upon objectionable statements they found in my books and essays, and objected most of all to my completely innocuous metaphorical statement in a speech at Oxford earlier that summer, in which I declared that in good time the animal liberation movement will wipe vivisection off the map. A fairly innocuous metaphor I thought, but to their paranoid and tyrannical minds, it was a serious threat of bloody murder.
Thus, the first person the Home Office used the new rules of unacceptable speech against was not a Muslim cleric chanting Death to the West in the streets of central London, but rather a philosophy professor living in the desert of west Texas! The Home Office granted passage to Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a Muslim cleric who has defended suicide bombings. They even granted shelter to the brutal Chilean dictator, August Pinochet. Yet they banned me from their territories, along with fellow animal liberationists Jerry Vlasak, Pam Ferdin, and Rod Coronado.
In my response letter, I proudly admitted that I champion rights and justice for all species, and I reiterated my support for the ALF. I insisted that the ALF is a non-violent organization and that the true violence and terrorism is committed against animals by exploitative industries and the states that support them. It is true, I wrote, that I provided an intellectual justification for the ALF, but then again examining intended or unintended consequences so does any modern democratic constitution or bill of rights, so did J.S. Mill, Mohandas Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and anyone who promoted concepts such as rights or justice that apply to any person.
England has a long and distinguished history of democracy that has been betrayed in the most grotesque fashion. From the Diggers to the Suffragettes to the animal liberation movement, struggles in England have advanced democracy, rights, and moral evolution for our species as a whole. Facing a second prison sentence in the Bastille for his satires of the government, Voltaire sought shelter in England in 1726-1729. He subsequently described to the world how much more free, liberal, and advanced England was than his native France. In the 1840s, Karl Marx was expelled from several European countries for advocating free speech, workers democracy, and, indeed, global revolution, but he found a safe haven in England.
Currently, however, England is heading down a dangerous slippery slope of censorship. Will they next ban Peter Singer next for his defense of euthanasia and infanticide, also illegal acts? Or perhaps Tom Regan, whose contribution to Terrorists or Freedom Fighters is entitled How to Argue for Violence? It is frightening to see England follow the same path as the US by repressing civil liberties in the name of security. The recent involvement of the FBI in England affairs is hardly reassuring, as the specialty of the FBI in the US has been to suppress democracy and disrupt political organizations. As evidence that they are in fact sliding further down the slope of tyranny, they recent banned my friend, Gary Yourofsky, a former ALF prisoner and currently a dynamic vegan educator. Yet, unlike me, Gary has never been to England nor ever intended to go! Yet they found pro-animal liberation statements in his writings that offended their speciesist, corporate, fascist mindsets, and so by glorious fiat they sent another missive across the Atlantic to further guarantee the safety of their citizens from the terrorist threat of those hardened criminal souls who preach animal rights and vegan ethics.
The only method in their madness is their commitment to defend the profits of the animal research and pharmaceutical industries. Clearly, with so much money at stake in the billion dollar vivisection industry (fed by universities, private companies such as HLS, the pharmaceutical industries, and so on) the animal rights movement in England has become not only an ideological and political threat, but, far more seriously, an economic threat. Just as human slavery was once a huge part of modern capitalist economies, so animal slavery is fundamental to capital accumulation today. The animal rights movement has rocked the core of the British establishment and they are beginning to take extraordinary measures against us. This includes measures to criminalize previously legal activities such as home protests, to place free speech in a choking straightjacket, and to increase penalties for breaking laws protecting corporate rights to murder and butcher billions of animals.
8. What other countries have prevented you from crossing their borders?
Thats it! so far! Ive agitated for animal liberation in countries all over the world, most recently in South Africa, but only the UK has shown this profound level of contempt for free speech. Its odd, for instance, that South Africa, not too long ago one of the worlds most violent and repressive governments of course, today boasts one of the freest constitutions in the world, and I can tell you that my revolutionary politics there were not questioned or scrutinized one iota. Im about to go to speak on animal liberation for a week in Moscow and St. Petersburg, in a model dictator state, but I expect to be accorded a much broader range of rights and respect than one could possibly find in the garrison state of the UK.
But I have some catching up to do with my militant friends. Gary Yourofsky has been thrown out of 5 countries, including the UK and Canada, and Jerry Vlasak holds the prize distinction of being kicked out of at least 6. He has told Gary and me in an avuncular kind of way, to try and keep up. Ha ha, were trying, Jerry; were trying,
9. You have likened the Animal Liberation Movement to the Abolitionist Movement against slavery in the US. What are some of the parallels that you see?
With the fateful transition from nomadic hunting and gathering bands to settled agricultural societies some 10,000 years ago, the first form of domination and slavery was of humans over animals in their domestication and use for farming and other purposes and this has set the tone of power relationships ever since.
Domestication is a euphemism that disguises extreme cruelty and coercion that involved confinement, castration, hobbling, branding, and ear cropping. To exploit animals for food, milk, clothing, plowing, and transportation, farmers and herders developed technologies such as whips, prods, chains, shackles, collars, and branding irons. From the dawn of agricultural society to the present, human civilization has been built on the backs of slaves, animal slaves above all.
People often say that animals are the new slaves. No, they were the first slaves. Theyre the first beings human oppressors used to confine, torture, cage, chain down, auction, and sell for labor and profit. The domination of animals paved the way for the domination of humans. The sexual subjugation of women was modeled after the domestication of animals, such that men began to control womens reproductive capacity, to enforce repressive sexual norms, and to rape them as they forced breeding in their animals. Slavery emerged in the same region of the Middle East that spawned agriculture, and, in fact, developed as an extension of animal domestication practices. In areas like Sumer, slaves were managed like livestock, and males were castrated and forced to work along with females. Whips, prods, chains, shackles, collars, branding irons and other brutal technologies of control and confinement used throughout the modern international slave trade were first perfected on animals.
Stealing blacks from their native environment and homeland, placing chains around their bodies, shipping them in cramped quarters across the ocean for months with no regard for their suffering and death, branding their skin to mark them as property, auctioning them as servants and slabs of meat, separating family members from one another as they screamed in protest, breeding them for service and labor, exploiting them for profit, beating them out of hatred and anger, and killing them in huge numbers when they were no longer of service all these horrors began with the human exploitation over animals and continue today, in even worse forms, in fur and factory farms, slaughterhouses, laboratories, and other hell-holes where humans show animals no mercy.
Animals in experimental laboratories, factory farms, fur farms, leather factories, zoos, circuses, rodeos, and other exploitative institutions are the major slave and proletariat forces of contemporary capitalist society. Each year, humans confine, exploit, and slaughter tens of billions of animals (50 billion for food consumption alone). The raw materials of the human economy (a far greater and more general domination system than capitalism), animals are exploited for their fur, flesh, and bodily fluids. Animals are slaves in every meaningful sense of the word: they are held captive against their will; caged, chained, and confined in oppressive conditions from which they cannot escape; exploited for profit and labor, reduced to the status of objects, commodities, and property; brutalized and tortured; forced into a life of intensive labor that produces value and profits for exploiters; and bred to produce the next generation of slaves so the process can repeat itself endlessly.
In factory farm conditions that resemble mechanized production lines and concentration camps, animals are forced to produce maximal quantities of meat, milk and eggs; this coercion takes place not only through physical confinement but also through chemical and genetic manipulation. Producing milk or eggs is hard, physical labor that, as with Nazi compounds, terminates in death.
So too we must point to the exploitation of other animals as well, such as the lions, chimps, elephants, and bears forced to work in circuses; when not made to peddle bicycles, wear tutus, or dance, they travel the country in crowded boxcars that are too hot or too cold, and are kept in cages or chains when not performing i.e., when not working under the omnipresent threat of severe beating. We must mention as well the millions of laboratory animals who although may lead oppressively sedentary lives, their bodies are pumped full of drugs, chemicals, and toxins to stimulate their brains, hearts, lung, and kidneys; they yield to needles, probes, lights, knives, and gloved hands until the suffering of their stressed and sickened bodies produces raw data for research reports, and then they are thrown away like trash.
Both racism and speciesism are born out of the need to maintain an economy and society rooted in bondage; only through slavery can the privileged whether the white minority elite or the vast human populace in general enjoy conveniences and live comfortable lives. After the US Civil War, the Cotton Economy became the Cattle Economy as the nation colonized the West, slaughtered millions of Indians and sixty million buffalo (the massacre of animals pivotal to the genocide of the people), and began intensive operations to produce beef. Once the slavery of African-Americans in the US officially ended in 1865, the systematic capitalist and industrial forms of enslaving animals was just beginning, and animal labor power became crucial for economic growth and the production of an endless array of commodities by using any and every component of their bodies.
In the postindustrial conditions of the twenty-first century, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies such GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Novartis, and Pfizer, and drug testing corporations such as Huntingdon Life Sciences, have become major components of global capitalist networks, and their research and testing operations are rooted in the breeding, exploitation, and killing of millions of laboratory animals each year. In the postmodern world of pharming (pharmaceutical farming), companies like GTC Biotherapeutics use genetically modified goats to churn out drugs for diseases such as hemophilia and cancer, reducing and reshaping animals to organ machines that labor within conditions of mass confinement.
As animals are prisoners and slaves, it also makes perfect sense to speak of their liberation and to call the militant sectors of the contemporary animal rights struggle a new abolitionist movement that quite consciously sees itself as the heir to its predecessors in the nineteenth century. Nineteenth century abolitionists were not addressing the slave masters obligation to be kind to the slaves, to feed and clothe them well, or to work them with adequate rest. Rather, they demanded the total and unqualified eradication of the master-slave relation, the freeing of the slave from all forms of bondage. Similarly, the new abolitionists reject reforms of the institutions and practices of animal slavery as grossly inadequate and they pursue the complete emancipation of animals from all forms of human exploitation, subjugation, and domination.
The new abolitionism is advanced by a broad array of forces, from peaceniks like Gary Francione to nonviolent saboteur and direct action groups like the ALF and SHAC to groups like the Animal Rights Militia that openly advocate the use and legitimacy of violence against animal exploiters. While Francione has advanced a powerful and important critique of animal welfarism (such as so deplorably manifested in the humane meat and cage free egg campaigns promoted by HSUS and PETA), his own claim to this historical heritage is quite dubious. Francione advances a one-dimensional, single-issue politics of veganism that is pitched to an elite, all-white, Whole Foods crowd, that replicates capitalist consumerism in a New Age, Moo Shoe, touchy-feely, ultra-privileged, lily-white crowd.
Franciones vegan revolution is dead in the starting gate, for he has no concept of the need to build bridges to other social movements (more precisely, he sometimes grasps this interconnectedness of different systems of domination, but never translates this insight into practice. And if not already mainstream and elitist enough, Francione along with his feckless followers in groups such as Friends of Animals dogmatically pursues purely legal and peaceful tactics, uncritically regurgitates the corporate-state propaganda that vilifies militant direct action as eco-terrorism and demonizes the ALF as the top domestic terrorist threat in the US. While Francione tries to define himself as the radical abolitionist antithetical to the new welfarist capitulations and betrayals of a corporate suit such as Wayne Pacelle, in fact, he is Pacelles doppelganger in their shared vilification of the ALF and SHAC, and some of the most effective tactics ever developed in the history of this movement.
Thus, I see Francione as a pseudo-abolitionist, as a bourgeois, consumerist, elitist apologist for capitalism and its repressive state system, as I find myself puzzled and agitated over the idolatry and uncritical following he has garnered from those rightly alienated from HSUS and PETA. Francione advocates the abolition of animal exploitation, whereas I militate for the abolition of capitalism and of domination and hierarchy in any and all forms. I therefore espouse the concept of total liberation, rooted in the axiom that animal liberation is impossible in the context of capitalism and that the liberation of animals, humans, and the earth needs to be theorized and fought for as one inseparable struggle.
Arguably the best example of the new abolitionism that builds on the militancy of nineteenth century abolitionism is the ALF, because they represent the no-compromise, anti-reformist, kick-ass, militant spirit rife throughout the 19th century abolitionist movement. Moreover, because they liberate animal slaves and shuttle them through a clandestine network of veterinarians and loving homes, they are todays embodiment of the Underground Railroad. But the ALF is more in the tradition of Lloyd Garrison than David Walker, Henry Garnet, Nat Turner, and John Brown in that they are non-violent in their philosophy and tactics, whereas these abolitionist predecessors advocated the use violence against white slaveowners and Turner and Brown took up swords, knives, and guns in their bold acts of resistance.
Slavery has once again become a focal point of social debate and struggle, as attention shifts from the bondage of human over human to the enslavement of human over nonhuman. The new abolitionist movement seeking animal liberation has emerged as a flashpoint for moral evolution and social transformation, as some of the hottest political battles today are over the politics of nature and animal ethics. A war has erupted between those who will kill every last living thing for power and profit, and those prepared to fight these omnicidal maniacs tooth and nail. We are witnessing perhaps the dawn of a new civil war, this time about animal slavery and the subjugation of nature by corporate powers. As Blacks and anti-racists continue to struggle for justice and equality, the moral and political spotlight is now shifting (or rather, broadening) to a far more ancient, pervasive, intensive, and violent form of slavery that confines, tortures, and kills animals by the billions in an ongoing global holocaust that has catastrophic consequences for humanity itself.
Just as nineteenth century abolitionists sought to awaken people to the greatest moral issue of the day, so the new abolitionists endeavor to enlighten society about the crucial importance of animal oppression. As Black slavery raised fundamental questions about the meaning of American democracy and modern values, so animal slavery provokes critical examination of a human psyche damaged by violence, arrogance, alienation, and greed. Whereas racial standpoint theory illuminated core pathologies of modernity in the critique of colonialism and imperialism, so animal standpoint theory exposes key causes and destructive dynamics of the violent dominator cultures that have emerged and spread over the last ten thousand years. And while W. E. B. Du Bois said that The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line, we could say with equal relevance that the problem of the twenty-first century is the problem of the species line.
10. Please tell us a bit about the International Journal of Inclusive Democracy and your role with them.
The Inclusive Democracy project was developed in the 1990s by Takis Fotopoulos (an amazing and encyclopedic intellect!) in the pages of Society and Nature and Democracy and Nature. These journals, both now defunct, assembled by an international collective for a global readership, were dedicated to analyzing the broad array of social and environmental problems, such as stemmed from three major causes of crisis: a grow-or-die capitalist economy, hierarchical social relations pitting human against human and the social world against the natural world, and an instrumentalist mindset whereby elites and exploiters view other humans, animals, and the environment as nothing but means to self-aggrandizing ends. In 1997, Fotopoulos systematized his ideas in a landmark work entitled, Towards an Inclusive Democracy: The Crisis of the Growth Economy and the Need for a New Liberatory Project. In 2005, the Inclusive Democracy project and international collective moved online, where The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy emerged and now commands a significantly larger readership than was possible in print form.
Inclusive Democracy aims to develop a radical theoretical analysis of and political solution to the catastrophic social and environmental impact of the market economies spawned by modern capitalist nations. As inclusive, the project aims to incorporate a wide diversity of social voices (or at least legitimate expressions of difference not dedicated to ending difference and democracy by imposing authoritarian rule onto others) into revitalized public spheres. As inclusive in nature, the project is also a (radical) form of democracy in its commitment to maximal autonomy and self-regulation of people in communities, and thus the deepest enrichment of individual and social life.
Rejecting the totalitarian pseudo-democracy of state socialism and market-based capitalism, Inclusive Democracy seeks a synthesis of direct democracy of ancient Greece and modern libertarian socialism, fused with other perspectives in the goal of abolishing all social hierarchies (such as involve statism, classism, sexism, racism, and so on) and dissolving centralized power into the participatory democracies of confederated communities. The project is by nature a radical or revolutionary form of democracy in that it departs from the all-too apparent axioms that (1) the capitalist socioeconomic model is inherently dysfunctional and destructive (such that a just, green, or sustainable capitalism is an oxymoron and delusion), and therefore (2) the current world order cannot be reformed, but rather must be qualitatively transformed in a deep, fundamental, and system process of change that can only be characterized as a social revolution.
Inclusive Democracy considers the ultimate cause of the present multidimensional crisis to be the concentration of economic and political power in the hands of various elites. This power is advanced through the predatory objectives and operations of the global market economy and it is stabilized and legitimated (to varying degrees) through its political complement in the state system of representative democracy. Whereas political representation what Rousseau called the alienation of the will deludes people into believing that elected officials serve universal and public interests rather than private and particular advantages, and that they, as citizens, ultimately hold the titles and deeds of power and authority, Fotopoulos exposes indirect democracy as liberal technocracy run by and the corporate-state complex and national and international elites.
Where one might expect the multifaceted crisis in society and nature to generate an appropriate political response, another crisis has formed. Theoretical and political opposition to global capitalism in any significant and truly radical form embodying democratic social and political alternatives has collapsed. Elitism, bureaucratic domination, and the destruction of nature was grotesquely replayed in various communist or socialist states that intended or alleged to present an alternative to capitalist systems. The European tradition of Social Democracy, dating back to Edward Bernstein and the German Social Democratic Party in the early twentieth century, presented itself as an alternative to both capitalism and bureaucratic socialism, but unavoidably succumbed to the failed logic of reformism that attempted to repair rather than radically transform a system with inherent structural flaws. Social Democracy mounted no effective alternative or opposition and today is but a museum piece amidst increasing the privatization and market domination of European nation states.
Since the 1960s, many critical theories and movements have emerged, but none proved to be significant or enduring forces of opposition and radical change. From the new social movements and subsequent identity politics formations (feminism, civil rights, gay and lesbian liberation, multiculturalism, anti-nuclear groups, and so on) to apolitical, reformist, and esoteric postmodernism; from mainstream Green parties to mystical and individualist orientations of much deep ecology, Fotopoulos finds political expressions that are either coopted by academia or the corporate-state complex, or disable themselves through reformist, subjectivist, and mystical approaches. And while the emergence of militant anti- or alter-globalization movements that emerged in the 1990s showed promise in their alliance politics and united demand