A World Without Domesticated Animals: Veganism’s Endpoint

“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.

 

 

 

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Is There No Room for Rod Coronado in the Animal Rights Movement? The Problem with Veganism as the Moral Baseline

It is almost difficult to believe that the accomplishments of Rod Coronado can all be attributed to a single person with abilities not too different than our own; in this way he has demonstrated what is possible.  It does not take superhero powers to sink a whaling ship, light a match, or set an animal free from a cage.  It does, of course, take a fair amount of bravery to put one’s beliefs into action but that is well within our abilities.

Rod Coronado has dealt serious body blows to the whaling industry, the fur industry, and the animal experimentation industry.  Animals who seemed destined to spend their lives in locked cages only to meet violent deaths were set free by a stranger who arrived in the night, risked—and ultimately—sacrificed his freedom to give them a chance to be free.  The mind reels at what an animal be must be thinking and feeling as a cage door is opened by a stranger, her torment is over, and she escapes into the night.

 Having been released from prison and now off of probation, Rod Coronado is once again defending animals.  With the profile he has created for himself and the scrutiny he will forever be operating under, his tactics, at this point, are exclusively within the confines of the law.  Coronado is currently engaged in a speaking tour aimed at building momentum amongst the grassroots to stop wolf hunting in states where it is currently legal.

But is He Vegan?

But there is a lingering question about Rod Coronado that many animal rights activists can’t help but worry about: Is Rod Coronado currently vegan?  In 2006, he told the LA Weekly that he was not vegan at that time; he was also not vegan during his time as a fugitive. On the current speaking tour, Coronado was asked  by Jon Hochschartner if he was currently vegan and Coronado said he was not. (I was not present at that talk at Skidmore College but did see Coronado speak in Eugene, Oregon where the question was not raised.) The question has also been raised and vigorously debated in various online venues. Comrade Black conducted an interview with Coronado for Profane Existence regarding the current speaking tour and was criticized for not explicitly asking if Coronado is vegan.

The question then becomes what to  make of this fact: Rod Coronado is not vegan.  One who strictly adheres to the notion of “veganism as a moral baseline” would necessarily have to condemn Coronado. [1] [2] Such condemnations run the risk of dismissing what Coronado has done, and continues to do, for animals.  It may prioritize his consumer choices over and above the fact that his actions for animals have indisputably saved lives and served as inspiration for others to perform similar actions; and it is not an abstract set of animals that Coronado has “saved” but particular individuals. 

The “veganism as a moral baseline” idea is most commonly used to demarcate “us” and “them”; it goes beyond the claim that veganism is praiseworthy or even morally obligatory and posits the veganism is the litmus test for credibility and participation within the movement.  Deviating from a vegan diet (or perhaps more accurately a vegan lifestyle) cannot be compensated for with other actions.  If Coronado is not vegan, then he can and must be dismissed; his actions on behalf of animals are essentially irrelavent in this discussion.  Theoretically he could have delivered a knock-out blow to the fur industry and we could be living a in a world free of fur farms and his non-vegan diet would nonetheless mean that he was not one of “us” (animal advocates  in good standing) but essentially still one of “them” (animal exploiters).

This not only seems bizarre to me but also depressingly self-defeating.  Is there genuinely no room in the animal rights movement for Rod Coronado?

Excommunicating Ex-Vegans?

To be clear, I would fault Coronado for consuming animal products but could not deny that he is fighting more passionately for the world I want to see than I am.  The animal rights movement need not excommunicate someone for deviating from veganism; at some point we came to feel as though we must but we really do not have turn people away like this.  At the same time, letting go of the “veganism as the moral baseline” idea does not mean we should stop promoting veganism.  Veganism can be zealously promoted while simultaneously accepting the support and the participation of nonvegans and ex-vegans in an animal rights movement.  We may see wider acceptable of veganism if people are allowed to participate and share what is in their heart before they have radically altered their diet.

“Veganism as the moral baseline” may simply create an unnecessarily high barrier to entry into the animal rights movement.  As Dylan Powell recently wrote “An issue…that should have a broad focus gets presented through a very specific and normative lens and typically one that is very demanding”.  The demandingness likel y satisfies our ego but may do so at the expense of the overall movement.  Furthermore, it is an idiosyncratic demandingness: foregoing dairy creamer is perhaps demanding in some sense but liberating animals from cages and risking imprisonment is demanding in a whole different way.  Perhaps both are morally obligatory but the former is expected according to the “veganism is the moral baseline” catechism while literal liberation is not even consistently lauded (as it happens, many of “veganism as the moral baseline” adherents would would likely condemn such an act as violence).

A Movement Without Allies

The full threat that Rod Coronado has represented is his commitment to earth liberation, animal liberation, and indigenous resistance.   The ability of someone like Rod Coronado to unite these movements is a real danger to industries that exploit the earth and its animal constituents.  As he explained in the Profane Existence interview, “animals and nature…are ground up by the same machines” and so opportunities for solidarity between these movements are everywhere.

Yet “veganism as the moral baseline” dogma effectively eliminates the possibility of the animal rights movement building meaningful alliances with other social justice movements even ones as closely related to its aims as earth liberation and indigenous resistance. 

The animal liberation movement has proven itself quite skilled in finding enemies but given the industrial scale of the atrocities compared with the meagerness of our resources, we would be wise to start looking for friends.

Conclusion: Rod as Reductio

In the end, it is my claim that any movement dedicated to animal rights and/or animal liberation, that does not have room for someone like Rod Coronado is seriously flawed to the point of being almost incoherent and self-defeatingly insular. The example of Rod Coronado serves as a reductio ad absurdum argument against the “veganism as the moral basline” position.  If Rod Coronado is not for animal liberation, then no one is.

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NOTE: Future dates on Rod Coronado’s speaking tour include:

  • Thursday March 20th Oakland CA. 7PM at The Holdout: 2313 San Pablo Avenue, near 23rd ST.
  • Friday March 21st San Francisco CA. 7pm at The Eric Quezada Center for Culture and Politics: 518 Valencia Street, near 16th Street BART.
  • Saturday March 22nd Animal Liberation Forum in Long Beach CA at 12pm.
  • Sunday March 23rd Animal Advocacy Museum in Pasadena CA. at 6pm.
  • Monday March 24th Fresno State University at 6pm, building TBA. 
  • Thursday March 27th Humboldt State University.
Rod Coronado at Strong Hearts Cafe in Syracuse, NY (www.strongheartscafe.com)

Rod Coronado at Strong Hearts Cafe in Syracuse, NY (www.strongheartscafe.com)