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?


Guest Post #1: “The reason veganism is still relevant to me is that animals are still relevant to me.”

May 28, 2012

The first guest post comes from A.V.B. in Lawrence, Kansas.

There isn’t an exact date of when I decided to go vegan (because I transitioned slowly) but it was about 10 years ago when I was a kid in high school. I was vegetarian for about a year and a half before that.  To say that I chose to make these life changes for any other reason other than ethical ones would be disingenuous. To say that my convictions around my motivations have done anything but intensified over the past decade would be an all out lie. Let’s be clear: the only issue that motivated me to make that lifestyle change was the ethical imperative I knew I had the moment I really realized that meat came from the flesh of a once living animal. To be totally honest, it was a nice coincidence that veganism is healthier than meat-eating.  But make no mistake, even if being vegan wasn’t the healthiest thing I could do for my body, I still would have made the same choice.

I’m not trying to claim to have an open mind to the arguments often spoken by locavores/food politics junkies because the animals are necessarily left out of those conversations. I absolutely disagree with arguments that describe veganism as ineffectual. Every time individuals choose to not put the flesh of another creature inside their own bodies, that means something profound. I know many radicals scoff at symbolic victories and think they don’t mean anything or matter.  But fuck that. That’s so capitalist I can’t even handle it. Things don’t always have to be concrete to matter. There doesn’t always need to be a “real” or “proven” outcome for an act for it to matter. Yes, I do think it’s wasteful and shortsighted for vegans to exclusively eat products that contain large amounts of packaging/processing and not think about the impact of those food choices or how animals are affected by deforestation, landfills, and other forms of environmental degradation. But you cannot discount the statement that is made when an individual chooses to not eat the carcass of a (at-one-time) living being.

I know there isn’t a one size fits all approach to veganism, and I don’t think there should be. But I do think the suffering animals endure should be a large part of the conversation. The reason veganism is still relevant to me is that animals are still relevant to me. I am, after all, an animal and, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The only reason I’ve continued to deal with racist folks, messed up Utilitarians, sexist and sizest comments from both within and outside the vegan community, is because the only thing that matters to me is the fact that I try, with all my might, to keep animals and their byproducts out of my body. I know I’m not perfect, and I’ve had too many conversations about “where I draw the line”– I’ve made that line as clearly defined as possible. I don’t ask for perfection, nor should anyone. I think that everyone should try as hard as possible to think about animals, put themselves in their place, to open their hearts, and make decisions that can minimize the harm humans inflict on animals.

My sister recently gave a presentation to a group of locavores-artists (one artist was going to have five chickens displayed around town in a coop and then publicly slaughter them at the end of the month to “connect people to their food”) and she illuminated something that I had always known but not considered quite so simply. Thousands of years ago, most of the nonhumans on earth were able to live their lives according to the reasons they were meant to exist. But in this current era, humans/men have violently transformed this. We removed animals from their environments, or altered them drastically based on our other actions (domesticated cats/dogs/rabbits/etc, warmed the ocean so much that the Antarctic glaciers are melting, cut down the forests for cheap palm oil, “developed” land in the name of “modernization,” etc.) and then we said, “your purpose in life is to be there for me, for I am human and I am the only thing that matters.” We’ve said with our actions “your sole purpose for existing is now mine. Your life’s purpose and value is only to provide something for me: convenience, flavor, entertainment, companionship, a method to test chemicals, anything I want. I control you.”

And this land of the “free” is one of the worst offenders. I don’t want to be an animal that expects this of any other animal. I want to let others live as they should live. Humans consume 100 billion animals worldwide every year (there are ~7 billion humans on Earth). There is just no argument that a nonvegan can make to justify this. Vegans don’t contribute to this number, and there is value in that. As unfathomable as this number is, even it relates only to the end process: death. This number says nothing about the suffering each and every one of those living creatures experienced to be the flesh we consumed, or the flesh we purchased at the store and then threw away because it went bad/we didn’t like the taste/was recalled for e. coli etc.

Despite what some people may try to claim, all humans know that nonhumans suffer.  We may not know exactly how, but that’s irrelevant. We don’t need scientific studies or “authorities” to tell us this. We just need to make rational choices that come from an open heart. Animals suffer, we know that.  Therefore, we should not eat them or use them for any other purpose humans find relevant. It’s really that simple.


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.


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 Red Scare: Once More, With Feeling

June 5, 2011

Last night, I had the pleasure to go see a talk by Will Potter of Green is the New Red at a local vegan coffee shop. Potter is an investigative journalist who has made a name for himself by tirelessly exposing the post-9/11 erosion of civil liberties in this country. After the talk, we schmoozed for a little bit and I picked up a copy of his excellent new book in which he tells the stories of non-violent animal liberationists and environmentalists whom the FBI has aggressively targeted as “the number one domestic terrorist threat.” Using legislation quite literally written by pharmaceutical and agribusiness corporations, the federal government has applied “terrorism enhancements” to the prosecution of activists who are pushing the envelope of the green movement.

If you know much about the history of the FBI, you are already aware that they have existed more or less as a social movement busting organization since their inception as the General Intelligence Division in 1919. At that time, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer handed over half a million dollars to a young J. Edgar Hoover and told him to “fight radicalism.” We all know where that went. Historically, the U.S. government has debuted repressive techniques first on easy to marginalize minorities before casting a wider net. The Palmer Raids occurred in an era when hardworking Americans, many of them immigrants, were attempting to reorganize society in a way that they felt was more just and equitable. While we should avoid making direct equivalencies, there is a clear parallel between that historical moment and this one.

As Will Potter will tell you, the issue here is not whether you agree with the politics of vegan abolitionism or earth liberation. In the past few years, we have seen the slow emergence of a national conversation on what it means to be a sustainable society. The world is overwhelmed by war, violence, ecological degradation, alienation and indignity. Things cannot continue as they are if the human race is going to make it out of the 21st century. We need real systemic change, not the rebranding of the same ignominious policies that have impoverished the world.

As this consciousness shift coalesces into action, we find ourselves running up against the inflexibility of a system where the pursuit of profit has killed the drive for innovation. It’s species-wide maladaptivity and we’re borrowing to pay for the privilege. As humanity struggles to evolve in a rapidly changing landscape, entrenched corporate and political interests push back against us with everything they have. Why? Because if we grow into something greater than mere consumers, then the primitively accumulated wealth and privilege of the upper class will wither into irrelevance.

It’s great to argue over visions of a peaceful new world sprouting from the ashes of the empire. These are discussions that need to happen and I find it incredibly encouraging how much they abound these days, even in completely mainstream locales. But there’s something we need to push out of the way before any of us can begin laying cornerstones. If we approach this monumental task through the framework of consumerism, then we have already lost. We can’t afford to let a vested interest in stagnation sell our ideas back to us, de-fanged and castrated. Don’t let them tell you that spending a few more dollars a pound for “humane meat” is the answer to that sinking feeling in your gut when you first saw raw footage of a steer bleeding out on the kill floor of an Iowa abbatoir. You can’t buy revolution at the supermarket. You can’t vote it into office. You won’t read about it in articles from the vanguard party’s newspaper. There will be no hyperlinks to it on this blog. Revolution starts with taking responsibility for changing yourself from the inside out, not giving it up to someone else in the hopes that they’ll change the world to suit you. Real change isn’t safe but you’re not the only one who wants it. Look around. Talk to people. Find something you can lock arms over. And if you’re the last one out of the era of corporatist militarism, please make sure you turn out the lights. After all, we’re going green.