Five Reasons to Look Up at the Supermoon

Supermoon 2011
On the night of June 22 (and June 23), the moon will be closer and, consequently, appear larger than at any other time in 2013.  That this event coincides with a full moon makes it a “supermoon”.

While this may appear to be a matter of trivia to many who do not have an independent interest in astronomy, I would suggest that those concerned with Animal and Earth Liberation pause and look up.

EarthSky indicates that for “United States’ time zones, the moon will turn full on June 23 at 7:32 a.m. EDT, 6:32 a.m. CDT, 5:32 a.m. MDT and 4:32 a.m. PDT.”

1.       Changing Paradigms

Quite often for strategic reasons Animal and Earth Liberation efforts manifest in a vast number of scattered individual campaigns, single issue pursuits, and one-off events.  There are campaigns focused on bear bile farming, suction dredge mining, mountaintop removal, road building, factory farmed animals, honeybees, wildlife poaching, animal experimentation, climate change, species extinction, nuclear power, noise pollution, light pollution, water pollution, plastic bags, the disposal of e-waste, urban farming…ad infinitum.

To make progress on all of these interwoven issues requires a paradigm change on the part of the general public.  Every person cannot be an expert on every issue but with a change in world view the burden of proof can naturally shift, the questions asked may change, and initial reactions to new assaults on Animals and Earth may swing.  For example, if one held the view that animals are not property, that they are morally different from tables and chairs, then it may not be necessary to mount separate arguments against the existence of zoos, circuses, animal laboratories, and fur farms.  The change of a fundamental belief has far reaching ripple effects.

Asserting the unquantifiable value of being present for natural events such as the supermoon contributes to that paradigm change.  But of course assertions of value are insufficient and by themselves ring hollow, the event must actually be valued.  If it is important that one actually stops to take notice.  Its importance is not simply asserted but rather is revealed in the actions of people.

2.       Shifting Biocentrically

For any of the individual campaigns mentioned above there are often a variety of arguments that advocates might make depending on who they are trying to sway.  If promoting veganism, one might cite medical literature to suggest that it is healthier and contributes to a longer, more productive life.  If promoting habitat preservation for wildlife, one might suggest that wild animals represent a greater economic asset alive than they do dead.  If one is promoting alternative energy sources, the discussion may address issues of efficiency.

Yet these are all explicitly anthropocentric reasons for taking certain action; they play to the presumed prejudices of the person being addressed and avoid the work of shifting paradigms and promoting a different set of values.

A particularly egregious example of this is PETA’s claim that killing chickens via a process known as controlled atmosphere killing (CAK) as opposed to an electrical stunning model would benefit industry by reducing carcass damage and increasing revenue.

3.       Re-joining the Community of Life

The human species is radically alienated from the biotic community—the community of life.  The harm we have caused ourselves and others stems largely from that alienation.  Actions that bring us closer to the natural world and re-introduce us to the others whom we share it with are of the utmost importance.

Joanna Macy says of that while we may treat the earth as “a supply house and a sewer” it is in fact “our larger body”.  Likewise, it is the larger body of other animals, no less important to their well being than claws, wings, teeth, tails, and fins.  This is one reason why animals in zoos so often disappoint; in a very real sense, they are not whole animals.

The moon is obviously not part of the earth but it is definitely part of our world, it is part of the lived experience of residing on earth and in that respect is a commonality between human and many nonhuman animals.

4.       Caring for Self

Activists are notoriously busy.  In the wake of pressing demands, taking time out to look at the moon may seem to be an unwarranted indulgence or as simply unimportant.  But it’s quite the opposite: neither unwarranted nor unimportant.  It is a matter of self-care on par with getting adequate sleep, eating well, and being physically active.

It serves to put things into a healthy perspective and to remind oneself of the purpose of ongoing struggle.  It is not adequate and not healthy to wait until “after the revolution” to linger beneath a full moon, put one’s feet in the water, or let the voices of birds steer one’s thoughts.  The opportunity to do these things—to live—is right now.

5.       Knowing Other Animals

It is impossible to adequately cultivate healthy relations with other animal without knowing the world in which they live.  This includes the cycles of the moon, the change of seasons, geographic features, climatic features, and on and on.  The fact that we are alienated from the natural world means that we often inadvertently harm others.  We fail to anticipate that bright lights that blot out the night sky will cause serious harm to animals.  Until avian bodies accumulate at the base of skyscrapers, we don’t think of how birds will react to these tall glass buildings.  We are even surprised to discover that human produced insecticides might kill insects and that that may not be beneficial.

So take the opportunity to look up at the moon, deliberately lose track of time, and know that not a minute will be wasted.

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An Anti-Tech Perspective on Edward Snowden

snowden_c

We cannot develop and maintain the infrastructure that makes the surveillance state possible, combine it with a hierarchical political system, and then expect that those in power will restrain themselves from making use of these tools for less than noble purposes.   It is a naïve but pervasive notion that technologies are neutral (“Guns don’t kill people—people do.” “Surveillance technologies don’t snoop…”).

Furthermore, we cannot rely entirely on a steady stream of heroic disclosures such as those of Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning in order to consistently rectify wrongs.  Manning has already been tortured and is now a character in a show trial. Snowden is intelligent enough to know that he will be pursued and may very well suffer a similar fate (“I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions, and that the return of this information to the public marks my end,”  Source)  And yet, will these self-sacrificing efforts suffice to bring down the surveillance state?  They may briefly pull back the curtain allowing those who take the time to look up from the screens on their phones to glimpse what is happening but then what?

Note that this is not intended to discount the importance of people like Manning and Snowden; rather, it’s simply to note that whistleblowers provide information at great cost to themselves in hopes that the public will then take action.  They cannot right wrongs single handedly.

The technology that makes global spying possible cannot exist alongside personal privacy.  The presence of policy, guidelines, laws, whistleblowers, and even Constitutional amendments does not change this fact.

The potentially uncomfortable aspect of this is that there is significant overlap between the technology that makes the surveillance state possible and the technology that makes the average Western consumer lifestyle possible.  The amount of overlap is almost certainly a matter of speculation given that the capabilities of the surveillance state are by their nature not clearly understood.  But it does not seem to be unreasonable conjecture to suggest that any society with technology sufficiently advanced to produce iPhones and Google Glasses will be a surveillance state.

Ross Douthat—paraphrasing security expert Bruce Schneier—wrote that “it isn’t that the Internet has been penetrated by the surveillance state; it’s that the Internet, in effect, is a surveillance state.”  But neither Douthat nor Schneier follow this important point to its logical conclusion.

Douthat suggests that likening our current surveillance state to totalitarian states of the 20th century is: “useful for teasing out how authoritarian regimes will try to harness the Internet’s surveillance capabilities, but America isn’t about to turn into East Germany with Facebook pages.”

Douthat’s concern about the surveillance state is decidedly mixed.  He acknowledges that “radicalism and protest will seem riskier, paranoia will be more reasonable, and conspiracy theories will proliferate.” But continues by saying that since “genuinely dangerous people will often be pre-empted or more swiftly caught, the privacy-for-security swap will seem like a reasonable trade-off to many Americans — especially when there is no obvious alternative short of disconnecting from the Internet entirely.”  He does not explicitly state whether or not he finds this to be a “reasonable trade-off”.

Schneier recognizes that these concerns cannot be addressed by the free market but suggests that instead “strong government will” is necessary (even while he knows it’s lacking) and he laments that “no one is agitating for better privacy laws.”  But a state that is willing to torture whistleblowers is unlikely to feel constrained by privacy laws.  As Edward Snowden has said of his co-workers at the NSA: “they do not defend due process – they defend decisive action. They say it is better to kick someone out of a plane than let these people have a day in court. It is an authoritarian mindset in general.”

The crux of what I am saying that is we cannot legislate our way out of this mess.  Passing policy cannot square circles and it cannot create a society that has both surveillance state technologies and personal privacy. The information provided by whistleblowers is incredibly valuable but if it only results in new guidelines and perhaps a congressional investigation then its importance has been squandered.  Literal dismantling is required and not simply symbolic tinkering.  So long as the technology exists, it will be employed for the ends that it is currently being employed.

The Burden of Knowing

“You literally could not go anywhere in Germany without running into forced labour camps, P.O.W. camps, concentration camps” (source)

–Hartmut Berghoff, director of the German Historical Institute in Washington DC

In May 2011, I attended a screening of the film Bold Native in Albany, New York.  Peter Young was part of a panel discussion following the film and he prefaced his remarks by listing several sites of animal abuse that were located within a short distance of where the event was being held.  This is something that he can do regardless of where he is speaking.

Approximately 10 billion land animals are killed for food every year in the United States alone.  It has been estimated that over 100 million animals are exploited in laboratories (although this number is difficult to know with any degree of precision given that the vast majority of animals used in experiments are not covered by the federal Animal Welfare Act).

Killing on this scale requires a massive infrastructure.  The numbers themselves may be impossible to relate to but wherever you might live there are very tangible elements of this infrastructure nearby.  Young said that whenever he arrived in a new place he felt compelled to find where such sites were located; he deliberately imposed on himself what he called “the burden of knowing”.

We know that right now cows are being hung upside down, having their throats cut open, and watching the blood spill from their body.  Animals in laboratories are having holes drilled into their skulls while others are being decapitated, burned, poisoned, and addicted to dangerous drugs.  Fur-bearing animals are frantically pacing in tiny cages and gradually losing their minds.  Elephants are being loaded into box cars with chains around their legs.

But this knowledge takes on a considerably greater urgency and imposes a greater burden when we know the physical address where it is happening; an ever greater urgency still if we are familiar with the path that links where we are currently sitting to where the violence is happening.  In many cases, people may pass such sites of exploitation on a daily basis perhaps on a commute to work without knowing.

When I lived in New Haven, I was amazed how many people could walk past academic buildings without ever realizing that animals are imprisoned inside.  As a point of fact, Yale University has far more animals in its laboratories than it does students in its classrooms; in that sense, it is an institution dedicated to animal exploitation that happens to offer some unrelated classes as well.

There are directories that have already been compiled and that serve as good starting points for locating such information:

The above resources have been compiled by those within the Animal Liberation movement but no less (arguably more) important are sources produced by and for animal exploiting industries themselves: industry publications, trade journals, etc (Examples: Meat & Poultry, Pork Network, Meatingplace, and more).  Often the advertisements in such publications are themselves quite valuable as they might list a business’ name, location, web address, and the “services” provided.  If information pertaining to animal experimentation is being sought much of this can be found at university websites and, specifically, faculty webpages.  Experimenters advance their careers by producing journal articles where they necessarily provide great detail on how they exploit and kill animals.  (Hint: often the most valuable information in such academic publications can be found in a section with a title such as “Materials and Methods” (animals are deemed “materials”)).

Peripheral industries and suppliers should not be overlooked.  There are many businesses that may rarely, if ever, come into physical contact with animals but instead manufacture cages, knives, saw blades, stereotaxic devices, guillotines, ear bars, and much more (spinal cord removers! brain suckers!).   Much like knowing the physical location of where animals are currently suffering, seeing the range of tools and machinery that is employed seems to heighten the reality of the ongoing animal holocaust.

These businesses are necessary components of the overall infrastructure that treats animals as disposable commodities; furthermore, in many cases they may be small businesses that manage to evade scrutiny because they do not have names that are recognizable to the general public.  The best source for up to date information in the food industry is the annually updated Red Book put out by Meat & Poultry; they also produce an additional annual publication titled, Top 100: Ranking the Industry’s Leading Companies.

For information on suppliers to the lab animal industry, the American Association of Laboratory Animal Science has an online Laboratory Animal Science Buyers Guide.  Categories in the Buyers Guide include, but are not limited to, “Animal Housing”, “Animal Model Suppliers” (live animals), “Facility Design”, “Laboratory / Surgical Equipment”, amongst others.  Like with Meat & Poultry publications, addresses, phone numbers, and websites are often provided for listed companies.

Sites such a whitepages.com or zabasearch.com can generally be used to find addresses and/or phone numbers for individuals.  Perhaps someone who profits from animal exploitation or directly engages in violence toward animals lives in your neighborhood?  It could be prudent to be aware of this if it is the case.

Please feel free to use the comment section to share other valuable sources of information that I have not included above.

aero scalder


AeroScalder is entirely enclosed and consists of two chambers; an air conditioning chamber where the moisturized hot air is prepared and, next to it, the scalding chamber itself through which birds are conveyed and into which the scalding air is blown.”

Note: In the Summer 2008, a series of documents (Flashpoint Vol. I, II, III, and IV) were released with information on animal research labs, lab animal breeders, slaughterhouses, and fur farms.  These are now significantly outdated (another reason why annually published industry sources are often more reliable).  While the sources listed above are generally preferable, I have included links to the Flashpoint documents here for those who might still be interested.

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UPDATE (Aug. 12, 2013): The Earth First! Wolf Hunt Sabotage Manual
“Earth First! Media has released a manual which provides detailed information for disrupting wolf hunting in those states that allow it. Titled The Earth First! Wolf Hunting Sabotage Manual, the text, complete with step-by-step graphics, explains how to find and destroy wolf traps, handle live trapped wolves in order to release them, and various methods, including the use of air-compressed horns and smoke-bombs, for stopping wolf hunts.” (source)