The Time to Empower Ourselves is Now: Take the First Step
“Everywhere today, every aspect of our lives is being violently reorganized. Everywhere there is war. A war without a battlefield. A war without an enemy. A war that is everywhere. A thousand civil wars. A war without end. The Fourth World War.” –The Fourth World War
by Dr. Steven Best
My friends, we are winning many battles in the fight for freedom, rights, democracy, compassionate ethics, peace, interspecies justice, and ecology.
But we are losing the war.
The war against greed, violence, plunder, profits, and domination. The war against transnational corporations, world banks, the US Empire, and Western military machines. The war against metastasizing systems of economic growth, technological development, overproduction, and overconsumption.
Despite recent decades of intense social and environmental struggles, we are nevertheless losing ground in the battles for democracy and ecology.
In the last two decades, neoliberalism and globalization have destroyed social democracies, widened gaps between rich and poor, dispossessed farmers, and marketized the entire world. Alongside good-old fashioned imperialism and resource extraction, people now confront genetic engineering, biopiracy, the patenting of genes, and the control of the seed supply. McDonaldization swallows up diversity as agribusiness engulfs the world’s farmers. Corporate power is growing as people power is shrinking.
Signs of ecological distress are everywhere, from shrinking forests and depleted fisheries to vanishing wilderness and rising sea levels. Throughout history, societies have devastated local environments, but only in the last two decades has humanity upset the planetary ecology to bring about global climate change. Moreover, we now live in the era of the sixth extinction crisis in the history of the planet, the last one occurring 65 million years ago in the age of the dinosaurs. Unlike the last five, this one is caused by human activity; we are the meteor crashing into the earth. Conservation biologists predict one third to one half of the world’s plant and animal species might vanish in the next few decades.
The global capitalist world system is inherently destructive to people, animals, and nature. It is unsustainable and the bills for three centuries of industrialization are now due. It cannot be humanized, civilized, or green-friendly, but rather must be transcended through revolution at all levels—economic, political, legal, cultural, technological, moral, and conceptual.
In the last three decades, there has been growing awareness that environmentalism cannot succeed without social justice and social justice cannot be realized without environmentalism. This is clear in the environmental justice movement in the US, in Earth First! alliances with timber workers, the platform of the Zapatistas platform, and the 1999 Battle of Seattle against the WTO where turtles joined with teamsters.
But something is missing, the equation is not balanced, the strategy cannot work. The interests of one species are represented as millions of others go unrecognized except as resources to be preserved for human use. But in the last three decades a new social movement has emerged — animal liberation. Its power and potential has yet to be recognized, but it deserves equal representation in the politics of the 21st century.
Progressives fighting for peace, justice, democracy, and ecology must recognize the validity of and need for the animal liberation movement for two reasons. First, on a moral level, the brutalization, exploitation, and suffering of animals is so great, so massive in degree and scope, that it demands a profound moral and political response from anyone with pretence to values of compassion, justice, rights, and nonviolence. Every year alone humans butcher 70 billion land and marine animals for food; millions more die in experimental laboratories, fur farm, hunting preserves, and countless other killing zones. Second, on a strategic level, the animal liberation movement is essential for the human and earth liberation movements. In numerous key ways, the domination of humans over animals underlies the domination of human over human and propels the environmental crisis. Moreover, the animal liberation movement is the most dynamic and fastest growing social movements of the day and other liberation movements ignore, mock, or trivialize it at their own peril.
It is becoming increasingly clear that human, animal, and earth liberation movements are inseparably linked, such that none can be free until all are free. This is not a new insight, but rather a lost wisdom and truth. Recall the words of Pythagoras, the first Western philosopher, who 2500 years ago proclaimed: “For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.”
We need to focus like a laser beam on a grim truth: whatever the gains of a worldwide environmental and animal rights movements throughout the last four decades, they have nonetheless continued to lose ground in the battle to save biodiversity, to stop or even slow down the destruction of the rainforests, topsoil, coral reefs; to prevent ever-worsening resource wars; to end the blatant and open war and Holocaust against nonhuman animals; and to come to grips with the immanent catastrophe of climate change in our minds let alone our policies and actions.
The sense of urgency is rising in proportion to the severity of the crisis. Increasingly, calls for legislative change, moderation, compromise, and taking the slow march through the institutions can be seen as grotesquely inadequate, as growing numbers of people gravitate toward more radical tactics of change. “Reasonableness” and “moderation” in the current situation seem to be entirely unreasonable and immoderate, as “extreme” and “radical” actions appear simply as necessary and appropriate.
From Athens to Paris to Brazil, there is growing realization that politics as usual just won’t cut it anymore. We will always lose if we play by their rules rather than invent new forms of struggle, new social movements, and new sensibilities. The defense of the earth requires immediate and decisive action: logging roads need to be blocked, driftnets need to be cut, and cages need to be emptied. But these are piecemeal and reactive measures, and in addition to these tactics, radical movements and alliances must be built that unites struggles on behalf of humanity, nonhuman animals, and the earth in a politics of total liberation.
Dr. Steven Best, Keynote Speech – Total Liberation: Revolution for the 21st Century