A Dipshit from Socialist Worker Looks at Animal Rights

After my last post, I went searching for radical writing on Animal Liberation, and while I found a few good things in a veritable desert, I also found this, by Paul D’Amato from the often awful Socialist Worker. While struggling to finish reading it without gnashing my teeth into powder, I was reminded of this from my last post:

This is, I guess, another way of politely asking people who want to argue morality with animal rights people, and accuse them of racism, antisemitism or some other character defect, to be instantly recognizable as someone who has at least a few minutes acquaintance with the appropriate wikipedia page.

Since D’Amato seems to pull every last sentence in his essay from his ass, he is exceptionally useful as an example of how not to critique Animal Rights. He also provides an opportunity to demonstrate how a “few minutes acquaintance with the appropriate wikipedia page” can make a difference in getting Animal Rights supporters to see you as something other than a self-satisified ignoramus.

Below I’m simply going to pull out the main points in D’Amato’s essay and see if the Wikipedia entries on Animal Rights and Speciesism have anything to address them with. In cases where the answer may not be stated outright but can be easily deduced or inferred from what Wikipedia does say, I’ll explain why.

While the form this will take is something akin to a rebuttal, the main point is to show how D’Amato, like so many other people who offer this kind of “critique” hasn’t done the most basic self-educating before mouthing off. There are many different approaches to animal rights covered in the Wikipedia entry and I don’t endorse all of them. This is simply to show that D’Amato’s questions have answers that he is not obviously aware of, which makes his article entirely unresponsive to the basics of Animal Rights theory.

D’Amato

Does a mountain lion that kills a deer have a right to a trial by a jury of its peers? Should cows have freedom of assembly, speech and religion?

Wikipedia, Animal Rights:

[In summarizing Peter Singer, the most influential Animal Liberation scholar]:

Equality does not require identical treatment. A mouse and a man both have an interest in not being kicked, and there are no moral or logical grounds for failing to accord those interests equal weight. Interests are predicated on the ability to suffer, nothing more, and once it is established that a being has interests, those interests must be given equal consideration.[

Since there is no evidence of non-human interest in, nor capacity for, jurisprudence, D’Amato’s questions are simply irrelevant to every argument made for animal rights. Anyone with even casual familiarity with Animal Rights philosophy knows this.

D’Amato:

Would my cat be liberated if I tossed him out of the house and stopped feeding him?

The word “tossed” here strongly suggests that the cat’s interests are not being considered at all, and so D’Amato again betrays a lack of serious engagement with the basics. The easy answer, based on nothing more than Wikipedia, is no, the cat would not be liberated by being banished to the street against her will. Even if the cat weren’t “tossed”, but simply released, humans have created conditions for the cat that make it impossible for her to pursue her interests without becoming property or a target of abuse. So a voluntary departure from which she can’t return wouldn’t be liberating either.

D’Amato, quoting a critique at length of an animal rights video entitled Maxine’s Dash for Freedom:

“Maxine” is described in this Farm Sanctuary video…as having “escaped” from a New York City slaughterhouse. She was then “rescued” by police and firefighters, who found her wandering the streets, taken to an animal shelter, and then taken by the Farm Sanctuary to greener pastures.

In reality, we don’t know whether “Maxine” escaped, got lost, was let go by a human, or fell off the truck, because she can’t tell us. All she does in the video is sit in her cage and chew straw. It is the humans from the Farm Sanctuary who have imparted to “Maxine” a human name, a “will to live,” and an ability to “escape” from the slaughterhouse, which she does not have.

What is clear in the video is that “Maxine” demonstrates a “will” not to get onto the truck that will take her to the farm sanctuary. Here, because it is a human who always has and always will decide what is best for Maxine, her “will” is ignored. She–like all cows–must be pulled by ropes, prodded and enticed with food to go where the humans want her to be, whether that is the slaughterhouse or the Farm Sanctuary.

This is a mind-bogglingly laborious way of claiming that we can’t possibly know whether or not Maxine would prefer the slaughterhouse — where she will be painfully attached upside down to a conveyor, on which she will “die piece by piece,” being bludgeoned, stabbed and dismembered, remaining sentient through much of her ordeal —  or a sanctuary created by people dedicated to the proposition that her right to be free of suffering is equal to theirs. The scare quote “will to live,”  as if even that is a matter of pure anthropomorphizing speculation, is a neon light announcing how deep the stupid goes.

Maxine’s resistance to getting on the truck that will bear her to safety only demonstrates that she is provisionally in a human-created situation in which being free to pursue her own interests in any meaningful sense is not an option, she has no idea what the other options are, and her life as a commodity until then has given her no reason to trust humans at all.  Therefore, the humans using coercion to restore her to a location where she will have more freedom to pursue her interests are acting in consistency with the principles of animal rights quoted above. Those who would commodify her, torture her and kill her are not.  Animal Liberation is an interventionist politics. There is no obligation to act against the animal’s clear interests, simply because the animal cannot be informed of what the options are, and is therefore reluctant to cooperate

D’Amato

the only reason we can have this discussion about animals is because we have something they don’t have–language. The fact is that dogs cannot domesticate us. By extension, they cannot “liberate” themselves or demand “rights” from us, either; they can’t even formulate what a right or a demand is, Chicken Run notwithstanding.

Hence, realistically, when anyone speaks of rights or liberation for other animals, what they are really talking about is how humans behave toward animals. Human beings are, to a large extent, arbiters of the fate of other animals (for good or ill), a fact that sets us sharply apart from them.

The mutuality of dogs and humans is not solely a human accomplishment; nor is it entirely true that non-human animals don’t have language. But that’s all entirely beside the point that  D’Amato keeps missing: the irrelevance of human qualities to moral consideration. None of the animal liberation scholars mentioned in either Wikipedia article used here say anything to contradict the rest, perhaps because it too is entirely irrelevant to animal rights, which makes no pretense of being something other than a human-created philosophy to inform human treatment of non-human animals, precisely because they do not have the means to defend themselves. Almost every scholar quoted in the Wikipedia entry — including critics — take as self-evident that humans can infer animal preferences from observable suffering and their demonstrable sentience, and that humans are uniquely suited to both abusing and defending them.

D’Amato on Speciesism:

All living things are “speciesist.” The web of life on our planet consists of different species struggling to survive, many by eating other species. The fact that human beings have the capacity, unlike any other species, to create a hierarchy of being, and make decisions about what living thing is legitimate or not legitimate to eat, is itself proof that there is a qualitative divide between human beings and other animals.

Wikipedia, Speciesism:

Speciesism involves the assignment of different values, rights, or special consideration to individuals solely on the basis of their species membership.

…Singer argued from a preference-utilitarian perspective, writing that speciesism violates the principle of equal consideration of interests.

D’Amato once again ignores that Animal Rights is human moral philosophy intended for humans, and as with most other moral philosophy, it does not seek guidance from wild carnivores, nor does it seek to guide them.

However, if for fun we apply “Equal consideration of interests” to a predator animal and its prey, we would conclude that as the predator can’t live without meat, and is instinctually driven to hunt for it, its interest in killing the prey is equal to the prey’s interest in escape. It is not at all analogous to an assessment of human meat consumption, where the interest on the human side is simply a matter of enjoyment and habit, and on the animal’s side freedom from acute suffering and death.

Not a single theorist cited in the Wikipedia Animal Rights entry erases the “qualitative divide” between humans and non-human animals, so no denial of that divide is required. Yes non-humans are different from humans. That’s what makes them non-humans! But as stated again and again, it is the thing that non-humans have in common with humans —  the ability to suffer — that makes them worthy of moral consideration. The “capacity to create a hierarchy of being”, like all other uniquely human qualities, isn’t relevant to moral consideration, and it’s speciesist to insist that it is.

D’Amato

The equation of racism and sexism with the treatment of animals is to trivialize the former.

This is the last attempted “argument” in D’Amato’s article, which he tries to substantiate with various anecdotes about misanthropic PETA staff, Earth Firsters and Nazis who believed in animal rights. Since this is just a hamfisted claim of guilt by association, I’m under no obligation to find something in Wikpedia to refute it with, except to say that he is basing this trivialization on a premise that the scholars summarized in Wikipedia reject: that human suffering is more morally consequential than animal suffering.

All forms of unequal treatment differ from each other and it is imprudent even among humans to compare them in any way but one: a uniquely vulnerable population is dominated, exploited and abused based on an arbitrary characteristic. Observing the indisputable fact that this is certainly true of commodity animals trivializes nothing, since it implies no other similarity.

In reviewing this piece — which is, from a technical standpoint, just blindingly inept as rhetoric — and placing it against so many inane arguments I’ve heard, it becomes increasingly hard to regard most arguments made against animal rights as being in good faith. Considering that what’s at stake in these discussions is demonstrably unnecessary abuse and  suffering, one wonders what on earth the point is of these insultingly stupid attempts to defend it, in place of serious consideration.

Recommended

Animal Rights and Marxism

Reform or Revolution: Animal Rights Through a Marxist Critique of Capitalism.  (video)

Caged and Commodified, Still by Nancy Heitzeg

ZOMG The Vegans! by Patrick Higgins (@donnydiggins)

Related

The Equating of Animal Rights and Crimes Against Humanity

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28 Responses to A Dipshit from Socialist Worker Looks at Animal Rights

  1. shelley says:

    Anti animal rights people don’t like to feel guilty. They have to eat their meat and feel there’s nothing wrong with it at all. They’re assholes. It’s all bad faith and slow witted bitter clingers.

    • Tarzie says:

      Yes, I think guilt has a lot to do with it. I try not to speculate when I write about it, since I don’t think ascribing ulterior motives to people is generally persuasive, even if you have diagnosed their motives correctly. For the moment, I will concentrate on the foolishness of most of their arguments.

  2. robertmstahl says:

    Our ability to think on our own comes nowhere close to our ability to copy with no reason at all, or, with any sense of direction for the species. The Pied Piper has his way with us.. Evolution is desire, nevertheless. Why, then, is the ability to use the senses always associated with debasing (the Conversation?) the Membrane of such a connection over Time? The Principle of Life that is neither Birth nor Death, but development toward recognition of, and participation with, this larger dimension defining maturity, is denied, or maintained with this Karma. And, so is that which advances our connection to Evolution, which can be about loss, or IS, even. Our own kind and the evidence of possibility that it is, merely, a distribution principle far more a property of nurture than nature, today, piles up from the crap that precedes it, and the shit slides through the turnstile, vertically.

  3. robertmstahl says:

    It is an issue of the meaning of First Person..

  4. jason says:

    “Scientists disprove the existence of human sympathy after herald of worker’s utopia doubts abattoir escapee’s intelligence and instincts when Maxine the cow refuses to get back on a truck with a bunch of unfamiliar humans.” sorry. trying find some pithy, concise way to express the smugness of that asshole. “Since we can’t know if animals really want to live or not, let’s eat them all,” declares vanguard of the proletarian revolution.

    • jason says:

      oh yeah, suggestive movies: the end of Apocalypse Now. perhaps. “they chopper in the t-bones & beer & turn the place into a beach BBQ,” after wasting a Vietnamese village.

    • Tarzie says:

      Ha. You have a gift for concision. I took the long way.

      • jason says:

        thanks. i was rolling my eyes so hard reading that crap you waded thru….
        in a puppy mill, if you suddenly threw the cages/doors open, the puppies wouldn’t just flee. does that mean they don’t want freedom? screw it. puppy surprise for dinner!

        it’s not other animals’ will to survive that is remotely questionable. if only we humans would go off in some quiet corner &….nah. all options must be on the table. (by the ending of apocalypse now, i meant the cow/kurtz killing scene if that wasn’t obvious.)

      • Tarzie says:

        The stupidity of it is really mind-boggling. Animal rights is a movement that is over a hundred years old, has antecedents in the ancient world and religion, but these dicks, chortle and ask their ridiculous questions as if animal rights people haven’t deliberated on what they believe and do at all. Can a cow stand trial??? Pay taxes??? Wow, dude, I hadn’t considered that. Let’s go to McDonalds!

    • jason says:

      the prodigy’s official video for “baby’s got a temper.” nsfw (so no link), as nothing with any truth to it is sfw.

    • Russ says:

      “Scientists disprove the existence of human sympathy after herald of worker’s utopia doubts abattoir escapee’s intelligence and instincts when Maxine the cow refuses to get back on a truck with a bunch of unfamiliar humans.” sorry. trying find some pithy, concise way to express the smugness of that asshole.

      We can go D’Amato one better. As scientists proved with their diagnosis of drapetomania, escaped slaves also had no idea what they were doing and were just chewing straw. Similarly, as the capitalists always told us, workers were just fine with their lot until outside troublemakers came along to “liberate” those who don’t really want or need any such liberation. Looks like D’Amato is trying to revive such themes.

      • jason says:

        of course. that humans would & do exhibit the exact same behavior as Maxine…just how difficult is it to see that? “…the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust.…” Ecclesiastes 3:19-20 (i speak from the traditions i’m familiar with but the “memento mori” idea is everywhere.) all this desperate cultural activity & striving & these cellophane bulwarks of the ego against all-devouring mortality. all of us huddling together & acting exactly alike…if i don’t stand out, maybe the grim reaper won’t harvest me? may he get someone else! yes, let’s all help Mr. Reaper get someone else…both the denial of & terror of death, our kinship with the animals in our mortality, reproduces what is repressed on a colossal scale: death, destruction, the possible annihilation of (earthly, biological) existence. but why do anything, then? ahhh, yes, without repressing a paralyzing fear that we know is used to control us, without a perpetual “duck & cover,” we wouldn’t get off the couch for there are no gardens to cultivate but Monsanto’s.

      • jason says:

        yes, the grotesqueries of duck & cover have been on my mind…

      • Russ says:

        A goal of both the corporate system is to keep people paralyzed with “fear itself”. The kind of fake reformism peddling what are obviously insufficient measures also reinforces this fear, often by design. If the only options on offer are obviously not offering any real alternative, then people will be prone to believe the lie “There is no alternative”.

        That’s why I always start with the assumption that no negation, criticism or call to action can work unless it goes along with a coherent, credible, and inspiring affirmative which offers a real alternative to the status quo.

      • Tarzie says:

        no negation, criticism or call to action can work unless it goes along with a coherent

        Yes, and it shows. One of the things I find so refreshing about your blog, is its orientation toward prescription rather than handwringing. So much of the left is just a bad news cult that’s ultimately disempowering.

  5. bholanath says:

    Groan….amazing how the dipshittery that’s still being spewed hasn’t changed a whit since the 60s, or possibly a century or more. These soul-less asses are just incapable of realizing that all their moronic ‘arguments’ have been shot down a million times already. [Ok, I suppose morons have ‘rights’ too] They got nuthin’, they’re done. The research in the field of animal sentience has grown exponentially in the last decade also (eg: animalmosaic.org/sentience/), and I’m assuming you’re familiar with Steven Best, Derrick Jensen, and the many contributions that come up on ALF [spelled out] dot com. Of course, the language and the use of higher brain function in this area of study would probably be contraindicated for the meds being consumed by the ‘giants’.

  6. Russ says:

    The so-called “socialist” who wrote that is simply an example of the same misanthropic, reactionary, sadistic, vandalizing sociopath who would usually select conservatism or libertarianism as his ideology, but who for whatever reason prefers a “left” flavor. We’ve seen how there’s vanishingly little difference between liberals and conservatives as far as the substance of what they want and support, at most just a difference of style, like whether or not one wrings hands and cries crocodile tears over some crime which one nevertheless supports. One of Obama’s functions has been to help many liberals “find themselves” as more aggressive, self-satisfied criminals who exult over the system’s crimes rather than pretend so much to lament them.

    As we see here, authoritarian “socialism” also attracts some who are, in substance, indistinguishable from any corporate cadre, and who want all the same things.

    Once again we see how looking at the existing political spectrum gives very little information about the real views and advocacies of people, or even whether they’re fundamentally political at all, as opposed to really being anti-political and purely authoritarian.

    As for the legalistic “argument” he’s making, it’s always funny to see an alleged radical being so bourgeois about things. Somebody tell him the news – as far as applying things like laws and trials to the hunter-hunted relationship, that’s overwhelmingly been done by elites to deter and punish the poaching of “their” game.

    Of course, given that we have such total enclosure by legalistic civilization, it certainly is the obligation of the laws to protect the weaker vs. abuses of power, and anyone can state that things should be that way. But any socialist ought to know that law never exists to serve such a purpose, and that it’s absurd to talk, as if it’s a matter of great importance, about what the law “should be”. So this scribbler’s fixation upon it, besides betraying his own bourgeois proclivities, is merely a kind of trolling. More importantly, that he sides with capitalism demonstrates his essential affinity with it. Clearly the entire point of the piece is to argue a pro-capitalist ideological point vs. an idea which is inherently anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian. Once again we see what’s already been historically proven, that economic authoritarianism of a nominally Left variety is inevitably, in principle and practice, just another form of capitalism, and offers no alternative to capitalism. This is the case wherever anyone seeks division and discord in order to split among such a self-evidently true proposition, that the focus has to be on suffering.

    Why would anyone argue against animal rights, other than from a point of view which intends to still exploit animals in the most vicious ways, i.e. continue with the status quo. Damato’s quote about speciesism (“is itself proof..”), which he uses to justify factory farming, expresses therefore a fundamentally Might Makes Right ideology and says it all about his real views.

    We can never repeat enough, exploitative speciesism is always, in addition to being an enemy of all non-human species, is also a great enemy of the human species, since no one would have such ideas except toward the goal of better dominating and exploiting people as well.

    • jason says:

      well-said russ. modern man looks at a river & sees a battery. the world is nothing more than a source of potential energy (heidegger?). we desperately need to reevaluate the pure ego/anthropo-centrism of our instrumentalist-rationality, which, as far as i can see, takes *the factory* as its model social organization (or the radioactive family, for private life). “why, oh why, did the October Revolution devolve into the Stalinist nightmare?!?!” (with the death of one person, no less.) i think you have a stellar insight: such a devolution occurred inevitably b/c those commies shared so many of the same beliefs & practices of their capitalist enemies. “mountain top removal & strip mining are not inherently bourgeois…” “don’t worry! the soviet will safely store tons of fresh nuclear civilian reactor waste.” “a glorious day in the Revolution has come, comrades! we get to design the slaughterhouses of the future!”

      our moral language to this day swims in speciesism & we only use such comparisons to express negative attributes (quite unlike previous ages & their reading of the “book of nature.”) that’s “bestial;” you fawn like a “dog”; etc., etc. it’s an insult to animals. no beast ever designed the “duck & cover method” to get factory-schooled children to prostrate themselves en mass in worshipful terror before the state & its nuclear nightmares. a “‘herd’ mentality?” such words are an insult to cows.

    • Tarzie says:

      Excellent comment, Russ. You really laid it out. This is something I’m going to keep in my mental notebook:

      More importantly, that he sides with capitalism demonstrates his essential affinity with it.

      That is exactly right. I hadn’t noticed that arguments against animal rights take the form of arguments for capitalism with much less concession to the plight of the “workers” than usual. I’ve been dabbling in Marxist animal rights, and some of them regard commodity animals as a particularly exploited sector of the working class, which seems about right and useful for erasing this fake distinction between them and us. I agree with you, that if we leave the door open for any kind of abuse of the weak by the strong, we’re fucking ourselves.

    • Russ says:

      I think that’s the right way to look at it. While humans and other animals aren’t the same in every way, they’re definitely in the same position where it comes to being subjected to the worst of violence, cruelty, and exploitation. I don’t trust anyone who claims to find a moral reason not to treat people that way but who would treat animals in that manner. Such an arbitrary distinction would easily start being made among people as well. Therefore I would expect such an ideology to exploit both people and animals, and like we’ve been saying, the record is that this always happens.

      I’ve seen a bit about how the Marxists have been debating this, with some wanting to incorporate a more ecological consciousness. I haven’t seen the argument about animals as a class of commodified workers, though that’s what they are according to any non-arbitrary (i.e. dogmatic speciesist) measure.

      I also think that from a purely strategic point of view, factory farms are a linchpin of the global capitalist system. Globalized agriculture is one of the most critical capitalist “growth” sectors, which is why the US and UK governments are so obsessed with propagating GMOs around the world. And the vast majority of the production is meant to generate feed for CAFOs. Latin American soy goes to European and Chinese factory farms, and the plan is to turn Africa into a supplementary feed factory. So a combined movement of anti-globalization, anti-capitalism, and animal welfare/rights, and also for public health (given how antibiotic abuse in CAFOs is tantamount to a systematic campaign to wipe out antibiotics as an effective medical treatment), all agreeing to focus on abolishing factory farms one way or another, would represent a real threat to corporate rule.

      So that’s another reason it’s not just immoral but tactically stupid for the likes of Marxists to sneer at animal rights/welfare. But then the unreconstructed ones have no problems with factory farms as such in the first place, just with “private” capitalist ownership of them.

  7. Jeffrey says:

    Well- feeling less great about my diet than usual…

  8. Rob says:

    Westerners always assume that there is only one way to view the world, which is the Western world view. I heard this little story from an anthropology teacher I had a long time ago in a class about North American Indians: A young Indian boy was hiking in the nearby mountains one day. He came across a lake and sat down to rest. Presently he saw this magical creature flying out of the sky and land in the lake. It had the colors of the rainbow and the young boy was surprised that it could fly, float on the lake like a boat, and dive under the water to swim like a fish. The boy was amazed to later learn that the name of this magical creature was “Duck.”

    Not all cultures view animals as something to be exploited. Of course, in our capitalistic world everything is up for grabs when it comes to exploitation.

  9. forest says:

    thought you folks might appreciate this: “Ecologically considered, it is not primarily our verbal statements that are ‘true’ or ‘false’, but rather the kind of relations that we sustain with the rest of nature. A human community that lives in a mutually beneficial relation with the surrounding earth is a community, we might say, that lives in truth. The ways of speaking common to that community – the claims and beliefs that enable such reciprocity to perpetuate itself – are, in this important sense, true. They are in accord with a right relation between these people and their world. Statements and beliefs, meanwhile, that foster violence toward the land, ways of speaking that enable the impairment or ruination of the surrounding field of beings, can be described as false ways of speaking […]. A civilization that relentlessly destroys the living land it inhabits is not well acquainted with truth.” from spell of the sensuous, david abrams.

  10. jason says:

    Peter Singer is interviewed today on-line at nytimes.com at “The Stone.”

  11. pteal (aka nimbus) says:

    A species which can produce a document titled “Owning the Weather by 2025” has no moral ground on which to stand – anywhere, ever. Too many humans have believed themselves above nature, for too long. The zenith of arrogance, stupidity, insanity, outrage, etc.; that is, human nature. David Hume was right when he said that empathy is the basis of moral behavior – but sadly mistaken in stating that it was universal among humans (but probably right in claiming that all other animals shared the sentiment).

    When I was a kid, oh so long ago, my favorite book was about a Ute boy who realized that every blade of grass has the same right to exist as did he. Not surprisingly, he wound up being crushed by the system. But better a tragic end to a life well-lived, than a Cinderella fantasy for an asshole.

    I despair of mass enlightenment (especially since, post-Fukushima and under ongoing geoengineering/”hacking the planet”/weather warfare, along with all the other forms of environmental destruction we wreak daily, we probably have only a couple of decades left). But it’s comforting to know that there are still some empathic individuals around. A toast to all who care!

  12. Pingback: Unlike the So-Called Left, Government and Industry Really Get Animal Rights » North American Animal Liberation Press Office

  13. Pingback: Animal rights in an age of corporate globalization | HermannView

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