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They think, therefore they are

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Sorry Rene, turns out animals aren’t mindless machines after all. It comes as a surprise that it took so long but science has finally, officially declared that non-human animals are conscious beings. I talk about the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness over at the mighty Scavenger.

Here’s a taste:

[I]t comes as something of a surprise to learn of a declaration made last month at a conference of some of the world’s leading brain researchers. According to its website, the first annual Francis Crick Memorial Conference, “focussing on ‘Consciousness in Humans and Non-Human Animals”, aims to provide a purely data-driven perspective on the neural correlates of consciousness.”

The statement, known as The Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness, was signed by some of the world’s leading neuroscientists, including Diana Reiss and Christof Koch, in the presence of Stephen Hawking no less, and its conclusion has many in the science world talking:

“The weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

As this Psychology Today blogger notes, the idea that animals have some sort of thought process and are aware of their surroundings isn’t really news to many of us, which brings up two pertinent questions: 1) Why has it taken so long for science to officially recognise the consciousness of other species? And 2) What is the significance of this declaration?

Read the rest here.

Written by Ruby

August 28, 2012 at 11:03 pm

Posted in Animal Rights, Science

The (real) problem with PETA

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So we all know how feminists love to hate PETA, right? For years PETA has been ignoring the pleas from the feminist blogosphere to quite sexualising women in order to push their animal liberation message. Feminist writers often complain that PETA sacrifices women in order to promote animal rights. But what if that’s only the half of it? This is an excerpt of my latest piece, which was published on Daily Life yesterday. Just as an aside, I’ve been keen to write for these guys for months and was super excited to get the opportunity:

A 2010 campaign saw long-time supporter Pamela Anderson dressed in a bikini, her body depicted as a butcher’s meat chart complete with labels such as ‘breast’, ‘rump’ and so on. The caption read, ‘All animals have the same parts. Have a heart: go vegetarian.’

Yes, it’s true. All animals do have the same (or at least extremely similar parts). This is the reason that I myself am a vegan, because animals, like humans, experience emotions, thoughts and pain and don’t deserve to suffer. Quite simply, I just don’t think we humans have any more right to treat animals as objects than men have the right to treat women as objects.

However, what PETA seems to be forgetting is that we live in a world where women themselves are still largely regarded as inferior. PETA’s approach is doomed to failure because it fails to acknowledge that inequality still exists between humans.

This willingness to objectify women, even as they attempt to convince the rest of humanity to stop treating animals as objects, has long attracted the ire of feminists who accuse PETA of placing the rights of animals above the rights of women.

But that’s only the half of it. PETA’s approach to animal advocacy has the unintended consequence of undermining, not only women, but also the animals they are trying to save because it ignores the history and nature of women’s oppression.

You can read the whole thing here.

Written by Ruby

July 27, 2012 at 4:55 am

Animal agriculture: a triumph of marketing over morality

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I don’t really like the word ‘morality’. Like ‘evil’, its religious overtones just make me uncomfortable. Both words are often used in a way I feel removes culpability and responsibility from humans and places them firmly in the hands of a higher power. But sometimes, the word just fits better. A triumph of marketing over ethics just doesn’t have the same ring to it. But generally, when I say ‘morality’, I mean ‘ethics’. Just like, when I say ‘evil’, I mean reprehensible action/s by a human being. Because let’s face, in this world at least, only humans are truly ‘evil.’

But I digress. Look at this picture of some egg cartons I took in a local supermarket:

Town and Country eggs. What lovely, lush green farmland. Eggs hand-collected by the basketload by the farmer herself. Free, healthy hens roaming around. I think at least one of those chooks is a rooster. The cozy homestead in the background. This image has it all. This is the idyllic country farm many Australians still like to imagine their food comes from.

But look again. Look at the orange front panel.

12 CAGE EGGS.

Cage eggs. Cage. As in eggs taken from chickens (not by the basket-load I assure you) who spend their entire lives in cages. Chickens that look like this:

Battery hens

There are no roosters in those cages. They are disposed of as soon as they are born.

Why do we continue to fall for the advertising lie? Is it because we know, deep down, when we realise the truth, we will have to act on it?

Written by Ruby

July 12, 2012 at 4:04 am

Feminism and animal rights: not antithetical

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I’ve just started as an associate editor on alternative, progressive website, The Scavenger. Since my profile there links back to this blog, I guess I’d bet start using this a little more. Let’s start with my first piece for them, ‘Feminism must stop ignoring animals.’ Which is pretty much what the title says it is about:

 

2011 will go down as the year when animal advocacy, long considered a fringe issue, blasted into the Australian mainstream.

Such was the impact of A Bloody Business, the explosive Four Corners investigation into the live cattle export trade to Indonesia that the team picked up the Gold Walkely, a prestigious journalistic award .

Lyn White, of Animals Australia, who provided the ABC with the raw footage of the abuses in the Indonesian abattoirs, was a state finalist in the Australian of the Year awards. She was also crowned Crikey’s Person of the Year and ABC News Radio’s Newsmaker of the Year.

Already 2012 is shaping up to be an even bigger one for the animal rights movement.

Voiceless, the animal protection institute, and vocal critic of intensive, ‘factory’ farming methods, recently announced a literary prize for writers willing to ‘give voice to the most vulnerable amongst us’.

In a move which signifies just how far into the mainstream animal welfare concerns are edging, the prize is being sponsored and spruiked in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Never has the plight of animals occupied such a prominent place in the public consciousness.

However, whilst some improvements are slowly being made in their welfare, their status as commodities means animals remain vulnerable to shocking abuse.

At one point or another, many of Western society’s most marginalised groups have suffered the indignity of being regarded as property. It is to the credit of feminists and slavery abolitionists that, in a legal sense at least, this is no longer the case.

The slow road to abolition and women’s enfranchisement demonstrates how society rarely progresses on its own and often needs to be pushed. Animals cannot resist their conditions so any change to their circumstances is dependant on human intervention.

The link between feminism and animal rights

Animal rights activism is often dismissed with the admonishment that we need to ‘sort out’ human problems first. However, as both a feminist and animal rights advocate, I do not see these issues as distinct.

First, let’s be clear about what animal ‘rights’ actually means. Animals don’t have the same interests as humans so they don’t require the same rights.

What animals, as sentient beings, require and deserve, is the right not to be the property of another, but to live, as Jeffrey Masson, author of The Pig Who Sang To The Moon, a key book on animal emotions, writes, “the way in which evolution intended them to live”.

This is where feminism comes in. It is not a coincidence that women dominate the animal rights movement. As the victims of long-term historical oppression, women can readily empathise with the plight of animals because they recognise oppression when it occurs. However, mainstream feminism is yet to acknowledge how animal and women’s oppression are linked.

The goal of feminism is to dismantle the hierarchical system that values certain groups over others: men over women, whites over blacks, straights over gays and so on. This false hierarchy permits the exploitation of those at the bottom by the powerful at the top.

How does this relate to animals?

In order to eliminate exploitation, feminism must seek to protect those most at risk. It is not an exaggeration to say that our society is built on the exploitation of animals.

They are the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the medicine we take, the products we use, the entertainment we watch, the sports we bet on.

Furthermore, feminism and animal advocacy make natural allies given that it is the abuse of the reproductive capacity of female animals that perpetuates animal exploitation.

Egg-laying hens are crammed into battery cages for up to two years until they are ‘spent’ and slaughtered.

Sows, whose entire lives are spent in a continual cycle of pregnancy and birth, are confined in gestational stalls barely bigger than their own bodies.

Dairy cows are artificially inseminated every year of their lives until their milk dries up. The apparatus in which cows are restrained during insemination is known in the industry, particularly in the US, as a ‘rape rack.’

Unnaturally forced into the reproductive role, these female animals are then denied the opportunity to nurture their young. Their milk, eggs and offspring are subsumed into the industry cycle, marketed and sold for human consumption, much as women’s bodies are marketed and sold for male consumption.

Discrimination versus dehumanisation

When animal advocates make these comparisons they are often accused of dehumanising historically marginalised groups. However, as Marjorie Spiegel wrote in The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery, such comparisons are not intended to equate humans and animals so much as highlight the ways in which discrimination against one group opens the door to the discrimination of others.

Those who benefit from animal exploitation also take offence because it highlights their dubious practices.

The treatment to which we subject billions of animals would be considered a holocaust if applied to humans. Yet, it is normalised because animals are considered so ‘other’ that their suffering is tolerated.

Simply speaking, it is in their interests to expound on the so-called differences between human and non-human animals because it is these very differences that justify animal abuse and exploitation.

It is important to note here that the reasons cited for denying rights to animals are the same that were used to do the same to women and black slaves. Deemed soulless, women and blacks were said to lack sufficient intellect to deserve autonomy.

Baby animals continue to be taken away from their mothers with the same assurances given when black women suffered the same abuse. They don’t love them like us. They won’t remember them like us. They are not us.

‘They are not us’ is, of course, the claim on which all discrimination is based. Animals differ to us, but if we accept difference as permission to exploit them, then we undermine one of feminism’s essential tenets.

Fighting women’s oppression whilst simultaneously perpetuating animal oppression is a contradictory and self-defeating stance feminism must reconsider.

Second wave feminism was rightly criticised for being centred on the struggles and interests of white, middle class women. The third wave responded by recognising how different forms of oppression intersect (although second wave eco-feminists such as Carol Adams and Josephine Donovan were making these connections in the ’70s and ’80s) and broadened its scope to encompass class, race and sexuality in its vision.

The fourth wave of feminism must include the intersection of animal and human oppression. If feminists are serious about fighting discrimination in all its forms then they must consider animal rights as equally worthwhile as human rights.

To do less is to keep the door to ‘otherisation’ wide open and give tacit support to the concept that some groups are entitled to the ownership and control of others.

 

Written by Ruby

February 25, 2012 at 5:28 am

Treat them like animals…

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…where ‘animals’ is a compliment, not a disparaging term. The good folks over at New Matilda have published my latest piece on the link between animal cruelty and human rights violations. I have found that articles such as this tend not to be as popular as articles that deal with human rights and/or specific instances of animal abuse. My theory is that people are comfortable with calling out injustices when they are committed by other parties, but when it comes to injustices in which we are complicit, well, people tend to be less enthusiastic about even acknowledging them. Anyway, here it is in full. Make up your own mind.

Treat Them Like Animals

By Ruby Hamad

(First published in New Matilda, August 19, 2011)

sheep

Animal rights activists get criticised for siphoning attention away from human rights but the two are connected. It’s not a case of live exports versus the Malaysia Solution, writes Ruby Hamad

Athough Andrew Wilkie was unable to convince MPs to support his bill to ban live animal exports, the issue of animal cruelty continues to weigh heavily on our national conscience.

Even so, the issue of animal rights will not gain real traction as long as it is viewed as completely divorced from, and subordinate to, the issue of human rights.

This was evident in the attempts to shame those who expressed outrage at the footage of the slaughter of Australian cattle in Indonesian abbatoirs for not showing greater outrage about the suffering of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat. Moira Rayner, for example, although expressing sympathy for the tortured cattle asked:

“Does anybody see, other than myself, the dreadful hypocrisy of demanding … interruption to the export of live cattle, and the complete lack of outrage and demand for action to ensure the humane treatment of asylum-seeking, unaccompanied children?”

Similarly, immediately following Four Corners’ expose, an audience member asked the live panel on the ABC’s Q and A:

“While animals are experiencing cruelty and suffering on boats going from Australia to Indonesia, refugees sail past them in the other direction, also in unspeakable conditions. Which story is more likely to generate compassion from the average Australian?”

This question set off a torrent of like-minded comments on Twitter and spread to the mainstream press. SMH blogger, Sam de Brito, lamented that Australians “get in a tizzy about cows being mistreated in Indonesia, but shrug over boat people sliced up on rocks or children going crazy in detention”.  Prominent human rights lawyer, Julian Burnside, will give a talk at the upcoming Festival of Dangerous Ideas entitled “We care more about animals on boats than people”.

These commentators are rightly concerned with the plight of refugees but they unfairly use the issue of asylum seekers to divert attention from the suffering of non-human animals by claiming it is morally defective to be concerned with cattle when there is so much human suffering.

There are two problems with this position.

Firstly, it presumes all those upset at the treatment of cattle don’t also feel the same way about refugees.

Secondly, it overlooks the fact that the same system that permits the oppression of human beings also approves the exploitation of animals. Many of those who advocate for animal rights do so from a position of opposing all suffering which results from that false hierarchy that values some living beings over others.

There is a long history of activists who have made the link between how we treat each other and how we treat non-human animals. One of the earliest, as Animals Australia’s Lyn White has repeatedly pointed out, was British politician William Wilberforce, who spearheaded the abolitionist campaign to end the slave trade and founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

World War I saw the relationship between violence against animals and violence against humans discussed by pacifist, feminist and vegetarian writers such as Henry Bailey Stevens, Agnes Ryan and George Bernard Shaw. An editor of Nineteenth Century and After magazine wrote:

“In 1918 the spectacle of a herd of scared and suffering cattle hustled together in a van, and being conveyed to a slaughter yard, struck (this) writer as being at least as abominable, and as degrading to our civilisation, as anything he had recently witnessed on several hard fighting fronts in France and Italy.”

The implication is clear: violence against animals, whose blood, organs and emotions are so similar to ours desensitises us to violence against humans. Once the mistreatment of animals is rationalised, so too can be the mistreatment of people.

Institutional slavery, genocide, and other injustices occur because people are conditioned to see those who differ from them as somehow lesser — in the same way we see other animals as lesser species. Their “otherness” makes their suffering justifiable. For many centuries, social justice advocates have called for people to focus on similarities between groups rather than differences. And for almost as long their efforts were resisted by a dominant culture that “naturally” saw men as superior to women and whites superior to other races.

This systematic subordination of marginalised groups extends to the animal world. Our fervent belief that animal life is intrinsically inferior has blinded us to the immense pain and suffering they endure at our hands. If the Four Corners footage has shown us anything, it is that animals are as capable of feeling pain and terror as acutely as any human being.

This willingness to inflict such pain on another sentient being not only causes that being to suffer, but devalues both the life of that animal and the humanity of its tormenter. It is the act of violence itself which is problematic — not only the object of that violence . Once violence is accepted as justifiable, then it can justified repeatedly.

There is no shame or hypocrisy in protesting the mistreatment of animals because human rights and animal rights are intertwined. It boils down to this: we too are animals, and as precious as our lives are to us, so too are the lives of non-human animals to them.

 

 

Written by Ruby

August 20, 2011 at 12:25 am

Journalism as endorsement

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This article in today’s Australian, ostensibly an ‘objective’ report on fur’s resurgence in the fashion industry is little more than extended advertisement for the ‘luxury’ item with a dash of good ol’ fearmongering and smearing thrown in.

Catherine Caines wastes no time in letting us know who the enemy is, using the very first line to single out People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), for ‘targeting’ fashion designers who work with fur. Although adopting a neutral tone, in keeping with ‘impartial’ journalistic standards, Caines subtly, or not so subtly if you tend to look out for these things firmly casts PETA and other animal rights activists as violent and irrational actors who cause such fear amongst the sartorialists that some who spoke with the journalist chose not “to be named for fear of reprisals from fur protesters”.

Whilst it is true PETA often uses questionable tactics in its anti-animal cruelty crusade, what this article is missing is a truly balanced perspective. Caines will likely claim the ‘balance’ is provided by the contrast between the desires of the ‘edgy’ fashion industry and the aims and actions of PETA, what Caines fails to consider is what the fur industry actually entails. Live skinning, death by electrocution, close confinement, the list goes on. What is clear is that the fur trade continues to be a particularly cruel one.

This omission makes statements such as this

Baker says fur’s big comeback reflects consumers’ confidence about breaking rules.

“Emotionally, there is something decadent and slightly forbidden about fur that makes the experience of wearing it very luxurious,” Baker says.

all the more gobsmacking.

Written by Ruby

July 28, 2011 at 5:13 am

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