India Bans Animal Tests on Cosmetic Products

June 28, 2013

animal-testing-europe-2-537x402
Good news for guinea pigs! Just hours ago, the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) ordered a ban on the testing of cosmetic products or ingredients to cosmetic products on non-human animals. This comes on the heels on similar phase outs commencing in the European Union and Israel.

As countries like India and China continue to build robust and diversified economies, this kind of international standard becomes ever more important. Since Bill Clinton’s broad deregulation of international trade in the 1990s, we’ve seen a recurring pattern where corporations outsource production to countries where there are few labor or environmental laws. There has not been a similar pattern of biomedical outsourcing simply because the work is more “skilled” (i.e. you need to purchase more degrees to enter the guild system and they’re mostly for sale in the U.S.). However, as more international families with the means send their children to get educated in the U.S. while their home countries’ university systems are built up, we can expect the outsourcing trend to reach all sectors of the economy. This is to say that any rights won ultimately mean very little as long as they are constrained by national borders.

Source: ThinkProgress

What happened in India today is a great victory in the ongoing struggle against vivisection, yet it remains a single piece in a much greater puzzle. We need international solidarity around issues of human, animal and Earth rights such that there are no safe harbors for their violation. A key component of establishing such solidarity is ending the horrendous poverty, much of it an enduring colonial legacy, that forces people to take on jobs that they know to be exploitative and wrong. And if that wasn’t explicit enough, let me be clear that I am speaking of the expropriation of wealth that has become centralized in the coffers of the offensively rich and its summary redistribution amongst the impoverished.

Capitalism went global before humanity did and it’s taken us some time to catch up. But we can coordinate an international refusal to participate in its most brutal machinations. We can refuse to be pitted against each other and instead recognize that the system of organization under which we toil does not serve the cause of peace and ecological harmony. We can stand up for animals, the Earth and each other and we do it by standing against capitalism.

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Capitalism is Free Range Carnism

February 18, 2013

If I ever stopped being vegan, I would probably go to business school. After all, what is capitalism but a little bit of species-on-species predation?

Actually, if anything, wage labor is a generous proposition compared to pasture labor. Unlike an animal raised for slaughter, whose entire life and death are managed by the farm boss, wage labor under capitalism promises a few hours per day of relative autonomy. Sure, the boss gets the bulk of your life, but he doesn’t control your very birth and death; not directly, anyway.

If you believe that you can have some kind of natural, holistic relationship with another creature whereby they spend their whole lives accumulating calories for you to harvest when you’re feeling peckish, fantastic. But I want you to then tell me why it’s wrong for somebody else to establish that same kind of relationship–different only in that it is kinder–with another human being.

Humans have always ruled other humans, haven’t they? Isn’t this natural? Isn’t it right?


Thanksgiving: What’s to Celebrate?

November 24, 2011

NTNG!

It’s difficult to find the right words for a day like today. This is especially true when you’re surrounded by drunk and overfed relatives who, quite frankly, don’t want you spoiling their day off with another tirade on whales or Bosnians or whatever the hell it is today. But, god bless ’em, you’re going to do it anyway. Years from now, your younger cousins will thank you for showing them that critical engagement with social issues is a far more effective ways to piss off adults than the entire Slipknot back catalogue. Congratulations, you’re a role model.

Having a day off work is great, but it’s important to be aware of what today represents to the indigenous people of the Americas. Many have called for a National Day of Mourning to commemorate the victims of a genocide that is yet ongoing. The systematic extermination of the original inhabitants of this continent defies comprehension in its scale and brutality. According to whose figures you accept, the native human population of the Americas was reduced by between 80 and 99 percent in the 400 years between Columbus’ arrival and the massacre at Wounded Knee. We’re talking about up to one hundred million people. More people than you could have met in ten lifetimes. More people than the top eight most populated cities in the world combined. A little more than one out of every one hundred people currently alive today. Behind every “self made” millionaire is this history of primitive accumulation.

Humans were not the only victims of these policies of extermination and the violent conversion of the common fruits of the Earth into discretely bound units of private property. In just a hundred years, the North American bison population dropped from about 60 million to one or two million. [1] During the mid nineteenth century, passenger pigeons thrived to such a degree that “there would be days and days when the air was alive with them, hardly a break occurring in the flocks for half a day at a time. Flocks stretched as far as a person could see, one tier above another.” [2] Today, they are completely extinct.

Area of primary forests in the United States (lower 48)
Deforestation Leads to Exinction

The ecosystems of North America were once burgeoning with an integrated diversity of species: salmon, wolves, mink, ermine, badgers, beavers, otters, bears, cougars, bobcats, cranes, eagles, turkeys and so on. Yet one by one, these creatures were displaced and nearly or completely eradicated because of the same philosophy that legitimized the genocide of American Indians, the same philosophy that legitimized the exploitation of European peasants and the same philosophy that legitimizes global capitalism today: manifest destiny. That what is is good because god wills it; because it is “natural.” The genocidal imperative.

Ward Churchill has made the argument that we ought not be surprised when the United States government engages in wars of aggression overseas or domestic repression at home. After all, it was the genocidal imperative that founded this country and, from near the outset, wealth began to be centralized among those who were willing to commit the most heinous atrocities. We have arrived at a point now where our society rests on a foundation of normalized violence. Our economy depends on war all the time to function. The bodies of the body politic literally run on the product of extreme systemic violence: 50 billion nonhuman animals killed every year for a nutritional need that does not exist. The aforementioned staggering death tolls pale in numerical comparison to this figure, yet it occurs annually and with little fanfare.

We are not listing these examples to try to present some sort of equivalency between the suffering endured by humans and the suffering endured by nonhumans. Quantifying and comparing one person’s suffering or oppression to another’s is absurd and incoherent. The purpose is to identify common modes of oppression and the cultural logics which justify them. The purpose is to honor and mourn those who are gone and to fight with those who still remain. The purpose is to understand the history of how we got came to live in arguably the most violent society in all history and to ask why that seems normal to so many of us.

If we are aware of the histories that precede us, then we can begin to construct functional and peaceful alternatives to the cultural logic of genocide. Confronting manifest destiny is a necessary part of this process even if (and maybe especially if) it makes your relatives uncomfortable.

Notes:

“As an indigenous person, the fur trade represents so much more to me than just animal abuse. It represents cultural genocide. They were the footsoldiers of an invasion and conquest of the new world. They were ones who introduced disease and alcoholism. They were the ones who introduced gunpowder and many many things that lead to our decimation.”–Rod Coronado

If you plan on eating turkey this thanskgiving, this is required viewing. Please don’t fool yourself into thinking that “humanely raised” or “free range” turkeys live and die in appreciably different conditions. Raising animals for food means rape, castration and murder 100% of the time.

1. The Eternal Frontier, Tim Flannery, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2001, pg 321-322

2. A Green History of the World, Clive Ponting, Penguin Books, 1992, pg 168-170


Being Peaceful ≠ Passive (Or: The Occupy Wall Street Post)

October 10, 2011

We still owe you a follow-up to our post on strategies for effective vegan activism beyond the boycott. Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten and we’ll be getting it to you soon. That said, there’s no way we can sleep on the Occupy Wall Street story which, owing to the pleasantly surprising tenacity of its participants, has clawed its way from blowing up Facebook feeds to achieving “no longer ignorable” status with the mainstream media outlets.

Occupy Wall Street is a phenomenon that is at once incredibly complicated and incredibly clear cut. While its persistence has forced the aforementioned major news networks (owned one and all by “One Percenters”) to finally begin covering it, you will notice a common dismissive tone in their stories. “These demonstrators,” they assure you, “have no clear idea of what they want or why they are here.” Of course, this is completely inaccurate. It would be more accurate to state that the participants in Occupy Wall Street (and the hundreds of solidarity occupations and protests around the country) are refusing to reduce their diverse grievances with capitalism to a single, one-size-fits-all message.

A Middle Class Occupation?

The significant presence of middle class participants in Occupy Wall Street entices both media coverage and media derision for, of all things, privilege on the part of the participants. (One wonders where these network experts on oppression and identity politics were when Troy Davis was murdered.) It is important to recognize the middle class influence on Occupy Wall Street without doing the corporate journalists’ work for them and undermining solidarity.

If a significant portion of the United States’ middle class is beginning to realize that capitalism is not a stable system of human organization, then that is a very good thing. It is also relevant to point out that the involvement of many people has been spurred by the fact that capitalism has finally begun to imperil their privilege. Some of us are surprised that they’re surprised. After all, the far majority of the world’s human population has been living in abject poverty for generations as a direct result of these very same policies that shore up the One Percent.

The past 500 years of history display an ever-accelerating rate of resource extraction and wealth centralization. First the colonial empires pillaged the new world, then the dueling capitalist and communist power blocs robbed free trades zones and annexed bloc territories, then the corporatist middle and upper classes plundered the working class de-industrialized zones, and finally the top one percent is poised to take the very last drop from what remains of the middle class. So are we justifiably a little frustrated with someone only showing up last month to a five hundred year fight for the survival of all life on Earth? Sure. But I’m still glad to see them.

Maximizing Potential: From Protest to Resistance

At this stage, Occupy Wall Street is two things: a symbolic protest and a public conversation on systemic inequality. It continues to gain momentum by drawing disparate groups together who recognize the indignity of living under capitalism. By refusing to issue demands or craft political platforms, the participants have in effect created a “big tent” under which any party aggrieved by the economic order can share space, ideas and resources. Basic solidarity and mutual aid on this level have long been in short supply in the United States. We can hope that these become most enduring legacies of Occupy Wall Street.

What Occupy Wall Street is not, however, is an occupation. Allow me to repeat that. Occupy Wall Street is not an occupation unless by that you are referring to its part in the ongoing occupation of Lenape tribal lands. The participants have set up a permitted encampment that is surrounded on all sides uniformed cops and heavily infiltrated by undercover cops. They are subject to selective enforcement of noise and assembly ordinances as well as arbitrary and violent arrests. As Malcolm Harris pointed out in his sympathetic critique of the demonstration, “this is what’s behind every picture you’ve seen of Zucotti Park.”

It was a momentous step for tens thousands of us to get out from in front of our TVs and computers and into the streets, and for us to force this conversation into the mainstream. However, let no one delude themselves into believing that being surrounded by heavily armed riot cops is negotiating from a position of power. It is a dangerous misconception that following directions from police (who are apparently not the enemy, they just accept money to protect the enemy from accountability) will keep us safe from harm. It is a dangerous misconception to believe that we can effect lasting systemic change by simply speaking truth to power. Those in power–be it corporate, government, military or police–are very aware of the economic conditions that allow them disproportionate control over politics and daily life. They will not concede their positions voluntarily, most especially not because someone convinces them that it’s unfair.

Every major social justice movement in the history of this country, from labor organizing to the women’s suffrage to the Civil Rights movement, depended on direct action to achieve lasting gains. This is the process of moving beyond a petition for the redress of grievances and moving toward a community oriented address of grievances without the consent of the politicians, CEOs, generals or cops. Being peaceful is not the same thing as being passive.

Occupy Together as Radicals

There is always more to say and even more to do. For whatever it’s worth, we support Occupy Wall Street completely. We also know that it will be dead in the water by New Year’s unless it continues to evolve. Radicals can seize this moment and be a driving force in that evolution. We can do this by continuing to take part in honest discussions with others and, more importantly, demonstrating the effectiveness of our tactics. This doesn’t have to involve the participation of everyone at an “occupation” and, in fact, it probably shouldn’t. A series of coordinated, well-planned affinity group actions specifically designed to avoid a violent police crackdown (inasmuch as this is possible and acknowledging also that police are responsible for police violence) would be a tremendous boon to Occupy Wall Street.

Here are just a few examples of things people could try:

•Using radio scanners to monitor police communications and liveblogging that information.

•Researching specific One Percenters, making public their nefarious deeds, and then organizing SHAC-style demonstrations at their homes and offices.

•Offering trainings on elementary street tactics (which could have potentially helped hundreds evade arrest last week on the Brooklyn bridge).

•Staging real occupations, lockdowns and disruptions of corporate offices.

•Organizing bank runs.

•And many more that we cannot legally advocate!

In Short…

Occupy Wall Street could be the start of real revolutionary change or it could just be the death throes of the middle class. Which one depends entirely on how disciplined we can be in the pursuit of a post-capitalist society. We do not need a share in their plundered wealth. We do not need to be another complacent generation, standing by as the world burns and knowing that things will be worse for our children. It is time to stop asking. It is time to start making and taking.


Veganomics: How U.S. Monetary Policy Affects Animal Rights

September 24, 2011

The Money Fix is a documentary from director, open currency advocate and permaculturalist Alan Rosenblith. This documentary does an excellent job of explaining the U.S. monetary system in accessible language. It ends with a profile of an intriguing alternative currency system supported by Rosenblith.

We suggest this documentary not so much because organizing around alternative currencies appeals to us (although it does) but because Rosenblith’s critique of the U.S. monetary system is both incisive and digestible. The language of economics can seem so absolutely incoherent that we’re often tempted to throw up our hands in resignation that we will never understand how it all works. When we adopt this attitude, we lose sight of the biases of our currency, economy and how we generate and define wealth.

Our previous post was meant to encourage vegans to think about a kind of organizing that will transcend the current economic and social order which is itself inimical to the vegan ethic. In particular, we discouraged readers from thinking that lasting systemic change is something we can buy. That approach assumes the current economic model and monetary system as givens rather than constructs with encoded biases. One dollar may equal one vote but it’s always a vote for capitalism.

When we study the history of our economic model and the currency that underpins it, we see how they have developed biases towards exploitation of workers, violent resource extraction and hoarding. We can also see that, throughout history, there have been many different forms of currency and many different systems of economic exchange that have had biases toward the creation of social value. There is no more reason to accept the current system as natural, normal or necessary than there is to accept carnism and its annual 50 billion-creature body count.

Rosenblith’s documentary is a great crash course on the monetary system. I also highly recommend Douglas Rushkoff’s Life Inc. for a more in depth and expansive critique.


Will Veganism Be Relevant for Another 70 Years?

September 22, 2011

When Donald Watson, Sally Shrigley and 23 of their friends founded the Vegan Society on November 1st, 1944, the world was a very different place. It was no accident that veganism, a term coined by Watson, was gaining traction during the waning months of World War II. As the sun set on the old seafaring empires, many Europeans looked around at the devastation wrought by industrial warfare and knew there had to be another way. Unfortunately, Truman, Stalin and Churchill had other ideas. The politicians, industrialists and assorted war profiteers who had done quite well for themselves during war years wasted little time in consolidating their power. While the United States and Soviet empires rose, anarchists and the political left did their best to recover from the repression of the war years. Egalitarian visionaries like Watson sought to pioneer new ways of living that could leave the violence of war and slaughter in the past. So why didn’t we?

The history of strategic boycotts is storied and, in the years leading up to the birth of Donald Watson’s Vegan Society, they had been used to varying degrees of success. From the National Negro League’s boycott of goods produced by slave labor in 1830 to Gandhian Swadeshi during the struggle for Indian independence to the Jewish-organized boycott of the Ford Motor Company over its ties to the Third Reich, there was ample historical precedent to suggest that coordinated denial of popular economic support could result in at least a degree systemic reform.

Much has changed in the years intervening 1944 and 2011. While veganism as a simple boycott may have seemed a sufficient strategy 67 years ago in a pre-global marketplace, we can no longer expect to shop our way to the revolution. Ultimately, efforts at action that do not address the root causes of systemic exploitation will result in the recuperation of veganism by institutional power. As we discussed in an earlier post, global capitalism depends upon an ever-increasing margin of profit maximization through resource extraction. Even if we are naive enough to believe that we can minimize the effects of this extraction through the reform of its most brutal aspects, the capitalist logic always seeks a greater rate of extractive efficiency. The only equilibrium sought by this system is that of a dead planet on which every last resource has been exploited to the point of inutility. This is incompatible with the ethics of veganism and, as such, any serious vegan needs to be as serious about organizing against global capitalism as they are about boycotting meat and dairy products.

A visit to your (gentrified) neighborhood Whole Foods Market showcases how even an ethos as sound as veganism can be transformed into a class wedge. Paying major corporations to transform society for us is not a viable political strategy. When we engage with veganism exclusively as consumers, we are falling prey to the same marketing tricks that legitimize humane meat (sic): that a guilt free lifestyle only costs a few extra dollars per week. This lack of strategy ensures that veganism will die a quiet death in a subcultural, middle class ghetto of our own creation. The ecological devastation and murdering of biodiversity brought about by industrial soy plantations is how capitalism interprets veganism. If veganism is not anti-capitalist, then it is useless, except perhaps to let us witness a mass extinction in slower motion.

None of this is to say that the boycott aspect of veganism lacks relevance, only that we cannot expect to make social progress by engaging in the ethic of veganism solely as consumers. Boycotts have been used in the past as powerful organizing tools. They are embodied demonstrations of strength, solidarity, discipline and unity. They are beacons to others who care but feel disempowered or isolated. We are here, we are poised and every person who comes with us adds to the historical inertia of our movement.

The boycott may only be our first step as a movement but it’s not the only one we’ve made in 70 years. The Hunt Saboteurs Association, the Band of Mercy, the Animal Liberation Front, the Liberation Leagues, SHAC and the Animal Defense Leagues all represent strategic advancements in the struggle for animal liberation. Whether or not one agrees with any particular tactic utilized by these groups, it is important to study their history. If you are someone for whom veganism is a political act, then it is your history. In order for this movement to maintain relevance for another 70 years, we need to be unafraid of its evolution from reaction to anti-capitalist organizing tool to post-capitalist social foundation.

In an upcoming post, we will discuss practical strategies for vegan anti-capitalist organizing beyond the boycott.

Some recommended reading:

Against All Odds–A concise, strategic look at the pre-SHAC campaigning era in England.

From Dusk Til Dawn–This book is absolutely sprawling. It’s not the kind of thing you want to sit down and read cover to cover. That said, it chronicles 40 years of movement history in the words of somebody who was there to witness and participate in it.

Green is the New Red–Picks up where Keith Mann leaves off on the other side of the Atlantic. Will Potter’s incisive take on the post-9/11 crackdown on civil liberties with a focus on the animal liberation and radical environmental movements.


The “C” Word

September 19, 2010

(No, I’m sorry, it’s not “canteloupe.”)

A lot of what we’ve written on our blog so far is about details. Before we did anything else, we wanted to make it clear that Keith’s method of research is profoundly dishonest; that she is willing to distort, fabricate and manipulate as it lends false credence to her polemic against veganism. Suffice it to say, she has obliged us to do a careful, line by line reading of The Vegetarian Myth; there is simply too much wrong with this book to do anything else!

But, for the moment, I would like to take a step back from the details and talk about a particular pachyderm hanging out in that corner over there. He’s wearing a monocle and spats and makes you trade hours of your life for Illuminati tickets. Yes, let’s talk about capitalism, baby. People might misunderstand…but that’s a part of life.

Description vs. Manifestation

“Capitalism” is something of a lazy word to throw around. Like any theory it doesn’t really exist outside of the papers (or blogs) upon which we write its name. Capitalism, like communism, fascism, socialism, totalitarianism, etc. is a vision and an ideal. None of these theories exist in the real world, but would-be governors attempt to prise them from the minds of theorists and overlay them upon civilian populations. Naturally, there are always problems in translation. The unconscionable brutality of Stalinism barely resembles Marx’s hopeful tirade on an inevitable era of social equality, peace and cooperation.

So What Is Capitalism?

Theorists have come up ways to refine their definitions of abstractions like “capitalism” or “communism” by applying funny adjectives to them such as “late stage,” “techno” or “state monopoly.” Sometimes these terms are useful but I think it’s easiest if I just get to the point and tell you exactly what I mean. When I speak of capitalism, I am describing a vast set of economic relationships whose functionality is predicated on their ability to expand. The method of the capitalist system is to extract utility (use value) from resources (anything and everything) in order to maximize profit (monetary gain). This results in the accumulation of capital (money or resources) which is reinvested in order to extract utility from more resources. The drive to maximize profits corollates with an ever-increasing rate of resource extraction. This is expansion.

This cycle is never-ending. When it stops or slows down we end up with depressions, recessions and various other colorful euphemisms for “systemic failure.” The logical engine of capitalism drives toward the location of more resources and it always extract as much use value from them as possible. The ways in which this is problematic do not often occur to people until they think of ways in which workers can be seen as resources, rainforests can be seen as resources, non-human animals can be seen as resources, and so on.

So what does this have to do with Lierre Keith, paleolithic diets and veganism?

This fundamental mode of exploitation, which I argue is central to capitalism, is antithetical to the vegan ethic. Throughout The Vegetarian Myth Lierre Keith makes the assertion that what vegans cite as exploitation is merely the way the world works and that we should accept it. This opens some interesting ethical doors.

When Is(n’t) It Exploitation?

If we are comfortable with Keith’s proposition that killing non-human animals for food is not exploitative, then what would qualify? Certainly not the condition of the working class under capitalism, which could be easily understood as a kinder, gentler form of species-on-species predation. After all, employing an undocumented labor force that at times begins to resemble slavery is downright magnanimous compared to cutting to the chase and eating their bodies. However much green spin is put onto animal husbandry, it entails rape, castration and murder one hundred percent of the time. As malignantly oppressive as the modern institutions of wage slavery are, they have at least been ameliorated through labor and civil rights struggles to the point that workers have some degree of control over their own bodies (although we can see this being eroded through the criminalization of undocumented workers). To what natural law is Keith appealing that she thinks that we ought not do this?

If domestication and murder qualify as “holy” (23-24) then what on Earth doesn’t? The truth is, Keith has packed some abominably exploitative and speciesist assumptions into a Trojan Horse made to resemble ecofeminism and deep ecology. Wishy-washy spirituality notwithstanding, her project is to legitimize the use of nonhuman animal bodies as resources to be exploited. She attempts to obscure this by assuring the reader of that we are simply “eaten as well as eaters…tak[ing] our place at the table” (23). Keith would have us believe that we are not domesticators, but equal participants in domestication. Through some very convoluted rhetorical gymnastics and an anecdote about getting snow down her shirt on the way to feed her chickens, she arrives at the conclusion that domesticated animals are getting a better deal than the humans that eat their flesh. She makes the incredible claim that we are co-evolving with the nonhumans we domesticate in the exact same fashion that any other predator does with their prey. Nowhere does she make mention of the fact that humans wield ultimate biopower over their domesticated charges, binding them to rape racks and managing their (d)evolution so as to rear strains that are unable to stand. After all, they’re not supposed to.

Speciesism and Die-Offs

Once again we are left with this question: if Keith has no problem with managing the biological evolution of animals in such a way as to suit her whims, then why not manage the social evolution of people for the same reasons? The reason, of course, is that Keith is a speciesist who treats “Others” in a way she would never treat humans. Or maybe she would treat them that way. When one considers that Keith’s diet would require a mass die-off (she uses the colorful euphemism, “energy descent” [259]) to be sustainable, one wonders exactly what it is she’s proposing. The last time anything like the food-system she envisions existed, there were 90 million people spread throughout the Americas, many of whom did depend on “the ten-thousand year rupturing gash of agriculture” (271) to survive. With 300 million in the United States alone, where are we going to find the land to make this fantasy into reality? How do we attain this primitivist Eden when, to feed those suicidally noble New England cows Keith won’t shut up about, it would take 390,000,000 square miles of land? Oh, and that’s when you’re looking at a diet supplemented with grains. Suddenly, soylent green’s starting to look kind of viable.

I didn’t find an answer to these questions in The Vegetarian Myth. They weren’t asked. I found a lot of starry-eyed paens to animals that are totally okay with being raped and murdered as long as you pray over them first. I found a lot of fetishistic portrayals of non-industrial indigenous cultures whose lifeways Keith wants to appropriate. I found absolutely incessant invocation of a long-lost green utopia that Keith rhetorically hides from, tantalizes with and re-discovers for the reader. I found a lot of dumped quotes from Derrick Jensen, because he published her book. I found a disturbing amount of passages where Lierre Keith actually tries to write from the perspective of a voice inside the reader’s head. This book is actually a triumph of programming in the way it tries to seize on the reader’s perceived insecurities, works to break her down through a steady rhythm of emotional needling and then, when she’s at her lowest point, present Weston Price and Derrick Jensen cloaked in the language of woo-woo spirituality. This book is, as a good friend quipped, “fucking bonkers.” In my next post, we’ll get deep in to just how fucking bonkers it gets.