“There was a time—until very recently in the scheme of things—when there were no wild animals, because every animal was wild; and humans were few.” –Kathleen Jamie, Sightlines (2012)
After my recent post on Rod Coronado, it occurred to me that part of the reason that Coronado is not universally embraced by the animal rights movement is that his efforts have largely been on behalf of wild animals and that the interests of wild animals are not given a significant amount of attention by those in the AR movement. Consequently, efforts on behalf of wild animals do not count for as much within the movement.
The fate of domesticated animals clearly dominates within the movement with anti-hunting campaigns probably being the most notable exception. Yet I would suspect that hunting is generally not the greatest threat to wild animals; I would suspect that parking lots, shopping malls, subdivisions, and agriculture represent significantly greater threats.
At first glance, this emphasis on domesticated animals (and animals raised for food even moreso) may appear to make sense. Domesticated animals certainly appear to be the primary victims of human exploitation. Every aspect of their lives from birth to death is dictated by human interests. The very fact that they are domesticated means that they have been manipulated in profound ways; ways that are generally to their detriment such as by being bred to gain weight at an incredible pace or to have aesthetic features that score well in dog shows but may inhibit natural functions such as breathing. In contrast, wild animals clearly do not face the same degree of confinement, do not have their food so severely adulterated, and can seemingly live in the social arrangements natural for their species. Furthermore, much of the harm suffered by wild animals—such as predation—does not appear to be at the hands of humans and therefore may not motivate human intervention.
But the over-emphasis on domesticated animals is problematic in part because, at least from my perspective, one goal of the animals rights movement needs to be a world without domesticated animals…that is a world with no cats, no dogs, no cows, no chickens, no mail order catalogs full of genetically manipulated mice available for purchase. This is part of the vision that should not be shyed away from even if it is counterintuitive or unpalatable to the general population. Despite the slogans printed on t-shirts, the lives of animals are not saved by your decision to go vegan. When somone adopts a vegan diet, there is no truck that transports a fixed number of animals from factory farm to idyllic sanctuary. The decision to go vegan, at best, saves animals from the fate of ever being born (which is no small thing given that, at present, domesticated animals are born into an “eternal Treblinka”).
Ignoring wild animals creates a situation where people participate in the movement with no long term goal other than perhaps universal veganism or an end to a particular variety of exploitation. And the tactics adopted may be counterproductive. Tactics need to be consistent with or at least not contrary to a world without domesticated animals. Furthermore, an explicitly anti-domestication position also creates the possibility for much-needed alliances with radical environmentalists, green anarchists, and those engaged in indigenous struggles.
“[T]he driving back of the human species to pre-invasion boundaries,” as Ronnie Lee says, needs to be a priority. This means that as a defensive measure, habitat preservation needs to be a priority and, as an offensive measure, human claimed terrain needs to be returned to the animals who once occupied it. Too often, matters of habitat preservation are left for environmentalists to address on their own as if an animal could be severed from her environment without being harmed in the process. The current activist division of labor that puts individual animals (primarily domesticated animals) within the sphere of the animal rights movement and habitat preservation (and species level interests) within the sphere of environmentalists is dysfunctional.
As a final point, I would extend the idea of no domesticated animals even further–probably leaving the AR movement at this point–and suggest that the vision to pursue is one where even humans are no longer domesticated animals but are once again themselves wild.