Monday, March 26, 2012

Compassion for who - people or animals?

For thousand years in India, people have been arguing about vegetarianism versus meat farming. How one should treat animals depended on how one saw them, and this in turn depended on one’s practical experience of them. Some socialists are vegetarians, but others are not. We have never seen a reason as a political party to take a stand on this issue, no matter how strongly some of our individual members have felt. All socialists are of course opposed to cruelty to animals but, just like the rest of the population, have differing views as to what constitutes cruelty. Some may go fishing, some even engage in shooting birds and rabbits, some eat meat, some are vegetarians, some are vegans. (One party wit alleged that vegetarianism was a capitalist plot to reduce workers to eating grass!) We have no line or policy on the matter, because we are an organisation of people who have come together to campaign for socialism and nothing else.

SOYMB came across this New York Times article which made interesting reading. Of course the processed and fast food companies don’t want their customers to think about where the food comes from.There can be no dispute that many animals are treated abominably under capitalism. No reasonable person today really questions the fact that animals, or at least farmed animals, are capable of fear and pain. Most people do not visit abattoirs nor do they really want to know what goes on in them, yet there is an unspoken knowledge behind the sterile and sanitized supermarket packaging.

Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight” by Timothy Pachirat.

"...We can start by owning up to the fact that our system is industrialized. And as horrible as that word — “industrialized” — seems when applied to what was once called animal husbandry, it is precisely the correct term...12 seconds is the frequency with which the Omaha slaughterhouse where Pachirat worked for five months killed cattle, a total of around 2,500 per day...
...Pachirat... took the job not as an animal rights activist but as a doctoral candidate in political science seeking to understand the normalization of violence. Like others, he concluded that our isolation from killing allows us to tolerate unimaginably cruel practices simply because we don’t see them. But Pachirat emphasizes that it’s not only we — consumers — who are isolated from the killing, but workers: at his plant only seven people out of 800 were directly involved with live cattle, and only four with killing.

“Every Twelve Seconds” shatters any belief you might have about the system treating animals with a shred of decency. “The sheer volume, scale and rate of killing, the way the animals form a continuous stream rather than individual creatures, makes it clear the animals are seen as raw material. The cattle are called ‘beef’ even while they’re alive — and that not only protects people from acknowledging what they’re doing and that they’re doing it to sentient beings, it’s also accurate, a reflection of the process itself.”

The most publicized stories about industrial agriculture represent the exceptions that prove the rule: the uncommon torture of animals by perverse individuals in rogue operations. But torture is inherent in the routine treatment of animals as widgets, and the system itself is perverse. What makes “Every Twelve Seconds” different from (for example) a Mercy for Animals exposé is, says Pachirat, “that the day-in and day-out experience produces invisibility. Industrialized agriculture perpetuates concealment at every level of the process, and rather than focusing on the shocking examples we should be focusing on the system itself.”

At that point we might finally acknowledge that raising, killing and eating animals must be done differently. When omnivores recognize that our way of producing and eating meat reduces not only slaughterhouse workers but all of us to a warped state, we’ll be able to bring about the kind of changes that will reduce both meat consumption and our collective guilt.

Pachirat says he has changed as a result of his experience, becoming increasingly interested in what he calls “distancing and concealment.” He now intends to work on those issues as they relate to imprisonment, war, torture, deployment of drones and other sophisticated weaponry that allow impersonal killing. And it’s because these connections make so much sense that we should look more carefully at how we raise and kill animals.

When we all know the system, we’ll be even more eager to change it."

Raymond Tallis, a physician turned philosopher, has commented that when humans regard their species as no more than animals they are inclined to treat one another even worse than hitherto.

The author of Animal Farm, George Orwell, commented: “Men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat”

Bob Torres in his book Making a Killing has made a political case for veganism arguing that animals perform unwaged labour and are super-exploited living commodities. In Marxian economics, however, they what is called “constant capital”, they do not create new value but merely transfers its value to the product. Just as slavery involved some humans being the property of others and hence treated just as means to the end of the owners, so animals are under the power of humans. They are bought and sold, kept and killed in appalling conditions, experimented on, and used to provide milk, meat and eggs. This is speciesism, Torres explains, integrated into society as much as racism once was. We do not need to eat meat or animal products in order to live, therefore we should not do so. Vegetarianism is not sufficient, since the production of both milk and eggs involves cruelty (e.g. cows must constantly be kept pregnant in order to provide milk). Veganism, which involves making no use of animal products at all, "must be not only the foundation and baseline of any movement to end the domination of animals, but also the daily practice of anyone who seeks to live their life free of all domination and hierarchy".

As the Nobel Prize winning writer Isaac Bashevis Singer put it in The Letter Writer (1968), speaking of factory farming: "In relation to animals, all people are Nazis; for the animals, it is an eternal Treblinka."

However others will ask what extent of this callous treatment is due to capitalism’s demands for profit and for constantly cheapening the costs of production. For it does not follow that mistreatment is a hallmark of all use of animals for food.

Ruth Harrison, author of Animal Machines (1964), recognised that sheep and other livestock are raised in ways designed to cut production costs to the bone, with little or no regard for the consequent suffering. Commenting on animal farming methods, Harrison observed: “The first instinct the farmer frustrates in all animals . . . is that of the newborn animal turning to its mother for protection and comfort and, in some cases, for food. The chick comes out of the incubator and never sees a hen; the calf which is to be fattened for veal or beef is taken from the cow at birth, or very soon after; and even the piglet is weaned far earlier now than it used to be. The factors controlling this are mainly economic(our emphasis)
Harrison drew attention to changes in breeding, feeding and housing that aimed at ever greater production at whatever cost to the animals' well-being.

What will become of the meat and dairy industry in socialism? At present the socialist case focuses necessarily on the emancipation of the human species from capitalist-induced oppression and suffering, while the ethical question of how we should regard and treat animals remains as one of the iceberg of other issues submerged below the waterline. It is perfectly possible that a Socialist society will involve less eating of meat and eggs, and any animals kept for food purposes will certainly be treated as humanely as possible. If socialists expect a large-scale meat industry they will have to face the fact that there is no compassionate "ethical" way to do this. But it is all very well to talk about opposing all hierarchy, including that of humans over animals, but if it came to the crunch we suspect almost everyone would regard the life of a fellow human as more important than that of a non-human animal. So there can be no real equality of treatment between humans and animals.

As stated above, the Socialist Party does not have a position on vegetarianism or veganism but would agree with William Morris that “a man can hardly be a sound Socialist who puts forward vegetarianism as a solution of the difficulties between labour and capital, as some people do”

Those who advocate animal rather than human liberation put the cart before the horse. Cruelty to animals will go the way of all forms of cruelty, when a real civilised existence becomes a possibility to everyone. The rise in demand for "cruelty-free" products in Western countries shows that, given the luxury of choice, people prefer not to be responsible for inflicting such suffering and without a global revolution in the way society collectively owns and controls its resources people are never going to get the luxury of choice over this or any other resource question. Unless and until the welfare and humane treatment of humans is first attended to the question of the ethical treatment of animals must remain an issue waiting for its moment.

1 comment:

ajohnstone said...

Turkey's first animal rights political party, the Animal Party, was established this week in an effort to bring the issue of the protection of animal's rights and welfare to the political table....the group is against hunting, pet shops and the use of fireworks, which are not only dangerous for birds but also for other animals who become startled and disorientated by explosions. “In effect we want to end the perception that animals are goods and property to be abused and used as people please,” Demir said, adding that the group supported the work of Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy Melda Onur, who has been pushing for the law to be changed on punishment for those who abuse animals.

But one British entrepreneur in South Africa believes that maggots, the wriggling larvae of the common house fly (Musca Domestica), is a viable protein-rich alternative to make animal feed. A large part of the feed used today is fishmeal and depends on diminishing global fish David Drew, managing director of AgriProtein Technologies, plans to set up in South Africa the world's first large-scale fully commercial factory producing "Magmeal", an organic and sustainable replacement for the fishmeal currently used to fatten up chickens and pigs.

In northern Thailand insects are highly prized for their protein content including crickets, grasshoppers, cockroaches, water beetles, bamboo worms and ant eggs. The Vietnamese and Chinese like scorpions.The area is drying up – a fact many local people attribute to global warming - and what used to be paddy fields are now patches of dry grassland unsuitable for much more than grazing cattle.

Farming insects provides a cheap and simple alternative.

“It involves very few initial costs, and anyone can do it,” says Prayad Yupin, from the region’s Agricultural Development Research Centre.
“And they’re a good way to supplement your diet. They’ve got a lot of calcium and protein.”