Animal Rights or Human Responsibilities?

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The 2006 strikes for immigrants’ rights closed America’s feedlots and slaughterhouses

The 2006 strikes for immigrants’ rights closed America’s feedlots and slaughterhouses


Many people feel strongly that animals should be protected from unnecessary suffering. To that end, some promote animal rights as an extension of human rights and equate animal liberation with human liberation. While this may sound appealing on the surface, it confuses the meaning of rights and liberation.

There is an important difference between advocating humane treatment for animals and granting them moral or legal rights. Where animal advocates are concerned primarily with human responsibilities towards animals, animal liberationists pit animal rights against human needs. As I will show, this undermines efforts to create a society that can protect people and animals.


Animal liberationists argue that cruelty towards animals and destruction of the environment arise from the human domination of Nature. They point to pre-historic societies where people supposedly lived in harmony with Nature. However, harmony between the human and non-human world is possible only in a Garden of Eden, where God provides everything so that people don’t have to wrestle their survival from Nature.

In the real world, all species must struggle to survive. There is no lasting balance or harmony. There is violence, turbulence and change. Continents rise from the sea and are later submerged. There are periods of mass extinction of species and times when new species appear. Suns explode. Galaxies implode. Order dissolves into chaos, and out of chaos emerges new order. All things come into being and pass away.

Human history is rooted in our struggle to control Nature — to secure our food supply, shelter and clothe ourselves, manage our fertility, mend bones, heal wounds and combat disease and premature death. Agriculture and the domestication of animals are based on the assumption that people have a right to manipulate the environment to enhance their survival.

Pre-class societies took from Nature what they needed — cutting trees, mining minerals, domesticating animals and applying selective breeding to genetically alter other species. At the same time, they were conscious of their responsibility to the next generation and guarded the non-human world as a life-giving force. They took only what they needed and wasted nothing. For most of human history, people lived this way.

About 6,000 years ago, class divisions appeared. Feudal rulers proclaimed their divine right to take the biggest and best of what Nature and human skill had to offer. Responsibility for the natural world was subordinated to the obligation to provide for the elite. The development of capitalism, just a few hundred years ago, forced a much greater change.

Before capitalism, ruling families consumed the surplus. Capitalism changed the goal of production from consumption to accumulation, fundamentally changing the way people relate to each other and the environment.

The capitalist class put the surplus to work to create more surplus, or capital. While there is a limit to how much surplus can be consumed, there is no limit to how much capital can be accumulated.

Capital accumulation is driven by capitalist competition. Every capitalist is in a race to accumulate more capital, or profit, than his competitors. Those who fall behind go under. It doesn’t matter how much capital they have, no one can leave the race. Even a giant corporation like Microsoft must acquire more capital to stay ahead of its competitors.

The pursuit of profit is mindless. Because each capitalist must compete or die, nothing, not even the continued existence of life on Earth, matters more than “Accumulation for the sake of accumulation, production for the sake of production.”

People have always used Nature to meet their needs. Capitalism was the first society to do this without conscience or regard for consequences. To justify profit madness, ancient customs and traditions had to be swept away.

In the 17th century, René Descartes declared that people had souls, whereas animals were merely things. Descartes considered the cry of an animal in pain to be no more significant than the squeak of a rusty cog in a machine. This “Cartesian split” divided the human and non-human world, disconnecting humanity from its animal origins and its historic relationship with Nature.

Capitalism also divided humanity into “races,” in order to designate some people as sub-human. Racism was used to justify colonial exploitation and the slave trade. The treatment of African Blacks in slave ships rivals the most brutal examples of animal abuse. As recently as 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that slaves were property, not people. Racism continues to justify America’s wars of acquisition, its mass incarceration of the poor, and the organized thievery that leaves millions in dire deprivation.

Humanity has always struggled to control Nature. However, capitalist exploitation is immensely destructive to the human and the non-human world. Workers are used up and thrown away. Nature is pillaged for raw materials on the one end and used as a massive toilet at the other end. Hurricane Katrina demonstrated how disregard for people, animals and the environment go hand-in-hand. The only reason that people are not also slaughtered for profit by the food industry is that, unlike animals, we can organize in self-defense.

There is so much that we don’t know about the natural world. At the same time, there is no corner of the globe, and no species, that is not affected by human activity. Under capitalism, human beings control nature like the U.S. controls the world — without regard for the future.

Under capitalism, power over others and lack of power are both corrupting. Pessimists argue that the only alternative is to turn our backs on power altogether, to give up trying to control anything. This is short-sighted. Power — the ability to control events — can be a liberating force.

Power is not the problem. The problem is unequal access to power. Taking collective control of society will make it possible for us to act responsibly towards each other and our environment.


In 1970, Richard D. Ryder coined the phrase “speciesism” to describe the practice of favoring or assigning greater value to one species over another. A speciesist is someone who places human needs above the needs of other species.

Animal liberationists reject speciesism, insisting that animals be given the same consideration as human beings — they should not be regarded as property or treated as resources for human purposes (food, clothing, scientific research, etc.), but should instead be regarded as legal persons and members of society with equal rights. There are several problems with this stance.

Animals do not recognize the rights of other animals. They kill and eat each other instinctively. The right of one animal to dinner interferes with the right of another animal to live. To survive, every species must place its needs above those of other species. We eat plants and animals. We don’t allow them to eat us.

Medicine assumes that human life has supreme value. When my patient has pneumonia, I try to destroy the invading micro-organism. I do not grant the HIV virus the same right to live as a human being. Survival demands that we value human life over non-human life. That doesn’t mean that animals must be treated cruelly. However, it does mean that they can’t have equal rights.

Even for human beings, there is no such thing as absolute rights. The concept of human rights originated with the French Revolution (1789–1799), when the rising capitalist class appealed to the masses for help to overthrow the feudal aristocracy. After the dust settled, it became clear that ‘Liberty, Equality and Brotherhood’ meant the right of capitalists to exploit workers and peasants. The American people suffered a similar bait-and-switch. After vanquishing their British colonial masters, they discovered that “all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights” applied only to White male property owners.

Human rights exist within a class context. The rights of slave-owners conflict with the rights of slaves, the rights of employers conflict with the rights of workers, and the right of the KKK to free speech conflicts with the right of their targets to remain safe. Consequently, we must choose what is right, who has rights (and who does not), and how people and animals will be treated. The difficulty of such choices causes some people to promote universal rights for everyone and everything. However, as we shall see later on, such abstract moralism only serves the dominant class.

While animal liberationists view the struggle for animal rights as an extension of the fight for human rights, human rights are never bestowed by the oppressor. Women’s rights, minority rights, workers’ rights, etc, have been won only by people fighting on their own behalf, creating their own history. As Frederick Douglass pointed out, ” Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” The example of the United Nations proves that moral proclamations of rights, without struggle to enforce them, aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.

Because animals cannot organize on their own behalf, animal liberationists organize for them. Steve Rose observes,

“It is not the animals who are demanding rights, but the humans who are conferring rights upon the animals. This argument is not about the rights of animals but about the duties of human beings.”

Think about it. Freeing animals from human control would be disastrous. Domesticated animals would not survive on their own, and people who rely on animals for food would starve.

People can liberate animals from capitalist exploitation. However, the only way to free Nature from human control is to eliminate the human species, to put us at the very bottom of a value scale. While some believe that human extinction is the only way to save the planet, such anti-human despair cannot take us forward.


Science is the sum of all human knowledge, skill and experience. Capitalism perverts human know-how to such an extent that some reject science altogether and advocate that we go back to living as hunters and gatherers. This makes no sense. All human societies, including hunters and gatherers, are based on science — on our need to know the world in which we live.

The problem is not science, but how capitalism uses science to benefit a powerful elite at the expense of everything else. More than 95 percent of all science funding is dedicated to military and corporate (for-profit) research. Most of this would not be necessary in a truly democratic society.

An example of unnecessary research is the way that surgeons are being trained to operate in Afghanistan. A pig is seriously wounded and the surgeon is required to resuscitate it. Once the animal’s condition is stabilized, it is repeatedly wounded until the surgeon can no longer keep it alive. Wounded soldiers will undoubtedly benefit. However, the wounding of soldiers and pigs is based on the assumption that the war must continue. But most people oppose the war. In a genuine democracy, the slaughter of people and animals would end immediately.

In response to horrible conditions imposed on some research animals, animal liberationists condemn all animal research. Their demand to end animal testing endangers essential medical research.

Some medical experiments can be done on animal cells and tissues. Other research, like developing human vaccines, requires live animal testing at some stage. If we want new medicines, then we must test them on animals or we must test them on people. Thalidomide is a drug that was not subjected to enough animal testing, with catastrophic results for thousands of children born with gross deformities. The only country that ever banned animal experiments completely was Nazi Germany during the 1930s. They experimented on people instead.

HIV/AIDS has infected more than 33 million people. Every year, more than 2 million people die of the disease and 2.5 million are newly infected. If we want an HIV/AIDS vaccine, then we must experiment on primates. Stopping this research would condemn millions more people to death — unless we decided not to create a vaccine and give everyone anti-retroviral drugs instead. That might be just as effective. However, this option cannot be implemented under capitalism, because the right of drug companies to make a profit conflicts with the right of people to life-saving medicines.

The question of animal testing obscures a more important question. Who decides the direction of society, including what is produced and how science is used?

The pursuit of profit generates countless unsafe products and barbaric practices. In a genuine democracy, we could choose to eliminate toxic products, improving our own health and reducing the need for animal testing. However, capitalism deprives the majority of the right to decide such matters. Instead of demanding a halt to animal testing, we should demand a halt to capitalism, so that animal testing can be reserved for truly necessary research and conducted as humanely as possible.

people-as-meat.gif injured-worker.jpg

“[Food] workers… contend with conditions, vulnerabilities, and abuses which violate human rights.” — Human Rights Watch Report (2004)


Eating animals is not the same as being cruel towards them. Food animals can be raised with kindness and provided with better, longer lives than they could ever achieve in the wild. This can be a mutually beneficial relationship — we feed them, and they feed us.

The capitalist food industry is completely different — a source of immense cruelty towards animals and workers. While animal liberationists condemn how food animals are reared and slaughtered, they ignore the plight of food workers.

Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel, The Jungle, outraged America by exposing barbaric conditions in the meatpacking industry. Over the following decades, labor unions fought and won better working conditions, wages and benefits. These improvements were short-lived. In “The Chain Never Stops” (Mother Jones, July/August 2001) Eric Schlosser explains what happened.

“Starting in the early 1960s, a company called Iowa Beef Packers (IBP) began to revolutionize the industry, opening plants in rural areas far from union strongholds, recruiting immigrant workers from Mexico, introducing a new division of labor that eliminated the need for skilled butchers, and ruthlessly battling unions. By the late 1970s, meatpacking companies that wanted to compete with IBP had to adopt its business methods — or go out of business.”

By 2001, 85 percent of the American meatpacking industry was controlled by four corporations: IBP, ConAgra, Excel and National Beef. These fiercely anti-union giants dominate a primarily immigrant workforce, many of whom are undocumented. Wages have plummeted and conditions made intolerable for workers and the animals they process. Schlosser writes,

“The typical [production] line speed in an American slaughterhouse 25 years ago was about 175 cattle per hour. Some line speeds now approach 400 cattle per hour.”

Faster means cheaper and more profitable. Faster also means more frightening and more dangerous.

Meatpacking is America’s most dangerous occupation. Officially, more than 40,000 meatpacking workers are injured on the job every year. The actual number is much higher, because the industry is notorious for not reporting injuries, falsifying injury data, and minimizing lost workdays by firing injured workers or forcing them back to work prematurely.

In 2004, a Human Rights Watch Report: Blood, Sweat and Fear: Workers’ Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants concluded, “workers [in the meat and poultry industry] … contend with conditions, vulnerabilities, and abuses which violate human rights.”

The condition of food animals cannot be separated from the condition of food workers. As the drive for profit ratchets up the speed of the production line, all consideration of human and animals needs falls away. No time is allowed to kill humanely. No time is allowed to maintain sanitary conditions. Workers and animals are both terrorized and endangered.

In a classic divide-and-rule manoeuver, employers encourage workers to vent their rage on animals. In 2004, workers at a chicken-processing plant in Moorefield, West Virginia, were discovered torturing chickens, with the apparent approval of management. Incidents of torture increased when employees were forced to work overtime. Such cruelty is profitable for the capitalist. As long as workers are attacking animals, they are not demanding better conditions for themselves and for the animals.

Who can solve this problem? The capitalist State grants the employer the exclusive right to manage the workplace, which is considered his private property. Neither the general public nor workers in any particular industry are allowed to interfere with the right of the capitalist to make a profit. Consequently, industry conditions improve only when workers fight back.

When food workers improve their own conditions, they automatically improve the condition of food animals and the safety of the meat produced. You would think that animal advocates and food workers would be natural allies. However, middle-class moralism gets in the way.


“The warring classes will seek to gain victory by every means, while middle-class moralists will continue to wander in confusion between the two camps. Subjectively they sympathize with the oppressed — no one doubts that. Objectively, they remain captives of the morality of the ruling class and seek to impose it upon the oppressed instead of helping them to elaborate the morality of revolution.” — Leon Trotsky

During the 20th century, colonial wars, two World Wars and the threat of atomic annihilation revealed the destructive potential of science. The socialist movement condemned capitalism for applying science in these ways. Middle-class moralists saw it differently. They argued that science was inherently dangerous and destructive.

Today, the right of humanity to control nature is under attack by sections of the peace movement, the ecology movement, anarchists, eco-feminists and animal liberationists. While Nature has not benefitted from these attacks on science, conservative social forces have.

In the 1970s, Peter Singer compared animal liberation to women’s liberation. Not so. An abstract reverence for life (‘right-to-life’) supports those who seek to increase the oppression of women. If you believe that human beings have no right to control Nature, then they have no right to use contraception and abortion.

Colorado is considering an amendment to grant legal rights to fertilized human eggs. Voters would be asked whether inalienable rights, the right to due process and equal justice should be granted to “any human being from the moment of fertilization.” The fact that ‘equal rights’ for embryos undermines the rights of women is simply ignored.

Blaming environmental problems on ‘overpopulation’ supports racist population control and anti-immigration policies. If you think that too many people are endangering the planet, then you would have to cheer every war, famine, flood, earthquake and epidemic that reduces the population.

In fact, environmental damage is accelerating despite falling global birth rates. Between 1970 and 2000, the fertility rate in the world’s poor nations dropped by more than half. In Europe, it is below replacement level. The United States has the greatest impact on the environment, yet its fertility rate has been below replacement level for the past three decades. The root cause of the environmental crisis is not people but profit madness.

James Lovelock disagrees. “We, personally, are the polluters…We are therefore accountable, personally…for the silent spring that Rachel Carson predicted.” The New York Times takes the same position. “We simply cannot continue to hold our national security and the health of the planet hostage to our appetite for fossil fuels.”

There is no “we,” when it comes to who is responsible for human and environmental degradation. The real world is divided into conflicting classes. The capitalist class sets social policy to increase its power and profit. The working class struggles to resist exploitation and oppression. The middle-class sidesteps this conflict by demanding that everyone have equal rights, human and non-human alike. Who will enforce this demand?

The middle class dismisses the working class as unintelligent, unimportant, and certainly not a force that can remake the world. Instead, it turns to the capitalist State, which embraces every opportunity to advance its own agenda. The ruling class will use the concept of ‘universal rights’ to protect embryos from stem cell research, while it builds its war machine and allows people of all ages to die from lack of medical care.


All animals alter their environment in the process of meeting their needs. Human beings are the first to do so consciously. We are the only species capable of learning and applying the laws of Nature to enhance our survival, which includes protecting the environment on which our survival depends.

While human beings have the ability to control Nature, we have not yet learned to master ourselves. This is the supreme challenge of our species.Relying on moral pronouncements and State decrees is counterproductive. Profit madness will end when the majority take collective control of production. That is the only way to restore collective responsibility for our world.

How people relate to the non-human world has always been shaped by how they relate to each other. For more than 150,000 years, people lived in egalitarian societies that used Nature responsibly. Even today, most people support human responsibility towards the environment. The problem is capitalism, which blocks the majority from exercising any control over the direction of society. Divide and rule is essential to maintain this imbalance.

Most animal advocates do not support food workers, because they take the middle-class position of attacking food corporations and their employees. They also condemn people who eat meat, in the mistaken belief that being vegetarian is the only way to protect food animals. In fact, the 2006 strikes in support of immigrants’ rights achieved what vegetarians have never accomplished — they closed America’s feedlots and slaughterhouses.

The fate of the animal world is inextricably tied to our own. As long as some people are allowed to exploit and oppress other people, they will also exploit and oppress animals. To end animal abuse, we must support the working class — the only force that can end profit madness and all the human and animal suffering that goes with it.

Dr. Rosenthal, a Senior Editor at Cyrano’s Journal Online, has been practicing medicine for more than 30 years and has written many articles on the relationship between health and human relationships. She is also the author of Striking Flint: Genora (Johnson) Dollinger Remembers the 1936-1937 General Motors Sit-Down Strike (1996) and Market Madness and Mental Illness: The Crisis in Mental Health Care (1999) and Power and Powerlessness. She is a member of the National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981. She can be reached through her web site or by

16 comments on “Animal Rights or Human Responsibilities?
  1. I am in the midst of finals week and grading a ream of papers, but your article deserves some comment.
    I believe that there is a fundamental flaw in your base assumption – humans have always attempted to control their environment. Most indigenous languages do not even have a word for nature. It is integral to their lives and they live (and lived) within it – as part of it.
    While this has transformed over time, it was the movement to industrialization which made the transformation of ideology which we now see playing out in the destruction of the world around up. In “western”/”Christian” society the belief that the world was made FOR humans has served to legitimate and naturalize the minimalization of all other life forms. Under this dictum, whatever humans want is theirs to take.
    This minimalization has been reinforced (and reified) by arguments such as those you note that “only humans have souls;” only humans manipulate their environment; only humans have “self” awareness; only humans have “intelligence;” only humans laugh; animals don’t feel pain (the way humans do); ad nauseum. Except for the “souls,” which is unprovable, all the others have been proven false or are significantly in question. Humanity’s divine right to exploit is constantly and increasingly under challenge.
    I have my intro sociology students read “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn. In it he discusses to fundamental types of societies – Takers and Leavers. Taker societies operate on the premise that they own the world. Leaver societies operate on the premise that they are of the world. In the book, the main character (a gorilla) lays out what he calls the “Peacekeeping Law,” and how Taker societies feel that they are above that law. This “law” is presented as a “natural law” like gravity. It has several fundamental premises:
    “You may compete to the full extent of your capabilities, but you may not hunt down your competitors or destroy their food or deny them to access food.” (129)
    “No one species will make the life of the world its own.”
    “The world was not made for only one species.”
    “Humanity was not needed to bring order to the world.”
    Ishmael then goes on to delineate how Taker societies violate this natural law:
    Taker approach
    – kill competitors
    – destroy competitors food supply
    AND / OR
    – deny competitors access to food
    There is a distinction between living in the world, and in shaping the world. There is a difference between killing to eat, and industrialized agriculture which is beyond cruel and destructive of life at all levels from microbes to humans. We live in a society in the U.S. where most people are unaware of where their “food” comes from or where it goes to. They see nicely packaged meat, eggs, cheese, etc. They do not see the condition that the creatures (now wrapped neatly in plastic) live in – or are slaughtered in. There is a huge disconnect between the lamb and the lamb chop. This distance is kept because if it was not, then meat consumption would go way down.
    Humans denigrate other life at our own risk. We see this all around us as the planet struggles to survive the depredations of globalized, hegemonic capitalism, and the force-feeding of the world view that the world (and all in it) is here for “us” rather than we are of the world.
    The fundamental aspect of this is that the disjunction between human and “nature” lies at the heart of other forms of inequality. Those judged closest to “nature” are also to be exploited. They too are somehow “less than.” This is true whether the association is women (who are ruled by nature and emotion), or people of color (who are somehow more primitive) based upon a culturally embedded social Darwinism. It is certainly, and contemporarily, applied to those who seem to stand in the way of access to resources (such as the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Bolivia, Colombia, and elsewhere). People (particularly at this time in the “target areas” of Afghanistan and Iraq) are portrayed as “backwards” and living in the “stone age.” Therefore, like the ideology applied to Native American tribes at the invasion of Europeans, they aren’t exploiting their environment, so they have no right to live.
    Animal “rights” are not distinct from human rights. In fact, they are intimately and inextricably linked to each other. We live in a society which is dysjuncted in so many ways – not the least being our relationship to the rest of life. Therefore, appeals to ideology have no strength within the constructed framework. Only laws, and “rights” provide any modicum of protection – at least at this point.
    You ask if the microbe has the right to life. I would answer that our belief that it does not has created superbugs that may ultimately decimate the human population. “We” have declared “war” on all of those “bugs” and we have MRSA, skin eating bacteria, colds that have mutated to a deadly form, and viruses ready to jump the bird boundary to direct human transmission. This war has also given us “mad cow” disease, new human forms of corona virus, and a deadly variant of e-coli, among other diseases.
    Perhaps we should seriously investigate just where the belief that humans naturally control the world and are some super-special organism has taken us. As I look at the world, it seems that we stand on the brink of an extinction-level event on several fronts.

  2. You do not address the arguments in my article, and you carefully avoid the practical consequences of your own arguments.

    If you really believe that microbes have “a right to live,” then you must oppose the treatment of infectious diseases like pneumonia and HIV/AIDS — unless you believe that human beings have no right to live, which would make you a hypocrite.

    ALL societies, even the ideal societies you mention, must kill other species to survive.
    This biological imperative may not be apparent in academia.

    By the way, the creation of superbugs is not the result of antibiotics, but a combination of social factors that are all driven by profit-seeking: the overuse of antibiotics in the food industry, the decline in hospital sanitation due to speedups and staff cuts, the warehousing of sick people in prisons and a generally overworked, overstressed, malnourished population that is vulnerable to infectious disease.

  3. Susan,
    While I carefully tried to stick to the basic philosophical argument, you have decided to respond with a personal attack. I will not take that bait.

    I did not say that “microbes have a right to live,” but that we should consider the ideology that humans are “at war” with them. While I agree that it is not solely the effect of antibiotics that have driven the creation of “superbugs,” I never said that they were. I fully agree that there is more going on than that. That “more” includes things such as the penchant for disinfectant and anti-bacterial soaps. Add that to industrial food practices which have killed the soil, manipulated genetic material, the intense use of antibiotics in the food supply, and the feeding practices engaged in which (for example) turn cows into omnivores and cannibals, and there are indeed a lot of things going on.

    Indeed all societies kill other species to live. I did not argue that they did not. However, there is a world of difference between the practice of killing to eat, and industrialized slaughter. The U.S. has the highest ratio of meat it its diet – to the point where most of the medical profession and dietician’s highly recommend significantly reducing the intake.

    You have no argument from me on the impact of hegemonic capitalism in this process. Capitalism turns live itself into a commodity for exploitation. The issue here is not capitalism, but the animal rights issue. Given the capitalist environment, and exploitation for gain (not to survive), combined with an ideology that only humans are worthy of consideration and ALL else is there for us to exploit without consideration, then a strong stand to counter those influences is necessary.

    The point I was arguing was the underlying ideology that makes the separates us and the planet on a variety of levels. While all higher animals must kill to live, does that mean that it is appropriate to engage in deliberate cruelty? There is a difference between raising chickens for example and killing one from time to time, and placing tens of thousands in space so tight that one must remove their beaks and their feet grow into themselves from never being able to move from the perch. In fact, that when they are harvested (or die on their own) that they must be cut from that perch? That is capitalized industrialized agriculture at its finest.

    I live in Portland and we have a primate research center. There have studies there that are beyond cruel or inhumane. While I presume that this has been in the interests of science, and even medicine, I have to wonder at the disassociation of those who engage in that research. These are creatures that can “talk.” They can communicate with humans in sign language (given the opportunity to learn). They definitely experience the full range of “human” emotions including, love, grief, long term memory and association, and yes – rage. But under the dominant ideology, they are “less than” human, and therefore beneath consideration. It is for our “good” that these things are done, but what about OUR souls? Does the rationalization and perpetuation of suffering, destruction, and outright massacre, not diminish US?

    The ideology driving this path calms the mind with what is for the human good is most important, and supersedes all other considerations. Hence Quinn’s “Takers.” However, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we are a part of the web of life. We “slash and burn” that web at our own risk and peril. We manipulate that web at our own peril.

    I sense that you believe that those who support animal rights place the lives of animals above the rights of humans. I do not believe that, but I do believe that they deserve special consideration. What harms them ultimately harms us. The way that we view all life does heavily influence the way that view human life. Hitler could sanction the experimentation on humans because those humans were defined as “animals.” We can kill off people (and sometimes populations) because we define them a “beasts” or bestial. In doing so, they are beneath our consideration. They are beyond the pale of our concern.

  4. As a lifetime independent Marxist from Australia, former labor organizer who cut his teeth in earlier times, during the postwar British struggles that yielded whatever we might call a semi-civilized patina to British society (which popular gains are now being betrayed all over the place by the “New Laborites”, the “Third Way” Bliar-hypocrites)—I can say that in my view a revolution that lacks a sense of compassion is not a revolution that will inspire many to follow it to the bitter end, and will likely contain the seed of its own unraveling. Admittedly, it may sound “soft’, “fluffy” and even “Middle Class” to Ms. Rosenthal and similarly positioned traditional left thinkers to speak of something like “compassion” in a hard-headed Marxian analysis of the relationship between animals and humans, but in my view and experience I submit without apology that it is nothing but imperative to include such notions in all revolutionary schemata, or else we forget that while the journey is supremely important so is the destination. “Dominionism” over all of nature, as has been enthroned first by religion and next by capitalism, has given us a host of problems that are not likely to relent just by dint of a socialist revolution. Hence, as others have argued in this journal, such issues should be addressed NOW, not in some indefinite future that may or may never come. What’s more, while it’s obviously undeniable that Marx—like most thinkers of his time—had not much regard for animals, they didn’t really figure in his social calculus, Lenin and Che Guevara, to mention just two leftists of impeccable credentials, reflect a more modern approach to such problematica, and did have a “soft” spot for animals and frequently said so. Guevara even went so far as to say to his med school classmate Clarissa Romero that humans acted as “fascists” in regard to the rest of [subjugated] sentient nature. In sum, not all sentiment of empathy can be dismissed out of hand as “bourgeois” emotionalism, and I believe it is myopic to begrudge such feelings to those who see the horrors we visit on other species and are working hard to remedy these dreadful conditions. Mr Rowan Wolf is correct in that we must stop behaving as “takers” and “conquerors”—the self-assigned Lords of Nature—and start behaving with more humility and intelligence.

  5. Rowan and Rob Kirby have already decimated Rosenthal’s shop-worn arguments defending our “right” to slaugher innocent creatures to please our palates.

    It is interesting to note that her deeply ingrained,ugly prejudices AND glaring inability to empathize with “lesser species” seem grossly inconsistent with being a physician. As leftists, if we are truly pursuing tectonic shifts in our sociocultural and socioeconomic systems, which of course we are, given the fact that capitalism grants moral retards the social and legal license to exploit, dominate, and subordinate nearly everyone and everything so they can accumulate wealth, I’m not certain why we are even debating the “merits” of the unnecessary murder of non-human, SENTIENT beings to provide us with meat. The anti-exploiters become the exploiters, eh? Aren’t a number of the European Jews and their progeny who escaped Hitler doing something similar to the Palestinians?

    Peter Singer wrote an irrefutable argument that non-human animals deserve CONSIDERATION (not rights–note that Ms. Rosenthal cleverly raises the specious argument concerning the impossibility of affording non-human animals the same rights as humans) because they are sentient creatures and because they suffer. Singer closed the case in 1974 with Animal Liberation. Funny that a utilitarian, bourgie philosopher has more warmth in the ice cubes of his drink than Ms. Rosenthal has in her whole body.

    By the way, in order to exist on this planet one does need to manipulate one’s environment and killing other living creatures is unavoidable (i.e. the example of microbes, stepping on insects, hitting a rabbit with your car, killing a poisonous spider in your home). However, blessed with frontal lobes and the capacity to make moral distinctions, we human beings can choose to minimize the suffering we inflict and the deaths we cause. Subjugating animals and murdering them for their flesh is an out-moded means of “survival.” Ms. Rosenthal may not like it, but “meat is murder.”

    I think the good doctor simply enjoys her burgers and wants to mentally masturbate us into agreeing with her so she can feel good about her decision to participate in the banal evil of eating animal flesh.

    Vincent Askew

    Author of “Animals are People Too”

  6. WOW!

    None of the above commentators actually read the article, which is all about systemic cruelty towards animals (and people) and how best to END this suffering.

    Moralism hasn’t worked, doesn’t work, can’t work to protect animals or people!

    To recap, the central questions raised by the article are:

    1. Is the problem of cruelty towards animals rooted in human nature or capitalism?
    2. Is the working class the enemy, or is it central to the solving the problem?

    Serious responses only, PLEASE!

  7. I think it is presumptuous of Ms. Rosenthal to say that critics on this thread didn’t read her article. Of course they did, or so they seem [to me at least] for they make very cogent arguments that would be difficult to advance in a total absence of specific information about her points. I should remind Ms. Rosenthal that disagreeing with her considered opinions is not the same as passing comment without due diligence. Keeping proportions in place, I am certain that Friedrich Engels, in preparing his famous polemic against Prof. Duhring’s positions, took care to read the original down to the last footnote. Over the years I have read many papers on this question, but I never saw a single instance suggesting that Prof. Duhring rejected Herr Engels counterarguments with a facile, “You didn’t read what I wrote” type of patronizing dismissal. He simply took the arguments for what they represented, and tried to deal with them (we know he didn’t get too far, though).

    I find it a bit dissonant for this writer, clearly a gifted educator of leftist topics and issues (I read with sincere admiration her political analysis of the middle class and other essays posted on this site recently) to indulge in “straw man” arguments and, worse still, reductio ad absurdum, whereby she would rather invite ridicule on her opponents than address counterpoints seriously and with respect. In this regard, it is particularly jarring to watch the author engage in what is transparently a “strawman” cum reductio ad absurdum approach to refute the critics. She must know that such approaches have long been used by precisely many of the people she would probably take huge exception to, including many paid apologists for business, exploitative, highly polluting agribusiness, for example. Painting the cause of animal rights and all animal liberationists with a very broad brush, she proceeds to imply [derisively] that we are all for equal treatment between cows, whales and microbes and I would imagine, broccoli, too, which is plainly absurd and not the case at all. Maybe she’s thinking of Jainists, not animal liberationists. While unrestricted dominionism does make mistakes even in the case of bacteria and “microbes” (being a scientist Ms. Rosenthal will have heard about the indispensable role played by CYANOBACTERIA in the food chain and therefore the maintenance of life “as we know it” [Cyanobacteria are important in the nitrogen cycle. Cyanobacteria are very important organisms for the health and growth of many plants. They are one of very few groups of organisms that can convert inert atmospheric nitrogen into an organic form, such as nitrate or ammonia. It is these “fixed” forms of nitrogen which plants need for their growth, and must obtain from the soil. Fertilizers work the way they do in part because they contain additional fixed nitrogen which plants can then absorb through their roots.], few in the animal defense camp are willing to make a case for the AIDS virus, for example, or syphilis, although some misanthropists of all political stripes certainly have celebrated these plagues as a form of accidental human population control (which castigate the poor, again, far more severely than the rich. That much we are in perfect agreement with Ms. Rosenthal.) To reiterate, in my reading of the pertinent literature, I discern a clear distinction in this area among animal advocates, with most arguing for “moral consideration” on the basis of sentience [sentient animals with a developed nervous system (= higher consciousness)]

    I thank The Greanville Journal for opening its pages to what is clearly a dissenting viewpoint, as the only way to resolve these perceptions is through responsible debate. The Left has nothing to lose, except its blinders and prejudices, and the a/r camp neither, as it could easily deepen its political literacy without wandering off into unproductive tangents. But for that to happen, honesty must prevail in the way these ideas are exchanged.

  8. I can’t understand why some folks think these issues are mutually exclusive! Can anyone explain that to me? Human interests and animal interests do not need to be seen as divergent but convergent. The author seems to be making that case, but after reading the article a couple of times I am not so sure any more. In any case, a thoughtful essay on an extremely difficult issue.

  9. Susan,
    You state:
    To recap, the central questions raised by the article are:

    1. Is the problem of cruelty towards animals rooted in human nature or capitalism?
    Neither. cruelty is not part of human nature any more than it is part of any creature’s nature. Nor is it rooted in capitalism. Human cruelty towards “animals” (and all associated with them including the natural environment, women, and those deemed “less than”) are part of a cultural ideology that separates a certain definition of “man” from all else and places “him” and “his” desires above any other consideration.

    Capitalism, and particularly modern day hegemonic capitalism, exacerbates this ideology by adding profit and accumulation to the culturally legitimated exploitation. In other words, current capitalism takes this ideology to an entirely new destructive level.

    2. Is the working class the enemy, or is it central to the solving the problem?
    I have no idea why you would extract this as a central argument. However, the working class is not the enemy (nor are the poor nor most above them). If there is an “enemy” here it is a corporatized elite acting in their narrow self-interest. Since this elite controls both information and cultural presentation, they are able to propagandize the population to act against their own and the planet’s needs and interests. Of course, they also hold other “levers” such as mortgages, rents, the food supply, the water supply, and other necessities of life. The “people” (everyone outside that elite) must participate in the exploitation of their labor to exchange for those necessities. Sorry if this is too basic and over-simplified, but surely I don’t need to layout class dynamics and exploitation to this group.

    In fact, the working class (and particularly the poor) are largely stereotyped as “dumb beasts” who have not the “intelligence” or “motivation” to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”

    Back to the main arguments which I think generated this question is that somehow arguing for animal rights is a direct conflict (or attack) on the working class (or lower since the areas where that “conflict” occurs is mostly among a highly exploited population that is not making working class wages). Actually, the disregard of other life may actually endanger those workers. Perhaps you saw the report Minn. Slaughterhouse Workers Fall Ill where the suspected cause of “chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, or CIDP, a rare immune disorder that attacks the nerves and produces tingling, numbness and weakness in the arms and legs, sometimes causing lasting damage” is pig brains that were turned into an aerosol by using high pressure air to blow the brains out of the skulls. Or the levels of cancer and birth defects caused by workers being sprayed with pesticides. Or the lack of safety protections for those doing “low end” jobs.

  10. The first paragraph of my article draws a clear line between animal advocacy and animal rights in order to identify the best way to end human and animal suffering. NOWHERE DOES THIS ARTICLE SUPPORT CRUELTY TOWARDS ANIMALS. Therefore, those who attack me for supporting such cruelty either didn’t read the article or chose to ignore what didn’t fit into their world view.

    As for not taking comments seriously, Vincent Askew’s moral tirade is religious in character and merits no serious response.

    I agree with BluDog2007 who states, “Human interests and animal interests do not need to be seen as divergent but convergent.” The key is that “interests” are not the same as “rights.” As I explain in the article, the politics of animal “rights” drives a wedge between human and animal concerns.

    Laura.WildmondsVenn86 accuses me of being dishonest for implying that ALL supporters of animal rights have right-wing beliefs. I did not say that. I argued that the POLITICS of animal rights/liberation is anti-worker and lends support to right-wing causes (What individuals in any movement believe is another matter.) Laura states her “admiration” for my previous article on the politics of the middle class, but won’t acknowledge the profound influence of these politics on the animal liberation movement.

    Laura also confuses the difference between political disagreement and personal ridicule. An example of personal ridicule is Vincent Askew’s slander that “the good doctor simply enjoys her burgers and wants to mentally masturbate us into agreeing with her so she can feel good about her decision to participate in the banal evil of eating animal flesh.” Laura ignores this and other personal attacks on me, while criticizing me for “inviting ridicule” upon my opponents. She doesn’t say how I do this, so I assume she objects to me saying that “the biological imperative may not be apparent in academia.”

    It’s no secret that academia separates ideology from material conditions. And Rowan Wolf does that by separating the issue of capitalism from the issue of animal welfare. He/she also makes an abstract argument for “rights and laws.” Under capitalism, these can be enforced only by the capitalist state — the grand overseer of cruelty towards people and animals.

    In a later comment, Rowan Wolf repeats my argument that disregard for people and animals goes hand-in-hand. Good! We agree on this! And I absolutely agree that we are “part of the web if life.” The central question is: what social force can stop the destruction of humanity and the environment. If not the working class than who? We are left with a moralistic argument that strengthens the hand of the capitalist State.

    I stand by my thesis that the POLITICS of animal liberation cannot improve the condition of animals or people. On the contrary, they serve as a conduit that moves caring people from left to right, from a historical understanding of the human condition to a moralistic one that bolsters the (barbaric) status quo.

  11. I must object to the repeated attempts to pigeonhole my arguments as “academic” and separated from the realities of life.

    I was born into the lower class – one might say abject poverty. I was then exposed to the institutionalization of the child “welfare” system and placed in largely “working class” foster homes. I am mixed race and a lesbian. I spent much of my life working in “lousy” dirty jobs.

    It took me from 1970 until 1995 to get through the system of higher education to get the magic handshake that gave me my doctorate in sociology. Those 25 years were a constant struggle against the isolated perspectives of the “Ivory Tower,” as well as what was perceived as my unacceptable perspectives within a world of the educated “management class.” My most vehement detractors in graduate school – the Marxist Sociologists – to the point that one of them tried to get me expelled from the program because a lesbian had no right in their graduate program. Actually, the problem was rooted in the fact that I refused to see all issues as class issues as the Marxist Sociologists gave short shrift to either race or sex stratification. I still struggle professionally with the tendency to reduce all arguments to class arguments. I see it as a reflection of sex and race privilege where the only important distinction is class.

    Now, and for the past 10 years, I have taught in a community college. I work with students everyday who are coming from the working and lower class and taking the “alternate route” through the higher ed system.

    My class identity is “lower class” and not even on the radar of the “working class” debate.

    Being of the lower class, being mixed race, being a woman and a lesbian, I have far too much experience being identified as “less than,” insignificant,” and bestial. I have experienced hate violence, casual brutality, lack of consideration, and discrimination. I also made the connection very early on between the way people (and institutions) saw and related to me (and others labeled “less than”, and the casual disregard and brutality with which “animals” and the natural environment. It was located within the same ideological framework. It still is.

    I am anti-capitalistic, but not a Marxist. I find it interesting to engage in Marxist leaning class-based arguments where the oppressed “working class” will rise up (which they have done various times around the world – frequently in the form of unions) and transform the system. However, there are two interesting issue in this perspective. One, that because the general framework of the working class (like most everyone else) accepts a relatively unquestioning acceptance of capitalism, that revolution all too frequently does not evolve into an overthrow of that system. Rather, a less exploited consideration within it. Secondly, a true revolution would eradicate the class system.

    Having directly experienced the physical, psychological, and metaphorical blows of the ideology of domination, my world view is that it is the ideology of domination that plays itself out through whatever institutional mechanisms are available – economy, religion, education, etc. In the modern globalized environment, it is economy that is most pervasive across nations and culture. Hence the issue of “rights” within the framework of the capitalist state for that is the environment we operate within.

    The “revolution” (and I think this is stirring) is a much larger paradigm shift than class or capitalism. It is a growing recognition on a global scale that the path we are on is taking us all over a cliff. It is a growing recognition that the exploitation of land and resources which undermines peoples capacity to respond is directly linked to the exploitation of human effort is directly linked to the laws and governments which has facilitated the exploitation. Hence, you have examples such as the U’wa of Colombia ready to die to the last person to protect the “blood of the mother” (oil on their lands). Die, not to control a “resource” which has capital value, but because of a sacred trust of that protection.

    There is a certain irony in looking at “modern development” in say science and medicine which has happened almost totally within the framework of capitalism – complete with the exploitation and appropriation – and argue whether or not microbes and viruses have “rights.” Not all peoples of the world see the skills of advanced technology and science (and the resulting “gains” from them) as something that tops the priority list. Some cultures (which are rapidly being exterminated) actually frame “development” and “advancement” in very different frameworks. The “science” of soul, relationship, connection, is more highly valued – even at the “cost” of a few years of life. The “science” of the relationship of plants and eco-systems to the health of the people. Those who are “shy” if not aversed to certain types of medical intervention because it would risk the overall relationship of the various planes of connection (body/mind/spirit).

    So I have perhaps gone way off the direction of the argument posed. The “revolution,” in my opinion, is not one of class or class mobilization. The ultimate issue is not “rights,” but the framing of relationship. The ultimate outcome of the shift, is not a restructuring of economic relations, but a reframing of all relations. Idealistic and “disconnected”? Perhaps. However, no more disconnected than trying to fight capitalistic class relations while maintaining class as the central organizing priniciple.

  12. A false polarization has occurred in this discussion:

    Being critical of animal rights/liberation does not mean that one supports animal cruelty, anymore than being critical of Zionism means that one is anti-semitic. Yet that is where this argument has gone.

    My critique of animal rights/liberation politics is not a defense of animal abuse, but an attempt to locate it within the context of capitalism, which also abuses human beings.

    So, let’s get back on track.

    We all agree that cruelty towards animals exists and is intolerable. So what is the solution?

    Vincent Askew calls himself a leftist and then proceeds to make the right-wing argument that “meat is murder” (this resonates with the anti-abortion slogan that abortion is murder). If meat is murder, then meat-packers should be treated the same as the murderers of human beings. This is an example of how arguments for animal rights lead to attacks on the working class.

    Rowan: You and I agree on many things. Your argument is a serious one, and I apologize for not acknowledging that earlier. I was reacting (clearly too much) to Askew’s rant.

    You repeat my own argument when you state that “all higher animals must kill to live.” We also agree that, as you put it, “There is a difference between killing to eat, and industrialized agriculture which is beyond cruel and destructive of life at all levels from microbes to humans.”

    We differ in that you indict industry, where I indict capitalism. Industry did develop with capitalism, but it need not remain under its control. I can imagine industries that are organized and run humanely for people and animals.

    You also state (and I also agree) “There is a huge disconnect between the lamb and the lamb chop. This distance is kept because if it was not, then meat consumption would go way down.” This is true because most people do abhor cruelty to animals. The problem is not the attitudes of ordinary people, but the impact of capitalist social relations, in particular, the drive for profit.

    I disagree with your statement that the problem is “an ideology that only humans are worthy of consideration and ALL else is there for us to exploit without consideration.” Your own experience of oppression proves that capitalism does not treat all human beings as worthy of consideration. Society is divided into classes where those closer to the bottom are designated as less valuable than those nearer the top. Animals are drawn into this system of abuse and exploitation, and will be trapped in it as long as we are.

    We part company in the matter of HOW to combat the problem. You promote classless appeals to ideals and values. I see this as ineffective and counter-productive. Ultimately, our disagreement will be worked out in practice. If I ever see an animal rights organization supporting any workers’ struggle, then I promise to eat my article!

  13. Been a reader of this blog for some time and am I supposed inured to the consistently high quality of the posts we can find here, but this one requires a new adjective: superb even by TGJ’s standards!

    What is so remarkable in this instance is the overall quality of the discussion, which easily leaves most public blogs in the dust. As a compulsive internaut I spend a considerable time on the Net each day and can assure you that it’s not very frequent that you find this level of argumentation on both sides, on a piece as controversial as this one. I didn’t know much about the animal question, although I am sympathetic to the goals expressed by the animals’ sincere advocates. I only wish that more people in the A/R movement —beginning with the leaders—adopted a more authentic revolutionary position in terms of tactics and strategies. In my view, the movement is plagued by improvisational politics, knee-jerk reactionism, and rank amateurism, both emanating from what Ms. Rosenthal diagnoses as middle class perspectives and other shortcomings. Of course, this critique can also be laid at the doorstep of many so-called “leftist” organizations and groups who, despite having the benefit of a much more concrete understanding of politics, seem to be incapable of fielding the kind of energy one continues to see in some sectors of the putatively misguided animal defense movement.

  14. I’m afraid this is the kind of issue that only the long term march of history will decide. Both sides are unlikely to yield in the absence of major world-historical events. But I do not see structural reasons why an alliance is impossible. In fact, I believe it will come to that, for as mentioned in the discussion, there are some very compelling reasons to see it happen ti mutual benefit all both sides.

  15. Hi gang. Sorry I’m late getting here, and sorry that this thread got personal and gruesome. I hope everyone involved can keep an eye on the issue and not keep a knife at each others’ throats. Susan knows that she’s a hero of mine, and her Power and Powerlessness book is just PACKED with excellent statistics, but she also knows I disagree with some of the “other-than statistics” she has in her book. I believe Susan is fairly new at being an unfairness fighter… and that she is still grappling with herself and her habits (like meat-eating). Susan makes one blaring statement that I completely disagree-with.

    “ALL societies, even the ideal societies you mention, must kill other species to survive.”

    I will start by quoting myself from my old Minneapolis website…

    “It is time for mankind to climb above capitalism and similar survival competing. It is time to outlaw ownership, billing, money, and ALL demanding. It is time to re-activate caring. It is quite simple and obvious! Religions promote giving/love, and capitalism promotes taking/fear. WAKE UP! LET’S FIX THIS! We will need gardeners, as we QUIT killing animals and QUIT cropping plants. We must wait for the food to “fall” as the season’s name tells us. Hey Free-Marketeers… are you ‘up’ for a little gardening? You’ll LOVE doing plant-care and fall-net work in one of New America’s 500,000 orchards and groves! It’ll be fun, considering in an all-love world, live bands, carnivals, picnics, and accidentally falling-into MANY hidden love-things… is common. ALL project areas (workplaces) will look like carnivals, and their all-volunteer project-force will celebrate their production of TOP NOTCH QUALITY things! After all, folks who do hard work, on great survival tools, out of love for mankind… are national heros in New America, and followed HEAVILY by the media cameras and mentor-seeking children. Ready to throw the switch?”

    Yep, I believe NO LIVING THING, plant or animal… should be denied living its ENTIRE life, and I believe that wild animals are ALSO here to learn to subsist without killing plants or animals. Why would anyone think that only humans are here to learn how to be cooperative/sharing? We teach our dogs not to kill our cats in order to survive, right? What would make us think that ALL animals can’t be taught to survive without killing things?

    Yes, I believe all living things, human, animal, and plants, have the RIGHT to survive till their death of old age or other non-attack cause. Vine-ripened things ARE ALWAYS more nutritious. Plants “fall” their fruit at the exact proper time, and fallen foods can keep ALL CREATURES alive… if we plant enough groves and orchards… and promote animal proliferation. Yes, its going to take nearly covering the entire Earth with groves and orchards… but so what? Lets do it. And the animals?? They “fall” too, when they die of NATURAL causes… and a meat processing plant is NOT a natural cause, nor is a bullet or killing hammer. Fall nets are the answer. Grains, fruits, nuts, animals… all “fall” when it is the proper time for them to fall… and THAT is when OTHER living animals, humans, and plants, should have the RIGHT to use that bio-material for personal survival.

    As far as medical/biological killing, I believe if we all subsisted on fallen things, there would be no more diseases that require the killing of something… for the cure. Its in question whether we EVER needed to kill something, so that something else may live. I think there is a massive lack-of research in that area of town. After all, we don’t even really know very much about how a SEED works and does its magic.

    I’m a bit of a simpleton, so pardon my primitive ways and words. I have no degrees… just a calling in my heart…. and acid reflux in my stomach… and no teeth.

    Susan, please keep hanging-around with us and don’t be discouraged. Give yourself some time to grapple the very complicated issues that we are ALL grappling ’round here. We NEED your expertise around here, Susan. Try not to take disagreements so personally, and if you can… try-on the shoes of the folks who have responded to your piece. Their views ARE pertinent. Some of these activists are VERY experienced and possibly/likely psychic. Try not to slough them off… as they are speaking with clarity. Take the time to try-on their views… and you might be surprised at how very “young” you are in this war against attrocities. No one is too “expert” to learn new things and views. Humans and animals CAN survive without killing things! It just takes a whole new system of doing things… mainly… FALL nets…. and love and respect for ALL living things.

    We also need the BCO editors to fix the link to Susan’s book… seen on…

    There’s a missing “s” in her book link. Please fix. Thanks.


    Larry “Wingnut” Wendlandt
    MaStars – Mothers Against Stuff That Ain’t Right
    Bessemer MI USA

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